Are smartphones really making our children sad?

US psychologist Jean Twenge, who has claimed that social media is having a malign affect on the young, answers critics who accuse her of crying wolf

Last week, the childrens commissioner, Anne Longfield, launched a campaign to help parents regulate internet and smartphone use at home. She suggested that the overconsumption of social media was a problem akin to that of junk-food diets. None of us, as parents, would want our children to eat junk food all the time double cheeseburger, chips, every day, every meal, she said. For those same reasons, we shouldnt want our children to do the same with their online time.

A few days later, former GCHQ spy agency chief Robert Hannigan responded to the campaign. The assumption that time online or in front of a screen is life wasted needs challenging. It is driven by fear, he said. The best thing we can do is to focus less on the time they spend on screens at home and more on the nature of the activity.

This exchange is just one more example of how childrens screentime has become an emotive, contested issue. Last December, more than 40 educationalists, psychologists and scientists signed a letter in the Guardian calling for action on childrens screen-based lifestyles. A few days later, another 40-odd academics described the fears as moral panic and said that any guidelines needed to build on evidence rather than scaremongering.

Faced with these conflicting expert views, how should concerned parents proceed? Into this maelstrom comes the American psychologist Jean Twenge, who has written a book entitled iGen: Why Todays Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood and What That Means for the Rest of Us.

If the books title didnt make her view clear enough, last weekend an excerpt was published in the American magazine the Atlantic with the emotive headline Have smartphones destroyed a generation? It quickly generated differing reactions that were played out on social media these could be broadly characterised as praise from parents and criticism from scientists. In a phone interview and follow-up emails, Twenge explained her conclusions about the downsides of the connected world for teens, and answered some of her critics.

The Atlantic excerpt from your book was headlined Have smartphones destroyed a generation? Is that an accurate reflection of what you think?
Well, keep in mind that I didnt write the headline. Its obviously much more nuanced than that.

So why did you write this book?
Ive been researching generations for a long time now, since I was an undergraduate, almost 25 years. The databases I draw from are large national surveys of high school and college students, and one of adults. In 2013-14 I started to see some really sudden changes and at first I thought maybe these were just blips, but the trends kept going.

Id never seen anything like it in all my years of looking at differences among generations. So I wondered what was going on.

What were these sudden changes for teens?
Loneliness and depressive symptoms started to go up, while happiness and life satisfaction started to go down. The other thing that I really noticed was the accelerated decline in seeing friends in person it falls off a cliff. Its an absolutely stunning pattern Id never seen anything like that. I really started to wonder, what is going on here? What happened around 2011-2012 [the survey data is a year or two behind] that would cause such sudden changes?

And you concluded these changes were being brought about by increased time spent online?
The high-school data detailed how much time teens spend online on social media and games and I noticed how that correlated with some of these indicators in terms of happiness, depression and so on.

I was curious not just what the correlations were between these screen activities, mental health and wellbeing, but what were the links with non-screen activities, like spending time with friends in person, playing sports, going to religious services, doing homework, all these other things that teens do?

And for happiness in particular, the pattern was so stark. Of the non-screen activities that were measured, they all correlated with greater happiness. All the screen activities correlated with lower happiness.

Youve called these post-millennials the iGeneration. What are their characteristics?
Im defining iGen as those born between 1995 and 2012 that latter date could change based on future data. Im reasonably certain about 1995, given the sudden changes in the trends. It also happens that 1995 was the year the internet was commercialised [Amazon launched that year, Yahoo in 1994 and Google in 1996], so if you were born in that year you have not known a time without the internet.

But the introduction of the smartphone, exemplified by the iPhone, which was launched in 2007, is key?
There are a lot of differences some are large, some are subtle, some are sudden and some had been building for a while but if I had to identify what really characterises them, the first influence is the smartphone.

iGen is the first generation to spend their entire adolescence with the smartphone. This has led to many ripple effects for their wellbeing, their social interactions and the way they think about the world.

Psychology
Psychology professor Jean Twenge. Photograph: Gregory Bull/AP

Why are you convinced they are unhappy because of social media, rather than it being a case of the unhappy kids being heavier users of social media?
That is very unlikely to be true because of very good research on that very question. There is one experiment and two longitudinal studies that show the arrow goes from social media to lower wellbeing and not the other way around. For example, an experiment where people
gave up Facebook for a week and had better wellbeing than those who had not.

The other thing to keep in mind is that if you are spending eight hours a day with a screen you have less time to spend interacting with friends and family in person and we know definitively from decades of research that spending time with other people is one of the keys to emotional wellbeing; if youre doing that less, thats a very bad sign.

A professor at Oxford University tweeted that your work is a non-systematic review of sloppy social science as a tool for lazy intergenerational shaming how do you respond?
It is odd to equate documenting teens mental health issues with intergenerational shaming. Im not shaming anyone and the data I analyse is from teens, not older people criticising them.

