Religion and disease: Epidemics play role in changing religion?

In "Religion and Disease: Deadly epidemics can have a profound impact on people’s choice of religion" (The Scientist , August 25, 2011), Cristina Luiggi reports on a study of the role of religion in epidemics:

In an attempt to study this in a modern setting, Hughes and colleagues surveyed religious attitudes among the people of Malawi, where AIDS has become the leading cause of death among adults. They found that 30 percent of people who described themselves as Christians visited the sick, in contrast to 7 percent of Muslims They also found that in the last 5 years, about 400 of the 3000 respondents changed religions, mostly to Christianity, “where the promise of receiving care is greater and the stigma of having AIDS is less,” Hughes explained to ScienceNOW. The researchers presented their data at the 13th Congress of the European Society for Evolutionary Biology earlier this week.

Of course, there's always the influence of Jesus's judgement on the saved:

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Mindfulness in medicine a problem? – PZ Myers thinks so

Some have begun to question the role of mindfulness in health maintenance, with even PZ Myers getting in on the act:

I've read some of these studies, and am unimpressed. Most of them assess subjective phenomena ("chronic pain" is notoriously amenable to suggestion, for instance), …

Yes, precisely, PZ. Thanks for making the point. Mindfulness can improve the effectiveness of pain relief without increases in harmful drugs, which may be in conflict with other medically necessary drugs. Here are some studies on the subject.

In “Mindful medical practice: just another fad?” (Canadian Family Physician, 2009 August), Tom A. Hutchinson and Patricia L. Dobkin tackled the problems, observing the following:

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Study: Spirituality pays a key role in fighting depression

In “Can Religion or Spirituality Help Ward Off Depression?” (World of Psychology August 25, 2011), a somewhat skeptical John M. Grohol reports,

The new longitudinal research out of Columbia University wanted to followup on previous research demonstrating this correlation between spirituality or religiosity and a reduced risk for depression.

The researchers continued to followup on a set of subjects they had used in the previous study, following them from the 10-year mark (when the older research had ended) to the 20-year mark. The subjects in the study were 114 adult offspring of both depressed parents and parents who had no depression.

At the 20-year mark, had there been an episode of major depression? Only one quarter of the people who said religion or spirituality was important had experienced major depression. Time spent at religious services didn’t affect this outcome.

The really interesting find was that

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Women and markets

At Mercatornet (August 23, 2011), we are invited to consider whether getting more women involved in floor trading would prevent future collapses. Trouble is,

So now we come to the key question: Is the floor trade world a natural outcome of human behaviour, into which some men and a much smaller proportion of women fit? Yes, probably.

My financial advisor tells me that the market is run by two principle human motives: Greed and fear. Bubbles and their subsequent collapses happen when greed overrides fear. Later, fear restores order and the market starts to recover. Which is to say that crazy markets and their corrections are caused by human nature. It’s hard to change the fundamental reality that a stock market is about people making decisions, wise or foolish.

An Italian proverb puts it like this: Three women and a goose make a market. All the rest follows.

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Oops, that life-giving water on Mars is … lava!

Or so David Shiga tells us in "Evidence for Mars floods all dried up?" (New Scientist, 22 August 2011):

Kelin Whipple of Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe agrees that lava probably carved the huge channels, such as Kasei Valles (shown). He says the study calls into question the case for huge volumes of water – and possibly an ocean – on ancient Mars.

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Were people cooking two million years ago?

From International Business Times (August 22, 2011), we learn: "Cooking is 1.9 Million Years Old: Study." And Michael Cremo is still wrong anyway?:

New evidence suggests that our ancestors have been cooking and processing food as far back as 1.9 million years ago. This could explain why humans have small teeth, as we don't need to spend our time chewing as much as animals.

The scientists found that chimpanzees spend 10 times more time chewing compared to humans.

Bovines spend almost all their waking hours eating grasses.

Cooking softens and processes food to make eating much easier and reduce chewing time. Had our ancestors not cooked, we'd be eating nearly half of the day instead of just 5 percent that we spend today.

The theory goes, cooking freed our ancestors up for more creative activities than chewing. Like talking without your mouth full. It makes sense in principle, but here's the hitch:

"There isn't a lot of good evidence for fire. That's kind of controversial," Organ said. "That's one of the holes in this cooking hypothesis. If those species right then were cooking you should find evidence for hearths and fire pits."

To put their theory on the table, so to speak, they need to definitely establish that people used fire in those days.

Note: Technologically primitive peoples have also made use of hot springs and naturally occurring fire. If a natural fire has started and is burning out, it is easy to grasp the principle of keeping a bit of it going, even if one doesn't know how to start a fire. Also some methods of preparing food can make it easier to digest without cooking – chopping vegetable matter into small bits, for example, as well as pounding grains. We shall see.

See also: Stone tools found from two million years ago – and Michael Cremo is still wrong?

Denyse O'Leary is co-author of The Spiritual Brain. Follow UD News at Twitter!