Friday, December 11, 2009

FOX on the Run

This study might make Glen Beck's head literally explode like that dude from Scanners. It uses a measure called the "Successful Societies Scale" which merges societal data for such things as homicide rate, teen pregnancy, teen suicide, citizens incarcerated, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases, and poverty. Looking only at first world (developed, 'Westernized') democratic countries, the researcher wanted to see what variables were related to the success of societies.

So, what correlates *weakly* with unsuccessful societies? Immigration (sorry Lou Dobbs).

What correlates *strongly* with unsuccessful societies? Religiosity and rejection of evolution (sorry Fox News).

Interestingly, the U.S. is so f*cked up by being one of the most unsuccessful societies on the measure (ridiculously high on homicide rate and people incarcerated, for example) while also being the most religious, the researcher actually ran the data with and without the U.S. being included (all it did was lower the correlations a bit).

Anyway, I've always wanted to say to my Fox News loving friends: I wonder if the MSM like Fox will cover this story?!? (MSM stands for "mainstream media" - for those of you who don't watch Fox)

Posted at Reverse Sickology

Title from here (SuuWeeeet!):

Monday, November 30, 2009

I'm not an addict (maybe that's a lie)

So they're giving pot to kids with ADHD. Two things. First, this is my favorite quote from the article:
Counterintuitive as it may seem, however, patients and doctors have been reporting that marijuana helps alleviate some of the symptoms, particularly the anxiety and anger that so often accompany A.D.H.D.

Anxiety and anger are not symptoms of ADHD. They might accompany ADHD, but they're not symptoms. I can understand why pot might be good for the anxiety and anger that might accompany cancer, AIDS, terminal illness, etc. Giving kids pot so they're less angry and anxious about having ADHD? Interesting.

Second, I'm a bit concerned about government-approved pot to kids. Listen, if I were a parent, and for some reason I thought pot would be good for my kid's behavior, I might want to give my kid pot. Why should I need a doctor to tell me it is okay?

Title from here: Posted at Reverse Sickology

Monday, October 19, 2009

They're All a Bunch of Nazi Conformist Cheerleaders

Not sure what to make of this. Researchers were interested in whether suicides of famous people resulted in copy-cat suicides. So they created a computer simulation:
By studying the behaviour of 1000 computer 'people', pre-programmed with the rules that govern how people learn from one another, (the researcher) investigated the problem of copycat suicides to see whether suicidal behaviour in the population really does fit with sociologists' assumptions (of copy-cat suicides being common).
Evidently, the computer people were all goth and copy-catty. The researcher concluded:
The findings of the computer simulations strongly support the proposed link between the mass reporting of a prestigious celebrity's suicide and an increase in national suicide figures.
Know what? Sure, this is pretty cool. But here's where I get pissy. Based on the computer people cyber-killing themselves, the researcher proposes real social regulation:
This highlights the need for media guidelines that restrict the dissemination and glorification of suicides, as already introduced in many countries, such as Austria, Switzerland and Australia
I guess that if you believe you can "pre-program (computer people) with the rules that govern how people learn from one another" then I suppose you'd also believe you can regulate "the rules that govern how (real) people learn from one another." I, on the other hand, am less willing to generalize from computer people to real people that absolutely. But I have a suggestion - develop a computer program that governs how people pay taxes. Then tax the cyber-people to fund the regulations. I would support that.

Title from here:

Posted at Reverse Sickology

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Counting Doubts on Broken Fingers

This article is titled "Creationists Say Science and Bible Disprove 'Ardi' Fossil Is Evidence of Evolution." It discusses the recently published research regarding "an upright walking ape named Ardipithecus ramidus, or "Ardi" for short, who made Ethiopia her home nearly 5 million years ago." The article is about:
(A) group of researchers, many of them with advanced degrees in science...unimpressed by Ardi, who...believe (she) cannot be an ancestor of modern man for a range of reasons, including one of singular importance: God created man in one day, and evolution is a fallacy.
According to Gary Bates, CEO of Creation Ministries International, for example, they "have a different interpretation of the facts, and that is that Genesis is the real view of the creation of man." The main scientist interviewed, David Menton, an anatomist, says, "What creationists believe about human origins we get from the Bible." Ultimately he says:
Evolution is supposedly based on science, but the science does not prove what they want it to. Creationism is not based on scientific observation but on God's word. God created everything in six days, and that's it.
Listen, I've no doubt that the Bible "disproves" the scientific conclusions drawn about Ardi. If one accepts that Biblical claims trump scientific claims, that is a no-brainer. But show me one piece of information in the article, or elsewhere, regarding evidence that science "disproves" the scientific conclusions drawn from Ardi about evolution.

What bothers me a bit about the article, then, is that it is presented to somehow be about science, with worthwhile scientific commentary by "researchers, many of them with advanced degrees in science"...but there is no scientific commentary at all. Look, the unabomber was a researcher with an advanced degree in science (techincally his degree was in Math, but he held a NSF fellowship during his career). That doesn't mean that whatever he says is somehow scientic in nature.

Hell, even the anti-Evolution Family Research Council ("Defending Faith, Family, and Freedom") is all hot-and-bothered that, in their view, Ardi also was anti-gay marriage.

So let me get this straight. Ardi proves evolution is wrong. Or maybe not, but at least the Bible proves evolution is wrong. And even if that ain't quite right, God still hates fags.

Jesus titty fucking Christ.

