"Incentives" for 5 Star Reviews on Ecommerce Sites

In case you missed it, here’s a pointer to a recent Times story concerning baked reviews on Amazon and the like. In it, David Streitfeld describes how one company gave rebates to customers in exchange for five star reviews. They even seem to have a claque to address detractors–

Even a few grouches could not spoil the party. “This is an egregious violation of the ratings and review system used by Amazon,” a customer named Robert S. Pollock wrote in a review he titled “scam.”
He was promptly chastised by another customer. This fellow, himself a seller on Amazon, argued that he had both given and gotten free items in exchange for reviews. “It is not a scam but an incentive,” he wrote.

You might recall the hysteria surrounding recent Federal Trade Commission rules on sponsored endorsements by bloggers. The agency had this type of situation in mind–average consumers, without any understanding of the rules or “ethics” of advertising are pimping products to others. It’s unfair to competitors and other consumers. And it totally messes up my default shopping strategy of just buying the highest rated [insert product here] on Amazon!

Should Search Engines Warn of Denialism?

Evgeny Morozov argued in Slate last week that search engines could do more to warn readers about kooks online. Among other things, he cites to a recent article in Vaccine that details the tactics of anti-vaccine denialists. Morozov points to Google’s special treatment of certain searches, such as “ways to die.” Perhaps an alert can appear when one searches, “should I vaccinate…”

Are liberals really more likely to accept science than conservatives?

Today’s NYT has Thomas Edsall’s What the Left Get’s Right, the follow up piece to last week’s What the Right Get’s Right, and what’s fascinating is how even conservative commentators think liberals get science right more often than conservatives. Or at least they are less likely to view it ideologically:

A few conservative concessions to liberalism’s strengths were made without qualification; others were begrudging. Nonetheless, in the conservative assessment, common themes emerge:

Liberals recognize the real problems facing the poor, the hardships resulting from economic globalization and the socially destructive force of increasing inequality.
Liberals do not dismiss or treat as ideologically motivated scientific findings, especially the sharpening scientific consensus that human beings contribute significantly to climate change.
Liberals stand with those most in need, and believe in the inclusion of such previously marginalized groups as blacks, Hispanics, women and gays.

As I sifted through the responses, it became clear that a widely shared view among contemporary conservatives is that liberals are all heart and no head, that their policies are misguided — thrown off track by an excessively emotional compassion that fails to recognize the likelihood of unintended consequences.

But is this really the case? I disagree, liberals are just as likely to to disbelieve science that challenges their ideology, only the issues where liberals tend to deny aren’t quite as earth-shattering (although anti-vax is a serious public health problem) and not as much in the media spotlight. And recent cognitive studies on why people believe what they believe support the likelihood that all of us, liberal, conservative, or moderate, are poor rational actors in the evaluation of science.
Here’s why…
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Two great obesity articles from the NYT and what they mean for you

A few weeks ago Tara Parker Pope wrote The Fat Trap for the NYT and once I read it I started sending it to other doctors I know. It is a great summary on the current knowledge of why we get fat, and more importantly for those of us that already are tipping the scales, why is it so damn hard to take that weight back off. (I’ll discuss Young, Obese and Getting Weight Loss Surgery nearer the end)

Beginning in 2009, he and his team recruited 50 obese men and women. The men weighed an average of 233 pounds; the women weighed about 200 pounds. Although some people dropped out of the study, most of the patients stuck with the extreme low-calorie diet, which consisted of special shakes called Optifast and two cups of low-starch vegetables, totaling just 500 to 550 calories a day for eight weeks. Ten weeks in, the dieters lost an average of 30 pounds.
At that point, the 34 patients who remained stopped dieting and began working to maintain the new lower weight. Nutritionists counseled them in person and by phone, promoting regular exercise and urging them to eat more vegetables and less fat. But despite the effort, they slowly began to put on weight. After a year, the patients already had regained an average of 11 of the pounds they struggled so hard to lose. They also reported feeling far more hungry and preoccupied with food than before they lost the weight.

