Quotulatiousness

January 23, 2017

Five easy fixes to improve US federal health policies

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

Scott Alexander finds, to his surprise, that two of the candidates for the post of FDA commissioner in the Trump administration are following his blog or social media profile. To mark that, he offers five easy-to-implement policy fixes that would make a difference:

1. Medical reciprocity with Europe and other First World countries […] Right now, Europe has a licensing agency about as strict as the FDA approving medications invented in Europe. Any pharma company that wants their medication approved in both the US and Europe has to spend a billion or so dollars getting it approved by the FDA, and then another billion or so dollars getting it approved by the Europeans. A lot of pharma companies don’t want to bother, with the end result that Europe has many good medications that America doesn’t, and vice versa. Just in my own field, amisulpride, one of the antipsychotics with the best safety/efficacy balance, has been used successfully in Europe for twenty years and is totally unavailable here despite a real need for better antipsychotic drugs. If the FDA agreed to approve any medication already approved by Europe (or to give it a very expedited review process), we could get an immediate windfall of dozens of drugs with unimpeachable records for almost no cost. Instead, in the real world, we’re cracking down on imported Canadian pharmaceuticals because the Canadians don’t have exactly our same FDA which means that for all we know they might be adding thalidomide to every pill or something. This is exactly the sort of silly anti-competitive cronyist practice that a principled intelligent libertarian could do away with.

2. Burdensome approval process for generic medications […] How come Martin Shkreli can hike the dose of an off-patent toxoplasma drug 5000%, and everyone just has to take it lying down even though the drug itself is so easy to produce that high school chemistry classes make it just to show they can? The reason is that every new company that makes a drug, even a widely-used generic drug that’s already been proven safe, has to go through a separate approval process that costs millions of dollars and takes two to three years – and which other companies in the market constantly try to sabotage through legal action. Shkreli can get away with his price hike because he knows that by the time the FDA gives anyone permission to compete with him, he’ll have made his fortune and moved on to his next nefarious scheme. If the FDA allowed reputable pharmaceutical companies in good standing to produce whatever generic drugs they wanted, the same as every other company is allowed to make whatever products they want, scandals like Daraprim and EpiPens would be a thing of the past, and the price of many medications could decrease by an order of magnitude. […]

3. Stop having that thing allowing companies to “steal” popular and effective drugs that have been in the public domain for years, claim them as their private property, shut down all competitors, and jack up the price 10x just by bringing them up to date with modern FDA bureaucracy.

4. Stop having that thing where drug companies can legally bribe other companies not to compete with them. I like this one because it sounds anti-libertarian (we’re imposing a new regulation on what companies can do!) but I think it’s exactly the sort of thing that the crony capitalists would never touch but which principled intelligent libertarians like O’Neill and Srinivasan might be open to, in order to bring more actors into the marketplace.

5. Stop thwarting consumer diagnostic products and genetic tests […] Srinivasan comes from the genetic testing world himself, so he’s likely to be extra sympathetic to this.

January 13, 2017

Jonathan Haidt on the rise of the “microaggression” concept

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

He is commenting on an article in Perspectives on Psychological Science (PDF):

The microaggression program teaches students the exact opposite of ancient wisdom. Microaggression training is — by definition — instruction in how to detect ever-smaller specks in your neighbor’s eye. Microaggression training tells students that “life itself is exactly what you think it is — you have a direct pipeline to reality, and the person who offended you does not, so go with your feelings.” Of course, the ancients could be wrong on these points, but the empirical evidence for the importance of appraisal and the ubiquity of bias and hypocrisy is overwhelming (I review it in chapters 2 and 4 of The Happiness Hypothesis). As Lilienfeld shows, the empirical evidence supporting the utility and validity of the microaggression concept is minimal at best.

I think the section of Lilienfeld’s article that should most make us recoil from the microaggression program is the section on personality traits, particularly negative emotionality and the tendency to perceive oneself as a victim. These are traits — correlated with depression and anxiety disorders — that some students bring with them from high school to college. Students who score high on these traits perceive more microaggressions in ambiguous circumstances. These traits therefore bring misery and anger to the students themselves, and these negative emotions and the conflicts they engender are likely to radiate outward through the students’ social networks (Christakis & Fowler, 2009). How should colleges (and other institutions) respond to the presence of high scorers in their midst? Should they offer them cognitive behavioral therapy or moral validation? Should they hand them a copy of The Dhammapada or a microaggression training manual?

