Jimmy Carter celebrated his 96th birthday on October 1, 2020. This article celebrates one of Carter’s greatest achievements — one that was made after he left politics and does not get the attention it deserves.

In 1986, Carter declared war on a disease called dracunculiasis, which is caused by an insidious parasite known as the Guinea worm. The Guinea worm once threatened millions of people, especially children, in twenty-one countries in Africa and Asia.

People become infected when they drink water contaminated with water fleas (copepods) carrying Guinea worm larvae in their bellies. The person’s stomach acid digests the body of the fleas, releasing the worm larvae. …

You’ll never eat a cupcake the same way again…

The idea of creating miniature cakes as a dessert is thought to have originated in 1796, when Amelia Simmons wrote about them in American Cookery. The idea came to fruition in 1828 when Eliza Leslie published the first recipe for a tiny cake one could bake in a tea cup. With a thin layer of sweet frosting or jam on top the tiny cake, the new dessert could be enjoyed in a few bites with little mess. Cupcakes rapidly became a sensation.

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Image by Blandine JOANNIC from Pixabay

Today, that thin layer of icing has grown exponentially into mountainous swirls atop the surface of the cupcake. While extra frosting is always welcome, these mile-high cupcakes are nearly impossible to eat because their height exceeds the girth of the average mouth. In addition, the frosting-to-cake ratio is often inconsistent from bite to bite, decreasing the pleasure of the overall experience. There have also been alarming reports of accidental frosting loss as the consumer’s nose is liable to push it off the cupcake surface. This creates a precarious situation in which the frosting is likely to succumb to the forces of gravity and fall to the ground. …

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Americans have fallen prey to a dangerous combination of confirmation bias, groupthink, and tribalism.

Political polarization is nothing new in America, but recent studies show that a greater number of people are migrating further towards the extreme ends of the spectrum. Instead of a bell curve, the distribution of Americans along the political spectrum these days looks more like a dumbbell.

A key reason why we are shepherding ourselves to opposite poles lies in how we attain information. Psychologists have established that the brain is prone to confirmation bias, which is a subconscious tendency to summarily accept or reject evidence based on our beliefs. Studies of confirmation bias reveal that we fail to give sufficient attention to arguments that are discordant to our preconceived notions. Psychologist Drew Westen at Emory University found that when subjects were told something positive about their preferred politician, the reward center of the brain is activated. But when presented with examples of their party leaders contradicting themselves, analytical parts of the brain went silent. …

A scientist discusses Toxoplasma — a possible cause for the bizarre behaviors

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Photo: Marc Piscotty/Stringer/Getty Images

The following article contains minor spoilers for the Netflix docuseries Tiger King.

“Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness is a docuseries on Netflix that is taking the (currently house-bound) world by storm. The story lifts the veil on the surprisingly nefarious world of collecting and exhibiting big cats, such as tigers and lions. But it’s not only the adorable cubs or awe-inspiring power of the adult cats that make people tune into the show: It’s the bizarre behavior of nearly everyone involved in this enterprise. …

A close look at why this old malaria drug could be promising for Covid-19

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Photo: Gerard Julien/Getty Images

As Covid-19 ravages the world, scientists are desperately trying to develop a medication to stop the virus (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2). Dozens of drugs and vaccine candidates are in various stages of development and testing. Among these is chloroquine, a seemingly strange choice as it has been widely used to treat malaria since the 1940s.

Not only is chloroquine effective in treating malaria, it is inexpensive to make and remarkably well-tolerated by most patients (though it poses the same dangers all medications do if taken without the oversight of a doctor). …

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1. STAY CALM. For MOST healthy kids and adults, infection with COVID-19 will produce mild to moderate flu-like symptoms (key symptoms are fever, cough, difficulty breathing, aches). There is no treatment at present, but with rest and plenty of fluids, most people seem to recover without incident.

2. ARE YOU AT HIGH-RISK? If you are over 60, or have underlying conditions, especially heart or lung problems, or are immune compromised (or taking immunosuppressive medication), then you should be extra careful — you are in the “high-risk” group. COVID-19 has a significantly higher fatality rate for these individuals.

3. DON’T TURN OFF THE NEWS. Sure, the media tends to get carried away. Reports may seem contradictory at first. One expert says this, another says that. Many programs have pundits or guests talking with authority about COVID-19 who ARE NOT experts at all. The world doesn’t have a lot of experience dealing with outbreaks of this scale, so some chaos is not surprising. …

Marching Forward: Finding Meaning to Life in the Face of Death

A philosopher with brain cancer and a scientist who studies brain parasites walk into a coffee shop and try to figure out the meaning of it all.

By Adam Hayden and Bill Sullivan

The alarm goes off, and Adam Hayden rises.

With his wife Whitney, they dress their three boys, stir their oatmeal, and plan how to get one to soccer and another to art class. They are working to create a childhood for the kids that resembles normalcy.

But it isn’t.

It isn’t normal.

Whitney must drive Adam to the hospital for a brain scan, which he must do every two months to monitor an insidious brain cancer that he had removed three years ago. Adam’s cancer is near certain to return, and so Adam must submit to these frequent scans. The scan is complete. …

(This is a spoiler-free article about an unusual medical condition seen in the movie Knives Out.)

In the hit film Knives Out, Detective Benoit Blanc is hired to investigate the mysterious death of a wealthy novelist named Harlan Thrombey. Blanc questions the members of Thrombey’s eccentric family and his nurse, Marta Cabrera. When Marta admitted, “Just the thought of lying makes me puke,” she was not kidding. Marta is like Pinocchio, but instead of lies elongating her nose, they make her vomit. …

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Not again! You ate too much pie. You bought yet another pair of shoes that you don’t need. You were rude to someone. You partied too hard.

The list of regrets goes on. We can recognize our bad habits, but we have great difficulty breaking them.

There is one simple thing you can do — a new habit you can develop — that has the potential to dissolve all of your bad habits. To learn how it works requires a better understanding of how the brain drives behavior.

The how and why of habit formation

New research has revealed numerous hidden forces that affect our behavior in surprising ways. These forces include biological and environmental factors that comingle to steer our actions on a subconscious level. In other words, many of the things we do, including the habits we’ve formed, are not the result of careful contemplation and deliberation on our part. …


Bill Sullivan Jr

Bill Sullivan is the author of “Pleased to Meet Me: Genes, Germs, and the Curious Forces That Make Us Who We Are” (National Geographic Books).

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