Title from here:

Posted at Reverse Sickology

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Deep like a graveyard, ripe as a peach

If I were to catch someone sexually assaulting someone I love, I'd go far more medieval on his ass than chemical castration. So, it isn't that I'm philosophically opposed to this new Polish law:
Poland on Friday approved a law making chemical castration mandatory for pedophiles in some cases...pedophiles convicted of raping children under the age of 15 years or a close relative would have to undergo chemical therapy on their release from prison.
What concerns me is that we here in the U.S. have a crazy history of hysterical legal reactions to sexual assault allegations. Take for example this case of a 17-year-old girl giving a blowjob to a 15-year-old boy. The outcome of our great justice system: Found guilt of sodomy. Or this 17-year-old guy who got a consensual blowjob from a 15-year-old girl. The outcome of our great justice system: Guilty of felony aggravated child molestation, and over two years in prison before being released.

And who can forget the great outcomes of the daycare sex abuse scandals of the 1980s and 1990s, when Americans of all walks of life came to believe there was a huge, satanic cult sexually abusing children all over the much so a woman could end up in prison for years when she was accused of amputating children's penises? Until a jury of my peers wouldn't convict me of such a crime until there were kids with missing cocks, I'm not sure I'd trust our justice system to castrate the right people.

As a disclaimer, I'd like to note I think our justice system is the best system there is. It is just that I know the people who make the laws, and I've met the peers who might make up my jury. I don't trust 'em.

Title from here:

Posted at Reverse Sickology

Monday, September 28, 2009

And I guess I just don't know

I recently commented on research conducted in Canada finding heroin users like prescription heroin. Seems similar research was conducted in England, too:
(R)esearchers divided the 127 participants into three groups, giving one group heroin and giving the other two intravenous methadone and oral methadone. Although all three groups showed improved physical and mental health thanks to the counseling and social services offered by the clinics, the heroin-using group fared much better than the others. After half a year, three-quarters had largely stopped taking street heroin. And the number of crimes committed by those in the group dropped from 1,700 in the 30 days before the program began to 547 in the first six months of the trial.
Now, England is considering government implementation of such a treatment program:
Now, with results showing the trial succeeded in reducing street-drug use and crime among participants, Britain could soon become only the second country in Europe to institutionalize the program. That would mean permanent, state-funded heroin clinics would be set up across the country to treat the most heavily addicted people.
Fine and dandy, but why make state-funded clinics, requiring other people to pay for the user's heroin? Why not just make heroin legal? That's what they did in Portugal in 2001. Here are the results:
(B)etween 2001 and 2006 in Portugal, rates of lifetime use of any illegal drug among seventh through ninth graders fell from 14.1% to 10.6%; drug use in older teens also declined. Lifetime heroin use among 16-to-18-year-olds fell from 2.5% to 1.8% (although there was a slight increase in marijuana use in that age group). New HIV infections in drug users fell by 17% between 1999 and 2003, and deaths related to heroin and similar drugs were cut by more than half. In addition, the number of people on methadone and buprenorphine treatment for drug addiction rose to 14,877 from 6,040, after decriminalization, and money saved on enforcement allowed for increased funding of drug-free treatment as well.
Not only does it not increase drug use, but it would drastically decrease the number of people diagnosed with substance use disorders. Why? Because so many necessary symptoms for diagnosis are a function of the laws about drug use rather than the drug use itself. For example, one can get a DSM diagnosis of Substance Abuse with only the following symptom:
Recurrent substance-related legal problems.
So someone who gets arrested for smoking pot can get diagnosed, but I wouldn't get diagnosed for drinking alcohol - irrelevant is who uses more or any other consequence - simply that my drug of choice is legal means I can much more easily avoid that symptom.

Title from here:

Posted at Reverse Sickology

Monday, September 21, 2009

I Can Try, But I'm Not Promising

So, children in the UK can get wristbands that allow them to go to the front of the line at (some) amusement parks if they're diagnosed with ADHD:
Hyperactive children do not have to wait in line at theme parks because they cannot cope with the stress of waiting. The youngsters are being given wristbands that allow them to sail past the crowds queueing for rides and other activities.
I don't necessarily have a problem with the policy, but can certainly understand the position of some teachers who are opposed to it:
'Part of having ADHD should be teaching them to live in the world as we know it,' one said...'They cannot queue jump in later life in the post office, therefore they need to be taught this.'
What concerns me is that the so-called experts are either ignorant themselves, or (more likely) using public ignorance to their advantage. For example,
Andrea Bilbow, of the ADDISS support service, said: 'Children with ADHD are very impulsive and just can't cope in a queue or when there is a delay in gratification. They can't stand and wait for an hour because there will be a nice ride at the end of it. They physically can't cope with that.'
This highlights a very common and very important misunderstanding of the diagnosis of mental conditions. The misunderstanding is this:
A diagnosis DESCRIBES behavior only. It does not EXPLAIN behavior.
The argument being put forth by the expert is that the child can't cope with delaying gratification *because* the child has ADHD. But that is an objectively inaccurate understanding of a diagnosis of ADHD, whether the DSM version or the ICD-10 version. A diagnosis descriptively labels behavior, and that is all. Thus, it is actually the opposite of what is being claimed - because the child acts impulsively, his/her behavior is labeled as ADHD. What the woman should have said is this:
'Children are diagnosed with ADHD because they are very impulsive and just don't cope in a queue or when there is a delay in gratification. They don't stand and wait for an hour...They don't cope with that.'
A child diagnosed with ADHD is diagnosed based on what he or she DOES or DOES NOT do, whether or not the child CAN do otherwise. "Can" & "Cannot" are irrelevant to diagnoses.

