Quotulatiousness

July 5, 2015

A half-baked theory from John Derbyshire

Filed under: Health,Randomness — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

How much reality can you stand? John Derbyshire says it’s less than we used to be able to cope with:

T.S. Eliot’s observation that “human kind cannot bear very much reality” is surely up among the half-dozen wisest things ever said about our common nature.

There is, of course, individual variation in how much reality we can bear. I flatter myself by believing I am up toward the high end. I readily admit, however, that I have spent not insignificant portions of my life in a state of self-delusion driven by wishful thinking — a hugely underestimated force in human affairs. Some humility is in order, and not just for me.

There is group variation, too. Speaking generally, and again with much individual variation, the old can bear more reality than the young; men more than women; people in up-against-it professions like medicine or law enforcement more than those in comparatively sheltered occupations; people educated in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, math) more than humanities majors; and so on.

I am now going to propose a half-baked theory to you.

Theory: In advanced societies, the average amount of reality people can bear has declined across the past few decades.

This, I believe, has something to do with the ever-increasing availability of screen-based entertainment (movies, TV, the internet), something to do with the decline of religion, something to do with the revolution in manners that we call “political correctness,” and something to do with the falloff in violence, as chronicled by Steven Pinker.

There are surely connections there; but which is cause, which is effect, and which mere symptom, I don’t know. That’s why the theory is half-baked.

Illustrations: As we have seen these past few days, the whole zone of “identity” is shot through with barefaced, unblushing denial of reality.

All but a very tiny proportion of human beings are biologically male (an X and a Y chromosome in the genome) or female (two X chromosomes). A person who is biologically of one sex but believes himself to be of the other is in the grip of a delusion. That is what everybody would have said 50 years ago.

Some of those who said it would have followed up with an expression of disgust; some with unkind mockery; some with sympathy and suggestions for psychiatric counseling. Well-nigh nobody would have said: “Well, if he thinks he’s a gal, then he is a gal.” Yet that is the majority view nowadays. It is a flagrant denial of reality; but if you scoff at it, you place yourself out beyond the borders of acceptable opinion.

July 3, 2015

The unintended consequences of a bottled water ban

Filed under: Bureaucracy,Economics,Health,Politics,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Mark J. Perry talks about the outcome of a well-intended ban of bottled water at the University of Vermont:

Here’s the abstract of the research article “The Unintended Consequences of Changes in Beverage Options and the Removal of Bottled Water on a University Campus,” which was just published in the July 2015 issue of the American Journal of Public Health (emphasis added):

    Objectives. We investigated how the removal of bottled water along with a minimum healthy beverage requirement affected the purchasing behavior, healthiness of beverage choices, and consumption of calories and added sugars of university campus consumers.

    Methods. With shipment data as a proxy, we estimated bottled beverage consumption over 3 consecutive semesters: baseline (spring 2012), when a 30% healthy beverage ratio was enacted (fall 2012), and when bottled water was removed (spring 2013) at the University of Vermont. We assessed changes in number and type of beverages and per capita calories, total sugars, and added sugars shipped.

    Results. Per capita shipments of bottles, calories, sugars, and added sugars increased significantly when bottled water was removed. Shipments of healthy beverages declined significantly, whereas shipments of less healthy beverages increased significantly. As bottled water sales dropped to zero, sales of sugar-free beverages and sugar-sweetened beverages increased.

    Conclusions. The bottled water ban did not reduce the number of bottles entering the waste stream from the university campus, the ultimate goal of the ban. With the removal of bottled water, consumers increased their consumption of less healthy bottled beverages.

[…]

Wow, nothing worked out as expected by the college administrators at the University of Vermont: a) the per capita number of bottles shipped to the University of Vermont increased significantly following the bottled water ban, and b) students, faculty and staff increased their consumption of less healthy bottled beverages following the bottled water ban. Another great example of the Law of Unintended Consequences. And the bottled water ban was not costless – the university paid to modify 68 drinking fountains, they paid for a publicity campaign, and they paid for lots of “free” reusable water bottles; and what they got was more plastic bottles on campus of less healthy beverages!