It’s bad enough to make the most fragile and anxious students quicker to take offense and more self-certain and self-righteous. But what would happen if you took a whole campus of diverse students, who arrive from all over the world with very different values and habits, and you train all of them to react with pain and anger to ever-smaller specks that they learn to see in each other’s eyes?

And what would happen if the rise of the microaggression concept coincided with the rise of social media, so that students can file charges against each other — and against their professors — within minutes of any perceived offense? The predictable result of welcoming the microaggression program to campus is turmoil, distrust, and anger. It is the end of the open environment we prize in the academy, where students feel free to speak up and challenge each other, their professors, and orthodox ideas. On a campus that polices microaggressions, everyone walks on eggshells.

H/T to David Thompson for the link.

That demon sugar

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

Last week, Ronald Bailey reviewed a new book on whether the rise in obesity in western society can be blamed on our collective sweet-tooth: The Case Against Sugar, by Gary Taubes.

Less than 1 percent of Americans — 1.6 million people — were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 1958. As of 2014, that figure had risen to 9.3 percent, or 29.1 million. If current trends continue, the figure could rise to more than 33 percent by 2050. Something has clearly gone wrong with American health.

The rising rate of diabetes is associated with the rising prevalence of obesity. Since the early 1960s, the percent of Americans who are obese — that is, whose body mass index is greater than 30 — has increased from 13 percent to 35.7 percent today. (Nearly 70 percent of Americans are overweight, meaning their BMIs are over 25.) Roughly put, the prevailing theory is that rising fatness causes rising diabetes.

But what if both are caused by something else? That is the intriguing and ultimately persuasive argument that Gary Taubes, author Why We Get Fat (2011) and cofounder of the Nutrition Science Initiative, makes in his new book, The Case Against Sugar.

For Taubes, sugar — be it sucrose or high-fructose corn syrup — is “the principal cause of the chronic diseases that are most likely to kill us, or at least accelerate our demise,” explains Taubes at the outset. “If this were a criminal case, The Case Against Sugar would be the argument for the prosecution.” In making his case, Taubes explores the “claim that sugar is uniquely toxic — perhaps having prematurely killed more people than cigarettes or ‘all wars combined,’ as [diabetes epidemiologist] Kelly West put it.”

Taubes surveys the admittedly sparse research on sugar’s psychoactive effects. For example, researchers have found that eating sugar stimulates the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is also released when consuming nicotine, cocaine, heroin, or alcohol. Researchers are still debating the question of whether or not sugar is, in some sense, addictive.

Interestingly, in my most recent discussion with a doctor earlier this week, he specifically said that the dietary information we’ve been depending on for generations is incorrect and that we should avoid excess sugar in our diet rather than fat (keeping in mind total calorie count, of course).

January 10, 2017

“The very concept of a moral absolute […] is alien to them”

Filed under: Cancon, Health, Law, Politics, Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

David Warren calls for moral and ethical resistance against “assisted dying” being accepted in society:

Through the casual review of polls, over the years, I have become aware that the general public can itself be moved from approximately 80/20 to approximately 20/80 (four fingers and a thumb to four thumbs and a finger) by any specious argument, if it is repeated constantly, and the Left are able to impose a fait accompli through the courts. Among intellectuals, the swings may be wider and quicker. They are not pendular, however, for once various civilized taboo lines have been crossed, there is no inevitable return, and the only way back is through a field of carnage.

Today, unlike “yesterday” (i.e. a few short years ago) there is 80 percent support for what goes in Canada under the euphemism “assisted dying,” and everywhere under the older euphemism, “euthanasia.” As loyal Christians (or Jews, and many others) we must never surrender to public opinion of this kind. Yet we must recognize that it is pointless to argue with the great mass who, in Canada as in places like Nazi Germany, can so easily be persuaded that down is up, and that words now have new meanings. They simply haven’t the equipment to follow a thread longer than the short slogans in which progressives specialize. Not if their moral schooling was defective, leaving consciences deformed.

