Situational American Morality


A new study from the University of Illinois at Chicago has implications for both politicians and advertisers — and should scare anyone who cares about ethics.

The study involved having consumers

. . . read a political monologue about federal funding for Planned Parenthood that they believed was previously aired over public radio.

Respondents were randomly assigned one of two feedback conditions where upon completion they were informed that the monologue they had just read was either true or false.

Consumers were then asked whether they felt the monologue was justified. The bottom line:

  1. If the consumer agreed with the monologue, they were less critical of it, regardless of whether they were told it was true or false.
  2. If the consumer disagreed with the monologue, they were more critical of it regardless of whether they were told it was true or false.

In other words, in today’s America, it doesn’t matter if someone is telling the truth or lying as long as the consumer agrees with what they are saying. Functionally, that’s a blank check for a politician or advertiser to say anything as long as it includes something the consumer wants to hear.

Unfortunately, this “culture of lying” has consequences. It affects where people want to live, work and spend their money.

As an Airbnb host, we’ve been getting an earful from foreign travelers who don’t want to live here as well as workers who are asking for transfer back to their home countries. We have a doctor who views the level of medical errors in the US as unacceptable and disgusting. We have the Irani who says that, if she becomes ill, she will return to Iran for treatment rather than seek treatment in the US. We have a mother from Europe who is leaving so her daughter won’t become “Americanized”. We have the black teacher who grew up in the US and now works in Saudi Arabia, and says that her quality of life is better there than it ever was in the US.

We have the realtor from Kansas who lives in an American enclave near Mexico City and has seen a 41% increase in sales to Americans moving south this year. Mexico claims that it has 2 million Yanquis living there, most undocumented immigrants. South Korea has close to 1 million Yankee civilians; there are other large pockets in UK, Saudi Arabia, Costa Rica, Australia and other countries. The US Government itself is mum on the number of Americans leaving the country. (All of these numbers exclude military and government personnel stationed outside the US.)

A primary complaint among expats is that they want to escape what the US political culture has become. That brings us back to our topic — the moral acceptability of lying.

For some of us, lying remains unacceptable regardless of the excuse.


  1. Allison B. Mueller, Linda J. Skitka. Liars, Damned Liars, and Zealots. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2017; 194855061772027 DOI: 10.1177/1948550617720272
  2. University of Illinois at Chicago. “We tolerate political lies for shared views, study suggests.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 August 2017. <>

A Quote for Our Times


“Even more than what you think, how you think matters.  The stakes for understanding this could not be higher than they are today, because we are not just battling for what it means to be scientists. We are battling for what it means to be citizens.”

Atul Gawande, MD, in The New Yorker, June 2016. His essay about scientific thinking was delivered as a commencement speech at California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.  (Also cited in Becker’s Hospital Review.)

The Unexpected Cost of Beating Cancer (Part 2)


This illustrates the challenges that diligent physicians have in keeping up with new developments in their field.

Yesterday, I posted on the side effects of immunotherapy treatment for cancer.

Today, we have an article from researchers at UPenn on the use of an existing drug (a class of drugs known as JAK inhibitors) to reduce the risk of these side effects.

Some doctors use combinations of immunotherapy drugs to assure effectiveness against the target cancer.  However, the combinations seem to increase the risk of major side effects.

Use of the JAK inhibitor with a single immunotherapy drug can be as effective as use of the combination of drugs, without the increased risk of side effects.

Each day, there’s something new.  Is your doctor keeping up with his homework?

That’s the major reason you always need second opinions for anything important.






Watching the weather satellite launch this evening took me back to my childhood.  It felt just like watching the early Mercury launches.  The old sense of wonder and awe was there.

If Elon Musk gets his Mars program together, I’m sure I’ll feel the same about that.


(NASA photo)


Older Men and the Women Who Love Them, More


Cleaning out my mailbox, there was an article on this in Science Daily from earlier this year that’s important for oltestosteroneder men and the women who love them to know.

Low testosterone levels complicate recovery from hospital stays, according to a study from the University of Texas.

Testosterone levels fall in men after age 40 as part of the aging process.  However, some see sharper declines than others.  I know of cases in which men in their 30s have been diagnosed with this condition.

Testosterone is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland and affects a large array of body functions.  Levels are measured by an inexpensive blood test.  This test is not part the normal lab work with a physical exam and has to be requested separately.

Other symptoms of low testosterone include

  • Fatique
  • Depression and mood changes
  • Loss of sex drive and erectile dysfunction
  • Weight gain and fat distribution
  • Loss of bone density
  • Lower production of red blood cells
  • Lower sperm production
  • Loss of muscle mass and strength
  • Hair loss

Put simply, low testosterone is a big deal.  The other problem is that men may be under treatment for other issues when testosterone is the real issue.  That includes men who are taking antidepressants and products like Viagra.

