Save Katie!

Today, I joined about 100 hooligans in the anti-scientology protest in San Francisco, as part of Project Chanology, a large-scale effort to call attention to abuses committed by the cult of Scientology. Many protestors had serious signs that called attention to the various ways in which Scientology censors speech and defrauds people. But after watching this crazy video of Tom Cruise, the Viking and I decided that the real victim of all this craziness is Katie Holmes. Poor Katie.


The Dog Ate My Ballot, or, Why Obama May Not Deliver

Obama has created a lot of excitement among young people. On Tuesday, young people waiving Obama signs were all over the Berkeley campus and downtown San Francisco. Hillary’s supporters were rarely seen, it seemed.

You’ll note that I didn’t call these supporters “young voters.”


Because young people don’t vote. What’s my evidence of this (well-established) rule?

Even Obama Girl, the young woman who has spent the last year making videos about Obama’s campaign, didn’t vote! So sad.

Mormons Troubled By Spotlight

Suzanne Sataline reports in today’s Journal about the intense spotlight that has been focused on the Mormon church as a result of the Romney campaign. The criticism has been so intense that the church has hired a public relations firm to battle it, and has encouraged young Mormons to blog about their religion. Perhaps what’s most interesting is this poll:


This is somewhat surprising, and I think good news. It’s about time that deciding in adulthood to be a member of a cult brings one more criticism than being born a certain sex or race!

The Direct Marketing Association’s New Math

I came across this statistic the other day while doing some research on marketing fraud:

In recent years, despite the creation of a national “do not call” registry, the legitimate telemarketing industry has grown, according to the Direct Marketing Association. Callers pitching insurance plans, subscriptions and precooked meals collected more than $177 billion in 2006, an increase of $4.5 billion since the federal do-not-call restrictions were put in place three years ago.

This all sounds very unlikely. And I recall from years of working on telemarketing regulation that the DMA used suspicious revenue numbers in order to influence the FCC and FTC, and prevent the creation of the Telemarketing Do-Not-Call Rule. You’ll note that many of their numbers concern 2001, the year before Do-Not-Call was being considered by the FTC.

So, tonight I did a quick search of the DMA’s website, noting all the times they they made a claim to regulators or in a press release about revenue from telemarketing. The result? Not only are the numbers suspiciously high, they seem to change…in the same year:

  • “Telemarketing Sales” 1996: $63,100,000,000
  • “Telemarketing Sales” 2000: $86,900,000,000
  • “Telemarketing Sales” 2001: $93,800,000,000
  • Sales to consumers in 2001: “nearly $270 billion”
  • Sales to consumers in 2001: $296,000,000,000
  • “Telephone Marketing Generated $668 Billion in 2001 and Employed Six Million”
  • “The teleservices industry employs more than four million people and provides product offerings directly to consumers that resulted in $275 billion in sales in 2001.”
  • “In 2001…customers purchased $661 billion in goods and services – accounting for almost six percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).”
  • Sales to consumers in 2001: $274,200,000,000
  • Sales to businesses in 2001: $390,000,000,000
  • “Telemarketing Sales” 2002: $100,000,000,000
  • “We will protect the integrity of the American teleservices industry, which generated over $700 billion last year [2002] for the U.S. economy, by respecting consumer preferences.”

Science Debate 2008


Having been busy and a bit out of the loop for the past month, I think it’s time I stop and point out what a great job Chris Mooney and other have done in generating a real movement behind making this happen. In particular note the supportive essay from the Editor-in-Chief of Science and the addition of the AAAS to the list of supporters that we’ve seen in the last week.

This is a gratifying turn of events because it shows me a few things. For one, I think it shows blogs like the Scienceblogs can make a huge difference in the real world. Second it shows that enough people care about science to make it a priority in this election.

So often in the last decade the reins of power have been in the hands of rank ideologues or outright denialists who reject science, rationality, and reason, and the results have been disastrous. The reason I have supported this effort from the start is that I believe that whatever the implementation of such a debate, the real victory is making people who value science a constituency that must be courted and respected. It’s about acknowledging the importance of science not just as a critical part of our country’s R&D and infrastructure, but as an enterprise that can inform and improve all aspects of government.

So, a big salute to Chris and the others for all their hard work. I’m impressed, and wish time had allowed me to do more (I’m still doing what I can).

A month into surgery – back to the books

I’ve just completed my first month of my surgical rotation and still find almost every day fascinating. I just finished a 4-week rotation in the hepatobiliary service (liver, biliary and pancreatic surgeries mostly) and now go on to thoracic for 2 weeks, and then trauma for 2 weeks to complete the core requirement. I’ll also be doing orthopedic trauma and neurosurgical rotations before I’m done in March and I’ll be sure to write about those as well.

