Jon Hamilton

Jon Hamilton has served as a correspondent for NPR's science desk since 1998. His current beat includes neuroscience, health risks, behavior, and bioterrorism. Recent pieces include a series on the chemical perchlorate, which is turning up in California's water supply; a government effort to find out just how many autistic children there are in the U.S.; and an exploration of "neuromarketing."

Before joining NPR in 1998, Hamilton was a media fellow with the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation studying health policy issues. He completed a project on states that have radically changed their Medicaid programs for the poor by enrolling beneficiaries in private HMOs.

From 1995-1997, Hamilton wrote on health and medical topics as a freelance writer, after having been a medical reporter for both The Commercial Appeal and Physician's Weekly.

Hamilton graduated with honors from Oberlin College in Ohio with a B.A. in English. As a student, he was the editor of the Oberlin Review student newspaper. He earned his master's degree in journalism from Columbia University where he graduated with honors, won the Baker Prize for magazine writing, and earned a Sherwood traveling fellowship.

Pages

5:07pm

Fri May 17, 2013
Shots - Health News

Experts Agree: 'Psychiatry's Bible' Is No Bible

Originally published on Tue May 21, 2013 8:05 am

The new version of the psychiatric "bible" is more of a dictionary, psychiatrists say.
iStockphoto.com

When the American Psychiatric Association releases its new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders -- DSM-5 -- this weekend, lots of journalists and commentators will refer to it as "psychiatry's bible."

That's a term that makes the manual's authors and other mental experts cringe.

Read more

5:23pm

Thu May 16, 2013
Shots - Health News

Why Is Psychiatry's New Manual So Much Like The Old One?

Originally published on Fri May 17, 2013 12:51 pm

Despite significant advances in neurology and imaging, researchers still don't have simple lab tests for diagnosing patients with mental disorders. Diagnoses are still mostly based on a patient's signs and symptoms.
BSIP UIG via Getty Images

The American Psychiatric Association is about to release an updated version of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The DSM helps mental health professionals decide who has problems such as depression, anxiety and schizophrenia.

Psychiatry's new manual, DSM-5, has been nearly 20 years in the making. During that time, scientists have learned a lot about the brain. Yet despite some tweaks to categories such as autism and mood disorders, DSM-5 is remarkably similar to the version issued in 1994.

Read more

4:34pm

Thu May 9, 2013
Shots - Health News

How Can Identical Twins Turn Out So Different?

Originally published on Tue May 14, 2013 5:41 pm

But what about their personalities?
iStockphoto.com

A study of genetically identical mice is providing some hints about humans. How can one identical twin be a wallflower while the other is the life of the party?

The study of 40 young mice found that their behavior grew increasingly different over three months, even though the mice shared the same genes and lived in the same five-level cage, researchers report Thursday in the journal Science.

Read more

3:00am

Thu May 2, 2013
Shots - Health News

Imagine A Flying Pig: How Words Take Shape In The Brain

Originally published on Thu May 2, 2013 6:20 pm

Although a flying pig doesn't exist in the real world, our brains use what we know about pigs and birds — and superheroes — to create one in our mind's eye when we hear or read those words.
iStockphoto.com

This is a story about a duck. More precisely, it's a story about what your brain just did when you read the word "duck."

Chances are, your brain created an image of a web-footed waterfowl. It also may have recalled the sound of quacking or the feel of feathers. And new research suggests that these mental simulations are essential to understanding language.

Read more

4:37pm

Wed May 1, 2013
Shots - Health News

A Sleep Gene Has A Surprising Role In Migraines

Originally published on Thu May 2, 2013 10:33 am

Bates experienced migraines as a child. She made this painting to depict how they felt to her.
Courtesy of Emily Bates

Mutations on a single gene appear to increase the risk for both an unusual sleep disorder and migraines, a team reports in Science Translational Medicine.

The finding could help explain the links between sleep problems and migraines. It also should make it easier to find new drugs to treat migraines, researchers say.

And for one member of the research team, Emily Bates, the discovery represents a personal victory.

