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(Math) Correlation: Predicting Oscar

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 05, 2006 8:56 am    Post subject: (Math) Correlation: Predicting Oscar Reply with quote

Predicting Oscar
5 February 2006
Ivars Peterson

Brokeback Mountain or Good Night, and Good Luck? Felicity Huffman or Reese Witherspoon? Philip Seymour Hoffman or Joaquin Phoenix?

With great fanfare, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recently announced the 2005 nominees for its prestigious film awards, commonly known as Oscars. The announcement set off the usual flurry of complaints about worthy candidates that were somehow overlooked and rampant speculation about who would win in each of the categories.

How easy is it to predict the winners? That's the question that decision scientist Iain Pardoe of the Lundquist College of Business at the University of Oregon tackles in the current issue of Chance. He focuses on predicting the winners of the four major awards—picture, director, actor in a leading role, and actress in a leading role—from those nominated each year.

"Although many in the media (as well as movie-loving members of the public) make their own annual predictions," Pardoe notes, "it appears that very few researchers have conducted a formal statistical analysis for this purpose."

A wide variety of factors could serve as predictors, including other Oscar category nominations, previous nominations and wins, and other (earlier) movie awards. To tease out which ones are most significant and create a model for making predictions, Pardoe turned to a technique known as discrete choice modeling.

In a discrete choice model, an outcome is the result of several decisions—a sequence of choices—made among a finite set of alternatives by individuals in the population under consideration. The probabilities are calculated using a so-called multinomial logit model.

The Oscars have been awarded every year since 1928. Pardoe used data from years up to 1938 to make predictions for 1939, then cumulative data for each succeeding year.

Here are the variables that helped most in making accurate predictions, by category.

Best Picture

Total number of Oscar nominations.
Best director Oscar nomination.
Winner of a Golden Globe award for best picture or best picture (drama).
Winner of a Golden Globe award for best picture (musical or comedy).
Winner of a Directors Guild of America award for best director or a Producers Guild of America award for best producer.

Best Director

Total number of Oscar nominations.
Best picture Oscar nomination.
Number of previous best director Oscar nominations.
Winner of a Golden Globe award (1945–1950) or a Directors Guild of America award (from 1951) for best director.

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Best picture Oscar nomination.
Number of previous best actor Oscar nominations.
Number of previous best actor Oscar wins.
Winner of a Golden Globe award for best actor (drama).
Winner of a Golden Globe award for best actor (musical or comedy).
Winner of a Screen Actor's Guild award for best actor.

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Best picture Oscar nomination.
Number of previous best actress Oscar wins.
Winner of a Golden Globe award for best actress (drama).
Winner of a Golden Globe award for best actress (musical or comedy).
Winner of a Screen Actor's Guild award for best actress.

Curiously, in the best director category, it turns out that the number of previous best director wins tends to worsen the model's predictions, even though the number of previous nominations helps. Conversely, in the best actress category, including a variable for the number of previous wins helps and including a variable for the number of previous nominations worsens predictions.

At the same time, including a variable for the total number of nominations improves predictions of the best picture and best director winners, but it worsens predictions of the acting Oscars.

Actor and actress nominee ages don't appear to factor into predicting the winner. Neither does supporting actor nominations and wins, nominated movie genre (drama, musical, comedy, and so on), Motion Picture Association of America rating, release date, and movie awards other than the Golden Globes presented before the Oscars.

Pardoe's model correctly predicted 186 of the 268 picture, director, actor, and actress wins from 1938 to 2004. This prediction accuracy of 69 percent is far above the 20 percent (assuming five nominees per category) that you might expect if the choices were random.

With the accumulation of data, the model's overall prediction accuracy has improved over time. It was 81 percent for the span from 1975 to 2004. During this period, the proportions of correct predictions were 93 percent for director and 77 percent each for picture, actor, and actress.

"Each of the categories has become more predictable over time, particularly Best Actress, which was very hard to predict up until the early 1970s," Pardoe says.

Pardoe's analysis also allows you to pinpoint truly astonishing upsets: Hamlet over Johnny Belinda in 1948, Chariots of Fire over Reds in 1981, and Million Dollar Baby over The Aviator in 2004.

