Thursday, 12 March 2009

Sensible medical reporting from surprising sources.

I am quite surprised to find myself mildly impressed by the Courier Mail.

Not an improved standard of journalism or decreased tabloidship - we're not that lucky.

They do, however, throw themselves behind awareness-raising and fund-raising for young carers, and now we have measles.

Over the past few years, the anti-vaccination madness which has seen the UK spiralling into an epidemic, and the USA lose its near-eradicated status as US-resident adults and children are hospitalised, has reached Australia. There have always been conscientious objectors, of course, but they haven't really been a problem because with so few of them, there's a herd-immunity effect - they're not likely to meet someone with measles, or rubella, or what have you, so they're not likely to become infected. So they won't get sick.

So they won't realise just what they're missing.

They're learning, however.

There have been recent outbreaks of diseases such as whooping cough and measles in small pockets around Australia, frequently in traditionally "alternative" (read: hippy) communities in otherwise attractive places like the hinterlands of both the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, on either side of Brisbane.

So they're learning what these diseases can do.

Some people, however, already know exactly what having measles means. Laine Bradley contracted measles before the immunisations started, at age 10 months, and was blind and unable to walk until she died at the age of 12.

Her mother, a nurse, spoke to the Courier Mail, who printed the story and who spoke to the Australian Medical Association and who ran a neat, reasonably tightly written piece with decidedly below-par levels of sensationlism.

This is more than I usually expect from that outlet, and I congratulate them.

Link to the Courier Mail article "Laine Bradley's mum joins measles outbreak debate"

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Shock: Personalities affect lifestyle choices

Vaughan over at the always good value Mind Hacks has found a study which claims that People who buy dog breeds recognised as being "vicious", tend to be arseholes themselves.

I paraphrase, of course.

Basically, a psychologist has used an anonymous online questionnaire (hmmm...) of uni students, assessing criminality and various personality traits associated with being a not-nice person, and correlating that data with reported breed of dog owned.

Setting aside the various problems with anonymous online surveys, the study found that people who buy Dobermans, Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, Wolf-mixes (not wolfhounds), or Chow-Chows (what?) are more likely to show more, more violent and more varied criminal behaviour, and are more likely to exhibit psychopathic and impulsive personality traits.

At first, and indeed second and third, glances, this looks like another study which has clarified an issue, probably needed to be done, but didn't really add anything new, did it? I mean, really.

The sort of person who owns a Doberman chose to own that Doberman. A person who thinks that an ugly, potentially risky brute like a Pit Bull will make a good pet is unlikely to be the sort of person who volunteers at the local soup kitchen, are they?

I'm not suggesting for one second that everyone puts as much careful thought and consideration into breed selection as my partner did when she settled on Irish Wolfhounds, but, I mean, really.

Ownership of the sort of dog which is banned by local councils or perilously close to being banned by entire countries, is unlikely to be an entirely innocent choice.

Either people want a violent guard dog, which may indicate that they have enemies, a severe dose of paranoia, or just generally don't like people, or; they want a symbol of toughness because  tattoos, obsessive gym physiques and a badly modified Commodore are no longer enough, or; they want a dog which will frighten people, or; well, add your own.

The problem here, the big problem here, is that dogs tend to become dangerous to humans only when threatened (including entering their territory), provoked (which basically means: threatened) or trained. Even Irish Wolfhounds, a breed regarded as being good with children because their temperament is so goofy, can become truly frightening if trained for pig hunting. Any large breed will automatically do more damage if they do attack people than a chihuaha will, and if a dog has been bred for characteristics which are good for hunting or fighting, such as tenacity or jaw strength, they will of course cause untold more damage.

Size and breed will make the difference between a badly trained dog being an annoying little shit, or a killer.

Sadly for many of these breeds, which can be highly intelligent, loyal and devoted, their reputation has made them preferred dogs for arseholes, which reinforces their reputation.

Which at least gives us a nice, obvious visual warning sign to go with the car, the bumper stickers and the T-shirt.

Link to Mind Hacks article Psychological characteristics of vicious dog owners

P.S.: Might I suggest that the title would be less entertainingly ambiguous if it were "Psychological characteristics of the owners of vicious dogs".

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