Tinder as a metaphor

by reestheskin on 16/01/2018

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The internet, as digital journalist and commentator Cory Doctorow has remarked, is “an ecosystem of interruption technologies”. Always imagine that your readers are looking for a reason to — in Tinder terms — swipe left on your prose

FT

Why Orwell matters

by reestheskin on 15/01/2018

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‘On December 16, 2017, the staff of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were instructed not to use 7 words in its 2019 budget appropriation request: diversity, transgender, vulnerable, fetus, entitlement, evidence-based, and science-based. These basic phrases are intrinsic to public health. The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) offered alternative word choices, such as by modifying “evidence-based” with “community standards and wishes” and using “unborn child” instead of “fetus.”’

JAMA

Off piste, no more; and wear a helmet.

by reestheskin on 12/01/2018

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The endless concern about stamps of approval and achievement distorts education and can even rob an interesting career of its joys. A professor friend introducing students at an East Coast college to Beethoven was greeted with a dead-eyed question from the back of the class: ‘Excuse me professor, will this be in the test?

FT

Textbooks and smartphones

by reestheskin on 11/01/2018

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A new copy of Glenn Hubbard and Tony O’Brien’s widely used introductory economics textbook costs more than some smartphones. The phone can send you to any part of the web and holds access to the sum of human knowledge. The book is about 800 heavy pages of static text. Yet thousands of college students around the US are shelling out $250 for these books, each semester, wincing at the many hours ahead of trying to make sense of this attempt to distill the global economy into tiny widgets and graphs.

Link

Quote of the day

by reestheskin on 10/01/2018

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The easiest way to predict the future is to prevent it.

Original version is Alan Kay (the easiest way to predict the future is to invent it), and this permutation is his, too. As he says, very appropriate for education.

New playlist from Skincancer909 on YouTube

by reestheskin on 09/01/2018

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New boss: same as the old boss

by reestheskin on 09/01/2018

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“In Sweden, if you ask a union leader, ‘Are you afraid of new technology?’ they will answer, ‘No, I’m afraid of old technology,’” says the Swedish minister for employment and integration, Ylva Johansson. “The jobs disappear, and then we train people for new jobs. We won’t protect jobs. But we will protect workers.”

NYT

  • “Won’t get fooled again”; The Who.

Real numbers from the opaque world of cookbook publishing

by reestheskin on 08/01/2018

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In my professional area of medical education there is clear market failure. Publishers are simply unable or choose not to, to develop what we need. And the institutions — universities — despite their origins have simply looked the other way, ignoring the needs (and wants) of their students. And do not get me started on “lecture recording”.

The quote below is a great article on some of the economics of book publishing: it is about a cookbook. And why not?

One of the most opaque industries around is publishing, not here online, but good old-fashioned print-books and their digital and audio spin-offs. Poke around and try to find some hard sales numbers and you’ll quickly find that it’s near impossible to do so. You can find bestseller lists from reputable sources like the NYTimes, Amazon and others but tying those rankings to an actual number of books sold at retail is simply not doable. Publishing costs, deals, and profit lines are even harder to shake loose.

“Why We Are Self Publishing the Aviary Cookbook – Lessons From the Alinea Book”. Real numbers from the opaque world of cookbook publishing. [Link]

And if you want insights into the research publishing business, here is a link to a great article that appeared in 2017 on this topic by Stephen Buranyi. Mind you, I almost have a sneaking admiration for some of the crooks: foxes in the henhouse.

A change of perspective is worth…

by reestheskin on 05/01/2018

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Alan Kay says:

a change in perspective may be worth 80 IQ points (or words to that effect). A nice visual metaphor for this below. (The one that is revealed from 1-20 seconds works for me, best).

 

 

Carving Nature at the joints

by reestheskin on 04/01/2018

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David Hubel, on statistics: “We could hardly get excited about an effect so feeble as to require statistics for its demonstration.”

