Saturday, March 31, 2012

Rise of Medical Expertocracy


Drs. Pamela Hartzband and Jerome Groopman:

"Should everyone take vitamin D, and if so, how much? At what age and how often should a woman have a mammogram? Should a healthy man be screened for prostate cancer, and if cancer is diagnosed, how should he be treated?..."

"...For patients and experts alike, there is a subjective core to every medical decision. The truth is that, despite many advances, much of medicine still exists in a gray zone where there is not one right answer. No one can say with certainty who will benefit by taking a certain drug and who will not. Nor can we say with certainty what impact a medical condition will have on someone's life or how they might experience a treatment's side effects. The path to maintaining or regaining health is not the same for everyone; our preferences really do matter..."

Friday, March 30, 2012

The World's Leading Laugh Scientist

Documentary on Bullying


Joe Morgenstern:

"Bully" doesn't dwell on the bullies themselves. That's fair enough; we know what they do and, at least in a general sense, why they do it. The subjects of this valuable documentary are the bullied, those who suffer cruel and all-too-usual punishment in our middle schools and high schools for being different and defenseless. One of them, a 16-year-old girl named Kelby, offers a different way of looking at rain. "The world," she says, "has taken in so much sadness that it can't hold it anymore." Watching the film may cause scattered showers in the region of the eyes, but it should also provoke dismay with a succession of school administrators who respond to the problem of bullying by denying it, sidestepping it or shrugging it off with an attitude that a grief-stricken father in rural Georgia characterizes as "kids will be kids, boys will be boys, they're just cruel at this age."

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Trayvon Martin Tragedies


Juan Williams:

"The shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Florida has sparked national outrage, with civil rights leaders from San Francisco to Baltimore leading protests calling for a new investigation and the arrest of the shooter.

But what about all the other young black murder victims? Nationally, nearly half of all murder victims are black. And the overwhelming majority of those black people are killed by other black people. Where is the march for them?..."

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Back to the Future


Thomas Sowell:

"When a 1942 Supreme Court decision that most people never heard of makes the front page of the New York Times in 2012, you know that something unusual is going on.
What makes that 1942 case -- Wickard v. Filburn -- important today is that it stretched the federal government's power so far that the Obama administration is using it as an argument to claim before today's Supreme Court that it has the legal authority to impose ObamaCare mandates on individuals.
"Roscoe Filburn was an Ohio farmer who grew some wheat to feed his family and some farm animals. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture fined him for growing more wheat than he was allowed to grow under the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938, which was passed under Congress' power to regulate interstate commerce..."

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Brain on Love


Diane Ackerman:

"A RELATIVELY new field, called interpersonal neurobiology, draws its vigor from one of the great discoveries of our era: that the brain is constantly rewiring itself based on daily life. In the end, what we pay the most attention to defines us. How you choose to spend the irreplaceable hours of your life literally transforms you..."

Obamacare and the Constitution

3/26/12. Richard A. Epstein, a Professor of Law at New York University Law School, describes how the individual mandate unravels the core of the health-care law.

Why Won't They Listen?

3/26/12. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt offers a corrective intellectual and emotional experience for our conflicts of visions expressed in liberal and conservative politics.

Some say a liberal is a conservative who has been mugged by reality. Others observe that a liberal is a conservative who has been arrested.

The Tradgedy of Trayvon Martin

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Between 'Jersey Shore' and Rick Santorum


Kay Mymowitz,

"...How do you explain a country that makes an unabashed Catholic social conservative a leading presidential candidate while devouring a reality show about the smuttiest bumping and grinding ever to hit prime time?..."

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Are Straight People Born that Way?


"Time for a thought experiment: Are straight people born that way? When I put the question to a number of sexology colleagues, they thought it a good question -- indeed, a hard question..."

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Five Best Books: Psychological Mysteries

1. Pale Fire

By Vladimir Nabokov (1962)

'A Jack-in-the-box, a Fabergé gem, a clockwork toy, a chess problem . . . an infernal machine . . . a cat-and-mouse game." Thus, upon its publication in 1962, one critic described this extraordinary novel. "Pale Fire" is all this and more: both a satire and a mystery; a daunting intellectual challenge but one that has many rewards for Nabokov fans, not least the satisfaction of his gorgeous prose and the way that this book turns us all into detectives. The novel presents a long poem by recently murdered American poet John Shade, with a commentary written by Shade's friend Charles Kinbote, an academic from a country named Zembla. Kinbote claims to have been entrusted with preparing the dead poet's manuscript for publication. But how reliable a narrator is he?...


