National / International News

Developing the ideal prosthetic arm

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-03-03 02:00

Miles O’Brien, a science correspondent for PBS Newshour, had his arm amputated after he suffered an injury while he was on assignment last year.  

“It was quite a fluke,” said O’Brien. “I had been on a reporting trip and a case fell on my arm. A bruise turned into something potentially life threatening.”

By the time he got to a doctor it was too late to save his arm. He now uses a prosthesis. But not all the time.

“There’s one that I use for bicycling, one that I use when I am driving,” said O’Brien. As for the day to day, he added, he’s learn to live with one arm.

That’s largely because the current technology hasn’t produced the ideal replacement yet.

“When you think about what your hand does for you, that’s a huge engineering challenge,” said O’Brien. “The challenge of replacing the human arm, and in particular the human hand, is  tremendous.

But he’s optimistic because there’s been a lot of progress in related technologies, from batteries to sensors to computers that recognize patterns. The last, especially, has him most excited.

Computers, he explained, can now identify patterns in the remaining muscles in his stump. That means they know the patterns which signal that he wants to move his wrist or finger.

“And something that’s made of silicon, metal and and plastic would do my bidding,” said O’Brien.      

How the cost of a drug impacts the placebo effect

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-03-03 02:00

The placebo effect has always been a bit of a mystery to science. Give patients a pill filled with sugar or in an injection of saline but tell them it's medicine, and a percentage of them will report feeling better.

A recent study in a handful of Parkinson's patients suggests you can boost the effects of the placebo even further by telling patients the drug costs a lot of money.

In the experiment by Alberto Espay and his colleagues at the University of Cincinnati, the patients received saline but were told they were testing the efficacy of two real drugs – one that cost $100, and another that cost 15 times as much.

“When they received the cheap formulation, they got better, but nowhere near those who received the expensive medication,” Espay says.

In fact, the people who thought they were getting the expensive drug did almost as well as when they were on a real drug. What the patients experienced was real, but it was entirely due to the placebo effect.  

Espay believes that cost affects the placebo because so many of us believe that expensive things are better.

“We feel the more be pay, perhaps the more value we're getting,” he says. “And of course that isn't true.”

It isn’t true, unless we believe it is, explains George Newman, a professor of psychology at Yale School of Management whose research has demonstrated that the pleasure we get from objects is determined by what we believe about them. 

For, example, if we believe we are drinking a $200 bottle of wine, it tastes better, and the regions of the brain devoted to pleasure light up more brightly than if we think it's a bottle of Two-Buck Chuck.

“What we're believing about the world, what we're imagining about the word directly effects how we experience things even very tangible things like the effectiveness of medication,” Newman says.

In this case, cost creates a bias in patient's expectations, says Ted Kaptchuk, director of the placebo studies program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.

“But it's a bias we want to utilize, we want to maximize,” Kaptchuk says. “We want to optimize in clinical practice.”

But before drug manufactures start raising prices in the name of science, Kaptchuk says there are plenty of ethical ways to raise patient expectations. And most of them, like improvements in listening and attentiveness by physicians, are free.

Taking stock of U.S. aid to Israel

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-03-03 02:00

Political tensions are high around Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's address to Congress Tuesday, but that shows no sign of impacting aid agreements between the U.S. and Israel.  

In 2007, the Bush administration agreed to give Israel $30 billion in military aid over ten years. 75 percent of that money comes back to the U.S.—Israel uses it to buy weapons systems from American defense contractors.

“So it’s everything from Hellfire missiles to airplanes," says Haim Malka, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “U.S. aid to Israel accounts for about 20 percent of Israel’s total defense budget.”

The U.S. also gives Israel supplemental aid for things like its Iron Dome anti rocket system. And the U.S. allows tax breaks for donations and investment in Israel. 

“U.S. funds invest in Israel, annually, roughly $1.5 billion,” says Avner Cohen, a professor of nonproliferation studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. 

The U.S. mainly gives Israel military aid. Non-military economic aid dried up as Israel’s economy grew.

Evans faces men in world qualifiers

BBC - Tue, 2015-03-03 01:59
Ladies' champion Reanne Evans accepts an invitation to take on the men in qualifying for the World Snooker Championship.

Aston Martin targets female buyers

BBC - Tue, 2015-03-03 01:59
Aston Martin plans to broaden its range of cars to include new sportscars and a small SUV, to attract younger and female buyers.