This comment is especially strange because this researchers best-known paper, about what he calls the Goldilocks theory, shows the same thing I find lower wellbeing after more hours of screen time. Were basically replicating each others research across two different countries, which is usually considered a good thing. So I am confused.

Your arguments also seem to have been drawn on by the conservative right as ammunition for claims that technology is leading to the moral degradation of the young. Are you comfortable about that?
My analyses look at what young people are saying about themselves and how they are feeling, so I dont think this idea of older people love to whine about the young is relevant. I didnt look at what older people have to say about young people. I looked at what young people are saying about their own experiences and their own lives, compared to young people 10, 20, or 30 years ago.

Nor is it fair or accurate to characterise this as youth-bashing. Teens are saying they are suffering and documenting that should help them, not hurt them. I wrote the book because I wanted to give a voice to iGen and their experiences, through the 11 million who filled out national surveys, to the 200 plus who answered open-ended questions for me, to the 23 I talked to for up to two hours. It had absolutely nothing to do with older people and their complaints about youth.

Many of us have a nagging feeling that social media is bad for our wellbeing, but we all suffer from a fear of missing out.
Teens feel that very intensely, which is one reason why they are so addicted to their phones. Yet, ironically, the teens who spend more time on social media are actually more likely to report feeling left out.

But is this confined to iGeners? One could go to a childs birthday party where the parents are glued to their smartphones and not talking to each other too.
It is important to consider that while this trend also affects adults, it is particularly worrisome for teens because their brain development is ongoing and adolescence is a crucial time for developing social skills.

You say teens might know the right emoji but in real life might not know the right facial expression.
There is very little research on that question. There is one study that looked at the effects of screens on social skills among 11- to 12-year-olds, half of whom used screens at their normal level and half went to a five-day screen-free camp.

Those who attended the camp improved their social skills reading emotions on faces was what they measured. That makes sense thats the social skill you would expect to suffer if you werent getting much in-person social interaction.

So is it up to regulators or parents to improve the situation? Leaving this problem for parents to fix is a big challenge.
Yes it is. I have three kids and my oldest is 10, but in her class about half have a phone, so many of them are on social media already. Parents have a tough job, because there are temptations on the screen constantly.

What advice would you give parents?
Put off getting your child a phone for as long as possible and, when you do, start with one that doesnt have internet access so they dont have the internet in their pocket all the time.

But when your child says, but all my friends have got one, how do you reply?
Maybe with my parents line If your friends all jumped in the lake, would you do it too? Although at that age the answer is usually yes, which I understand. But you can do social media on a desktop computer for a limited time each day. When we looked at the data, we found that an hour a day of electronic device use doesnt have any negative effects on mental health two hours a day or more is when you get the problems.

The majority of teens are on screens a lot more than that. So if they want to use Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook to keep up with their friends activities, they can do that from a desktop computer.

That sounds hard to enforce.
We need to be more understanding of the effects of smartphones. In many ways, parents are worried about the wrong things theyre worried about their kids driving and going out. They dont worry about their kids sitting by themselves in a room with their phone and they should.

Lots of social media features such as notifications or Snapchats Snapstreak feature are engineered to keep us glued to our phones. Should these types of features be outlawed?
Oh man. Parents can put an app [such as Kidslox or Screentime] on their kids phone to limit the amount of time they spend on it. Do that right away. In terms of the bigger solutions, I think thats above my pay grade to figure out.

Youve been accused by another psychologist of cherry-picking your data. Of ignoring, say, studies that suggest active social media use is associated with positive outcomes such as resilience. Did you collect data to fit a theory?
Its impossible to judge that claim she does not provide citations to these studies. I found a few studies finding no effects or positive effects, but they were all older, before smartphones were on the scene. She says in order to prove smartphones are responsible for these trends we need a large study randomly assigning teens to not use smartphones or use them. If we wait for this kind of study, we will wait for ever that type of study is just about impossible to conduct.

She concludes by saying: My suspicion is that the kids are gonna be OK. However, it is not OK that 50% more teens suffer from major depression now versus just six years ago and three times as many girls aged 12 to 14 take their own lives. It is not OK that more teens say that they are lonely and feel hopeless. It is not OK that teens arent seeing their friends in person as much. If we twiddle our thumbs waiting for the perfect experiment, we are taking a big risk and I for one am not willing to do that.

Are you expecting anyone from Silicon Valley to say: How can we help?
No, but what I think is interesting is many tech-connected people in Silicon Valley restrict their own childrens screen use, so they know. Theyre living off of it but they know its effects. It indicates that pointing out the effects of smartphones doesnt make you a luddite.

iGen: Why Todays Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood and What That Means for the Rest of Us by Jean Twenge is published by Simon & Schuster US ($27) on 22 August

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/aug/13/are-smartphones-really-making-our-children-sad

It was all yellow: did digitalis affect the way Van Gogh saw the world?

