Wednesday, January 19, 2011

non sequiteur [Goddag yxskaft]

I like the Scandinavian saying much more - "Goddag, yxskaft" - it has a whole story behind it. I've tried to find the translated version somewhere but failed and figured I could make my own translation to share the fun*.

A man is sitting by the road working on a shaft to an ax; you know, carving with a knife and trying to make it smooth and fit properly. He has slightly bad hearing and when he sees a man walking towards him he decides what he will answer, since he already knows (he thinks) what the questions will be.

A: He'll ask "what are you doing?" And I'll answer "shaft for the ax". Then he'll ask "how far to the city?", and I'll answer "2 kilometers" and then he'll ask "which way to turn to get to the city" and I'll say "towards left".

Said and done. the passing man (B) comes up to the man with the ax (A).

B Good day ['Goddag']
A Shaft for an axe ['yxskaft']
B Eh, that's a long one
A 2 kilometers
B Are you a bit drunk? (maybe more "are you not screwed on properly" or 'are you a bit turned/crazy]")
A Towards the left

In short, person A and B are not communicating. In the story of course, it's said that A doesn't have proper hearing (i.e. deaf) but other explanations are offered. I mean, clearly he has already decided what the other person will ask... and therefore... he answers without listening or trying to listen to what B says.
Sometimes I wonder about the focused listening and actually paying attention to the person talking to you. (And also the added not scattered "I'm texting/reading email/shuffling paper but sure I hear what you say" since it's not the same thing as listening and acknowledging you've heard what the other person said.) Simply stated: "actually listen to what the other person is saying and confirming that".**

When I was in high school we were even taught this thing called "How to communicate; Sender and Receiver". In order for the communication to run smoothly, the Receiver has to pick up on something that the sender said, often actually repeat parts of it to make sure the Sender understands that the Receiver has listened and therefore acknowledges that sentences.

(Fairly common practice if you do short wave radio transmission or even have been in the military. "Go to the hill to the left! -Hill to the left, yes sir") Many people are taught part of this as "just repeat the last sentence or some words to indicate you are listening to A". (Note, some people will use this as a ruse to pretend they are communicating. Actually, they are simply making the other person feeling good/avoiding being called out on not paying attention but it's not as obvious as not even trying to feign interest.)

It's not as complicated as I make it in text. It's not something you need to do every time, but - most often when there is a conflict between people - there is a disconnect between what person A said and what person B thought they heard. Not to mention, what A heard B say in response to the interpretation of what A said.... or what A thought B said....***

When you think about it like this, it's amazing there aren't more implosions all over. Or maybe there is?!

And yes, I would like to point out that it isn't always crucial what B answers but that B acknowledges what A said. There's a difference. And that not answering at all usually means that the Sender doesn't know anything since it is hard (impossible?) to know what someone thinks if they don't say anything. Being heard is more important than being ignored. Best of all though, is being understood. Of course, as I have stated before, we do not live in a perfect world...

*fun might be a bit overstating it but it's an explanation of the saying if nothing else
** meeting notes could be one example of this... where it is in writing "this was decided" since everyone might not agree on what they remember being decided...
*** sometimes a "third party" - an Interpreter/Listener - can be helpful to suss out the difference between "what A said" and "what B heard"

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Playing (paying?) doctor

I bought the Atlantic for my recent transatlantic flight and got some interesting stuff to ponder up there in the blue wonder… One of the articles made me think yet again about the problems regarding the “working with/in pharma” (also known as "evil pharma" or "Pentex") and since I am – sort of – working in pharma now, have worked with pharma before (all in all more than three different companies and various outcomes*) I think it would be one of those things we scientists should be honestly talking about. Not to mention the publishers, as mentioned in the article for example.

It’s not only the MDs who get fringes and benefits from working with a special company… in order to be more likely to write a prescription with that specific drug" (sometimes not even intentional)… no… there are a bunch of PhDs doing some (imho) things on the shadier side of murky.

