53-inch penises, other self-destruction, & viruses bad & good

I regret I can’t treat at more, um, length, the following weighty matters:
Size Matters; So Do Lies   Nate Silver finds that Matt Kibbe, the president of FreedomWorks, speaking of the 9/12 tea party rally in DC, ” did the equivalent of telling people that his penis is 53 inches long.”
Dr. Nobody Again Questions JAMA Disclosure Policies in which Philip Dawdy and Jonathan Leo, a dangerous combination, butt heads with JAMA
Self-Destruct Button, Activiated! Baucus and Conrad decide maybe Joe Wilson had a point after all. Swine Flu Mystery in Healthy Young Puts Focus on Genetics, Deep Inhaling (See also Study: Half Of ICU H1N1 Patients Without Underlying Conditions)
which is as good a lead-in as any to Public Hygiene and Vaccination: They’re Not For You, They’re For…, from Mike the Mad Biologist
“Remember when the Iraq War protests stopped the Iraq War? Yeah, me neither.” Ezra Klein on  tea parties.
Jonah Lehrer, briefly, and Clive Thompson, at length, on how obesity, happiness, and other things good and bad spread like viruses through social networks.

Has the blogosphere gone all MSM on us? well yeah duh

In an intriguing essay in the Atlantic, Benjamin Cohen argues that the blogosphere, in which the top 50 blogs account for 42% of all blog traffic — and 21 of those blogs are owned by outfits like the Times, ABC, AOL, and CNN — is looking more and more like traditional media in its economic and social structures.

Almost everyone weighing in agreed that blogging has become more corporate, more ossified, and increasingly indistinguishable from the mainstream media. Even Glenn Reynolds had a slight change of heart, admitting <a href=”http://ideas.theatlantic.com/2009/06/interview_with_glenn_reynolds_part_i.php” target=”outlink”>in a June interview</a>  that the David-and-Goliath dynamic is eroding as blogs have become “more big-media-ish.” All this has led Matthew Hindman, author of <i>The Myth of Digital</i> Democracy, to declare that “The era when political comment on the Web is dominated by solo bloggers writing for free is gone.”

This seems about three-quarters right to me. Clearly the blogosphere has opened things up and allowed more voices to be heard. Yet it’s also clear that the blogosphere is  becoming more tightly structured in the highest traffic areas, with increasing overlap between networks of favored people and relations in the blogosphere and in mainstream media. Some of this is to be expected, as alliances and relations and networks in each world move into the other: bloggers going mainstream(ish) bringing along their blogging friends, and MSM or MSM-like institutions going web bring their relations there.

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Neuroskeptic: Trauma Alters Brain Function… So What?

The ever-valuable Neuroskeptic, channeling Stanley Kowalski (“I knew a girl once said she was the glamorous type. She said to me, ‘I am the glamourous type.’ I said, ‘So what?'”), asks just WTH it means to show that brain scans of earthquake survivors show that “trauma alters brain function.”

The authors link their findings to previous work with frankly vague statements such as “The increased regional activity and reduced functional connectivity in frontolimbic and striatal regions occurred in areas known to be important for emotion processing”. But anatomically speaking, most of the brain is either “fronto-striatal” or “limbic,” and almost everywhere is involved in “emotion processing” in one way or another. So I don’t think we understand the brain much better for reading this paper.

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Using forensics to reveal medical ghostwriting (Reuters story)

Frederic Curtiss, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Managed Care Pharmacy, told Reuters Health that data attached to documents by Word has allowed him to discover undisclosed contributors. In one case, for instance, a revised manuscript arrived at his office with four named authors, but when he examined the metadata, he discovered an additional author was making substantial contributions.

When documents are saved in Word, the software attaches additional information, called metadata, which identifies the creator of the document. During the editing process, changes made by additional authors are also sometimes labeled with authors’ names. Curtiss estimates that every third manuscript he receives has metadata that doesn’t match listed authors, which can subsequently result in contributors being added to the acknowledgments, or, rarely, as additional authors.

via reuters.com

Nice work here. Journal editor sleuthed out contributions of a paid med writer in one story — and included him as author despite that author didn’t want it that way.

But the sleuthing is getting tougher, as the article describes, as these ghosts are learning to hide their tracks.

This is science? Nay. As Drummond Rennie once told me, “That’s not science. That’s marketing.”

Do read the Reuters story.

Posted via web from David Dobbs’s Somatic Marker

What the Public Thinks of Public Schools

According to the just released Education Next poll put out by the Hoover Institution, public assessment of schools has fallen to the lowest level recorded since Americans were first asked to grade schools in 1981. Just 18% of those surveyed gave schools a grade of an A or a B, down from 30% reported by a Gallup poll as recently as 2005.
No less than 25% of those polled by Education Next gave the schools either an F or a D. (In 2005, only 20% gave schools such low marks.)

That’s from a pretty good WSJ piece on recent surveys of parents about schools. Six months ago I thought this country was ready to deal with the serious problems in our schools. This new survey would suggest that’s the case. But having watched the healtcare reform debate/debacle, I now have my doubts.

Zimmer gets into your dog’s head

Henry could find the biscuit by sniffing the cups or knocking them over. But Hare does not plan to let him have it so easy. Instead, he simply points at the cup on the right. Henry looks at Hare’s hand and follows the pointed finger. Kivell then releases the leash, and Henry walks over to the cup that Hare is pointing to. Hare lifts it to reveal the biscuit reward.

via time.com

Zimmer does dog research justice, and TIME makes a nice web presentation of it. With dog videos!

Posted via web from David’s posterous

Ghostwriting gone wild

Oh lordy, this is not good: The Times reports that up to 11% of the articles in leading med journals were writtne at least partly by ghostwriters.

 Via Gary Schwitzer at

Posted via email from David’s posterous

Missing from healthcare reform: the autopsy

photo: Philip Todeldano for the New York Times

Part of any real healthcare reform will be improving practices in hospitals, and — as Obama’s proposed commission on comparative effectiveness would do — identifying what works and what doesn’t. Knowing what works and why people get better or not is vital to good medicine. But amid the talk on improving such knowledge as part of healthcare reform, a vital and fairly cheap way to generate some of it — the autopsy — is going ignored. This is too bad, as autopsies yield incredibly good information about the quality of both diagnosis and treatment. But they’re almost never done.
I explored this 4 years ago in a story for the Times Magazine:

[T]he hospital autopsy is neglected. …In the 1960’s, hospitals in the United States autopsied almost half of all deaths, and the autopsy was familiar to medical students and practitioners alike. The United States now does post-mortems on fewer than 5 percent of hospital deaths, and the procedure is alien to almost every doctor trained in the last 30 years.

This is quite unfortunate, because

nothing reveals error like the autopsy. As [former JAMA editor George] Lundberg noted in a 1998 article, numerous studies over the last century have found that in 25 to 40 percent of cases in which an autopsy is done, it reveals an undiagnosed cause of death. Because of those errors, in 7 to 12 percent of the cases, treatment that might have been lifesaving wasn’t prescribed. (In the other cases, the disease might have advanced beyond treatment or there might have been multiple causes of death.) These figures roughly match those found in the first discrepancy studies, done in the early 1910’s. ”No improvement!” Lundberg notes. ”Low-tech autopsy trumps high-tech medicine . . . again and again.”

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