This Way Up for Saturday 22 July 2017

Directional highs: the future of marijuana? The scientific publishing business, social cooling, and an inflatable balloon to help the world lose weight.

Directional highs: the future of marijuana?

The pens are aesthetically pleasing—certainly more so than a handblown glass bong resembling a dragon or those cumbersome oblongs known as box vapes. Each three-second pull you’re doled out exactly a 2.25 milligrams dose, with just under 2 milligrams of cannabinoids. The vape vibrates to let you know when you’re done. Comparatively a puff of a joint deploys around 3 milligrams of cannabinoids. Mary H. K. Choi in The Atlantic

Recreational marijuana use has been legalised in 8 US states and there's a boom in consumer pot products.  From digital vaporizers that run off an app to Eaze, a San Francisco company hailed as the UBER of weed, there's a growing range of choices for the consumer looking for a good buzz.

Now you can even choose how you want to feel.  Directed, bespoke highs allow you to select the specific effects of what you're inhaling.  Sold under names like Sleep, Bliss, Relief and Passion, producers are selling precisely measured dosages in carefully calibrated formulas inhaled through a vape pen, giving you control over how alert, active, and sociable you want to be.

Mary H. K. Choi has been sampling the products of one producer in this high end, bespoke end of the marijuana market.

"If you want to talk about lifestyle and the various verbs you want to undertake they also have formulas called Passion and Arouse for sex basically. One is to lower the barriers for initiating sex. They even effect the frontal cortex where normally you would be thinking about a laundry list of to-dos or being distracted by the events of the day: these pens shut that off and so you can be fully immersed in the person, and verb, at hand." Mary H. K. Choi


The massive business of scientific publishing


Library Photo: (Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash)

While the rest of the mainstream media and publishing is grappling with the challenges posed by an increasingly digital future, the hugely profitable business of scientific publishing seems to be going from strength to strength.

Publishing more than 28,000 science journals from The International Journal Of Fuzzy Systems to  one dealing with Nordic reindeer husbandry- the industry brings in total global revenues of more than 30 billion dollars. That puts it between the music and film industries in size!

About 2 and a half million new scientific papers are published each year and profit margins at some of the big scientific publishers outstrip those of tech giants like Apple, Google and Amazon.

The irony is that government-funded universities have to pay millions of dollars a year in annual subscriptions for journals that they are the primary contributors to. And there are question marks over whether the current commercial model is the best approach for getting the latest research into the hands of students, academics and others who want to see it.

Stephen Buranyi has written about the business of science publishing for The Guardian.

"Many scientists also believe that the publishing industry exerts too much influence over what scientists choose to study, which is ultimately bad for science itself. Journals prize new and spectacular results – after all, they are in the business of selling subscriptions – and scientists, knowing exactly what kind of work gets published, align their submissions accordingly." Stephen Buranyi in The Guardian

Stephen Buranyi

Stephen Buranyi Photo: (Supplied)

Social cooling: toning down online behaviour

When the world wide web spread it's tendrils into our homes a few decades ago, observers and sociologists noticed people becoming disinhibited in these virtual spaces: you could say and do what you wanted, stuff you probably wouldn't do in real life.

Fast forward to today, and technology critic Tijmen Schep reckons we're seeing another online phonomenon  - he calls it 'social cooling'.

Social cooling means we sanitise and self-censor our views, and avoid saying the wrong thing or offending anyone, because we're obsessed with how we're perceived and rated online.


How a balloon could help the world lose weight

Surgeries designed to promote weight loss by restricting the stomach's capacity, like a gastric bypass or gastric banding, have become a common treatment to help chronically obese patients lose weight fast.

But they don't come cheap with a typical price tag of around $20,000 and up.Surgery and administering anaesthetic to patients can also be risky. And an increasing number of these surgeries are getting funded under the public health system; the Ministry of Health has spent more than $30 million on bariatric surgery on almost 2000 patients over the past 5 years.

So could there be a safer, cheaper alternative?

One new idea is a temporary gastric balloon called the Elipse that gets swallowed in pill form and then filled up with water in the stomach. No surgery, no anaesthetic, and it deflates after 16 weeks and gets excreted out - and all for less than a quarter of the cost of most types of bariatric surgery.

Shantanu Gaur is the co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Allurion Technologies, makers of the Elipse balloon.