Norwegian PM declares migrants cannot use religion to reject to jobs.

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Norwegian PM declares migrants cannot use religion to reject to jobs.

Erna Solberg said while her country is happy to accept migrants they must not expect Norway will pay them any benefits if are refuse work.

on the European and successfully challenged migrant quotas, which enabled them to maintain the regular border checks introduced at the beginning of this year, and designed to limit the flow of irregular migrants.

EU law suggests members of the bloc can only bring in emergency frontier controls for an initial period of two months, which can be extended to a maximum of six months in extreme circumstances.

Speaking on Euronews’ Global Conversation, Ms Solberg said: “It is part of our normal educational system that you are discussing why people are fleeing from countries, what is the convention what is the responsibilities we have, this is all part of the school curriculum in Norway.

Norwegian PM on migrant crisis

The Norwegian PM demanded migrants work despite any religious beliefs

Norwegian society won’t pay you benefits if you are refusing to work for religious reasons

Erna Solberg

“There is also a clear view that if you move and get refuge, you have to live by Norwegian standards, you can’t come and think you live in your home country when it comes to women’s rights, not to be puzzled if you see two men kiss on the street, because there are gay people in our countries and it is normal, it’s part of our system.”

Upon being challenged about religious differences between her country and that of arriving migrants, she rebuked: “I do not think it is a complex issue that if you are going to come to country.

“You have to work to sustain a living, you cannot say no to jobs like working in a restaurant where they will serve pork or alcohol.

“You cannot expect that the Norwegian society will pay you benefits if you are refusing to work for religious reasons.

“There are too lower of migrants women working in Norway, we know that some reasons are they have a lot of children, so that is work in itself.

“But sometimes it is also because they make some demands that make it more difficult for them to get a job and sometimes it is because their husbands don’t like to see them get too involved in Norwegian society, because then they get a taste of freedom of women in our society, so there is also some type of patriarchy in this.”

Ms Solberg added that around 3,100 refugees are being allowed to make home in Noway as they continue to participate in helping solve the humanitarian crisis.

The Scandinavian country is a part of the Schengen Zone, which was created to allow citizens of EU member countries to travel freely without passport checks to other nations within the area.

were introduced after Immigration Minister Sylvi Listhaunt vowed to do everything in her power to stop migrants entering Norway, as experts predict more than 8,000 people will seek asylum in 2017.

Her views echoed that of Ms Solberg, after she took to social media to tell potential newcomers that they couldn’t dictate terms to the country, saying in Norway “we drink and eat pork”.

She wrote on : “I believe those who come to Norway must integrate into our society.

“Here we eat pork, drink alcohol and show our face. One must abide by the values, laws and regulations we have in Norway when one comes here.”


Want To Prevent The Flu? Skip The Supplements, Eat Your Veggies.

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Want To Prevent The Flu? Skip The Supplements, Eat Your Veggies.

Flu season is upon us, which means it’s time for the wave of advertisements promoting $8 juices or even more expensive supplements to “boost your immunity” or “support immune function.”

But those are marketing terms, not scientific ones. And there’s no proof that those products are going to keep you from getting sick.

When you’re exposed to a virus like the influenza virus, a number of factors determine whether you actually get sick, and if so, how severely. One is pre-existing immunity, either from being previously exposed to a similar strain or through a vaccine, says Gregory Poland, a spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America and a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic. Just last week, a paper published in Science reported that the flu strain you were first exposed to can affect your protection against new strains that jump from animals to humans.

Your immune status also matters; people who have untreated HIV or have recently received a bone marrow transplant, for example, cannot fight off infections like healthier people can.

Age, too, is a factor, with the very young and the very old suffering worse bouts of the flu.

And yes, what you eat does matter. “We know for a healthy immune system you need a healthy diet,” says Joan Salge Blake, a registered dietitian nutritionist and clinical associate professor at Boston University. You need protein as well as micronutrients including vitamins C, A, and E and zinc, she says.

The ideal way to get those nutrients, however, is to eat a healthful, varied diet, including sufficient protein and a variety of fruits and vegetables, says Poland. If you’re already doing that, it’s unlikely that you have major nutritional deficiencies. One exception is vitamin D, which is necessary for bone health and can be hard to get from food alone, though there’s not a consensus on the cutoff for a vitamin D deficiency.

Even those who aren’t eating the most healthful diet (i.e. most of us) are likely getting a lot of nutrients through fortified packaged foods like cereal. Nutrient deficiency does happen, but it’s relatively uncommon in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control, less than 10 percent of the population is deficient in micronutrients, though Poland says certain groups of people are at risk, including vegans who are not careful about their food choices and older people who eat scant, unvaried diets.

“If you are malnourished, your immune system is going to suffer,” says Salge Blake.

If you are not nutrient deficient or malnourished, though, taking megadoses of vitamins is not going to supercharge your immune system or prevent you from catching the flu or other respiratory viruses. Vitamin C, often touted as a way to stay healthy in the winter, doesn’t seem to reduce the incidence of colds, though there is some evidence it may cut their duration and it might be helpful for people who experience short periods of heavy physical activity, according to a 2013 Cochrane review.