In the director category, Steven Soderbergh over Ang Lee (2000), Roman Polanski over Rob Marshall (2002), and Carol Reed over Anthony Harvey (1968).

In the actor category: Denzel Washington over Russell Crowe (2001), Cliff Robertson over Peter O'Toole (1968), and Art Carney over Jack Nicholson (1974).

In the actress category: Nicole Kidman over Renee Zellweger (2002), Katharine Hepburn over Faye Dunaway (1967), and Elizabeth Taylor over Anouk Aimée (1966).

We now have a fresh take on the "who's best?" controversies that have often roiled the world of film. As for 2005, Pardoe hasn't yet announced his predictions for the upcoming Oscars.


Questions to explore further this topic:

What is a correlation?

What is a correlation coefficient?

Flash animations showing what correlation means

Examples of correlation


What is the relationship between correlation and causation?

Coincidence, correlation and chance

Correlation and Prediction (Slideshows)

What is discrete choice modeling?



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PostPosted: Fri Feb 10, 2006 11:56 am    Post subject: The Science of Hit Songs Reply with quote

The Science of Hit Songs
By Bjorn Carey
LiveScience Staff Writer
posted: 09 February 2006
02:01 pm ET

When Ashlee Simpson tops the charts while a critically acclaimed ex-Beatle's album fails to crack the top 200, eyebrows go up in the marketing world.

So what makes a hit?

A new study reveals that we make our music purchases based partly on our perceived preferences of others.

Popularity contest

Researchers created an artificial "music market" of 14,341 participants drawn from a teen-interest Web site. Upon entering the study's Internet market, the participants were randomly, and unknowingly, assigned to either an "independent" group or a "social influence" group.

Participants could then browse through a collection of unknown songs by unknown bands.

In the independent condition, participants chose which songs to listen to based solely on the names of the bands and their songs. While listening to the song, they were asked to rate it from one star ("I hate it") to five stars ("I love it"). They were also given the option of downloading the song for keeps.

"This condition measured the quality of the songs and allowed us to see what outcome would result in the absence of social influence," said study co-author Matthew Salganik, a sociologist at Columbia University.

In the social influence group, participants were provided with the same song list, but could also see how many times each song had been downloaded.

Researchers found that popular songs were popular and unpopular songs were unpopular, regardless of their quality established by the other group. They also found that as a particular songs' popularity increased, participants selected it more often.

The upshot for markerters: social influence affects decision-making in a market.

This research is detailed in the Feb. 10 issue of the journal Science.

The Britney effect

The social-influence group was further divided into eight separate, non-interactive "worlds." Members of each world could not see the decisions of the other seven. The idea behind this was to observe multiple outcomes for the same songs and bands.

"If you look at Britney Spears, some people say she is really good. Others say she isn't good, she's just lucky," Salganik told LiveScience. "But by having just one argument, it's impossible to distinguish. However, if you have 10 worlds, and she's popular in all 10, then you can say she's actually good. But if she's only good in one, then you could say it was due to luck."

Although different songs were hits in each world, popularity was still the deciding factor, although the "best" songs never did very badly and the "worst" songs never did very well.

So what drives participants to choose low-quality songs over high-quality ones?

"People are faced with too many options, in this case 48 songs. Since you can't listen to all of them, a natural shortcut is to listen to what other people are listening to," Salganik said. "I think that's what happens in the real world where there's a tremendous overload of songs."

Alternatively, Salganik said, a desire for compatibility with others could drive the choice, since much of the pleasure from listening to music and reading books stems from discussing them with friends.

"If everybody is talking about 'Harry Potter,' you want to read it too," Salganik said.
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 13, 2006 3:05 pm    Post subject: The Rules of Attraction in the Game of Love Reply with quote

The Rules of Attraction in the Game of Love
By Bjorn Carey
LiveScience Staff Writer
posted: 13 February 2006
12:05 pm ET

To figure out how we pick mates, scientists have measured every shape and angle of the human face, studied the symmetry of dancers, crafted formulas from the measurements of Playboy models, and had both men and women rank attractiveness based on smelling armpit sweat.