People can be “educated” or “catechized” or awakened only one by one, and with their own participation. There is always hope, for as Thomas Sowell says, though everyone is born ignorant, not everyone is born stupid. But in practice, they are retrieved from catastrophic error, only by catastrophe.

At this point in our societal degeneration, “the people” are obedient to what beloved Benedict XVI called the “dictatorship of relativism.” This is understandable because few were raised in anything else. The very concept of a moral absolute (e.g. “thou shalt do no murder”) is alien to them. At the gut level, they may still individually recoil against an evil, but only if they have watched, and found the spectacle “icky.”

December 17, 2016

QotD: Otherkin, headmates, and multiple systems

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

Turns out, crazy sex maniacs have cooked up new ways to be crazy sex maniacs.

“Come on,” you’re thinking, “sex is sex and crazy is crazy. There’s nothing new under the Krafft-Ebing sun. I saw that CSI episode about furries and read that article about bronies that made me want to kill myself (after I killed my wife and kids to spare them the horrors of living in America another second.)”

Fine. Meet the “otherkin.” Unlike cosplayers, these dudes genuinely think they are animals trapped in human form. Literally. They’re serious.

How’s about “headmates?” We used to call these “imaginary friends,” but they’re not just for kids anymore. (Cuz that would be age-ist!)

Next? “Multiple systems”:

    [A] person who describes themselves as a multiple system will likely refer to themselves as ‘they’ because they believe they are multiple people….

    And, because that isn’t already batshit insane enough, some multiple systems will have headmates who are animals, otherkin people, and, of course, fictional characters….I’ve not even got to the people who believe they have galaxies, nebulae, universes, and other space shit, either in their ‘headspace’ or as an otherkin. So some people will believe they are actually galaxies.

Or “demisexuals”? They’re “only sexually attracted to people” they have “an emotional connection to.” (We used to call them “normal” and “women.”)

Now meet the “transethnic” and “transabled”: paralyzed black women trapped inside functional white-male bodies.

Naturally, “the favorite pastime for SJAs [social justice activists] is to pretend they’re oppressed, and they are all professional victims. You may very well see otherkin telling people to “check their human privilege” while they talk about how oppressed they are because no one believes they’re really a cat…”

All very weird indeed, but so what?

Well, within living memory, gay “marriage” was unthinkable, transsexuals stuck to the stage, and a “bathroom bill” letting “transgendered” boys use the girls’ washrooms in elementary schools would be one of John Irving‘s forgotten subplots, not something that is about to become law.

Brace yourself for “otherkin-phobia” and the fines and firings that will come with it.

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

December 16, 2016

QotD: Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder

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

… it might have been worth mentioning that, whatever the validity of PTSD as a diagnosis, most people who experience a traumatic event in life do not suffer from it. As is to be expected of a creature as protean as Man, people respond differently to their experiences. They do not forget the trauma, but its memory does not affect their subsequent lives in any pathological way. I once met an American psychiatrist, John E. Nardini, who had been a prisoner of the Japanese for more than three years, who had seen half his fellow prisoners die of hunger and disease, and who had himself suffered from beriberi, but who felt that the appalling experience, which of course he would have wished on no one, had actually strengthened him. The development of PTSD does not follow from trauma as the night does the day, but depends on many things — no doubt the culture of the traumatized among them.

In any case, PTSD is largely irrelevant to what Heer is writing about. He isn’t writing about post-traumatic stress disorder at all, but rather, a new diagnosis of pre-traumatic stress disorder. I can’t help but recall the case of Mr. Podsnap, in Charles Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend:

    A certain institution in Mr. Podsnap’s mind which he called “the young person” may be considered to have been embodied in Miss Podsnap, his daughter. It was an inconvenient and exacting institution, as requiring everything in the universe to be filed down and fitted to it. The question about everything was, would it bring a blush into the cheek of the young person? And the inconvenience of the young person was, that, according to Mr. Podsnap, she seemed always liable to burst into blushes when there was no need at all. There appeared to be no line of demarcation between the young person’s excessive innocence, and another person’s guiltiest knowledge.

