Tuesday, September 25, 2007

More on Epidemiology and the Public's Health

A recent article in the New York Times Magazine profiles the case of hormone replacement therapy as an example of the seemingly endless yo-yo cycle of medical research findings, and discusses whether or not we know what really makes us healthy. It's treatment of epidemiology is informed if a little focused on the negative.
clipped from www.nytimes.com
While the tools of epidemiology — comparisons of populations with and without a disease — have proved effective over the centuries in establishing that a disease like cholera is caused by contaminated water, as the British physician John Snow demonstrated in the 1850s, it’s a much more complicated endeavor when those same tools are employed to elucidate the more subtle causes of chronic disease.
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Monday, September 24, 2007

Industry and Epidemiology: What Really Causes Cancer?

The "Secret History of the War on Cancer" by Devra Davis looks at the history of how the chemical industries have systematically worked to cause doubt about the role their products play in cancer. A review on Slate, clipped below, calls these chemicals "The New Cigarette."
clipped from www.slate.com
Davis ultimately argues that in their doubt-sowing public-relations efforts, the chemical industry and others have cleverly manipulated the science of epidemiology, the study of health and disease among populations. Epidemiologists would be the first to admit that it is truly difficult to establish definitive proof that a given hazard causes a given cancer. But scientists and spokespeople for the chemical industries have gone further, using epidemiology's penchant for caveat to attempt to nullify a lot of very convincing data.
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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

IRB Approval: Check!

Just received word today that my proposal went through the IRB process and was granted exemption. It's not like I'm surprised but....it went so smoothly and quickly.

What does this mean?....that I am actually going to do this research...and I can start now!

Next: mind-numbing conversion of 1990 to 2000 census tracts, data extraction, and derivation of new variables.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Career Matches

As seen everywhere. I can't believe how accurate this quiz is! I have done, am doing, or plan to do a bunch of these things on this list. Although maybe I should have taken this quiz before deciding NOT to do my graduate work in anthropology!

1. Anthropologist
2. ESL Teacher
3. Epidemiologist
4. Foreign Language Instructor
5. Translator
6. Professor
7. Sign Language Interpreter
8. Historian
9. Criminologist
10. Writer
11. Political Aide
12. Market Research Analyst
13. Athletic Trainer
14. Corporate Trainer
15. Interpreter
16. Public Policy Analyst
17. Naturopath
18. Actuary
19. Mediator
20. Personal Trainer
21. Physical Therapist
22. Motivational Speaker
23. Researcher
24. Critic
25. Foreign Service Officer
26. Kinesiologist
27. Coach
28. Chiropractor
29. Sports Instructor
30. Public Relations Specialist
31. Dietitian
32. Tour Guide
33. Outdoor Guide
34. Career Counselor
35. Announcer
36. Massage Therapist
37. Television and Radio Reporter
38. Mathematician
39. Physician Assistant
40. Psychologist

Take it yourself at Career Cruising. The username is "nycareers" and the password is "landmark."


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Insularity of the Academy

I just came across an article about the self-contained universe of the academy in Salon that seems as relevant today or a hundred years ago as it was when it was written in 1998.

In this, Annalee Newitz writes about the challenges of PhDs outside academia, "The problem is not our so-called crappy jobs; it's an educational system that teaches us to think we are not proper intellectuals unless we are employed as academics. Why should my colleagues and I be ashamed to take our considerable knowledge and work as writers, designers, administrators, researchers and teachers outside academia? Why should our worth as scholars be measured in tenure tracks?"

Great question. A few years back I came across a Zionist log-cabin Republican and experimental psychologist who left a poorly paid, high-demand, low-control post-doc for a great job working for a large corporation in the city where his partner lived. On speaking with one faculty member, it was as if he had sold his soul to the devil. Will he be able to rejoin the academy? Unlikely. Would he want to? The answer to that is also unlikely. Call me a non-believer but to me, being with your partner, being able to pay back some loans, buying a house, and working on real-world soon-to-be-applied research sounds....good.

