Need CPR?

(possibly disturbing) Read the rest of this entry »

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Holding a cat

Random thought:

Holding a baby is good camouflage

for rocking while standing or sitting.

Cats are less useful.

Family Traditions

My daughter and son had a long conversation the other day.  They knew what they were talking about, within this twin-like patois built upon years of shared jokes.  It made sense to them, for all that anyone else would have found the banter of movie and TV quotes to be strings of non-sequitors.

“You know, the baby won’t learn how to talk if this is all it hears,” I jested, referring to my future grandchild. “The school will call and say, ‘We think your child is autistic; he just speaks in scripts’!”

I was mostly joking of course; conversing in “scripts” hasn’t prevented either of my kids from being able to speak.   Like in many families, sometimes the scripts imply whole paragraphs of dialog familiar to members.  They can serve as conversational shorthand or crutches to encode the meaningful transmission of information when someone is in a hurry, feeling ill, or just making a joke.

Like all the other forms of communication shorthand we use at home, it’s just one of those traditions that creates part of the family culture. (And what better way to hide things from mum than a secret kid argot?)

You Can’t

(These quotes are real, at least to the gist of what was told me.)

“You can’t — no, no whining!  You just sit here next to me and wait quietly for the doctor.  You are NOT going to bother people by grabbing all the magazines and lining them up on the floor.  Don’t even ask ‘why’ — I’m tired of all the Why’s.”

“Will you quit repeating things over and over. What the devil’s gotten into you?”

“Oh, just stop flapping about every time you’re upset!  Your baby sister doesn’t go around doing weird things like that!”

“Sit still, Andrea, no rocking.  We don’t do that in school.”

“Stop doing that!  You’re going to kill the grass, spinning around in circles like that.  Now come inside and quit making a spectacle of yourself.”

“What were you thinking, Read the rest of this entry »

Hope against fear

I rarely get choked up listening to speeches.  I’m just not a terribly sentimental person as far as patriotic stuff goes.

Except for this bit from Obama’s inauguration speech today:

We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. All this we will do.

Oh, I do hope so!

Vacuuming the stairs

Random thought:

It’s easy to give people what they want.

It’s much more difficult to give them what they need.

1,393 page, 7.4 pound Biology textbook: $140

Self-referencing textbook diagram using said heavy tome to weigh down a Southern blot:   PRICELESS!

illustration with heavy biology textbook used to weigh down materials

illustration showing textbook used to weigh down materials

Lost in Translation

My daughter brought this quote home from college, as she though I would enjoy it — and I very much do, as I can readily identify with it.  The words had been printed out and tacked on a bulletin board, and it originates from Brian Andreas’ Story People:

There are some days
when no matter what I say
it feels like
I’m far away in another country
& whoever is doing the translating
has had far too much to drink

You just don’t get it

A few summers ago, right in the middle of my graduate programme, I was hit with Mono and Lyme. Taking a shower was exhausting. I kept falling asleep in statistics classes, and in the lab where I tried to work. Putting thoughts together in any of my research analysis or writing, or even learning new concepts, was like stringing beads while wearing heavy ski mittens.

Even after submitting a letter from the doctor to my department head, he couldn’t understand why I couldn’t get things done, and when he did see me around, why I was staggering around and looking like “death warmed over”. He was of course, operating on the Willpower/ Mind Over Matter principle, where all one really needed was just More Determination. (And this was even in a biological science, where you’d think they would have some kind of clue!)

I got over the diseases. A couple of the most important things I learned from that whole experience were tied to Paula Kamen’s lovely book, All in my head: an epic quest to cure an unrelenting, totally unreasonable, and only slightly enlightening HEADACHE”. One important thought is: “There is a difference between getting cured and getting healed.” Another is: “Acceptance is not the same thing as resignation.”

I also got a crash course in how little empathy some people have in real life, compared to the words that come out of their mouths. Of course, it was hardly the first (or last) time I had experienced such in life, just an event when things were painted with such broad strokes.

Weird thing is, the official word is that autistics lack empathy.  That’s the line, but there are plenty of people who beg to differ.

