Science | Medicine | Health - Related Tags

A Bible-based approach to consciousness research

May 19, 2014

Consider, for instance, the ongoing debate over the source and nature of consciousness. Is it brain-based or does it perhaps originate somewhere else?

“I would say the brain does not create consciousness,” said Dr. Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon and author of “Proof of Heaven“ during a recent Intelligence Squared debate. “In fact, no neuroscientist on earth can give the first sentence to explain the mechanism by which the physical brain creates consciousness.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson v. the Right: Cosmos, Christians and the Battle for American Science

June 23, 2014

Dinesh D'Souza, for instance, has taken to using science as proof of religion -- he argues, rather absurdly, that the Bible's explanation of the origins of the universe predates modern science. In his speech at Intelligence Squared, he claims: "When the discovery of the big bang came -- this, by the way, was at a time when most scientists believed the universe was eternal, the steady state universe was the prevailing doctrine of American and Western science -- so it came as a shock that the universe had a beginning..."

Is Death Final? Watch a Brainy Debate

May 18, 2014

What do near death experiences (NDEs) tell us about life after death? Do they tell us anything at all? At the last Intelligence Squared debate, a neurosurgeon, a neurologist, a doctor and a physicist debated the proposition “Death is not final.” The thrust of the debate was based on the experiences of Dr. Eben Alexander and his book Proof of Heaven. Arguing for the motion that death is not final, Dr. Alexander explained how he was hospitalized with a severe brain infection, went into a coma, woke up, and eventually reported that he had been to heaven. It’s a fantastic tale, but science says otherwise.

Debating Death: Is It Really the End?

May 14, 2014

Last week, four scientific big thinkers settled into their seats on stage at NYC's Kaufmann Center to debate this provocative proposition for NPR's Intelligence Squared. They would be discussing this proposition from a purely scientific, not a religious point of view, wrestling with the fundamental question of whether or not consciousness is totally contingent on a functioning human brain.

Near Death Experiences: Does the Brain Create Consciousness?

May 08, 2014

Does consciousness exist outside the brain, pointing to a less observable world than meets the eye? Or are near death and out-of-body experiences simply signs of oxygen deprivation, showcasing a plausible occurrence easily explained by science? Skeptics and believers met to discuss this question on Intelligence Squared, a series of live debates that have hosted over 85 controversial topics. They argued in favor of or against the ultimate question: Is death--or the end of consciousness-- final?

Afterlife Aftermath

May 09, 2014

You’ll be happy to hear that the good guys “won.” In scare quotes because helping the world’s population understand that naturalism is the right way to view the universe is a long-term project that won’t be settled with a single debate. But Intelligence Squared does a fun thing where they ask people to vote before the debate starts, and then again afterward. We started out the night slightly behind in the polls, and by the time we were done we were slightly ahead. Mostly by peeling away the undecideds, as any savvy politician strives to do. [Update: oops, not right. See below.] So that counts as a victory — especially when the topic is one where many people (not all!) have fairly fixed opinions.

After the Afterlife Debate

May 08, 2014

The debate hosted by Intelligence Squared on the proposition – Death is not Final, was a lot of fun. Of course, I am pleased with the outcome, as I think my partner, Sean Carroll, and I performed well, and in the end we won the final audience vote.

Post Debate Reflections: The Sound of One Hand Clapping

May 09, 2014

The current online voting for Wednesday (May 7, 2014) night’s debate shows Dr Moody and myself (Dr Eben Alexander) victorious (currently 68:32, from 50:50 before the debate). I suspect that is related to the listeners’ awareness that an audience of neuroscientists would have agreed with me, against Steven Novella, that no neuroscientist on earth can give the first sentence to explain a possible mechanism by which the physical brain creates consciousness (the Hard Problem of Consciousness – see below). The brain is obviously tightly linked to consciousness – the mistake is in believing, as I did before my coma (and the debate opponents Novella & Carroll still do), that the brain creates consciousness. He now knows otherwise.

Smoke Signals: The Misinformation Behind FDA’s Proposed Regulation Of E-Cigarettes

May 01, 2014

For an entertaining and informative refresher on why that process sucks, watch this recent Intelligence Squared debate, “The FDA’s Caution is Hazardous to Our Health.” Arguing in favor of the motion is Peter Huber — Manhattan Institute fellow, partner at litigation boutique Kellogg Huber, former MIT mechanical engineering professor, and former clerk for now-Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor. Huber argues persuasively (albeit spastically) that FDA stifles innovation and relies on bad scientific methods.

