The key to growing old gracefully

Another candidate for the overpopular Department of the Blitheringly Obvious:

“Social life and mobility are keys to quality of life in old age”
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110528191542.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily%2Fmind_brain+%28ScienceDaily%3A+Mind+%26+Brain+News%29

The article goes on to say that old people go to great lengths to stay active and connected, and use their well-seasoned brains to problem-solve issues of daily living at a rate that makes most younger people look like pikers.

In this article, they actually used the term “extreme lengths” — obviously they haven’t considered what it’s like to be old. You simply have to cope, in order to have a life worth living, and your friends help you figure it out. Doesn’t that seem pretty self-explanatory?

Nurses could have told them all that, plus a bunch of gruesome stuff about skin care, but study scientists pay even less attention to nurses than they do to patients. I’m just glad someone FINALLY thought of asking the only people whose opinion on “quality of life for the elderly” really counts.

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Numeric literacy, mental integrity, and fun with ferrets

Most people get confused when faced with an article about medicine, or any kind of complex science. Because people with extremely expensive educations wrote that stuff, then other people figure (at some level below common sense) that the study’s authors must be fundamentally superior.
Education is not the same as intelligence.
Intelligence is not the same as sense.
Sense is not the same as integrity.

I come from a highly educated family. (‘Nuff said.) Growing up in the context of good education really made it clear that people are people, regardless of the letters after their names. Degrees simply mean that someone can work hard on their own behalf; they’re no guarantee of logic or brilliance. It’s never wise to subvert common sense in favor of education.

So, if you’re one of the majority who doesn’t have alphabet soup after your name, give yourself some credit as you read these things.

There are a few simple principles that can help you dissect a study with reasonable confidence:

  • Question assumptions (& listen to your eyebrows.)
  • When the question makes no sense, you don’t have to accept the answer.
  • If it seems stupid, it probably is.
  • Don’t ignore the man behind the curtain.

A Furry Example of Fuzzy Logic
The article cited below is precious … A delicious exercise in mental pretzel-ry designed to reduce the average brain to cottage cheese. It’s easy to unravel if you hang onto your common sense and don’t let go, because your brain is not average.
Ready? Here it is.

  1. The title of the article linked below proclaims that researchers have proven that Topic A is bogus.
  2. The researchers’ summary says no such thing. It states that they’ve proven that your belief in Topic A should be much greater if you do believe in it or much less if you don’t; doesn’t matter which.
  3. Then the researchers state that that finding, itself, doesn’t matter, because they personally don’t believe in Topic A, can’t think of anything in its favor, and that you should agree with them — regardless of their own findings — simply because they said so.  (A fairly common conclusion.)

Let’s pause to regroup, since this is enough to make most people tear their hair and gnaw the furniture. That tends to kill the punchline.

Backing up the train of thought to the beginning…


Pick something that there’s some disagreement about. For the sake of clarity, choose something not too emotional, like, “Do ferrets make good pets?” Pretend that’s Topic A.

You’ve already thought of ideas that support this and ideas that don’t, and you probably already know whether you, personally, would like having a ferret as a pet.

Have you ever, in your most random moments, picked a percentage or a ratio to indicate how much you would, or wouldn’t, like to have a ferret as a pet, with nothing to compare it to? I mean, is there any value to the idea of doing so? How odd is it to assume that people would?

TIP: Question assumptions. If your brain — or the skin on your forehead — starts to squirm, it’s a good clue that there’s an unexamined assumption waiting to jump up and trip you. Stop and check. 

Liking pet ferrets is simple: you either like them (a little or a lot), you don’t like them (a little or a lot), or you decide you don’t know enough to have an opinion. That last option isn’t even available here, but it’s very common.

If you have an opinion about ferrets as pets, doesn’t its extent depend on external forces — whether you’ve known pet ferrets, whether their owners were responsible, whether it was a nice ferret or a real brat?

And wouldn’t the appeal of keeping/getting rid of a pet ferret depend on whether there’s a pet store stocking ferrets and ferret supplies, what your lease says about pets, whether or not your housemate can ferret-sit while you’re hiking the Camino de Santiago, whether your veterinarian can help you surrender an unwanted ferret? And don’t these circumstances themselves change, from place to place and time to time?

So how can you assign an absolute percentage to your opinion about whether ferrets make good pets? How surprised would you be if anyone asked you to do so?