In an NPR interview, Temple Grandin had this to say about empathy:

Normal people have an incredible lack of empathy. They have good emotional empathy, but they don’t have much empathy for the autistic kid who is screaming at the baseball game because he can’t stand the sensory overload. Or the autistic kid having a meltdown in the school cafeteria because there’s too much stimulation. I’m frustrated with the inability of normal people to have sensory empathy. They can’t seem to acknowledge these different realities because they’re so far away from their own experiences.

Unlike someone with Antisocial Personality Disorder (sociopathy) or Narcissistic Personality Disorder who truly does lack much real empathy, the autistic person does not really lack empathy. Rather, they do not respond in ways that demonstrate empathy in typically recognisable fashion. This is in contrast to those sociopaths, bullies and narcissists that may demonstrate a lot of the shallow social-noise that appears to be sympathetic, but on the deeper level is really more about manipulation to gain something for themselves, rather than true empathy.

Just because someone doesn’t respond in the expected manner, that does not mean they lack the feelings we associate with those responses.

The term “empathy” is one of those words that carries several meanings, and is used in different ways. This conflation of meaning results in things like this issue of the Asperger’s/autistic person being described as “lacking empathy”. Plenty of parents, spouses, other family members and close friends will assert that despite diagnostic criteria, their person “really is loving” and “shows empathy” and demonstrates both passion and compassion.

So what’s going on here with this definition, and in the person?  Things like: Read the rest of this entry »

With a price tag like that, you know it’s what’s best

Would you pay more for name-brand headache medicine than the generic or store brand?  If your budget is like mine, probably not; after all, the tablets are the same, it’s just the packaging that’s different.

But on the flip side, what if your favorite practitioner recommends an expensive treatment that will help you or your loved one recover from a chronic condition? Not surprisingly, treatments with higher price tags make patients feel better, even when there are not any differences in the treatments, nor even when the treatments are just placebos!  Per research by Waber et al., (“Commercial Features of Placebo and Therapeutic Efficacy”)

These results are consistent with described phenomena of commercial variables affecting quality expectations and expectations influencing therapeutic efficacy. Placebo responses to commercial features have many potential clinical implications. For example, they may help explain the popularity of high-cost medical therapies (eg, cyclooxygenase 2 inhibitors) over inexpensive, widely available alternatives (eg, over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and why patients switching from branded medications may report that their generic equivalents are less effective.

In other words, patients perceive more expensive treatment as being more effective.  This is in many parts “research as confirmation of what we already know”, also known as “A Duh! Study”.  (Which is why it was in the 2008 Ig Nobel Awards.)  However, this preference for expensive treatments can also be a post-purchase rationalization, where we have the unconscious tendency to rationalize why the things we have paid for were such good choices.

Human beings are subject to a large number of cognitive fallacies and biases of judgment.  We unconsciously deceive ourselves in a number of ways, which is why scientists must use randomized, double-blinded, and repeatable studies with falsifiable hypotheses. (The word “falsifiable” is somewhat confusing or misleading; it simply means that the hypotheses can be proven wrong, which is statistically safer than trying to prove them correct.)

Our brains love to find patterns — that’s how we make sense of all the sensory input we’re bombarded with — but we will also see patterns even when they don’t exist.  Even the most earnestly objective researcher can misinterpret incomplete data, or give more attention to data that supports their hypothesis than that which doesn’t.  This is why double-blinded studies are important, so neither the study subjects nor the data gatherers know who is in the treatment or the control groups.

Naturally, shysters will take advantage of people by Read the rest of this entry »

Accessibility Fail (and Win)

We have a shiny new building on our campus.  It’s gorgeous, with several conference rooms named for money donors, and a huge glassed-in meeting room.  (Other faculty have pointed out that alas, said building isn’t a “LEED-building” meaning that the design lacks certain green/energy-efficient factors.)

What I find annoying about the new building are its access issues.  Oh sure, there are the nominal “handicap” bathroom stalls, and brailled room-number plates.  But the doors to the regular bathroom stalls swing inward, making one do-si-do around the toilet, and the seating areas in the floor lobbies don’t have any electrical outlets nearby for people to plug in their laptops.

Yet these are minor kvetches; what drives me nuts are Read the rest of this entry »