Debate: Death is not Final – #AfterDeath

May 08, 2014

Now here is a really interesting (for me) debate from Intelligence squared.

Death Debate

May 09, 2014

If you’re the sort of person who finds discussions about science and religion entertaining, then you’re in luck because at 6:45 CST (I think that’s 5:45 here?) there will be an Intelligence Squared debate on the subject of “Death Is Not Final“. It will be streamed live at the Neurologica blog.

Is There Life After Death? Watch Scientists Debate Tonight Online

May 07, 2014

Is there life after death? This age-old question will be debated again tonight by a group of doctors and scientists, who will offer their take on the mystery of human consciousness, the meaning of near-death experiences and the possibility of life after death.

The mismatch problem: Why college football scholarships are not enough

April 22, 2014

Have you ever had a moment when you heard an argument that made you examine a long-held belief?

I had a moment like that recently when listening to an NPR Intelligence Squared podcast on college admissions. Intelligence Squared is a high-quality product, as the debate is civil, fact-heavy, and performed with great skill. In other words, it's everything that cable news is not, sort of like reading the best of the college football internet as opposed to relying on Holtz and May to analyze team strength.

FDA considers controversial fertility procedure. What’s at stake?

February 25, 2014

On Tuesday Feb. 25 and Wednesday Feb. 26, the FDA will consider a controversial cutting-edge fertility procedure otherwise known as “oocyte modification in assisted reproduction for the prevention of transmission of mitochondrial disease or treatment of infertility.” Despite the hype, the mitochondrial transfer procedures being considered are far from the “creation of three-parent babies.”

Instead, the FDA is finally considering whether it should green-light small clinical trials that could one day enable the thousands of women afflicted with mitochondrial disorders to have a shot at having healthy genetic children. Passions tend to run high in this area. Before the alarm bells start ringing on both sides, it might be helpful to have an overview of what is and is not at stake.

You can learn more about the pros and cons of mitochondrial transfer by listening to the Intelligence Squared Debate, in which I participated, here. It was a great debate and really aired a lot of the issues.

'Doc Shock' Reaches the Masses

February 06, 2014

In December, I predicted that “doc shock” was going to be a major problem for the U.S. health-care overhaul, as people found out that the narrow networks insurers use to keep premiums low often don’t cover the top-notch doctors you’d like to see if you get really sick.

I reiterated this in my recent Intelligence Squared debate: However much good, sound policy sense narrow networks might make, they are political poison. Regulators and politicians are going to find it very hard to withstand the appeals of constituents who have been restricted to the bargain basement of our nation’s health-care system. I simply don't think they’ll be able to stand it for very long. This is basically what happened to the managed-care revolution that held down cost growth in the mid-1990s -- people in those plans complained bitterly, in their capacity as both voters and employees. A combination of legal and market pressure forced insurers to open up their networks and approve more treatments. And then costs started rising again. As people begin using their Obamacare policies and start running into restrictions, the same sort of pressure will begin to mount.

Obamacare Isn’t Beyond Rescue — Not Yet At Least: Why Health Care Reform’s Success Is Really A Popularity Contest

January 18, 2014

In a debate hosted by Intelligence Squared on Jan. 15, competitors argued on both sides of whether the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” is so irreparably damaged that its successful implementation is beyond rescue. After the debate, aside from the sketchy numbers released by the Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS) this week, one question still lingered: does Obamacare have to be “popular” in order for it to survive, or can it evolve over time?

Resolved: Obamacare Is Now Beyond Rescue

January 21, 2014

Last Wednesday, Scott Gottlieb and I debated Jonathan Chait and Douglas Kamerow at an Intelligence Squared event on this proposition: “Resolved: Obamacare Is Now Beyond Rescue.” I was feeling a little trepid, for three reasons: First, I’ve never done any formal debate; second, the resolution gave the “for” side a built-in handicap, as the “against” side just had to prove that Obamacare might not be completely beyond rescue; and third, we were debating on the Upper West Side. Now, I grew up on the Upper West Side and love it dearly. But for this particular resolution, it’s about the unfriendliest territory this side of Pyongyang.