After all this and more, the rules of attraction for the human species are still not clearly understood. How it all factors into true love is even more mysterious.

But a short list of scientific rules for the game of love is emerging. Some are as clearly defined as the prominent, feminine eyes of a supermodel or the desirable hips of a well-built man. Other rules work at the subconscious level, motivating us to action for evolutionary reasons that are tucked inside clouds of infatuation.

In the end, lasting love depends at least as much on behavior as biology. But the first moves are made before you're even born.

Starting at conception, the human body develops by neatly splitting cells. If every division were to go perfectly, the result would be a baby whose left and right sides are mirror images. But nature doesn't work that way. Genetic mutations and environmental pressures skew symmetry, and the results have lifelong implications.

Good symmetry shows that an individual has the genetic goods to survive development, is healthy, and is a good and fertile choice for mating.

"It makes sense to use symmetry variation in mate choice," said evolutionary biologist Randy Thornhill of the University of New Mexico. "If you choose a perfectly symmetrical partner and reproduce with them, your offspring will have a better chance of being symmetric and able to deal with perturbations."

Thornhill has been studying symmetry for 15 years and scanned faces and bodies into computers to determine symmetry ratios. Both men and women rated symmetrical members of the opposite sex as more attractive and in better health than their less symmetrical counterparts. The differences can be just a few percent—perceivable though not necessarily noticeable.

By questioning the study participants, Thornhill also found that men with higher degrees of symmetry enjoy more sexual partners than men of lower symmetry.

"Women's sex-partner numbers are dependent on things other than attractiveness," Thornhill told LiveScience. "Because of the way that the sexual system in humans works, women are choosey. They are being sexually competed for. They have to be wooed and all that."

Those hips

Body shape is of course important, too. And scientists have some numbers to prove it. Psychologist Devendra Singh of the University of Texas studied people's waist-to-hip ratio (WHR).

Women with a WHR of 0.7—indicating hips significantly narrower than the waist—are most desirable to men.

And an analysis of hourglass figures of Playboy models and Miss America contestants showed that the majority of these women boast a WHR of 0.7 or lower.

In general, a range of 0.67 to 1.18 in females is attractive to men, Singh concluded in a 2004 study, while a 0.8 to 1.0 WHR in men is attractive to women, although having broad shoulders is more of a turn-on.

What exactly is encoded in the hip ratio? A big fat clue to whether the person will have enough energy to care for offspring.

Where fat is deposited on the body is determined by sex hormones; testosterone in men and estrogen in women. If a woman produces the proper amount and mixture of estrogen, then her WHR will naturally fall into the desired range. The same goes for a male's testosterone.

People in the ideal hip-ratio range, regardless of weight, are less susceptible to disease such as cardiovascular disorders, cancer, and diabetes, studies have shown. Women in this range also have less difficulty conceiving.

"The idea is that beauty is conveying information about health and fertility, and we admire that," Singh said in a telephone interview.

Face it

The structure of a person's face also gives insight to fertility.

Estrogen caps bone growth in a woman's lower face and chin, making them relatively small and short, as well as the brow, allowing for her eyes to appear prominent, Thornhill explained. Men's faces are shaped by testosterone, which helps develop a larger lower face and jaw and a prominent brow.

Men and women possessing these traits are seen as attractive, Thornhill said, because they advertise reproductive health.

Thornhill also points to the booming nip-‘n'-tuck business—which is very much about improving a person's symmetry—as evidence that people find the quality attractive.

Another recent study revealed that symmetrical dancers are seen as more attractive.

Sniff this

Research reported last month found women both smell and look more attractive to men at certain times of the month.

And symmetrical men smell better.

Borrowing sweaty undershirts from a variety of men, Thornhill offered the shirts to the noses of women, asking for their impressions of the scents. Hands down, the women found the scent of a symmetrical man to be more attractive and desirable, especially if the woman was menstruating.

By now you might be wondering how much of this we're consciously aware of. The rules of attraction, it turns out, seem sometimes to play out in our subconscious.

In some cases, women in Thornhill's study reported not smelling anything on a shirt, yet still said they were attracted to it.