Another topic touched on in this article is related to the insularity of the ivory tower, "In theory, everyone in the United States has the right to be educated. And yet, rather undemocratically, we continue to isolate education (and the educated) in certain elite institutions, effectively eliminating the possibility that useful ideas developed in the academy will ever reach a public that truly needs them. Being more educated than other people does not mean we should escape the real world. We should use our education to change the world for the better rather than hiding from it."

This is perhaps my biggest beef with academia. I am in an applied field well, because I am interested in enacting change. Ok ok, if not actually enacting change, I am interested in identifying targets for change, the mechanisms through which change is possible, and oh yes---this one is imperative--criticizing current methods for change. But if all of my interaction is within the academy--my potential for change is limited.

What is it that causes this insularity? Is it a compositional effect formed by our collective anti-social dysfunctional personalities? Is it an immature reactionary response to the hazing process of graduate school? Are we still worried if we're smarter than everybody else? Are we just trying to please our mentors by following in their footsteps? Do we foster and perpetuate the timeless tradition of isolation because we believe, however subconsciously, that it results in a deeper mystery and appeal of the ivory tower and therefore contributes to our sense of worth? Do we just not know how to talk to other people anymore and thus don't like them because they don't understand all our bullshit?!

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Saturday, September 08, 2007

Why We Do It

I saw this first at The Paper Chase. It really resonates for me right now because amidst my endless uncertainty and negativity about the ivory tower, I am currently in a pro-academia mode. This is a great post--check out the rest at Professor Zero's blog.

On Becoming a Professor

At school we make observations, develop theories, draw pictures of these, and finally write them down. We do this no matter what anyone else has to say about the evils of “overachievement.” Because we are not “overachieving,” we are living, and doing creative work. We do this in memory of Paulo Freire, and for the sake of the collectivity - and to entertain the spirits. And everyone has a right to be a subject in their own life, to stand at the head of their own acts, and to speak.


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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Paperwork and Proposals: MASSIVE NEWS

So BIG NEWS TODAY, Loyal Readers:

****************Four out of four professors agree, it's time to sit around and wait for the Institutional Review Board!*************************

After an extremely extended period of time, it looks like my dissertation proposal is finally complete! Right now I have 2 of 4 faculty signatures and am waiting on the other two to arrive by fax from exotic locations. Next I schlep a huge pile of papers and documentation to the research services office where hopefully they will not request that I fill out more forms. Then, it's sit around and wait for their agonized approval process.

This is great news because I have a progress report due by Friday and I really wanted to have some progress to report about.

Actually I was thinking, with all of these gyrations that we go through to protect human subjects and their associated data, there is still one big loophole that the IRBs around the world have neglected to address: Accidental Disclosure During Sleep (ADDS).

I don't recall a single discussion or affidavit regarding ADDS. What if, in a fit of restless, nightmare-ridden, dissertation-anxious sleep I accidentally disclose the census tract and shoe size of one of my survey respondents? My partner could hear this and in a fit of jealous rage regarding my dissertation fixation on total strangers, could start stalking all size 13-ers in East LA.

But what could be done to prevent this egregious violation of the right to privacy? Maybe there is some kind of preventive pharmaceutical for this? Or maybe all partners of researchers should sign a form stating that they will not act on information obtained via ADDS? Or maybe there should be no during-dissertation sleeping at all? Any thoughts?

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Sunday, September 02, 2007

American Cancer Society and The Good Fight

Props to the American Cancer Society (ACS) for promising to devote its entire $15 million advertising budget to the consequences of inadequate health insurance. Having adequate health insurance positively influences cancer prevention, early detection, treatment, and survival. Even more significant, health insurance is a cross-cutting issue and has relevance for multiple health conditions. It’s very inspiring that the ACS, a single disease focused organization, would tackle an issue like this. Perhaps the ACS’s newly formed collaborations with diabetes and heart associations are further evidence of a larger trend away from the NIH-driven disease-specific focus in research and prevention.

Either way, I have to admit to some curiosity about the politics and timing behind this move.

Their earlier campaigns for healthier eating and colorectal cancer screening are of questionable efficacy in terms of changing individual health behaviors; let’s see what kind of impact they have on changing political will and the face of policy.

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