Title reference here:

Posted at Reverse Sickology

Thursday, September 17, 2009

No liberty, no reason, no blame...

The modern take on science - I just knew it wasn't my fault. Article: Tasty Foods Send Signal to Brain to Keep Eating. Opening sentence:
Can't stop eating fatty food? Blame your brain, researchers say.
The study didn't look at humans, however. The researchers examined rodents...
But how is that important, really? I just want to be told I'm not to blame. Title reference here:

Posted at Reverse Sickology

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"I Learned It By Watching You!"

When I was in graduate school at FSU, I (at least) once wore a baseball cap to a meeting including faculty and students. A stats professor, who I knew well, somewhat mockingly said as I entered the room, "A good Southern male would never wear a hat indoors." I responded, "Dr. Brewer, please don't ever confuse me for a male from the southern United States." While my quip didn't go over so well in Tallahassee, Florida, I'm reminded of it when I read this article:
Rude behavior in college classrooms is often a matter of course: College students more disrespectful, professors find
I've noticed this at my college, too. Not the rudeness of college students, but instead the fact that a lot of professors are getting their undies all bunched up due to students texting, or students' clothing choices, or, basically, students not offering them enough respect. Profs I know frequently complain about the same things as those in the article:
(P)rofessors...find they must devote space in the syllabus to ask students to refrain from surfing the Web, texting or answering cell phones during a lecture. Some have to remind students that, when making a presentation, they should remove the backward baseball cap and save the bare midriff for a beach party. Others complain that students randomly leave and enter the classroom during class.
Indeed, students, like anyone else, can be rude. And I would never fault other instructors for trying to teach civility to their students or trying to structure class the way they'd like it structured. But I wonder, assuming that I might do something that helps students learn, whether it better to teach students how not to offend or how not to get offended. Face it, people get offended for the most retarded of reasons (words chosen purposefully):
  • People on the political right get pissed if the greeter at Walmart says "Happy Holidays" in December rather than "Merry Christmas."
  • People on the bat-shit-crazy right feel it okay to kill other people if they draw a cartoon that hurts their wittle feewings.
  • People on the left get all upset with the flag someone displays on their car.
  • People on the bat-shit-crazy left feel it okay to kill other people trying to cure diseases or feed the poor.
Seems to me, the only battle that might win any ground is *not* to get people not to offend, but rather to get people to fucking suck it up and take it when someone does something that disappoints you. Albert Ellis, one of my all-time favorite psychology dudes, called it rational other acceptance. Rational people recognize that other people are not always going to act in such a way that will make us happy. And we accept that. Obviously, there is stuff that shouldn't be tolerated. But I can't see backward baseball caps as part of that category. We in education are constantly bombarded with the buzzword diversity, and many throw it at their students like inflated grades. But then those same professors can't handle it when someone doesn't dress they way they want them to? Suck it up and take it. Otherwise, if we feel it appropriate to regulate clothing, it becomes very difficult to argue against bullshit like this:
Sudanese widow Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein, a former journalist who last worked for the media department of the UN Mission in Sudan was charged under Article 152 of Sudanese law which imposes 40 lashes for anyone “who commits an indecent act which violates public morality or wears indecent clothing.” She was wearing a pair of trouser at a restuarant (sic) on July 3.
Obviously, rational lines have to be drawn somewhere, lest students come to class naked. But "I find it rude because it wasn't like that when I was younger" is not sufficient to draw the lines. And if we assigned to instill critical thinking skills can't see that, how can we expect anyone else to?

Heading reference here:

Posted at Reverse Sickology

Monday, September 7, 2009

Sometimes when you're on, you're really f****in' on

Recently I commented on an article about childhood depression with the question, How come we can accept that some people have standard moods that fall above the norm, but not that some might fall below the norm? Seems I'm not the only one thinking about the normalcy of mood variability. This article in the most recent Scientific American suggests:
...that depression is not a malfunction, but a mental adaptation that brings certain cognitive advantages
The researchers hypothesize, with the support of a fair amount of research, that depression might have evolutionary advantages because is fosters intense, analytical thinking. For example,
Laboratory experiments indicate that depressed people are better at solving social dilemmas by better analysis of the costs and benefits of the different options that they might take.
The authors conclude by arguing:
...depression is nature’s way of telling you that you’ve got complex social problems that the mind is intent on solving. Therapies should try to encourage depressive rumination rather than try to stop it...
All of this interesting, and somewhat ironic (don't you think?), given that completely different research is beginning to show that many therapies seem to work on depression through the exact opposite of analytical thinking - the placebo effect for antidepressants is increasing drastically. Wired reports:
Some products that have been on the market for decades, like Prozac, are faltering in more recent...tests...Two comprehensive analyses of antidepressant trials have uncovered a dramatic increase in placebo response since the 1980s. One estimated that the so-called effect size (a measure of statistical significance) in placebo groups had nearly doubled over that time.
People aren't sure why the placebo effect has increased so drastically for antidepressants, but some hypothesize it has to do with, basically, fooling people into thinking they should be getting better:
In other words, one way that placebo aids recovery is by hacking the mind's ability to predict the future. We are constantly parsing the reactions of those around us—such as the tone a doctor uses to deliver a diagnosis—to generate more-accurate estimations of our fate. One of the most powerful placebogenic triggers is watching someone else experience the benefits of an alleged drug.
So if you consider what these two disparate lines of research might indicate, the outcome seems to be this: (1) Depression is (in part) the mind's way of making us thinking rationally, and (2) treatments for depression work (in part) by making us think irrationally. Excellent.