Juices sound attractive; after all, they are made from real foods. But Salge Blake says the best way to get the nutrients supplied by fruits and vegetables is to actually eat the fruits and vegetables themselves. That way you get the fiber, which slows the absorption of natural sugars and carries its own health benefits.

Drinking juices also makes it easy to consume too many calories, and obesity suppresses immune function.

What can the average person do who wants to make sure their immune system is as healthy as possible? In addition to a healthful diet and sufficient sleep, Poland recommends exercise, staying up to date on flu and pertussis vaccinations, staying away from people who are obviously sick, and washing your hands.



Apparently Playing Chess Makes You Smarter.

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Apparently Playing Chess Makes You Smarter.

It’s a popular notion that learning chess can make you smarter. Chess clubs and federations around the world promote the game for inclusion in school curricula, especially at the elementary level. In Armenia, every second-, third- and fourth-grader takes a chess class. American “tiger parents” often see chess lessons in the same light as music and computer classes—a way to give their children a leg up in the quest for better grades and admission to an elite college.

The game of kings has long been associated with intelligence, and chess grandmasters are capable of astounding mental feats. Magnus Carlsen, who is currently defending his title as world champion in New York against Sergey Karjakin, reportedly had a prodigious memory as a child. In a recent exhibition match in New Jersey, he played 11 opponents at once and beat every one of them in less than 20 minutes.

So are chess players smarter? Several research teams have tried to find out by administering various cognitive tests. Reviewing these studies in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science in 2011, the psychologists Guillermo Campitelli and Fernand Gobet concluded that tournament chess players score higher on tests of intelligence than do comparable nonplayers.

In a paper this year in the journal Intelligence, the psychologists Alexander Burgoyne and David Hambrick analyzed the results of 19 studies, involving a total of nearly 1,800 chess players, that correlated IQ scores with skill ratings. They found that stronger chess players tend to score higher than weaker ones, and that this was especially true of newer players and younger players.

These results don’t necessarily mean that chess makes anyone smarter. It could also be that chess, with its reputation as a difficult mental challenge, attracts more intelligent people—and that the smartest players tend to improve their games the most.

To test the independent effect of playing chess, the Educational Endowment Foundation in the United Kingdom sponsored an experiment last year in which fifth-grade classrooms in 100 schools were randomly chosen either to incorporate chess lessons into their regular schedule or to continue instruction as usual.

The students weren’t given IQ tests at the end of the year, but their performance in math, science and reading was evaluated. Those who had studied chess did no better than those who had not. A similar but slightly less rigorous 2011 study in Italy found, however, that adding chess instruction to third-grade classrooms improved the performance of students on math tests.

As the academic refrain goes, more research on this subject is needed. But whether or not learning chess causes higher IQs and better math scores, children—and grown-ups—can still gain a lot from learning the game. As the Israeli grandmaster Boris Gelfand said earlier this year in an interview translated at the website, chess can help kids to “acquire the skill of strategic planning and the habit of thinking, taking responsibility for your actions and respecting your opponent.”

Bruce Pandolfini, a veteran chess teacher and author, thinks that playing chess fosters a long list of useful mental habits, such as drawing analogies and looking for patterns. Players, he says, become “more philosophical in their approach to problems and life’s travails.” They also learn that regardless of their own feelings or desires, there is an objective reality to the game—and they learn the importance of seeing that reality from their opponent’s point of view, not just their own.

Perhaps most important, chess encourages players to take a more intellectual approach to life. The game has centuries of history behind it, involves an intricate logical structure and just happens to be fun and absorbing to play. Children who take up chess may get a head start on developing a love for immersion and learning that will pay dividends in other ways—even if they never manage to match the astonishing feats of Mr. Carlsen.


Countering Anti-Aging Drug Fads With Actual Science.

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Countering Anti-Aging Drug Fads With Actual Science.

Whenever I see my 10-year-old daughter brimming over with so much energy that she jumps up in the middle of supper to run around the table, I think to myself, “those young mitochondria.”

Mitochondria are our cells’ energy dynamos. Descended from bacteria that colonized other cells about 2 billion years, they get flaky as we age. A prominent theory of aging holds that decaying of mitochondria is a key driver of aging. While it’s not clear why our mitochondria fade as we age, evidence suggests that it leads to everything from heart failure to neurodegeneration, as well as the complete absence of zipping around the supper table.

Recent research suggests it may be possible to reverse mitochondrial decay with dietary supplements that increase cellular levels of a molecule called NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide). But caution is due: While there’s promising test-tube data and animal research regarding NAD boosters, no human clinical results on them have been published.

