Friday, April 29, 2011

Why physicians lack empathy

SciAm magazine explains why physicians lack empathy, and why that is a good thing:
In one experiment, physicians who practice acupuncture (as well as matched non-physician controls) underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while watching videos of needles being inserted into another person’s hands, feet and areas around their mouth as well as videos of the same areas being touched by a cotton bud. Compared to controls, the physicians showed significantly less response in brain regions involved in empathy for pain. In addition, the physicians showed significantly greater activation of areas involved in executive control, self-regulation and thinking about the mental states of others. The physicians appeared to show less empathy and more of a higher-level cognitive response. ...

Whether during a surgery, biopsy, physical exam, or even a simple blood draw, healthcare professionals routinely must inflict pain on others to make them better in the long run. Physicians also need to have daily communication with patients who are physically injured, bleeding or otherwise suffering. Being too focused on the patient’s pain can make the doctor less effective. Suppressing the response to others’ pain may in fact free up information processing resources to more effectively solve clinical problems. This argument explains the finding that physicians get less empathic as they see more patients and progress through their training. ...

The key is knowing when empathy is called for and when it is detrimental. It should not be the goal of physicians, then, to be more empathetic.
Most people automatically assume that more empathy is a good thing. Sometimes it is, and often it is not.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Racist pro-Obama propaganda

Yahoo News reports:
So what's fueling the dogged questioning of Obama's origins? Many critics of the birther movement say its core tenets--and its stubborn resistance to evidence disproving those beliefs--can be traced to racial hostilities. The fundamental birtherist conviction, these critics say, is that an African-American can't have legitimately won the presidency -- and that his elevation to power therefore has to be the result of an elaborate subterfuge.

"There is a real deep-seated and vicious racism at work here in terms of trying to de-legitimate the president," Peniel Joseph, a professor of history at Tufts University, told The Ticket.

"This is more than just a conspiracy," Peniel added. "I think this is fundamentally connected to white supremacism in this country."

Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. in early April called for the connection to be publicly drawn between birthers and racism: "So it is time to call this birther nonsense what it is--not just claptrap, but profoundly racist claptrap."
Nonsense. These folks have very short memories. I heard far more people say that G.W. Bush did not legitimately win the presidency.

USA Today reports:
What's behind the questions about Obama's bithplace? Racial prejudice plays a role, suggests a study led by Eric Hehman of the University of Delaware in the March Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, which contrasted voter's perceptions of vice president Joe Biden, "the most comparable target" with Obama.

"Overall, as expected, White participants tended to view Obama as less American," says the study, as well as worse-performing. "Moreover, Whites higher in prejudice rated Obama as less
American, and as performing more poorly as president."
This is bogus. There are reasons for saying that Pres. Obama is less American that have nothing to do with race.

Obama was born in Hawaii. His father and step-father were not Americans. He grew up in Indonesia. He was surrounded by people with anti-American views. There are many unanswered questions about his past.

The more current reasons for regarding Obama as less American are in his speeches and policies. He denies American exceptionalism, and he spent a month trying to get Arab League approval for bombing Libya, without bothering to consult the US Congress. Biden, Bush, McCain, Kerry, Gore, Clinton, Dole, etc. are all more American in their political philosophy than Obama, and it has nothing to do with race. The racists are the only trying to make a racial issue out of this.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Muslim had to retract evolution

From a NewScientist magazine interview:
We need devout Muslim scientists to speak out, says Usama Hasan, who has had death threats for saying evolution is compatible with the Koran ...

How common is the creationist position among Muslims?

It is the default position. Most of us are taught that evolution is wrong, unproven and a blasphemy. A lot of people enjoy science programmes on TV such as those by David Attenborough, but they tend to say he's an unbeliever so we can't trust him.

Recently you retracted your views because of the outrage they caused. Could you explain?

My retraction was saying that I misjudged how to go about explaining these things. Sooner or later someone will have to address the issue of evolution - it's a no-go area, especially with the clerics - but I'm abandoning my attempt to reconcile it with the Koran until things settle down. I am not willing to risk my life over this issue.
Why are Muslim scientists going to speak out, when he himself had to retract his pro-evolution views? And when are things going to settle down -- in another 500 years? The Mohammedans may never trust the unbelievers.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Nothing scientific about Freud

From a NewScientist magazine interview:
IN HIS new book Dream Life: An experimental memoir, psychiatrist and dream researcher J. Allan Hobson looks back on his life and puts forward his dream theory of protoconsciousness. ...

