Friday, December 19, 2008

Scientists get desperate....

Eating at buffets plus not exercising equals obesity in rural America

Look at that headline linked above, contemplate how absurdly stupid it is to create ANY kind of article based on that concept. Really? Eating lots and not exercising make you fat? No. Freaking. Way.

Of all the "duh" articles I've ever linked to in the past, this one takes the cake. The study actually does point in the direction of using these findings to "help determine methods to help [rural residents]" - it doesn't say how this fairly obvious research will help in that regard, but, least they're thinking meta.

They also drop the gem that "Society...will be better off finding ways to prevent obesity instead of trying to treat the condition." Again, the farmers almanac has been telling us this for hundreds of years: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

I'm trying to figure out if this is actually an Onion article in disguise.

UPDATE: A commenter has left a note about how I missed the point of the article. If you read carefully I actually did read the article and actually did get the point of the study - I just found it inane both from the point of the title of the article and the article itself. I was actually trying to make two points: 1) the headline is, in fact, stupid, regardless of whether it was written by a science news service or not (and, granted, I probably didn't carry off that point very well); and 2) the study itself is rather unspectacular. The findings of the actual study (and not the absurd headline) basically say (and please correct me if I'm wrong) that people readily find excuses not to exercise. I'd like to point out once again that the study, while finding that people don't exercise enough, and pointing out that we need to find ways to make it less easy for people to find excuses for not exercising, still doesn't suggest any methods for their recommendations.

One of the unspoken purposes of this blog is to reflect on the way science is presented in the media - and this particular article hits pretty near the top of "you've got to be kidding me" status.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

It's all about the process.....

U.S. students' math, science scores deliver mixed results -

Yes, our scores don't match those of other countries, and yes, those scores generate lots of hand-wringing and tons of conversation about how we can improve them. So what?

I have only one question for all those hand-wringers: have you seen how the system works in other countries? The countries that have higher scores in any area have MUCH more intensive school programs than those in the US. If you want the same results, you should try picking up a few of the practices. If their measures are a little too draconian for your tastes, then stick with the system we have and please shut up.

Honestly - nothing annoys me more. We try to improve scores without changing the overall philosophy of the system, or without upsetting the apple-cart too much. Go and watch how other countries manage their educational systems. In some industrialized nations the rigors of education are incredibly more stringent and demanding than the U.S. system. They expect more, and they get more - along with some adverse side-effects.

Our system is what it is. Don't expect the high scores unless you're going to change the system. Working within the current system will only produce a minimal change. Our system doesn't demand the same kind of results; we want the same results, we don't demand them. I'm not saying that is the wrong approach or that other countries have it right, I'm just stating the facts. So, unless you're take some drastic measures and really shake things up, just shut the heck up about it.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Drugs for your brain

Brain-boosting drugs: Why not?, experts say U.S. Reuters

More of a debate article - and I've posted about this before. My only concern is Blogger: Searching for Mind - Edit Post "Drugs for your brain"the side-effects. How good is our data on the long-term effects of "brain-boosting" drugs? There is also the unfortunate reality that neurological drugs don't have a universal effect on the population - meaning that the effectiveness varies from person-to-person. I've seen a few articles that hint that the effectiveness (generally of brain-drugs) is just slightly above that of placebo (although with the power of the studies it is still statistically significant).

So, just like steroids, good in theory, wonderful in the short-term - but long-term is the concern. Also, the individuality of our brains makes this almost a person-to-person prospect, which is just not practical.

More here and here. The subject seems to keep coming up this year.

Here is a great article in Nature about the subject.

Still more here.

We don't need no stinking FACTS!

Google generation has no need for rote learning - Times Online

This is a very interesting idea. Again, as with the previous post, I tend to agree with it in theory. The problem that arises is with authenticity and accuracy of information. However, I don't think it's as big a problem as some have made it out to be.

Back in the day the "authority" on information was the encyclopedia. There were several brands, some more comprehensive (and expensive) than others. If you wanted general information you went down to your local library and looked it up in your encyclopedia of choice. The information was updated (mostly) on a year-to-year basis. There was absolutely NO way to verify how accurate the information was - unless you were an expert in your own right, and then you usually found small errors or at least misinterpretations of material. And if the information wasn't in the encyclopedia, you were usually out of luck - finding the information from another source was going to take some serious effort.

The internet provides the same type of information (Wikipedia) you have the same type of information, there is more of it, it is more frequently updated AND there is a method for altering or verifying the information that is much quicker. Some of the best Wikipedia articles (and a trait of the web in general) provide links to source documents. How is that possibly worse than an encyclopedia?

So, a lot of the arguments about "we're not sure it's accurate" can be valid if you're just searching pages created by cranks or someone with an axe to grind (although those are also the most entertaining to read, generally) - but the availability of original documents and large repositories of "expert generated" material is easily the equivalent of the old "encyclopedia" source.

The thing you're really bucking is YEARS of ingrained thinking that, say, Encyclopedia Britannica was THE authoritative source of info. When you think about it, however, it is not any more or any less accurate than other "authoritative" sources like Wikipedia.

However, all that being said - we don't yet have that type of information at our beck and call 24 hours a day, and having a host of embedded memories of facts can also provide a great basis for pattern recognition, so eliminating every type of learning "by rote" isn't really a prudent choice.

Teasing is good

In Defense of Teasing -

I like the logic behind this and I agree with it in principle. The policy implementation for a stance like this requires a lot of subjectivity, so I also see the "no tolerance" policy that most schools employ.

It's all a matter of degrees and who is interpreting those issues.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The internet is...uh...not mighty?

Lots of TV and Web harms kids' health | U.S. | Reuters

Well, honestly...too much of just about anything is bad for you, so this isn't really much of a surprise. Really what it should more probably read is "sedentary life-style leads to health problems" - that would be more accurate. But, hey, blaming the Internet and TV is more fun and sensational, so, why not?

Monday, December 01, 2008

Brain exercise!

Brain exercises are 'waste of time' says Scottish professor | Science | The Observer

The conclusions are mostly correct. The flim-flammery propogated by most commercial entities seeking to exploit the "brain fitness" craze are indeed based on flimsy science or a ridiculously overextended conclusion based on minor effects at best or complete nonsense at worst.

However, the underlying science is indeed there in many cases, it is just misinterpreted by those trying to make a buck. Then again - as with the placebo effect mentioned in the last post - if you are doing something that you believe is helping you cognitively, there's around a 30% chance that your desires will be self-fulfilling.

However, like the professor mentioned - I really, REALLY wish that all the nonsense about neuroscience would go away. My biggest pet peve (which is also mentioned in the article) is the exceptionally stupid "we only use 10% of our brains" meme....which is beyond lame. I don't know where the meme started, but it needs to die a slow painful death. Shortly after that we need the whole "Left-brained/Right-brained" thing to also go away.

And I'm sure that I have lots of misconceptions about other areas of science that I'm not as versed in as I probably should be, but I'd love it if someone could set me straight.

Gender under pressure

Gender and performance under pressure: new evidence | vox - Research-based policy analysis and commentary from leading economists

This is a very interesting study and I'd like to see a bit more of how they accounted for all the variables - but the conclusions they draw are very interesting and, I'm sure, controversial.

Placebo effect - kinda crazy

Not Exactly Rocket Science : Pain in the eye of the beholder

The argument has been made that in the realm of neuromedicine (including therapy and pharmacology) the ONLY thing that makes a difference is the placebo effect.

I'm not sure I would go that far, but it is awfully surprising the things that our brains can accomplish on their own.