Sunday, 20 March 2016

Entertainment stuff from the week 14-20/3/16

Hi swabbers,

'How to spot research spin—the case of the not-so-simple abstract'

Last week, Phys Org was splattered with sexist and racist press releases, funded by pseudo-justice warriors. This week, pretty much none.

In their place, there were releases about an AI beating a man at a board game, with narratives spanning:

- The robots are coming to dominate us all, by winning at Go, pretty much every time

- Humans have a part to play, in keeping AIs 'honest', so that we can win at Go 'better, together'

- AIs can't even be trusted to beat humans at Go, every time, so how can we trust them to save us from ourselves?

[much wailing ensues, from all parties]

All i can do, is to find myself smirking from the sidelines :-D

Intelligence is intelligence, whether it's exhibited by stiff silicon-based machines, or soft protein-based machines.

My only worry, is that humans will unleash Generalised Intelligences that are less intelligent than humans. As far as i can see, the boundlessness of stupidity, is where most of the world's evil comes from.


The tenth edition of Earth Hour started on the 19th of March, in Australia, and continues as i write this. In Earth Hour, public landmarks, and members of the public, ceremonialy switch off their lights in unison, to "show they care about the future of our planet".

In other news:

Is 'vaginal swabbing/seeding' a good idea or not? Well, like many ideas that are loosely termed as 'medical' the backing for 'vaginal swabbing' is largely specious. The proposed mechanism for medical benefit, from leaving a gauze in end-of-pregnany women's vaginas, and then swabbing the vaginal fluid over the newborn baby, is that illnesses such as asthma, allergies, and obesity, are connected to the body's microbiome - the population of bacteria that lives on and in us, all our lives. By introducing 'natural' vaginal bacteria, so the logic goes, by pasting it all over the baby's face, the 'natural order' will be restored, and the child will be left better off. Well, this mechanism has been shown to work in people with auto-immune and chronic digestive conditions, where faecal transplants have helped some of them immensely; but it isn't necessarily true that it works just as well with babies. Especially as the bacterial transmission is only surface-to-surface (external). Plus, good bacteria go with bad bacteria. In a faecal transplant, healthy microbiomes are deliberately chosen, from healthy donors. In the method tested by the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, the babies were always given bacterial transplants from their mothers. Ultimately, there might be a benefit; but all rational decisions involve cost-benefit analyses. Imperial College London, St Mary's Hospital and Charing Cross Hospital in the UK, and St Vincent's Hospital in Australia, have written a letter, published in the BMJ, warning about the costs of the procedure. You see, if the mother has an infection, that she doesn't know about (we're giving her the moral benefit of the doubt here, of course) and her bacteria are transplanted to the baby, then the baby can contract any of a wide variety of infections. It's the case with myriad diseases, that healthy adults, with well-developed immune systems, are far more redoubtable to infection, than a fresh-from-the-womb infant. A disease that can be easily shrugged off by an adult, can permanently scar a child. Not necessarily outwardly, of course - internal organs can be scarred too. Measles, for example, can cause deafness, by damaging the inner ear of child victims. Whether 'vaginal swabbing' is a good idea, depends on the relative costs and benefits of doing so. No-one can quantify them, however, until quality research has been done. In the meantime, i think budding parents should err on the side of caution, and reject the procedure, because asthma, allergies, and obesity, are nowhere near as serious as pathogenic mutilation, and are relatively easy to compensate for.

So, has a (partly) peanut industry funded study found that forcing kids to eat peanuts, makes them less likely to develop a peanut allergy? Well, the study was an RCT, so it took a sample of 550 children who were aged less than a year old, and deemed to be allergy-risked through having eczema and/or egg allergies, and randomly distributed them into two groups: those told not to eat peanuts until they were five, and those given at least 6g of peanut paste to eat, weekly, until they were five. In the year after they turned five, they were all instructed to avoid eating peanuts, entirely, to see whether the effect faded. Evidence of extant allergy to peanuts was determined by an objective test, involving peanut-paste exposure. Well, obviously, this study has methodological restrictions: for starters, they knew which group they were in, which is known to affect results. Secondly, the whole thing would have been reported through questionnaires, issed to their guardians, who are never omniscient, and rarely possessing of perfect memories, so could have been misreporting their kids' diets. Thirdly, there were originally 640 children in the study, meaning 90 dropped out. Why was this? An uneven departure from the study groups (test and control) could easily fabricate a factitious but illusory disparity. The publication from a year ago admits that many children had to be 'transferred' groups, for their sake. This rather flouts the utility of randomisation! If kids given peanut paste for 4 years were dropping out because exposure to peanuts was making them worse (because they had a peanut allergy) then the kids who would remain in that group, would be misleadingly healthy, creating an illusion of efficacy for the industry-convenient therapeutic-exposure hypothesis. It should be borne-in-mind that anaphylaxis can be fatal, so stuffing peanuts into your kids could turn out to be the worst well-meaning thing you could do for your little bairn! If the hormesis technique is ever used, make sure it's done in clinically secure setting. What this study certainly does not validate, is the idea that spooning peanut butter into your childrens' mouths is not going to ensure they never get a peanut allergy.

