Thursday, October 18, 2012

Eggs, and Things [the Media Says] Scientists Say.

An egg.  I usually make mine over easy, but this is okay too.  Source.

It is all over the headlines recently.  Eating egg yolks is as bad for you as smoking.  An egg yolk is equivalent to five kicks to the groin.  The Ministry of National Defense has begun studying mechanisms by which egg yolks could be weaponised.  Scientists postulate the dinosaurs went extinct from eating too many cholesterol-filled eggs.  For the record, I can't believe that any of these statements would be published, but fire up Google, and see for yourself.  I'd like to give my two cents on the matter, and hopefully offer some clarity to my tens of regular readers (by the by, I'm sure you're looking quite dapper in top hat and shined monocle).

The contention of these articles, and the University of Western Ontario's medical study, is that eating eggs (with yolks), and smoking are roughly equivalent in terms of the damage they do to your arteries.  The primary criticism (and I can't believe only this is the primary criticism), is that eggs and cigarettes damage arteries in completely different ways.  Cholesterol (which eggs contain) causes plaques to build up on arterial walls, while smoking inflames arterial walls.  The effect is ... roughly  the same.  I would like to levy a series of criticisms, if you will allow me.

First, from all the reading I have completed on the subject, as well as a lecture from a chemist on the subject, ingesting cholesterol in food does not necessarily directly affect the amount of cholesterol in your blood.  Many of you may have heard of good cholesterol and bad cholesterol.  This refers to high-density lipoprotein (HDL, "good" cholesterol) and low density lipoprotein (LDL, "bad" cholesterol).  These represent the way that the body moves lipids (i.e. "fats") around in your water-based body.  HDL is called good, because it is the form your body manufactures when it is moving fat to the liver for utilization, so the higher the rate of HDL in your bloodstream, the better.  Within reason, of course.

So cholesterol is involved in carrying fat around in your body.  Does that mean that eating cholesterol will increase your blood cholesterol?  Let's take a quotation directly from Wikipedia.  I am not saying that Wikipedia is infallible, but this statement supports everything I have read on the subject:

"... most ingested cholesterol is esterified and esterified cholesterol is poorly absorbed. The body also compensates for any absorption of additional cholesterol by reducing cholesterol synthesis. For these reasons, cholesterol intake in food has little, if any, effect on total body cholesterol content or concentrations of cholesterol in the blood."

So there you have it, ingesting cholesterol does not directly affect your cholesterol blood levels.  Though, hang on a moment.  The study did find that the ingestion of egg yolks correlates with high cholesterol.  This is a fact, and I will not dispute it.  However, it correlates, meaning egg yolk consumption usually goes hand in hand with high cholesterol.  It does not say that egg yolk ingestion causes high cholesterol, but if it does, it shouldn't.  So, why would this be the case?  Well, the doctors running the study did not bother checking for external factors that may also influence blood cholesterol.  This would admittedly be difficult to do for over 1000 people.  So, here's my hypothesis: perhaps when people are eating egg yolks, they're not just eating what is pictured at the head of this article, perhaps they're eating something that more closely resembles the following.

So maybe, just maybe the blame does not belong to the egg yolks, perhaps it is what is eaten alongside the egg yolks.  Perhaps a patient's blood cholesterol levels are high because of all the extra lipids the body is forced to deal with when one ingests such a feast, and not the cholesterol in the egg yolks.  And maybe the media likes to run with a catchy headline, and might not want to do all the fact checking they should.

So eat eggs [, damn it].  According to (a thoroughly wonderful site), two fried eggs have 137 calories, 16% of your daily recommended fat (you do need a certain amount of fat to live well), and 19% of your daily recommended protein.  It's a good start to your day, just not alongside everything pictured above.


P.S.  I swear to various deities, if I hear ONE more person say "Well, first they said eggs were good for you, then eggs are bad, I just don't know what to believe!"  Think critically, and read the full article.  Not just the headline.

P.P.S. Edit on 2013-11-25, link to the article.  What an article.  Though admittedly, I'm just guessing that people who order an egg white omelettes are probably watching their fat intake.  It's a wild, crazy guess. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

R&D, the Other, Better Stimulus [EBP2]

John Maynard Keynes, the reason for stimulus packages. Source.