NAD is a linchpin of energy metabolism, among other roles, and its diminishing level with age has been implicated in mitochondrial deterioration. Supplements containing nicotinamide riboside, or NR, a precursor to NAD that’s found in trace amounts in milk, might be able to boost NAD levels. In support of that idea, half a dozen Nobel laureates and other prominent scientists are working with two small companies offering NR supplements.

The NAD story took off toward the end of 2013 with a high-profile paper by Harvard’s David Sinclair and colleagues. Sinclair, recall, achieved fame in the mid-2000s for research on yeast and mice that suggested the red wine ingredient resveratrol mimics anti-aging effects of calorie restriction. This time his lab made headlines by reporting that the mitochondria in muscles of elderly mice were restored to a youthful state after just a week of injections with NMN (nicotinamide mononucleotide), a molecule that naturally occurs in cells and, like NR, boosts levels of NAD.

It should be noted, however, that muscle strength was not improved in the NMN-treated mice—the researchers speculated that one week of treatment wasn’t enough to do that despite signs that their age-related mitochondrial deterioration was reversed.

NMN isn’t available as a consumer product. But Sinclair’s report sparked excitement about NR, which was already on the market as a supplement called Niagen. Niagen’s maker, ChromaDex, a publicly traded Irvine, Calif., company, sells it to various retailers, which market it under their own brand names. In the wake of Sinclair’s paper, Niagen was hailed in the media as a potential blockbuster.

In early February, Elysium Health, a startup cofounded by Sinclair’s former mentor, MIT biologist Lenny Guarente, jumped into the NAD game by unveiling another supplement with NR. Dubbed Basis, it’s only offered online by the company. Elysium is taking no chances when it comes to scientific credibility. Its website lists a dream team of advising scientists, including five Nobel laureates and other big names such as the Mayo Clinic’s Jim Kirkland, a leader in geroscience, and biotech pioneer Lee Hood. I can’t remember a startup with more stars in its firmament.

A few days later, ChromaDex reasserted its first-comer status in the NAD game by announcing that it had conducted a clinical trial demonstrating that “a single dose of NR resulted in statistically significant increases” in NAD in humans—the first evidence that supplements could really boost NAD levels in people. Details of the study won’t be out until it’s reported in a peer-reviewed journal, the company said. (ChromaDex also brandishes Nobel credentials: Roger Kornberg, a Stanford professor who won the Chemistry prize in 2006, chairs its scientific advisory board. He’s the son of Nobel laureate Arthur Kornberg, who, ChromaDex proudly notes, was among the first scientists to study NR some 60 years ago.)

The NAD findings tie into the ongoing story about enzymes called sirtuins, which Guarente, Sinclair and other researchers have implicated as key players in conferring the longevity and health benefits of calorie restriction. Resveratrol, the wine ingredient, is thought to rev up one of the sirtuins, SIRT1, which appears to help protect mice on high doses of resveratrol from the ill effects of high-fat diets. A slew of other health benefits have been attributed to SIRT1 activation in hundreds of studies, including several small human trials.

Here’s the NAD connection: In 2000, Guarente’s lab reported that NAD fuels the activity of sirtuins, including SIRT1—the more NAD there is in cells, the more SIRT1 does beneficial things. One of those things is to induce formation of new mitochondria. NAD can also activate another sirtuin, SIRT3, which is thought to keep mitochondria running smoothly.

The Sinclair group’s NAD paper drew attention partly because it showed a novel way that NAD and sirtuins work together. The researchers discovered that cells’ nuclei send signals to mitochondria that are needed to maintain their normal operation. SIRT1 helps insure the signals get through. When NAD levels drop, as they do with aging, SIRT1 activity falls off, which in turn makes the crucial signals fade, leading to mitochondrial dysfunction and all the ill effects that go with it.

NAD boosters might work synergistically with supplements like resveratrol to help reinvigorate mitochondria and ward off diseases of aging. Elysium is banking on this potential synergy—its NR-containing supplement includes a resveratrol-like substance called pterostilbene (pronounced tero-STILL-bean), which is found in blueberries and grapes.

Why pterostilbene instead of resveratrol?

While resveratrol has hogged the anti-aging spotlight over the past decade, unsung researchers in places like Oxford, Miss., have quietly shown that pterostilbene is a kind of extra-potent version of resveratrol. The pterostilbene molecule is nearly identical to resveratrol’s except for a couple of differences that make it more “bioavailable” (animal studies indicate that about four times as much ingested pterostilbene gets into the bloodstream as resveratrol). Test-tube and rodent studies also suggest that pterostilbene is more potent than resveratrol when it comes to improving brain function, warding off various kinds of cancer and preventing heart disease.

Elysium isn’t the only pterostilbene vendor. In fact, ChromaDex also offers pterostilbene for supplements separately from Niagen.

How excited should we be about all this? If I were a middle-aged mouse, I’d be ready to spend some of the nickels and dimes I’d dragged off the sidewalk to try NR supplements. Even before Sinclair’s paper, researchers had shown in 2012 that when given doses of NR, mice on high-fat diets gained 60 percent less weight than they did on the same diets without NR. Further, none of the mice on NR showed signs of diabetes, and their energy levels improved. The scientists reportedly characterized NR’s effects on metabolism as “nothing short of astonishing.”