What is most interesting from the cultural point of view about the preposterous nonsense of trigger warnings for Victorian books is the obvious thirst or desire for victimization that they express. Victims are the heroes of the politically correct; their victimhood confers unique moral authority upon them ex officio. And since many would like to be a unique moral authority, it follows that they would like to be a victim. The fact soon follows the wish, at least in their own estimation; and this, of course, provides much work and justifies much power for the self-proclaimed protectors of victims. University teachers become the curators of figurines of the finest porcelain, which only they are allowed to touch.

This is a case in which caricature is the best way of capturing truth.

Theodore Dalrymple, “Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder: On the phenomenon of campus ‘trigger” warnings’, City Journal, 2015-05-27.

December 5, 2016

QotD: Wine merchants using alarmist tactics to sell wine

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

I’m a mom of three young kids. That means I like to have a glass of wine with breakfast, lunch, and dinner now and then. And since my kids seem to grow out of their clothes and shoes seconds after I’ve purchased them, I like to get a good deal on a box bottle or two. Luckily for me, there is stiff competition in the wine industry, which means I can get wines from around the world at prices I can afford.

Yet with competition comes increased need to attract customers. And some companies are resorting to a new strategy: Alarmism.

Consider the recent suggestion by some wine companies that some corks are not just inferior, but dangerous. That might seem silly to some or just a lousy marketing stunt to others, but it’s a familiar and all-too-effective tactic used on moms who are constantly encouraged to police their homes for threats to their families.

Julie Gunlock, “Wine Alarmists Should Stick a Cork In It: Stop whining about the non-existent dangers of certain wine corks, and start drinking”, The Federalist, 2015-05-19.

December 3, 2016

Trudeau government to approach legalizing marijuana as an explicitly crony capitalist exercise

Jay Currie was woken up at an ungodly early hour to talk on a radio show about the leaked portions of the Canada Marijuana Task Force Report. It’s apparently not good news for consumers but really great news for the existing favoured “legal” producers:

The leak itself is interesting and more than a little outrageous. The Report clearly favours Health Canada Licenced Medical Marijuana growers and many of those corporate grow shows are publically traded companies. Allowing the report to come out in dribs and drabs (because “translation”) could cause deep uncertainty in the public markets. The government should release the report, in toto, immediately.

Substantively, the Report apparently recommends that legalization efforts be directed at “getting rid of the $7-billion-a year black market. Sources familiar with the report, which is expected to be made public Dec. 21, say all the other recommendations flow from that guiding principle.”

It is not clear whether that “black market” includes the grey market of dispensaries and pot shops which has grown up in Canada and which continues to expand.

Using “legalization” as a weapon against the “black market” is pretty much the level of restrictive thinking I expected from the Task Force. Rather than seeing legalization as an opportunity to regularize the marijuana market, the language suggests a resumption of the war on drugs by other means.

The Task Force is apparently suggesting that the 40 Health Canada approved licencees remain the only legal source of marijuana and proposes that recreational pot, like medicinal pot, continue to be delivered by Canada Post. A nostalgic bow to the mail and a suggestion pretty certain to keep dispensaries and “Bob on the corner” in business for the foreseeable future. Here is a free clue for the Liberal government: recreational pot users are impulse buyers. As I say in my book, “The most common triggers for the decision is that, by their lights, a customer is running low on pot, has run out of pot or has been out of pot for some time but only now has the money to buy more pot.” In short, not likely to wait a week for Canada Post to deliver.

QotD: Gender and transgender

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

The Oxford English Dictionary defines transgender as ‘[d]enoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex’. It is a relatively new term. According to equality-law professor and trans activist Stephen Whittle, the term ‘transvestite’ was first used in 1910 by the German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, who would later found the Berlin Institute where the very first sex-change operations took place. ‘Transsexual’ was not coined until 1949; ‘transgender’ not until 1971; and ‘trans’, which is a very British term, not until 1996.

The first reported sex-change operation may have taken place at Hirschfeld’s Berlin Institute in 1931, but the procedure only became widely known after American Christine (George) Jorgensen travelled to Denmark in 1952 to undergo sex-change surgery. In 1954, following Jorgensen’s transition, US endocrinologist Harry Benjamin began using the term ‘transsexualism’ to describe a unique condition of sex and gender role disorientation.

