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I am Albert Einstein, and I heartily approve of this blog, insofar as it seems to believe both in science and the importance of intellectual imagination, uncompromised by out of date emotions such as the impulse toward conventional religious beliefs, national aggression as a part of patriotism, and so on.   As I once remarked, the further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.   Certainly the application of the impulse toward blind faith in science whereby authority is treated as some kind of church is to be deplored.  As I have also said, the only thing that ever interfered with my learning was my education. I am Freeman Dyson, and I approve of this blog, but would warn the author that life as a heretic is a hard one, since the ignorant and the half informed, let alone those who should know better, will automatically trash their betters who try to enlighten them with independent thinking, as I have found to my sorrow in commenting on "global warming" and its cures.
Many people would die rather than think – in fact, they do so. – Bertrand Russell.

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Altman leaving Times

April 16th, 2008

Mediabistro signal that “staff doctor” may be exiting

Roadblock to good science removed, at least in AIDS

But immovable pyramid of politics will remain

There is not a crime, there is not a vice which does not live in secrecy. Get these things out in the open, describe them, attack them, ridicule them in the press and sooner or later public opinion will sweep them away. – Joseph Pulitzer.

lawrence_altman.gifInteresting blip from MediaBistro today, a site that follows media job changes and similar. A recurring theme is the great bloodletting from newspapers whose classified ads have been replaced by Craigs List. This has now hit the Times, which recently offered buyouts and is now having to contemplate forcible layoffs. Included in either the former or the latter is none other than Larry Altman, whose CDC bred politics have been a big factor in the Times’s skewed coverage of AIDS science and medicine in the last 23 years.

By this we mean that Dr Altman, a graduate of CDC training in disease chasing, has shown a mysterious lack of evenhandedness in covering the vexed debate over the cause of AIDS, ever since his reports of Robert Gallo’s claim that HIV was a “probable” cause of AIDS in 1984 somehow turned into “the cause of AIDS” within a few weeks, and the phrase “HIV, the virus that causes AIDS” has been boiler plate in Times reporting ever since.

The man who sold out the Times

If there is one man who is largely responsible for the Times pusillanimous and one-sided coverage of AIDS science over the years, where reporting on an extremely fine scientist, Peter Duesberg, and his high level, peer-reviewed, unanswered critique and review rejecting HIV as the cause of AIDS or any human ailment, has been minimal to non-existent it is surely Lawrence K. Altman, whose cooperation with the self-interested policies of scientists and NIAID officials in keeping readers in the dark as to the real merits of the scientific doubts on HIV is an example not only of petty cowardice and dereliction of professional duty as a journalist, but also a failure to observe the Hippocratic oath he presumably swore to when embarking on his medical career, such as it was and is.

new_york_times_building.jpgNow that he is about to be removed from the scene, this large personal roadblock in the way of properly balanced coverage of the scene in AIDS science and medicine will dissolve, but we wonder how much difference this will make now, so late in the game. The Times in its enfeebled state is in no position to face up to its public duty and confess how badly it has behaved in this arena. Its culpability as the leading print institution in daily newspapers in this country is so enormous that even the great moral duty it has to stop misleading the public is probably not enough to make it change course now.

Here is the report from MediaBistro:

NY Times Expects Newsroom Layoffs (NYO):

The New York Times announced that it’s all but a done deal that the paper will have to lay off staffers in the newsroom. The drop-dead deadline is fast approaching for newsroom staffers to volunteer for a buyout. An internal memo from the paper’s assistant managing editor, Bill Schmidt, said that the paper expects it will be forced to cut the newsroom through layoffs. NYP: “While we will not know the hard count until that time, every effort to handicap the outcome suggests that we are almost certain to fall short of the number of volunteers we will need,” Schmidt said in a memo to staffers yesterday. Radar: Reporters and editors who have either already made up their minds or are strongly leaning towards accepting the buyout include investigative reporter Philip Shenon of the Washington bureau, education reporter Karen Arenson, Jane Gross, and Lawrence K. Altman, the staff “doctor” who has been writing about medicine and evaluating the health of presidents for 39 years.

