Quotulatiousness

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.

Correlation, causation, and lobby money

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

Tim Harford‘s latest column on tobacco, research, and lobby money:

It is said that there is a correlation between the number of storks’ nests found on Danish houses and the number of children born in those houses. Could the old story about babies being delivered by storks really be true? No. Correlation is not causation. Storks do not deliver children but larger houses have more room both for children and for storks.

This much-loved statistical anecdote seems less amusing when you consider how it was used in a US Senate committee hearing in 1965. The expert witness giving testimony was arguing that while smoking may be correlated with lung cancer, a causal relationship was unproven and implausible. Pressed on the statistical parallels between storks and cigarettes, he replied that they “seem to me the same”.

The witness’s name was Darrell Huff, a freelance journalist beloved by generations of geeks for his wonderful and hugely successful 1954 book How to Lie with Statistics. His reputation today might be rather different had the proposed sequel made it to print. How to Lie with Smoking Statistics used a variety of stork-style arguments to throw doubt on the connection between smoking and cancer, and it was supported by a grant from the Tobacco Institute. It was never published, for reasons that remain unclear. (The story of Huff’s career as a tobacco consultant was brought to the attention of statisticians in articles by Andrew Gelman in Chance in 2012 and by Alex Reinhart in Significance in 2014.)

Indisputably, smoking causes lung cancer and various other deadly conditions. But the problematic relationship between correlation and causation in general remains an active area of debate and confusion. The “spurious correlations” compiled by Harvard law student Tyler Vigen and displayed on his website (tylervigen.com) should be a warning. Did you realise that consumption of margarine is strongly correlated with the divorce rate in Maine?

April 6, 2015

When the Precautionary Principle meets wine corks

Filed under: Europe,Health,Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In Reason, Baylen Linnekin talks about wine corks and over-cautious would-be regulators:

We flew into Lisbon and drove across the Spanish border to San Vicente de Alcantara, near Caceres, where DIAM makes many of its corks. Once there, our daylong activities included a detailed tour of the DIAM factory and a visit to the nearby cork forest where DIAM obtains cork, which is made from the bark of the eponymous tree.

As I learned on the DIAM tour, the company’s agglomerated corks are made from natural cork that’s first pulverized. The impurities are then removed. Finally, the pure cork that remains is glued back together into the familiar wine cork shape.

Agglomerated corks have two key benefits over competing corks. First, they cost less than natural corks. Second, they eliminate the problem of cork “taint,” a musty taste caused by the presence of a substance found in cork, TCA, that often ruins wines before they’re ever opened.

Sounds great. Still, concern was raised by a wine writer last month, who suggested, quite wrongly in my opinion, that agglomerated corks may be illegal.

How’s that?

The writer, Lewis Purdue of Wine Industry Insight, suggested that the binding agent used by agglomerated cork makers could be leeching into wine. That agent, TDI, is listed as a potential carcinogen. If it were to migrate from cork to wine, that would be bad.

But testing by DIAM and others has shown no detectable level of TDI in wine, meaning there’s no evidence the substance migrates from cork to wine. DIAM also says, firmly, that no such migration occurs.

“Of course we guarantee there’s no TDI migration,” said François Margot, a sales manager with DIAM, told Wine Business writer Cyril Penn.

In that case, there’s no problem, says the FDA. As the FDA explains, agency rules generally permit food packaging to come into contact with food so long as it’s not “reasonably expected to result in substances becoming components of” food.

Why any fuss over agglomerated corks? It stems not from any FDA interest but, rather, from a push by competitors of agglomerated cork makers.

I dislike the kind of composite corks produced by companies like DIAM, but they’re still better than the plastic or other non-cork wine bottle closures a lot of American wineries are using these days.

April 4, 2015

QotD: DO NOT GIVE PSYCHOTHERAPY TO PEOPLE WITHOUT THEIR CONSENT

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

You know, I love science as much as anyone, maybe more, but I have grown to dread the phrase “…according to the research”.