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Joseph Epstein: Old Age and Other Laughs


Joseph Epstein:

"I recently bought something called catastrophic health insurance for my college-student granddaughter—a policy that has a high deductible but is in place lest, God forfend, she needs to undergo a lengthy and expensive hospital stay. The insurance agent who sold it to me is a man named Jack Gross, whom I occasionally see walking around the streets of my neighborhood and who always greets me, often with a new joke. Being an insurance salesman and having me there in his office, Jack couldn’t resist asking me if my wife and I have assisted-living insurance, a policy designed for older people that pays for caregivers (or minders, as the English, more precisely, call them), thus allowing those suffering from dementia or other devastating conditions to avoid nursing homes. Assisted-living insurance is very expensive, especially if one first acquires it in one’s 70s, the decade my wife and I are now in.

Thanks all the same, Jack, but we have no need for assisted-living insurance,” I said. “We have pistols.”

“Great,” he replied, nicely on beat. “I just hope when the time comes to use them you are able to find them.”

The problem with that amusing response is that it has an uncomfortably high truth content..."

Advice from Einstein


On life's highest ideals:
[E]verybody has certain ideals which determine the direction of his endeavors and his judgments. In this sense I have never looked upon ease and happiness as ends in themselves -- such an ethical basis I call more proper for a herd of swine. The ideals which have lighted me on my way and time after time given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Without the sense of fellowship with men of like mind, of preoccupation with the objective, the eternally unattainable in the field of art and scientific research, life would have seemed to me empty.

How Does the Brain Secrete Morality?


Ronald Bailey:

“The brain secretes thought as the liver secretes bile,” asserted 18th century French physiologist Pierre Cabanis. Last week, the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies convened a conference of neuroscientists and philosophers to ponder how our brains secrete thoughts about ethics and morality. The first presenter was neuroeconomist Gregory Berns from Emory University whose work peers into brains to see in which creases of gray matter those values we hold sacred lodge. The study, “The Price of Your Soul: neural evidence for the non-utilitarian representation of sacred values,” was just published in thePhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.


3/22/12. A Web site of dazzling enertaintment, state of the art knowledge. and fascinating stories and ingenius information that may change your life.

Noel Bairey Merz: The single biggest health threat women face

Myshkin Ingawale: A blood test without bleeding

T. Boone Pickens: Let's transform energy -- with natural gas

Mark Raymond: Victims of the city

Scott Summit: Beautiful artificial limbs

Brené Brown: Listening to shame

Rob Reid: The $8 billion iPod

Jonathan Haidt: Religion, evolution, and the ecstasy of self-transcendence

How simple ideas lead to scientific discoveries

Deep ocean mysteries and wonders

Questions no one knows the answers to

The cockroach beatbox

Larry Smith: Why you will fail to have a great career

Kelli Anderson: Design to challenge reality

A TED speaker's worst nightmare

Jennifer Pahlka: Coding a better government


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Family Meal and The Good Life

3/21/12. World famous expert on positive psychology, Professor Christopher Pedersen discusses what would a positive psychologist recommend for the family meal and good parenting.

Professor Chistopher Pedersen:

"I recently prepared a lecture on parenting from a positive psychology perspective. Although psychologists have had much to say about parenting, often the focus has been on eliminating undesirable actions on the part of kids, like talking back, tantrums, and tattling. These behaviors are of course annoying, but what about encouraging desirable actions? A depressed child after all seems well-behaved, if by that we mean one who causes no hassles, at least in the short run. But parents want their children to be more than moribund. They want them to be happy and socially engaged, animated and motivated, accomplished and of course kind and decent. What does psychology have to say about the positive in children?.."

10 of the Most Surprising Findings from Psychological Studies


Psychology has a reputation for being the science of common sense, or a field that simply confirms things we already know about ourselves.
One way of battling this misconception, explains Jeremy Dean — a PhD candidate in psychology and master of ceremonies at the always-awesome PsyBlog — is to "think about all the unexpected, surprising, and just plain weird findings that have popped out of psychology studies over the years." Here are ten of his favorite examples.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Brian Lamb's America


David Brooks:

The quintessential C-SPAN moment came during a Booknotes program in 1991, while host Brian Lamb was interviewing Martin Gilbert, the author of a biography of Winston Churchill. Gilbert was talking about the interplay between private scandal and public life when the following exchange took place:

GILBERT: When Churchill was 20 and a young soldier, he was accused of buggery, and, you know, that's, you know, a terrible accusation. Well, he ended up prime minister for just quite a long time.

LAMB: Why was he accused of buggery and what is it?

GILBERT: You don't know what buggery is?