But the paucity of human data gives me pause. Nobel laureates notwithstanding, I plan to wait until more is known before jumping up from the supper table to run out for some NR. Besides, it probably won’t be long before more data come out given the growing buzz about NAD.


Facebook bans fake news from its advertising network — but not its News Feed.

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Facebook bans fake news from its advertising network, but not its News Feed.

Fake news isn’t disappearing from Facebook anytime soon.

Despite Facebook’s move this week to ban phony news sites from using its advertising network, the company’s attempt to quell criticism that it influenced the outcome of the presidential election will do little to thwart the spread of such articles on its platform. That’s because the strategy mistakes the social network’s role in the false news ecosystem, experts say.

Fake news organizations, like real news organizations, mainly generate revenue by running ads on their own sites. Rather than sell ads themselves, many turn to marketing services, including the largest, Google AdSense, to surround their articles with ads.

But there’s no money in the business unless there’s enough readers. That’s where Facebook comes in. Though the Menlo Park, Calif., tech giant operates its own advertising service, its more vital purpose to fake news sites is its ability to steer traffic to their stories.

Operating under monikers such as the Denver Guardian and American News, these ersatz news organizations have no name recognition and must rely on social media to find an audience. Once Facebook’s algorithm picks up on the rising popularity of their content (such as a fictional post about actor Denzel Washington supporting Donald Trump), it spreads to other users’ news feeds, generating the likes, comments and clicks. And with each click comes additional advertising revenue.

Though fake news sites bank on Facebook’s traffic, few rely on Facebook’s advertising network to serve ads — one of the chief reasons why reactions were mixed Tuesday about its attempt to curtail the spread of misinformation. Experts were more optimistic about Google’s move to ban fake news from its advertising platform Monday since it affected the offending sites directly.

“It’s a step in the right direction. However, Facebook generates traffic and Google monetizes it,” said Filippo Menczer, a professor of computer science and an expert on fake news at Indiana University. “For Facebook to do this with advertising, it’s not clear how that would help. You never really see sponsored posts from fake news sites on Facebook.”

Publishers of false news articles can also use competing advertising services to circumvent bans by Facebook and Google — ensuring ad dollars will keep flowing so long as social media platforms keep steering eyeballs their way.

“That’s why this is not going to have any impact at all,” said Antonio Garcia-Martinez, a former Facebook employee and author of “Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley.” “This is a purely cosmetic move.”

Facebook, and Google to a lesser extent, have faced a backlash for allowing the spread of phony news articles that could have swayed people’s views of the candidates during the presidential campaign season.

The move to restrict fake news sites from using Facebook’s advertising tools comes days after Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said it was a “crazy idea” to think the social network could have influenced the election. Facebook characterized its shift as a clarification of existing policies.

Pew Research Center findings show social media can have an impact, however. A survey conducted by the group over the summer found that 20% of social media users changed their views on a political or social issue because of something they read on social media.

Fake news sites have reportedly enriched themselves by creating content that has spread virally on Facebook and Google. BuzzFeed, for example, reported on teens in Macedonia responsible for making hundreds of politically charged make-believe articles for American audiences and reaping the ad dollars that ensued.

Google, meanwhile, featured a story at the top of its search results Sunday claiming that Donald Trump won the popular vote. He did not.

As technology companies rather than media companies, the two Silicon Valley giants have long argued they are not responsible for the content their users publish. That viewpoint is protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which prevents tech platforms like Facebook from being sued for libel or defamation over content posted by its users. That has led to a hands-off approach that mitigates legal risks.

But it’s a defense that has become more tenuous in the court of public opinion now that the $360-billion company has emerged as the de facto leader in media distribution. Forty-four percent of Americans get their news from Facebook, according to Pew, whereas only 2 in 10 U.S. adults get news from print newspapers.

Some critics now say Facebook needs to accept that it has morphed into a media company and should start acting like one by vetting its content.

“I don’t know if their position is tenable anymore,” said Gautam Hans, a clinical fellow at the University of Michigan Law School and expert on the Communications Decency Act. “They can keep saying they’re this and not that, but everyone knows what they are.”

Hans believes that Facebook has the means to remove more fake stories from news feeds, citing its success in restricting nudity and images of beheadings at the hands of terrorists. News sources can also be ranked or tagged to help consumers determine their validity, much like Google search results, based on a litany of criteria such as user ratings, spam and traffic so that reliable news sources are more prominent.

Of course, Facebook had a similar process for curating its trending news feature with trained editors before abruptly firing them this year after conservatives complained that they omitted right-wing news sites.

Jennifer Stromer-Galley, an information studies professor at Syracuse University, said Facebook could implement something called a nudge, which alerts users with a pop-up that a story has been debunked or discredited. But that too is problematic because it’s unclear whether the majority of users would believe that the story was wrong. That’s especially true now that Facebook communities are commonly made up of like-minded people.