I came across this (below), in my end of year clear out. And even if this was 2016, rather than 2017, it is as good a thought to open 2018 with, as any other. It is from a review of “Life’s Greatest Secret: The Race to Crack the Genetic Code”, by Matthew Cobb. The review is by H Allen Orr. NYRB

Finally, and perhaps most important, Life’s Greatest Secret highlights the power of the beautiful experiment in science. Though Cobb pays less attention to this subject than he might have, the period of scientific history that he surveys was the golden age of the beautiful experiment in biology. Biologists of the time—including Nirenberg with his UUU, Crick and Brenner with their triplet code work, and others including Matthew Meselson, Franklin Stahl, and Joshua Lederberg—were masters of the sort of experiment that, through some breathtakingly simple manipulation, allowed a decisive or nearly decisive solution to what previously seemed a hopelessly complex problem. Such experiments represent a species of intellectual art that is little appreciated outside a narrow circle of scientists……..

But the larger lesson of Life’s Greatest Secret is one that may be worth remembering. When scientists require definitive answers, not merely suggestive patterns, they require experiments that are decisive and, if all goes well, beautiful.

Teaching led research, anybody?

by reestheskin on 03/01/2018

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There is something about teaching that makes you a better researcher. I know this is very countercultural wisdom, but I believed it all along. Luria, Magasanik, and Levinthal all believed it. Levinthal and Luria both had a very strong influence on me in this regard.

An (old) interview with David Botstein, in PloS genetics. Link

At least we are spared the ‘research led teaching’ mission statements.

Of patients, clients, customers and the student experience

by reestheskin on 02/01/2018

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Like all good business people, he often knew better than the client what they needed. He once told The Guardian: “I look at the whole body and the face. You must not necessarily cut what the client wants. Often when clients think they’re looking at the hair, they’re actually admiring how stunning the model looks.

Toni Mascolo, hairdresser and entrepreneur, 1942-2017

The fatal success of obfuscation

by reestheskin on 01/01/2018

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“For example, I studied Physics, so I learned about how physicists think… and it is not how most people think. They have these tricks which turn difficult problems into far easier problems. The main lesson I took away from Physics is that you can often take an impossibly hard problem and simply represent it differently. By doing so, you turn something that would take forever to solve into something that is accessible to smart teenagers.”

Daniel Lemire’s blog

But the opposite is now much more common. I think there are whole swathes of modern institutional and corporate life, that are designed to make the simple, complicated. At best, simple may sometimes be wrong, but complicated is usually useless — or much worse. I seem to remember Paul Jannsen, when asked why we do not seem to be able to discover revolutionary new drugs like we once did, respond: ‘in those days the idea of obviousness still existed’.

Allan Holdsworth RIP 16/4/2017

by reestheskin on 31/12/2017

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Legato to kill for

I am a bad (awful) guitarist, but remain fascinated by guitars and the people who wield them. In recent years I have become ever more interested in the pedagogy of the guitar, and what insights it may throw on professional practice and education, and how people learn outwith the academies. And even if I would not have expressed it in these terms at that time, as a teenager the guitar was my intellectual bridge into understanding that there is as much — if not more—  discipline and rigour outside the academy than within it. (If you are interested in the ‘how’ of learning the guitar, check out Gary Marcus’ book).

With many great players, even if I cannot work out exactly how they do it, I have a good idea. You can spot the pentatonic or the classic major and minor scales easily enough: Clapton doesn’t play the same notes as Akkerman. But the first time I heard Allan Holdsworth (playing with Bill Bruford), I was confused. I couldn’t work out the scales and his phrasing was not like that of any guitarist I knew (nor was I any wiser, quite frankly, after seeing him on stage at Newcastle University,  on this tour I suspect).

Bjørn Schille, says it well below 

“As opposed to much of the music I spent time listening to and examining, his music left me with both chills and a feeling of total confusion. I had no idea what he was doing. Both his chord progressions and his phrases defied my sense of tonality and sounded like nothing I had ever heard. At the same time, it all sounded so perfectly unstrained and logical; like a beautiful language I had yet to understand. His choice of notes may have resembled jazz, but the character of the music had a much darker melancholy, as well as an absence of the swing rhythm that to me makes traditional jazz always a little too cheerful.”