Extracted from foxgloves, digitalis was once used as a treatment for epilepsy. Could a side effect have triggered the artists yellow period?

It was recently the 127th anniversary of the tragic death of Vincent van Gogh. His short life came to an untimely end two days after he shot himself in the chest; he had experienced mental health issues through much of his life. In the absence of a definitive diagnosis, speculation as to the true nature of his illness fills volumes.

Although he came under the care of several doctors during his life time, knowledge of diseases of the mind was in its infancy in the late nineteenth century. As a result, many of the treatments used at the time would have been ineffective if not potentially dangerous. From our point of view, however, one drug that might have been given to Van Gogh is particularly interesting.

Towards the end of his life, under the care of Dr Gachet, it seems that Van Gogh may have been treated with digitalis for the epileptic fits he experienced. Digitalis, extracted from foxglove plants, is a powerful medicine still in use today as a treatment for certain heart conditions, but not epilepsy. In Van Goghs day, and for a long time before then, digitalis was known to be an effective treatment of dropsy, or accumulation of fluid in the body. Dropsy could have been caused by inefficient beating of the heart or because of liver disease. But with little understanding of the underlying causes of many diseases, almost anything shown to have an effect on the body even if that was simply to induce vomiting was considered a medical benefit. If the treatment for one disease was successful, it was often tried out on a host of others, just in case it proved to be a panacea. Extracts of foxglove really would have been effective in treating dropsy caused by heart failure, but would have done nothing for Van Goghs epilepsy. However, it is just possible it may have contributed to his artistic output.

Portrait
Portrait of Dr Gachet, by Vincent van Gogh. Gachet holds a foxglove, seen by some to suggest that he treated Van Gogh with digitalis. Photograph: DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini/Getty Images

Digitalis is, in fact, a mixture of several different compounds that today are separated and used individually to treat heart conditions. One of the compounds, digoxin, is listed by the World Health Organisation as an essential medicine because of its huge benefit in the treatment of abnormal heart rhythms such as atrial fibrillation. Digoxin has two effects on the heart. Firstly, it helps to control the electrical signals that are sent across the heart to trigger the cells to beat in a coordinated way producing a heartbeat. Secondly, it makes the individual heart cells contract more slowly and strongly, improving the efficiency of the pumping action to move blood round the body.

To achieve these effects on the heart, digoxin and related compounds interact with the enzyme Na+/K+ ATPase. Digoxin is a very potent drug, the therapeutic dose is miniscule, and it is very close to the level that can also produce digitalis intoxication. Such a narrow gap between a therapeutic and potentially harmful dose would simply not be tolerated in a new drug being brought to market. However, the undoubted benefit of digoxin and its long history of use means it is a vital part of modern medicine. Because the drug has been in use for so long over 200 years, since the physician William Withering advocated its use in 1775 we have had plenty of time to understand how the drug works and the potential side-effects. Patients taking digoxin are carefully monitored and a number of antidotes have been developed to treat overdoses.

The problem, as with all drugs, is side-effects. To achieve its effects on the heart, digoxin and related compounds interact with the enzyme Na+/K+ ATPase.Digoxins strong interaction with the enzyme means it is very potent, but Na+/K+ ATPase is distributed throughout the body. It is therefore the interaction between the drug and the enzymes located elsewhere in the body that is the cause of side-effects. The most common problems associated with digoxin are nausea and loss of appetite, but its other effects are more intriguing.

Particularly high concentrations of digoxins target enzyme are found in the cone cells in retina of the eye. These are the cells that give us our colour perception. It is very rare, but some people taking digoxin and related drugs can experience haziness to their vision, or a yellow tinge to everything they see, known as xanthopsia. Occasionally, points of light may appear to have coloured halos around them. Rarer still are effects on pupil size, such as dilation, constriction or even unequal-sized pupils.

The effects of digitalis intoxication have been suggested as the cause of Van Goghs yellow period and the spectacular sky he painted in The Starry Night. More circumstantial evidence comes from the two portraits Van Gogh produced of his doctor, Paul Gachet, showing him holding a foxglove flower. One of Van Goghs self portraits also shows uneven pupils.

All of this is very interesting but it is pure speculation. Van Gogh may not have taken digitalis, and perhaps simply liked the colour yellow and the effect of swirling colours around the stars he painted. Unequal pupil size in his self-portrait may have been the result of a simple slip of the paintbrush.

There are also many other factors to consider. Van Gogh was known to drink large quantities of absinthe (though not enough to produce yellow colour perception) as well as turpentine (which can affect vision but not colour perception). Whatever the reason for Van Goghs particular artistic choices, we can still appreciate his remarkable output from such a tragically short life.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2017/aug/10/it-was-all-yellow-did-digitalis-affect-the-way-van-gogh-saw-the-world

Rule that patients must finish antibiotics course is wrong, study says

Experts suggest patients should stop taking the drugs when they feel better rather than completing their prescription

Telling patients to stop taking antibiotics when they feel better may be preferable to instructing them to finish the course, according to a group of experts who argue that the rule long embedded in the minds of doctors and the public is wrong and should be overturned.