As in the retirement of John Maddox of Nature, one can only sadly reflect on how a great career has been flawed by taking sides in a scientific paradigm dispute, when to remain objective in such cases is the first professional duty of a science reporter and editor. The internal politics of science, where scientists are influenced by their own self-interest, should never carry over into journalism and see reporters and editors carry water for the prominent mainstream scientists and bureaucrats whose careers are founded on the status quo.

But this is what has happened in the science coverage of AIDS in the Times and elsewhere, where other media follow the Times’ lead.

In a sin even greater than publishing the fictions of Jayson Blair on its front page, the Times – the newspaper of record – has failed to live up to its public responsibilities for 23 years and counting. And the name that will go down in history as most responsible for this appalling mistake is Lawrence K. Altman.

Living till 150 – coming soon

April 1st, 2008

ABC runs a Walters special on extending life

Eat less, walk more, marry, swim, attend church, socialize, explore novelty and stay cheerful

But why did Walford not last longer?

barbarawalters.jpgBarbara Walters graced us this evening on ABC with a special devoted to longevity and how to get it, with the promising title of Live Until 150: Can You Do It? Various oldsters were shown giving tips on how they managed to get to be old and thrive, albeit in varying degrees of decrepitude. A couple applying Roy Walford’s technique of starving themselves – “limiting calorie intake” – looked very alert in their sixties, but his hair was thinning more than one would hope. The wife’s fair skin looked quite wrinkle free on our screen, however, for what that is worth. Perhaps we should have paid more attention. What struck us most was how much healthier the happy optimists looked just by smiling cheerfully, even at 100.

tedturnerg.jpgA good example of this is Ted Turner, 69, who wasn’t featured by Barbara but appeared on 13 in Manhattan on Charlie Rose immediately afterwards, laughed uproariously, sang My Old Kentucky Home, and informed Charlie that he didn’t approve of CNN hiring “little chickies” nowadays out of a “cult of personality”, instead of keeping Judy Woodruff and his own policy of running domestic and international news which had “meaning which people could apply in their daily lives”.

Clearly a sanguine and social temperament, exercising, and a starvation diet of mostly vegetables are keys to lasting longer than average, as long as you keep the mind active. Barbara included a juggler who found that children and seniors learned to master his art in about the same time, a couple of days. And as Marian Diamond (see The Aging Brain)found out thirty years ago, the brain responds to exercise as well as any other muscle.

mariandiamond.jpgFew people in the world know more about the science of the brain than Diamond, distinguished professor of anatomy at U.C. Berkeley, former director of the Lawrence Hall of Science and recipient of the first Senior Scholar Award from the American Association of University Women. Her use-it-or-lose-it lecture, titled “An Optimistic View of the Aging Brain,” fascinated registrants at the 44th Annual Meeting of the American Society on Aging in San Francisco with a survey of the latest brain research. Diamond, one of the few scientists allowed to study tissue from Albert Einstein’s brain, burst myths about the brain’s inevitable decline with passing years.


Population trends show that by 2050 there will be 30 million Americans age 85 or older, about as many as there are 65 or more today, Diamond noted. “Our challenge then is to learn ways to keep the brain functioning at an optimum level for a lifetime,” she said, adding that we need to “change our negative attitudes toward aging for ourselves and for others.”

She debunked three common myths about normal aging brains: that they “go downhill” after age 30, that they lose 100,000 nerve cells per day and that “you can’t teach old dogs new tricks.”

Following the brain’s most “explosive growth” period until the age of 10, Diamond explained, the human cortex, which handles our highest mental functions, can increase or decrease at any age, “depending on the level of stimulation….

Generally, Diamond added, the susceptibility of the hippocampus to reduced functionality when oxygen is diminished suggests that swimming and other oxygen-circulating activities may be especially beneficial to elders, because “as we get old our blood vessels become less efficient.”

paulnewmanbeard.jpgPaul Newman, 83, took Barbara, 78, for a 150 mph ride around a race circuit in a car from which she emerged laughing and excited as a school girl, and told her people still wanted him to take off his shades and show them his blue eyes. “I tell them I can’t,” he said, “because if I do my pants will fall down.”