Cancer drug patient's England move

BBC - Tue, 2015-03-03 01:49
A cancer patient describes his battle for a potential life-extending drug as "degrading" as he is forced to move to England to get treatment.

Quit your job, become a longshoreman

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-03-03 01:30
55,000 pages

That's how many pages of emails were turned over to the State Department by Hillary Clinton's aides in order to comply with new federal requirements. As the WSJ reports, Clinton's extensive use of a private email account goes against current rules that emails be archived on department servers as part of the Federal Records Act.

-130.05 points

The Dow was down by triple digits at noon eastern time Tuesday. GM, Ford, Chrysler and Nissan all missed sales expectations, CNBC reported, driving the drop.


In a recent study on the efficiency of two drugs, patients were told the two cost $100 and $1500 respectively. The group treated with the more expensive drug saw much more improvement. The catch? Both medicines were placebos, with the only difference being the perceived price. In fact, the people who thought they were getting the expensive drug did almost as well as when they were on a real drug. What the patients experienced was real, but it was entirely due to the placebo effect.  

$100,000 per year

About half of West Coast union longshoremen make at least that much, and some make more than three times that. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union's power and influence was felt last month when a labor dispute that nearly shut down ports along the coast, and this week the LA Times is looking into how dockworker wages have remained so high.


In 2008, the number of "non-domiciled" residents in the UK — that's citizens who can show their fathers were not born in the UK, or that they have a home elsewhere they plan to return to — surged to 130,000. That's because non-dom status also comes with an Edwardian-era tax break on foreign income, which has attracted the uber wealthy of Britain. As reported by the NY Times, the wake of the HSBC scandal in Switzerland has called the antiquated tax loophole into question.

50 percent

The portion of Americans who think it's important the U.S. be number one economically, up from 39 percent in 2007. That's according to a new Gallup poll, which also showed that priority was slightly split along party lines. Republicans were more likely than Democrats to think economic supremacy was important. 

VIDEO: Volcano eruption puts Chile on alert

BBC - Tue, 2015-03-03 01:27
The Villarrica volcano in central Chile has been throwing out jets of lava from its crater, putting the town of Pucon on high alert.

Conductor Simon Rattle to lead LSO

BBC - Tue, 2015-03-03 01:26
Sir Simon Rattle, one of the world's leading conductors, is to take over at the London Symphony Orchestra from September 2017, it is announced.

Body parts found in Becky search

BBC - Tue, 2015-03-03 01:23
Police investigating the disappearance of Bristol teenager Becky Watts find body parts.

Chile's Villarica volcano erupts

BBC - Tue, 2015-03-03 01:23
The Villarica volcano, one of the most active in South America, erupts in southern Chile, spewing ash and lava into the air.

£20m fund for artists in schools

BBC - Tue, 2015-03-03 01:18
Artists, musicians and actors are to head into schools to work directly with disadvantaged pupils as part of a £20m arts strategy.

Webb defends maligned referees

BBC - Tue, 2015-03-03 01:09
Former World Cup final referee Howard Webb says he has acted as a de facto counsellor to Premier League match officials.

A&E waiting time targets missed

BBC - Tue, 2015-03-03 01:06
Scotland's A&E departments treated 87% of people within the Scottish government's target of four hours in January, NHS statistics show.

VIDEO: Detained plane spotters 'knew rules'

BBC - Tue, 2015-03-03 01:04
The relatives of three British men who say they were arrested while plane spotting in Dubai have spoken to BBC Breakfast.

Controverisal Netanyahu Speech Is Latest Glitch In U.S.-Israel Relations

NPR News - Tue, 2015-03-03 01:03

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to a joint meeting of Congress on Tuesday. The speech highlights differences between the U.S. and Israel on how to stop Iran from going nuclear.

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In pictures: Dealing with addiction

BBC - Tue, 2015-03-03 01:01
David Stewart's pictures of people coping with addiction

Richie wants a roof for Glastonbury

BBC - Tue, 2015-03-03 00:58
Headliner Lionel Richie suggests a roof might be the solution to a rainy Glastonbury festival.

What people see instead of darkness

BBC - Tue, 2015-03-03 00:51
What do you see when you close your eyes?

Alonso 'will win title' at McLaren

BBC - Tue, 2015-03-03 00:41
Former McLaren driver Gerhard Berger believes two-time champion Fernando Alonso will win the world title again at the team.