Title reference here

Posted at Reverse Sickology

Monday, August 31, 2009

Zombie says "Brains, Brains..."

It's been some time since I've done as I said I would and really paid attention to the seductive allure of neuroscience explanations. It turns out people get really hot and bothered when neuroscience information is used to explain human behavioral characteristics, even when the neuroscience information is irrelevant. But this article bring it back to mind, in the simplest way. It is titled "Multitasking Muddles Brains, Even When the Computer Is Off" and reports:
In several benchmark tests of focus, college students who routinely juggle many flows of information, bouncing from e-mail to web text to video to chat to phone calls, fared significantly worse than their low-multitasking peers." (According to the researcher, the tests...) are all very standard tasks in psychology...In the first, there’s lots of evidence that if people do poorly, they have trouble ignoring irrelevant information. For the second task, there are many demonstrations that this is a good reflection of people’s ability to organize things in their working memory. The third task shows how fast and readily people switch from doing one thing to another.”
Interesting research. Worth noting, they didn't measure brain activity at all. Matter of fact,
(One researcher) next plans to use brain imaging to study the neurology of multitasking...
So why title the article "Multitasking Muddles Brains"? Why not "Multitasking Muddles Attentional Focus" or something more accurate? Probably because, as noted, people get all wet and moist about brain information, even when it is unimportant.

Listen, I understand that attentional focus is functional on brain activity. So is vision (so is everything we do). You'd never hear, though, anyone say eating carrots improves brain activity due to alleged carrot effects on vision. Someone'd say eating carrots improves vision.

Posted at Reverse Sickology

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Reality TV...sure it is...

Back in the late '80s when I was an undergrad at University of Illinois (or, THE University of Illinois, for any of you Ohio State dorks), I had a close friend keen on going to law school who once stated proudly at a party, "L.A. Law isn't anything like real law." I called him a pompous ass; pompous because, for example, you'd never find a bartender (which I was at the time) trying to claim special knowledge by noting Cheers wasn't really what bars were like; and an ass because anyone thinking TV shows offer an accurate depiction of reality probably aren't law school material. I haven't thought about this for some time, until yesterday I came across this article, interviewing community college folk who'd screened a new sitcom called Community, about community colleges. Comments:
Howard Tineberg, English professor at Bristol Community College, in Massachusetts...(said) "Much of the cynical representation of the community college is offered through (blah, blah, blah)...I see much to be offended by in this premier episode."
“Unfortunately, the pilot of ‘Community’ perpetuates stereotypes of two-year colleges (blah, blah, blah)” writes Sandie McGill Barnhouse, chair of the Two-Year College English Association (TYCA) and English professor at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College,
Wow! Does that mean Homer Simpson's job isn't an accurate depiction of work at a nuclear power plant? That hospitals aren't really like that portrayed on Scrubs? That The Office isn't much like an office? That this isn't representative of fourth grade education:

Posted at Reverse Sickology

Monday, August 24, 2009

Get These Kids Some Doctor Approved Drugs!

I find it somewhat disturbing that 10% of Americans are on antidepressants:
About 10% of Americans — or 27 million people — were taking antidepressants in 2005, the last year for which data were available at the time the study was written. That's about twice the number in 1996...

Certainly, it isn't that surprising given:
During the study, spending on direct-to-consumer antidepressant ads increased from $32 million to $122 million.

Still, this other study seems off-base:
Depression in children as young as 3 is real and not just a passing grumpy mood, according to provocative new research.

Provocative indeed. What the researchers did was find a bunch of kids diagnosed as depressed, followed them longitudinally for a couple years, and found that many were still depressed. How do we know this is diagnosable depression, though, and not simply standard variance in personality? For a diagnosis of depression, one of the very most important components is that the depressive symptoms "represent a change from previous functioning." If the kids were depressed all along, how can we conclude that there was any change from previous functioning? We all know people who are significantly happier than the rest of us. Sure, they annoy the hell out of us, but we recognize that as standard human variance. How come we can accept that some people have standard moods that fall above the norm, but not that some might fall below the norm? I'm not arguing that these people shouldn't be allowed to seek assistance if they want it, but should we be making inaccurate diagnoses for that purpose?

Posted at Reverse Sickology

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Study: Drug Users Like Drugs

If I didn't consider Benedict Carey an excellent science writer, I'd be sure this New York Times article was an Onion parody:
The safest and most effective treatment for hard-core heroin addicts who fail to control their habit using methadone or other treatments may be (heroin), in prescription form...Canadian researchers randomly assigned about half of (226) addicts to receive methadone and the other half to receive daily injections of diacetylmorphine, the active ingredient in heroin...(the study) showed that heroin works better than methadone in this population of users, and patients will be more willing to take it...
Wow, heroin users prefer heroin. And, interestingly, heroin is "effective treatment" when prescribed by a doctor but an illicit drug when taken simply as a choice. Fascinating. That may explain this:
In an editorial with the article, Virginia Berridge of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine concluded, "The rise and fall of methods of treatment in this controversial area owe their rationale to evidence, but they also often owe more to the politics of the situation."