Who among us can’t identify with that story? If you can’t you’ve been thin all your life and can go suck an egg. But for those that have carried extra pounds it’s part of the yo-yo routine of dieting. But why is this? Were we permanently programmed for a preset weight and will feel as though were starving below it? If this is the case, why is obesity increasing now, in the last 20 years? The answer suggested is more subtle, but the fascinating thing is, your body’s set weight might be a real thing. It’s just not programmed from birth.
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Homeopathy is an embarrassment to everyone living in this century

Zite has failed me. For some reason under the “science” heading it referred me to thisold hpathy article on homeopathic treatment of burns. I realize this site has been a source of idiocy for years but I think this is a true gem. It makes me want to cry for humanity. Orac, don’t look, it will make your brain explode. The question is, how should you treat burns? Most normal, sane people, in the treatment of the acute burn would suggest cooling the tissue, thus ending the process of damage from the exposure to heat, as well as adding the secondary benefit of soothing the injury. What do they recommend at hpathy.com?
Heating it.
No I’m not joking.
No they’re not joking.

In my first year of homoeopathic training a general discussion led the lecturer to describe a treatment for burns. He explained that he had been dining with a friend who had burnt herself and had immediately, to his horror, held the burnt area of her hand in the heat of a candle for a little while. The friend had then explained to him that the normal treatment of using cold water was ineffective, but that the application of heat to a burn meant that it would not blister, and although it did hurt more on the initial application it healed far more quickly and painlessly thereafter. This she demonstrated a little while later when he saw to his amazement that the burned area was not even red and she was experiencing no pain.
His explanation was that left alone a burn, ‘burnt’, as in the vital force would produce heat. By applying cold water this burning effect was reduced and the vital force had to summon even more heat. If instead we assist the vital force by applying heat the job would be done more quickly.
This is really nothing more than elementary homoeopathy… like cures like… similar similibus curentur…. And yet some in the group were surprised, and some argued that this would be dangerous with anything other than a very slight burn…

Sigh. Do we really need to break down why this is a bad idea?
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In case you missed it, some denialism mentions of note

Being inactive for the last couple of years I still read about denialism being mentioned in some interesting places. Two in particular I thought I share.

Peter Gleick in Forbes write on “The Rise and Fall of Climate Change Denial is interesting largely because it’s in Forbes. And predictably, for publishing in a right-wing magazine, the comments are basically 100% against Gleick, a national academy member, accusing him of everything from incompetence to dishonesty. It’s actually pretty remarkable. But at least the scientific viewpoint is starting to infiltrate the literature of the right wing. Now only if we can get the WSJ to place a scientifically accurate article on global warming on their editorial pages. It would likely snow in hell first.

The other is an interesting look at Denial from United Academics called Why We Deny including an article evaluating Michael Shermer’s latest work on the pscyhology of denial.

In it I think a very good point is raised by Shermer (who I’ve been known to disagree with for his own cranky outlook on global warming), we actually shouldn’t expect people to be rational and accept science easily. Too much of the way we think is irrational, and too much of our psychology is based upon making the world conform to the way we view it, rather than conforming our belief to the way the world is. He points out that we tend to come to have beliefs first, often inculcated by family, religion, culture, or tradition, then spend a great deal of effort to rationalize those beliefs and selectively believe evidence that confirms it. After all, when beliefs are tied to such powerful emotive forces to change belief or confront evidence contrary to such belief can be emotionally devastating. The notion that humans are rational and believe things based on evidence or will even act in their own best interest based on logic and evidence is simply not supported by the evidence of how we behave. I find it still amazing that he can have such an insight about the fundamental irrationality of humans and still have a libertarian worldview, which I feel is critically dependent on treating humans as rational actors in an economy, either as individuals or groups. Clearly this is not the case.
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Eisen Busts Rep Carolyn Maloney parroting Elsevier Publishing's defense of the Research Works Act

At It’s not junk Michael Eisen continues to expose the shameless actions of Carolyn Maloney to sell out science for the sake of publishers like Elsevier. As we remarked last week, it seems that very little money is required to buy a representatives favor towards your industry, even if that means acting against the public interest. Now, in her defense of the Research Works Act, which undoes the public distribution of research findings paid for by the public, her response appears to have been written by Elsevier itself.
Eisen busts her in the act.
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How Do you Want to Die?