Patients have traditionally been told that they must complete courses of antibiotics, the theory being that taking too few tablets will allow the bacteria causing their disease to mutate and become resistant to the drug.

But Martin Llewelyn, a professor in infectious diseases at Brighton and Sussex medical school, and colleagues claim that this is not the case. In an analysis in the British Medical Journal, the experts say the idea that stopping antibiotic treatment early encourages antibiotic resistance is not supported by evidence, while taking antibiotics for longer than necessary increases the risk of resistance.

There are some diseases where the bug can become resistant if the drugs are not taken for long enough. The most obvious example is tuberculosis, they say. But most of the bacteria that cause people to become ill are found on everybodys hands in the community, causing no harm, such as E coli and Staphylococcus aureus. People fall ill only when the bug gets into the bloodstream or the gut. The longer such bacteria are exposed to antibiotics, the more likely it is that resistance will develop.

The experts say there has been too little research into the ideal length of a course of antibiotics, which also varies from one individual to the next, depending in part on what antibiotics they have taken in the past.

In hospital, patients can be tested to work out when to stop the drugs. Outside hospital, where repeated testing may not be feasible, patients might be best advised to stop treatment when they feel better, they say. That, they add, is in direct contravention of World Health Organisation advice.

Other experts in infectious diseases backed the group. I have always thought it to be illogical to say that stopping antibiotic treatment early promotes the emergence of drug-resistant organisms, said Peter Openshaw, president of the British Society for Immunology.

This brief but authoritative review supports the idea that antibiotics may be used more sparingly, pointing out that the evidence for a long duration of therapy is, at best, tenuous. Far from being irresponsible, shortening the duration of a course of antibiotics might make antibiotic resistance less likely.

Alison Holmes, a professor of infectious diseases at Imperial College London, said a great British authority, Prof Harold Lambert, had made the same point in a Lancet article entitled Dont keep taking the tablets as early as 1999. It remains astonishing that apart from some specific infections and conditions, we still do not know more about the optimum duration of courses or indeed doses in many conditions, yet this dogma has been pervasive and persistent.

Jodi Lindsay, a professor of microbial pathogenesis at St Georges, University of London, said it was sensible advice. The evidence for completing the course is poor, and the length of the course of antibiotics has been estimated based on a fear of under-treating rather than any studies, she said. The evidence for shorter courses of antibiotics being equal to longer courses, in terms of cure or outcome, is generally good, although more studies would help and there are a few exceptions when longer courses are better for example, TB.

But the Royal College of GPs expressed concerns. Recommended courses of antibiotics are not random, said its chair, Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard. They are tailored to individual conditions and in many cases, courses are quite short for urinary tract infections, for example, three days is often enough to cure the infection.

We are concerned about the concept of patients stopping taking their medication midway through a course once they feel better, because improvement in symptoms does not necessarily mean the infection has been completely eradicated. Its important that patients have clear messages and the mantra to always take the full course of antibiotics is well known. Changing this will simply confuse people.

The UKs chief medical officer, Prof Dame Sally Davies, said: The message to the public remains the same: people should always follow the advice of healthcare professionals. To update policies, we need further research to inform them.

[The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence] is currently developing guidance for managing common infections, which will look at all available evidence on appropriate prescribing of antibiotics.

The Department of Health will continue to review the evidence on prescribing and drug-resistant infections, as we aim to continue the great progress we have made at home and abroad on this issue.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jul/26/rule-patients-must-finish-antibiotics-course-wrong-study-says

Meningitis vaccine may also cut risk of ‘untreatable’ gonorrhoea, study says

Bacteria causing two different illnesses belong to the same family and share much of the same genetic code providing unexpected cross protection

Hopes to fight untreatable strains of gonorrhoea have risen after it emerged that a new vaccine against meningitis unexpectedly reduced the risk of people getting the sexually transmitted infection.

Some strains of gonorrhoea are resistant to all available drugs, making vaccine development an urgent global health priority. But according to a study in The Lancet, a vaccine has offered protection against the sexually transmitted disease for the first time.

Gonorrhoea spreads through unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex and many of those who contract the disease experience no symptoms. If left untreated, the disease can cause infertility and can increase the transmission of HIV infection.

A New Zealand meningitis epidemic in the early 2000s prompted the mass vaccination of a million people and fortuitously set the scene for the current study. The vaccine used, known as MeNZB, was designed to protect against meningococcal group B infection the cause of the most deadly form of meningitis.

But intriguingly, over the next few years, scientists noticed fewer gonorrhoea cases than expected in those who had been vaccinated against meningitis.

Dr Helen Petousis-Harris, a vaccine specialist from the University of Auckland who led the study, was optimistic: Some types of gonorrhoea are now resistant to every antibiotic we have, and there appeared [to be] little we could do to prevent the steady march of gonorrhoea to superbug status. But now theres hope, she added.