“At the end of the day, the problem is one of confirmation bias, which is our natural human tendency to look for information that confirms what we believe and ignore information that goes against what we believe,” Stromer-Galley said. “We fall for fake news because something about it confirms our beliefs about the world and because we are in a news-grazing rather than news-reading culture.”



Reading can make you happier.

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Reading can make you happier.

Several years ago, I was given as a gift a remote session with a bibliotherapist at the London headquarters of the School of Life, which offers innovative courses to help people deal with the daily emotional challenges of existence. I have to admit that at first I didn’t really like the idea of being given a reading “prescription.” I’ve generally preferred to mimic Virginia Woolf’s passionate commitment to serendipity in my personal reading discoveries, delighting not only in the books themselves but in the randomly meaningful nature of how I came upon them (on the bus after a breakup, in a backpackers’ hostel in Damascus, or in the dark library stacks at graduate school, while browsing instead of studying). I’ve long been wary of the peculiar evangelism of certain readers: You must read this, they say, thrusting a book into your hands with a beatific gleam in their eyes, with no allowance for the fact that books mean different things to people—or different things to the same person—at various points in our lives. I loved John Updike’s stories about the Maples in my twenties, for example, and hate them in my thirties, and I’m not even exactly sure why.

But the session was a gift, and I found myself unexpectedly enjoying the initial questionnaire about my reading habits that the bibliotherapist, Ella Berthoud, sent me. Nobody had ever asked me these questions before, even though reading fiction is and always has been essential to my life. I love to gorge on books over long breaks—I’ll pack more books than clothes, I told Berthoud. I confided my dirty little secret, which is that I don’t like buying or owning books, and always prefer to get them from the library (which, as I am a writer, does not bring me very good book-sales karma). In response to the question “What is preoccupying you at the moment?,” I was surprised by what I wanted to confess: I am worried about having no spiritual resources to shore myself up against the inevitable future grief of losing somebody I love, I wrote. I’m not religious, and I don’t particularly want to be, but I’d like to read more about other people’s reflections on coming to some sort of early, weird form of faith in a “higher being” as an emotional survival tactic. Simply answering the questions made me feel better, lighter.

We had some satisfying back-and-forths over e-mail, with Berthoud digging deeper, asking about my family’s history and my fear of grief, and when she sent the final reading prescription it was filled with gems, none of which I’d previously read. Among the recommendations was “The Guide,” by R. K. Narayan. Berthoud wrote that it was “a lovely story about a man who starts his working life as a tourist guide at a train station in Malgudi, India, but then goes through many other occupations before finding his unexpected destiny as a spiritual guide.” She had picked it because she hoped it might leave me feeling “strangely enlightened.” Another was “The Gospel According to Jesus Christ,” by José Saramago: “Saramago doesn’t reveal his own spiritual stance here but portrays a vivid and compelling version of the story we know so well.” “Henderson the Rain King,” by Saul Bellow, and “Siddhartha,” by Hermann Hesse, were among other prescribed works of fiction, and she included some nonfiction, too, such as “The Case for God,” by Karen Armstrong, and “Sum,” by the neuroscientist David Eagleman, a “short and wonderful book about possible afterlives.”

I worked my way through the books on the list over the next couple of years, at my own pace—interspersed with my own “discoveries”—and while I am fortunate enough to have my ability to withstand terrible grief untested, thus far, some of the insights I gleaned from these books helped me through something entirely different, when, over several months, I endured acute physical pain. The insights themselves are still nebulous, as learning gained through reading fiction often is—but therein lies its power. In a secular age, I suspect that reading fiction is one of the few remaining paths to transcendence, that elusive state in which the distance between the self and the universe shrinks. Reading fiction makes me lose all sense of self, but at the same time makes me feel most uniquely myself. As Woolf, the most fervent of readers, wrote, a book “splits us into two parts as we read,” for “the state of reading consists in the complete elimination of the ego,” while promising “perpetual union” with another mind.

Bibliotherapy is a very broad term for the ancient practice of encouraging reading for therapeutic effect. The first use of the term is usually dated to a jaunty 1916 article in The Atlantic Monthly, “A Literary Clinic.” In it, the author describes stumbling upon a “bibliopathic institute” run by an acquaintance, Bagster, in the basement of his church, from where he dispenses reading recommendations with healing value. “Bibliotherapy is…a new science,” Bagster explains. “A book may be a stimulant or a sedative or an irritant or a soporific. The point is that it must do something to you, and you ought to know what it is. A book may be of the nature of a soothing syrup or it may be of the nature of a mustard plaster.” To a middle-aged client with “opinions partially ossified,” Bagster gives the following prescription: “You must read more novels. Not pleasant stories that make you forget yourself. They must be searching, drastic, stinging, relentless novels.” (George Bernard Shaw is at the top of the list.) Bagster is finally called away to deal with a patient who has “taken an overdose of war literature,” leaving the author to think about the books that “put new life into us and then set the life pulse strong but slow.”