Psychoanalytic theory is popular because it's easy to understand, but I think it's wrong. I don't think dreams are caused by the release of repressed infantile wishes. There's nothing scientific about psychoanalysis, there's nothing scientific about Sigmund Freud. He didn't do a single experiment, he didn't do any direct observation, he used no controls. The guy was out to lunch.
Yes, Freud is popular even tho there is nothing scientific about his theories, and they are wrong. (But I am not sure this guy's theory is any better.)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

More medical papers get retracted

I had no idea that so many medical papers get retracted:
The study examined the PubMed database for biomedical research papers retracted from 2000-2010. Almost 5 million publications resulted in 788 retractions over that decade. [Including 88 review articles - how does a review get retracted?]
Actually, I think that it is a good thing that more medical papers are being retracted. Studies indicate that most of them are dubious and cannot be replicated. There are probably millions of papers that ought to be amended, at the least.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Better gift than chocolates

I missed this story last week:
We have a bizarre tale to relate involving the journal Surgery News, which recently lost its editor-in-chief over a rather strange editorial he wrote in the February issue of the magazine.
The editorial is about Valentine's Day, and the one substance that has been shown to make women happier than chocolate.

Lazar Greenfield's resignation was also reported in the NY Times.

Apparently this research is politically incorrect. No one says that it is scientifically incorrect. Just impolite to say it, I guess.

Update: Dilbert says that it took him 15 minutes to figure out why some women might take offense, and theorizes that many women have a lot of difficulty compartmentilizing information. He finds that people are often offended by his jokes and comments, and it is usually because people confuse what he says. They smoosh together facts and opinions, and blame him for things he never said. The fault is with the smooshers.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lean explanations

Andrew Gelman reports on psychology research:
How do we think about the intentional nature of actions? And how do people with an impaired mindreading capacity think about it? ...

Machery argues that (most) people see intentionality in settings with a "trade-off between a cost and a benefit." ...

Knobe seems to think that the crucial factor at play is something to do with morality
The experiments show that people give sharply different opinions about the intents of others in hypothetical scenarios. Some unconvincing explanations are given by psychologists.

I believe that there are two kinds of people on the world -- those who look for rich explanations of the behavior of others, and those who look for lean explanations. These differences become apparent whenever you talk about intentions or motivations of others. This terminology comes from Baron-Cohen here.

The above link has a simple scenario about a man buying a smoothie, and asks subjects about his intent. People give sharply differing answers. Some leap to a complex analysis of what the man was thinking, and others stick to simple facts. Neither is necessarily correct.

The rich explainers will argue that they are more perceptive, and responding to subtleties that the lean explainers are overlooking. The lean explainers argue that they are following the objective facts, and that the rich explainers have made some dubious inferences.

These two modes of thinking appear to be deeply ingrained, and most people seem to reject the validity of the other mode. Often someone finds a rich explanation, and denies that any other explanation is possible. Even when confronted with another explanation, he will assert some intuitive feeling that his explanation is correct, without being able to say why.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Boy scouts are emasculated

Laura Wood writes:
IN 2007, all Boy Scout groups in Britain were ordered to accept girls. The result? The boy scouts are now becoming the girl scouts. A majority of new recruits are girls.

When a traditionally male activity is opened to girls, it instantly becomes less appealing to boys, no matter how much pretense there is of preserving its masculine nature. That is a law of life. That law will never change unless science turns us into androgynous robots.

In order for masculinity to survive in any meaningful cultural sense, there must be groups that are strictly all-male.
More evidence that Britain is in decline.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

No perjury conviction for Bonds

I have defended Barry Bonds, and now he has been convicted:
Home-run king Barry Bonds was convicted of obstruction of justice for impeding a grand jury investigation into illegal steroid distribution, closing a sordid chapter in a scandal that ensnared some of baseball's greatest players.

The verdict Wednesday against the former San Francisco Giants star capped a nearly seven-year probe that focused on Bonds' denials under oath about knowingly using performance enhancing drugs. ...

The jury of eight women and four men, which began deliberating Friday morning, also deadlocked on three counts of perjury. ...

