Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Why Greece’s Spillover Across Euro Area Will Probably Be Contained This Time

Greece's flirtation with an exit from the euro in 2011 and two cliffhanger elections in 2012 prompted the darkest days of the debt crisis, halted only by the European Central Bank's pledge to save the currency come what may.

Now, with the collapse of another Greek government, Europe's leaders, its more vulnerable economies and financial markets are better prepared. While euro in-or-out threats will echo through the Greek election campaign, the spillover across Europe this time is likely to be contained.

"We're looking at a Greece problem -- the euro crisis is over," Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg Bank inLondon, said by phone. "The euro crisis was all about contagion risk. I do not expect markets to seriously contest the contagion defenses of Europe."

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

World economy: Past and future tense

A FINANCIAL crash in Russia; falling oil prices and a strong dollar; a new gold rush in Silicon Valley and a resurgent American economy; weakness in Germany and Japan; tumbling currencies in emerging markets from Brazil to Indonesia; an embattled Democrat in the White House. Is that a forecast of the world in 2015 or a portrait of the late 1990s?  

Recent economic history has been so dominated by the credit crunch of 2008-09 that it is easy to forget what happened in the decades before. But looking back 15 years or so is instructive—in terms of both what to do and what to avoid.

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Monday, December 8, 2014

The Economics of Brains

The idea that understanding the brain can inform economics is controversial but not new; for 20 years, behavioral economists have argued that psychology should have a greater influence on the development of economic models. What is new is the use of technology: economists, like other researchers, now have at their disposal powerful tools for observing the brain at work. The most popular tool, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), has been around since the late 1980s; but only in the past few years has it been used to study decision-making, which is the crux of economic theory.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The 17 most corrupt countries in the world

Transparency International has published its 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), which ranked 175 countries and territories based on how corrupt their administrative and political institutions are perceived to be on a scale from 0 (highly corrupt) to a 100 (very clean).

Compiled from a combination of surveys and assessments of "the abuse of entrusted power for private gain," the CPI is the most widely used indicator of corruption worldwide.

Here are the 17 most corrupt countries, according to the index:

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

What Peter Drucker Knew About 2020

When PwC released its annual survey of corporate chief executives for 2014, it was immediately obvious that change is on leaders' brains: "As CEOs plan their strategies to take advantage of transformational shifts," the consultancy reported, "they are also assessing their current capabilities – and finding that everything is fair game for reinvention."
It's no wonder why.

"Every few hundred years throughout Western history, a sharp transformation has occurred," Peter Drucker observed in a 1992 essay for Harvard Business Review. "In a matter of decades, society altogether rearranges itself – its worldview, its basic values, its social and political structures, its arts, its key institutions. Fifty years later a new world exists. And the people born into that world cannot even imagine the world in which their grandparents lived and into which their own parents were born. Our age is such a period of transformation."


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Sleep Disorders Widely Undiagnosed in Individuals with Multiple Sclerosis

In what may be the largest study of sleep problems among individuals with multiple sclerosis (MS), researchers at UC Davis have found that widely undiagnosed sleep disorders may be at the root of the most common and disabling symptom of the disease: fatigue.

Conducted in over 2,300 individuals in Northern California with multiple sclerosis, the large, population-based study found that, overall, more than 70 percent of participants screened positive for one or more sleep disorders.

The research highlights the importance of diagnosing the root causes of fatigue among individuals with MS, as sleep disorders may affect the course of the disease as well as the overall health and well-being of sufferers, the authors said.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Where Original Ideas Come From

Revolutions are seldom solo efforts.  Isaac Newton was the greatest scientist of his age and not one known for his false modesty, but even he had to admit, "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."

Thomas Kuhn made a related point in his classic, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.  He argued that precedence in science is somewhat arbitrary—a matter of perspective rather than fact—because new discoveries are rarely tied to the work of just one person or team.

Yet, while very few ideas are truly original, there are exceptions.  Sometimes an important new idea seems to have no precursor or precedent, but springs forth whole from a single mind and completely alters our perception of how the world works.  Although these are rare, they have a lot to teach us about how to become more creative ourselves.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Will to Bear Discomfort: A Key Character Trait

I've come to believe that one of the most important aspects of developing a sound character is learning to endure the unpleasant and deal with it in an adaptive manner. Unfortunately, I've known far too many individuals who failed to acquire the skills to do so during their formative years. Some were diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder because of their apparent inability to sustain their attention, most especially on tasks they didn't find sufficiently stimulating. Others were diagnosed with various disorders of impulse control, largely because they couldn't tolerate a moment of boredom.

I've also known many — both children and adults — who unfortunately fell into problematic patterns of substance use, many of whom were attracted to the substances as a means of escape. When I looked carefully beyond both the symptoms they presented and the various diagnoses that could rightfully be conferred upon these folks, one thing appeared disturbingly common: an intolerance of feelings or circumstances that distressed them in some way, and an excessive readiness to alter their mood swiftly and surely.

Friday, August 15, 2014

6 Rules for a Happy Life and Healthier Environment

Pursuing true happiness not only benefits you but also the environment, according to research presented at the American Psychological Association's 122nd Annual Convention.