Today, bibliotherapy takes many different forms, from literature courses run for prison inmates to reading circles for elderly people suffering from dementia. Sometimes it can simply mean one-on-one or group sessions for “lapsed” readers who want to find their way back to an enjoyment of books. Berthoud and her longtime friend and fellow bibliotherapist Susan Elderkin mostly practice “affective” bibliotherapy, advocating the restorative power of reading fiction. The two met at Cambridge University as undergraduates, more than twenty years ago, and bonded immediately over the shared contents of their bookshelves, in particular Italo Calvino’s novel “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller,” which is itself about the nature of reading. As their friendship developed, they began prescribing novels to cure each other’s ailments, such as a broken heart or career uncertainty. “When Suse was having a crisis about her profession—she wanted to be a writer, but was wondering if she could cope with the inevitable rejection—I gave her Don Marquis’s ‘Archy and Mehitabel’ poems,” Berthoud told me. “If Archy the cockroach could be so dedicated to his art as to jump on the typewriter keys in order to write his free-verse poems every night in the New York offices of the Evening Sun, then surely she should be prepared to suffer for her art, too.” Years later, Elderkin gave Berthoud,who wanted to figure out how to balance being a painter and a mother, Patrick Gale’s novel “Notes from an Exhibition,” about a successful but troubled female artist.

They kept recommending novels to each other, and to friends and family, for many years, and, in 2007, when the philosopher Alain de Botton, a fellow Cambridge classmate, was thinking about starting the School of Life, they pitched to him the idea of running a bibliotherapy clinic. “As far as we knew, nobody was doing it in that form at the time,” Berthoud said. “Bibliotherapy, if it existed at all, tended to be based within a more medical context, with an emphasis on self-help books. But we were dedicated to fiction as the ultimate cure because it gives readers a transformational experience.”

Berthoud and Elderkin trace the method of bibliotherapy all the way back to the Ancient Greeks, “who inscribed above the entrance to a library in Thebes that this was a ‘healing place for the soul.’ “ The practice came into its own at the end of the nineteenth century, when Sigmund Freud began using literature during psychoanalysis sessions. After the First World War, traumatized soldiers returning home from the front were often prescribed a course of reading. “Librarians in the States were given training on how to give books to WWI vets, and there’s a nice story about Jane Austen’s novels being used for bibliotherapeutic purposes at the same time in the U.K.,” Elderkin says. Later in the century, bibliotherapy was used in varying ways in hospitals and libraries, and has more recently been taken up by psychologists, social and aged-care workers, and doctors as a viable mode of therapy.

There is now a network of bibliotherapists selected and trained by Berthoud and Elderkin, and affiliated with the School of Life, working around the world, from New York to Melbourne. The most common ailments people tend to bring to them are the life-juncture transitions, Berthoud says: being stuck in a rut in your career, feeling depressed in your relationship, or suffering bereavement. The bibliotherapists see a lot of retirees, too, who know that they have twenty years of reading ahead of them but perhaps have only previously read crime thrillers, and want to find something new to sustain them. Many seek help adjusting to becoming a parent. “I had a client in New York, a man who was having his first child, and was worried about being responsible for another tiny being,” Berthoud says. “I recommended ‘Room Temperature,’ by Nicholson Baker, which is about a man feeding his baby a bottle and having these meditative thoughts about being a father. And of course ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ because Atticus Finch is the ideal father in literature.”

Berthoud and Elderkin are also the authors of “The Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies,” which is written in the style of a medical dictionary and matches ailments (“failure, feeling like a”) with suggested reading cures (“The History of Mr. Polly,” by H. G. Wells). First released in the U.K. in 2013, it is now being published in eighteen countries, and, in an interesting twist, the contract allows for a local editor and reading specialist to adapt up to twenty-five per cent of the ailments and reading recommendations to fit each particular country’s readership and include more native writers. The new, adapted ailments are culturally revealing. In the Dutch edition, one of the adapted ailments is “having too high an opinion of your own child”; in the Indian edition, “public urination” and “cricket, obsession with” are included; the Italians introduced “impotence,” “fear of motorways,” and “desire to embalm”; and the Germans added “hating the world” and “hating parties.” Berthoud and Elderkin are now working on a children’s-literature version, “A Spoonful of Stories,” due out in 2016.

For all avid readers who have been self-medicating with great books their entire lives, it comes as no surprise that reading books can be good for your mental health and your relationships with others, but exactly why and how is now becoming clearer, thanks to new research on reading’s effects on the brain. Since the discovery, in the mid-nineties, of “mirror neurons”—neurons that fire in our brains both when we perform an action ourselves and when we see an action performed by someone else—the neuroscience of empathy has become clearer. A 2011 study published in the Annual Review of Psychology, based on analysis of fMRI brain scans of participants, showed that, when people read about an experience, they display stimulation within the same neurological regions as when they go through that experience themselves. We draw on the same brain networks when we’re reading stories and when we’re trying to guess at another person’s feelings.

