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The one vaccine strategy the Biden administration isn’t considering

State officials and physicians hoping to lift the nation’s declining Covid-19 vaccination rate have often asked the White House for the same thing: smaller vaccine vials. So far, they’re not encouraged.

The demand for smaller vials, holding just one or two doses, is a reflection of how quickly the nation’s inoculation campaign has shifted away from mass vaccination sites to chipping away at the holdouts, one by one. The thinking is that smaller vials would enable more primary care offices, pharmacies and mobile clinics to administer shots when they find a willing patient, without having to worry about whether they would risk wasting other doses in the vial while much of the world is still desperate for vaccines.

But for months, those calls to the White House have gone unfulfilled, leaving some state officials with the impression that the Biden administration is missing out on a chance to recruit key emissaries for the vaccination effort at another inflection point for the nation’s battle against Covid-19. Infections are up in every state while the Delta variant, the most contagious virus strain yet, quickly spreads and drives up hospitalizations in communities with lower vaccination rates.

Ultimately, experts do not believe that reducing the vial size would significantly reverse the months-long slide in vaccinations, but some local and state officials say they don’t want to forego any opportunity that might make it even marginally easier to get more shots into arms.

“This is something that should be done because it is more efficient and because we do it with other vaccines,” said Maine health official Nirav Shah, who is also president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

The three vaccines in use in the United State — from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — contain between five and 15 doses per vial. Once the vials are opened, the Pfizer and J&J vaccines must be used within six hours, and Moderna’s within 12 hours.

Encouraging vaccine makers to package their wares in smaller vials remains one of the few strategies the White House has ruled out in the short term, even as top administration officials run low on ideas for overcoming hesitancy. White House officials said they understand the potential appeal of smaller vials, but they and pharmacy experts said quickly making that shift would be virtually impossible and unlikely to make a major impact on vaccination rates. It would take years and cost billions of dollars more to change up production lines — an effort further complicated by a shortage of everything from glass to staff to production space.

“Theoretically smaller vials make sense in the normal course of practice. But to do vaccinations at the volume we’ve been doing it — it’s just not practical,” said a senior administration official.

Wasted doses weren’t a major concern earlier in the vaccine rollout when people eager to receive their shots flocked to mass vaccination sites that were administering thousands of doses per day. With the pace of daily vaccinations slowing to just about half a million, down from a mid-April peak of 3.3 million doses, health officials say trusted members of the community, like primary care providers and pharmacists, are essential to reaching unvaccinated people.

But some of those health care providers, particularly in areas with lower vaccination rates, have been reluctant to crack open a new vial when they think there’s little chance of administering most of the doses before they expire. That’s even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state officials are advising them not to fret over discarded doses.

Oklahoma deputy health commissioner Keith Reed said some doctors in rural areas are refusing to provide Covid vaccinations because of their concerns about waste.

“Even though we tell them it’s OK to have that waste because we don’t want to miss an opportunity to vaccinate somebody, it is difficult for these providers who have recognized this vaccine is such a precious resource to consider it OK to waste 70 to 80 percent of a vial on a daily basis,” Reed said. “It becomes a barrier for them to accept responsibility for that kind of vaccine knowing that they’re not going to use it enough to avoid significant waste.”

Chris Weintraut, executive director of the Indiana chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said no doctor feels good about wasting doses, even if they’ve been told it’s OK to do so.

“That’s tough when you have so many doses per vial,” he said.

White House officials have told state officials for months that they are talking to vaccine makers about smaller vials. Biden officials instead have pressed the companies to ship vials in smaller packs, so vaccination sites can receive several hundred doses rather than a minimum of 1,000. However, there’s been surprisingly little take-up of those smaller packs, said a senior administration official, who attributed the low demand to states building allocation plans around larger orders. A White House spokesperson declined to comment.

Pfizer and Moderna told POLITICO that they are working on different packaging but did not offer a timeline of when that would happen. A spokesperson for Moderna said its larger vial was meant to ensure faster delivery of its vaccines. Moderna is planning to “gradually” reduce vial sizes, the spokesperson said, adding that the company is working with the U.S. government to optimize supply and minimize waste. J&J declined to comment.