"We think the detection of these types of scent is way outside consciousness," Thornhill said.

A 2002 study found women prefer the scent of men with genes somewhat similar to their own over the scent of nearly genetically identical or totally dissimilar men.

These subconscious scents might be related to pheromones, chemical signals produced by the body to communicate reproductive quality. The human genome contains more than 1,000 olfactory genes—compared to approximately 300 genes for photoreceptors in the eyes—so pheromones have received a lot of attention from basic research scientists as well as perfume manufacturers.

But the role of pheromones in the human realm remains controversial.

Animal attraction

Pheromones clearly act as sexual attractants in the animal world. Older male elephants, for example, exude sexual prowess with a mix of chemicals the younger bulls can't muster.

Milos Novotny of the Institute of Pheromone Research at Indiana University has shown that special molecules produced by male mice can simultaneously attract females and repel, and even anger, rival males. Other studies have found similar responses throughout the animal kingdom.

Yet many researchers are not sold on the idea that these odorless compounds play a role in human attraction. Count evolutionary biologist Jianzhi Zhang of the University of Michigan among the skeptical.

In 2003, Zhang showed that a gene mutated 23 million years ago among primates in Africa and Asia that are considered to be human ancestors, allowing them to see color. This let the males notice that a female's bottom turned bright red when she was ready to mate.

"With the development of a sexual color scheme, you don't need the pheromone sensitivity to sense whether a female monkey is ready to mate," Zhang said. "It's advantageous to use visual cues rather than pheromones because they can be seen from a distance."

A study last year, however, suggested that human pheromones affect the sexual area of the brains of women and gay men in a similar manner.

Sex goes visual

Pheromones, like other scents, hitch a ride through the air on other particles, such as water droplets. They generally hover just 10 inches off the ground, however. So odds are slim they'll waft up to a human nose and fuel sudden passion at a nightclub.

Watch any construction worker whistling at a passing woman from half a block away, and you can see how visual cues can be more powerful.

And while they enter the nose like other scents, that's where the comparison stops. A pheromone's destination is a special organ called the volmeronasal organ, which humans now lack. From here the sexy scent travels along a neural pathway to the brain separate from other scents.

Evolution played a role in this, too.

After our ancestors began to see color, a gene important in the pheromone-signaling pathway suffered a deleterious mutation, making it impossible for the scent signals to reach the brain, Zhang said. Imagine a train, leaving from Los Angeles to New York, discovers that the tracks in St. Louis are destroyed.

Although the classical pheromone pathway in both Old World primates and humans is dysfunctional, the mechanism for producing pheromones still works. Some scientists believe human pheromones might be influencing our decisions along the normal olfactory pathway.

Lasting relationships

The rules of attraction might drive our initial decisions, for better or worse. But lasting relationships are about much more than what we see and smell.

Behavior plays a key role, with biology an intriguing contributing factor.

One of the oldest theories about attraction is that like begets like. It explains that eerie perception that married couples sometimes look awfully similar.

Last year, J. Philippe Rushton, a psychologist at the University of Western Ontario, looked into the relationships of people's genes. Based on a set of heritable personality traits, having similar genetics plays 34 percent of the role in friendship and mate selection, he found.

"The main theory is that some genes work well in combination with each other," Rushton told LiveScience. "If these genes evolved to work in combination, then you don't want to break that up too much for your offspring. Finding a mate with similar genes will help you ensure this."

If your spouse is genetically similar, you're more likely to have a happy marriage, for example. Child abuse rates are lower when similarity is high, and you'll also be more altruistic and willing to sacrifice more for someone who is more genetically like you, research shows.

It probably comes as little surprise people are drawn to individuals with similar attitudes and values, as psychologist Eva Klohnen at the University of Iowa found in a 2005 study of newlywed couples. These characteristics are highly visible and accessible to others and can play a role in initial attraction.

When it comes to sticking together for the long haul, researchers have shown that likeness of personality, which can take more time to realize, means more.

Comedy can also help a relationship. But the importance of humor is different for men and women, says Eric Bressler of McMaster University.

A woman is attracted to a man who makes her laugh, Bressler found in a 2005 study. A man likes a woman who laughs at his jokes.