Posted at Reverse Sickology

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

"(T)o differentiate between irresistible and unresisted impulses"

I've been intrigued by the media fascination with "sex addiction" for some time now. I've been waiting for someone to finally say this:
(T)he more I study it, the more sceptical I have become that sex addiction is a genuine condition...Do these (people) really have an illness that renders them incapable of resisting temptation? (...) its convenient for a bad choice to be repackaged as a disease and it's in that person's interests for the outside world sees their behaviour that way.
Not much else to say, really. The semester is ending, I've been lazy with the blog for a couple months, and I'll be away for much of the summer. But I have to point out: I keep noting how odd it is that mental illness is commonly covered in the Fashion & Style section of the New York Times. I thought that probably a weird American thing. But look, this article is also in the Life & Style section of the UK newspaper. Interestingly, under the subsections Women & Relationships. Posted at Reverse Sickology

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What does "Reverse Sickology" mean? This article says is all...

Life: A medical condition
(I)t seems that a new illness is invented every week, covering every potential quirk in human behaviour...Is the human condition becoming a medical condition? (snip) (I)t is estimated that 10% of US children take Ritalin to combat behaviour problems. (snip) "If you look at the American Psychiatric Association 'bible', you'll see almost every piece of human behaviour can be classified as being in some way aberrant."
Note: When I say the article "says it all" I don't necessarily mean I agree with the politics advocated in the article.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

My Neurons Saw Jesus on a Grilled Cheese Sandwich

I’m leafing through the current issue of Time while in the doctor’s office, and stumble upon an article on “Faith & Healing: A Forum.” It seems to be a moderated panel of three people discussing faith, science, and health. The “moderator” is often ridiculous. To one panelist: “(Y)ou are careful not to talk about humans as being hardwired for religion, because hardwiring implies a hardwirer, and science hasn't yet established that.” First, when humans are described as being hardwired, it generally refers to the fact that the brain consists of electrochemical neural circuits, and thus, talking about people being hardwired in no way implies a hardwirer. And second…Yet? Science hasn’t established a hardwirer “yet”? Science hasn’t established that the moon is made of green cheese, either. Not yet, at least. Anyway, one panelist, Richard Sloan, addresses “the seductive allure of neuroscience explanations,” which I just blogged on. He does it quite well, so I thought I’d mention it here.
TIME: (C)an't the tools of science (brain scans and the like) be used to teach us about the subjective experience of religion? Sloan: Let me ask you a different question. Would it be meaningful if we did a brain scan of someone before and after eating cheese? I don't understand the value of developing beautiful images, very appealing, aesthetic images of brain scans and people engaged in various religious experiences. I don't see the value any more than imaging people while eating cheese. TIME: We explore what the brain looks like in depressed people, in people struggling with memory issues ... Sloan: But why? To understand how the brain works so we can develop interventions to treat depression and to treat memory loss. And that's absolutely appropriate. Are there interventions that will come from [imaging religious experiences]? (…) (T)here's a seductive appeal about neuroscience explanations, that there must be something significant here because you can see it in the brain scan. We're infatuated with neuroscience because of the very beautiful images that we can see, but the real question is, What do those images tell us that's of any value, whether it's basic science or applied?
On an unrelated note, the magazine issue also has an article on one of my favorite authors, Donald Barthelme. Read my favorite story of his - “The School” - here. Buy an essay on the story because you’re too lazy to write 843 words (and hope your instructors are really stupid) here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Emotional Brain: Rational Brain as Right Brain: _____ Brain (answer: "Left")

The serotonin, dopamine, and other neurotransmitters in my brain have got me thinking that I'm going to start attending more to the seductive allure of neuroscience explanations. One of my favorite types of psychology research is that which investigates the effectiveness of psychology research. Recent research has started to investigate what happens when an author throws in arbitrary brain information when explaining behaviors. In this study, for example, subjects were given poorly reasoned faux scientific articles to evaluate, with or without random pictures of a brain scan. In effect, both groups read the same nonsense, but one group had a picture of a brain included in the nonsense. Those who saw the picture of the brain thought the nonsense more convincing than those who didn’t. In this study, rather than using brain pictures, the authors included arbitrary brain words (“Hey, look, dopamine!”) and found a similar result, concluding:
Even irrelevant neuroscience information in an explanation of a psychological phenomenon may interfere with people's abilities to critically consider the underlying logic of this explanation...(N)euroscience information...irrelevant to the logic of (an) explanation...had a particularly striking effect on nonexperts' judgments of bad explanations, masking otherwise salient problems in these explanations.
What the studies indicate is that completely irrelevant brain information - words or pictures - sways people to think that an argument about behavior is better than it actually is. Which brings me to this article: Now think again: making the right decision calls for the heart as well as the head:
I once bought a pair of shoes that didn’t fit. I blame my brain. I was a victim of a dopamine rush. That pesky neurotransmitter had been primed by previous shopping highs to flood my brain with the desire to take another hit...That’s what dopamine does. It rewards successful strategies and, as soon as it finds one, it looks for more. So here’s the problem: dopamine is rational — it finds things that work and tries to do them again. But that makes you take irrational decisions.
I like the article. The article is a review of the book How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer. It does a good job highlighting research that indicates how we often make irrational decisions. But, even ignoring the basic "My stupid decisions aren't my fault" premise, I have to ask: What's with the arbitrary dopamine info? In the article, the author discusses several scientific studies, none of which involve dopamine. First, the author relates the story of Eliot, reported as a case study in Eliot Demasio’s excellent book Descartes’ Error. Eliot’s issue is not about dopamine activity, though, but is instead about structural damage to the brain. All of the other studies mentioned deal with the effects of a manipulation of the social environment on decision making – none deal with dopamine. So if none of the research in the article deals with dopamine, but the author name-drops the neurotransmitter like Eminem with Carson Daly (Carson Daly? Yeah, that’ll sustain your music career), I can only assume the author is utilizing the seductive allure of neuroscience explanations. The interview below, with the author of the book discussed in the "dopamine" article, is an excellent example. Seriously, did he just say, "I can feel my rational brain, my prefrontal cortex, go into overdrive..."? I'm all for metacognition. But if "thinking about thinking" leads you to the conclusion that dopamine caused you to buy shoes, you might not be thinking that well about thinking. Posted at Reverse Sickology

