Monday, November 27, 2006

And now for something completely better

Isn't it wonderful? Public health money doing its job; I saw this at the gym this morning and had to share. Watch the video -- it's worth it!

Never underestimate the power of bureaucracy

Yes, we need to worry about bioterrorism threats (or, if not we, the CDC does). What's the best bioterrorism threat we've given ourselves? Decrease funding for basic disease control! Make public health political! Hire more administrators than scientists to run our disease labs! Sometimes I despair of these people.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Hunger vs. Food security

From (members-only):

USDA: You're not hungry, you just have very low food security

by Pete Hisey on 11/17/2006 for

According to USDA's newly published report, "Household Food Security in the United States, 2005," hunger in the United States has declined slightly since 2004.

According to the report, about 11 percent of the U.S. population is classified as "food insecure," with about one-third of those classified as having "very low food security." That means that members of these 3.9 million households and 35 million people experience varying levels of hunger during the year, ranging from skipping meals or eating smaller portions to losing weight due to lack of food. The number of households experiencing hunger remains unchanged from 2004, but overall the number of Americans with "very low food security" has risen over the past five years.

However, the word hunger does not appear in the report, which Democrats charge was held back until after the mid-term elections, a charge called "ridiculous" by USDA.

Instead, hungry people are described as suffering from "disruptions in eating patterns and food intake." Mark Nord, the USDA sociologist responsible for the report along with co-authors Margaret Andrews and Steven Carlson, defends dropping the terms hunger and hungry to describe the phenomenon of not having enough food by saying the terms are not scientific. "We don't have a measure of that condition," he said.

Consumer and poverty groups are up in arms about the abrupt change in terminology, but USDA says that the change was part of an overhaul of the entire report process to ensure that language used in the report is "conceptually and operationally sound." Three years ago, USDA asked for recommendations from the Committee on National Statistics of the National Academies to suggest more scientifically rigid terminology.

The committee, among other suggestions, recommended that the word hunger be dropped, since it could describe anything from a mildly uncomfortable feeling familiar to everyone prior to mealtime to "discomfort, illness, weakness or pain."

"Hunger is clearly an important issue," said Nord, but since there is no consensus about what exactly it refers to, it's not particularly meaningful as it relates to the economic research that backs the report.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

How does this apply to your life . . .

. . . or how doesn't it?

People really have trouble with math instruction. They think that there is no in-between, that it must be rote memorization or free-form. Really, whose idea was this -- students don't learn long division because it stifles creativity?!?! We don't insist on allowing creativity with grammar. We don't allow creativity with basic rules. We don't creatively mix chemicals in our school labs (research labs are another story, of course). Why does division have to be creative?

The result is people who are either afraid of math or don't understand it. If you don't think that's a problem, think about how many people have a hand in giving you medicine in the hospital: the doctor writes the Rx, the pharmacy fills it, and the nurse gives it, all using math along the way.

See, I presented my research to a room full of clinicians, interns, and residents today. The talk relied heavily on understanding probability, so I did a fairly thorough review. I didn't get into the math involved on the disease model, though, and I assumed more statistical knowledge than most of them probably had. After, a surgeon thanked me, but said I should have covered the math more. I told him I didn't want to go over the heads of the interns and residents. His response: well, they need to learn it sometime. One of my epi-leaning colleagues joked that it is now my job to teach them. Sorry for the coming rant, but really! I have 25 minutes to present my research; do I need to spend half of it teaching basic statistics to my peers?

The truth, of course, is that epidemiologists do become the de facto sources of statistical knowledge in veterinary medicine. Rather than study it themselves, other vets hand us the math. We do our own research, but we also have to analyze other people's data. How does this relate to math teaching? Most of them were convinced early on that 1) they weren't good at math and 2) they wouldn't need to be.

And the exceptions (like my colleagues and me) get to pick up the pieces.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Is hot air measured in square feet our hours?

I went to a talk yesterday by Donald Rumsfield.

Well, mostly by him. First we had to sit through a rambling introduction by General Myers. That man can blather with the best of them.

The amazing thing was that, after an hour of talking, nothing was said. Not nothing important; nothing. Ah, politics.

Some phrases/concepts that might be interesting to those without access to such things:
  • communists are totalitarian, just like non-centralized terrorists
  • "The enemy has brains. They do things."
  • We are fighting a war against people with no home state to defend; this is why we invaded 2 countries
  • we should study history to avoid repeating mistakes
Aren't we glad that was cleared up!

Stool essentials

Yes, I know, bad pun.

Really, sanitation is essential. We pay so much attention in this country to manure management in our CAFO's, but we ignore the fact that much of the world doesn't have toilets. Including, and this is important, the source of much of our fresh supermarket produce. It is important, even if you're not a bleeding-heart.

Monday, November 06, 2006


Are we getting too obsessed by killing germs? Read this and tell me what you think. By asking the question, I guess I've told you my answer . . .

Friday, November 03, 2006

What does it say about America when . . .

I received two offers to join a book club in today's mail. One was mostly Deepak Chopra and the Dalai Lama, while the other was along the lines of James Patterson and Rachel Ray. Still, both sold Dr. Phil, Danielle Steel, and an entire page full of books on making sex better. There's a great story to draw out of this, but I'm not sure I want to go there.