Christmas Eve Comic

[via Oh, Internet!]

December 24, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Comics. Leave a comment.

F___ You if You Don’t Like Christmas

[Drew Toothpaste via Rats Off!]

It’s always OK to dance.

[via Julia Segal]

December 3, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Video. 1 comment.

Take Your Medicine with a Grain of Salt

[via Savage Chickens]

The subject of this article, Dr. John Ioannidis, is the medical establishment’s equivalent of an internal affairs investigative unit.  According to his meta-studies, the findings from approximately half of the top 50 cited papers of the past decade are, at best, highly dubious.

Medical research is not especially plagued with wrongness. Other meta-research experts have confirmed that similar issues distort research in all fields of science, from physics to economics (where the highly regarded economists J. Bradford DeLong and Kevin Lang once showed how a remarkably consistent paucity of strong evidence in published economics studies made it unlikely that any of them were right). And needless to say, things only get worse when it comes to the pop expertise that endlessly spews at us from diet, relationship, investment, and parenting gurus and pundits. But we expect more of scientists, and especially of medical scientists, given that we believe we are staking our lives on their results. The public hardly recognizes how bad a bet this is. The medical community itself might still be largely oblivious to the scope of the problem, if Ioannidis hadn’t forced a confrontation when he published his studies in 2005.

Ioannidis initially thought the community might come out fighting. Instead, it seemed relieved, as if it had been guiltily waiting for someone to blow the whistle, and eager to hear more. David Gorski, a surgeon and researcher at Detroit’s Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, noted in his prominent medical blog that when he presented Ioannidis’s paper on highly cited research at a professional meeting, “not a single one of my surgical colleagues was the least bit surprised or disturbed by its findings.” Ioannidis offers a theory for the relatively calm reception. “I think that people didn’t feel I was only trying to provoke them, because I showed that it was a community problem, instead of pointing fingers at individual examples of bad research,” he says. In a sense, he gave scientists an opportunity to cluck about the wrongness without having to acknowledge that they themselves succumb to it—it was something everyone else did.

To say that Ioannidis’s work has been embraced would be an understatement. His PLoS Medicine paper is the most downloaded in the journal’s history, and it’s not even Ioannidis’s most-cited work—that would be a paper he published in Nature Genetics on the problems with gene-link studies. Other researchers are eager to work with him: he has published papers with 1,328 different co-authors at 538 institutions in 43 countries, he says. Last year he received, by his estimate, invitations to speak at 1,000 conferences and institutions around the world, and he was accepting an average of about five invitations a month until a case last year of excessive-travel-induced vertigo led him to cut back. Even so, in the weeks before I visited him he had addressed an AIDS conference in San Francisco, the European Society for Clinical Investigation, Harvard’s School of Public Health, and the medical schools at Stanford and Tufts.

It comes down to terrible incentives that motivate researchers to overstate their findings coupled with unrealistic expectations from the public.

“If the drugs don’t work and we’re not sure how to treat something, why should we claim differently? Some fear that there may be less funding because we stop claiming we can prove we have miraculous treatments. But if we can’t really provide those miracles, how long will we be able to fool the public anyway? The scientific enterprise is probably the most fantastic achievement in human history, but that doesn’t mean we have a right to overstate what we’re accomplishing.”

We could solve much of the wrongness problem, Ioannidis says, if the world simply stopped expecting scientists to be right. That’s because being wrong in science is fine, and even necessary—as long as scientists recognize that they blew it, report their mistake openly instead of disguising it as a success, and then move on to the next thing, until they come up with the very occasional genuine breakthrough. But as long as careers remain contingent on producing a stream of research that’s dressed up to seem more right than it is, scientists will keep delivering exactly that.

“Science is a noble endeavor, but it’s also a low-yield endeavor,” he says. “I’m not sure that more than a very small percentage of medical research is ever likely to lead to major improvements in clinical outcomes and quality of life. We should be very comfortable with that fact.”

[David H. Freedman @ the Atlantic via the Browser]

November 10, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Reading. Leave a comment.

Hooligans Beware!

[via Gun Show]

October 26, 2010. Tags: , , , , , . Comics. Leave a comment.

Knife City Comic

[via The Invisible Hair Suit]

October 11, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , . Comics. Leave a comment.

Do Your Part, Citizen!

[via Fake Science]

October 8, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , . Comics. Leave a comment.

Wake Up Call

[via Nedroid]

October 4, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , . Comics. Leave a comment.