It's been too long a time since I've last posted, and you have my apologies.  I assure you they are many, and quite well reasoned.  Now that's out of the way, let's take a long, rambling walk through my thoughts.

The impacts of the 2008 recession can still be seen and felt throughout the developed world, co-dependence and international trade ensuring that we all go down together.  Admittedly, we here in Canada are doing quite well when compared to our counterparts in Spain, where youth unemployment is over 50%.  At least most of us are only underemployed, here.  Now, when faced with this economic crisis, governments did what they usually do, they utilized fundamentals of Keynesian economics.

Keynes, not long ago in terms of world history, hypothesized that recessions were ultimately caused by a lack of demand for products and services.  Without any demand, a company's revenue would fall, and necessitate the firing of staff.  Now these former employees would be out of work, and not able to spend money, decreasing revenues elsewhere, until you have a recession.  People by and large have accepted this interpretation to be true, and it is generally accepted that the only way to put a stop to it is with government stimulus.  This is a way to pump a large amount of money into an economy.

Say the government needs some buildings put up, or some roads repaired.  It hires workers to do the construction.  Those workers then have money, and are able to maybe spend a little at the bar, and on some fancy new electronics.  Now the bar owner has a little more money to spare, as do the factory workers making the electronics, and they can afford to spend a little more on luxuries.  This, simplistic and not at all well-developed example, is how government can stop, or at least mitigate the downward spiral into a recession, and help its population out.

Now, spending on infrastructure is great.  We need it, the population needs money, it's about as win-win as it gets in a global recession.  And that's exactly what most of the western world did, but a lot of that world is still hurting economically.  However, one nation seems to be leading the pack, and the rest of us might be able to learn from them.

I speak of South Korea (because the North isn't doing so well).  Foreign Policy ran an article on the "winners" of the Great Recession, and South Korea came out on top.  What did they do, you might ask?  They took their research and development budget, 3.4% of their GDP (a figure which is competitive with the best in the world), and increased it to 5%.  We can debate the true cause until we are blue in the face, but they were the first country to emerge from the recession, and the average household income has increased for the past 11 quarters (three months under three years).

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, a popular astrophysicist, is fond of promoting funding to NASA whenever he has a captive audience.  He notes that not only does it inspire a generation of youth, but it also contributes to the economic growth and well-being of the United States.  I honestly think he presents a biased view at least in part.  I am currently a professional chemist, and I cannot recall being drawn to science by viewing the space program as a child.  That fact aside, Tyson is absolutely right about R&D spending being good for the economy.  Most of the consumer electronics you use today are a result of the space program trying to make computers lighter so that they could reduce payload costs.

When money is pumped into R&D, it develops new technologies and processes.  The company or body responsible now has an automatic, albeit temporary, monopoly because everyone else is now catching up.  The new product or service will make money for the company, and the government in the form of new tax revenues.  In fact, Dr. Tyson points out that NASA spending actually makes the government money.  Further, in a post that is as-yet unpublished, I point out that the Government of Canada gets increasing dividends the more it spends on the National Research Council.

Gerhard Herzberg, a Canadian Nobel Laureate, would agree.  He was a big fan of basic research - research for the sake of gaining knowledge, not necessarily with any economic or technology in mind.  He told a story in a short publication on the subject, which I will repeat [poorly] here.  A small team of Canadian scientists received funding from the government once upon a time, and they used the funding to investigate a very particular physical process.  This investigation led them to believe they could make a new, better balance (like a scale, but fancy and science-y).  They did, they made a bundle of money when every standards/measurement body from all over the world ordered this state-of-the-art balance, and the government made a tonne of money in tax revenue.

When governments spend on infrastructure, it's necessary, and a recession is a great time to do it.  However, at least in the latest recession, I would argue we could have spent a lot more on R&D than we did.  Canada has the National Research Council, an existing body into which we could have pumped funds.  The evidence suggests that governments tend to make back what they spend in R&D through increased tax revenue.  R&D spending can develop entirely new economies, and spin-off companies can hire not only scientists, but general labourers (the very people construction projects are meant to help) and support staff.  The government makes money, Canadians make money, and Keynesian economics would suggest that Canada will be all the better for it.


P.S.  Not proofreading; too tired.  If anyone finds any mistakes, message me and I'll do my best to fix it.