If someone is taking these other medications and  not getting the desired results, that may be a sign that a testosterone check needs to be run.  Treating the wrong problem is a waste of both money and time.  That’s how I found out.

You need involvement by a competent doctor.  There may be risks associated with testosterone therapy among men who have a history of heart disease.  The therapy is by prescription and some health plans do cover the costs of medication.  (There are non-prescription products advertised on TV, but there is no indication that they work.  My guess is that people reporting success with them were people who really didn’t need testosterone therapy.)



Brain Injuries and Domestic Violence


A new study finds that traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a common result of domestic violence.  This in turn may affect how victims behave and the medical treatment they snyder-the-unseen-victims-of-traumatic-brain-injury-from-domestic-violence-1200require.  It should affect how police and EMTs approach domestic violence situations.

According to Dr. Glynnis Zieman, the lead researcher at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix:

“Head injuries are among the most common type suffered in domestic violence, which can lead to repetitive brain injuries that often have chronic, life-changing effects, much like what we see in athletes. We found that 88 percent of these victims suffered more than one head injury as a result of their abuse and 81 percent reported too many injuries to count.”

The Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s has established a specialized program to treat TBI resulting from domestic violence.  This program is believed to be the first of its kind in the US.

Why does this matter?

Among other things, women who are battered are often unwilling to leave abusive partners.  Brain injury resulting in an inability to think and act rationally could explain much of that behavior.  The lag between abuse and leaving a situation may be less due to emotional stress than due to the need to recover at least in part from a serious injury.

Women who are battered need to be evaluated for brain injury.  That may mean hospitalization away from the abuser, as well as treatment and counseling for TBI.  If TBI is involved, it can have long term consequences for the victim, and the penalties for the abuser should be much  more severe.

“The medical team has found many victims are suffering from a full spectrum of side effects that can lead to the loss of a job, income, and eventually homelessness.”

The victims of abuse simply don’t have the financial resources available to celebrity athletes, but may face the same consequences in terms of cognitive decline, decline in motor skills and early death.

The New Yorker ran a remarkable story on brain injury and domestic violence in December 2015, well before this research was available.(4)  While that was anecdotal evidence of a problem, now we have an understanding of just how widespread this problem is.

This is a big deal.

The next logical question is, what about battered children?



  1. Glynnis Zieman, Ashley Bridwell, Javier F. Cárdenas. Traumatic Brain Injury in Domestic Violence Victims: A Retrospective Study at the Barrow Neurological Institute. Journal of Neurotrauma, 2016; DOI: 10.1089/neu.2016.4579
  4. Snyder, Rachel, “No Visible Bruises: Domestic Violence and Traumatic Brain Injury,” The New Yorker, 30 December 2015.

Lifespan: what we don’t know


Is the human life expectancy 115 years?

An article on Reuters argues that 115 is the target maximum age.  The argument is that — while science has extended human life — humans accumulate damage with age and that damage curtails the total length of life that is possible.  While one person has lived to age 122, she is the exception.  Others fail by around age 115.

To paraphrase in my usual blunt fashion:  We haven’t seen anyone go much beyond 115, so it can’t be possible to live much longer than that.

OK, man wasn’t meant to fly.  Nobody drove a gas-powered car before 1886, either.

The key question is: what are the limits to what we can manufacture, either from stem cells or through 3D printing?

What’s been created to date:

  • Fingers
  • Ears
  • Esophagus (for a child)
  • Knee cartilage
  • Blood vessels
  • Tear ducts

What’s under development:

  • Heart valves
  • Lungs
  • Livers
  • Kidneys
  • Bladders

For obscure reasons, two of the five research centers leading the charge in regenerative medicine are in Pittsburgh:

  • Carnegie Mellon
  • University of Pittsburgh, McGowan Center
  • Kyoto University
  • Georgia Tech
  • University of Washington

What is the implication of regenerative medicine for life expectancy?  The premise of the Reuters article is that any improvement in one area is cancelled out by a problem in another.  Maybe that’s true, maybe not.

The practical problem from this discussion is that most retirement plans are based on a life expectancy of 90 years or less.

Surprise!  You really can outlive your money.


(1) Dunham, Will, “Ripe old age: Humans may already have reached maximum lifespan,” Reuters, 5 October 2016.

(2) Reilly, Rachel, “The remarkable images that show how scientists are now able to PRINT entire body parts such as ears and noses,” Daily Mail, 17 June 2013.


(4) Weller, Chris, “Scientists Use Stem Cells To Grow Body Parts In Their Lab, Including Noses, Ears, And Tear Ducts,” Medical Daily, 8 April 2014.