LAMB: Define it, please.

GILBERT: Oh dear. Well, I -- I'm sorry. I thought the word we -- buggery is what used to be called a -- the -- an unnatural act of the Oscar Wilde type is how it was actually phrased in the euphemism of the British papers. It's -- you don't know what buggery is?

Over the twenty years that C-SPAN has been in existence, its founder Brian Lamb and his colleagues have pioneered a distinct interviewing style. The questions are flat, short, and direct. And they are centered around facts. The guests might be longwinded or erudite or both, but usually what sets them off is some six-word question about a specific fact. You get the impression that if Brian Lamb were called in to interview Jesus the first questions out of his mouth would be: "It's said you fed the multitudes with loaves and fish. What kind of fish was that? How many people does it take to make up a multitude?",,,

Gladys Knight


I watched Gladys Knight on "Dancing with the Stars" last evening. She was terrific.

I wonder if she ever had a Pip replacement.

When the Good Do Bad


David Brooks:

"It’s always interesting to read the quotations of people who knew a mass murderer before he killed. They usually express complete bafflement that a person who seemed so kind and normal could do something so horrific..."

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Eric Kandel's Visions


"...In the 1960s, Kandel found clinical psychiatry, his initial calling, to be insufficiently empirical and turned his back on it. In what he later called "the most difficult career decision of my life," he turned down the chairmanship of the Harvard Medical School psychiatry department for the pleasures of working with the sea snail Aplysia, a move that even some of his fellow neuroscientists found alarming, given their focus on the vertebrate brain. His key findings on the snail, for which he shared the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, showed that learning and memory change not the neuron's basic structure but rather the nature, strength, and number of its synaptic connections. Further, through focus on the molecular biology involved in a learned reflex like Aplysia's gill retraction, Kandel demonstrated that experience alters nerve cells' synapses by changing their pattern of gene expression. In other words, learning doesn't change what neurons are, but rather what they do..."

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Big Hoax


Thomas Sowell:

"There have been many frauds of historic proportions -- for example, the financial pyramid scheme for which Charles Ponzi was sent to prison in the 1920s, and for which Franklin D. Roosevelt was praised in the 1930s, when he called it Social Security. In our own times, Bernie Madoff's hoax has made headlines.

"But the biggest hoax of the past two generations is still going strong -- namely, the hoax that statistical differences in outcomes for different groups are due to the way other people treat those groups..."

Sunday, March 11, 2012

How To Be Creative


Jonah Leher:

"...But creativity is not magic, and there's no such thing as a creative type. Creativity is not a trait that we inherit in our genes or a blessing bestowed by the angels. It's a skill. Anyone can learn to be creative and to get better at it. New research is shedding light on what allows people to develop world-changing products and to solve the toughest problems. A surprisingly concrete set of lessons has emerged about what creativity is and how to spark it in ourselves and our work..."

What About the Kids Who Behave?

3/11/12. The liberal racism of low expectations and no responsbility.

The Obama administration is waving around a new study showing that black school kids are "suspended, expelled, and arrested in school" at higher rates than white kids. According to the report, which looked at 72,000 schools, black students comprise just 18% of those enrolled yet account for 46% of those suspended more than once and 39% of all expulsions.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the administration is "not alleging overt discrimination in some or all of these cases," but that's certainly what he's implying when he bleats on about the "fundamental unfairness" of the situation. "The undeniable truth," said Mr. Duncan in a press call this week, "is that the everyday education experience for too many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise." Of course, if racial animus toward blacks explains higher black discipline rates, what explains the fact that white kids are disciplined at higher rates than Asian kids? Is the school system anti-white, too?...

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Joseph Epstein: "Old Age and Other Laughs. Am I Losing It?"


Joseph Epstein has written a brilliant article on getting old (Commentary," March 2012).

Mr. Epstein ends his article:

"...At 75, I feel I am playing with house money - the rest of my life, as people used to say before the worry with cholesterol set in, is gravy. Lovely it would be to stay in the game for another 10 years or so, and I hope I am able to do so. But if some bright young oncologist or grave neurologist informs me that the time has come for me to cease flossing, I shall be mightily disappointed but scarcely shocked or even much surprised. On such occasion I hope to retain the calm to count my blessings, which in my case have not been few. Among them will be that I have lived in freedom during a time of unprecedented prosperity, been allowed to do work of my own choosing that has been appreciated and decently rewarded, while never having been called upon to betray my friends or my ideals. Another blessing has been that thus far I have dodged the land mines, the flying darts, and the machine gunner, and arrived at old age..."


