Friday, July 29, 2016

A Caution And A Question

Two recent news items bear a little additional reflection.

The first is the release of a new study on dementia.  This should come as no surprise.  Each year around this time researchers meet for the Alzheimer's Association International Conference.  Hence, each year around this time we get results of the latest research as the reports and papers are presented at that meeting.

The headline from Reuters reads: “Brain Games Might Cut Alzheimer's Risk.”  Note the use of the word might.  For years companies have been trying to sell us various brain games to make us smarter and especially to help fight dementia.  They have been doing this without firm scientific support.  Now they have a might on their side, which is better than the pure skepticism they faced in the past.

The study design sounds like a good one.  The original study, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and “known as Active, examined the effects of cognitive training programs on 2,785 healthy older adults.”  They gave each of three groups a different exercise based on:  reasoning, speed of recognition or memory.  Some participants got follow-up sessions.  Reviewing progress after one, two, three, five and 10 years, they found “modest benefits” in cognitive and functional abilities for only the first two groups.

Frustrated by the lack of attention to the potential benefit of brain games, one scientist, who is also a paid consultant for a brain game company, “did a secondary analysis of the 10-year data, looking at the time it took individuals to develop dementia.”  She found “that the group that did speed training showed 33 percent less risk of dementia relative to the control group.”  This is an encouraging result, but it was presented to the conference before peer review and publication in a scientific journal.  The structure of the second analysis is not clear, and the motivation for it seems a bit suspicious.

The caution, therefore, is to watch out for a new wave of brain game advertising following on the heels of this latest, more encouraging but not definitive review.

That was the caution, now the question.

The question comes from a report about artists objecting to politicians using their music for campaign events.  Last year a Rolling Stone headline read:  “Stop Using My Song: 35 Artists Who Fought Politicians Over Their Music.”  More recently, in light of some vocal objections to music used at the Republican Convention, another report pointed out “there have been 30 instances of artists objecting to presidential candidates' use of their music since 1984.”  (Of these two were against Democrats.)

The question, especially for these left-leaning musicians is, how do those objections to using your (legally purchased/licensed) music in a way that is contrary to your conscience and values differ from the objections of a privately owned bakery to provide a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding?  It seems that the same laws should apply in both cases and any objections should evoke the same level of outrage.

Please don’t misunderstand.  I have no problem with same-sex marriage (nor am I a republican or a democrat.)  I only question how certain principles (like we serve everybody) can be embraced on one hand, with corporations withdrawing support and public demonstrations, whereas they are ignored or overturned on the other.  Principles as a matter of convenience or personal preference are not principles at all.

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