True love

Somewhere amid attraction and sex, we all hope, are strong feelings of love. But which of all the motivations really drives us?

Interestingly, brain scans in people who'd recently fallen in love reveal more activity related to love than sex. "Romantic love is one of the most powerful of all human experiences," says Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers University. "It is definitely more powerful than the sex drive."

The rules of attraction make up a pretty long list. No scientist knows the order of the list. But near the top is perhaps one of the toughest characteristics to gauge in advance in the search for the perfect partner.

Despite all their differences, men and women place high value on one trait: fidelity.

Cornell University's Stephen Emlen and colleagues asked nearly 1,000 people age 18 to 24 to rank several attributes, including physical attractiveness, health, social status, ambition, and faithfulness, on a desirability scale.

People who rated themselves favorably as long-term partners were more particular about the attributes of potential mates. After fidelity, the most important attributes were physical appearance, family commitment, and wealth and status.

"Good parenting, devotion, and sexual fidelity—that's what people say they're looking for in a long-term relationship," Emlen says.
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 14, 2006 7:09 pm    Post subject: Test Helps Predict Your Chances Of Dying Reply with quote

Test Helps Predict Your Chances Of Dying
By Lindsey Tanner
Associated Press
posted: 14 February 2006
05:09 pm ET

CHICAGO (AP) -- It sounds like a perfect parlor game for baby boomers suddenly confronting their own mortality: What are your chances of dying within four years? Researchers have come up with 12 risk factors to try to answer that for people who are 50 and older.

This is one game where you want a low score. Zero to 5 points says your risk of dying in four years is less than 4 percent. With 14 points, your risk rises to 64 percent.

Just being male gives you 2 points. So does having diabetes, being a smoker, and getting pooped trying to walk several blocks.

Points accrue with each four-year increment after age 60.

The test doesn't ask what you eat, but it does ask if you can push a living room chair across the floor.

The quiz is designed “to try to help doctors and families get a firmer sense for what the future may hold,'' to help plan health care accordingly, says lead author Dr. Sei Lee, a geriatrics researcher at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, who helped develop it.

“We know that patients and families want more prognostic information from doctors,'' Lee said. “It's a very natural human question of, 'What's going to happen to me?' We also know that doctors are very cautious about giving prognostic information because they don't want to be wrong.''

This test is roughly 81 percent accurate and can give older people a reasonable idea of their survival chances, Lee and his colleagues say.

Of course, it isn't foolproof. Other experts note it ignores family history and it's much less meaningful for those at the young end of the spectrum.

The researchers even warn, Don't try this at home, saying a doctor can help you put things into perspective.

“Even if somebody looks at their numbers and finds they have a 60 percent risk of death, there could be other mitigating factors,'' said co-author and VA researcher Dr. Kenneth Covinsky.

There are things you can do to improve your chances, he notes, such as quitting smoking or taking up exercise.

The test is based on data involving 11,701 Americans over 50 who took part in a national health survey in 1998. Funded by a grant from the National Institute on Aging, the researchers analyzed participants' outcomes during a four-year follow-up. They based their death-risk survey on the health characteristics that seemed to predict death within four years.

Their report appears in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dr. Donald Jurivich, geriatrics chief at the University of Illinois at Chicago, took the test and got a nice low score. Jurivich is 52. He said he'd feel better about his score if both his parents hadn't died prematurely.

He praised the survey for measuring people's ability to function -- such as being able to move a piece of furniture or keep track of expenses -- signs that can be more telling than other health factors.

Dr. George Lange, a 57-year-old internist at Columbia-St. Mary's Hospital in Milwaukee, faulted the test for not measuring blood pressure or cholesterol. Lange got a healthy low score on the test, too, but he's overweight. He was surprised he didn't get points for that.

In fact, that's one of the most puzzling aspects of the test. People with a body-mass index of less than 25 -- which includes normal weight people -- get a point while those who are overweight aren't penalized.

Covinsky, one of the test designers, said that BMI measurement includes underweight people -- those who have lost weight because of illness, a particularly disturbing sign for the elderly.

As to obesity, Lee noted there are more points for diabetes and for difficulty walking several blocks -- both associated with excess weight.