The research team studied over 14,000 people aged 15-30 whod been diagnosed with gonorrhoea at sexual health clinics across New Zealand and who had been eligible for the MeNZB vaccine during the emergency vaccination programme. They found vaccinated individuals were over 30% less likely to develop gonorrhoea.

Despite meningitis and gonorrhoea being very different illnesses, both are caused by bacteria from the same family and share much of the same genetic code, providing a possible explanation for the cross-protection that the team observed.

More than 78 million people worldwide get gonorrhoea each year with most infections in men and women under the age of 25. It is the second most common bacterial sexually transmitted infection in the UK after chlamydia. In England alone, almost 35,000 people were affected in 2014.

British Association for Sexual Health and HIVs President, Dr Elizabeth Carlin, who was not involved in the study, was more sceptical: These early findings are to be welcomed but its important to keep in perspective that the vaccine offered only moderate protection …. an individual receiving this vaccine remains susceptible to gonorrhoea but just less so than if unvaccinated.

The MeNZB vaccine used in the current study is no longer manufactured, but Petousis-Harris has high hopes for a similar meningitis vaccine called 4CMenB, available in many countries.

Petousis-Harris was clear about what needed to happen next. We need an urgent assessment of current meningitis vaccines to see if they protect against gonorrhoea. It may be possible to eliminate many gonorrhoea infections using a vaccine with only moderate protection. It does not need to be perfect, she added.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/jul/10/meningitis-vaccine-may-also-cut-risk-of-untreatable-gonorrhoea-study-says

People taking heartburn drugs could have higher risk of death, study claims

Research suggests people on proton pump inhibitors are more likely to die than those taking different antacid or none at all

Millions of people taking common heartburn and indigestion medications could be at an increased risk of death, research suggests.

The drugs, known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), neutralise the acid in the stomach and are widely prescribed, with low doses also available without prescription from pharmacies. In the UK, doctors issue more than 50m prescriptions for PPIs every year.

Now researchers say the drugs can increase risk of death, both compared with taking a different type of acid suppressant and not taking any at all.

We saw a small excess risk of dying that could be attributed to the PPI drug, and the risk increased the longer they took them, said Ziyad Al-Aly, an epidemiologist from the University of Washington and co-author of the study.

The team say the study suggests those who take the drugs without needing to could be most at risk. They urged people taking PPIs to check whether this was necessary.

Previous research has raised a range of concerns about PPIs, including links to kidney disease, pneumonia, more hip fractures and higher rates of infection with C difficile, a superbug that can cause life-threatening sepsis, particularly in elderly people in hospitals.

But the latest study is the first to show that PPIs can increase the chance of death. Published in the journal BMJ Open, it examined the medical records of 3.5 million middle-aged Americans covered by the US veterans healthcare system.

The researchers followed 350,000 participants for more than five years and compared those prescribed PPIs to a group receiving a different type of acid suppressant known as an H2 blocker. They also took into account factors such as the participants age, sex and conditions ranging from high blood pressure to HIV.

The results show that those who took PPIs could face a 25% higher risk of death than those who took the H2 blocker.

In patients on [H2 blocker] tablets, there were 3.3 deaths per 100 people over one year. In the PPI group, this figure was higher at 4.7 per 100 people per year, said Al-Aly.

The team also reported that the risk of death for those taking PPIs was 15% higher than those taking no PPIs, and 23% higher than for those taking no acid suppressants at all.

Similar levels of increased risk were seen among people who used PPIs but had no gastrointestinal conditions, a result which the authors speculated might be driving the higher risk seen overall.

Gareth Corbett, a gastroenterologist from Addenbrookes hospital in Cambridge who was not involved with the study, cautioned against panic, pointing out that in most cases the benefits of PPI far outweighed any risk. What was more, he said, while the increased risk sounded high, it was still very low for each person.

PPIs are very effective medicines, proven to save lives and reduce the need for surgery in patients with bleeding gastric and duodenal ulcers and several other conditions, he said.

The studys authors said it was important that PPIs were used only when necessary and stopped when no longer needed.

Corbett agreed that many people take PPIs unnecessarily. They could get rid of their heartburn by making lifestyle changes, such as losing weight and cutting back on alcohol, caffeine and spicy foods, he said.

The authors said the study was observational, meaning it did not show that PPIs were the cause of the increased risk of death, and that it was unclear how the drugs would act to affect mortality. They said the drugs could affect components within cells, known as lysosomes, that help break down waste material, or shortening protective regions at the end of chromosomes, known as telomeres.