And, really… Why would you? Do you assign a percentage to how much you dis/like strawberries, the color blue, or Sarah Palin? Or don’t you use value words instead — love, like, can’t stand?

Unless most (rather than very few) of you think of your preferences in numeric terms, then the very question the researchers are trying to answer is fantastical. Pure silliness.

TIP: You don’t have to accept an answer, if the question itself makes no sense. 

Moreover, the way they processed the data doesn’t change your answer; it indicates that your beliefs should be far stronger, whatever they are.

They’re saying that, if you would like a ferret as a pet, you should be on your knees at the pet shop, weeping with longing — or, if you already have one, should be emitting a constant stream of happy little noises as you snuggle your ferret at work, on the bus, everywhere, all the time.

If you would not like a pet ferret, you should be packing to move so you can stay as far away as possible from anything long and furry or even vaguely ferretlike — or just blow up all the ferret-friendly pet shops where you live.

TIP: Just because someone with a very expensive education says it, doesn’t necessarily make it so. If it seems stupid, it probably still is.

Contrary to the title of the article, the results tell you: don’t change  your position, just become more extreme about it. That’s their conclusion.

Isn’t that helpful? Just what we need: debates that are even more shrill, spittle-flecked and unreasoning.

TIP: Repeat prior tip… Really stupid.
In light of the decisions that led up to this conclusion and the anti-intellectual nature of the outcome, do you think this makes sense? 

And, clearly following their own advice, the scientists themselves pick a side and pronounce that they don’t like pet ferrets and that you shouldn’t like them either.

Why?

Because they don’t understand how anyone could like pet ferrets and BTW other scientists in vaguely pertinent fields don’t know enough to prove how pet ferrets can possibly be desirable.

Therefore (stretching the metaphor), given this massive ignorance on the part of so many highly-educated people, ferrets are obviously terrible pets and all of them should be gassed.



…WHAT??…

SUMMARY:

This is not a terrible study and it was not done by stupid people. They just left their mental integrity in their other jeans, and that happens a lot.

Why on earth…? Because we all have assumptions and agendas.

Science aims to clear that out, but it’s done by live humans with organs and mortgages, so their objectivity is pretty hit-and-miss.

When reading science articles, be open to hidden agendas while you look for the facts.  For better or worse, they go together. You might as well notice both.

Scientists are often very obvious about using big words to say silly things, and if you can step aside from feeling intimidated, it’s surprising how obvious they are.

The problems here are common problems:

  • Point 1. Article’s title misrepresents the outcome of the study.
    I usually read an article at least twice before making up my mind.
    I read it through, then start again at the title.  How accurate is it?
    If the title isn’t fairly accurate, I know someone’s got an intrusive agenda.

  • Point 2. Outcome doesn’t make sense.
    It says you should believe either more than you do, or less than you do, but it doesn’t matter which.  How to do so is not mentioned (for good reason.)
    I usually look over the details of an article three or four times, to give the facts time to sift together in my mind.
    When I feel my brow wiggling at something, I stop and look again. I trust my good sense more than I trust my education.
    Figuring out crappy data just requires you to assume you’re not an idiot, even if you don’t know the field. 
    Don’t think badly of the scientists, just assume they have their own sets of human flaws.  It’s a safe assumption!
  • Point 3. Conclusion goes against the findings.
    In any case, DON’T believe in Topic A, because the researchers have made up their minds on the basis of their ignorance, and screw their data anyway.
    Continue to assume you’re not an idiot, as you read the conclusion.  It’s that simple.
    Then compare it, again, to the title and to the facts.
    If something doesn’t add up, you know there’s agenda going on.

These particular scientists intended to prove that their statistical method was better than existing methods. Given all the logical problems surrounding their efforts, I think they blew it, but I’m not a statistician.
CLUE:
The topic of this study was ESP.

As my relentlessly rational, very prescient Dad once said when I asked him whether his use of ESP was irrational, “It would be irrational to ignore the evidence of my own experience. It’s highly consistent for me, even though most people can’t do it, or can’t do it very well. But just because they can’t use this valuable tool, does that mean I shouldn’t?  That wouldn’t be very clever!”

Dad was very clever. (…And for the record, he did foresee his own end.)

