A good day

I managed to make it through the seminar I had to give today, and I think I did well. I still need to work on speaking slowly and clearly, but I think the content came across well enough anyway. Here’s a link to the slide show, if you’re interested in a bulleted version of my talk (apologies to Flickr randoms I borrowed, and Google Docs seems to have mangled my PowerPoint slightly).

The ride home today was serene. On the train in West London, passing through trees changing color and football pitches waiting for players, it seemed there was nothing better or more peaceful than a sunny, autumn afternoon, when the sunlight shines strong at low angles to the Earth, lighting everything with an ethereal glow, and there’s a chill in the air and Midlake in my headphones. The Midlake is key.

So what’s new?

I’m sitting in a cafe near London Bridge, trying to prepare for a presentation I have to give on Tuesday. I’m speaking on the topic of pertussis (whooping cough), and how its resurgence in some parts of the US could display a lack of trust in the medical establishment. Finding good, recent articles on the subject is proving difficult. Perhaps my focus is too narrow. Any advice is appreciated.

What’s new with you?

On decision-making and framing

This essay is focused on political decision-making, specifically with regards to how the Obama campaign should frame McCain, but I find its arguments applicable in general:

But post-Palin, the Obama-Biden campaign seems to have become the Gore-Kerry-Hillary campaign. They are running on 18th Century theory of Enlightenment reason: If you just tell people the facts, they will follow their self-interest and reason to the right conclusion. What contemporary cognitive scientists have discovered (See my new book, The Political Mind: Why You Can’t Understand 21st Century Politics with an 18th Century Brain), and what Republican marketers have known for decades, is that the Enlightenment theory of reason doesn’t describe how people actually work. People think primarily in terms of cultural narratives, stereotypes, frames, and metaphors. That is real reason.

For me, these insights offer a potential way through stubborn beliefs many hold regarding health, medicine and science. I think there are a lot of lessons to be learned from the political successes of Republicans in the last couple of decades – and especially in the last eight years.

There’s more good stuff here:

Taxation is not an affliction. Tax cuts will not create jobs. These are facts, but stating them as we just did just reinforces conservative frames. The right framing for the truth must be available and used for the truth be heard.

If the truth doesn’t fit the existing frame, the frame will stay in place and the truth will dissipate.

It takes time and a lot of repetition for frames to become entrenched in the very synapses of people’s brains. Moreover, they have to fit together in an overall coherent way for them to make sense.

Effective framing on a single issue must be both right and sensible. That is, it must fit into a system of frames (to be sensible) and must fit one’s moral worldview (to be right).

(Thanks to homunculus.)

Immunization bribes

In the UK, Prime Minister Brown has pledged £200 grants in exchange for participating in health and social programs:

Ten pilot projects in low-income neighbourhoods will trial the one-off grants as part of a £125 million three-year drive announced in the Budget to find innovative solutions to child poverty.

Based on schemes in the US, where parents are rewarded for things like making sure their children attend health check-ups and receive immunisation jabs, the grants are targeted at the most hard-to-reach parents who currently do not take up services offered by children’s centres.

The pilots will test whether offering cash incentives can encourage socially-excluded parents to participate in agreed programmes of action to improve their children’s well-being.

I’m actually not aware of programs like that here in the US, but I think they’re a great idea. It’s a small price to pay for healthy kids and a little boost to social mobility.

Sustainable energy in African villages

Nairobi businessman bringing sustainable energy to unpowered villages – Boing Boing Gadgets

Solar is, in Africa as in the west, mostly impractical. But wind, like sunlight, is “everywhere,” providing a natural, inexhaustible supply of energy. Among the most interesting of CraftSkills’ installations is the one at Chifiri, which uses a turbine’s power to run a pump, which filters 422 liters of water an hour from a brackish pond that is the only source of water for 500 villagers.

This is just the kind of business growth that needs to be encouraged in developing areas. It’s exciting to think of the possibilities – the clean drinking water alone will do a great deal to improve health conditions and increase a village’s abillity to move from survival mode to production and growth – not to mention that electricity could be made available. When wealthier nations decide to support developing ones, these are the kinds of projects to support. Is there a foundation for supporting sustainable energy projects out there? It would be cool if there is.