(n.b. see 3/22/12 post for the entire article)

Another Child is Dead

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Rediscovery of Character

James Q. Wilson (1931 - 2012)

3/6/12. Thomas Sowell writes:

"There are undoubtedly many people who are alive today because of James Q. Wilson, who died last week. He was not a doctor or medical scientist, nor was he a fireman or coast guardsman who rescued people from immediate dangers.

James Q. Wilson was a scholar who studied crime. He saved lives because his penetrating analyses of crime, and the effect of the criminal law, debunked the theories of other intellectuals, which had led judges and legislators to ease up on criminals -- leading in turn to skyrocketing rates of crime, including murder..."

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Quest to Understand How Memory Works


INSIDE THE MIND Dr. Eric R. Kandel at Columbia University Medical Center

"...As a student at Harvard in the 1950s, you aspired to be a psychoanalyst. Was this because of your Viennese background?
In part I was drawn to it because it promised much. In the 1950s and early 1960s, psychoanalysis swept through the intellectual community, and it was the dominant mode of thinking about the mind. People felt that this was a completely new set of insights into human motivation and that its therapeutic potential was significant. It was seen as the treatment that solved everything in the world, from schizophrenia to ingrown toenails. It’s amazing how it was oversold. When this turned out to be more hope than reality, things flipped in the other direction. In my case, I didn’t pursue it because I fell in love with research.
Did this overselling discredit psychoanalysis?
I think so. And it’s a shame. There are many fantastically interesting components to it that are worthwhile. The problem of psychoanalysis is not the body of theory that Freud left behind, but the fact that it never became a medical science. It never tried to test its ideas. When you asked, “How come there are not outcome studies?” you were told, “You can’t study this. How are you going to measure it?”
In fact, there were questions it was possible to ask. For instance, under what circumstances does psychoanalysis work better than a placebo? Does it work better than other kinds of therapy? Who are the best therapists for what kinds of patients..."

Teller Reveals His Secrets

Sunday, March 4, 2012

William Zinsser

3/4/12. The Friday writings of William Zinsser in the "American Scholar." Treat yourself to one of the best.

Book Review: "How We Age"


How We AgeReview - How We Age
A Doctor's Journey into the Heart of Growing Old
by Marc Agronin
Da Capo, 2010
Review by Nassir Ghaemi, MD MPH
Feb 21st 2012 (Volume 16, Issue 8)

Any man or woman in his or her mid forties, like Marc Agronin and me, will have many questions about old age. One's grandparents go, then one's aunts and uncles, and then there are one's parents. Even some friends, the same age or younger as a middle-aged proband, go. If you live through your youth, which is full of questions, you reach the middle of life, where even more questions arise. When does it ever end? What is it like to be old? And then what?

Agronin has a special perspective: he is both a middle-aged, red-blooded American male. And he is a geriatric psychiatrist. He asks these questions in his professional, as well as his personal, time.

James Q. Wilson. "Angry about inequality? Don't blame the rich."

3/4/12. James Q. Wilson ---- a recent article from an intellectual giant.

"...Making the poor more economically mobile has nothing to do with taxing the rich and everything to do with finding and implementing ways to encourage parental marriage, teach the poor marketable skills and induce them to join the legitimate workforce. It is easy to suppose that raising taxes on the rich would provide more money to help the poor. But the problem facing the poor is not too little money, but too few skills and opportunities to advance themselves..."

James Q. Wilson. The Moral Sense


Roger Kimball on Professor Wilson's book,  "The Moral Sense:"

We must be careful of what we think we are, because we may become that.
—James Q. Wilson, The Moral Sense
"Wilson, whose previous books include Thinking about Crime, Bureaucracy, and other works concerned with public policy, writes about morality as a public fact. The language of virtue and morality has had a tough time lately. 'Our reluctance to speak of morality,' he notes, 'and our suspicion, nurtured by our best minds, that we cannot ‘prove’ our moral principles has amputated our public discourse at the knees.' Consequently, part of his purpose in this book is 'to help people recover the confidence with which they once spoke about virtue and morality.' It is not, he writes,
an effort to state or justify moral rules; that is, it is not a book of philosophy. Rather, it is an effort to clarify what ordinary people mean when they speak of their moral feelings and to explain, in so far as one can, the origins of those feelings.

James Q. Wilson. Man of Reason


Heather MacDonald:

"...Wilson’s Public Interest article set the pattern for his intellectual career. Over the next 45 years, Wilson would continue patiently to point out when the emperor had no clothes, to exercise skepticism toward conventional wisdom, and to derive his ground-breaking insights from a close attention to the facts on the ground..."