Other studies published in 2006 and 2009 showed something similar—that people who read a lot of fiction tend to be better at empathizing with others (even after the researchers had accounted for the potential bias that people with greater empathetic tendencies may prefer to read novels). And, in 2013, an influential study published in Science found that reading literary fiction (rather than popular fiction or literary nonfiction) improved participants’ results on tests that measured social perception and empathy, which are crucial to “theory of mind”: the ability to guess with accuracy what another human being might be thinking or feeling, a skill humans only start to develop around the age of four.

Keith Oatley, a novelist and emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, has for many years run a research group interested in the psychology of fiction. “We have started to show how identification with fictional characters occurs, how literary art can improve social abilities, how it can move us emotionally, and can prompt changes of selfhood,” he wrote in his 2011 book, “Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction.” “Fiction is a kind of simulation, one that runs not on computers but on minds: a simulation of selves in their interactions with others in the social world…based in experience, and involving being able to think of possible futures.” This idea echoes a long-held belief among both writers and readers that books are the best kinds of friends; they give us a chance to rehearse for interactions with others in the world, without doing any lasting damage. In his 1905 essay “On Reading,” Marcel Proust puts it nicely: “With books there is no forced sociability. If we pass the evening with those friends—books—it’s because we really want to. When we leave them, we do so with regret and, when we have left them, there are none of those thoughts that spoil friendship: ‘What did they think of us?’—‘Did we make a mistake and say something tactless?’—‘Did they like us?’—nor is there the anxiety of being forgotten because of displacement by someone else.”

George Eliot, who is rumored to have overcome her grief at losing her life partner through a program of guided reading with a young man who went on to become her husband, believed that “art is the nearest thing to life; it is a mode of amplifying experience and extending our contact with our fellow-men beyond the bounds of our personal lot.” But not everybody agrees with this characterization of fiction reading as having the ability to make us behave better in real life. In her 2007 book, “Empathy and the Novel,” Suzanne Keen takes issue with this “empathy-altruism hypothesis,” and is skeptical about whether empathetic connections made while reading fiction really translate into altruistic, prosocial behavior in the world. She also points out how hard it is to really prove such a hypothesis. “Books can’t make change by themselves—and not everyone feels certain that they ought to,” Keen writes. “As any bookworm knows, readers can also seem antisocial and indolent. Novel reading is not a team sport.” Instead, she urges, we should enjoy what fiction does give us, which is a release from the moral obligation to feel something for invented characters—as you would for a real, live human being in pain or suffering—which paradoxically means readers sometimes “respond with greater empathy to an unreal situation and characters because of the protective fictionality.” And she wholeheartedly supports the personal health benefits of an immersive experience like reading, which “allows a refreshing escape from ordinary, everyday pressures.”

So even if you don’t agree that reading fiction makes us treat others better, it is a way of treating ourselves better. Reading has been shown to put our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm. Regular readers sleep better, have lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression than non-readers. “Fiction and poetry are doses, medicines,” the author Jeanette Winterson has written. “What they heal is the rupture reality makes on the imagination.”

One of Berthoud’s clients described to me how the group and individual sessions she has had with Berthoud have helped her cope with the fallout from a series of calamities, including losing her husband, the end of a five-year engagement, and a heart attack. “I felt my life was without purpose,” she says. “I felt a failure as a woman.” Among the books Berthoud initially prescribed was John Irving’s novel “The Hotel New Hampshire.” “He was a favorite writer of my husband, [whom] I had felt unable to attempt for sentimental reasons.” She was “astounded and very moved” to see it on the list, and though she had avoided reading her husband’s books up until then, she found reading it to be “a very rewarding emotional experience, both in the literature itself and ridding myself of demons.” She also greatly appreciated Berthoud guiding her to Tom Robbins’s novel “Jitterbug Perfume,” which was “a real learning curve for me about prejudice and experimentation.”

One of the ailments listed in “The Novel Cure” is “overwhelmed by the number of books in the world,” and it’s one I suffer from frequently. Elderkin says this is one of the most common woes of modern readers, and that it remains a major motivation for her and Berthoud’s work as bibliotherapists. “We feel that though more books are being published than ever before, people are in fact selecting from a smaller and smaller pool. Look at the reading lists of most book clubs, and you’ll see all the same books, the ones that have been shouted about in the press. If you actually calculate how many books you read in a year—and how many that means you’re likely to read before you die—you’ll start to realize that you need to be highly selective in order to make the most of your reading time.” And the best way to do that? See a bibliotherapist, as soon as you can, and take them up on their invitation, to borrow some lines from Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus”: “Come, and take choice of all my library/And so beguile thy sorrow…”


Prisoners in Solitary Confinement May Have Tapped Unused Parts of Their Brains.

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Prisoners in Solitary Confinement May Have Tapped Unused Parts of Their Brains.