What the above reporting has not been, however, is utterly abominable journalism. For a change, LOL. What follows now, however... :-P

According to the Daily Fail and the Torygraph, brushing your teeth can ward off dementia. Even though the study that they cited, looked exclusively at people who already had Alzheimer's Disease, and had gum disease. The researchers found no clear correlation between progression of gum disease and dementia symptoms. Oh, by the way, one of the researchers was in the employ of Colgate Palmolive and GlaxoSmithKline.

Eating white bread, bagels and rice "increase[s] the risk of lung cancer by 49%" according to the Daily Fail. The cited study was a case-control (snapshot) study, so couldn't observe changes due to diet, and didn't show dose response, between carbohydrates and lung cancer. What it did show, was that the study participants, who had all recently been diagnosed with lung cancer, were quite likely to eat bread and/or potatoes a lot. Like everyone who doesn't have lung cancer. The same as with the peanut allergy study, patients were expected to reliably report their diets, post-hoc. This study does not prove that "carbs are the new cigarettes".

"Talc 'is linked to ovarian cancer'" claims the Fail Online, on the basis of a similar study, that looked only at women who had ovarian cancer, and was unable to prove causation, because of its design. This story is actually old, but the Fail decided to publish it because a Court of Law recently decided that it could rule on Science, by dictat, and awarded a woman $72 million in reparations, funded by a fine of Johnson and Johnson, who sold her the talc that she blames for her ovarian cancer. Unsurprisingly, J&J repudiates the claim. This is one of those studies that really should have been done better, possibly by pooling resources and funding. The study was insufficient even to demonstrate whether talc use or ovarian cancer came first! So it would be just as valid to conclude from this study, that ovarian cancer drives women to use talcum powder! The IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) classifies genital application of talc as a 'possible carcinogen' which means there's no evidence that it is a carcinogen, but that there's insufficient evidence to say that it isn't a carcinogen, either. The word 'possible' should not be ignored. It means 'no-one really knows'.

The Mail, somehow, have been left out of this next story. The Dependent and Diana were the most grievous offenders, in this case, by claiming that the cited study provided "proof" that chocolate makes people smarter. The Torygraph and Mirror went for a more hesitant "can" make you smarter, while the Grauniad's chosen narrative was umming and erring. This was another snapshot study, that the researchers admitted could not establish a causation between chocolate and increase in intelligence. But hey, this is just the kind of non-study that can appease the evil Humanities paymasters who demand fame and glory via the researchers that they keep shackled to their desks, Monday to Friday, dawn till dusk, in the University's basement. Unfortunately, we live in a world where genuine scientists (beyond my cruel caricature) have motives to puff PR into the aether thrust upon them, to which they acquiesce, just to make their lives easier. Rubbish like this tarnishes the image of scientific inquiry, in the eyes of the public.

And now, here's a bolt from the blue -- The Old Times appears on this blog, for the first time since January, and the second time since they excused Jenni Russell's dangerous 'starvation > chemotherapy' quackery with the word 'opinion'. And what have they gone for? Well, they've gone with a study that's profoundly undermined, by most of the researchers being employed by pharmaceutical companies, who sell competitor drugs to the one being defamed by the study itself. That's right, it's an off-patent drug being slagged off for profit. And for the second time this year, it's paracetamol. Despite many people using paracetamol to treat the pain of osteoarthritis, day to day, without the threat of horrendous side-affects, such as those of the proposed alternatives - NSAIDs - which cause stomach ulcers and heart failure, the researchers conclude "On the basis of the available data, we see no role for single-agent paracetamol for the treatment of patients with osteoarthritis irrespective of dose." {emphasis added} I'm not surprised. Your employers (Novartis, Merck, etc) would love people to abandon the cheap and safe paracetamol for the much-more-expensive NSAID varieties, wouldn't they. Osteoarthritis' pain symptoms range from mild to severe, so i wouldn't join the Old Times, Fail, Express, and Sun, in roundly condemning paracetamol entirely. If individual patients need stronger analgesics, then that should be their choice... unswayed by industry propaganda passed off as 'research'.

According to an assay by researchers from the Universities of Basel, Brandeis, and Cardiff, spiders are not just carnivores, eating insects, fish, frogs, and even bats. Spiders from ten families have also been observed eating from plant types such as trees, shrubs, weeds, grasses, ferns, and orchids. Nectar, plant sap, honeydew, leaf tissue, pollen and seeds are all on their menu. Herbivorous spiders are distributed globally, but are most common in warmer areas, where they have evolved to exploit the local abundance of nectar, supplied by local flowers.