Let’s step over to another, less-emotional metaphor to think about studying this subject.
Imagine that most people are basically color blind, but a few can see some color.  Anyone who can see beyond the greyscale is not going to get much credit, but there are enough of them to make the rest wonder.

However, since the colorblind are looking for proof of color with instruments that see only luminance, but cannot see color even as tone or hue, they probably won’t have much luck proving something that they don’t understand, can’t use, and don’t believe in anyway. (…But they can sure get snarky, trying.)

TIP: Don’t ignore the man behind the curtain. Think for yourself … And try to remember, especially if you’re in a position of respect, that you don’t necessarily have the right to think for others. 

Today’s unbelievably fatuous truism, which everyone always forgets anyway:  Other people are not you. Only you are. Honor that, and things go better.

THE POINT IS:
In the end, everyone has to pursue their own logic, account for their own experiences, and come to their own conclusions.

What science is supposed to offer is a crystalline view of measurable and provable data. It doesn’t help if the scientists pick up a hammer and smash the crystal when presenting it to public view.

As I know all too well, education is not the same as intelligence; intelligence is not the same as sense; sense is not the same as integrity.

Read studies for yourself.  Practice makes perfect: the more you do it, the easier it gets, and the more accurate (and potentially shocking!) your understanding becomes.

Jump in here and comment on your own experiences. I’d love to hear from you about your adventures with this.

THE STUDY:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110518080059.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily%2Fmind_brain+%28ScienceDaily%3A+Mind+%26+Brain+News%29

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Digestive problems early in life may increase risk for depression, study suggests

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110512171517.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily%2Fmind_brain+%28ScienceDaily%3A+Mind+%26+Brain+News%29

This article states that gut disturbance in early infancy/lifelong gut disturbance (the language is kinda sloppy) can trigger lifelong depression and anxiety.

This doesn’t surprise me, but most of the rest of the article does.

The rat-botherers who did the study presume it’s all about the vagus nerve. Recently, a deliciously expensive procedure which stimulates the vagus has been found to alleviate some depression. It’s good to know that.

It’s good to keep a couple other things firmly in mind first, though:

- Serotonin is produced in the small intestine, as well as the brain. It helps to digest protein. It also plays a role in immune signaling. Think that could possibly be related, either to depression or to inflamed gut syndromes? H’mmm…

- My first thought: get right on top of infant digestive problems. That means getting serious about both prevention and cure.

Oddly, that idea wasn’t even mentioned, even though prevention is infinitely better than trying to manage a lifelong downer like IBS or depression — let alone both!

Prevention is simple in concept, but inexcusably difficult in our current system. With babies, it’s easy: get dead-serious about breastfeeding. Where that’s not possible, put aside formulas at the first sign of allergy. Don’t switch between cow and soy milk, two of the most allergenic infant proteins on the planet; milk more goats and camels. Go to a breastmilk-bank. Find your local midwives because they are much better with the idea that birth is only the beginning of a much longer life, and they should know how to figure this out. If they don’t, they can tell you who else to call.

And punctual treatment for troublesome insides — with the least invasive meds. Interfere with their little regulatory systems as little as possible, but take care of the problem. For indigestion, chamomile and calcium carbonate are much better than h2-inhibitors (Zantac, Prilosec and the like.) Chamomile also soothes the mind and settles the emotions, so the kid can relax.

Try elimination diets to screen for allergies. Sadly, wheat, eggs, cow dairy, soy, and corn are common allergens which affect the developing gut — and the developing skin and brain, because their little bodies never got the memo that all of these systems are supposed to be separate from each other.

Google those terms, discuss them with your midwife/pediatrician/nurse practitioner, and take care of the problem at its source.

You don’t want more depressed people in the world. There are better things to do with infants than let their guts screw up a good life, handing them into the craps-shooting care of multiple pharmaceuticals and invasive procedures.

When I get on the CPU, I’ll set up more links for my factual statements. This is it from the iPhone.

Bon appetit!

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Antidepressants: Are we sufficiently confused yet?