Who Do I Punch?

[via Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal]

September 29, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , . Comics. Leave a comment.

Dope

Lance Armstrong taking the Pete Rose approach:

As long as I live, I will deny it. There was absolutely no way I forced people, encouraged people, told people, helped people, facilitated. Absolutely not. One hundred percent.

His choice of words here is interesting even though his grammar is abhorrant.

Personal opinion: People who say “100 percent,” regardless of context, are attempting to blow smoke up your ass.

My thoughts on this whole “Lance Thing” are scattered. You may not care at all, gentle reader. Be assured though that Armstrong’s handlers care deeply what you think, and for good reason. His legacy is at stake and by proxy, so is his charitable foundation. In fact, in the New York Times article mentioned below, there is this sense that his people don’t care what his transgressions are/were since ‘his good acts outweigh his bad ones.’ Sounds like a sideways admission of guilt to me.

Interesting excerpt from the great NYT article on the subject:

Jay Coakley, a sociologist and the author of “Sports in Society: Issues and Controversies,” said that he had no doubt that Mr. Armstrong was guilty of doping, but that it did not matter. For athletes, he said, the line between performance enhancement and medical treatment has become so fuzzy that it is impossible to discern.

“Deciding to use performance-enhancing substances and methods has nothing to do with lack of morality,” Mr. Coakley said. “It has to do with normative structure of elite sport, and the athlete’s commitment to his identity as an athlete.”

Such a great insight. It leads well into an NPR story I heard days later that chronicles Katherine Hamilton’s decision to opt out of sports entirely:

“There is an untold story,” she said, “about all the thousands … who make a conscious decision, that are really great athletes doing the right thing, working really hard — and they just drop out because they’re just not willing to do the things to your body and to go down that road.”

In other words, athletes who don’t just say no to drugs, but no to sport[.]

Doping may be a (very) roundabout way to help cancer patients, but it’s also the apparent cause of other types of societal illness.

[Bruce Weber and Juliet Macur @ the New York Times via the Browser]

[image via correct-weight-loss.net]

September 16, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Reading. 2 comments.

The Smoke Ring

The misconception: America’s marijuana laws are draconian compared to the Netherlands, whose citizens can sell and smoke weed all day, errday.

Not so.

Sure, there are Amsterdam shops that sell to both tourists and natives, but they’re operating illegally under the auspices of “tolerance.” To avoid incredible financial penalties, they must maintain a small inventory, they can’t sell much to any one person, they can’t post ingredients, they can’t sell to minors, the list of rules goes on.

If you don’t nail a perfect gram on the first chop, you have to make the weight by laboriously shaving brown flour into the scale pan while the customer volubly wonders who let this fumbling idiot behind the bar. Compounding my professional stress is the computerized inventory system, which, as a prophylactic against embezzlement, is finely tuned to track near-atomic quantities of product that might go missing. (For example, the system builds in a standard deduction for the sticky crumbs of hash residue that cling to the edge of the kitchen knife.) It’s like working at a Starbucks where the customers are cranky zombies, where a latte costs fifty bucks, and where a stray speck of coffee grounds falling underfoot will probably mean an ass-chewing from your superintimidating manager.

We may not have as tolerant a government on this side of the pond, but our slow path towards semi-legalization leads to a more concrete destination.

Conversely, America, via the sturdier Trojan horse of medical marijuana, looks poised to chart a wiser course, through policies that more closely resemble full legalization than “tolerance.” While Dutch dollars still flow to Baltic thugs, states like Michigan license small-time growers to provide for certified “patients.” American legalization would also almost certainly include FDA regulation and chemical analysis of the product for sale. […]

By liberating cannabis from the symbolic company of heroin, cocaine, and Ecstasy and grafting it to the sympathetic litany of “glaucoma, cancer, and AIDS,” America’s cannabis activists have, by all appearances, begun extending marijuana’s roots into the culture to depths undreamed by the Dutch. At the start of 2010, Los Angeles alone had nearly as many dispensaries as Holland has shops, one of the reasons that Dutch weed professionals sound like Dust Bowl Okies when they talk about California and the other markets emerging in the United States.

Interesting article throughout. Told from the perspective of a journalist who had to work at an Amsterdam marijuana coffee shop for a week.

[Wells Tower @ GQ via the Browser]

UPDATE. Highly relevant scene from Pulp Fiction:

Thanks Kottke.

[image via SBS film]

September 6, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Reading. 3 comments.

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