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Archive for the 'Science' Category

Friday, July 25th, 2014

“The mind–body dualism has long overstayed its visit” — Concluding Thoughts from Shadow Medicine

“The mind–body dualism has long overstayed its visit. Western science needs to advance beyond the cur­rent reductionist model to some blending of the subjective and social aspects of healing.”—John S. Haller Jr.

Shadow Medicine, John S. Haller Jr.We conclude our week-long feature on Shadow Medicine: The Placebo in Conventional and Alternative Therapies with an excerpt, fittingly enough, from the concluding chapter. In “Reassessment,” Haller examines some of the challenges confronting alternative medicine as it tries to gain greater legitimacy as well as the need to integrate our understanding of what both alternative and conventional medicine offer:

With approximately 80 percent of the world’s population, including half the US population, using some form of [contemporary and alternative medicine] (CAM), the scientific community can no longer view these thera­pies as simply a fringe interest among consumers. However, because CAM therapies diverge sharply from reductionist science, the nature of their evidence and the subjective manner of their production create substantive problems for evidence-based medical knowledge. This suggests a remark­able similarity between CAM therapies and numerous nonspecific theo­ries and practices such as psychotherapy that, although difficult to explain in terms of their modus operandi, have proven beneficial to patients. The current tension between conventional therapies and unconventional ther­apies represents a collision of epistemologies. For the former, disease cau­sation constitutes the ideal form of evidence; for the latter, outcomes are of equal or greater importance. In our postmodern world, multifactorial causation has become more accepted as doctors and medical researchers adopt a more integrative role for unconventional therapies—a road that neither is straight nor accompanied by clear markers.

As the usage of homeopathy, acupuncture, herbals, chiropractic, and other CAM modalities amply demonstrate, their poor performance in clinical trials have caused little or no diminution in their popularity. They remain robust in their claims and ever anxious to expand their therapeu­tic applications. Even with increased consumer interest, however, only a small number of CAM therapies are expected to achieve legitimacy along­side conventional medicine. Unlike biomedicine, which is constantly jus­tifying its existence through replication and evidence-based research, most CAM modalities have yet to prove their efficacy or replicability, standing firmly on a static set of principles and practices that appear to “work,” albeit only marginally better than the placebo. To date, only a few have been able to build a scientific explanation for their efficacy. And for those that have achieved this status, the outcome has not always been to their benefit. The fact that the management of chronic disease constitutes 78 percent of medical expenditures in the United States explains why con­ventional medicine has been so aggressive in fighting CAM and, where possible, co-opting its more effective therapies.

(more…)

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

Conventional vs Alternative Medicine — An Excerpt from Shadow Medicine by John Haller

“In addressing the standoff between the dueling protagonists of conventional and unconventional medicine, the placebo has served as both mediator and judge….” —John S. Haller Jr.

We continue our week-long feature on Shadow Medicine: The Placebo in Conventional and Alternative Therapies by John S. Haller Jr. by presenting an excerpt from the book . In the introduction, Haller examines the debate between proponents of conventional and alternative medicine and the role in which the placebo plays in challenging both positions.

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

An Interview with John Haller, author of Shadow Medicine

“The question at hand is not only whether conventional and unconventional therapies can stand on their own self-authenticating authority, but whether it is possible to modify the context of these two opposing camps into something both can benefit from sharing. To date, there is no hard-wired connection, but the bridge between them is nowhere as long, nor is the chasm beneath them as deep as it once appeared.”—John S. Haller Jr.

John Haller, Shadow MedicineThe following is an interview with John S. Haller Jr, author of Shadow Medicine: The Placebo in Conventional and Alternative Therapies. For more on the book, read John Haller’s essay The Medical Challenge:

Q: In Shadow Medicine, you use the term conventional medicine. What do you mean by that?