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Uncontrollable Desire to call Addiction a Disease is a Disease

I can’t come up with any other reason for such crappy argumentation being published in the Wall Street Journal. The urge to call addiction a disease has become an epidemic itself. Here’s GW Bush’s former director of the White House Office of National Drug Policy:
Substance abuse is a disease. Until recently, we failed to grasp the nature of this disease and how to reduce the suffering it causes… We have paid a high price for this confusion.
So how do we reduce the suffering caused by this disease?
The criminal justice system has become the most powerful force in the country supporting addiction treatment…
Aha. So it is a disease best treated through the criminal justice system. Perhaps we’ve been wasting our time trying to find a cure for cancer. Perhaps we should just make it illegal and see if that’ll solve it. I don’t accept the position that addiction is a disease, but if it were, wouldn’t it be better treated (as this article argues – thanks to Justin for the link) as a public health issue than a law and order issue? Can anyone name a single other disease that is best treated by the criminal justice system? Am I missing one? Wait, the author indeed argues addiction will start to be treated as a public health issue. He says:
Intervention is spreading in the health-care system with the prospect that screening for substance abuse will become as common as checking blood pressure for hypertension.
Excellent strategy. I say we start arresting those who test positive for high blood pressure and hypertension. Nip those problems in the bud. What might fascinate me most about this argument is that the author seems to believe readers will have no knowledge of history. Several times when talking about addictive drugs, he mentions alcohol. But when discussing the prospect of legalizing drugs, he says this:
No nation that has tried to avoid controlling supply has been able to stand by its permissive approach.
Isn’t that the *exact opposite* of what happened with alcohol? Didn’t we try to control supply, and then revert? Finally, he addresses an issue I mentioned recently – drug related violence in Mexico. He says,
Today there is terrible violence in Mexico. Those who carry out attacks do so with the intention of making us stop resisting them…Making it easier to produce and traffic drugs will strengthen, not weaken, these terrorists.
But this is nonsense. Yes, making it easier to produce and traffic *illegal* drugs will strengthen Mexican drug cartels. Give me a Celebrity Death Match between a Mexican drug cartel and an American/Internationl Pharmaceutical company, though, and my money’s on the Pharm company. If the drugs people wanted were legal, any US drug company could bitchslap a Mexican drug kingpin faster than you can say, “Let’s get it on.” Posted at Reverse Sickology

Monday, February 23, 2009

It isn't my fault if this post is false

This article is a review of a new book on addiction. The book sounds quite interesting. Not having read it, I can only comment on the book author's perspective from the second-hand view of the author of the book review. Still, just a couple comments about the book author's perspective. He claims that most families of addicts:
"erroneously believe that willpower is their loved one’s main problem” and that this belief indicates “cultural confusion and apathy..."
So, to believe that an addict's problems are, at least in part, the result of a lack of willpower is erroneous and indicative of confusion. For it to be true that this belief is erroneous, that would require objective evidence that the problems are not a function of will power. But the issue of will power is simply the issue of free will. And the question of free will in nowhere near answered. To believe that people have free will and to consequently believe, then, that peoples' behaviors are, at least in part, the result of free will is neither accurate nor erroneous.

I understand that many in the therapeutic, psychiatric, political, etc. communities want us to believe that addiction is a medical condition like cancer, such that once we acquire it we can only be cured by paying someone with extensive skills to fix us. But it is not "true" to say that, nor is erroneous to say otherwise. It is an unanswered, and potentially unanswerable, question.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Gotta Have My Weedies

A friend/colleague of mine sent two article links this morning to a group of us. The first deals with an area of interest to my friend - increased organized crime violence in Mexico. The second, from the WSJ, which might seem completely unrelated, is summarized as follows:
The nation is in a fury over the missteps of public figures like Alex Rodriguez and Tom Daschle (and Michael Phelps). Joe Queenan on why focusing on human foibles is more therapeutic than getting mad at Wall Street -- and why everyone should lighten up.
As someone who frequently seems to see patterns where none exist (could it be schizophrenia…or the DaColbert Code ?), I see a connection between the articles: Michael Phelps. Here’s where I’m seeing a connection. I quite agree with, for the most part, the author of the WSJ article. But I can’t get beyond his culturally-standard moral judgments, understood by Kohlberg for decades, based on the sadly simplistic “If it is illegal, it is wrong!” thinking. The author writes of Michael Phelps:
(He) violated an old-fashioned code of morality that we can all understand…(and) what (he) did is certainly wrong…
No doubt, what Phelps did was illegal. But on what grounds is it a “violation of a code or morality” and/or “certainly wrong”? Sure, I suppose what he did was immoral with the childlike decision that doing what is illegal is immoral and certainly wrong. Wouldn’t that mean, though, that what Rosa Parks did “violated a code of morality” and was thus “certainly wrong”? Anyone really want to defend that argument? So how does this relate to the article on violence in Mexico? Well, just last week, the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy released a report that begins:
Violence and the organized crime associated with the narcotics trade are critical problems in Latin America today. Confronted with a situation that is growing worse by the day, it is imperative to rectify the “war on drugs” strategy pursued in the region over the past 30 years.
Wow, an increase in organized crime and violence associated with drug prohibition. As an American, I find that really hard to believe! It would never happen here Seriously, when eight college students get arrested because an Olympic athlete gets photographed smoking a bong, is it hard to imagine that pot smoking might become an underground activity with an organized crime system designed to help people get away with it? Disclaimer: I’ve said many times that I’ve no interest in pot because I found my drug of choice at a very young age, and that drug is, thankfully, legal.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