They say that “Confronting triggers, not avoiding them, is the best way to overcome PTSD”. They point out that “exposure therapy” is the best treatment for trauma survivors, including rape victims. And that this involves reliving the trauma and exposing yourself to traumatic stimuli, exactly what trigger warnings are intended to prevent. All this is true. But I feel like they are missing a very important point.

YOU DO NOT GIVE PSYCHOTHERAPY TO PEOPLE WITHOUT THEIR CONSENT.

Psychotherapists treat arachnophobia with exposure therapy, too. They expose people first to cute, little spiders behind a glass cage. Then bigger spiders. Then they take them out of the cage. Finally, in a carefully controlled environment with their very supportive therapist standing by, they make people experience their worst fear, like having a big tarantula crawl all over them. It usually works pretty well.

Finding an arachnophobic person, and throwing a bucket full of tarantulas at them while shouting “I’M HELPING! I’M HELPING!” works less well.

And this seems to be the arachnophobe’s equivalent of the PTSD “advice” in the Pacific Standard. There are two problems with its approach. The first is that it avoids the carefully controlled, anxiety-minimizing setup of psychotherapy.

The second is that YOU DO NOT GIVE PSYCHOTHERAPY TO PEOPLE WITHOUT THEIR CONSENT.

If a person with post-traumatic stress disorder or some other trigger-related problem doesn’t want psychotherapy, then even as a trained psychiatrist I am forbidden to override that decision unless they become an immediate danger to themselves or others.

And if they do want psychotherapy, then very likely they want to do it on their own terms. I try to read things that challenge my biases and may even insult or trigger me, but I do it when I feel like it and not a moment before. When I am feeling adventurous and want to become stronger in some way, I will set myself some strenuous self-improvement task, whether it be going on a long run or reading material I know will be unpleasant. But at the end of a really long and exasperating day when I’m at my wit’s end and just want to relax, I don’t want you chasing me with a sword and making me run for my life, and I don’t want you forcing traumatic material at me.

Scott Alexander, “The Wonderful Thing About Triggers”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-05-30.

April 2, 2015

“… women think about their bodies in much more complicated ways than men do”

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

Amanda Smith on some of the reasons why human male and female shapes are so different from one another, unlike most mammals:

“It just seems that women think about their bodies in much more complicated ways than men do, and that’s kind of bewildering when you’re a man,” he says.

Apart from mere curiosity, Bainbridge has a professional interest: “I’d always thought it was strange that humans are the one species where our females are curvy — you don’t really see that in other species”.

He addresses that question in his book: Curvology: The Origins and Power of Female Body Shape.

At birth, he writes, human babies are around 12 per cent fat by weight. Throughout childhood that average fat level remains consistent between boys and girls. However, by the end of puberty girls of average weight will have have a body composition of 24 to 30 per cent fat, while boys hardly change at all.

“There is a very spectacular stacking on of adipose tissue during those years, and of course that’s what makes women such a distinctive shape compared to men,” says Bainbridge. “Men have got the same as most animals, it’s women that are absolutely exceptional.”

March 17, 2015

BAHFest East 2014 – Barbara Vreede: Alternative Medicine

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

Published on 9 Mar 2015

Dr. Barbara Vreede sheds light on the evolutionary mechanisms behind alternative medicine.

BAHFest is the Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses, a celebration of well-researched, logically explained, and clearly wrong evolutionary theory.

March 10, 2015

Megan McArdle on the politics of aging

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

As with most western countries, the extension of what we consider “normal lifespans” creates financial and demographic changes that our social welfare systems are struggling to keep up with:

Who will take care of all the old people?

That’s the theme of Nicholas Eberstadt’s latest piece on demographics, which I highly recommend to all of you. The core problem of the welfare state is that it relieves people of the need for family to take care of them, but it does not relieve society of the need for caretakers. In fact, because there’s evidence that more generous social-security systems cause people to reduce their fertility, you can argue that these systems are undercutting the very actuarial basis upon which they depend.

The effect is what social-security systems are struggling with around the world: As the ratio of workers to retirees declines, it gets harder and harder to raise the tax revenue to cover benefits. Though Americans talk anxiously about the fiscal health of our systems, international pension-reform wonks actually look enviously at our system, which contains fewer of the incentives for earlier retirement that plague many countries.