John Haller Jr.: Conventional (or reductionist) medicine identifies statistical baselines against which to measure its therapies, looking to physiological, pathological, biochemical, and molecular processes derived from physical matter and to treatment based on the calculus of probabilities. That is to say, conventional medicine draws its authority from the clinical trials and laws embedded in the natural sciences. At its best, conventional medicine encourages a healthy skepticism and urges various forms of sampling, followed by repeated experimentation to reaffirm a hypothesis. Its identity is thus based on the unambiguous application of normative science whose laws interpret the body as a materialistic system that can be reduced and analyzed according to its component parts.

Q: You seem to suggest, however, that conventional medicine has limits? How so?

JH: While conventional medicine continues to provide the most credible information for justifying a clinical judgment, its ultimate value remains uncertain because much of what happens in a clinical trial fails to capture the myriad of variables that affect the physician/patient encounter. For this and other reasons, the clinical trial remains an imperfect tool.

Calibrating the outcome of a medical procedure or the efficacy of a pharmacologic treatment defies certitude insofar as the organic side of medicine tends to be infused with psychotherapeutic interventions—some intended and, others, hidden. This suggests that conventional medicine has overestimated the value of the clinical trial in resolving the challenges presented in medicine and that more creative efforts are needed that compare “whole treatments.”

Q: How does conventional medicine contrast from complementary and alternative medicine?

JH: Today’s complementary and alternative healers focus their attention on forces or energies that, although undetectable by the tools of science, are thought to be real. Such phrases as “paradigm change,” “probability waves,” “string theory,” “chaos theory,” “new physics,” “ectoplasm,” “chakras,” and “spirit-release therapy” are used to anoint beliefs wholly distinct from empirically-based laboratory science. Challenging the discrete boundaries between objectivity and subjectivity by including consciousness in the reframing of reality, today’s unconventional healers insist that “life forces” can be transmitted or channeled into the patient to mediate physical, mental, or emotional needs. This secularized notion of body, mind, and spirit forms the basis of homeopathy, psychic healing, crystal healing, reiki, light therapy, acupuncture, qigong, aromatherapy, distant healing, transcendental meditation, therapeutic touch, and other paranormal healing systems.

(more…)

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

The Medical Challenge — A Post by John S. Haller Jr.

Shadow Medicine, John S. Haller Jr.The following post is by John S. Haller Jr., author of Shadow Medicine: The Placebo in Conventional and Alternative Therapies:

“The placebo has undermined the positivist model of biomedicine by interjecting subjectivity, uncertainty, and ambiguity into the clinical encounter. It suggests that a specific disease or illness does not exist apart from the manner in which the society conceptualizes it and addresses it.”—John S. Haller Jr.

Conventional medicine is founded on the belief that the body is the outcome of material forces. Given this assumption, it looks to physiological, pathological, biochemical, and molecular processes derived from physical matter to diagnose and treat disease. Its basic tool is the randomized clinical trial, guided by the fact that its active pharmaceutical substances “work” (even when the patient is unaware of their administration) and that their effects can be demonstrated, measured, and replicated. As authority figures, conventional physicians not only project a certain level of scientific legitimacy but purport to have legal authority, political privilege, and cultural acceptance—entitlements that also come with obligations that include standardized training, accreditation, licensing, and regulation.

While the randomized clinical trial provides the most credible information for justifying a specific treatment, its ultimate value remains uncertain because much of what happens in a trial fails to capture the myriad of independent and/or related variables that affect the physician/patient encounter. For all its hype, the randomized clinical trial remains an imperfect tool. Although it informs individual clinical expertise, it does not (and should not) replace it. Conventional medicine has overestimated the value of its clinical trial and more creative methods are needed that compare “whole treatments” rather than just the normative components which biomedicine is most acquainted.