Aly said people on PPIs should check with their GP whether the drugs were still needed, adding: In some cases we expect that PPIs can be safely stopped, particularly in patients who have been taking them for a long time.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/jul/04/people-taking-heartburn-drugs-could-have-higher-risk-of-death-study-claims

Jennifer Doudna: I have to be true to who I am as a scientist

Crispr inventor Jennifer Doudna talks about discovering the gene-editing tool, the split with her collaborator and the complex ethics of genetic manipulation

Jennifer Doudna, 53, is an American biochemist based at the University of California, Berkeley. Together with the French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier, she led the discovery of the revolutionary gene-editing tool, Crispr. The technology has the potential to eradicate previously incurable diseases, but also poses ethical questions about the possible unintended consequences of overwriting the human genome.

Were you nerdy as a child? What got youhooked on science?
Yes, I was nerdy. My father was a professor of American literature in Hawaii and he loved books. One day I came home from school and he haddropped a copy of The Double Helixon the bed, by Jim Watson. Onerainy afternoon I read it and Iwasjust stunned. I was blown awaythat you could do experiments about what a molecule looks like. I was probably 12 or 13. I think that wasthebeginning ofstarting to think,Wow, that could be an amazingthing to work on.

Youve spent most of your career uncovering the structure of RNA and never set out to create a tool to copy andpaste human genes. How did you endup working on Crispr?
I think you can put scientists into two buckets. One is the type who dives very deeply into one topic for their whole career and they know it better than anybody else in the world. Then theresthe other bucket, where I wouldput myself, where its like youre at a buffet table and you see an interesting thing here and do it for a while, and that connects you to another interesting thing and you take a bit of that. Thats how I came to be working on Crispr it was a total side-project.

But when you first started your collaboration with Emmanuelle Charpentier, did you have a hunch youwere on to something special?
We met at a conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and took a walk around the old town together. She was so passionate, her excitement was very infectious. I still remember walking down this street with her and she said: Well Im really glad you want to work with us on the mysterious [Cas9 the enzyme that snips DNA at the chosen location in the editing process]. It was this kind of electrifying moment. Even then I just had this gut feeling that this was something really interesting.

How important is personal chemistry inscience collaborations?
Its essential. Working in a lab is analogous to being in a high-school play: youre rehearsing long hours, itscrowded, there are stressful things that come up. Its the same thing in science. Things never work as you think they will, experiments fail and so to have people around that really get along with each other is super important. Many collaborations dont work out, usually just because peoples interests arent aligned or people dont really like working together.

The real frenzy around your work started in 2012, when you showed that Crispr-Cas9 could be used to slice up DNA at any site [of the DNA molecule] you wanted. Did you realise this was abig deal gradually orimmediately?
It wasnt a gradual realisation, it was one of those OMG moments where you look at each other and say holy moly. This was something we hadnt thought about before, but now we could see how it worked, we could see it would be such a fantastic way to do gene editing.

After you demonstrated Crispr could edit bacterial DNA, two rival labs (Harvard and the Broad Institute) got there first in human cells. How come they beat you to it?
They were absolutely set up to do that kind of experiment. They had all the tools, the cells growing, everything was there. For us, they were hard experiments to do because its not thekind of science we do. What speaksto the ease of the system was that a lab like mine could even do it.

The Broad Institute won the latest round of an ongoing legal battle over patent rights they claim that it wasnt obvious that Crispr could be used to edit human cells too. Where do you stand?
People have asked me over and over again: Did you know it was going to work? But until you do an experiment you dont know thats science. Ive been lambasted for this in the media, but I have to be true to who I am as a scientist. We certainly had a hypothesisand it certainly seemed likea very good guess that it would.

Theres the patent dispute and you and Emmanuelle Charpentier also ended up pursuing rival projects to commercialise the technology. Are you all still friends?
If theres a sadness to me about all of this and a lot of its been wonderful and really exciting its that I wouldve loved to continue working with Emmanuelle, scientifically. For multiple reasons that wasnt desirable to her. Im not blaming her at all she had her reasons and I respect her a lot.

The media loves to drive wedges, but we are very cordial. I was just with her in Spain and she was telling me about the challenges [of building her new lab in Berlin]. I hope on her side, certainly on my side, we respect each others work and in the end were all init together.

In your book you describe a nightmare youhad involving Hitler wearing a pig mask, asking to learn more about your amazing technology. Do you still have anxiety dreams about where Crispr mightleave the human race?
I had the Hitler dream and Ive had a couple of other very scary dreams, almost like nightmares, which is quite unusual for an adult. Not so much lately, but in the first couple of years after I published my work, the field was moving so fast. I had this incredible feeling that the science was getting out way ahead of any considerations about ethics, societal implications and whether we should be worrying about random people in various parts of the world using this for nefarious purposes.

In 2015, you called for a moratorium on the clinical use of gene editing. Where do you stand on using Crispr to edit embryos these days?
It shouldnt be used clinically today, but in the future possibly. Thats a big change for me. At first, I just thought why would you ever do it? Then I started to hear from people with genetic diseases in their family this is now happening every day for me. Alot of them send me pictures of their children. There was one that Icant stop thinking about, just sent to me in the last 10 days or so. A mother who told me that her infant son was diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease, caused by a sporadic rare mutation. She sent me a picture of thislittle boy. He was this adorable little baby, he was bald, in his little carrier and so cute. I have a son and myheart just broke.