Aesthetic insecurity industry (Fashion) company Lord & Taylor has been charged with customer deception, by the USA's Federal Trade Commission, for paying 50 popular Instagram users to pretend to like their products, and paying Fashion magazine Nylon, to pretend to write an objective article about their products. These deceptions are known as 'advertorials' in newspaper/magazine literature, as they are adverts disguised as editorials. Unfortunately, this practice is not rare in newspapers, especially online, and nor is it rare in 'social' media, for example the aesthetic insecurity ('beauty') vlogs of certain YouTube channels. The thing is, recipients of the money (and more usually free products) often don't realise they're doing anything wrong.

How beautiful is racism? Well, for lots of humans, it's very beautiful indeed. Especially when they're being racist about dogs. Crufts - the Münchausen-by-proxy-embracing aesthetic insecurity competition run by the UK Kennel Club - has taken flack again for awarding 'best in breed' to an Alsatian with a horrendously mis-shapen back. You can see an embedded picture, in the article. Dog 'breeds' are essentially no different to the 'races' that humans hallucinate into each other; except that the inbreeding of dogs has been so extreme that they are now barely identifiable as the same species. But they are! The only factor inhibiting reproduction between wolfhounds and toydogs, is scale - the mechanics of sexual intercourse. The UK Kennel Club has funded a 'study', used to claim that the 'intensity of inbreeding' is high but "sustainably" so. This is wrong. As long as people think that the term 'pedigree' is a label of pride, and not of terrible, sadistic, racist shame, then the problems of congenital illnesses in dogs will perpetuate. You might think they look pretty, but there's more to it than that - prettyness doesn't excuse the suffering they live through.

An international collaboration of researchers, brought together in the Andes of Podocarpus National Park, to develop an inventory for the taxonomical family of looper moths, has identified almost 2,000 distinct looper moth species. They found 1,857 species (80% more than predicted) in their sample of 30,000 specimens, and estimate that there might be more than 2,350 species in total. This is surprisingly high, not just in comparison to other moth families in Europe and Borneo, but also in consideration of the altitude at which they live - 1,000 to 3,000 meters above sea level - where animals are usually lower in population density and diversity.

A French company called Plume Labs has released 10 pigeons into London, with sensors strapped to their backs, to monitor the city's air pollution. Plume Labs had formerly equipped 100 human Londoners with detectors, and given them patches to study. One of the prongs of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn's devilsome pitchfork, has been the unmitigated failure of Cameron's government, to respond to air pollution in the UK's capital city. Cameron has come under pressure from various organisations, including the European Commission, for the harm that the Tories are allowing to happen, because they think 'small government' by lax regulation is better. According to Labour's extrapolations, 500,000 people are expected to die from pollution, even if Britain manages to attain its obligations to reduce concentrations... 15 years after the timetable originally agreed with the European Commission. If you were the most powerful person in a country, with statutory responsibility for 64 million citizens, and knowingly oversaw the deaths of 500,000 people, in what sense would that not be genocide? Second-degree genocide? If pollies were held responsible for the consequences of their policies, i expect the airbrushed narcissists and 'born to rule' mobs would soon look elsewhere for fame and glory!

------------------------------------------------------ contemporary stuff

'Hemocytometer | What is this thing?!'

'Nuke it from orbit! about 17 minutes....'

Addendum to Thunder: feminist sexism in the renewables industry. See the shit for yourself

'Rejects (feat. danisnotonfire)'

' Orientis Partibus (Here's A Donkey You May Trust)' (my upload)

'"65 Million (Mitch McConnell STFU)" by Roy Zimmerman'

'Hubble unveils monster stars'

'Image: Picturing the sun's magnetic field'

'VLA shows earliest stages of planet formation'

'Mysterious 'Tully monster' is a vertebrate, research finds'

'feminism is about equality' - ShoeOnHead

'average is beautiful' - ShoeOnHead

'Sarkeesian planned to spend $40 000 asking for money!'

'4 CHEESE PIZZA RECIPE - Greg's Kitchen'
He looks like Greg, but he can't be. I'd know that genuine Greek accent anywhere :-P

------------------------------------------------------ of the weeks

Word Of The Week: factitious -- artificially created, manufactured or contrived, including medical conditions (as in Münchausen syndrome) where the symptoms are fabricated (not hypochondriacal); not to be mistaken for 'fictitious' which means created, manufactured or contrived in the imagination, purely as a matter of fiction and so never intended to be believed

------------------------------------------------------ non-contemporary stuff

A nada!

Até a próxima vez :-D

No comments:

Post a Comment