In contrast to conventional medicine, complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) defines health in psychological and spiritual terms and emphasizes patient individualization and self-healing. It is founded on a philosophy of organism known as “vitalism” which explains life not by the laws of physics and chemistry but by a principle, force, or spirit-like power that comes from beyond the material world to animate organic matter. Consisting of a mixture of religion, mysticism, cosmic energy, disbelief in Western reductionism, and an increased fascination with Eastern philosophies, CAM encourages a more metaphysical encounter with the world, one that questions the basic assumptions about the nature of reality. In this new setting the patient’s experience becomes intensely personal and compares strikingly to certain types of spiritual awakening. In its intuitive approach to healing, the goal of the healer is to assist the individual in finding harmony with nature.

(more…)

Monday, July 21st, 2014

Book Giveaway! Win a Free Copy of Shadow Medicine, by John Haller

The Collapse of Western Civilization

This week our featured book is Shadow Medicine: The Placebo in Conventional and Alternative Therapies, by John S. Haller Jr.

In addition to features on our blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Shadow Medicine to a lucky winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, July 25 at 1:00 pm.

“This provocative book is aimed at challenging the research community, and the questions it raises are important for patients and doctors alike.” — Publishers Weekly

Read the introduction to Shadow Medicine:

Friday, July 11th, 2014

Bangladesh, New York, and Florida after the Great Collapse of 2093

We conclude our week-long feature on The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway with three maps from 2393 that illustrate the ravages of climate change on Bangladesh, New York, and Florida. The commentary comes from a twenty-fourth century historian looking back at how twenty-first century leaders failed to react to the growing threats to the environment:

The Collapse of Western Civlization
Bangladesh Among North Americans, Bangladesh—one of the poorest nations of the world—served as an ideological battleground. Self-described “Climate Hawks” used it to levy moral demands for greenhouse gas reductions so that it would not suf­fer inundation, while so-called “Climate Realists” insisted that only economic growth powered by cheap fossil fuels would make Bangladeshis wealthy enough to save themselves. In reality, “unfettered economic growth” made a handful of Bangladeshis wealthy enough to flee. The poor were left to the floods.

The Collapse of Western Civilization, New York City
New York City in the twenty-fourth century Once the financial capital of the world, New York began in the early twenty-first century to attempt to defend its elabo­rate and expensive infrastructure against the sea. But that infrastructure had been designed and built with an expectation of constant seas and was not easily adapted to continuous, rapid rise. Like the Netherlands, New York City gradually lost its struggle. Ultimately, it proved less expensive to retreat to higher ground, abandoning centuries’ worth of capital investments.

(more…)

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

Naomi Oreskes on Why We Should Trust Scientists

In the following TED Talk, Naomi Oreskes, coauthor (with Erik M. Conway) of The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future, discusses why we should trust scientists.

From the TED description:

Many of the world’s biggest problems require asking questions of scientists — but why should we believe what they say? Historian of science Naomi Oreskes thinks deeply about our relationship to belief and draws out three problems with common attitudes toward scientific inquiry — and gives her own reasoning for why we ought to trust science.

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

Erik M. Conway on The Role of Neoliberalism in Climate Change

“Market fundamentalism allows us to continue believing that we’re not responsible for climate change or its impacts.”—Erik M. Conway

Erik M. Conway, The Decline of Western CivilizationThe following post is by Erik M. Conway, the coauthor (with Naomi Oreskes) of The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future

One of the important intellectual underpinnings of the American refusal to undertake significant efforts to mitigate climate change has been the economic doctrine of neoliberalism. The term is rather amorphous, and means different things to different people. Naomi Oreskes and myself use it in the sense of what George Soros called market fundamentalism. Market fundamentalists believe in the perfection of economic markets as they currently exist, and that only markets “free” of government interference can protect individual liberty.

There are many things wrong with market fundamentalism, but the aspect of it that’s preventing us from dealing with climate change effectively is that markets as they currently exist don’t account for the cost of pollution. It’s free to dump carbon dioxide and methane and many other things into the atmosphere. In other words, we use the atmosphere as an open sewer, and don’t charge anyone for dumping stuff into it. In economic terms, pollution is an “externality,” a thing that exists outside the market system.