June 23, 2015

QotD: The Physician

Filed under: Health,Humour,Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Hygiene is the corruption of medicine by morality. It is impossible to find a hygienist who does not debase his theory of the healthful with a theory of the virtuous. The whole hygienic art, indeed, resolves itself into an ethical exhortation, and, in the sub-department of sex, into a puerile and belated advocacy of asceticism. This brings it, at the end, into diametrical conflict with medicine proper. The aim of medicine is surely not to make men virtuous; it is to safeguard and rescue them from the consequences of their vices. The true physician does not preach repentance; he offers absolution.

H.L. Mencken, “Types of Men 5: The Physician”, Prejudices, Third Series, 1922.

June 22, 2015

QotD: Obesity

Filed under: Health,Quotations,USA — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:00

The most maddening example of this is, of course, the case of thin people, or folks who could really stand to lose ten pounds, lecturing the obese on how stupid they are for letting themselves get fat. […]

As a friend who really struggles with his weight points out, the author seems not to understand that for people with a weight problem, weight loss often involves both: you’re tired and miserable and overweight, and also, you’re spending a huge amount of mental energy counting calories and making time for exercise.

Moreover, this really underplays the amount of mental energy we’re talking about. When you talk to people who have successfully lost really large amounts of weight as adults — amounts that bring them from the really risky “super-obese” category into something more normal — you find two things. First, that most of them don’t keep it off, unless they have bariatric surgery, in which case, 50 percent of them keep it off. And second, that the people who are keeping the weight off without surgery are going to extreme lengths to maintain their weight loss, lengths that most of us would probably find difficult to fit into our lives: weighing every ounce of food they consume, counting calories obsessively, exercising for long periods every day, and constantly battling “intrusive thoughts of food.”

It’s not quite fair to say that most of the public health experts I’ve seen talking about obesity are thin people brightly telling fat people that “Everything would be fine if you’d just be more like me!” But it’s not really that far off the mark, either. In the words of another friend who struggled with his weight, and got quite testy when I suggested weight loss was easy, “You’ve hit the pick six in the genetic lottery, and you think you earned it.”

Megan McArdle, “Dinner, With a Side of Self-Righteousness”, Bloomberg View, 2015-03-27.

June 18, 2015

Nutrition … what we thought we knew is wrong, again

Filed under: Government,Health,Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At Real Clear Science, Ross Pomeroy explains how historical “expert knowledge” and government cheerleading pointed in exactly the opposite direction of today’s experts and government regulators:

For decades, the federal government has been advising Americans on what to eat. Those recommendations have been subject to the shifting sands of dietary science. And have those sands ever been shifting. At first, fat and cholesterol were vilified, while sugar was mostly let off the hook. Now, fat is fine (saturated fat is still evil, though), cholesterol is back, and sugar is the new bogeyman.

Why the sizable shift? The answer may be “bad science.”

Every five years, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, composed of nutrition and health experts from around the country, convenes to review the latest scientific and medical literature. From their learned dissection, they form the dietary guidelines.

But according to a new editorial published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, much of the science they review is fundamentally flawed. Unlike experiments in the hard sciences of chemistry, physics, and biology, which rely on direct observational evidence, most diet studies are based on self-reported data. Study subjects are examined for height, weight, and health, then are questioned about what they eat. Their dietary choices are subsequently linked to health outcomes — cancer, mortality, heart disease, etc.

That’s a poor way of doing science, says Edward Archer, a research fellow with the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at the University of Alabama, and lead author of the report.

“The assumption that human memory can provide accurate or precise reproductions of past ingestive behavior is indisputably false,” he and his co-authors write.

Two of the largest studies on nutritional intake in the United States, the CDC’s NHANES and “What We Eat,” are based on asking subjects to recall precisely what and how much they usually eat.

But despite all of the steps that NHANES examiners take to aid recall, such as limiting the recall period to the previous 24 hours and even offering subjects measuring guides to help them report accurate data, the information received is wildly inaccurate. An analysis conducted by Archer in 2013 found that most of the 60,000+ NHANES subjects report eating a lower amount of calories than they would physiologically need to survive, let alone to put on all the weight that Americans have in the past few decades.

June 16, 2015

Over-diagnosis as a root cause of the “addiction surge”

Filed under: Health,Science — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Stanton Peele is not happy with the latest version of the standard psychological diagnosis document:

The American Psychiatric Association creates the gold standard for diagnoses of mental disorders in the United States — and worldwide — through its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. DSM-IV was published in 1994. In 2013, DSM-5 was released.

As I describe in the March, 2014 issue of Reason, there are several notable peculiarities about the manual. DSM-5

    eliminates the distinction between dependence and abuse. Instead it classifies substance use disorders as mild, moderate, or severe. Thus the DSM-5 does not explicitly recognize such a thing as drug addiction or dependence. But under “Substance Use and Addictive Disorders” the manual includes a category called “Behavioral Addictions” that so far consists of a lone entry: “Gambling Disorder.”

These two major conceptual changes immediately aroused suspicion. Writing in the New York Times, investigative reporter Ian Urbina accused the psychiatric establishment and pharmaceutical industry of expanding the whole treatment enterprise by including “mild” substance use disorders, as well as recognizing things other than substances as being addictive. Keith Humphreys, a Stanford psychology professor, “predicted that as many as 20 million people who were previously not recognized as having a substance abuse problem would probably be included under the new definition.”

My argument is more fundamental. The ways of thinking about substance use and disorders embedded in DSM-5 and promoted by American psychiatry are actually causing an epidemic of these disorders.

June 15, 2015

“The destruction of the family is the single most destructive force in the past 40 years”

Filed under: Health,Politics,USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Gavin McInnes talks to Dr. Amier Carmel, a New York psychoanalyst, about trauma and “cry-bullies”:

He describes the cry-bullies as people with “an intense need to control” and says that “the resentment associated with this need to correct is often an induced feeling used to fix another problem.” This makes perfect sense. Whenever I argue with liberals and they preach to me about immigration, education, or women’s rights, their lack of knowledge on the subject makes it clear they’ve never looked it up. “It’s never about what it’s about,” as Derb would say. Ask them how many illegals are in the country and they’ll rarely get within 10 million of the number. Ask them how much we spend per student per year and they’ll say, “Not enough.” Ask them how much young women without kids make compared with men and they’ll say, “Women need a choice.” They’re not in it for the truth. They’re in it for the platitudes of the crusade and the power it evokes. We all know that by know. The question is why.

Carmel has a fascinating answer. “The destruction of the family,” he opines, “is the single most destructive force in the past 40 years.” Amier then discusses the back-and-forth kids do, going from mom to dad every time they have a grievance. “This dance,” he says, “is how we attain justice. It’s how the parameters of our sense of internal integrity are defined.” Amier seems particularly concerned with the lack of fathers. “The father sets down the law. When he is not there, a sense of anxiety takes root and that leads to outwardly directed hostility. Soon you are looking to the outside world to show you what the limits are. You’re ‘acting out’ and hoping society will control you. The desire for paternal law becomes pathologized.” Amier calls PC violations “narcissistic injury” and adds that this fear-driven petulance becomes especially dangerous when the ideology becomes someone’s entire identity. “When that happens,” he says, “it’s as though rationality and socialized relationships dissolve. The ideologically identified person can often become wildly reckless because they seek the obscuring of accountability with increased pathos.”

We can see this in the liberal demigod Che Guevera. His insatiable lust for power was cloaked as a need for justice, but it’s arguably just a case of a mentally ill child trying to impose order on a world he felt was spinning out of control. Che grew up in a household where his emotionally absent father would openly flaunt infidelity. Ernesto Guevara Lynch was a loser who blew his wife’s fortune on himself and young girls. I’ve noticed a pattern with liberals and fathers who were negligent and financially irresponsible. So much of their belief system seems to come from revenge. This is why they attack white men for looking at someone funny but turn a blind eye to a child prostitution ring in Rotherham. This is also why feminists won’t shut up about the “white male patriarchy” (“patriarch” meaning “father”) but have nothing to say about the shocking difference between black-on-white rape and white-on-black rape. Che is no different. He took his pain and turned it into a crusade against the world. This is why liberals put him on a T-shirt. They don’t like him because he freed Cuba or forced socialism down its throat. They like him because he personifies the cry-bully.

QotD: The modern Alcoholics Anonymous

Filed under: Health,Humour,Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I picked the wrong year to quit drinking.

If you’ve never been to an old-school AA meeting, imagine Vince Lombardi’s locker room if he’d been coaching Pilgrims with Tourette’s: a spartan, Quaker-meeting setup, all bootstrapping, no bullshit. A newcomer dumb enough to whine about their “feelings” gets ordered to scrub out the coffee urn by a gruff “old timer.”

That’s not what I slunk into in 1992, by which time then-faddish PBS fixture John “Finding Your Inner Child” Bradshaw had accidentally turned Alcoholics Anonymous into a New Age unicorn-and-rainbows therapeutic weep-fest that would’ve disgusted Greatest Generation founders Bill W. and Dr. Bob, who probably kept their fedoras on in the gutter.

Some meetings even served decaf.

Believe me: “Low self-esteem” is not your typical boozehound’s problem. Then again, about half the people I met in “the rooms” weren’t even alcoholics, just neurotics too cheap to get real therapy.

Remember, it was the 1990s, the era of The X-Files and Oprah at her tabloid low: at every 12-Step meeting, you’d meet “survivors of ritualistic Satanic abuse” and “recovered memory victims” and alien abductees and even “starseeds,” the self-proclaimed spawn of spacemen who’ve been sent to Earth to…do something or other. (Luckily the latter two never came to blows.)

There were so many “multiple personalities” at some meetings, we were probably breaking fire codes without knowing it.

And I lived in Boystown, so lots of the real drunks were gay, bi, trannies, lesbians of convenience, and even “two-spirited” (AKA gay Indians).

Despite all this, I never drank after my first meeting (ODAAT), worked the Steps, got a new job, and ten years later, I looked around at all the people who still hadn’t and thought, “I didn’t get sober so I could spend the rest of my life with these losers.”

It took me a decade to notice that none of the 12 Steps is “Go to meetings.” So I stopped. I couldn’t take the crazies. In retrospect, I was the crazy one for thinking I was rid of them.

Kathy Shaidle, “My Otherkin Headmate is a Two-Spirited Starseed!”, Taki’s Magazine, 2013-03-05.

June 2, 2015

The Chemistry of Cannabis & Synthetic Cannabinoids

Filed under: Health,Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Compound Interest posted an infographic on cannabis and synthetic cannabinoids:

Click to see full-sized infographic.

Click to see full-sized infographic.

In recent years, there’s been an increase in the number of media reports on users of synthetic cannabinoids. Commonly referred to by names such as ‘Spice’ or ‘K2′, the most recent reported case involved five UK students being hospitalised after use. But what are the chemicals present in ‘spice’ and similar drugs, and what are the chemical compounds in cannabis that they aim to mimic? That’s what this graphic and post attempt to answer.

May 22, 2015

QotD: Triggers and triggering

Filed under: Health,Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The thing is, triggering is a valid concept in psychology and counseling. But it has been swiped and used inappropriately.

The area I’m familiar with is Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), but it’s a useful concept in other areas, like PTSD. DID is what used to be called “multiple personality disorder.” Years ago I married a woman with DID. She was high functioning, but under stress, she started switching alters (terms of art). In other words, she started changing personalities. I didn’t know it at the time, so the behavior appeared either deliberate and purely evil, or it was some form of extreme psychosis. I didn’t know. I couldn’t tell. This is where a little knowledge on my part would have gone a long way.* It turns out I was triggering her. I know this in retrospect, having put the pieces together in the time since. I’m the one who increased her stress. My stark reactions to her behavior made her switching worse. I was, frankly, scared out of my wits, and my honest what the hell? responses were damaging. I was a machine gun of triggers. Worst of all, I eventually brought out her protection alters. These personalities will defend the ego at any cost. They lack empathy and, indeed, appear sociopathic. They have to. They have a job to do.

    * She didn’t tell me. Knowing what was going on — knowing about DID and triggering — would have allowed me to respond properly. The right way is to a) be attuned to the possibility of a switch and b) be polite and respectful when one arises and kindly explain to the “new personality” things like where you are, how you got there and, most importantly, that everything is okay. Here’s an example of when this would have been helpful: she switched in a grocery store checkout line once. She suddenly appeared surprised and bewildered to be standing there. She seemed amazed at her clothes. I didn’t know what was going on, but at least I didn’t say anything that time. My private reaction: “What the hell was that?” The best reaction would have been something like, “Hi, hon. We stopped by here on the way home from work. So glad it’s Friday. I’m looking forward to the cookout tonight.”

Another thing caring family members and friends can do is develop a mental list of potential triggers and try to avoid them. The point is, this is what the the concept of “triggering” is all about. This is who triggering is for. It’s for people who have serious medical issues. It’s not about the New Victorians and things that make them uncomfy, even if they do get the vapours on occasion.

The concept of triggering is for those who are close to a person who is hurting: family members, close friends, and mental health professionals. It is for when you are knowingly dealing with someone who has a problem. If you know a topic, a word, or an image that might cause someone difficulty, you can avoid it. Accordingly, trigger warnings are for known situations where sufferers might encounter common triggers, like if you’re conducting a seminar for people with PTSD or writing a book for people with DID. Triggering is not a concern for the general public. You and I do not have to worry about triggering some unknown person. There is no way to trigger-proof our entire culture on the chance you might affect a stranger with an emotional or mental problem. And there is absolutely no need to worry about triggering Social Justice Warrior snowflakes and prudes. No one has to walk on eggshells around them. They need to learn to own their feelings.

Speech police types who use triggering improperly to shut down speech are misguided. Opposing political views should be discussed. Comedy does not have to be anodyne. Stories and movies need not be bland, and we do not need to live in a way that kowtows to those with aggressively delicate sensibilities. Unless you’re dealing with a family member or a friend who has a real problem, say what you want to say. Don’t allow the speech police to make fun, free expression taboo.

rdbrewer, “Triggers and Triggering”, Ace of Spades H.Q., 2015-05-13.

May 18, 2015

Your diet isn’t working. And neither is yours. And yours, too.

Filed under: Health — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In the Washington Post, Roberto A. Ferdman dishes the dirt on every diet guru’s most brilliant brain-fart … they don’t actually work.

For centuries, men and women have worked tirelessly to fit the physical molds of their time. Diets, which have ranged from the straightforward to the colorful and kind of silly, have produced a wide range of results — and all sorts of followings.

Not long ago, the Atkins diet villainized carbohydrates and convinced millions to avoid starches of any kind. Today, the Paleo diet, which purports to emulate the eating habits and digestive systems of ancient humans who lived for many fewer years than people on average do today, is perhaps the most popular — or at least talked about — dietary fad. Soon there will be another fad that sweeps the dieting conversation. And another one.

The question that seems to hover over all this diet talk is whether any of the myriad weight loss schemes have worked. If one had, shouldn’t it have survived the test of time? And if we’ve gone this long without a diet that has been shown to work — according to science, not simply the sellers of the fad — will one ever emerge that actually does?

The short answer is no, according to Traci Mann, who teaches psychology at the University of Minnesota and has been studying eating habits, self-control and dieting for more than 20 years. Over the course of her research, largely conducted at the University of Minnesota’s Health and Eating Lab, Mann has repeatedly asked these sorts of questions, and always found the same disappointing answers.

April 30, 2015

Organic wines as mere marketing buzz and gimickry

Filed under: Business,Health,Science,Wine — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At VinePair, Kathleen Willcox explains why the “organic” label on your wine may be little more than a marketing ploy:

A lot of the buzz and imagery about organics appears to be just that – empty sound bites and gimmicks created by folks eager to cash in on the increasingly lucrative organic market. Where does that leave us? Not in an easy place.

Falling for marketers’ ploys is practically a full-time occupation in America (I’m not the only one who’s bought multiple cartons of fat-free ice cream hoping, this time, to finally find “creamy fat-free vanilla bliss” right?). Consumers’ perception of what organic agriculture is vs. the reality, and the halo of virtue with which it is bequeathed (and conventional agriculture’s implicit pair of devil’s horns) is, arguably, one of the biggest boondoggles in our culture today. More than half of Americans (55%) go organic because they believe it’s healthier. Meanwhile, there is really no evidence to back that assumption up. And even organic farmers use pesticides (sorry random lady at the bar). They just happen to be “natural.”

It’s never been a better time for organic marketers and companies. The market for organic food and beverages worldwide was estimated to be $80.4 billion in 2013 and is set to reach $161.5 billion in 2018, a compound annual growth rate of 15% per year. North America has the biggest market share, and will be responsible for roughly $66.2 billion by 2018.

But in the rush to get organic products out the door (and fulfill the public’s desire for healthier, more environmentally responsible products), some producers are often doing little more than following the letter of the USDA law to earn the “organic” label, consequences to the environment and our overall health be damned. In fact, from what producers and studies revealed, it may actually be worse for the environment and your body to buy organic wine from a large manufacturer instead of buying wine produced from grapes on a smaller vineyard sprayed judiciously with synthetic pesticides by a hands-on farmer.

April 21, 2015

The statistical anomalies of sex

Filed under: Health,Randomness — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

As the old saying has it, “everyone lies about sex“:

Straight men have had twice as many sexual partners, on average, as straight women. Sounds plausible, seeing that men supposedly think about sex every seven seconds. Except that it’s mathematically impossible: in a closed population with as many men as women (which roughly there are) the averages should match up. Someone is being dishonest, but who? And why? These questions, along with many others, are explored in Sex by numbers, a new book by David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge.

“Sex is a great topic,” says Spiegelhalter. “There’s lots of it going on, but we don’t know what goes on or how much of it, because most of the time it goes on behind closed doors. It’s a really difficult topic to investigate scientifically, and a real challenge for statistics.” Spiegelhalter’s aim is to get people interested in a critical approach to the numbers they hear about in the news and give them the tools to figure out if they can be believed. “It’s really a book about statistics, using sex as an example.”

Statistics about sex are not all equally good. Some, like the number of births in a given year, are cast-iron facts, but others are much harder to come by. The number of sexual partners is a good example. The mismatch above comes from the third The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal), conducted between 2010 and 2012, in which men reported having had 14 sexual partners, on average, and women 7. Studies have suggested that women give lower numbers when they fear the survey isn’t entirely confidential, something that doesn’t seem to affect men (contrary to my expectation, it doesn’t induce them to exaggerate). So that’s one possible explanation for the mismatch: sadly, women still need to fear social stigma.

But there are other explanations too. One is that men (more than women) may have some of their sexual experience with sex workers. These aren’t included in the surveys, so their experiences are missing from the female tally. Another is that there are different attitudes as to what counts as a sexual partner. If a woman feels she’s been coerced by a man, for example, she may not want to count him.

April 19, 2015

The latest “breakthrough” in helping schizophrenics take their medicine

Filed under: Health,Humour — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Scott Alexander recently attended a local psychiatry conference, with some essential themes being emphasized:

This conference consisted of a series of talks about all the most important issues of the day, like ‘The Menace Of Psychologists Being Allowed To Prescribe Medication’, ‘How To Be An Advocate For Important Issues Affecting Your Patients Such As The Possibility That Psychologists Might Be Allowed To Prescribe Them Medication’, and ‘Protecting Members Of Disadvantaged Communities From Psychologists Prescribing Them Medication’.

As somebody who’s noticed that the average waiting list for a desperately ill person to see a psychiatrist is approaching the twelve month mark in some places, I was pretty okay with psychologists prescribing medication. The scare stories about how psychologists might prescribe medications unsafely didn’t have much effect on me, since I continue to believe that putting antidepressants in a vending machine would be a more safety-conscious system than what we have now (a vending machine would at least limit antidepressants to people who have $1.25 in change; the average primary care doctor is nowhere near that selective). Annnnnyway, this made me kind of uncomfortable at the conference and I Struck A Courageous Blow Against The Cartelization Of Medicine by sneaking out without putting my name on their mailing list.

But before I did, I managed to take some notes about what’s going on in the wider psychiatric world, including:

– The newest breakthrough in ensuring schizophrenic people take their medication (a hard problem!) is bundling the pills with an ingestable computer chip that transmits data from the patient’s stomach. It’s a bold plan, somewhat complicated by the fact that one of the most common symptoms of schizophrenia is the paranoid fear that somebody has implanted a chip in your body to monitor you. Can you imagine being a schizophrenic guy who has to explain to your new doctor that your old doctor put computer chips in your pills to monitor you? Yikes. If they go through with this, I hope they publish the results in the form of a sequel to The Three Christs of Ypsilanti.

– The same team is working on a smartphone app to detect schizophrenic relapses. The system uses GPS to monitor location, accelerometer to detect movements, and microphone to check tone of voice and speaking pattern, then throws it into a machine learning system that tries to differentiate psychotic from normal behavior (for example, psychotic people might speak faster, or rock back and forth a lot). Again, interesting idea. But again, one of the most common paranoid schizophrenic delusions is that their electronic devices are monitoring everything they do. If you make every one of a psychotic person’s delusions come true, such that they no longer have any beliefs that do not correspond to reality, does that technically mean you’ve cured them? I don’t know, but I’m glad we have people investigating this important issue.

April 18, 2015

Moral panics and “Shaken Baby Syndrome”

Filed under: Health,Law,Media,Politics,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In L.A. Weekly, Amy Nicholson looks at a new documentary:

It’s never simple when science suffers a shakeup. The road to the truth is littered with fallen experts who were disgraced when they tried to disprove — or prove — the common wisdom, be it that the earth revolves around the sun or that witches float. Today’s researchers are fighting to restore logic in the debate over vaccinations, global warming, and the increasingly hazy medical condition called Shaken Baby Syndrome, whose adherents accuse, pursue and prosecute an estimated 250 parents, babysitters and other caretakers each year.

Veteran investigative journalist Susan Goldsmith has spent years examining the medical and legal industry that has arisen to promote its belief that vicious baby-shaking by enraged adults has killed thousands of infants, the subject of the new documentary, The Syndrome, researched by Goldsmith and directed by her cousin Meryl Goldsmith.

“I made a career writing about child abuse,” she says. Her child abuse investigations as a reporter for The Oregonian led to two new laws designed to better protect kids in foster care. Yet, she also sees extreme, unfounded reactions by well-meaning people when children are involved. Says Goldsmith, “When people hear ‘child abuse,’ all thinking just goes into shutdown mode.”

A diagnosis of Shaken Baby Syndrome was supposed to explain mysterious deaths in babies without bone fractures, bumps, bruises or neck injuries. How did they die? A theory arose that babies were under attack by loved ones. For decades, doctors in the U.S., and dozens of other countries were trained to look for three internal symptoms that experts claimed were proof of a powerful shaking assault on a tiny child: brain swelling, blood on the surface of the brain, and blood behind the eyes. Well-meaning doctors were instructed that these symptoms could only occur due to intense shaking — if a parent or babysitter said the child had fallen or suddenly fell ill, that was a lie.

Proponents of the theory grew so powerful in political circles, where elected officials were keen to show they supported helpless children, that laws were passed across the U.S. requiring a doctor who spotted any of the three symptom to alert authorities. Failure to report symptoms, even if a doctor found the parents’ explanation made sense, could result in fines, civil lawsuits, or even jail time.

We’ve been here before. The Syndrome rewinds back to the 1980s when the big public panic on behalf of children was Satanic Ritual Abuse, a Salem-like national frenzy in which prosecutors and juries in big cities and small towns sent daycare employees to jail for years for crimes as implausible as cutting off a gorilla’s finger while at the zoo, then flying the children over Mexico to molest them.

H/T to Amy Alkon for the link.

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