It’s all part of the “full disclosure thing” . I’m sure it happens in the lab not joined with the company too, it’s just that I am annoyed with all this “put your name under this article and we’ll give you some money for your research”. I can’t say I’m shocked – just tired that people who live on having “a good reputation” would go for this. And the damage that is done to the reputation of a whole community in the end...

And then the poor medical writers, I guess part of me would want to call them “ArtDirectors” or “Publicists” since they do more of the “polish and sell” than “telling the truth” or even "telling the whole story". Again, it would be a better feeling in me if the journals that publish this would be open about it, pull the papers and – especially now in this day and age when all different kinds of people go out on the internet to get informed decisions(tm) - make up their mind about stuff it would be very important to make it clear that some of these articles are Retracted and not telling the whole story.

Then again, I live in fantasy land where words like integrity and honesty are valid words that are cared about. I do know though, that the words money and successful are often more important and the driving force for plenty … not that they are mutually exclusive... but they aren't really hard-linked all the time in the world I see.

I'm left with the qoute from the end of the article: “They are well-paid technicians who perform a specialized service for their clients, often without a whole lot of agonizing about the ethics. Even if writers were to cultivate a little moral anguish, they probably could not do a lot with it. Like lobbyists, public-relations consultants, and hit men, medical writers are instruments in a much larger enterprise. Their moral problem lies in the structure of the job itself.

It might be a bit harsh, then again – I never said I wanted to be a grey scale person all the time.

*I could say that one company wanted the study to get pulled, i.e. not published since the desired effect [they'd wanted] wasn’t observed. One company sort of wanted some of the data pulled and not mentioned even done… since it was “difficult to sell it as a good spin” and one company said “let’s just show what we got and live with it – it’s not like other companies have 100% success rate either”. As long as you are aware of what you are ok with as a scientist (and for your track record) I think you should be fine. But it is always important to suss out details BEFORE agreeing to do a study that will take time and effort and if you won’t be able to publish unless you get the desired outcome – be sure you are ok with that… [read; have some other research going at the same time]

Monday, January 10, 2011


Coming back after vacation is playing catch up. Sometimes easier than other times. All those emails... and those loose ends to tie. I guess I shouldn't be surprised about a few unbloggable things (but yes, I still am...). Let's just go with; when (sounds much better than if, right?) I become the ruler of the world - emails will have to be answered. And yes, I'm completely OK with a "I can't answer right now, but within x hours/days" so I at least get some kind of response and can tick a box off. However, a complete lack of response by several who are in the same boat.... not so much. (Probably said too much already. But it will be sort of interesting when the snow ball hits flame.)

Second thing to notice. Blood test needed in order to be cleared working with less regular things came back as an email containing the sentence "Your results were okay". And no, that would not be the "correct way" to answer such test. I'd be happier if it'd said "negative or positive on T and R" but I guess I'll accept that slightly less clear answer (also not in an pdf-file marked "confidential"). Although, I can be happy that no one who were to break into my email account would know for what I was tested - guess that's something for confidentiality? Especially since another test came back slightly off. I guess I might need to take some other action and make sure that I'm more of a worrier than accurate. Funny enough (no, not funny really - as usual), I'm not really a worrier but I think I need to take some kind of action since I've played ignore for a bit now.

And last, the article that has been on my mind for many months got accepted!! Yey! My latest first author publication and the last one from my old post doc place! Added bonus? Might end up on cover.... will see if that happens but the Editor was enquiring about better resolution photos :)

Sunday, January 09, 2011

taking a break writing that narcolepsy and flu vaccine post ....

... that I briefly mentioned before Christmas holidays on Stephen Curry's blog, I ended up reading various blog posts and on-line journals... and stumbled onto an article that would lead me into backtracking even more into philosophy undergrad classes. Namely, logic as well as falsifying hypotheses and making an argument stick when trying it.