Market fundamentalists like to speak of the “magic of the market place.” Somehow, they think, markets will magically fix these externalities. But markets can’t fix problems that are external to those markets, no matter how hard we wish they would. That sums up the problem. Market fundamentalism is a form of magical thinking. And unfortunately, otherwise reasonable people routinely engage in this sort of magical thinking.

The good news is that, at least in principle, it’s fairly easy to fix this externality. In the 1970s, economists interested in reforming environmental regulation away from what they called “command and control” restrictions towards more market-friendly policies revived an old idea, the idea of pollution pricing. Emissions trading, what we now refer to as “cap and trade,” was one way to establish a price on pollution. Pollution taxes are another (economists often call this kind of tax “Pigovian,” after their inventor, Arthur Pigou). Both are simply ways of extending the market system to cover air and water pollution as well.

(more…)

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

Interview with Naomi Oreskes, author of The Collapse of Western Civilization

Interview Naomi OreskesThe following is an interview with Naomi Oreskes, coauthor of, with Erik M. Conway, The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future:

Question: In The Collapse of Western Civilization you approach climate change as a fictionalized future historian of science. How does science fiction in this form provide a new way to look at climate change?

Naomi Oreskes: Scientists keep talking about disruptive climate change as something in the future, but the reality is that it is already underway. The post hoc voice (ironically) gives us a powerful way to talk about the present. It also allows us to convey what is at stake, not just for polar bears, or people in Bangladesh, but for us—our safety, our security, our way of life, even our national identity.

Q: You and Erik are both historians of science, how does an historical perspective help citizens and policymakers better understand the issues surrounding climate change?

Oreskes: In contrast to scientists, historians reject reductionist approaches. Viewing climate change as historians, we are able to consider not just the scientific dimensions, but also the political, the cultural, and the ideological aspects.

Q: What is the relationship between our current market-based economy and climate change? Is it the problem or can it offer a solution?

Oreskes: Both. A major point of the story is that the climate change was a market failure, but one that could have been fixed had people not been gripped by magical thinking.

Q: What are the threats to democracy and personal freedom posed by climate change and its effects?

Oreskes: Disruptive climate change threatens democracy—threatens democratic institutions—and personal freedom, because natural disasters require massive governmental responses, and invite the federal government to usurp local and individual authority.

Q: Recently, we’ve seen movements on college campuses to divest from fossil fuels gaining momentum. Do you think this will likely have an impact on climate change and the politics surrounding it?

Oreskes: Absolutely. It’s having an impact already.

Q: Finally, do you think climate change will be a prominent issue in the 2016 presidential campaign?

Oreskes: We’re historians. We don’t predict the future. At least, not unless it’s in fiction.

Monday, July 7th, 2014

Book Giveaway! The Collapse of Western Civilization, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway

The Collapse of Western Civilization

This week our featured book is The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway.

In addition to features on our blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Collapse of Western Civilization to a lucky winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, July 11 at 1:00 pm.

“A chilling view of what our history could be. Ignore it and it becomes more likely. Read this book, heed its warning, and perhaps we can avoid its dire predictions.” — Timothy Wirth, vice chairman, United Nations Foundation, and former U.S. Senator and Member, U.S. House of Representatives

Read the introduction and the first chapter, “The Coming of the Penumbral Age”:

Friday, June 27th, 2014

Interview with Alfredo Morabia, author of Enigmas of Health and Disease

Enigmas of Health and DiseaseThe following is an interview with Alfredo Morabia, author of Enigmas of Health and Disease: How Epidemiology Helps Unravel Scientific Mysteries. You can also read Morabia’s blog post Michelle Obama and Epidemiology: An Inspiring Example

Question Your book offers a fascinating and frequently surprising history of epidemiology. How does our understanding of this history help us confront contemporary issues relating to medicine and public health?

Alfredo Morabia: If I have to isolate one key lesson of this historical voyage, it is that society’s success in confronting health issues depends on its ability to use epidemiology to identify medical and public health interventions that work. This was the great discovery of the 17th century, and it finally stopped and reversed the inexorable and millenary progression of the great epidemic diseases.