Friday night we had the medical student pimp-off AKA surgical jeopardy. For the uninitiated, pimping refers to the practice of quizzing students on the wards to make sure they’ve been studying (or occasionally to show off one’s own knowledge of medical minutia). For surgical Jeopardy/the pimpoff the residents get all the medstudents on the general service rotations together and quiz them Jeopardy-style. It was a lot of fun, one team even had t-shirts made, everybody was getting pretty into it. I even won a book! Although I’m afraid the smack talk may have gotten out of hand. Oh well.


And speaking of books, I’ve just got to write about what it’s like constantly having your nose in one. Above is the ICU Book I won Friday, as well as the Essentials of General Surgery textbook which is more or less required reading for the rotation. Then there is Surgical Recall (my cat is investigating), a book born right here at UVA which consists of several thousands of questions and their answers. It’s kind of a survival guide for the rotation since the questions are the kinds of things you’re likely to be pimped on. Like, what is the gastrinoma triangle?

Books for me have almost become a form of self-medication. When you start medical school, often fresh out of college, you quickly are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information you must assimilate. These are the basic science years and in a way the first year is the most difficult. It’s a little bit like trying to drink water out of a fire hydrant. The material isn’t even necessarily challenging, but the sheer overload of information becomes overwhelming.

Somewhere in the middle of second year though you wake up and realize you’ve adapted to the information flow and suddenly you can rapidly absorb absolutely huge amounts of knowledge. You’re all proud of yourself. It’s great, and studying doesn’t seem to be as much of a chore.

Now I’m in third year and it’s back to drinking out of the hydrant again. Not only is the sheer amount of material for any given rotation overwhelming, but in addition you’re learning to apply it practically – a very different beast – while trying learn about managing real patients. I think it’s something people seldom appreciate about medicine is just how immense it is, and every field within it you could devote an entire life of study to. For example, wandering around the library looking for the textbooks to prepare for my next rotation I found these two hefty fellas:
These are huge volumes, with very dense material. Each subspecialty is daunting. Say you want to study plastic surgery?
Or, God-forbid, opthalmology?

See what I mean? You really get the feelings as you go along the best you can do is dent the surface, and you really appreciate why specialization has become so extensive. Each of these multivolume books contains hundreds of chapters dealing with specific diseases and descriptions of medical therapy or surgical techniques. Each chapter represents the work of an expert in that field who essentially writes a review of the scientific literature and current practice applied to a single problem or family of disorders. And on top of that, since texts are constantly going out of date, they are just the starting point. You must always keep up with the current literature on any given problem as you are treating your patients.

The amount of information you don’t know becomes overwhelming. Although these days studying is oddly no longer a chore, but one of the few ways I can decrease my anxiety. You see day to day how critical thorough knowledge of medicine is. And when I get nervous about how little I know I compulsively go out buy a book. It’s an expensive habit, but it seems to be the only thing that decreases the stress of having such inadequate knowledge. Hence I’ve become the Amy Winehouse of textbook purchasing.

Then there is the most frightening thing of all – the realization that the feeling you don’t know enough will probably never go away.

Kids’ Book: Religion is Evilism

Check it out–for a mere 12 Euro, you can buy, Wo bitte geht’s zu Gott?, fragte das kleine Ferkel, a book that is reportedly causing a stir for its depiction of the world’s major religions. This children’s book is pitched to atheists who wish to indoctrinate/inoculate their children against religion:

The book tells the story of a piglet and a hedgehog, who discover a poster attached to their house that says: “If you do not know God, you are missing something!”

This frightens them because they had never suspected at all that anything was missing in their lives. Thus they set out to look for “God.” Along the way they encounter a rabbi, a bishop and a mufti who are portrayed as insane, violent and continually at each other’s throats.

The rabbi is drawn in the same way as the caricatures from the propaganda of 1930’s Germany; corkscrew curls, fanatical lights in his eyes, a set of predator’s flashing teeth and hands like claws. He reacts to the animals by flying into a rage, yelling at them that God had set out to destroy all life on Earth at the time of Noah and chases them away.

The mufti fares little better. While he greets both animals at first as a quiet man and invites them into his mosque, he soon changes into a ranting fanatic. He assembles a baying Islamic mob and holds the animals up in a clenched fist while condemning them to everlasting damnation through bared teeth and an unruly-looking beard.

The insinuation here is that all visitors to mosques are extremists and every imam who appears reasonable is, in truth, nevertheless, a preacher of hate.

One of the authors says he’s merely providing some alternative to the many religious books available for children:

“Children also have a right to enlightenment,” he wrote on a Web site set up dedicated to the book. “They should not be left defenseless to the scientifically untenable and ethically problematic stories of religion.”

Tip: Thank you, Fark!