Read more

3:31am

Thu April 25, 2013
Shots - Health News

A Tale Of Mice And Medical Research, Wiped Out By A Superstorm

Originally published on Fri April 26, 2013 2:46 am

In this Jan. 18 photo provided by the NYU Langone Medical Center, a technician examines mice to determine their health at the hospital's complex in New York.
New York University AP

When Superstorm Sandy inundated lower Manhattan last year, thousands of lab animals drowned and many scientists lost months or even years of work. One of those scientists is Gordon Fishell, a brain researcher at New York University.

Just hours before Sandy reached New York, Fishell says, he began to worry that animals housed in a basement below his lab were in danger. "I realized Hurricane Sandy and high tide were going to coincide at Battery Park, which is right where my lab is," he says.

Read more

5:15pm

Tue April 9, 2013
Shots - Health News

Genetically Modified Rat Is Promising Model For Alzheimer's

Originally published on Tue April 9, 2013 7:34 pm

Scientists hope a new genetically modified rat will help them find Alzheimer's drugs that work on humans.
Ryumin Alexander ITAR-TASS/Landov

A rat with some human genes could provide a better way to test Alzheimer's drugs.

The genetically modified rat is the first rodent model to exhibit the full range of brain changes found in Alzheimer's, researchers report in The Journal of Neuroscience.

Read more

3:18am

Mon April 8, 2013
Shots - Health News

Listen Up To Smarter, Smaller Hearing Aids

Originally published on Mon April 8, 2013 10:17 am

Composer Richard Einhorn lost most of his hearing several years ago, but that hasn't held him back, thanks to state-of-the-art digital hearing aids.
Kevin Rivoli AP

One day in the fall of 2010, composer Richard Einhorn woke up and realized there was something horribly wrong with his hearing.

"There was an enormous, violent buzzing in my ears," he says. "And I realized that my right ear had gone completely deaf."

Read more

7:08pm

Tue April 2, 2013
Shots - Health News

Obama's Plan To Explore The Brain: A 'Most Audacious' Project

Originally published on Mon April 8, 2013 2:35 pm

A colored 3-D MRI scan of the brain's white matter pathways traces connections between cells in the cerebrum and the brainstem.
Tom Barrick, Chris Clark, SGHMS Science Source

President Obama has announced an ambitious plan to explore the mysteries of the human brain.

In a speech Tuesday, Obama said he will ask Congress for $100 million in 2014 to "better understand how we think and how we learn and how we remember." Other goals include finding new treatments for Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy and traumatic brain injury.

Read more

3:08am

Fri March 29, 2013
Shots - Health News

Number Of Early Childhood Vaccines Not Linked To Autism

Originally published on Thu March 20, 2014 4:33 pm

A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds no link between the number of vaccinations a young child receives and the risk of developing autism spectrum disorders.
Jeff J. Mitchell Getty Images

A large new government study should reassure parents who are afraid that kids are getting autism because they receive too many vaccines too early in life.

The study, by researchers at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, found no connection between the number of vaccines a child received and his or her risk of autism spectrum disorder. It also found that even though kids are getting more vaccines these days, those vaccines contain many fewer of the substances that provoke an immune response.

Read more

3:28am

Tue March 26, 2013
Shots - Health News

Maybe Isolation, Not Loneliness, Shortens Life

Originally published on Wed March 27, 2013 11:54 am

People who are socially isolated may be at a greater risk of dying sooner, a British study suggests. But do Facebook friends count? How about texting?
iStockphoto.com

Loneliness hurts, but social isolation can kill you. That's the conclusion of a study of more than 6,500 people in the U.K.

The study, by a team at University College London, comes after decades of research showing that both loneliness and infrequent contact with friends and family can, independently, shorten a person's life. The scientists expected to find that the combination of these two risk factors would be especially dangerous.

Read more

3:13am

Mon March 25, 2013
Shots - Health News

How An Unlikely Drug Helps Some Children Consumed By Fear

Originally published on Tue March 26, 2013 12:01 pm

George McCann has been diagnosed with a subtype of bipolar disorder called the "fear of harm" profile, and finds that a prescribed dose of ketamine every few days alleviates his symptoms.
Michael Rubenstein for NPR

As far back as he can remember, George McCann lived in fear. When he was asleep he would have horrific nightmares filled with violent images. When he was awake, he often felt threatened by people, including members of his own family. And when he felt threatened, he would become aggressive, even violent.