Dr. Miriam Tatzel reviews decades of psychological research, arguing that the fundamentals of a happy life are also good for the environment (Tatzel, 2014).

Saturday, July 26, 2014

8 Ways to Live With a Chronic Illness

"Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass…It's about learning to dance in the rain," wrote Vivian Greene.

"Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, 'I will try again tomorrow,'" wrote Mary Anne Radmacher.

These are two of my favorite quotes about living with a chronic illness, about the quiet conviction required from someone with a lasting condition to live gracefully, without getting bitter. I have, for the last six years, lived with treatment-resistant depression, fighting death thoughts ("I wish I were dead") throughout my day. Although I haven't stopped trying new drugs and alternative therapies, I am finally accepting the possibility that I may never get "well" or as well as I was in my twenties and early thirties.

So I'm shifting my energy from finding a cure to learning how to "live around" the illness, turning to people with debilitating conditions like fibromyalgia, lupus, and chronic fatigue syndrome–as well as to scientists, meditation teachers, and great thinkers–for instructions on how to manage painful symptoms. Here are a few gems I have picked up, tips on how to dance in the rain … and where to find the courage to try again tomorrow.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Understanding Consciousness

Researchers advocate for more scientific research on consciousness.

Why does a relentless stream of subjective experiences normally fill your mind? Maybe that's just one of those mysteries that will always elude us.

Yet, research from Northwestern University suggests that consciousness lies well within the realm of scientific inquiry — as impossible as that may currently seem. Although scientists have yet to agree on an objective measure to index consciousness, progress has been made with this agenda in several labs around the world.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Astronomers Find "Mega-Earth," Most Massive Rocky Planet Yet

Astronomers have discovered the heaviest planet yet that's predominantly rocky, a hefty body 17 times more massive than Earth. Called Kepler-10c, the planet orbits a star that is similar to the sun, though nearly twice as old, and located about 560 light-years away in the constellation Draco.

The exoplanet, which has been dubbed a "mega-Earth," could be the first of a new class of massive rocky planets found at more distant orbits from their stars, said the astronomers who announced their discovery this week at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Boston.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Understanding Humor Can Lead to New Psychiatric Treatments

Research led by Swiss neuroscientist Pascal Vrticka and his U.S. colleagues at Stanford University has found that, among other things, humor plays a key role in psychological health. According to the study, recently published in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience, adults with psychological disorders such as autism or depression often have a modified humor processing activity and respond less evidently to humor than people who do not have these disorders. Vrticka believes that a better understanding how the brain processes humor could lead to the development of new treatments.

This is not the first study to explore the healing force of humor. In 2006 researchers led by Lee Berk and Stanley A. Tan at Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, California, found that two hormones — beta-endorphins (which alleviate depression) and human growth hormone (HGH, which helps with immunity) — increased by 27 and 87 percent respectively when volunteers anticipated watching a humorous video. Simply anticipating laughter boosted health-protecting hormones and chemicals.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Dark Energy, Dark Matter

In the early 1990's, one thing was fairly certain about the expansion of the Universe. It might have enough energy density to stop its expansion and recollapse, it might have so little energy density that it would never stop expanding, but gravity was certain to slow the expansion as time went on. Granted, the slowing had not been observed, but, theoretically, the Universe had to slow. The Universe is full of matter and the attractive force of gravity pulls all matter together. Then came 1998 and the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) observations of very distant supernovae that showed that, a long time ago, the Universe was actually expanding more slowly than it is today. So the expansion of the Universe has not been slowing due to gravity, as everyone thought, it has been accelerating. No one expected this, no one knew how to explain it. But something was causing it.
Eventually theorists came up with three sorts of explanations. Maybe it was a result of a long-discarded version of Einstein's theory of gravity, one that contained what was called a "cosmological constant." Maybe there was some strange kind of energy-fluid that filled space. Maybe there is something wrong with Einstein's theory of gravity and a new theory could include some kind of field that creates this cosmic acceleration. Theorists still don't know what the correct explanation is, but they have given the solution a name. It is called dark energy.
More is unknown than is known. We know how much dark energy there is because we know how it affects the Universe's expansion. Other than that, it is a complete mystery. But it is an important mystery. It turns out that roughly 68% of the Universe is dark energy. Dark matter makes up about 27%. The rest - everything on Earth, everything ever observed with all of our instruments, all normal matter - adds up to less than 5% of the Universe. Come to think of it, maybe it shouldn't be called "normal" matter at all, since it is such a small fraction of the Universe.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Scientists decode how brain organises everyday experiences

WASHINGTON: Our brain uses subconscious mental categories to sort through everyday experiences, a new study has found.

The brain knows it's time to cook when the stove is on, and the food and pots are out. When someone rushes away to calm a crying child, it knows cooking is over and it's time to be a parent. The brain processes and responds to these occurrences as distinct, unrelated events.

 But it remains unclear exactly how the brain breaks such experiences into "events," or the related groups that help us mentally organise the day's many situations.

A dominant concept of event-perception known as prediction error says that our brain draws a line between the end of one event and the start of another when things take an unexpected turn (such as a suddenly distraught child)