The researchers think their mortality predictor might be a useful tool in the “pay for performance'' trend that is part of the nation's health care system. Medicare and other insurers are increasingly basing reimbursement rates on how patients fare, said Covinsky.

“One health plan can look better just by cherry-picking health care patients'' and accepting only the most robust patients, Covinsky said. This test could give a more accurate assessment of health plans, he said, so that “you can actually see which ones are taking sicker patients and compare that'' when measuring performance.
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 16, 2006 11:22 am    Post subject: Risk of Death Can Soar When Spouse is Sick Reply with quote

Risk of Death Can Soar When Spouse is Sick
Robert Roy Britt
LiveScience Managing Editor
Wed Feb 15, 6:00 PM ET

When a person over 65 is debilitated, the odds of dying within a year can increase dramatically for the spouse, a new study shows.

If a man is diagnosed with dementia, for example, the risk of death skyrockets 28 percent for his wife over the next year. If it's the woman who suffers dementia, the husband's death risk climbs 22 percent.

The increase in risk varies dramatically by condition, however. The partner of a spouse hospitalized for cancer typically incurs no heightened odds of death. For a stroke, the risk to the partner goes up about 5 percent.

The differences depend largely on how disabling a condition is, explained study leader Nicholas Christakis of Harvard Medical School. People with cancer often function relatively normally between treatments, while dementia patients require constant care.

Higher Odds

Increased risk of death of a partner within one year after the hospitalization of a spouse, if the partner is the ...

Husband Wife Dementia 22% 28% Psychiatric disease 19% 32% Serious fracture 15% 11% Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease 12% 13% Congestive heart failure 12% 15% Stroke 6% 5% Ischemic heart disease 5% 0 Sepsis 9% 0 Pneumonia 6% 6% Abdominal surgical disease 4% 0 Leukemia or lymphoma 0 0 Pancreatic Cancer 0 0 Colon Cancer 0 0 Lung Cancer 0 0 All other forms of cancer 0 0 All other diagnoses 2% 0

SOURCE: Nicholas Christakis, Harvard Medical School; based on people over age 65

"Diseases that are very mentally or physically disabling are really harmful to the spouse,"Christakis said in a telephone interview. "Families should be aware. ‘Gee, Grandpa is sick. Boy that's bad for Grandma.'”

Previous studies have shown that the loss of a loved one can help spell the end for a partner. But no one has done a comprehensive study on how illness alone affects a spouse.

The new study examined the records of more than 1 million people (518,240 couples) who were on Medicare in 1993. Over the next nine years, more than two-thirds of them were hospitalized and more than one-third died. The results are detailed in the Feb. 16 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

"This highly innovative study—in an enormous sample of older people—demonstrates yet another important connection between social networks and health," said Richard Suzman, associate director of the National Institute on Aging, which supported the research. "We don't yet know the full extent to which social networks affect health. We need to explore the mechanisms behind the stresses.”

The study confirms the "widower effect" that has been shown in other research. For those over age 65, the death of a wife increases a husband's risk of death 53 percent for 30 days, and the death of a husband increases his wife's risk by 61 percent during that month, according to the new study.

The widower effect over one year amounts to a 21 percent increased risk of death to a surviving husband and 17 percent for a surviving wife.

But the most significant findings are the social effects of mere hospitalization.

"Over the first 30 days it can be almost as bad for you to have a sick spouse as a dead spouse," Christakis said.

Spouses suddenly charged with providing more care can be just as suddenly without social, emotional or economic support, Christakis points out. They might start drinking or engage in other harmful behaviors. Stress can weaken their immune systems.

Christakis said doctors should be mindful of these risks to a patient's spouse. And the findings might play into how health care decisions are made. Hip replacement surgery, for example, could be viewed as being more beneficial if it stands to save two lives rather than just one, he suggested.
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PostPosted: Sat Feb 18, 2006 8:17 am    Post subject: Sea levels could predict cholera outbreak Reply with quote

Sea levels could predict cholera outbreak

ST. LOUIS, Feb. 17 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers have discovered changes in sea surface temperature in the Pacific Ocean are linked to cholera epidemics in Bangladesh.

Cholera expert Mercedes Pascual and her colleagues are studying cholera outbreaks in Bangladesh, where extensive health records stretching back to the late 1800s and biweekly case reports taken during a 1966 surveillance program document disease trends in unique detail.

Pascual discovered that cholera transmission is highest during high rain and flooding, when sanitary conditions tend to break down and people are forced into tight quarters. She speculates that high rain events are linked to warmer ocean conditions in the Pacific during el Nino events.

There is a possibility of using ocean temperatures as an early warning system to predict and prevent disease outbreaks, according to Pascual.

The findings were presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in St. Louis.
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 03, 2006 11:26 am    Post subject: Combined, Genes and Environment Affect Health More Reply with quote

Combined, Genes and Environment Affect Health More Than They Do Alone
Duke University
3 March 2006

DURHAM, N.C. -- Both nature and nurture -- genetic makeup and the environment experienced through life -- combine to influence health and well-being, Duke University Medical Center researchers and their colleagues have determined in four new studies. The researchers showed that people's genes play a key role in how they respond both biologically and psychologically to stress in their environment.

The researchers presented four studies that examine genetics and the environment on Thursday, March 2, 2006, as part of a symposium organized by Duke researchers at the American Psychosomatic Society annual meeting in Denver. The studies were conducted at Vrije Universiteit in Holland, the Medical College of Georgia and Duke. The studies were funded by the National Institute on Aging and the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.

Two studies from Duke evaluated effects of a particular mutation in the gene that makes monoamine oxidase-A (MAOA-uVNTR), an enzyme responsible for breaking down serotonin as well as other neurotransmitters in the brain. One form of this mutation causes the gene to make more of the enzyme, while the other form results in less production of enzyme.

Neurotransmitters are chemical signals by which one neuron triggers a nerve impulse in a neighbor. Thus, neurotransmitters are fundamentally responsible for all brain function, and subtle changes in their level or activity can profoundly affect not only brain function but physiological function influenced by the brain.

"There has been considerable speculation that serotonergic nerves in the brain play an important role in glucose metabolism and obesity," said Richard Surwit, Ph.D., a medical psychologist at Duke who led one of the studies. "Drugs that block serotonergic receptors, such as olanzapine, can produce significant weight gain and diabetes, while drugs that stimulate serotonergic neurons, such as fenfluramine, can induce weight loss and improve metabolism."

The researchers' studies of the effects of mutations in MAOA-uVNTR in 84 people showed that having the active or inactive form of the MAOA-uVNTR mutation appeared to determine how serotonin affected blood levels of glucose and insulin, as well as body mass index.

"It appears that people who carry a particular form of this gene may be more susceptible to developing obesity and diabetes and may be more responsive to therapies that impact on this enzyme," Surwit said.

In a separate study, a Duke research team examined effects of MAOA gene mutations in more than 300 study participants -- half of whom were primary caregivers for relatives or spouses with Alzheimer's disease and half who were similar to the caregivers but had no caregiving responsibilities. Their data show a significant effect of the MAOA gene on the levels of stress hormones, particularly in men.

"It appears that men with the less active form of the MAOA gene who were subjected to the stress of caregiving, exhausted their ability to mount a stress hormone response during the day and evening hours," said Redford Williams, MD, director of the Behavioral Medicine Research Center at Duke and lead researcher on the study. "Their ability to maintain cortisol and adrenaline at normal levels during the day and evening was significantly lower than that of men with the more active form of the gene, and all the women with both forms of the gene.

"Ultimately, their body's biological ability to cope with stress became impaired. This exhaustion of their ability to mount a hormonal stress response could place men with the less active form of the gene at higher risk of developing a broad range of health problems as their caregiving duties continue."

The symposium also included a study at the Medical College of Georgia evaluating several families of genes known to affect the stress response and whether the genes affect the risk of developing hypertension, or high blood pressure.

"It has been difficult to show effects of stress on the development of hypertension because it may be that only a subset of people who show a genetic susceptibility will develop high blood pressure after chronic exposure to stress," said Harold Snieder, Ph.D., lead investigator on the work being done at MCG. "Our research shows that effects of different candidate genes on the development of high blood pressure during adolescence depend on the environmental stressors that are present, the gender and the ethnicity, in a group of European American and African American youth that have been followed for 15 years."