25 Things About Me

1. I'm not a contagious disease-ridden parasite.
This article, The Evolutionary Roots of Facebook's "25 Things" Craze, looks at the social networking phenomenon from an evolutionary perspective (I suppose it is because it is Charles Darwin's Birthday?). It "explains that '25 Things' authors can be seen as 'contagious' under what's known as a 'susceptible-infected-recovered' model for the spread of disease." It says we can "(t)hink of '25 Things' authors as being contagious for one day—the day they tag a bunch of their friends." It is because of this contagion that the meme spread through Facebook.
I completed the 25 things list. But my #2 was:
2) I’m not going to tag anyone with this little game. I’m sure some “Six Degrees of Separation” rule will bring this to everyone on Facebook without a tag from me.
I may have slightly overestimated how easily these things spread through Facebook. According to the article, this was the first big Facebook meme to spread like this:
The fact that it took two-and-a-half years for a Notes-based meme to hit it big suggests long odds.
Still, it appears several of my online friends owe me one of those little "You Better Get Checked" notes, and I don't owe anyone anything. Good for me.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Hello. My name is Dennis. I buy things.

I've been following this one for years. Even better than having people pay you money so you can counsel them how to not waste their money, psychiatrists are considering whether shopping addiction should be a diagnosable condition.
As spenders spend while the economy plummets, the psychiatric world is trying to decide whether compulsive buying should actually be considered a disease.
They've been testing whether anti-depressants (SSRIs) can treat shopping addiction since at least 2000.
The New York-based pharmaceutical company Forest Laboratories and Stanford University are testing a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or S.S.R.I., on the women-who-shop-too-much population. In the study, 24 compulsive buyers are taking Celexa, already approved by the Food and Drug Administration as an antidepressant, over a 12-week period. Though the trial won't be complete until later this year, the early results look ''very promising''...
Step 1: Medicalize the behavior; Step 2: Convince people you can cure the "medical condition" with drugs; Step 3: Sell the people the drugs. Sure, this is standard. But how cool is it when you're selling the drugs to people who will buy anything ? A truly brilliant marketing campaign.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

You're paid to think, Mr. Scientist.

I like this article: Elevating Science, Elevating Democracy:
Science is not a monument of received Truth but something that people do to look for truth. That endeavor, which has transformed the world in the last few centuries, does indeed teach values. Those values, among others, are honesty, doubt, respect for evidence, openness, accountability and tolerance and indeed hunger for opposing points of view...It is no coincidence that these are the same qualities that make for democracy...If there is anything democracy requires and thrives on, it is the willingness to embrace debate and respect one another and the freedom to shun received wisdom. Science and democracy have always been twins.
I like it. That's all I have to say. Title reference here.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Just look at them and sigh

People tell me I’d make a good dad even though I don’t really like kids. They don't know me that well. Anyway, sometimes, I admit, I get confused about how to treat a kid. Especially since you never know when other people, especially the government (“we the people”) will get involved. I’ve been thinking about the ideas brought up in these three articles for a week or so:
Article 1: Test Subjects Who Call the Scientist Mom or Dad: This article addresses parents who use their own children as research subjects. Psychologists, for example Jean Piaget, have a history of doing research on their own kids. But I’m skeptical John Watson would do this to his own kid. It really is an interesting ethical question: “'The role of the parent is to protect the child,' said Robert M. Nelson, director of the Center for Research Integrity at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. 'Once that parent becomes an investigator, it sets up an immediate potential conflict of interest. And it potentially takes the parent-child relationship and distorts it in ways that are unpredictable.'” Article 2: Trials for Parents Who Chose Faith Over Medicine: This one looks at a case of parents who let their kid die of diabetes while they prayed for her recovery rather than bringing her to a God Damn (pun intended) doctor: “Kara Neumann, 11, had grown so weak that she could not walk or speak. Her parents, who believe that God alone has the ability to heal the sick, prayed for her recovery but did not take her to a doctor…About 300 children have died in the United States in the last 25 years after medical care was withheld on religious grounds…” Article 3: Young “Adolf Hitler” and Two Sisters Removed From Home: There are few idiots I find more adorable than white supremacists. But is naming a kid "Adolf Hitler" child abuse worthy of government intervention? “A 3-year-old boy named Adolf Hitler and his two Nazi-named younger sisters were removed from their New Jersey home last week and placed in state custody, police said…(Division of Youth and Family Services) has their reasons and they normally don’t release any information, so we kind of have to go on faith with them.”
Seriously, I’ve no clue how to treat the little ones. Good thing I’ve got none.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