Other vaccines are typically packaged in single-dose vials or prefilled syringes because the vast majority are administered in doctors’ offices. That includes most flu vaccines, though multi-dose options are still made for large clinics and high-traffic sites like flu shot drive-thrus, said Erin Fox, a pharmacy expert at the University of Utah who monitors drug shortages.

Fox said reducing vial sizes for Covid-19 vaccines is a much tougher task in the short term because of the cost and time it would take.

“Prefilled singledose syringes like we have for flu would be fantastic,” she said. “I think what makes it frustrating is the critical need we see for vaccine in other countries — they don’t have enough, yet we’re wasting vaccine in the U.S. because people don’t want to take it.”

Major obstacles remain, however. Vaccine makers would need to secure hundreds of millions of smaller vials in a global glass market that was already experiencing shortages before the coronavirus emerged. Even before the companies could shift production, they would need to apply for and receive permission from the FDA and other international regulators for the new packaging, which could require different materials.

Manufacturers then have to stop production lines to switch over to new materials or, even more challenging, start up new lines. Already, companies trying to fill existing orders for Covid shots are scrambling to secure production plants, trained staff and necessary equipment. AstraZeneca, for instance, took months to find a new home for vaccine production after it was booted from a Maryland facility this spring because of contamination issues.

Experts said single-dose vials for Covid-19 vaccines could eventually become available, particularly if people will need additional vaccinations to maintain protection against the virus. However, scientists and regulators are still studying whether people will need booster doses — and if so, how regularly.

And while U.S. doctors clamor for smaller vials, the bigger packaging is still ideal for meeting the expansive global demands, said Krishna Udayakumar, director of the Duke Global Health Innovation Center.

“Most low- and middle-income countries are still at low levels of vaccination where mass-vaccination campaigns for adults are still the most effective short-term approaches,” he said, but added that the need for smaller vials and “customized” vaccination efforts will grow in the months ahead.

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This post originally posted here Politics, Policy, Political News Top Stories

North Korean defector hits out at woke brigade: ‘Even Kim isn’t this crazy!’

Meghan Markle and Harry: Brazier slams couple for ‘woke-about’

Yeonmi Park, who escaped to China in 2007, went on to study at an American university and warned “North Korea is not even this crazy”. After reaching China, Ms Park and her sister fell into the hands of people traffickers, before she escaped again and crossed the Gobi Desert to Mongolia by foot.

From here she was able to move first to democratic South Korea, then to the United States.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph she said: “North Korea is not even this crazy. Especially comparing the woke culture.

“Before the class, in this 120-person lecture hall, the first thing they ask is give us your pronouns.

“And then some people are gender fluid. So that morning they might identify themselves as a girl but afternoon they be a boy.

“North Korea is not even this crazy!” (Image: GETTY)

Yeonmi Park escaped from North Korea aged 13 (Image: EXPRESS )

“So instead of me trying to learn who this person as a character, all my energy is being spent on learning their pronouns so I don’t look like a bigot. Even North Korea don’t do this stuff.”

Ms Park went on to compare the principle of ‘white guilt’, which has become popular amongst sections of the academic left, to the North Korean regime’s deployment of collective guilt.

She said: “In North Korea there’s a thing called ‘guilt by association’.

“When I came [to the US] and spoke out against the dictator the family that I left behind, three generations of my family, were punished.

READ MORE: Oh dear! Macron faces police revolt over new Covid pass rules – ‘Impossible!’

After escaping North Korea and China Yeonmi Park studied at an American university (Image: GETTY)

“This collective guilt is the most inhumane thing. Individuals are responsible for their own behaviours.

“When I came to America there’s something called ‘white guilt’, and I was like ‘what do you mean by white guilt’, your ancestors might possibly have owned slaves therefore white people are guilty.

“This collective guilt is such a Marxist and Communist thing to do. You can never get over that – it’s not up to us choosing our ancestors.”

Ms Park has written a book, ‘In Order To Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom’, which covers her life in and escape from North Korea.

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‘Woke’ ideas have been gaining ground in western universities (Image: GETTY)

North Korea is ruled as a communist dictatorship (Image: GETTY)

North Korea has been ruled as a communist dictatorship since its creation in 1948.

It is currently ruled by Kim Jong-un, grandson of founder Kim Il-sung.

Speaking to Express.co.uk in late 2020, Ms Park revealed how North Korean propaganda work.

The Kim family, who have controlled the country since 1948, are portrayed as like “almighty Gods” to the North Korean people.

Trade Unionist says he ‘loathes’ what woke culture stands for

She commented: “What the North Korean regime did was copy the Bible.

“In Christianity they say God knows what you think and Jesus died but his spirit lives with us forever.

“That’s what the regime told us – Kim Jong-il died, but his spirit lives forever.”

However Ms Park said the propaganda has been less effective with Kim Jong-un, who became leader in 2011.

Ms Park said the Kim family are portrayed like “almighty Gods” to North Koreans (Image: GETTY)

She explained: “People genuinely believed they were Gods however after Kim Jong-un, the latest Kim, came in it’s been shifting way more.

“Outside information is going in and telling people actually Kims go to bathrooms, they cry, they are humans not Gods who can move the mountains and do miracles.

“More people in North Korea are realising the falsehood of this propaganda.”

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This post originally posted here Daily Express :: World Feed

‘Trump isn’t the dictator’: Wisconsin GOP inches away from Trump

“I just think it’s been going on for so long that people are kind of tired of it,” said Tony Kurtz, a GOP assemblyman from rural Juneau County, which went for Trump last year by nearly 30 percentage points.

For more than seven months since he lost the election, Trump has engaged in a crusade against Republicans who crossed him, an effort he invigorated with a rally in Ohio on Saturday, where he traveled to campaign against Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, who voted to impeach him earlier this year. In most cases, the Republican base has responded zealously. But here, at a convention center attached to a water park, the lack of interest from the rank-and-file suggested some of the first, tentative signs of weariness of Trump’s smash-mouth political act.

Even Sen. Ron Johnson, an unfailing Trump ally, broke with the former president’s criticism of Johnson’s home-state lawmakers, dismissing Trump’s suggestion that they could be primaried.

“I don’t think that represents much of a threat, quite honestly,” Johnson said, describing Vos and his colleagues as “doing a pretty good job.”

Trump remains wildly popular among Wisconsin Republicans — no less than in other states — and the belief in his false claim that the election was rigged is widespread, underpinning a raft of elections-related legislation passed by Republican lawmakers in the state this month. At the state convention, activists cheered for Trump when organizers played a recorded message in which Trump repeated his falsehood that he carried the state in November. The convention included a panel on election law changes, the state party homepage prominently features an “election integrity dashboard” and delegates carried tote bags that read “Defend secure elections.”

Brian Jennings, chair of the GOP in Florence County, a sparsely populated Trump stronghold in northern Wisconsin, said “Trump is the Republican Party right now,” and on the sidelines of the convention, several delegates said Trump was right that Vos hadn’t done enough to overturn the results of the election.

But unlike in states like Georgia and Arizona, there wasn’t widespread interest in purging the state’s Assembly speaker for it — a departure from Trump’s dominion over the Republican Party’s apparatus in the states.

“That’s Wisconsin for you,” said Helmut Fritz, a delegate from Milwaukee who sits on the state party’s credentials committee. “Trump isn’t the dictator.”

In part, Vos’s avoidance of punishment is the result of shrewd politics. Though he has frustrated Republicans who want Wisconsin to pursue an Arizona-style review of the election, Vos is neither a Trump critic nor a defender of the November election’s integrity in the mold of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp or Utah Sen. Mitt Romney. He has infuriated Democrats by hiring three retired police officers to investigate “potential irregularities and/or illegalities” in the November election. And at the convention, he announced that a conservative former state Supreme Court justice, Michael Gableman, will oversee the effort.

Following that news — which an operative familiar with the arrangement said was in the works for weeks — Trump said at his rally in Ohio that “I hear now that Wisconsin is looking very, very seriously” into the election “and I respect Wisconsin so much.”

But for the purposes of the Wisconsin state convention, he had all but invited attendees to engage in a pile-on. In his statement issued the night before Vos spoke, Trump, seeking to stoke grassroots outrage, accused Vos, LeMahieu and state Sen. Chris Kapenga of “working hard to cover up election corruption … actively trying to prevent a Forensic Audit.”

“Don’t fall for their lies!” Trump wrote. “These REPUBLICAN ‘leaders’ need to step up and support the people who elected them by providing them a full forensic investigation. If they don’t, I have little doubt that they will be primaried and quickly run out of office.”

On Sunday, a Trump adviser said the former president remains “adamant about doing audits” and “is going to keep up pressure on Republicans to have the courage to do it.”

So far this year and in other states, Trump’s broadsides against Republicans deemed insufficiently loyal to him have been met with enthusiasm from activists. Utah Republicans heckled Romney, an outspoken Trump critic, at their state convention in May. Republicans in Georgia booed Kemp. The GOP governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, was censured by his party for his lack of fealty to Trump.

At the convention in Wisconsin, it was a different story. One delegate deleted Trump’s statement from his phone, saying he wished Trump would “shut up, and I’m a big Trump supporter.” Another delegate said he hadn’t even bothered to read it.

David Blaska, a former Dane County supervisor who worked as a speechwriter for former GOP Gov. Tommy Thompson, said “a lot of people still believe the election was stolen.” But the fact they weren’t jeering Vos, he said, was a “good sign.”

Standing at the back of the convention hall, Blaska said the party is “hopefully moving on.”

Vos said he wasn’t surprised by the reception, citing his relationship with activists dating back to before Act 10, the explosive legislation advanced by then-Gov. Scott Walker in 2011 that limited public employee collective bargaining rights. Trump, he said, was “misinformed.”

But in a sign that Trump’s supremacy isn’t absolute, Vos went further than many other Republican have been willing to, aligning himself with former House Speaker Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who in a speech last month clashed with Trump when he said, “If the conservative cause depends on the populist appeal of one personality, or of second-rate imitations, then we’re not going anywhere.”

“The things that President Trump stands for — a strong America, lower taxes, more freedom — everybody agrees with that,” Vos said in a brief interview off the convention floor. “But I will say … I agree with Paul Ryan saying that our movement should never be about one person.”

Trump, Vos said, “did a lot of good things. But so could [Florida Gov.] Ron DeSantis or [Florida Sen.] Marco Rubio or you name the candidate. They all could do good things, too.”

One important distinction in Wisconsin is the state party’s history — it is more firmly rooted than most. Ten years ago, Wisconsin was the Republican Party’s leading light. Ryan was ascendant, soon to become the GOP’s vice presidential nominee in 2012, then House speaker. Walker was beginning his first term as governor, waging a war on unions that would serve as a model for conservatives across the country. The state’s former GOP chair, Reince Priebus, ran the national party.

Today, the state party has been set back. After cresting in 2016, with Trump’s upset of Hillary Clinton, Republicans here lost the governorship in 2018, then saw the state flip to Joe Biden two years later. Johnson, the state’s top elected Republican, has not yet said if he’ll run for reelection (On Saturday, he told reporters he won’t announce a decision for “quite some time.”)

“It’s still a place [people] look to,” Walker said. “But it’s usually for things that have happened in the past.”

Yet a comeback for the GOP in Wisconsin could be just a year away. Trump lost the state by fewer than 21,000 votes in 2020. Republicans still control the state legislature, and the party has a credible chance of unseating Tony Evers, the Democratic governor, next year.

“I think Wisconsin will be back in terms of being a focal point nationally, because you’ll have one of the most competitive gubernatorial elections, and probably at least nationally more importantly, you’re going to have a Senate race that could very well determine who holds the Senate for the next several years,” Walker said.

