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The Healer

November 12, 2012 Leave a comment

Will Saletan’s dated but still fantastic profile of 2012 Nobel Prize winner Shinya Yamanaka is worth reading:

Shinya Yamanaka, a scientist at Kyoto University, loved stem-cell research. But he didn’t want to destroy embryos. So he figured out a way around the problem. In a paper published five years ago inCell, Yamanaka and six colleagues showed how “induced pluripotent stem cells” could be derived from adult cells and potentially substituted, in research and therapy, for embryonic stem cells. Today, that discovery earned him a Nobel Prize, shared with British scientist John Gurdon. But the prize announcement and much of the media coverage missed half the story. Yamanaka’s venture wasn’t just an experiment. It was a moral project.

Categories: Misc, Values

Harvey Brooks in a Flow-Chart

September 15, 2012 Leave a comment

Harvey Brooks’s classic “The Resolution of Technically Intensive Public Policy Disputes” suggested a way we can separate experts’ technical judgments from their values:

“Differences among experts resulting from disagreements over the burden of proof might be “smoked out” by requiring each side in a controversy to specify in advance what type of experiment or evidence or analysis would convince them to alter their policy position on a controversial issue…force each side to understand more clearly the bases of its technical judgments and the extent to which those judgments depend…on prior desired policy outcomes, value premises, or [their] biases or implicit value preferences …By shifting the focus of the debate to the real issue, this approach could make the discussion more accessible to the general public. And even if the issue were highly polarized…and the parties were unwilling to stipulate what evidence would sway them, clarification of that fact would help illuminate the debate and isolate the more polarized positions from broader public support-possibly the first step toward an ultimate resolution of the issue “

We can all benefit from this approach. Here is my synthesis of the above in flow-chart form:

 

Categories: Misc

A lesson in irony

April 14, 2012 1 comment

i⋅ro⋅ny: Making broad, vague generalizations about Republicans and science in the same essay where you tout your nuance and complexity:

The point is that science and liberalism alike are rooted in a style of thinking that is nuanced, complex, tolerant of uncertainty. — Chris Mooney

Categories: Misc

I work with the customers so the engineers don’t have to

February 6, 2012 Leave a comment


Sorry for the longer than usual blogging hiatus. But three weeks ago I started a new job at a small software company in Palo Alto, CA. It’s still very surreal for me to think I now work in corporate America. As recently as August I was sure I would remain in policy my whole life. Only a fortuitous sequence of events changed my outlook. I’m absolutely loving it so far and don’t mind the long hours.

If you want to know know what I do (and didn’t get the reference in the title), the video above pretty much summarizes it.

Unfortunately, this youthful enthusiasm and hard work means blogging will take a bit of a break. I figure it will be at least another week or two before I figure out my schedule and thinks slow down a bit.

To not completely leave you empty-handed, here’s Daniel Engber’s fantastic essay on the flawed use of mice in biomedical research:

When Mattson made that point in Atlanta, and suggested that the control animals used in labs were sedentary and overweight as a rule, several in the audience gasped. His implication was clear: The basic tool of biomedicine—and its workhorse in the production of new drugs and other treatments—had been transformed into a shoddy, industrial product. Researchers in the United States and abroad were drawing the bulk of their conclusions about the nature of human disease—and about Nature itself—from an organism that’s as divorced from its natural state as feedlot cattle or oven-stuffer chickens.

Categories: Misc

Maps of Science

December 2, 2011 Leave a comment

David Bruggeman highlighted this pretty graphic from Wired showing connections between research fields:

David believes such maps can help policy-makers identify potential connections between clumps of research. I’m a bit skeptical they’ll ever be used in this way. But there’s nothing wrong with creating something just because it’s pretty to look at!

Categories: Misc

Nurses, doctors, and doctorates

October 4, 2011 2 comments

Apparently some nurses now want to be called doctors:

With pain in her right ear, Sue Cassidy went to a clinic. The doctor, wearing a white lab coat with a stethoscope in one pocket, introduced herself.

“Hi. I’m Dr. Patti McCarver, and I’m your nurse,” she said. And with that, Dr. McCarver stuck a scope in Ms. Cassidy’s ear, noticed a buildup of fluid and prescribed an allergy medicine.

It was something that will become increasingly routine for patients: a someone who is not a physician using the title of doctor.

Dr. McCarver calls herself a doctor because she returned to school to earn a doctorate last year, one of thousands of nurses doing the same recently. Doctorates are popping up all over the health professions, and the result is a quiet battle over not only the title “doctor,” but also the money, power and prestige that often comes with it.

As more nurses, pharmacists and physical therapists claim this honorific, physicians are fighting back. For nurses, getting doctorates can help them land a top administrative job at a hospital, improve their standing at a university and win them more respect from colleagues and patients. But so far, the new degrees have not brought higher fees from insurers for seeing patients or greater authority from states to prescribe medicines.

I guess the lack of a similar discussion around PhD space physicists only proves how unimportant my field really is. In all seriousness, I’m interested in seeing more details of the quoted studies. Is it really true that nurses are “perfectly capable of recognizing a vast majority of patient problems?”

If the dental field is any analogue, I know that my teeth are often cleaned just fine by a dental hygienist. Apart from fields like neurosurgery, I suspect much of medicine is similar.

Categories: Misc

The blogosphere cont.

September 18, 2011 Leave a comment

To offer some final thoughts on the blogosphere, here’s Freddie yet again:

I guess I just wish that the blogosphere (and forgive the collective indictment) at least demonstrated interest in the question, “how are we making knowledge?” Taken as a whole, I don’t think that there’s a coherent epistemology of blogging out there, even in the most elementary or general sense. For all of the navel-gazing that bloggers undertake, they appear uninterested in the fundamental questions of what value blogs are creating and what systems of accountability there are for ensuring that truth claims are actually true.

Freddie is begging the question here. Since when did creating knowledge become the primary goal? Even academic blogs I’m familiar with care more about knowledge dissemination than creation per se. The political blogosphere seems more interested in analysis and affecting public discourse than anything else.

It’s just so academic to think that creating better knowledge will somehow solve our problems, and that anyone even tangentially involved in the enterprise should care first about this task. But even if the blogosphere did develop a coherent epistemology, I’m not sure how much good it would do. The academy has a finely honed epistemology, and it still produces a lot of bad work that no one really cares about.

Good knowledge does not always equal useful or worthwhile knowledge. Knowledge in any form is not always the goal. The blogosphere implicitly recognizes these facts, and that’s a good thing.

Categories: Academia, Misc