Q: As you looked back at the history, were there particular events or moments that you found particularly surprising and perhaps changed the way you think about epidemiology?

AM: I had always associated the history of epidemiology mostly with the history of public health but this is not true. The history of epidemiology belongs just as much to the history of clinical medicine. Group comparisons were used to assess the efficacy of treatments by clinical doctors throughout the 350 years of existence of epidemiology.

Q: Your book stresses the importance of group comparisons. Why is this so central to epidemiology?

AM: Comparison is the basic tool of science. In epidemiology, by comparing groups of people we can learn whether a specific drug works, whether an exposure is beneficial or deleterious, or whether a screening test can prolong life. Groups are predictable and comparable; individuals are not.

(more…)

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

Announcing Three Goodreads Giveaways!

We are happy to announce that we are hosting not one, not two, but THREE book giveaways on Goodreads over the next couple weeks! For those looking to learn more about Einstein, we are giving away Jeffrey Bennett’s intuitive introduction to Einstein’s ideas, What Is Relativity?. Interested in the sociology of atheism in the United States? Atheists in America, edited by Melanie E. Brewster, is the book for you! If your interests run more towards history of capitalism and finance, you should check out The World’s First Stock Exchange, Lodewijk Petram’s account of the 17th century development of Amsterdam as a dominant financial center. Look below for details on entering!

What Is Relativity?: An Intuitive Introduction to Einstein’s Ideas, and Why They Matter
Jeffrey Bennett

Goodreads Book Giveaway

What Is Relativity? by Jeffrey Bennett

What Is Relativity?

by Jeffrey Bennett

Giveaway ends July 07, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Atheists in America
Edited by Melanie E. Brewster

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Atheists in America by Melanie E. Brewster

Atheists in America

by Melanie E. Brewster

Giveaway ends July 07, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

The World’s First Stock Exchange
Lodewijk Petram

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The World's First Stock Exchange by Lodewijk Petram

The World’s First Stock Exchange

by Lodewijk Petram

Giveaway ends July 07, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

Michelle Obama and Epidemiology: An Inspiring Example

“American children can learn from someone like Michelle Obama, who decides on the basis of scientific evidence, not on mere speculation.”—Alfredo Morabia

Enigmas of Health and DiseaseThe following post is by Alfredo Morabia, author of Enigmas of Health and Disease: How Epidemiology Helps Unravel Scientific Mysteries

In her May 28th New York Times op-ed, The Campaign for Junk Food, Michelle Obama offers a lesson to Congress and an inspiring example to American children. She explains that before she began advising on policy to reduce child obesity, she first looked to “what works”.

“What works!” because, as Michelle Obama writes, “when we rely on sound science, we can actually begin to turn the tide on childhood obesity.”

Today, Michelle Obama can stand in front of children who may ask her about the importance of fruits and vegetables, less salt, etc. for a healthy diet. She can explain that kids from schools in which lunch menus have slashed sugar, salt, and fat are healthier compared to kids from schools which keep offering junk food; that kids from neighborhoods without nearby grocery stores have poorer eating habits compared to kids from areas with fresh-food retailers; that kids who go to child care centers offering healthier food and more physical activity acquire healthier habits compared to kids who don’t. She can also state that after reducing access to junk food, there is less obesity compared to the situation before the launching of the Let’s Move initiative. It worked!

Now contrast the example of Michelle Obama’s to that of Congressmen fighting the changes she is promoting in the school lunch program. These Congressmen want to see more white potatoes, less fruits and vegetables, more sodium, fewer grains on the menu, and consider pizza sauce a vegetable. How would these Congressmen respond to children asking them: “How do you know that your initiatives will not hurt our health?” The reality is that they cannot answer the question because there is no evidence supporting these decisions. They can only say that they believe otherwise, and claim their right to do so.