Throughout the 1960s, transsexualism, and the clinical response to it, remained a contentious issue. Medical professionals in the US were largely opposed to the idea of offering sex-change surgery. A 1965 survey showed that just three per cent of US surgeons would take seriously a request for a sex-change operation. And yet, by the early 1980s, thousands of sex-change operations had taken place.

The Hopkins Hospital, affiliated with Johns Hopkins University, became the most prominent institution to offer transsexual surgery during the 1970s. Under the guidance of psychologist John Money, psychiatrist Eugene Meyer and plastic surgeon Milton Edgerton, the Hopkins Hospital utilised the ‘single theme’ method for diagnosing transsexuals. This involved determining whether or not the patient had an intense conviction to be the other sex.

But, as the rate of referrals increased, by the late-1970s, some of the negative after-effects of sex-change surgery became apparent. These included: medical complications, demands for reverse surgery and suicide attempts. Moreover, it was discovered that, due to the self-diagnostic nature of the ‘single theme’ method for determining treatment, some patients had learned what kinds of things they needed to say in order to receive surgery.

Hopkins Hospital eventually stopped performing the operations in 1979, after Jon Meyer, the chair of the sexual behaviours unit, conducted a study comparing 29 patients who had the surgery and 21 who didn’t, and concluded that those who had the surgery were no more adjusted to society than those who did not have the surgery. As Meyer told the New York Times in 1979: ‘My personal feeling is that surgery is not proper treatment for a psychiatric disorder, and it’s clear to me that these patients have severe psychological problems that don’t go away following surgery.’

While physicians and commentators argued over whether or not medical intervention benefited the patient, for some of those who chose to undergo treatment, it was a lifeline.

Naomi Firsht, “The Rise of Transgender: In the space of a century, transgenderism has become a mainstream concern”, Spiked, 2016-10-28.

November 26, 2016

The war on science

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

In City Journal, John Tierney explains why the most serious threats to science come not from the right’s creationist bitter clingers, but from the left’s highly selective “pro (some) science” activism:

I know that sounds strange to Democrats who decry Republican creationists and call themselves the “party of science.” But I’ve done my homework. I’ve read the Left’s indictments, including Chris Mooney’s bestseller, The Republican War on Science. I finished it with the same question about this war that I had at the outset: Where are the casualties?

Where are the scientists who lost their jobs or their funding? What vital research has been corrupted or suppressed? What scientific debate has been silenced? Yes, the book reveals that Republican creationists exist, but they don’t affect the biologists or anthropologists studying evolution. Yes, George W. Bush refused federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, but that hardly put a stop to it (and not much changed after Barack Obama reversed the policy). Mooney rails at scientists and politicians who oppose government policies favored by progressives like himself, but if you’re looking for serious damage to the enterprise of science, he offers only three examples.

All three are in his first chapter, during Mooney’s brief acknowledgment that leftists “here and there” have been guilty of “science abuse.” First, there’s the Left’s opposition to genetically modified foods, which stifled research into what could have been a second Green Revolution to feed Africa. Second, there’s the campaign by animal-rights activists against medical researchers, whose work has already been hampered and would be devastated if the activists succeeded in banning animal experimentation. Third, there’s the resistance in academia to studying the genetic underpinnings of human behavior, which has cut off many social scientists from the recent revolutions in genetics and neuroscience. Each of these abuses is far more significant than anything done by conservatives, and there are plenty of others. The only successful war on science is the one waged by the Left.

November 10, 2016

QotD: Science’s Biggest Fail

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

What is science’s biggest fail of all time?

I nominate everything about diet and fitness.

Maybe science has the diet and fitness stuff mostly right by now. I hope so. But I thought the same thing twenty years ago and I was wrong.

I used to think fatty food made you fat. Now it seems the opposite is true. Eating lots of peanuts, avocados, and cheese, for example, probably decreases your appetite and keeps you thin.

I used to think vitamins had been thoroughly studied for their health trade-offs. They haven’t. The reason you take one multivitamin pill a day is marketing, not science.

I used to think the U.S. food pyramid was good science. In the past it was not, and I assume it is not now.

I used to think drinking one glass of alcohol a day is good for health, but now I think that idea is probably just a correlation found in studies.