He said the party has “a tremendous opportunity not to be wed to any one individual, and I say that fully acknowledging that on policy what President Trump did was phenomenal.”

On politics, however, his record was mixed. In November, Wisconsin served as a blaring example of Trump’s difficulties in the suburbs, with the former president juicing turnout in rural areas but underperforming in metro areas. Convention-goers repeatedly mentioned how Republicans running in the state’s five Republican-held House seats outperformed Trump in their districts.

In a swing state with a recent history of highly competitive elections, convention delegates and strategists repeatedly cited an imperative to rally together, and also to avoid needlessly alienating large swathes of otherwise attainable voters. Other states, said a Republican strategist at the Wisconsin convention, “aren’t used to a decade of battles where every yard matters” and where “f—ing with each other” internally can cost the party an election.

“The stuff that’s going on nationally, we’ve experienced it longer,” said Jennie Frederick, president of the Wisconsin Federation of Republican Women. “I feel like we know who the enemy is, and it’s not us.”

Author: David Siders
This post originally appeared on Politics, Policy, Political News Top Stories

Meditation isn’t always calming. For a select few, it may lead to psychosis.

In 2006, at the age of 20, a junior at Indiana University Bloomington’s prestigious conservatory could barely pick up her viola. The student, who requested to remain anonymous, felt her life had become unmanageable. 

Every time she tried to play, waves of depression came on. Desperate to continue her studies, she turned to meditation. Occasional classes with her mom quickly turned into a routine regimen: 30 minutes of morning meditation, the same at night, as well as weekly group sessions and retreats at nearby ashrams. A year into her practice, her depression had melted away, she had friends, and she could play her viola again.

That was where her healing stopped—and where one of the darkest periods of her life began.

Like the violoist, millions of people have turned to meditation for their mental and physical wellbeing. Between 2012 and 2017, the percentage of U.S. adults who meditated in a given year more than tripled, from 4.1 percent to 14.2 percent, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). And many people benefit from the practice. Research suggests that regular meditation reduces blood pressure, symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety and depression, and insomnia

But meditation isn’t always beneficial or even benign. A year after the student musician began meditating, she attended a group meditation in India along with 50,000 other people and their guru. When she returned, her perspectives had shifted in a surprisingly drastic way: Colors seemed brighter and inanimate objects suddenly held subliminal messages, energies, even personalities. She began to believe she had absorbed the power of her guru. Energy pulsed from the base of her spine to the crown of her head. It radiated through her limbs and into her viola. Each time she meditated, the feeling grew more intense. “I was losing touch with reality,” she says. “Messages were coming from everywhere in a barrage. It was terrifying.”

While home for the holidays in New York City, she refused to wear a coat in frigid weather, convinced she was immune to the cold. It was in a pizza restaurant, dressed in a single thin layer, sobbing, that an emergency medical technician approached her. Later that evening, at a psychiatric hospital, the young woman received her diagnosis: schizoaffective disorder, a type of schizophrenia. 

******

The violist wouldn’t be the first person to experience a psychiatric emergency after meditating. Dozens of similar cases have been documented in the medical literature going all the way back to 1915. On the subreddit r/meditation, users describe how they suddenly stopped sleeping after meditation retreats, developed a sense of impending doom, or felt as though they were “traveling through different timelines.”

To be clear, the majority of people who practice meditation won’t go on to develop psychosis or schizophrenia. And any connection between these serious mental illnesses and the practice of meditation isn’t entirely clear. While there’s still a lot researchers don’t know, some believe, based on case-reports, that people who are predisposed to mental illness, particularly schizophrenia, are more at risk. They compare the association between psychosis and meditation to observations that in rare cases, mind-altering substances like marijuana can trigger psychosis, particularly in individuals already vulnerable to mental illness. Similarly, not all meditation is the same, and it seems that meditation associated with hours of practice a day may be more connected to adverse experiences like psychosis compared to shorter periods of daily or weekly meditation. 

In 2017, a team of psychologists and religious scholars set out to understand the characteristics of these difficult experiences and how common they were. The team interviewed 73 western Buddhist meditation practitioners and experts. Their results, published in the journal PLOS One, found that 47 percent experienced delusions or paranormal beliefs, 42 percent had hallucinations, 62 percent went through sleep changes, and 82 percent experienced fear, anxiety, panic, or paranoia. The experiences weren’t always disabling—for some, they lasted less than a week. However, 73 percent of participants described “moderate to severe impairments” and 17 percent required inpatient hospitalization. 

To assess whether meditation might have caused these experiences, the study authors examined 11 criteria, including participants’ own beliefs, how soon after meditating the experience occurred, and whether or not the participants had the same experience when they tried meditating again. On average, participants met four criteria. (In these types of assessments, an average of two criteria is enough to signify a possible causal relationship.) 

Still, it’s impossible to determine with certainty whether, in any individual case, meditation causes psychosis. Most interviewees attributed these experiences to meditating, but it’s important to note that the study authors didn’t rule out other factors nor did they establish that meditating caused these experiences. It could be that psychosis and meditation, by chance, happen to coincide, says Pawan Sharma, a professor of psychiatry at Patan Academy of Health Sciences in Nepal. Sharma began publishing case studies and literature reviews on meditation-induced psychosis after working with a patient who was struggling with hallucinations and involuntary movement after months of meditating for hours each day. In some cases, if the interest in meditation seems sudden or uncharacteristic, the fixation could in itself be an early symptom of psychosis, Sharma said. 

But from a neuroscience perspective, the apparent connection between meditation and psychosis does make sense. Studies have shown that meditation itself has a very real effect on our brain. Meditation is linked to increased activity in areas of the brain associated with emotion regulation and concentration, which may help explain why some people benefit from the practice.  

[Read more: Are hyperbaric chambers really a fountain of youth?]

But like any other treatment or therapy that changes our body, meditation may have side effects. Some of the brain changes we see alongside meditation mimic those that take place during psychosis. For example, there’s evidence to suggest that meditation elevates dopamine in the brain—one of the hallmark characteristics of schizophrenia, says David Zilles-Wegner, a senior physician in psychiatry at University Medical Center Gottingen in Germany. Dopamine doesn’t just make us feel good, it also serves the purpose of telling our brain what is “salient.” In other words, what to focus on. “Dopamine is a kind of amplifier in the brain,” Zilles-Wegner says. But when we have too much dopamine, our brain begins thinking that even insignificant stimuli are relevant and important. Objects might seem to carry hidden messages; television personalities might seem to be speaking directly through the screen. 

It’s not just dopamine levels. In some people, meditation seems to sensitize the brain to the environment, making it more reactive. That may be why many people report feeling more attuned to their surroundings after meditating, says Willoughby Britton, a professor of psychiatry at Brown University who studies meditation-related challenges. One possible explanation for this phenomenon is a built in system in our brains, called homeostatic neuroplasticity, which makes sure that neural activity remains stable. When we reduce sensory input, this system turns the dial up, and vice versa.  When we meditate, it’s typically quiet, our eyes are closed, and we’re often actively focusing on only one stimulus (our breath, for instance). As such, there’s less for our brains to process. In response, homeostatic plasticity kicks into high gear. Our brains become more sensitive to stimuli. Nerves fire at the slightest provocation, so that colors become brighter and sounds louder. And sometimes, nerves fire with no stimuli at all—that can cause hallucinations.

People who are genetically predisposed to schizophrenia might be more likely to suffer these side-effects, experts point out. Many case studies of psychosis after meditation have been documented in people with a history of schizophrenia or other mental illness. But there’s not enough evidence to exclude this group of people from meditation entirely, Britton says. After all, some studies have found that meditation actually reduces schizophrenia symptoms. 

For some people, the negative side effects of meditation are transient. Twelve percent of participants in the 2017 PLOS ONE study felt impaired for less than a week after their symptoms started. For others, these experiences have longer-lasting consequences. More than half of participants in the same study had symptoms that lasted more than a year. 