Via Zite I found the article How Doctors Die by Ken Murray and was surprised to find it one of the best I’ve read on the issue of end-of-life care. The context is that of how Doctors typically forgo extreme measures in the face of terminal diagnoses, and often reject the type of care we routinely provide to our patients as “not for us”. While the article lacks hard data on the prevalence of these attitudes or behaviors, I have to say this viewpoint is consistent my experience of learning my colleague’s beliefs and how I now personally feel about ICU care . And I’m someone who is interested in trauma and critical care as a career…

Years ago, Charlie, a highly respected orthopedist and a mentor of mine, found a lump in his stomach. He had a surgeon explore the area, and the diagnosis was pancreatic cancer. This surgeon was one of the best in the country. He had even invented a new procedure for this exact cancer that could triple a patient’s five-year-survival odds–from 5 percent to 15 percent–albeit with a poor quality of life. Charlie was uninterested. He went home the next day, closed his practice, and never set foot in a hospital again. He focused on spending time with family and feeling as good as possible. Several months later, he died at home. He got no chemotherapy, radiation, or surgical treatment. Medicare didn’t spend much on him.
It’s not a frequent topic of discussion, but doctors die, too. And they don’t die like the rest of us. What’s unusual about them is not how much treatment they get compared to most Americans, but how little. For all the time they spend fending off the deaths of others, they tend to be fairly serene when faced with death themselves. They know exactly what is going to happen, they know the choices, and they generally have access to any sort of medical care they could want. But they go gently.

Significantly, Murray discusses what “doing everything” can mean. Sadly, most people equate caring for their family member with asking for maximum care when they are sick or dying, but doctors know, and poorly communicate, that maximal care is often painful, expensive, and too often futile.

Almost all medical professionals have seen what we call “futile care” being performed on people. That’s when doctors bring the cutting edge of technology to bear on a grievously ill person near the end of life. The patient will get cut open, perforated with tubes, hooked up to machines, and assaulted with drugs. All of this occurs in the Intensive Care Unit at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars a day. What it buys is misery we would not inflict on a terrorist. I cannot count the number of times fellow physicians have told me, in words that vary only slightly, “Promise me if you find me like this that you’ll kill me.” They mean it. Some medical personnel wear medallions stamped “NO CODE” to tell physicians not to perform CPR on them. I have even seen it as a tattoo.
To administer medical care that makes people suffer is anguishing. Physicians are trained to gather information without revealing any of their own feelings, but in private, among fellow doctors, they’ll vent. “How can anyone do that to their family members?” they’ll ask. I suspect it’s one reason physicians have higher rates of alcohol abuse and depression than professionals in most other fields. I know it’s one reason I stopped participating in hospital care for the last 10 years of my practice.

This situation of futile care is sometimes referenced with some some gallows humor as the chee chee. Why are we unable to communicate to patients that often the treatments that we can provide aren’t something we’d chose for ourselves or for those we love?
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The Right Wing Appeal of Duesberg’s HIV/AIDS denialism

Via Ed

If you ever wondered what motivated this particular HIV/AIDS denialist this video makes it obvious. Duesberg comes out and blames homosexual promiscuity for AIDS rather than a virus. I think examples like this make it clearer that the ideology responsible for this denialism is plain just plain homophobia after all. This is, of course, appealing to right wing ideologues so where does Duesberg end up? On right wing radio with the American Family Association’s Brian Fischer proposing the absurd “AIDS was invented for gays to steal grant-money” conspiracy theory. I think the Southern Poverty Law Center was right to designate AFA a hate group, and here’s qhy

The AFA seeks to support “traditional moral values,” but in recent years it has seemed to specialize in “combating the homosexual agenda.” In 2009, it hired Bryan Fischer, the former executive director of the Idaho Values Alliance, as its director of analysis for government and policy. Taking a page from the anti-gay fabulist Scott Lively (see Abiding Truth Ministries, above), Fischer claimed in a blog post last May 27 that “[h]omosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and 6 million dead Jews.” (Ironically, the elder Wildmon was widely denounced as an anti-Semite after suggesting that Jews control the media, which the AFA says “shows a genuine hostility towards Christians.”) Fischer has described Hitler as “an active homosexual” who sought out gays “because he could not get straight soldiers to be savage and brutal and vicious enough.” He proposed criminalizing homosexual behavior in another 2010 blog post and has advocated forcing gays into “reparative” therapy. In a 2010 “action alert,” the AFA warned that if homosexuals are allowed to openly serve in the military, “your son or daughter may be forced to share military showers and barracks with active and open homosexuals.”

I guess it was just a matter of time before he latched onto HIV/AIDS denialism and I think this constitutes and example of crank magnetism. Such is the nature of the rabid ideologue – no matter how obviously absurd a belief is, if it affirms your warped ideology you support it.