(more…)

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

Umami Has Come to Stay

Umami, Ole Mouritsen and Klavs Styrbaek

We conclude our week-long feature on Umami: Unlocking the Secrets of the Fifth Taste by Ole Mouritsen and Klavs Styrbaek with the authors’ discussion of the importance of umami for the way we think about food and diet:

“We consider umami to be the central point around which the circle of deliciousness revolves and are convinced that it deserves a place of honor in all the food cultures of the world.”—Ole Mouritsen and Klavs Styrbaek

As we have seen throughout this book, umami is a relatively new label for a taste that, for possibly the past 1.9 million years, has been an integral aspect of the food of modern humankind and its ancestors. It is an attribute of nutritious food and in this way has steered our preference for food with that particular taste. The taste is intensified when we work with the raw ingredients in certain ways, which have been refined in the course of millennia and which are the very heart of our food cultures, culinary skills, and gastronomy. Virtually all the cuisines in the world seem to strive to impart umami, each with its typical and regional raw ingredients and centuries-old techniques. Of all the techniques, cooking, aging, and fermenting are best able to draw out umami.

Generations of housewives, cooks, and chefs have known intuitively how to elicit umami and that it is indispensable. In more recent times, food manufacturers, gourmets, and innovative chefs have become aware of its synergistic effect and have started to tap into its potential in a rational, creative way. Nevertheless, many of us have not yet gained an easy familiarity with the word umami as an expression to describe savoriness in our raw ingredients, our food, our meals, and our food cultures.

Science has taught us which substances in the raw ingredients can help to impart umami, and, armed with this knowledge, we are better able to understand why food has umami tastes and, just as important, what we have to do to enhance them. We now also know that what characterizes umami is the multiplier effect. This taste comes fully into its own only with the help of an intimate interaction, a synergy between two types of substances, glutamate and ribonucleotides. An awareness of which raw ingredients are sources of these two substances allows us to sharpen our insight into how we can prepare more delicious meals. While this will naturally be of great value in the field of advanced gastronomy, it is of equal importance in our own kitchens, where we can use it to real advantage, even with simple techniques and local ingredients.

(more…)

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

Umami and the Art of Killing a Fish

Ole Mouritsen, Umami: Unlocking the Secrets of the Fifth Taste

The following excerpt is from Umami: Unlocking the Secrets of the Fifth Taste by Ole G. Mouritsen and Klavs Styrbaek:

Ikijime, which means to terminate while alive, is a 350 year old Japanese technique for killing fish. It has the effect of delaying the onset of rigor mortis, thereby ensuring that the taste of the fish is of the highest quality and that there is least damage to, and discoloration of, the flesh. The fish dies humanely and unstressed, which preserves and releases more of the savory substances that bring out umami.

The traditional method is as follows. With a heavy knife, a cut is made in the head on the dorsal side of the live fish, slightly above and behind the eyes, severing the main artery and the elongated medulla, which is the lowest part of the brain stem. This is the part of the brain that controls movement. A second cut is made where the tail is attached to the body. Then the fish is plunged into an ice slurry in order to allow it to bleed out. The muscles of the fish relax in the ice cold water while the heart continues to pump, but the fish has ceased to struggle for its life and is unstressed.

The final, definitive step is to shut down completely the autonomic nervous system, which continues to send messages to the muscles to contract. It is destroyed by inserting a long, very thin metal spike along the length of the fish through the neural canal of the spinal column. At this point, the fish relaxes totally and all movement ceases.
The blood that remains in the muscles retracts into the entrails of the fish, which are removed under running water so that blood and digestive fluids do not spill onto the flesh. The head, tail, gills, and fins are cut off and the fish is wrapped in paper or cloths to absorb any blood that might still seep out. At this point, the fish can be filleted for cooking, sliced for sashimi, or allowed to age for one or two days in the refrigerator.

(more…)

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

Why Umami is Good For You and 12 Ways to Add it to Your Diet

Umami: Unlocking the Secrets of the Fifth Taste

In Umami: Unlocking the Secrets of the Fifth Taste, Ole Mouritsen and Klavs Styrbaek explain the health benefits of umami:

Food with umami can often be prepared with significantly less salt, sugar, and fat without sacrificing the delicious taste of the resulting dish. Salt, in particular, is frequently applied too liberally in order to compensate for ingredients that are insipid or unpalatable. In many cases, its use can be reduced by as much as a half by incorporating foodstuffs with umami into the recipe. The fifth taste spurs the appetite, an attribute that can be exploited to advantage in caring for the sick and the elderly, who may have lost interest in eating. At the same time, however, umami promotes satiety, which helps to curb overeating by those who are inclined to overindulge. Either way, adopting a diet that has an abundance of umami may be a way for modem humans to eat in a healthier manner and to adjust their caloric intake to suit the needs of their bodies.

So where can you find umami? Well, the authors also provide a list of 12 easy way to add umami:

Mushroom salt
Cut shiitake or other dark mushrooms into slices and dry them in an oven on low heat. Crush them into a powder and mix it with Maldon sea salt flakes.
Use to season fish, soups, vegetables, and pasta dishes.

Marinated mushrooms
Marinate mushrooms in a little soy sauces or garum
Can be fried or used raw in salads.

Essence of Worcestershire sauce
Concentrated reduction of the sauce kept at the ready in a small bottle with an eyedropper.
Just add a couple of drops to meat that is being fried or to a sauce or a dressing. Rounds out the taste of a pâté or an egg dish.

Highly concentrated chicken bouillon
1 L (4¼ c) chicken stock reduced to 1 dL (½ c) or less.
Use as an essence in gravies that are a little flat or to add depth to a dressing, or drizzle on pasta or salads.

Miso paste
Light or dark paste made from fermented soybeans; available where Asian foods are sold.
Adds a nutty, savory taste to dressings, sauces, marinades, and soups (especially those with shellfish); or use it like butter to coat warm vegetables just before serving.

Anchovy paste
Available in a squeezable tube to keep in the refrigerator.
For all types of vinaigrettes, dressings, marinades, pesto, and pâtés.

(more…)

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

Interview with Ole Mouritsen, Coauthor of Umami: Unlocking the Secrets of the Fifth Taste

Umami, Ole Mouritsen

“Knowing about umami will not only help us to produce better-tasting meals but will greatly contribute to re-establishing a culture around the communal meals.”—Ole Mouritsen

The following is an interview with Ole Mouritsen, co-author of Umami: Unlocking the Secrets of the Fifth Taste:

Question: How was umami discovered?

Ole Mouritsen: The taste has always been with us, but it was only given the name umami in 1909 when the Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda discovered the substance (glutamate) that make the Japanese soup broth, dashi, so delicious. Umami is a contraction of the Japanese expression umai, which means “delicious,” and mi, which means “essence,” “essential nature,” “taste,” or “flavor.”

Q: What is the importance of umami and how does it change the way we think about taste?

OM: As a basic taste, umami is important for the flavor of food as well as for stimulating appetite, controlling satiety, and hence regulating food intake. Due to its complex interaction with other tastes, e.g., by enhancing sweet and salty and suppressing bitterness, umami will remind us about flavor being a multimodal sensation. Knowing about umami will not only help us to produce better-tasting meals but will greatly contribute to re-establishing a culture around the communal meals.

Q: How can it or should it change the way we eat and prepare food?

OM: The most important aspect of umami is the fact that it builds on a synergistic effect brought about by two components in the food: glutamate that elicits basal umami and nucleotides that enhance the sensation of glutamate. It needs two to tango. In the classical Japanese umami-rich soup broth, dashi, the two components come from seaweeds and fish or shiitake, respectively. It is precisely the same synergy we know so well from pairing eggs with bacon, cheese with ham, vegetables with meat, etc. Knowing about this synergistic principle will guide us to change the way we eat and the way we compose a meal.

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Monday, May 19th, 2014

Book Giveaway: Win a Free Copy of Umami: Unlocking the Secrets of the Fifth Taste!

Umami: Unlocking the Secrets of the Fifth Taste, Ole G. Mouritsen and Klavs Styrbæk

This week our featured book is Umami: Unlocking the Secrets of the Fifth Taste, by Ole G. Mouritsen and Klavs Styrbæk. In addition to features on our blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Umami to a lucky winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, May 23 at 3:00 pm.

In the West, we have identified only four basic tastes—sour, sweet, salty, and bitter—that, through skillful combination and technique, create delicious foods. Yet in many parts of East Asia over the past century, an additional flavor has entered the culinary lexicon: umami, a fifth taste impression that is savory, complex, and wholly distinct.

Combining culinary history with recent research into the chemistry, preparation, nutrition, and culture of food, Mouritsen and Styrbæk encapsulate what we know to date about the concept of umami, from ancient times to today.

The following is an excerpt from the book:

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

Jeffrey Bennett on the Recent Discovery of Inflation in the Early Universe

In the video/slideshow below, Jeffrey Bennett, author of What Is Relativity?: An Intuitive Introduction to Einstein’s Ideas, and Why They Matter, provides some context about the recent discovery of evidence for “inflation” in the early universe. He explains what it means and why it is important.

Starting with a brief explanation of what we mean by an “expanding universe” and how we know we live in one, he offers an explanation of the Big Bang theory and the idea of inflation, and finally discuss the new discovery.

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

Relativity in Education — Jeffrey Bennett

The following post is by Jeffrey Bennett, author of What Is Relativity?: An Intuitive Introduction to Einstein’s Ideas, and Why They Matter

Jeffrey Bennett, What Is Relativity?Black holes don’t suck. It’s a point I’ve emphasized to students for decades, and I even considered it as a possible title for my book at one point. So why, then, do so many people assume that a spaceship passing near a black hole would get “sucked in,” or that transforming the Sun into a black hole would cause Earth and the other planets to be sucked in?

It’s an interesting question, because the answer tells us something about our system of science education. Society and public knowledge have changed dramatically in many ways since Einstein published his general theory of relativity in 1915. Consider, for example, that in 1915: Flight was only a few years old, automobiles were still rare, antibiotics were decades from discovery, life expectancy was decades shorter than today, and women still did not have the right to vote in U.S. national elections. But at least one thing has not changed: Most people today still assume space and time to be just as fixed and independent as did our ancestors, even though we are approaching the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s theory that showed otherwise.

It may seem that no one is harmed by this lack of public understanding, but I’d argue otherwise. For example, I believe that all human beings live their lives according to a world view with which they see their place in the world and universe, and this in turn makes it seem important to have a world view that is consistent with reality. And reality, as it turns out, is the real topic of Einstein’s theory of relativity, because it is the theory that describes our current understanding of space, time, and gravity. As such, it provides the foundation of almost all of modern physics and astronomy, which means it tells us how the universe — our reality — actually works. I’d be exaggerating only slightly if I said that knowing something about relativity is as important to having a true “cosmic perspective” as recognizing that Earth is a planet going around the Sun rather than the center of the universe.

Relativity is also a great way to introduce students (and the public) to the way in which science works, and to the real meaning of a scientific theory. In fact, relativity is arguably our best example of how one theory (in this case Newton’s theory of gravity) can be replaced by another (Einstein’s general theory of relativity) without the first one being “wrong.” In this case, relativity expanded the range of situations in which we can calculate gravitational effects, but still gives essentially the same answers as Newton’s earlier theory of gravity for most situations. In my opinion, there’s no better way to explain the nature of scientific evidence and the means by which we test hypotheses until the evidence becomes strong enough to consider them theories. I suspect that if we taught this example in schools, we’d be able to build upon it to quiet much of the public debate that arises over other scientific topics, including evolution and climate change.

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