Funny enough, I was taking a break reading through my links about narcolepsy, adjuvants, vaccines, clinical trials and adverse effects. I needed to step away from what little I've written already (I think I might end up making it very basic with links or several installments. All depending on how I end up finishing it, since I am not even sure it is interesting - well written.)

What I am talking about? This is what I am talking about. Following the link will lead you to Columbia Spectator and the article reporting one of their professors being charged with incest with his adult daughter just before Christmas. The comment section gave me slight a head ache, the comments on other sites (from where I was pointed to the article in origin) made me even more tired. I ended up trying to make an argument where I don't really have the energy to motivate why I don't find it acceptable. (Incest that is, in case that was uncertain? Sexual relationship between child and parent. Never mind if both are adult. Sorry. Still lots of dependency, non-freedom etc playing in.)

Maybe especially today, being the day after the shootings in Arizona. I am already tired of reading opinions and mis-interpretations of what certain mental illnesses are, do and make the affected people do. The debate so far I'e seen focusing a lot on the fact that the shooter "seems to be schizophrenic" [note; this is purely speculative as of this time, and I am not sure if it is relevant for the main discussion i.e. what kind of climate, what "sane/normal" people/politicians can say about each other we currently see in America], therefore missing, imho, a lot of the things we probably would be better off discussing in order to not have this happen again...

As for the professor and the daughter and the incest. I am slightly surprised, but really I guess I shouldn't be considering faulty logic being expressed all over the world, that I seem to be labelled conservative just because I can't see ANY problem with calling it a crime and something way more complex than "sex between consenting adults". Then I haven't even touched on the subject that he is a professor (teaching undergraduates) or how the wife/mother could possibly make sense of the marriage/mother-daughter relationship....

Well, I'm back to looking through the links and watching the last wild-card game.... The lefty-QB isn't playing as well as I would've hoped.... Not lost yet though!

Friday, January 07, 2011

the vaccine vs autism..

The Editorial in BMJ tells it all. Or rather, it will link to the investigation and the (first half of) report of the investigation of Wakefield and his MMR accusation of linkage...

As a microbiologist I am content (happy seems inappropriate somehow) that this investigation brings to light some of the concerns and problems done with the initial article about a "probable linkage" between a vaccination and a complex disease.

More of it is that as a microbiologist and a person of certain knowledge of viruses - one of the microbes I research have been part of the viral family - I'm happy that it is brought to light that (not to any surprise for scientists or other people who know about viruses) really the only protection we have against diseases caused by viruses  (apart from never getting infected in the first place) are vaccines (which protect against getting infected).

I state this, probably a bit convoluted since I'm tired, since people in general don't understand the difference between a viral infection and a bacterial infection. (No, antibiotics won't cure you if you have a virus infection, they might protect you against a secondary bacterial infection but that is another matter.) The latter can be treated (and most often) cured with antibiotics, whereas a viral infection sometimes can be curbed by the use of anti-virals. Most often not cured per se, but rather helping the immune system to get rid of the virus, if possible. More likely would be the term "keeping it under control".

As most of us know though, most viral infections will "run its course" and then get eradicated due to the immune cells in the body (meaning that anti-virals might not help against the infectious agent) or not at all. Not all the time without consequences though, which I tend to call morbidity or "effects of the disease". One of many reasons I tend to favour vaccinations against virus diseases, but also certain bacterial diseases since these may have consequences through toxins being produced before the antibiotics kick in (not to mention the immune system working over time and shifting the balance - much better not to get sick in the fist place).

If nothing else, HPV (herpes virus) and HIV being the most obvious examples or viral diseases not treatable to be "non infected" after the fact. Rabies would be one of the "odd ones" since you can protect for the outcome by vaccination after the fact you've been exposed to the virus - although, that's an (imho) anamoly of virus diseases.... and you need to be fast in your response.

Another link about the investigation about the "original" study is found here.