If you’re diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea and use a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine at night, your health-insurance company may be listening in. The debilitating disorder affects an estimated 22 million Americans, elevating the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer, and CPAP machines are one of a few available treatments. In an investigation, Marshall Allen reports that the machines send sleep data to manufacturers, who then share the data with insurance companies — and the companies may refuse to cover the treatment if patients don’t use the machines as instructed. Surprisingly, these practices are common and allowed under federal privacy laws. Allen’s article is part of ProPublica and NPR’s “Health Insurance Hustle” series. (Here’s the NPR link to the CPAP story.)
Recognizing the important role of children as cultural translators.
Should government be led by the most qualified individuals, or does the notion of “one person, one vote” mean that the people have the right to elect any leader, regardless of experience? Your leanings may depend on where you are in the world, and the millennia of intellectual history that shapes your culture’s approach to politics. Writing in the Annual Review of Political Science, Daniel Bell digs into three leading values in China’s philosophical and political culture (meritocracy, hierarchy and harmony) and how those values compare with leading values in Western tradition (democracy, equality and freedom). Each one of these words evokes strong associations, and Bell explores nuanced understandings of these ideas and how they manifest in different societies. Bell frames the discussion by noting that Chinese scholars regularly study and debate Western thinking, and, as China ascends in international influence, it may be time for Westerners to take cross-cultural analysis more seriously.
The dappled dilemma facing vitiligo science
The journals from Annual Reviews, the nonprofit publisher of Knowable Magazine, offer rich, expert-written takes on a broad array of subjects from medicine to materials research. Here’s what caught our attention this week.
Remember Biosphere 2? One goal of the futuristic, airtight three-acre mini-Earth, briefly occupied by humans in the 1990s, was to demonstrate the sustainability of life on other planets. Though the original experiment is now long defunct, “Biosphere 2 might have some lessons to offer about managing Biosphere 1 — our planet,” writes Carl Zimmer in the New York Times. Zimmer takes us back to the dreams and follies of those heady days, detailing the project’s birth and demise (former presidential adviser Steve Bannon makes an appearance). Though Biosphere 2, which originally housed 3,800 species within its glass walls, is often remembered as a failure, Zimmer says it should not be dismissed. The mini-world’s inhabitants remained healthy; its ecosystems endured. And, if lost data from the original experiment are ever recovered, it may still have some things to teach us.
Cannabidiol oils, CBD edibles and even CBD-laced coffee are now on the market, promising to reduce anxiety, nausea, pain and other maladies without conferring marijuana’s mental fuzziness. But the science of CBD is very young, writes Laura Sanders in Science News. Although the FDA has approved one CBD product, Epidiolex, for some rare forms of epilepsy, there is little rigorous evidence backing other health claims. As a growing number of states relax laws on marijuana and its chemical compounds, the CBD market is projected to make more than $1.8 billion by 2022 — and research is speeding up. “Judging by the number of studies and clinical trials underway, this nascent research field is growing up fast, seeking to quickly fill the space between the science and what people want to know,” Sanders writes.
No portraits survive of English scientist Robert Hooke, a man who is perhaps best known for his own magnificent portraits of life’s minutiae. In his 1665 treatise Micrographia, Hooke painstakingly recorded observations made with a compound light microscope of his own design. His stunning drawings of small things, including this flea, snowflakes, bird feathers and even crystals in urine, were mocked by some contemporaries. A satirist purportedly cast Hooke as “a Sot, that has spent 2000 £ in Microscopes, to find out the nature of Eels in Vinegar, Mites in Cheese, and the Blue of Plums which he has subtly found out to be living creatures.” But Hooke’s work endured: He invented numerous devices, including the iris diaphragm in a camera; he coined the term “cell” while observing thin slices of cork that remined him of cells in a monastery; and he was among the first to note the Great Red Spot of Jupiter. We’re hooked on Hooke and hope we’ve hooked you too. Learn more about the man here, read his treatise here, and view a Micrographia highlight reel here.
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