Jurors said they concluded that Bonds had been evasive before the grand jury, but they disagreed on whether he had lied to the panel about knowingly using steroids or human growth hormones.
So assuming we respect the jury verdict, we do not know that Bonds ever took steroids, or that he ever lied about it. All we know is that he was evasive, whatever that means, and that a 7-year multi-million prosecution failed to prove that he lied about anything.

Another report said:
The essence of the case against Bonds, the record-holder for home runs in a career (762) and in a season (73), is that he lied to a grand jury in 2003 regarding the use of anabolic steroids and the fact that he’d gotten injections from someone other than his doctors. ...

“I think it will be seen by most people as affirming that Bonds was cheating and using steroids,” former Major League Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent told Bloomberg News.
These comments are irresponsible. Some of us believe in innocence until proven guilty. A failed prosecution should be seen as innocence, not guilt. And the more time and money spent by the feds, the more Bonds should be seen as the victim of a faulty witchhunt.

I don't even see how the obstruction conviction should stand. If Bonds did not lie, and he did not interfere with the prosecution of BALCO and others, then where is the obstruction? It makes no sense to me. The feds could retry him on the perjury charges, but I think that they ought to cut their losses. They have no legitimate interest in keeping him out of the baseball hall of fame.

Update: Apparently this is the actual transcript of the testimony used to convict Bonds of obstruction:
Q: Did Greg ever give you anything that required a syringe to inject yourself with?

Bonds: I've only had one doctor touch me. And that's my only personal doctor. Greg, like I said, we don't get into each others' personal lives. We're friends, but I don't - we don't sit around and talk baseball, because he knows I don't want - don't come to my house talking baseball. If you want to come to my house and talk about fishing, some other stuff, we'll be good friends, you come around talking about baseball, you go on. I don't talk about his business. You know what I mean? ...

Q: Right.

A: That's what keeps our friendship. You know, I am sorry, but that - you know, that - I was a celebrity child, not just in baseball by my own instincts. I became a celebrity child with a famous father. I just don't get into other people's business because of my father's situation, you see ...
The jury foreman said that this was a BS answer, and I guess it was, but I fail to see how it obstructed any justice. Bonds was explaining his relationship with Greg Anderson, and that seemed to be of interest to the district attorney. If the attorney needed additional info, then he should have specifically asked for it. Bonds has no way of knowing what the attorney needs. Anderson and the BALCO officials were convicted, and I really don't see how this answer could have hindered that prosecution.

I have been a witness when the attorney was dissatisfied with my answer for some reason. When that happens, he repeats or rephrases the question. Always. Sometimes I have missed the point of the questions. Most witnesses do. It appears to me that the attorney did a sloppy job, and Bonds is being blamed for it.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Women earn more, work less

Carrie Lukas writes in the WSJ:
Recent studies have shown that the wage gap shrinks—or even reverses—when relevant factors are taken into account and comparisons are made between men and women in similar circumstances. In a 2010 study of single, childless urban workers between the ages of 22 and 30, the research firm Reach Advisors found that women earned an average of 8% more than their male counterparts. Given that women are outpacing men in educational attainment, and that our economy is increasingly geared toward knowledge-based jobs, it makes sense that women's earnings are going up compared to men's.
Meanwhile, NY Times letters from physicians admit that women work less:
My husband and I are physicians of both persuasions. He works more than 60 hours each week and takes calls and pages 24/7, 365 days a year, including while on family vacations. His compromise so I can sleep is that the pager clipped to his pajamas buzzes almost silently.

When I was pregnant with my third child, I switched to part time, and am currently working 27 hours a week with no night call.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Fighting for Mohammedans

The USA has now gone to war 6 times in the last 20 years to save Mohammedans.
Kuwait, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya.

Meanwhile, today's controversy is
Koran_burning and the ensuing rioting on the other side of the world:
US President Barack Obama denounced the act of burning a Koran but did not mention Jones by name.

"The desecration of any holy text, including the Koran, is an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry," Mr Obama said in a statement released by the White House.

"However, to attack and kill innocent people in response is outrageous, and an affront to human decency and dignity."
Most Christians would not call the Koran a "holy text".

The mock trial and execution was not an act of intolerance and bigotry either. It is completely reasonable for a religious preacher to explain why his religion is better than the alternatives. Terry Jones was apparently trying to make the point that Islam is not a religion of peace, and the response to Jones would seem to prove it.