Pharma Pictograms

7847_web.jpgFrench researchers have developed a potentially very useful set of graphical icons to depict disease and drug information:

Like road signs, the VCM graphical language uses a small set of graphical signs. The current dictionary contains about 130 pictograms displayed in 5 colors. For example, current conditions of a patient are shown as red icons while risks of future conditions are orange. The physicians who tested the system learned it in a couple of hours and think this system will reduce the number of errors in drug prescriptions.

I think a universal, simplified set of icons is a great idea. Of course they wouldn’t be a replacement for drug information sheets, etc., but they could allow doctors and pharmacist to quickly identify a substance and work more safely and efficiently.

Our next President will most likely be stupid

Orac has a nice rejoinder to David Kirby’s recent article, which contained the following disheartening, if not unsurprising news:

Senator Hillary Clinton, in response to a questionnaire from the autism activist group A-CHAMP, wrote that she was “Committed to make investments to find the causes of autism, including possible environmental causes like vaccines.” And when asked if she would support a study of vaccinated vs. unvaccinated children, she said: “Yes. We don’t know what, if any, kind of link there is between vaccines and autism – but we should find out.”And now, yesterday, at a rally in Pennsylvania, Barack Obama had this rather surprising thing to say:

“We’ve seen just a skyrocketing autism rate. Some people are suspicious that it’s connected to the vaccines. This person included. The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it.”

(Note: The Washington Post reports that when Obama said “this person,” he pointed to someone who had asked an autism question).

Orac contends (and I agree) that the problem isn’t the answers themselves, but rather that they answered at all (his notes and links, not mine):

In essence, both candidates accepted some of the major pillars of the mercury militia’s fantasies as being true. These include claims that:

  • there is an autism “epidemic.” (Arguably, there is very likely not.)
  • there is a scientific controversy over whether vaccines cause autism. (There really isn’t; it’s a so-called manufactured controversy. There is no good evidence that vaccines cause autism, David Kirby’s bloviations and pontifications otherwise notwithstanding. Multiple large epidemiological studies have failed to find even a hint of a convincing link, and the publicizing of the Hannah Poling case as some sort of “smoking gun” by antivaccinationists is nothing more than a rebranding of autism and more evidence of the incredibly shrinking vaccine claim.)
  • that vaccines are somehow unsafe or that children are “overvaccinated” and eceive too many vaccines. (Again, there is no good evidence that either of these is the case.)

And of course, John McCain is even worse.

LifeStraw for water purification

l-s-family.jpgMeant for use in developing countries or in areas with few sources of clean water, the LifeStraw seems to be a promising product:

  • Arrow Filters a minimum of 15,000 litres of water – provides safe drinking water for a family for more
    than 2 years (calculated approximately on a family’s consumption of 20 litres water/day).
  • Arrow Has a high flow rate.
  • Arrow Removes minimum 99.9999% of all bacteria.
  • Arrow Removes minimum 99.99% of all viruses.
  • Arrow Removes minimum 99.9% of all parasites.
  • Arrow No electrical power or batteries required.
  • Arrow No spare parts required for the lifetime of the product.
  • Arrow No running water required.
  • Arrow Easy-to-clean pre-filter as well as purifier cartridge.

ls-f-user-c1-3.jpgSounds pretty ideal, and not as impractical as peddling for clean water. The design is simple and straightforward, with good water coming from the blue spout, and the remaining non-potable water coming from the red spout. It would be really great to see these offered for little to no money for those who really need it.

FRONTLINE:sick around the world

FRONTLINE does yet another great job as one of the only remaining investigative journalism outfit in America. It’s kind of like Sicko without the persuasive slant, though it is done in an editorial/feature style. You can watch it entirely online (because PBS is awesome), and there’s even a little bonus footage at the end where he explores Ayurvedic medicine. One of the great things about watching Frontline online is the little text popups that link to informative pages, such as this one, that contained a few very interesting graphs (click for bigger):

graph1.jpg   graph2.jpg   graph3.jpg

You’ll notice that the US spends far more money to far less effect than the other nations gathered in these charts (data gathered from a 2007 report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)). Another really interesting section is on how different countries compensate doctors and deal with malpractice. I thought the author made a really excellent point when he said that the current presidential candidates are mentioning health care reform, but not one is referring to how we can emulate more effective systems from other parts of the world.