I used to think I needed to drink a crazy-large amount of water each day, because smart people said so, but that wasn’t science either.

I could go on for an hour.

You might be tempted to say my real issue is with a lack of science, not with science. In some of the cases I mentioned there was a general belief that science had studied stuff when in fact it had not. So one could argue that the media and the government (schools in particular) are to blame for allowing so much non-science to taint the field of real science. And we all agree that science is not intended to be foolproof. Science is about crawling toward the truth over time.

Perhaps my expectations were too high. I expected science to tell me the best ways to eat and to exercise. Science did the opposite, sometimes because of misleading studies and sometimes by being silent when bad science morphed into popular misconceptions. And science was pretty damned cocky about being right during this period in which it was so wrong.

So you have the direct problem of science collectively steering my entire generation toward obesity, diabetes, and coronary problems. But the indirect problem might be worse: It is hard to trust science.

Scott Adams, “Science’s Biggest Fail”, Scott Adams Blog, 2015-02-02.

October 31, 2016

It’s called “Next Man Up”

Filed under: Football, Health — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 15:44

In the current edition of ESPN Magazine, Tim Keown talks to members of the Minnesota Vikings about what happened to Teddy Bridgewater. It’s hard reading:

THE MEN WHO agree to talk about what happened do so reluctantly. Their eyes invariably drift to the spot in question: the grass practice field, somewhere near the 30-yard line, right hash. It happened with the offense heading north, 22 men on the field, no contact allowed.

They won’t talk about what the injury looked like, out of respect. These are men who long ago came to terms with the inhumanity of their game. They laugh about concussions and broken bones as a defense mechanism, the way an electrician might laugh with his buddies about getting a jolt from a faulty circuit. Occupational hazard.

But this is different. They close their eyes and wince, the image flashing in their minds. They shake their heads reflexively, as if they can dislodge the memory and evict it from their brains. They watched Teddy Bridgewater go down on that field on Aug. 30, his left leg separating at the knee, during the first minutes of a Vikings preseason practice. Every time they think about it, every time they stand near this field and close their eyes, they see it again.

[…]

Minnesota’s coach, Mike Zimmer, canceled practice. NFL teams never cancel practice. The game never stops. In a way, it’s a repudiation of Next Man Up to send everyone home — an acknowledgment that some injuries transcend the transactional. Sometimes, even in such a brutal world, circumstances dictate that the next man can’t reasonably be expected to step up, at least not right away.

“It happened at the beginning of practice, and obviously Coach made the right call to cancel,” Vikings quarterbacks coach Scott Turner says. “We weren’t going to get anything done that day.”

At his first news conference after the injury, a still-shaken Zimmer said his team would mourn for a day and move on. If anything, this meant his players needed to recommit to the mission. “No one is going to feel sorry for us, or cry,” he said. “I’m not going to feel sorry for us either.” He said he’d spoken with his mentor, Bill Parcells, for advice on how to deal with the trauma his team experienced. He said he spoke with his deceased father “in spirit.” As he continued, the coach in him drained from his eyes. He transformed from functionary to human being, and when he was asked a question about grieving — a question that somehow seemed utterly appropriate — Zimmer paused and looked down. After a deep breath, he looked to the sky as his lower lip quivered. “My wife passed away seven years ago,” he said. “It was a tough day. The sun came up the next day, the world kept spinning, people kept going to work. That’s what we’re going to do.”

In my early twenties, I had a knee injury — nowhere near as serious as Teddy’s — and to this day I can’t watch replays of leg injuries that the networks seem to always want to show as often as they can. It doesn’t just upset me, I get nauseous and have to look away. Later in the article, Keown mentions that there are no images available of Bridgewater during that practice, despite the fact that NFL teams film just about everything that happens at team events. I’m very grateful that those images are being kept from the public.

Is the “Gold Standard” of peer review actually just Fool’s Gold?

Filed under: Environment, Government, Health, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Donna Laframboise points out that it’s difficult to govern based on scientific evidence if that evidence isn’t true:

We’re continually assured that government policies are grounded in evidence, whether it’s an anti-bullying programme in Finland, an alcohol awareness initiative in Texas or climate change responses around the globe. Science itself, we’re told, is guiding our footsteps.