George spent his childhood certain that something very bad was going to happen. And when he was 12, it did. His unrelenting fears led to a violent outburst at school. And George landed in a psychiatric hospital.

Read more

3:15am

Tue March 19, 2013
Shots - Health News

Alzheimer's 'Epidemic' Now A Deadlier Threat To Elderly

Originally published on Wed March 20, 2013 7:44 am

Social worker Nuria Casulleres shows a portrait of Audrey Hepburn to elderly men during a memory activity at the Cuidem La Memoria elderly home in Barcelona, Spain, last August. The home specializes in Alzheimer's patients.
David Ramos Getty Images

Alzheimer's disease doesn't just steal memories. It takes lives.

The disease is now the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., and figures released Tuesday by the Alzheimer's Association show that deaths from the disease increased by 68 percent between 2000 and 2010.

Read more

4:30pm

Wed March 6, 2013
Shots - Health News

Hear That? In A Din Of Voices, Our Brains Can Tune In To One

Originally published on Thu March 7, 2013 11:49 am

Scientists say that understanding how the cocktail party effect works could help people who have trouble deciphering sounds in a noisy environment. Guests make it look easy at a Dolce and Gabbana Lounge party in London in 2010.
Paul Jeffers AP

Scientists are beginning to understand how people tune in to a single voice in a crowded, noisy room.

This ability, known as the "cocktail party effect," appears to rely on areas of the brain that have completely filtered out unwanted sounds, researchers report in the journal Neuron. So when a person decides to focus on a particular speaker, other speakers "have no representation in those [brain] areas," says Elana Zion Golumbic of Columbia University.

Read more

4:50pm

Fri March 1, 2013
The Salt

How Did Our Brains Evolve To Equate Food With Love?

Originally published on Tue March 5, 2013 12:12 pm

Bonobos share a piece of fruit at the Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Jingzhi Tan Duke University

If food is love, Americans must love their kids a lot. About one-third of children and adolescents in the U.S. are overweight or obese.

And our emotional response to food may be one of the reasons so many kids eat so much, according to a poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health. The poll found that in more than a quarter of families, food is considered an important way to show affection.

Read more

4:31pm

Tue February 12, 2013
Shots - Health News

Folic Acid For Pregnant Mothers Cuts Kids' Autism Risk

Originally published on Mon February 25, 2013 1:19 pm

Despite public health campaigns urging women in the U.S. to take folic acid, many are still not taking the supplements when they become pregnant.
iStockphoto.com

A common vitamin supplement appears to dramatically reduce a woman's risk of having a child with autism.

A study of more than 85,000 women in Norway found that those who started taking folic acid before getting pregnant were about 40 percent less likely to have a child who developed the disorder, researchers reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Read more

3:31am

Mon February 4, 2013
Shots - Health News

Shortage Of Brain Tissue Hinders Autism Research

Originally published on Tue February 5, 2013 8:39 am

Jonathan Mitchell is autistic and wants to donate his brain to science when he dies.
David Gilkey NPR

Research on autism is being hobbled by a shortage of brain tissue.

The brain tissue comes from people with autism who have died, and it has allowed researchers to make key discoveries about how the disorder affects brain development.

Read more

4:28pm

Wed January 16, 2013
Shots - Health News

Mental Health Gun Laws Unlikely To Reduce Shootings

Originally published on Thu January 17, 2013 11:11 am

State Senator Jeff Klein (L-R), Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy and Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins congratulate New York Governor Andrew Cuomo after he signed the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act on Tuesday.
Hans Pennink Reuters/Landov

States aren't likely to prevent many shootings by requiring mental health professionals to report potentially violent patients, psychiatrists and psychologists say.

Read more

2:16pm

Wed January 9, 2013
Shots - Health News

Alzheimer's Drug Dials Back Deafness In Mice

Originally published on Mon April 8, 2013 8:34 am

If you know some mice that took This Is Spinal Tap too literally, they might want to know about an experiment to restore hearing with a failed Alzheimer's drug.
The Kobal Collection

If you've spent years CRANKING YOUR MUSIC UP TO 11, this item's for you.

A drug developed for Alzheimer's disease can partially reverse hearing loss caused by exposure to extremely loud sounds, an international team reports in the journal Neuron.

Before you go back to rocking the house with your Van Halen collection, though, consider that the drug has only been tried in mice so far. And it has never been approved for human use.

Read more

3:29am

Mon December 31, 2012
Environment

A Busy And Head-Scratching 2012 Hurricane Season

Originally published on Mon December 31, 2012 5:46 am

This satellite image from Oct. 28 shows Hurricane Sandy in the Atlantic Ocean before making landfall.
NASA via Getty Images

Superstorm Sandy is what most people will remember from the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season. But Sandy was just one of 10 hurricanes this year — a hurricane season that was both busy and strange.

Late summer is when the hurricane season usually gets busy. But Greg Jenkins, a professor of atmospheric science at Howard University, says this year was different.

Read more

3:20pm

Wed December 26, 2012
Shots - Health News

Despite Uneven Results, Alzheimer's Research Suggests A Path For Treatment

Originally published on Wed December 26, 2012 7:24 pm

Brain scans using Amyvid dye to highlight beta-amyloid plaques in the brain. Clockwise from top left: a cognitively normal subject; an amyloid-positive patient with Alzheimer's disease; a patient with mild cognitive impairment who progressed to dementia during a study; and a patient with mild cognitive impairment.
Slide courtesy of the journal Neurology

It's been a mixed year for Alzheimer's research. Some promising drugs failed to stop or even slow the disease. But researchers also found reasons to think that treatments can work if they just start sooner.

Scientists who study Alzheimer's say they aren't discouraged by the drug failures. "I actually think it was a phenomenal year for research," says Bill Rebeck, a brain scientist at Georgetown University.

Read more

3:59pm

Fri December 21, 2012
Shots - Health News

Killer's DNA Won't Explain His Crime

Originally published on Fri December 21, 2012 9:21 pm

A person's DNA can say a lot about a person, but not why someone has committed a horrific crime like mass murder.
iStockphoto.com

Connecticut's chief medical examiner, Wayne Carver, has raised the possibility of requesting genetic tests on Adam Lanza, the man responsible for the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Carver hasn't said precisely what he may want geneticists to look for, but scientists who study the links between genes and violence say those tests won't reveal much about why Lanza did what he did.

Read more

3:36am

Mon December 17, 2012
Shots - Health News

Experts Argue Against Proposed Ban On Vaccine Preservative

Originally published on Mon December 17, 2012 8:55 am

A boy in Lima, Peru, receives a hepatitis B vaccine during an immunization drive in 2008. The United Nations is considering a ban on the preservative thimerosal, which is often used in hepatitis B and other vaccines in developing countries.
Martin Mejia AP

An old complaint about the safety of childhood vaccines is finding new life at the United Nations.

The U.N. Environment Program is considering a ban on thimerosal, a vaccine preservative that is widely used in developing countries. The program expects to make a decision sometime after a final meeting on the issue in January.

Read more

4:23pm

Mon November 19, 2012
Shots - Health News

Matching DNA With Medical Records To Crack Disease And Aging

Originally published on Wed November 21, 2012 5:29 pm

A light micrograph image of telomeres, shown in yellow, at the end of human chromosomes. Women tend to have longer telomeres than men and tend to outlive men, according to new research matching genetic information with medical records.
Peter Lansdorp Visuals Unlimited/Corbis

A massive research project in California is beginning to show how genes, health habits and the environment can interact to cause diseases. And it's all possible because 100,000 people agreed to contribute some saliva in the name of science.

Read more

3:21am

Thu November 8, 2012
Shots - Health News

The Beatles' Surprising Contribution To Brain Science

Originally published on Thu November 8, 2012 11:18 am

The Beatles rehearse for that night's Royal Variety Performance at the Prince of Wales Theatre in 1963.
Central/Hulton Achive/Getty Images

The same brain system that controls our muscles also helps us remember music, scientists say.