But our demographic transition is not just a problem of pension math. There’s also the problem of what it does to economic growth as society ages. As workforce growth slows, so does gross domestic product growth. In theory, this can be made up with greater productivity growth. But productivity growth is moving in the wrong direction — and because older people tend to be more risk-averse as workers and investors, that too may be a natural result of an aging society.

March 8, 2015

Every generation thinks they invented (non-vanilla) sex

Filed under: Health,History,Liberty — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Maggie McNeill can definitely confirm that your great-grandparents knew more about sex than you give them credit for:

group-sex-statueEvery generation thinks it invented sex, or at least non-vanilla sex. And I don’t just mean teenagers who are squicked out by the idea of their parents shagging, either; among vanilla folk and/or those outside the demimonde, the delusion seems to persist through life that nearly everybody who lived before a moving line (hovering like a will-o-the-wisp exactly at the year the believer reached puberty) only had missionary-position sex for the purpose of procreation. Even if the individual is familiar with the Kama Sutra, knows about classical Greek pederasty or has seen the menu of a Victorian brothel, these are likely to be dismissed as islands of kink in a vast sea of unsweetened vanilla custard stretching back into prehistory. Even doctors quoted in newspaper articles are wont to make incredibly stupid, totally wrong statements like “the concept of having oral sex is something that seems less obscure to you than it did to your parents or grandparents.” Well, my dears, I’m old enough to have given birth to many of you reading this, and I can assure you that oral sex was not remotely “obscure” to us in those long-ago and far-off days of the early ‘80s; nor was it “obscure” to any of the older men I trysted with in my late teens, many of whom are now old enough to be your grandfathers; nor was it “obscure” to my own grandparents’ generation, who came of age in the Roaring Twenties; nor to the 5.5% or more of the female population who worked as whores in every large city of the world in the 19th century, nor the 70% or more of the male population who had enjoyed their company at least once; nor to any of the long procession of harlots and clients stretching back to before busybodies invented the idea of policing other peoples’ sexuality. Know what else wasn’t “obscure” to them? Anal sex. BDSM. Role-playing. Exhibitionism & voyeurism. Homosexuality. Cuckolding. I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. Here’s a hint: most lawmakers have always been pompous ignoramuses too obsessed with telling other people what to do to actually have normal lives, so by the time they get around to banning something it’s a pretty safe bet the majority of everybody else in that culture over the age of 16 already knows about it, and many of them are doing it.

Chief among the popular sex acts that modern mythology pretends were “obscure” is masturbation, at least for women. The common delusion is that because a culture didn’t like to talk about something, it must not have existed; accordingly, the idea has arisen that Victorian girls were somehow so carefully controlled that they never discovered that touching oneself between the legs (or riding rocking horses) feels good. And because many women have difficulty reaching orgasm without some form of masturbation, that must mean that pre-20th century women all went around in a perpetual state of sexual frustration. In the past few years, the ridiculous myth has arisen that Victorian doctors actually gave women orgasms without knowing what they were, and that the vibrator was invented to speed up what they viewed as an odious task.

March 5, 2015

In search of healthy eating

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

At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum talks about all the things we’ve been told about healthy eating … that just ain’t so:

For several years now I’ve been following the controversy over whether the dietary guidelines that have developed over the the past 70 years might be all wrong. And I’ve become tentatively convinced that, in fact, they are wrong. For most people — not all! — salt isn’t a big killer; cholesterol isn’t harmful; and red meat and saturated fat are perfectly OK. Healthy, even. Sugar, on the other hand, really needs to be watched.

Before I go on, a great big caveat: I’m not even an educated amateur on this subject. I’ve read a fair amount about it, but I’ve never dived into it systematically. And the plain truth is that firm proof is hard to come by when it comes to diet. It’s really, really hard to conduct the kinds of experiments that would give us concrete proof that one diet is better than another, and the studies that have been done almost all have defects of some kind.

Emphasis mine.

Randomized trials are the gold standard of dietary studies, but as I said above, they’re really, really hard to conduct properly. You have to find a stable population of people. You have to pick half of them randomly and get them to change their diets. You have to trust them to actually do it. You have to follow them for years, not months. Virtually no trial can ever truly meet this standard.