Dennis S. Charney, MD, is the Dean of the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, and he’s been thinking about the brain, specifically how we don’t normally take full advantage of it. Charney and his associates got their first inkling that this was the case when they spoke to POWs who’d been held in solitary confinement. These men developed some impressive talents during those long and dark stretches during which there was literally nothing else to do but think.

Solitary jail cell

For one prisoner it was a math thing. By the time he was released, he could multiply 12-digit numbers by other 12-digit numbers. Pretty amazing. Another person spent time thinking about his early childhood until he could name every single child in his Kindergarten class. And there was Admiral Shoemaker, who’d painstakingly constructed a house—down to the nails required—in his head. When he got out, he built that house just that way.

Hammer and nails

What Charney’s team took from the POW’s stories is that there’s reason to believe that when a person is allowed to really concentrate, the brain’s plasticity can be increased through mental exercise, allowing its owner access to previously undiscovered capabilities.

Brain on display

Leveraging new understandings about the locations in the brain where things happen and what chemistry is involved, Charney’s team has been conducting targeted research on areas of the brain. In one study, they’re trying to retrain the circuitry involved in depression. In another, it they’re giving the areas of the brain responsible for memory and learning a workout. Currently, they’re focused on developing techniques for managing the brain’s anxiety centers and chemistry. The results are encouraging.

We already owe our POWs for their obvious sacrifice, but now we owe them even more: The revelation that our remarkable human brains have powers we never knew we had.


Germany unveils zero-emissions train that only emits steam.

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Germany unveils zero-emissions train that only emits steam.

Germany is set to introduce the world’s first zero-emission passenger train to be powered by hydrogen.

The Coradia iLint only emits excess steam into the atmosphere, and provides an alternative to the country’s 4,000 diesel trains.

Lower Saxony has already ordered 14 of them from French company Alstom, and more are likely to be seen around the country if they are judged a success, reports Die Welt.

Testing is set to be carried out by the end of the year, before it opens up to the public in December 2017.

The train was first presented at Berlin’s InnoTrans trade show in August, and it is set to be the first hydrogen-powered train to regularly ferry people over long distances.

There’s also interest in the train from the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway.

The iLint is powered by huge lithium ion batteries, and these get their energy from a hydrogen fuel tank on the roof of the train.

The hydrail can travel almost 500 miles per day at speeds of up to 87mph, and the only sound it gives off comes from the wheels and air resistance.

“Alstom is proud to launch a breakthrough innovation in the field of clean transportation,” said Alstom CEO Henri Poupart-Lafarge, in a statement.

“It shows our ability to work in close collaboration with our customers and develop a train in only two years.”

Hydrogen power works when hydrogen is burned with oxygen to produce huge amounts of energy, with the only by-product being water.

Nasa has used liquid hydrogen to propel its rockets into space since the 1970s. The huge cloud that erupts when one of its shuttles takes off isn’t smoke, but steam.


Scientists Seek UN Approval to Create Earth’s First Space Nation.

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Scientists Seek UN Approval to Create Earth’s First Space Nation.

Ambitious plans to create the world’s first nation in space were unveiled this week in the hopes of ushering in a new era in the space age. Igor Ashurbeyli, head of the Aerospace International Research Center (AIRC) in Vienna and chairman of UNESCO’s science of space committee heads the initiative in close collaboration with a group of scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and legal experts.

Asgardia, named after a city in Norse mythology, will essentially function as its own sovereign country where citizens can eventually live, work, and follow their own rules and regulations — that is, if everything goes according to plan. Ashurbeyli hopes to secure UN recognition for Asgardia, a nation of scientific exploration free of geopolitical restrictions, but no word yet on whether that will actually happen.

Besides joining the UN, the founders’ ultimate goal is to build a high-tech shield in space that will protect their fellow humans on Earth from “cosmic, manmade and natural threats … such as space debris, coronal mass ejections and asteroid collisions.” The first step, however, is to send up its own satellite in 2017 and begin efforts to open up access to space.

Image Credit: Asgardia

Asgardian Citizenship for All

The project is still in its early stages, but the team behind it is hoping that the publicity it gathers now will attract talent willing to work on making Asgardia a reality. That talent can be anyone, as Asgardia has opened citizenship up for everyone on Earth, but what does being part of this nation mean?

Basically, Asgardians will remain physically on Earth, but also become a citizen of this new space nation, which the founders hope will one day join the United Nations. Eventually, those citizens could travel to the space nation.

“We have not seen any nation attempt this before. So this will be a first,” Ram Jakhu, an Asgardia founding member, told Business Insider. “We’ll start small and eventually people will be going there, and working, and having their own rules and regulations … This facility will become an independent nation.”

Details regarding the feasibility of this audacious plan are vague. No clarifications have been made on whether or not current space laws would allow for a country to declare itself as an autonomous, sovereign entity in space. Similarly, technical details, logistics, and funding on the project have not been detailed, but the project does bring up important questions about how space colonization should be handled in the future.


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