When we listen to a new musical phrase, it is the brain's motor system — not areas involved in hearing — that helps us remember what we've heard, researchers reported at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in New Orleans last month.

Read more

5:02pm

Tue November 6, 2012
Superstorm Sandy: Before, During And Beyond

Protection From The Sea Is Possible, But Expensive

Originally published on Wed November 7, 2012 9:14 am

Residents of the Colonial Place neighborhood watch as heavy rain from Hurricane Sandy floods the Lafayette River in Norfolk, Va., on Oct. 28.
Rich-Joseph Facun Reuters/Landov

While New York City and other places along the Northeast coast are still recovering from Superstorm Sandy, they're also looking ahead to how they can prevent flooding in the future, when sea level rise will make the problem worse. They may be able to take some lessons from coastal Norfolk, Va., which is far ahead of most cities when it comes to flood protection.

Read more

3:19am

Tue November 6, 2012
Superstorm Sandy: Before, During And Beyond

Norfolk, Va., Puts Flooding Survival Plan To The Test

Originally published on Tue November 6, 2012 12:18 pm

Motorists drive through standing water at an intersection flooded from the remnants of Tropical Storm Ida in the Ocean View area of Norfolk, Va., in November 2009.
Steve Helber AP

Superstorm Sandy got officials in New York and New Jersey talking about how to prevent flooding in a time of global warming and sea level rise.

But the place on the East Coast that's most vulnerable to flooding is several hundred miles south, around Norfolk, Va. — and Norfolk has already spent many years studying how to survive the rising waters.

Scientists say what Norfolk has learned is especially important in light of new research showing that the coastline from North Carolina to Boston will experience even more sea level rise than other areas.

Read more

5:34pm

Wed October 31, 2012
Science

High-Def Storm Models Yielded Accurate Predictions

Originally published on Wed October 31, 2012 6:53 pm

These computer models from Oct. 26 of then-Hurricane Sandy show different predictions for the storm's path.
NOAA

Better satellites, smarter computer models and faster computers helped government forecasters correctly predict the devastation from Hurricane Sandy, scientists say.

It's unlikely the forecast would have been nearly as accurate just a couple of decades ago, they say.

"The National Hurricane Center did a fantastic job, particularly with the track forecast and the intensity forecast as it was moving toward the Northeast," says Sharan Majumdar, an associate professor of meteorology and physical oceanography at the University of Miami.

Read more

5:34am

Sat October 27, 2012
The Two-Way

Storm's Uncertain Track Defies Weather Rules

Originally published on Sat October 27, 2012 7:53 pm

In this satellite image provided Friday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Hurricane Sandy's huge cloud extent of up to 2,000 miles churns over the Bahamas, as a line of clouds associated with a powerful cold front approaches the East Coast of the U.S.
Handout Getty Images

It's still unclear whether Sandy will be a devastating storm or just a bad one.

It is clear, however, that Sandy will be remembered as the storm that broke all the rules and baffled the nation's top weather forecasters.

Early Saturday morning, the National Weather Service downgraded the storm from a hurricane to a tropical storm — only to return it to hurricane status a few hours later. Either way, forecasters warn, "widespread impacts" are expected along the coast.

Read more

4:56pm

Wed October 24, 2012
Animals

In Animal Kingdom, Voting Of A Different Sort Reigns

Originally published on Thu October 25, 2012 9:57 am

A school of manini fish passes over a coral reef at Hanauma Bay in 2005, in Honolulu. Researchers say schooling behavior like the kind seen in fish helps groups of animals make better decisions than any one member of the group could.
Donald Miralle Getty Images

As part of NPR's coverage of this year's presidential election, All Things Considered asked three science reporters to weigh in on the race. The result is a three-part series on the science of leadership. In Part 1, Alix Spiegel looked at the personalities of American presidents.

Voters could learn some things about choosing a leader from a fish. Or a chimp. Or an elephant.

Read more

Pages