(Bjørn Schille, Master Thesis in Musicology – February 2011 Institute of Musicology, University of Oslo [ you can hear the author here])

There was an obituary in the Guardian here, which contains a phrase from the Mahavishnu himself (worthy of Holdsworth’s tombstone, I think):

The guitarist John McLaughlin has wryly admitted he would have been happy to borrow just about anything his fellow Yorkshireman invented, if only he could have figured out how it was done.

There are some YouTube clips below. The sound is not too good, but they give a flavour of his genius. There is also a 12CD boxed set released shortly before he died [link here]. He would have hated the title.

Let us change your skin

by reestheskin on 29/12/2017

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Just thinking of the New Year resolutions. Let us change your skin…and empty your wallets.

First, the practice, then the theory

by reestheskin on 28/12/2017

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Yan Lecun of Facebook wrote:

In the history of science and technology, the engineering artefacts have almost always preceded the theoretical understanding: the lens and the telescope preceded optics theory, the steam engine preceded thermodynamics, the airplane preceded flight aerodynamics, radio and data communication preceded information theory, the computer preceded computer science.

Science and Technology links (December 8th, 2017) – Daniel Lemire’s blog

This is so true for (much) medicine, too. The journal comes after the discovery.

Philosophy 101

by reestheskin on 27/12/2017

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When is a wheelbarrow a chair?

Shorting the futures

by reestheskin on 26/12/2017

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When asked why he had made so few films—thirteen features over a period of forty years—Robert Bresson invariably answered that it was hard to get funding for the sort of work he wanted to do. “Money,” he memorably said, “likes to know everything in advance.”

NYRB

The dystopia is already here

by reestheskin on 22/12/2017

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Science fiction writer William Gibson coined the phrase, “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” It’s a well-known and oft-repeated line.

I’m proposing a slight variation, or perhaps a corollary principle:

The dystopia is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.

Here.

Marry Xmas.

Limits to bureaucracy

by reestheskin on 21/12/2017

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The finite speed of light ensures that no bureaucratic authority can be effective over large distances.

Freeman Dyson in brilliant form on the merits of space exploration. And what a way to respond to one’s critics:

I am happy to hear views contrary to my own. I hope there will always be clashes of cultures. I hope there will always be Malvolios to engage Sir Toby’s wits. With thanks to my critics.

Against the laity

by reestheskin on 20/12/2017

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“In the harshest single sentence of an otherwise gentlemanly book, he calls the French educational system “a vast insider-trading crime”.

An economist’s guide to the real world

Doubt and truth

by reestheskin on 19/12/2017

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The distinctive characteristic of academics, their DNA, is doubt.” 

Quoted in: An economist’s guide to the real world

Just as the fundamental business model of a university is truth, I would add. Yes, there are still some of us dinosaurs around.

“De Correspondent is ambitious in its ideals, yet modest in its claims”.

by reestheskin on 18/12/2017

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Seems a nice term of phrase for what the academy might once have been (and still should be). But I guess the the definition of the Fourth Estate in a networked world is broad.

“De Correspondent” and the blueprint for a successful membership model

Too much awareness

by reestheskin on 15/12/2017

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Recent years have seen a major drive by government, the NHS, and mental health charities to change attitudes towards mental health and to raise its profile in line with physical health. In a crescendo of media coverage, royals and celebrities have opened up about their own struggles.

Despite having welcomed Prince Harry’s interview about his mental health in April, Wessely believes we can have too much of a good thing: too much awareness. He particularly questions surveys in which most students report mental health problems. “We should stop the awareness now. In fact, if anything we might be getting too aware. One wonders what’s happening when you have 78% of students telling their union they have mental health problems-you have to think, ‘Well, this seems unlikely.'”

Simon Wessely quoted in the BMJ 23 September 2017 p433

Skin cancer on the back of the envelope

by reestheskin on 14/12/2017

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Enrico Fermi was big on back-of-the-envelope calculations. I cannot match his brain, but I like playing with simple arithmetic. Here are some notes I made several years ago after reading a paper from Mistry et al in the British Journal of Cancer on cancer incidence projections for the UK.