What would you do as a mother? You see your child and hes beautiful, hes perfect and you know hes going to suffer from this horrible disease and theres nothing you can do about it. Its horrible. Getting exposed to that, getting to know some of these people, its not abstract any more, its very personal. And you think, if there were away to help these people, we should do it. It would be wrong not to.

What about the spectre of designerbabies?
A lot of it will come down to whether the technology is safe and effective, are there alternatives that would be equally effective that we should consider, and what are the broader societal implications of allowing gene editing? Are people going to start saying I want a child thats 6ft 5in and has blue eyes and so on? Do we really want to go there? Would you do things that are not medically necessary but are just nice-to-haves, for some people?Its a hard question. There area lot of grey areas.

Are you worried about cuts to science funding, including to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget?
I am very concerned. Science funding is not a political football but in fact a down payment on discovery, the seed money to fund a critical step toward ending Alzheimers or curing cancer.

Researchers currently working on projects aimed at improving numerous aspects of our agriculture, environment and health may be forced to abandon their work. The outcome is that people will not receive the medical treatments they need, our struggle to feed our exploding population will deepen, and our efforts to manage climate change will collapse.

Over the long term, the very role of fundamental science as a means to better our society may come into question. History and all evidence points to the fact that when we inspire and support our scientific community we advance our way of life and thrive.

Were you disturbed when Trump tweeted, If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view NO FEDERAL FUNDS? in response to a planned alt-right speaker being cancelled due to violent protests on campus?
Yes. It was a confusing tweet since the university was clearly committed to ensuring that the event would proceed safely and first amendment rights were supported. Few expected the awful actions of a few to be met with a willingness from the highest office to deprive more than 38,000 students access to an education.

Youve spoken at Davos, shared the $3m2015 Breakthrough prize, been listedamong the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine. Areyou still motivated about heading intothe lab these days?
Yesterday I was getting ready to go to a fancy dinner. I was in a cocktail gown and had my makeup on and my hair done, but I wanted to talk to a postdoc in my lab about an experiment he was doing, so I texted him saying can we Skype? It was 8am in California, I was over here [in the UK] in my full evening gown, talking abouttheexperiment.Thats how nerdy I am.

A Crack in Creation: The New Power to Control Evolution by Jennifer Doudna and Sam Sternberg is published by The Bodley Head (20). To order a copy for 17 go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over 10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of 1.99

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/jul/02/jennifer-doudna-crispr-i-have-to-be-true-to-who-i-am-as-a-scientist-interview-crack-in-creation

Brain game: how quitting routine tasks can help you learn new tricks

Daniel Glaser explains the benefits of taking on new challenges in middle age

Although his previous attempt at a career break, by becoming an apprentice shoemaker in Florence, didnt last long, it seems Daniel Day-Lewis is serious about retiring this time.

Maybe hes looking for a newchallenge. As we get older, work can feel more routine andeasy, which is born out in terms of brain activity.

Scans show tasks we are practised at often use less energy than novel activities we tend to do them more efficiently, and the mental energy required decreases. Were all familiar with this as our careers advance.

We also get more skilled at spotting our mistakes and rectifying them; as an old hand, you can notice when the edge has gone but you have enough tricks in the bag to make amends. This neuroprotective effect may be behind some of the results that show an apparent delay in symptoms of age-related cognitive decline for those more active in middle age. In this light a preemptive move, like Day-Lewiss, may be more sensible as we become over familiar with what we do.

It is perhaps typical of this most uncompromising of actors that hes quitting while ahead.

Dr Daniel Glaser is director of Science Gallery at Kings College London

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/jul/02/brain-game-quitting-routine-tasks-to-learn-new-tricks

In Seattle US old-timers rediscover the high life on cannabis tours

Retirement home residents take a trip to a producer

Forget bingo, tea dances and seaside trips. Residents from a chain of Seattle retirement homes are going on Pot for Beginners tours to learn about and buy cannabis in the city, where its now legal.

Connie Schick said her son roared with laughter when he heard she was joining a field trip to a cannabis-growing operation, an extraction plant and shop. The 79-year-old, who smoked the odd joint in the 70s, wanted to know how legalisation has changed the way the drug is used and produced.

Schick was one of eight women, from their late 60s to mid-80s, who descended from a minibus emblazoned with the name of their assisted living centre, El Dorado West, outside Vela cannabis store last Tuesday.

You can only play so many games of bingo, said Schick. My son thought it was hilarious that I was coming here, but Im open-minded and want to stay informed. Cannabis has come so far from the days when you smoked a sly joint and got into trouble if they found out. We used to call it hemp then and didnt know its strength. It just used to make me sleepy, so I didnt see the point.