There’s just one problem: science is in deep trouble. Last year, Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet, referred to fears that ‘much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue’ and that ‘science has taken a turn toward darkness.’

It’s a worrying thought. Government policies can’t be considered evidence-based if the evidence on which they depend hasn’t been independently verified, yet the vast majority of academic research is never put to this test. Instead, something called peer review takes place. When a research paper is submitted, journals invite a couple of people to evaluate it. Known as referees, these individuals recommend that the paper be published, modified, or rejected.

If it’s true that one gets what one pays for, let me point out that referees typically work for no payment. They lack both the time and the resources to perform anything other than a cursory overview. Nothing like an audit occurs. No one examines the raw data for accuracy or the computer code for errors. Peer review doesn’t guarantee that proper statistical analyses were employed, or that lab equipment was used properly. The peer review process itself is full of serious flaws, yet is treated as if it’s the handmaiden of objective truth.

And it shows. Referees at the most prestigious of journals have given the green light to research that was later found to be wholly fraudulent. Conversely, they’ve scoffed at work that went on to win Nobel prizes. Richard Smith, a former editor of the British Medical Journal, describes peer review as a roulette wheel, a lottery and a black box. He points out that an extensive body of research finds scant evidence that this vetting process accomplishes much at all. On the other hand, a mountain of scholarship has identified profound deficiencies.

October 23, 2016

Engaging with “challenging subjects”

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

In the Guardian, Frank Furedi talks about the challenges faced by university instructors when they need to expose their students to “challenging materials”:

Students studying the archaeology of modern conflict at University College, London, have been told they are permitted to leave class if they find the discussion of historical events “disturbing” or traumatising. This does not surprise me. Shielding students from topics deemed sensitive is fast gaining influence in academic life.

My colleague at another university showed a picture of an emaciated Hungarian Jewish woman liberated from a death camp. A student, yelled out, “stop showing this, I did not come here to be traumatised”, disrupting his lecture on the Hungarian Holocaust. After the student complained of distress, caused by the disturbing image, my colleague was told by an administrator to be more careful when discussing such a sensitive subject. “How can I teach the Holocaust without unsettling my students?” asked my friend. Academics who now feel they have to mind their words are increasingly posing such questions.

Throughout the Anglo-American world universities have drawn up protocols warning of exposing students to “sensitive subjects”. Astonishingly, the university is now subject to practices that demand levels of conformism historically associated with narrow-minded, illiberal institutions. The terms “sensitive subject” or “challenging subject” are used by administrators to designate a class of topics portrayed as a risk to students’ wellbeing.

[…]

It is difficult to think of any powerful literary text that does not disturb a reader’s sensibility. Consequently virtually any classic text could incite a demand for a trigger warning. A Durham University student complained that his class was “expected to sit through lectures and tutorials discussing Lavinia’s rape in Titus Andronicus”, though he was delighted that “we did get a trigger warning about bestiality with regard to part of the lecture on A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, once sensitivity becomes a commanding value in academic teaching, the range of topics deemed sensitive will expand. This has far-reaching implications for academic teaching. Once the teaching of an academic topic becomes subordinated to a criterion that is external to it – such as the value of sensitivity – it risks losing touch with the integrity of its subject matter. At the very least, academics have to become wary of teaching topics in accordance with their own inclination as to what is the right way of communicating their subject.

Sadly, far too many academics have responded to the pressure to protect students from disturbing ideas by censoring themselves.

October 8, 2016

QotD: Depression

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

The book [In the Jaws of the Black Dogs, (1999)] is a compelling, unpleasant read, valuable because it tells us three things. First, that such depressions do not yield to shrink fixes, and will not otherwise “go away.” Second, that there is no “template,” for each sufferer is his own constellation of symptoms which no outsider is privileged to explore. And thus, third, the depression can be controlled and mastered, only if one grasps these things. One must, as it were, leash one’s own black dogs, and it will be neither easy nor painless. While perhaps overwritten, the book is admirable for containing no victim’s plaint, no false appeal for applause, and absolutely no pop psychology.

David Warren, “Unfinished conversations”, Essays in Idleness, 2016-09-19.

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress

%d bloggers like this: