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.