In another study reported in the symposium, Eco De Geus, Ph.D., of the Vrije Univeriteit tested blood pressure and heart rate reactivity to acute mental tasks in a sample of 372 adolescent and middle-aged twins. De Geus found that genetic factors had a bigger effect on reactivity to stress than on resting blood pressure.

"Some genes may lie dormant when life is sweet and calm, but swing into action when we are stressed," he said.

The researchers at the symposium said they believe that using genetic markers to determine who is at greater risk of health problems due to both acute and chronic stress and other environmental factors – such as a high calorie diet -- could help identify who might benefit from interventions, such as training in more effective coping strategies, or from closer monitoring for obesity and diabetes onset, the researchers said.
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 20, 2006 4:30 pm    Post subject: Breast asymmetry predicts breast cancer Reply with quote

BioMed Central
19 March 2006

Breast asymmetry predicts breast cancer

Women who go on to develop breast cancer tend to have breasts that are less symmetrical than women who don't develop the cancer. A study published today in Breast Cancer Research reveals that breast asymmetry could be a reliable independent predictor of breast cancer. The study found that the relative odds of developing breast cancer increased by 1.5 with each 100ml increase in breast asymmetry.
Diane Scutt from the University of Liverpool, UK and colleagues studied the mammograms of 252 women who did not have breast cancer at the time of the mammography, but later on developed the disease. The control group consisted of 252 women matched for age who underwent mammography at the same time, but did not develop breast cancer.

Scutt et al.'s results show that, at the time the mammography was done, women who went on to develop breast cancer had higher breast volume asymmetry than controls. The authors found that the relative odds of breast cancer increased by 1.5 for a 100ml increase in absolute breast volume asymmetry, after adjusting for other potential risk factors. They conclude that breast asymmetry is a significant independent predictor of breast cancer, and could be a reliable indicator of future breast disease.

Breast asymmetry and predisposition to breast cancer.
Diane Scutt and John T Manning.
Breast Cancer Research 2006, 8:R14 (20 March 2006)
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 26, 2006 7:10 am    Post subject: Women's education is strongly related to husband's income Reply with quote

University of Chicago Press Journals
25 October 2006

Women's education is strongly related to husband's income

Much has been written about the income returns to education, but women have been largely ignored by this literature, having historically spent significant periods of time outside the formal labor market. In a thought-provoking new study, economists from Brigham Young University correlate women's education to future quality of life through an examination of husband's earnings. Specifically, the researchers find that a woman's college completion predicts an average increase in her husband's earnings of more than $20,000 relative to women who only attended some college.

"Women's education does not have a strong effect on the probability of being married but dramatically increases husband's income," write Lars Lefgren and Frank McIntyre in the current issue of the Journal of Labor Economics.

Consistent with the observation that school has become an increasingly important place to meet potential partners, women who attended college are much more likely to marry college-educated husbands. Education may also change a woman's social circles, or make them more desirable to high-ability men. It has also been well established in other literature that married men earn more than unmarried men.

However, given that women who choose to invest heavily in education may be systematically different than women who invest less, Legren and McIntyre wanted to even more firmly establish a causal relationship between education and marriage outcomes.

Using Census data from 1980 broken down by birth quarter, the researchers analyzed how enrollment cutoff dates and differences in the amount of compulsory schooling can affect husband's earnings. They found that an extra year of schooling – that is, the difference in compulsory schooling between a child born in mid-December, just before the cutoff, and a child born a month later in mid-January, just after the cutoff – increases husband's earnings by about $4,000.

"Inasmuch as marriage generates nonpecuniary benefits as well, the marriage market could be an even more important avenue through which education increases women's welfare," the authors write.

Since 1983, the Journal of Labor Economics has presented international research that examines issues affecting the economy as well as social and private behavior.

Lars Lefgren and Frank McIntyre. "The Relationship between Women's Education and Marriage Outcomes," Journal of Labor Economics 24:4.
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