Obamacare Enrollment Numbers Released In HHS Report, But They Don't Add Up

January 16, 2014

Perhaps because of the abundance of raw data available in this Age of Information, many an argument comes down to contesting the essential facts and figures that underpin a given claim. In the Intelligence Squared debate held on Jan. 15, for instance, the subject in question was whether “Obamacare is now beyond rescue” and both sides referred to the number of canceled policies resulting from health care reform — five million, some have claimed — as a significant issue that has been hotly contested over the past few months. “Many journalists have tried to figure out exactly how many policies have been canceled,” Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine stated, “And they don't have good enough records to know, but they know it's not 5 million. And they suspect — the administration suspects it's closer to one-tenth of that figure.”

The Death of the Death of Obamacare

January 16, 2014

Last night, Douglas Kamerow and I debated Megan McArdle and Scott Gottlieb at Intelligence Squared over the notion, “Obamacare is now beyond rescue.” Intelligence Squared picked the topic two months ago, when the website was still broken, insurers were frantic, congressional Democrats were in a full-scale panic, and it seemed genuinely possible to many people that the law would simply fail.

The arguments McArdle and Gottlieb made last night bore little resemblance to the sorts of failure predictions that were widely circulating last November. Many of their arguments simply took issue with the law’s goals; they argued that Medicaid does not make people healthier, that healthy people ought to be able to enjoy the financial benefits of being skimmed out of the insurance pool, and that politicians will reverse all the mechanisms needed to finance the law. In other words, they argued that the law was doomed for the reasons opponents had argued it was doomed in 2010, or for reasons a conservative could offer to suggest Medicare and Social Security are also doomed.

Debate: Don't Eat Anything With A Face

December 12, 2013

Earlier this month, The Discerning Brute covered promotions for the debate event “Don’t Eat Anything with a Face.” It got a lot of press traction. Hosted by the U.S. affiliate of Intelligence Squared, the debate featured two two-member teams arguing each side of the motion. For the motion were Dr. Neal Barnard of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and George Washington University and his debate partner Gene Baur, founder and co-president of Farm Sanctuary. Against the motion were Chris Masterjohn, author of the blog The Daily Lipid (sponsored by the Weston A. Price Foundation), and his debate partner Joel Salatin, public speaker and director of Polyface Farms.

The debate was composed of three rounds, including a question-and-answer with the audience, and to my delight it maintained an intelligent, robust, and precise examination of the motion, Don’t Eat Anything with a Face.

Debate Recap: Don’t Eat Anything With A Face

December 12, 2013

Last week I posted to Facebook and Twitter about a debate that was happening on IntelligenceSquaredUS.com, a site dedicated on showcasing live debates on various topics. Since then, the results of the debate have been analyzed and I find them very exciting.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching the entire debate. It was wonderful to hear how each side agrees on a lot of matters: eat less meat, no factory farming, no GMOs…that’s progress.

Face Off! A Debate About Eating Anything With A Face

December 10, 2013

Is it healthier to be a vegetarian? Or an omnivore? And how much of an environmental impact does livestock really have? These questions can spark a lively debate and that’s exactly what happened last week when Intelligence Squared presented Don’t Eat Anything With A Face. Clinical researcher and author Dr. Neal Barnard and Gene Baur, president and co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, both in favor of the motion, faced off against farmer and author Joel Salatin and nutritional sciences researcher and blogger Chris Masterjohn.

It’s possible this debate could soon extend to include meat without a face.

Reflections on the "Don't Eat Anything With a Face" Debate, Part 1: Overall Impressions and Lessons

December 07, 2013

This past Wednesday I participated in an Intelligence Squared US debate, "Don't Eat Anything With a Face." Dr. Neal Barnard and Gene Baur argued for the motion, while Joel Salatin and I argued against it. If you missed it, you can watch the video here. It was a great experience, from which I learned a lot. I will be publishing a series of reflections on the debate, the first installment of which is below.

Should We Eat Anything With A Face? Vegetarianism Vs. Carnivorism

December 08, 2013

Vegetarianism has been a part of human culture since the dawn of civilization, when Greek philosophers debated the morality of killing animals for their flesh. It was Pythagoras, the father of mathematics, who said, "As long as man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower-living beings, he will never know health or peace. For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other." (For what it's worth, that is not necessarily true.)

More than 2,000 years later, we're still having that debate. Last week, Intelligence Squared hosted a panel on the rights and wrongs of meat-eating, entitled "Don't Eat Anything With a Face."

Should We Eat Anything With A Face?

December 07, 2013

Wednesday night, the Intelligence Squared U.S. debate series took on vegetarianism and animal rights with the motion “should we eat anything with a face?” So who won?

The debate spanned nearly 90 minutes and covered nutrition, environmental concerns, animal welfare and ethics.

