Friday, 3 August 2007

My first spam comment. I'm so proud.

I've been spammed by a nutjob! Cool!

Or, alternatively: I've been spammed by a nutjob bot, given the circumstances.

Checkout the first (okay, only) comment on my recent post There really is nothing new under the sun. You can even read the article, if you like. But might be NSFW, in case you fall off your chair laughing hysterically and attract the unwanted attention of management.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

What do caffeine addicts and people wtih ADHD have in common?

Norepinephrine. AKA Noradrenaline.

Both ritalin (and other ADHD stimulant medications) and caffeine stimulate the production of norepinephrine in the brain, and norepinephrine, which is also implicated in depression, is identified as the we-still-don't-know-how-it-works factor in how ritalin, um, works.

From which you can draw the hypothetical conclusion (and you wouldn't be the first) that many caffeine addicts are self-medicating for ADHD. I have even seen reports from mothers who noticed behavioural improvements in their children after including caffeine-containing substances in the normal diet. In fact, the children even requested their "food medicine".

Now, I work with the public and there is no way in hell I am going to take a self-report like that at face value. But I also work with brain injury and there is no way in hell I am going to deny the possibility of ADHD pathology being the result of biochemical processes in the brain, so if anybody feels like arguing that ADHD is just a result of parents not being able to cope with kids who misbehave: Don't bother unless you have evidence.

Which is the problem. We don't yet have a diagnostic test for ADHD which is not behavioural, so diagnoses are never going to be, in these situations, absolutely trustworthy. Then again, we don't have a diagnostic test for schizophrenia or depression which is not behavioural, either - we base our diagnoses and our definitions upon patterns of behaviour which occur so consistently in each other's presence that we may as well give in and label it. A good clue to whether or not a diagnosis is correct is if the standard medication results in the desired improvement. If it doesn't, then you may have to face the fact that you're a crap parent, or your kid has a food allergy, or they're acting up at school because they're smarter than their teachers and they're bored rigid.

I'm placing my bets of EEG or fMRI studies being the most promising.

But, being a heavy caffeine user who is prone to depressive episodes, has difficulty staying on track, terrible time-management skills and a tendency to have periods of low-energy-crash early morning or afternoon, the thought that I might unintentionally be self-medicating I found rather amusing. So I went looking for self-diagnostic tests, because I was supposed to be doing something else and therefore clearly wasn't concentrating properly.

From the sarcastic to the suspiciously short, there are a plethora out there. I found one which seemed worthwhile, not only for comprehensiveness but for what it says about the behaviours which are regarded as "problematic" (clue: you've probably got most of them - that's what you get when you list almost everything). And yes, it does say IMPORTANT: This is not a tool for self-diagnosis at the top. Naughty me.

My results? I can't see a measure for what the total score means, but based upon the general pattern of responses I show definite clusters of ADHD symptomatology in several areas, and an overall strong likelihood of being affected.

So I wrote myself a prescription to visit the percolator. Bottoms up.

Save the whales, bankrupt the Japanese

Having just posted my last, um, post, I remembered that I had meant to tack something onto the end of it.

Here's an idea for community action, which may even work if several thousand people subscribe to it at once but which will make you feel good about something at least once even if it doesn't:

Pick your cause, and for this example we're going to use commercial/research whaling. Clearly, the culprits are Japan and Norway, but we're going to go with Japan because all we really buy from Norway is vacuum-packed salmon (which is cheaper in the supermarkets than Tasmanian salmon is, go figure).

Before buying any Japanese product more substantial than a new battery for your camera, write to the local branch office stating that you are considering their product and would like to know the company's attitude towards whaling, and that their answer will have an impact upon your purchasing decisions.

I can almost guarantee you that you will get one of two responses: Nothing, or No Comment. I even do it myself, at work: "Thank you for your enquiry, but at the moment we are not in the position to formulate an opinion on this issue and respectfully decline the opportunity to respond."

On the other hand, if everybody does it, something might happen. Vote with your wallet - it may be the only effective vote you have left!

I saw this suggestion raised in Australian Motorcycle News, and there was an answering letter from someone stating that he had already voted with his wallet and purchased his first ever non-Japanese bike. Although, considering that his new bike is a Triumph, he's clearly not concerned about UK military involvement in the Middle East.

The whales are fighting back

Let's, for the moment, ignore the dubious claims from Japan (I can't really narrow it down to a department or organisation within Japan, so I'm going to blame the entire country on this one) that killing 500 whales a year is "research". Let's also ignore the recent reports that the fact that they were killing a lot of pregnant whales was "a promising sign that numbers are improving". No, counting more whales is a promising sign that numbers are improving. Killing pregnant mothers is a sign that numbers were going to improve until you killed them.

I would like, instead, to draw your attention to the fact that whale meat fed to school children (which is researching what, exactly?) has high levels of mercury. Japan seems to have a real problem with mercury. Wasn't it Japan where babies were being born deformed because local manufacturing industries were dumping mercury into the waterways? This was decades ago, I mean.

Well, now whales are accumulating mercury, which may well be another "canary in the mine shaft" data point for all I know, and those whales are being killed, and cut up, and fed to school children who, being representatives of the current apex predator in the food chain, accumulate all those accumulating toxins and, presumably, are slowly suffering Central Nervous System damage which, all joking aside, I wouldn't really wish upon my worst enemy (I don't have enemies that bad).

And Japan is pushing for the resumption of commercial whaling, so that they can stop trying to convince people that they're not doing it anyway.

To make the moment even more surreal, down the bottom of that article there is an admission that whale meat in the past may have been contaminated with PCBs and heavy metals. Because it's good to be sure.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

There is nothing new under the sun.

There really isn't. If you can't work out the title of my blog and haven't read the explanation, I invite you to do so.

Was I being clever? Probably not. I also wasn't the first.
Cafepress have the proof.

I'm going to have to get one of those.

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

"I see that you are soon going to take a breath"

Dear lazyweb (well, it works for jwz!)

Help. What is the name given to the tendency for the human brain to spot and selectively cull related data from a background sea of unrelated data and declare it to be significant evidence of synchronicity? Is that selection bias, or is there a more appropriate term?

It's a phenomena that has fascinated me since someone was able to adequately explain to me that I was guilty of it. Commonly used to provide evidence of paranormal phenomena - You think of someone you haven't spoken to for three years, they ring you, ooh! That sort of thing.

For example, I have just, within the period of twenty minutes, spoken to two women called Julie from entirely separate agencies about exactly the same service. Ooh!

Reminds me of a "joke" my statistics lecturer told us: "Five patients were all given the same experimental treatment. They all died. That was not significant." (the idea being, you see, that five data points on a yes-no t-test is insufficient to establish statistical significance. But you already knew that.)

My new hero

I have ranted before about my opinions of bookshops in this country, and the lip service they pay to science. But I haven't myself done much about it except give them money for worthwhile products. When they have said worthwhile products, of course. Which isn't often.

This guy has. Imagine: A biologist whose mission in life is to check bookstores for incorrectly shelved books (Michael Behe's The Edge of Evolution appears to be the prime candidate at the moment), and reshelving them where they belong - Religion, say, or New Age.

I am going to have to start doing this myself. After all, it's not as if perusing the entire single-shelf-unit Science sections of major bookshops will take very long. I encourage everyone else out there to take a stand against woo-woo by calling a spade and a spade and a Chakra Realignment Crystal a piece of pretty fantasy.

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