Sharon Begley

Stories by Sharon Begley

  • blumenthal-begley-hypocrisy

    Politicians Really Are Prone to Hypocrisy

    Could the seemingly inexhaustible supply of high-profile hypocrites reflect the fact that the media covers the Richard Blumenthals of the world and not your philandering, church-deacon neighbor? In a word, no. They are worse than the rest of us.
  • DNA: Congress on the Case

    The claims of DNA testing companies such as those I describe here are about to get some much-needed scrutiny. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce, chaired by Rep. Henry A. Waxman, has just sent letters to the big three (23andMe, Navigenics, and Pathway Genomics) asking for more information than the companies have in the past been willing to divulge. It will be interesting to see what kind of response the congressmen get, but one committee source is already expecting pushback from the companies' lawyers. ...
  • The Thinking Person's Guide to Easing Tourette's

    Add Tourette syndrome to the list of psychiatric and neurological disorders that you may be able to think your way out of.That is only a slight exaggeration, but then emphasis is on “slight.” The recognition that mental illnesses are biological diseases of the brain is a welcome change from the medieval notion that they are evidence of witchcraft, demonic possession, “refrigerator mothers,” and the like, but the conclusion that scientists leapt to—that the only effective treatments for biological diseases are drugs—is both illogical and unfortunate. Hard on the heels of research showing that changing the way a patient thinks and behaves can be as effective in treating depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder (to name just two) comes evidence that changing behavior can also alleviate Tourette syndrome.Tourette’s, which strikes an estimated 6 in 1,000 school-age children, is characterized by verbal and behavioral tics such as repetitive and uncontrolled blinking, head jerking,...
  • Why DNA Doesn't Always Predict Disease

    The latest research to throw cold water on the crystal-ball powers of DNA is a paper in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. It starts out as a standard genomewide association study (GWAS) in which scientists sequence genomes of people with and without particular diseases and identify genetic variants associated with those illnesses.
  • Louisiana Considers Bill to Restrict Lawsuits

    Just as Louisiana politicians are about to get an up-close-and-personal look at the BP oil spill (it is approaching the shores an hour's drive from Baton Rouge, the state capital), they are considering a bill to "kneecap" all university environmental-law clinics in the state, which have led the way in challenging the historically cozy relationship between state politicians and the petrochemical industry....
  • Why Your Brain Loves Near-Misses in Gambling

    When there is a commercial motivation to understand and exploit the human mind, business gets there before science. Case in point: the power of near-misses to keep gamblers glued to a slot machine.
  • wri-eaarth-tease

    Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet

    Bill McKibben doesn’t pretend that if we can just rein in our greenhouse-gas emissions everything will be fine. Government actions are so far short of what’s needed to avert catastrophic climate change, he says, as to warrant a “don’t bother.” The message runs counter to that of virtually every green group, which lobbies for both individual action and government policy to control greenhouse emissions.
  • The Hidden Costs of Extra-Value Meals

    See Golden Arches, save less? No, not because we shell out $7.99 for meals we could make at home for $3, but because of how our environment subliminally affects our behavior....
  • Promiscuous Bacteria Gone Wild: Why Sushi Gives More Energy to the Japanese

    Any Westerners who have thought to themselves, gee, Japanese people sure seem to get a lot more out of sushi than I do, are more right than they probably guessed. A new study finds that bacteria living in the intestines of Japanese but not North American people harbor genes for digesting red algae (a.k.a. seaweed, or nori) of the kind typically wrapped around sushi. The genes digest carbohydrates (or to be perfectly precise, polysaccharides) in the seaweed. As a result, Japanese people can extract energy out of the seaweed, but Americans derive no nutritional benefit....
  • Fat DNA Is Not Destiny

    It was enough to make people who believe they have “fat genes” give up. Among 438 adolescents who carry a form of the gene called FTO (fat mass- and obesity-associated) linked to obesity, there was no effect of physical activity on body mass index, found a 2009 study that followed them from infancy to age 15: teens who carry the obesity form of the FTO gene and exercised were no less obese than teens who carry the gene and were couch potatoes....
  • In Surprise Ruling, Court Declares Two Gene Patents Invalid

    When the ACLU, joined by a long list of medical and genetics groups, sued to invalidate patents on human genes, the lawyers I spoke to for my recent column were almost unanimous in saying the plaintiffs didn't have a prayer, while the scientists said their arguments were compelling. Patents, according to the Constitution, exist to "promote the progress of science," but patents on human genes arguably do the opposite, researchers told me. I figured the lawyers knew better, and assumed the geneticists and the ACLU would lose. Surprise: in a 156-page decision just handed down, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that patents on the genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2, both associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer) held by Myriad Genetics are invalid. It's the first time a court has thrown out gene patents, and it raises questions about the validity of the other 40,000 patents on an estimated 2,000 human genes. (There are more patents...
  • Another Reason to Take SAT Prep: Get More for Your Eggs

    A younger friend had mentioned that when she was an undergraduate at a public college her eggs were worth $3,000 (judging by what ads placed by fertility clinics in the student paper offered), but when she went to Harvard and then Columbia (as a grad student) they were suddenly worth $8,000. Same eggs....
  • Exercise and Weight Loss: Abandon All Hope

    That sound you hear is another illusion shattering. The twin pillars of advice about maintaining a healthy weight, or losing enough weight to get back to where you should be, are diet and exercise, as Claudia Kalb ably explains in her article on childhood obesity. Well, the second pillar just toppled over and smashed itself to smithereens: a 13-year study of 34,079 middle-aged women by researchers at Harvard Medical School and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the only ones who avoided weight gain were those who exercised seven hours a week, not the 30 minutes, five-times-a-week goal that federal guidelines recommend....
  • Harry Smith’s CBS Colonoscopy: Both Too Much and Too Little Information

    Finally, someone has said loudly and clearly that the emperor has no clothes—or, more specifically, that the colonoscopy that Harry Smith of the CBS Early Show got, live, on the program a week ago amounted to cheerleading for a procedure whose value is much less than the public has been led to believe....