Nonetheless, as Carroll says, the randomized trials we do have suggest that red meat and saturated fat have little effect on cardiovascular health — and might actually have a positive effect on cancer outcomes.

At the same time, increased consumption of sugars and carbohydrates might be actively bad for us. At the very least they contribute to obesity and diabetes, and there’s some evidence that they aren’t so great for your heart either.

So where does this leave us? As Carroll says, the literature as a whole suggests that we simply don’t know. We’ve been convinced of a lot of things for a long time, and it’s turned out that a lot of what we believed was never really backed by solid evidence in the first place. So now the dietary ship is turning. Slowly, but it’s turning.

His primary take-away from all this: moderation is probably your safest bet, unless you have a condition that requires you to avoid certain foods or types of foods. Oh, and avoid over-indulging in packaged food that uses lots of preservatives. This is certainly one area where the science sure didn’t turn out to be settled, after all.

February 27, 2015

The changes in language describing changing gender

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

Charlotte Allen discusses how quickly the language has changed when talking about transsexuality over a very short time:

In 2012 the board of trustees of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) approved a set of proposed revisions to its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the new version is the DSM-5), designed to remove the stigma of mental illness from the transgender classification. Earlier versions of the DSM had defined transgenderism as “gender identity disorder,” which seemed to imply illness. The DSM-5 changed that term to “gender dysphoria.” The change paralleled the association’s removal of homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973. It signaled that whatever problems transgenders might experience were not due to a pathological misconception that their bodies and gender identities were mismatched but to the fact that their bodies and gender identities were mismatched. Hormones, surgery, cosmetics, and different clothes might still be the “cure” (enabling transgenders to qualify for medical reimbursement for a variety of procedures), but the APA was making it clear, as far as it was concerned, that the problem was not inside the transgender’s head.

The medical evidence for a mismatch between brains and bodies is ambiguous. The two studies cited most frequently by transgender activists, published in 1995 and 2000, examined the brains of a total of seven male-to-female transgenders and found that a region of the hypothalamus, an almond-shaped area of the brain that controls the release of hormones by the pituitary gland, was female-typical in those brains. But those studies have been criticized for not controlling for the estrogen​—​which affects the size of the hypothalamus​—​that most male-to-female transgenders take daily in order to maintain their feminine appearance.

Accompanying the APA’s change of classification was a change of vocabulary. Ever since the days of Christine Jorgensen (1926-1989), the World War II serviceman whose surgery in Denmark during the early 1950s brought transgenderism under the media spotlight for the first time, the procedure was known in popular parlance as a “sex change operation.” Then in the 1990s, when the idea of one’s “gender” as something distinct from one’s biological sex began to take hold (thanks to the efforts of academic feminists and other postmodernists, who argued that gender is “socially constructed”), the preferred term became “gender reassignment surgery.” Now the preferred phrase seems to be “gender confirmation surgery.” The change in terminology renders more credible transpeople’s claims to have always belonged to the gender to which they have transitioned.

The once commonly used word “transsexual” has thus become passé ​—​ even verboten in the most sensitive circles —​ just during the past decade. For example, Washington Post reporter Abby Ohlheiser issued a severe scolding to news media for using the word “transsexual” in reference to a 27-year-old male-to-female victim of a grisly murder and dismemberment at the hands of her 28-year-old male lover (who subsequently committed suicide) in Brisbane, Australia, in October 2014. “Although some individuals do identify as ‘transsexual,’ the term is often viewed as old-fashioned and not an appropriate umbrella word,” Ohlheiser wrote in a column deriding the coverage of the crime as “transphobic.” Ohlheiser also objected to media describing the victim, Mayang Prasetyo, as a “prostitute” (Prasetyo had been working as an escort before her death) and reproducing photos of Prasetyo’s busty self clad in a tiny swimsuit that she had posted on the Internet. “Many of the articles covering the murder are laden with provocative photographs of the victim in a bikini, as if any story about a trans person is an excuse to view and scrutinize trans bodies,” Ohlheiser wrote.

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