Senior writer for Elemental @ Medium • PhD in 🧠 • dsmith@medium.com @smithdanag

The goal is ambitious but desperately needed

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During a speech today, President-elect Joe Biden made a series of announcements about his administration’s plans to tackle the coronavirus pandemic and to speed up vaccine distribution, with the goal of delivering 100 million doses during his first 100 days in office.

Here are the five initiatives he laid out in order to achieve the ambitious target:

  1. Expand eligibility for the Covid-19 vaccine to include adults aged 65 and older as well as essential workers outside of the health care industry, such as teachers and grocery store workers. Biden acknowledged that there currently aren’t enough doses available to vaccinate all Americans in this group. Instead, the goal is the faster deployment of the millions of doses that are available but still sitting in freezers. …


What were the insurrectionists thinking?

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This is a modified excerpt from Inside Your Head 🧠, a weekly newsletter exploring why your brain makes you think, feel, and act the way you do, written by me, Elemental’s senior writer and a former brain scientist. Subscribe here so you won’t miss the next one.

Last Wednesday was a dark day for the United States. I’m obviously not a political reporter, so I’m not going to talk about security breaches or the future of our democracy or just how terrifying and disgraceful what happened at the Capitol was (you should check out our sister publication GEN for those types of stories). …


A bioethicist argues that if the opportunity arises (without cheating the system) for you to get the vaccine early, you should take it

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Talk about being in the right place at the right time. Two Washington D.C. men were offered the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine while shopping at a Giant Food supermarket on January 2. The pharmacist at the store told them that she had two leftover doses she’d have to throw out when the store closed in 10 minutes because the first responders who were scheduled to receive the vaccines had missed their appointments. One of the men, David MacMillan, posted a TikTok video of the chance encounter, paired to the mashup song “Celebrate the Good Times.” …


The secret to actually following through on 2021 goals

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This is a modified excerpt from Inside Your Head 🧠, a weekly newsletter exploring why your brain makes you think, feel, and act the way you do, written by me, Elemental’s senior writer and a former brain scientist. Subscribe here so you won’t miss the next one.

Happy New Year!

Did you set any goals or intentions for 2021 yet? Me neither. I have to confess, though, I’ve never been very good at keeping New Year’s resolutions. I’ve tried to learn how to play the guitar at least a half-dozen times with no real success, and any attempts over the years to cut out sugar have been short-lived. …


In the Before Times, I wrote a column called Optimize Me, about the most bizarre things people did to their bodies in the name of health. Occasionally, these “wellness hacks” were scientifically backed, but more often they were misguided and even concerning at times. Some of them were efficiency tricks to get more time out of the day — using electric shocks to fast-track a workout or accelerated listening settings to consume more content. Others involved injecting substances into people’s bloodstreams and, ahem, backdoors.

Looking back on these articles now, after a year of hardship and suffering, some of these optimization trends, particularly the ones focused on deprivation, seem downright perverse. …


New research suggests human biology only knows winter and spring

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Autumn leaves changing color. The first winter snow. Daffodil blossoms signaling the start of spring. The long, hot days of summer. At temperate latitudes in Europe and the Americas, nature’s four seasons are a big part of people’s lives. But it turns out human biology has a different schedule.

In a recent study published in the scientific journal Nature Communications, Stanford geneticist Michael Snyder, PhD, looked at how people’s biological data changed over the course of the year. Armed with a vast trove of information — over 1,000 measurements from more than 100 people assessing genes, proteins, metabolic markers, immune system markers, and the microbiome — he discovered that instead of four distinct seasons, the body seems to undergo two shifts: one at the beginning of winter and the other in the middle of spring. …


Inaccurate readings mean some Black people have dangerously low oxygen levels that doctors don’t catch

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Pulse oximeters, the most commonly used tool to measure a person’s blood oxygen levels, over-estimate the oxygen saturation of many Black patients. As a result, these patients may be receiving inadequate supplemental oxygen in hospitals and other settings. It also means that home pulse oximeters that people use to monitor their respiratory function if they have Covid-19 or emphysema could be giving inaccurate readings to Black users.

The research, published yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine, was conducted by doctors at the University of Michigan who were taking care of hospitalized people with Covid-19. The physicians noticed that they were getting different results from pulse oximeters and arterial blood gas, a more invasive but more precise way to measure oxygen levels directly from the blood, and this discrepancy seemed to be happening more often in Black patients. …


It doesn’t really, and this is excellent news

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An independent committee advising the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) endorsed a second vaccine for Covid-19, this one developed by the drug company Moderna. The panel, made up of infectious disease experts, voted 20 to zero (with one abstention) that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh its risks. An emergency use authorization from the FDA is expected to follow in the coming days.

The vote, and the preceding eight-hour meeting, felt a bit like déjà vu. Exactly one week ago, the same committee voted 17 to four (with one abstention) in favor of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine. …


Antidepressants and antipsychotics could offer protection against the coronavirus, but not because of their effect on the brain

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At the beginning of the pandemic, doctors in France prepared for an influx of psychiatric patients with Covid-19, creating special units in hospitals to care for people with mental health problems who contracted the novel coronavirus. People with psychiatric disorders were presumed to be at an increased risk for infection because of potential difficulties complying with protective measures, limited access to health care, close living conditions for those residing in psychiatric wards, and high rates of comorbidities like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. …


Let’s end the year with a moment of gratitude

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This is a modified excerpt from Inside Your Head 🧠, a weekly newsletter exploring why your brain makes you think, feel, and act the way you do, written by me, Elemental’s senior writer and a former brain scientist. Subscribe here so you won’t miss the next one.

I’ve been thinking a lot about altruism recently. Early on in the pandemic, I spoke with Stanford psychologist Jamil Zaki, PhD, an expert in empathy. …

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