The central issue in age that we intend to research is nutrition, starting with the question, why did Roy Walford die so young?

walford.jpgDr. Roy Walford, the free-spirited UCLA gerontologist who pioneered the idea of restricting food intake to extend life span and practiced the concept rigorously in an effort to live to 120, has died. He was 79.

Although he was an accomplished scientist with more than 330 scientific papers and eight books to his credit, Walford was probably better known for the two-year stint he spent with seven other adventurers in Biosphere-2, a self-contained human terrarium near Tucson, AZ.

Walford died Tuesday at UCLA/Santa Monica Hospital of respiratory failure and complications from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Although the causes of ALS are not completely known, Walford attributed his disease to environmental problems suffered during his confinement in Biosphere-2. He believed that his rigorous diet, on which he consumed only 1,600 calories per day, extended his survival after the symptoms of the disease appeared several years ago….

In a career that can only be described as colorful, Walford alternated years of intensive laboratory research on mice with yearlong sabbaticals in which he walked across India in a loincloth measuring the rectal temperatures of holy men, traversed the African continent on foot and lived in Biosphere 2, practicing what he called the Signpost Theory of Life.

“If you spend all your time in the laboratory, as most scientists do, you might spend 35 years in the lab and be very successful and win a Nobel Prize,” he told The Times in 2002. “But those 35 years will be just a blur. So I find it useful to punctuate time with dangerous and eccentric activities.” He shaved his head, sported a Salvador Dali mustache and rode a motorcycle, once breaking his leg while attempting a wheelie on Santa Monica Boulevard.

Of course, the economic and social repercussions of a long lived older generation are enormous – as the author of Freakonomics pointed out at the end, the youth challenged are going to be wealthy and politically powerful as a group, and while they may not pay for their grandchildren’s college so readily any more, they may finally gain respect at last in this ageist society, if they prove wise.

The issue of course is whether you would really want to live to 150, given the difficulty many people have in staying interested in life’s riches as they are put out to pasture by a work obsessed society. But given the fact that so many people are finding ways of making a living outside the corporate office in the Net mobile 21st Century this may soon be an obsolete issue.

Rosie Ross also keeps socially active as a lifelong musician, who still supports himself with his trumpet. At 102 years old, he is an institution at The Pine Cone Inn outside of Phoenix, Ariz., where he’s been playing most Friday nights for the last 50 years.

“As long as you want to hear Clyde McCoy’s ‘Sugar Blues,’ I’ll live to play it for you,” replies Ross when asked how he lives to be so old. For his first trip to New York for the interview, he bought a brand new $2,000 trumpet and a hip, black leather jacket to match.

Right on, Rosie. Just don’t let them give you an HIV test.

marriageboyproposing.jpgForty years younger than the centenarian trumpet player, Ted Turner told Rose the thing he regretted most was not making a success of marriage. Asked if he will get married again, Turner laughed and said “I don’t know!” with a gleeful grin.

As they shook hands at the end of the interview, it was Charlie, 66, who knocked over his coffee cup.

Turner has always had a certain off-the-leash air about him, and we would suggest that this is part of longevity too. It was certainly part of Roy Walford’s makeup. Thus the young Walford after graduation had a good idea of how to make money:

Upon graduation, what he later described as his periodic craziness took over, and he and Hibbs decided they wanted to sail around the world. Lacking money, a boat or the desire to earn the money working, they decided to try gambling. Analyzing roulette wheels, they found that each had its own idiosyncrasy, with certain numbers appearing more often than others. Armed with their observations and a borrowed $200, they tackled Las Vegas and Reno. They came away with $42,000, which allowed them to purchase the yacht of their dreams. A cover story in Life Magazine, as well as articles in Time and The Times, alerted the casinos, which began randomly moving roulette wheels around in the casinos to prevent others from following their example. Walford and Hibbs sailed the Caribbean for 18 months until their money ran out, at which point they resumed their professional careers.

Does marriage keep men living longer? The answer is Yes, by an average of ten years, three to five times the effect of regular exercise. But then, this benefit of marriage occurs probably for the same reason that membership of a church confers extra years: community of support.

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