For melanoma we will see a doubling between now (then) and 2030, half of this is increase in age specific incidence and half due to age change. Numbers of cases for the UK:

  • 1984: 3,000 cases
  • 2007: 11,000
  • 2030: 22,000

If we assume we see 15 non-melanomas (mimics) for every melanoma, the number of OP visits with or without surgery is as follows.

  • 1984: 45,000 cases
  • 2007: 165,000 cases
  • 2030: 330,000 cases

This is for melanoma. The exponent for non-melanoma skin cancer is higher, so these numbers are an underestimate of the challenge we face. Once you add in ‘awareness campaigns’, things look even worse.

At present perhaps 25% of consultant dermatology posts are empty (no applicants), and training numbers and future staffing allowing for working patterns, reducing. Waiting times to see a dermatologist in parts of Wales are over a year. The only formal training many receive in dermatology as an undergraduate can be measured in days. Things are worse than at any time in my career. It is with relief, that I say I am married to a dermatologist.

Just waive the tuition fees

by reestheskin on 13/12/2017

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For example, graduate stipends at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) are capped at $23,844 and are not adjusted for cost of living. To help out, universities often waive tuition fees, which can sometimes be more than a student’s income.

Editorial in Nature.

Work experience

by reestheskin on 12/12/2017

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Many of us held down a summer job during our school days to earn a bit of cash. Some, such as those who attended the fictional Scumbag College, did everything they could to avoid work. Things look a bit more draconian over in Zhengzhou where, as my colleague Yuan Yang has revealed, thousands of students have been working 11-hour shifts to assemble the iPhone X. There is nothing wrong with a bit of hard work but this situation constitutes illegal overtime for student interns under Chinese law. Six students told the Financial Times that they were among a group of 3,000 from Zhengzhou Urban Rail Transit School sent in September to work at the local facility run by Apple supplier Hon Hai Precision Industry, better known as Foxconn. The mandatory three-month stint was called “work experience”.

FT

Ricardo

by reestheskin on 11/12/2017

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The growth of medical tourism in Poland has been mirrored in other central European countries. Hungary also has a reputation for specialising in dental services for foreigners, while Czech Republic has developed a market in cataract surgery. Poland is well known for its plastic surgeons as well as dentists.

Medical tourism on the rise in central and eastern Europe

Neurophobia

by reestheskin on 08/12/2017

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Neurophobia’, a term first coined by Jozefowicz in 1994, describes medical students’ fear of neurology 2. It is a chronic illness that begins early in medical school 4. Physicians and medical students alike often state that neurology is the most difficult subject in the medical school curriculum, and that their knowledge about the subject matter is limited, leading to a lack of confidence in managing neurology patients 5, 6, 7. [link]

There are lots of other phobias, too. Pick one up as you check out of med school.

Five years

by reestheskin on 07/12/2017

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This is from John Naughton, although I haven’t the URL to hand. I read it five years ago.

Like democracy, public universities are also ‘inefficient’ — often, in my experience, woefully so. And only some of that inefficiency can be defended in terms of academic freedoms; much of it is down to the way university culture has evolved, the expectations of academic staff, poor management (rather than enlightened administration), and so on — things that could be fixed without undermining the really important values embodied by the idea of a university. The advent of serious tuition fees in English universities will have the effect of highlighting some of the more egregious deficiencies — poor (or at best uneven) teaching quality, little pastoral care, archaic pedagogical methods, etc. But any attempt to remedy these problems is likely to be seen as interference with cherished academic freedoms, and resisted accordingly. Already, however, students are beginning to ask questions: why, for example, should they pay £9,000 a year for crowded lectures, ‘tutorial groups’ of 50 or more, zero pastoral care and — in some cases — lousy social facilities? Why should complaints about the crass incompetence of a particular lecturer be ignored by the Head of his department? (These are gripes I’ve heard from students recently, though not at my university.)

Universities engage in different activities, with different norms and timeframes. You have to ’ship’ teaching, at least the ‘low-level’ teaching that makes up most of the bums on seats. Advanced teaching and research should march to a different pace, and the last thing you should be doing is ‘shipping product’. But John’s comments are spot on.