The college violist falls into that category. Her schizophrenia is very much a presence in her life. Objects still carry subliminal meanings and personalities. But she’s finally found the right medication for her condition. Rather than the barrage that accosted her when she was unwell, these messages have transformed into a kind of enhanced creativity. She’s a writer, a mental health activist, and a musician; she also has a masters degree in social work.

It’s been fourteen years since the onset of her psychosis. She hasn’t meditated since.

*****

It’s controversial to assert that meditation might carry risks. I posted on the r/meditation subreddit, looking for people who might be willing to share their experiences. People who responded called the idea “hogwash.” I told Sharma about this; he laughed. Since beginning work in this area of psychiatry, he’s received his share of hate mail. “When we challenge somebody’s belief, they’re bound to get distraught about that,” Sharma says.

That said, Sharma isn’t anti-meditation. “Meditating is a good thing,” he says. Sharma believes there needs to be more awareness of the practice’s risks. For example, it’s possible that certain meditation practices are safer than others. In 2019, a group of researchers interviewed 1,232 regular meditators, asking them about particularly unpleasant meditation experiences. Their results, published in PLOS ONE, suggested that people who attended retreats, which often involve meditating in silence for hours each day, were more likely to report experiences like anxiety and hallucinations. Sharma also suspects that transcendental meditation, which often involves focusing on a mantra to produce an altered state of mind, is a risk factor for psychosis. Concentrating on the mantra can act as a kind of sensory deprivation, he says, compared to mindfulness meditation, which involves noticing stimuli in the environment.

[Read more: How does BMI change your COVID-19 risk? The answer reveals how little we know about body fat and health.]

The link we observe between meditation and psychosis highlights how little we understand about meditation. Much of the neuroscience focusing on meditation relies on studies that compare meditators and non-meditators, says Katya Rubia, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at King’s College London. It’s hard to draw concrete conclusions from this kind of research, because outside factors, like socio-economic status and activity levels, could affect the results. Ideally, she says, we’d have experiments in which people are randomly assigned to meditation and non-meditation groups, then compared. 

Most importantly, studies on the neuroscience of meditation need to better honor the diversity of responses to the practice, Brown University’s Britton says. “Much of science is based on averages,” she wrote in an email, “Neuroimaging studies that seek to understand what meditation does to the brain combine different, and sometimes opposite neurological changes, and make a generalized statement that represents the majority of people.” That statement might be accurate most of the time—but it also tends to swamp other responses to meditation, which matter too and deserve attention. “Science needs to reflect the experiences of everyone, Britton wrote, “not just the majority.”

Author: Claire Maldarelli
This post originally appeared on Science – Popular Science

This fossil isn’t a hummingbird-sized dinosaur, but an unusual lizard

What was once thought to be the smallest dinosaur ever found has now been confirmed to be a lizard.

In March 2020, a Nature paper stirred some controversy when scientists identified a skull encased in 99 million year old Myanmar amber as that of a tiny, bird-like dinosaur. The authors dubbed the specimen Oculudentavis khaungraae, and acknowledged the strangeness of the fossil—most notably, they found the shape of the bones, especially around the eye region, didn’t seem to follow other bird or dinosaur evolutionary patterns.

Following publication, other paleontologists refuted the paper’s findings. Another team of scientists published a preprint in bioRxiv in June of 2020, stating that the skull more closely matched one of a lizard. The Nature paper was retracted in July of 2020. Released as a preprint in August 2020, and now as a fully peer-reviewed study in Current Biology, another study by a third team of scientists confirms that Oculudentavis is a lizard genus.

The new paper is based on another, better preserved specimen—a fossil also from Myanmar, whose skull is about a half an inch long, and also around 99 million years old. Using CT scans and 3D remodeling, the authors concluded that their fossil was a different species in the same genus as O. khaungraae—they called their specimen Oculudentavis naga—and that both species were indeed strange lizards rather than small dinosaurs.

“It’s a really weird animal. It’s unlike any other lizard we have today,” Sam Houston State University herpetologist and study co-author Juan Diego Daza said in a statement. He added that the Cretaceous Period, when these fossils were formed, was when many lizard and snake groups emerged, but “they still hadn’t evolved their modern appearance,” which explains why identifying these fossils can be so challenging. “That’s why they can trick us. They may have characteristics of this group or that one, but in reality, they don’t match perfectly.”

[Read more: This Australian behemoth is officially the largest dinosaur on the continent]

The way the amber fossils were preserved distorted the skulls of both Oculudentavis specimens, which contributed to the original misunderstanding. O. khaungraae’s snout was distorted into a narrower cone shape, giving a birdlike impression, while O. naga’s upper skull was likely flattened during fossilization to appear more lizard-like.

The genus name Oculudentavis, established by the authors of the first Nature paper, means “eye tooth bird” in Latin. Even though that name is technically inaccurate now, Daza told CNN that taxonomic rules for naming and organizing animal species dictate that they have to continue using it. “Since Oculudentavis is the name originally used to describe this taxon, it has priority and we have to maintain it,” Daza said. “The taxonomy can be sometimes deceiving.”

Author: Claire Maldarelli
This post originally appeared on Science – Popular Science

Why breaking the law isn’t your only worry when streaming free live football online

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This post originally appeared on Daily Express :: Tech Feed

Kelvin Murray, senior threat researcher at Webroot, said: “These illegal streaming sites are a maze of scams, malware and dangerous content. Simply put there’s no ‘safe’ way to use them without putting yourself at risk.

“The level of sophistication and detail behind the Bitcoin scam we found is a hallmark of a well thought-through and well-resourced criminal operation. These sites are purposely built to trap users into clicking on something nasty – whether that’s a scam or fake app, or serving up explicit and dangerous content.”

Watching pirated live streams of football and other sporting events online is illegal.

Just last December over 7,000 people suspected of watching illegal live streams were issued a warning by UK police.

The cease and desist e-mail said people watching pirated content face a maximum sentence of five years in jail.

WhatsApp isn’t happy with one of its newest features …here's how it plans to fix it

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This post originally appeared on Daily Express :: Tech Feed

WhatsApp introduced its long-requested disappearing text messages at the tail-end of last year. The feature enables WhatsApp users to set an expiry date on their messages. When the deadline comes, the text messages will vanish from your chats. It builds upon the ability to delete messages, something that WhatsApp has had for some time, but removes the need to remember to delete the text.

As it stands, WhatsApp’s disappearing messages stick around for seven days before self-destructing.

Given the advantage of this feature is that it enables you to say something that doesn’t hang around permanently – a week seems way too long. After a week has passed, there seems little point in deleting the text. And it seems the hardworking teams at WhatsApp agree with that assessment.

According to @WABetaInfo, a popular Twitter account that reveals details about upcoming features by digging into beta releases for the messaging service, WhatsApp is now working on a 24-hour option for these self-destructing texts. The beta build now includes a choice between seven days and 24 hours for these self-destructing messages.

This seems like a pretty solid choice.

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With the arrival of self-destructing messages, WhatsApp wanted to challenge the popularity of Snapchat. This platform, which is hugely popular with younger audiences, pioneered ephemeral messages and Stories. WhatsApp has already incorporated a version of the latter, known as Status within the chat app, and now it wants to bulk-up its take on the former.

As always, WhatsApp tests a number of new features and tweaks in beta versions of its app, however, not all of these release to users worldwide. So, the feature in-testing spotted by @WABetaInfo might never become part of a future WhatsApp release, so take the above with a pinch of salt.

And if you can’t wait to get your hands on this feature, it might be worth looking at WhatsApp rival Signal. The secure messaging app, which attracted such a vast influx of new users following the publication of WhatsApp’s controversial new terms and conditions earlier this year that it crashed for 24-hours, already offers self-destruct timers for its texts as low as five seconds.

WhatsApp is also believed to be working on self-destructing picture messages for the first time too.