One thing that was established early on in the debate is that all of the panelists are against industrial factory farming, so discussion of that industry’s ethics were off the table completely — even though 99 percent of all farmed animals raised and slaughtered in the United States are from factory farms.

What they did discuss was the following...

Don’t Eat Anything with a Face: A Discussion on Eating Meat

December 06, 2013

The award-winning debate series, "Intelligence Squared U.S.," concluded its fall season with "Don't Eat Anything with a Face," moderated by ABC News correspondent John Donvan. The debate was centered on physical, psychological, environmental, and moral impacts caused by the American consumption of animal protein.

Not surprisingly, the topic ignited a strong reaction from vegans and omnivores alike.

What made the public feel so strongly about something as basic as food? [The program's chairman, Robert] Rosenkranz speculated that it was because our dietary choices have become a form of branding.

Choosing to buy organic and locally grown foods, or to only consume a plant-based diet, is part of our identity that broadcasts our personal values to the rest of the world. For example, being a vegan implies that you value your own health and the well-being of other species and the environment. However, is it possible to be ecological, ethical, and health-conscious while still consuming meat? The debate's four panelists sought to answer that very question.

Beyonce & Jay Z Go Vegan (Healthy Hollywood)

December 05, 2013

Now, with the superstar couple blogging and talking about their vegan journey, the debate over whether it’s healthier to eat meat or not is sure to heat up.

So, it couldn’t have been more timely for Healthy Hollywood to attend Intelligence Squared U.S. debates here in New York City last night. The water-cooler topic of the night was [of course] “should we eat anything with a face?”

On the no-meat side sat vegan guru and author Dr. Neal Barnard (a personal favorite) and Gene Bauer, who promotes animal compassion. Their opponents were Joel Salatin, a grass-fed meat farmer and Chris Masterjohn, who is a pro-meat advocate. The two sides lively debated their opinions in front of a live audience. The program is also broadcast on NPR.

It was certainly an intellectual crowd, not the typical the star attractions I am used to. But, it was interesting to hear the pro-plant folks highlight all the health benefits of a no-meat diet, while the meat-eaters argued a plant-based diet leaves you nutritionally deficient and at more risk for mental health issues (say what? to that point!).

Watch: The best arguments for (and against) eating meat

December 05, 2013

An impassioned debate from Intelligence Squared U.S.

Is it wrong to eat meat? Anyone who feels strongly one way or the other should check out the latest episode of NPR’s Oxford-style debate series, Intelligence Squared U.S.

Arguing in favor of the motion, “Don’t eat anything with a face,” are Dr. Neal Barnard of George Washington University and the “meat causes cancer” camp, and Gene Baur of Farm Sanctuary, a farm animal rescue organization. Arguing against is Chris Masterjohn, a nutritional sciences researcher whose own experiment with a vegan diet, he claimed, left him physically and mentally ill, along with Joel Salatin, a progressive farmer who’s been featured in The Omnivore’s Dilemma and the documentary Food, Inc.

Instead of dwelling on the evils of factory farms, the participants agree that our current system of meat production is far from ideal, then precede to debate the more nuanced moral, environmental and health consequences of a world fed on animals, while attempting to imagine what such a world would look like were we all to abandon the practice. Along the way, both sides make strong points about, among many other things: meat’s similarities to tobacco; mankind’s proper role in nature; and the privileges of modern society that allow us to debate the issue in the first place.

Intelligence Squared: Is the FDA Hazardous to Our Health?

May 09, 2013

Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruled to make the morning-after pill, Plan B One-Step, available over-the-counter for women as young as 15 years old. This decision allows teens sidestep the pharmacy to receive emergency contraception and marks a not-insignificant victory for women’s health and reproductive rights.

The ruling was backed by a study submitted by the drugmaker to the FDA showing that women aged 15 and older understood that the product was not for regular use and would not protect them against sexually-transmitted diseases. Still, the decision doesn’t sit well with a number of women’s right groups, such as the Center for Women’s Reproductive Rights, who are angered that the FDA hasn’t budged on removing age restrictions entirely.

The real reason Americans are missing out on life-saving drugs

May 09, 2013

The oft-repeated claim that the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t approve drugs quickly enough is simply false. The actual approval process usually only takes six to 12 months. So why does the US lag behind Europe in the number of new drugs it brings to market?

Look no further than the clinical trials required by the FDA before the drug even reaches the government agency’s review stage. Once a drug has been developed, it can take six to ten years for three phases of clinical trials to be performed.