I was overmedicated on multiple antidepressants for over a year. A friend of mine is in the midst of a pharmacologic circus as her shrink tries to get her chronic CRPS, fibromyalgia, and concomitant brutal depression under control. As normal people try to make decisions about how to handle this hugely profitable category of drugs, I can only hold their hands and wish them luck. Here are some fun studies to think over at 2 in the morning:

Anti-inflammatories reduce effectiveness of antidepressants. This is especially fun for people with pain:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110425153602.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily%2Fmind_brain+%28ScienceDaily%3A+Mind+%26+Brain+News%29

Antidepressants may not totally fix your depression. A candidate for the “No Really??” Award:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110421082524.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily%2Fmind_brain+%28ScienceDaily%3A+Mind+%26+Brain+News%29

This set of links reaches a stunning low. All these studies are fairly recent. Hold onto your seats …

Behind Curtain #1:

Behind Curtain #2:

And the final insult:

We know that antidepressants don’t help a lot with mild to moderate depression. That’s when you lay off the sugar and learn to meditate; once you’ve meditated enough to be able to get your butt out, you start with the fresh air and activity, cut back on the starchy fatty food, and stock up on vegetables and meat.

Hints:
- Have fruit at breakfast. If you’re not a breakfast person, have just that bit of fruit.
- Don’t skip lunch.

Why? Because minor blood sugar issues are major contributors to depression. And, for reasons science has not yet caught up with, fruit starts the day properly. I theorize that it provides a digestible dose of sugar, an insulin-friendly dose of fiber, and just enough electrolytes to ease your brain into the day.

Ironically, science has finally found a definite benefit to depression: We people with depression are better at analytical reasoning — and are considerably more persistent:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110504155113.htm

This is a study you can whip out when someone tells you you’re depressed because you’re weak-willed. Weakness of will is lack of persistence combined with poor reasoning. You are considerably stronger-willed than most of the un-depressed people you know!

And that’s another thing I’ve been saying for years :-)

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Doing what? Doing SOMETHING.

This links to an article that states the astounding — nay, earthshaking — news that people like to be productive; it’s good for their heads. Exactly what they do isn’t always the point.

I’ve been saying that for years. Being productive is good pain control and significantly helps depression.

Pity I never knew there was funding available to make a lot of other people say the same thing! Heh.

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News Alert: U.S. drug shortages threaten patients

EPINEPHRINE? MORPHINE?? 
Huh. Who needs a pulse, anyway. 
For the record, morphine (in doses 1/5 to 1/2 the pain-killing dose) is used in heart attacks and congestive heart failure. Why? Not just because it’s fun… 
Morphine opens the blood vessels in and around the heart and lungs. When you’re having a heart attack, that’s exactly what you need: nice wide vessels. In congestive heart failure, opening up that circulation means that the fluid that got stuck in the wrong spaces can get cleaned up and carried away by the blood pumping through the lovely spongy tissue in your lungs. Suddenly you can breathe!
Also, in both these life-threatening conditions, your mind gets filled with a sickening sense of dread that can only make matters worse. However, even in small doses, morphine alleviates that terrible feeling and you can perceive things more normally again, deal with people around you, and get a grip on things. 
Clinically, I love morphine. It’s a life-saver. I only wish I could use it myself, but I have an odd reaction to narcotics; it’s liable to stop my insides so fast and so completely I get poisoned to death by my own waste. It opens up the core circulation, but it closes down my bowels!
I don’t even need to editorialize that. Go wild. 
As for this article, let me be clear: the pharmaceutical companies’ whining, in the face of a decade of stunningly lax corporate regulation and world-record profits year after year, utterly fails to impress me. 
The article discusses “consolidation” as contributing heavily to these problems. That refers to large companies buying up smaller ones, then cutting away the parts that don’t make outrageous amounts of money or that don’t fit the buying company’s self-image. “Consolidation” is news-speak for megacorps. The ways the pharmaceutical consolidations were handled was pretty interesting, if you can forget about the body count. 
Begin forwarded message:

From: “The Washington Post” <newsletters@email.washingtonpost.com>
Date: May 1, 2011 6:42:31 PM PDT
—————————————-
Breaking News Alert: U.S. drug shortages threaten patients
May 1, 2011 9:41:07 PM
—————————————-

Doctors, hospitals and federal regulators are struggling to cope with unprecedented drug shortages in the United States that are endangering cancer patients, heart attack victims, accident survivors and a host of other ill people.

http://link.email.washingtonpost.com/r/E5QODK/724RG0/85YRMX/UX01I8/ZEXC7/ZH/h

For more information, visit washingtonpost.com

—————————————-

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