Reading books can prolong your life

I  have always loved reading.

Like so many others I cannot recall when I learned to read but became quite proficient at an early age. I spent many happy hours in wonderful libraries in Hackney, London, where I grew up.

Reading is an essential part of my life. There is literally not one day that goes by when I do not read. Since I retired five years ago I have had the time to spend reading whatever I want. I have decided that I want to keep learning, since I believe that it is of prime importance to keep the brain active as one ages.

I do not believe that watching television or videos has the same mental impact that reading print has. I tend to read both actual books and electronic books. I appreciate that there is a real difference between these two but it is the interaction of your mind with the printed word that is still the same.

Yesterday  I read a report about a study by researchers at Yale University as to whether it can be scientifically proven that  reading improves your longevity.

In this study the researchers looked at the lifestyles of people aged 65+. In particular they compared the activities of passively watching television and how , in reading, there are a number of  cognitive activities involved. Reading the text, decoding it, comprehending the meaning and, in the case of novels, the extensive use of the imagination, in recreating scenes in one’s head and being able to follow dialogue and adjust for accent.

The problem with television is that it is all done for you. You do not need to do much more than watch and comprehend. In some popular television there is very little comprehension required. You may need to think about the quality of someone’s singing or close your eyes quickly to one of the many scenes of excessive violence.

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The Yale study collected data to see if the 65+ groups who watched T. V. but did little reading, lived longer (it was a long-term  study) than those who read more than they watched T.V. and specifically, who read books (I.e. not magazines and newspapers).

The report stated:

Overall, during follow-up, 33% of non-book readers died, compared to 27% of book readers, write the academics Avni Bavishi, Martin Slade and Becca Levy from the Yale University School of Public Health, in their paper A Chapter a Day: Association of Book Reading With Longevity.

“When readers were compared to non-readers at 80% mortality (the time it takes 20% of a group to die), non-book readers lived 85 months (7.08 years), whereas book readers lived 108 months (9.00 years) after baseline,” write the researchers. “Thus, reading books provided a 23-month survival advantage.”

Bavishi said that the more that respondents read, the longer they lived, but that “as little as 30 minutes a day was still beneficial in terms of survival”

Of course there are always exceptions to the scientific proof. You will no doubt find a 100 year old who prides him or herself on hardly reading throughout their long life. But they are the exception. Overall, it is pleasing for those of us who love books to see that reading a book will give us more time on the planet and as the article concludes, more time to read more books!

Hans Rosling; an inspirational human

I first came across Hans Rosling, as many did, by looking at one of his highly entertaining and informative Ted Talks.

Here was a Doctor and Lecturer in International Health issues from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden showing us in his inimitable way how we often have no real idea about the actual statistics about development, population and climate change really are.

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He and his son had developed a brilliant animation programme that allowed you to see statistics almost come alive before your eyes. An example can be seen in the following photo:

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The key thing with Hans Rosling was that he wanted data to be available and discussed. He was in favour of richer countries supporting developing countries because he had the data to prove just how significant the inputs have been in terms of lower deaths from disease, greater life spans, the reduction of population, particularly by the growing availability of education for girls.

As the Guardian obituary (link above)   stated:

“Given the timing, with all the talk about fake news, alternative facts, concern over misinformation and propaganda-by-numbers, Rosling stood for the exact opposite – the idea we can have debates about what could or should be done, but that facts and an open mind are needed before informed discussions can begin.”

He is a sad loss for all of us at a time when we can ill-afford to miss his wisdom, his humour and especially his optimism.

Education in an age of misinformation

I have for a number of years now been a proponent of the widest possible use of information technology in schools.

My most popular post is https://malbell.com/2010/08/27/10-reasons-we-should-allow-mobile-phones-into-schools/ . I regularly get a number of hits on this post and it was my most commented upon. It is number 1 on a Google search for the subject (exact words).

I am though increasingly worried about the fact that pupils and students seem to lack any education into how to actually search and use the vast resources that are available to them on the net.

It seems to me that we live in an age where we are increasingly given what people like to call “False News” but which really should just lies under the general label of “misinformation”.

Too many students will research as far as the first 5 entries on Google and then take great chunks of the material (by highlighting and pasting) and then (if you are lucky) draw it all to a conclusion or more than likely take a conclusive statement from one of the entries and then use this.

The wider problem is that students are not interrogating the information, checking it, deciding whether it is real or not. They seem to rely a lot on Wikipedia. Now I am a supporter of Wikipedia and believe that it is a good thing that there is a source of “information” that anyone can contribute to and which can be edited by others.

The problem is though that there is a lot of unverified information that is presented as fact and that is then used to substantiate arguments in essays.

One of my internet heroes has always ben Howard Rheingold and he came up with an excellent term for this subject. He said that pupils and students needed to have an education that allowed them to be “crap detectors”.

Now more than ever we need to be educating our children in how to use the web. How to detect lies, misinformation and propaganda disguised as “fact”.  There is nothing to be gained if they all have their mobile phones to use and then look up Google and use some piece of fiction and call it fact!

Why we need environmentalists

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The picture above is typical of the spin that we have been getting since the ascendency of Donald Trump to the White House, of the supposed “threat” of environmentalists to our freedom.

The questions that  immediately sprung to my mind on seeing this picture were:

(1) On what basis did this adviser make the statement that he did?

(2) Whose freedom was he referring to?

I did some internet research and discovered the following:

The “Adviser” was Myron Ebell. He has come into the Trump administration from working for the Libertarian Think Tank “The Competitive Enterprise Institute”. As can be seen from below he has been busy recently including making a reasonably unpublicised visit to Number 10 Downing Street to discuss the Trump administration’s views on the dangers of climate change experts alarmist views and their effect on world trade and of course the “special relationship” (and future trade deals) with Britain following Brexit. It appears that Mrs May was too busy to actually meet him!

 

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I found the following profile on Mr Ebell from the Competitive Enterprise Institute website:

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Further research into the educational credentials of Mr Ebell to dismiss the scientists warnings about the threat to our planet of global warming show that this was his educational background:

 

 

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Ebell, as can be seen from above is a political scientist and historian. I can make similar claims myself to this educational background. I do not though feel that I have the knowledge or ability to take issue with scientists who have looked deeply into the subject of climate change.

This brings me to the second question that came to my mind when looking at the initial photograph. Whose freedom?

Mr Ebell’s past employees at the Competitive Enterprise Institute are funded by various industrial organisations, including a large contribution from the energy giant Exxon Mobile (whose CEO, Rex Tillerson has just left to become the new Secretary of State in the Trump administration).

Ebell has been going on for years about the freedom of organisations such as Exxon to continue to find and exploit energy despite the cost to the environment.By denying climate change it gives these organisations “freedom” to continue to put profit before environment and has no concern about the future of the planet and its inhabitants.

So my answer to Mr Ebell is that we do need environmentalists because if they are silenced the consequences for our planet, in my opinion, does not bear thinking about.