Schick, who uses a wheelchair after suffering a stroke, is interested in the therapeutic effects of cannabis. Its so different now. There are so many ways you can take it, and all these different types to help with aches and pains.

They used to say it was a gateway drug to other things, like cocaine Lots of peoples views are changing.

Certainly, the number of people aged 65 or older taking cannabis in the US is growing. The proportion of this age group who reported cannabis use in the past year rose more than tenfold from 0.2% to 2.1% between 2002 and 2014, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. A Gallup poll last year showed that 3% of those over 65 smoke cannabis.

Much of this is attributed to the ageing of the baby-boomer generation, who dabbled with the drug when they were young and are returning to it for medical or recreational use as it becomes legal and more normalised. Cannabis is now legal for medical use in 29 states and for medical and recreational use in eight (since 2012 in Seattle and the rest of Washington state).

Most of the women on the tour were more interested in the medical use, although Denise Roux, 67, said: I would like to buy it to get high too but Im a cheap high, it doesnt take much.

A seminar over sandwiches was held for thegroup as they sat in front of the large windows of the cultivation room, where they could see scores of plants growing under intense lighting.

They were told about the different strains: uplifting sativa plants and more sedating indicas. They learned about tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which gives a high, and cannabidiol (CBD) which does not, making CBD-rich cannabis appealing for medical use. A scientist in a lab coat who worked in the processing facility spoke about terpenes fragrant oils secreted by glands in the flower that give strains their different smells and flavours. Vials were sniffed and various ways to take cannabis were also covered, including smoking, vaporising and eating it.

Roux, a retired administrative assistant, said: Im a big Google girl, but I wanted to talk to people who know about it so I can understand it all better. I have an autoimmune disease, which stops my appetite, and Im interested in marijuana from that standpoint. She added she had used cannabis recreationally in the 80s and had returned to it to help with her illness. I use a vape. It makes me sleepy and its a pain control, and it gives me an appetite.

After the briefing, it was time for shopping. The store looked like an upmarket jewellers, with muted lighting and art on the walls, except the glass cabinets in the store were stocked with pre-rolled joints, edibles including chocolates and sweets, vape pens and bags of different strains of cannabis rather than diamond rings and necklaces.

Darlene Johnson, 85, a former nurse, perused their contents. On the advice of a bearded bud tender, she bought a deep tissue and joint gel and a tincture to put in drinks, which she hopes will help with her severe neck pain. I wanted a non-psychoactive option, she said. I dont want to get high. I used to work in the emergency room and saw people come in sick from taking too many drugs, though not usually marijuana.

Her friend, Nancy Mitchell, 80, has never tried cannabis. She has MS and had read that cannabis could help with her symptoms. I wanted to know more details, she said. My kids keep telling me, Mom, try it. I dont want to smoke things, but I see there are other ways.

Smoking is not allowed at El Dorado West. Village Concepts, which runs the chain, has a no-smoking policy and it is illegal to consume cannabis in public in the state.

The chains director of corporate development, Tracy Willis, said: There was one man who was smoking it on his patio and he refused to stop, so he had to leave. If youre using an edible, we dont have any issue with it, thats your own business. We treat it as a recreational thing.

The tours began in response to questions from residents.They wanted to know where it was sold, how much money was made from it, where it was grown, said Willis. Weve had a good reaction [to the tours] from nine out of 10 relatives, but some are horrified. One angry daughter said we were encouraging marijuana use. Her mother told her to butt out.

Participants
Participants on the tour learned about different ways to use cannabis. Photograph: Jason Redmond/Reuters

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jul/01/seattle-retirement-home-cannabis-tours

Trump casually pre-games climate announcement with jazz band

While the world anxiously waited to hear whether or not President Trump would pull out of the Paris Agreement, a jazz band outside the White House kept things chill AF.

After much anticipation, Trump announced on Twitter that he would be making a statement about the country’s future with the major climate agreement on Thursday in the White House Rose Garden.

And what better way to pregame that very important speech than with a nice tasteful jazz performance, am I right??!

Before Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement, which left the U.S. with only two other countries Nicaragua and Syria who also rejected the agreement, many business leaders, celebrities, and scientists publicly warned against the decision.

But hey, Trump knows that some nice, smooth jazz music can solve any problem.

As people waited for the president (who was more than 30 minutes late) to take the stage, the image of what appears to be the United States Marine Band performing jazz in the Rose Garden was all they had to mock.

Some people passed the time by thinking up some climate-friendly requests for the band to play! Fun!

In fact, with this romantic setting, some might even say Trump’s monumental climate announcement felt a bit like an episode of The Bachelor …

Though this random jazz band may seem a bit odd, Trump is certainly no stranger to oddly timed celebratory gestures. We learned this after the House Republicans voted on a health care repeal bill and definitely did not enjoy a cart full of beer.

Enjoy that Rose Garden while you can, Trump!

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/06/01/donald-trump-paris-agreement-jazz-band/