We don't f*ck anymore, but we can really snuggle down

Here's an interesting article that highlights some pretty common current psychology thinking. It relates several case studies of young adults who get depressed after sex. The author, a psychiatrist (I'm quite sure), explains that he was unable to find any deep "psychological" problems for the depression:
But search as I could for a good explanation, I could find none. Though his symptoms and distress were quite real, I told him he did not have a major psychiatric problem that required treatment.
The author also notes that he is completely unaware of any evidence-based biological explanation for the depression:
Little is known about what happens in the brain during sex...The research literature is virtually silent on sex-induced depression
So the author admits he has no psychological or biological explanation for the condition. What does he do? He assumes the explanation is biological and prescribes drugs:
When physicians run through the usual treatments to no avail or find themselves, as I did, in uncharted territory with little evidence as to what to do, they can consider so-called novel treatments. Often, you design such a treatment based on your speculation about the underlying biology of the syndrome at hand. This can involve using approved drugs in situations for which they are hardly ever prescribed.
When the drugs work (he used SSRIs), at least he admits he doesn't know why:
(T)here are at least three possible reasons my patients felt better: The drug worked; it had a placebo effect; or there was a random fluctuation in symptoms — they would have improved if I had done nothing.
He does (what I'd consider) the ethical thing and suggests his patients stop the drug. They did, and in both cases...
...the symptoms came back and then abated with the drug — suggesting, based on this admittedly small sample, that the drug effect was real.
But he's wrong on that. There's no reason to rule out the placebo effect based on his observations. If it was the placebo effect when they were taking the drug the first time, it would make absolute sense that the symptoms would come back when not on the drug and be abated with the drug.
Anyway, I have to admit I like this line:
After just two weeks on an S.S.R.I., both said that while sex was less intensely pleasurable, no emotional crash followed.
Reminds me of an old song, Happy Town, by Jill Sobule (from which this title is pilfered).
My boyfriend Bob he said I made him miserable But we stayed together 'cause the sex was really good And then he packed his bags with me to happy town We don't fuck anymore but we can really snuggle down

Friday, January 16, 2009

An issue bigger than the Constitution

By way of (whose Hit & Run blog is a must read for anyone concerned with liberty) I present you this quote from an elected politician:
"I certainly respect the Constitution, but we have some issues that are much bigger than the Constitution."
The "issues that are much bigger than the Constitution" you ask?
(A) plan Tuesday that would (make) it unlawful for people to wear pants below the waistline exposing their underwear.
Ah is probably worth overturning some Constitutional rights in order to prevent that. Almost makes me proud of my Illinois politicians.

Monday, January 12, 2009

What constitutes a fidget?

This great article by the great William Saletan notes that there's been a huge increase in diagnosis of ADHD among professional baseball players since rules were established requiring a diagnosis in order to take stimulants (otherwise, it is using performance enhancing drugs):
Three years ago, the league belatedly banned stimulants on the grounds that they unfairly aided players' performance. At the time, 28 players had "therapeutic use exemptions" allowing them to take drugs such as Ritalin or Adderall. "Therapeutic use" means you can justifiably use the drug because you need it for a medical condition...The number of players claiming and obtaining "therapeutic use" exemptions for stimulants nearly quadrupled from 28 to 103. The basis of their claims? They all had attention "deficit" disorder. Accordingly, they were entitled to attention-boosting drugs.
Here's my question. In order to be diagnosed with ADHD, whatever symptoms one exhibits must be present "in two or more settings (e.g., at school [or work] and at home)" and must result in "clinically significant impairment in social, academic, or occupational functioning." So, unless we've got a lot of pro baseball players going to school, symptoms must be present at "work" and affect "occupational functioning." It seems as though the medical condition is not being as good at baseball as you'd be without the drugs. But taking the drugs isn't "performance enhancing"? Hmmm. Title reference (for some reason?) here.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Fix me, Doc!

I think this book interests me: Voluntary Madness: My Year Lost and Found in the Loony Bin. This review includes several quotes that mesh quite well with my beliefs. The author of the book appears to be addressing the current status of psychotherapy. The reviewer provides, I think, an honest assessment of therapist training (the review claims this is true of psychiatrists; I'd argue it is true of all well-trained psychotherapists):
At their best, psychiatrists are agnostic on the true nature and causes of mental illness. They are trained to think about their patients heuristically, along three dimensions: the biological, the psychological, and the social.
It is the book author's comments about the role of the client/patient in psychotherapy with which I most agree:
"[T]he vast majority of people don't want to participate in their own recovery. They are unwilling to try, even when they are given every advantage, every freedom, and an abundance of...compassion...because people—patients—are the way they are, often lazy, stubbornly self-indulgent, passive, and irresponsible...You want to be happy? You want to be well? Then put your boots on."
I like it. I must say I like it.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Let's do it like they do on the Discovery Channel

Not that I'm not usually fascinated with our cultural fascination with sex, but if I do manage to upkeep the blog this semester, I'll likely focus more on sex than usual. I'm teaching human sexuality this semester.
Which brings us to yet another NYT sex addiction article: Facing My Obsession, in the Flesh:
TO much of the general public, sex addiction is a punch line, a pop-psychology diagnosis or an attempt to explain away recklessness and perversion. But my sex addiction is unfortunately very real; it has cost me a job, romantic relationships, friendships and, on many days, my sanity and self-respect.
This is a fine first-person article about sex addiction, and as I've said over and over, I am not suggesting that people who exhibit behaviors with easily predictable negative consequences deserve no sympathy/empathy/whatever. But addiction cannot be said to be "very real" because it results in your doing stupid things. Addiction is defined as doing stupid things. Would anyone go to a therapist saying, "Doc, you gotta help me. I'm going to Vegas every weekend and coming back with shitloads of cash I've won. Make it stop!"? No. Someone's addicted to gambling when their gambling behavior is stupid. Stupid behaviors can't be both the cause and the effect of addiction.