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Slime for sale August 5, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in science, societal commentary.
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I really hate listening to sales pitches.  Really, really hate it.  Part of it is that I’m skeptical enough to look at a lot of the claims the way a scientist does.  I can’t imagine why.

I was walking through a department store after a purchase when the clerk who’d been helping me said she’d like to show me something.  So she started in on a sales pitch for a ‘newly reformulated’ skin care product.  She started by rubbing it on the back of my left hand.  Then she sprayed water on both hands and told me to shake them.  She pointed out that the water on my bare hand had formed into balls while the water on the other hand was spread evenly over the skin.

I nodded and said, “That’s interesting.”

I was thinking: “This is bogus.  There’s some sort of surfactant in there that’s minimizing the surface tension of the water.  This has nothing to do with how well moisture can be held by the skin, and I know from experience that skin health is much more dependent on diet than anything else.”  (This last point has been a huge point of discovery since I’m no longer starving because of my celiacs.)

Okay.  So she keeps going on and I’m getting ready to leave, but she puts some of her elixir on a couple sponges.  I’m curious to see what she’s going to do next.  I should have left.  As she’s talking to me, she suddenly reaches up and starts dabbing this goop all over my face.

If she were my child, I would have shouted, “Hey!  Personal space!  Stay out!”  But she wasn’t.

She then asked me how it felt, and I wasn’t inclined to put on a show for someone who just used cosmetic sponges on me as though they were nunchucks.

If that lady had tried to put makeup on Chuck Norris, I'm sure she' would've been seeing double.

If that lady had tried to put makeup on Chuck Norris, I’m sure she’ would’ve been seeing double.

Having been assaulted with foam, I wasn’t inclined to be nice, so I just said, “Weird…and slimy.”  Then I smiled, said I’d think about it, and made a beeline for the bathroom so I could wipe that stuff off.

It’s bad enough when they’re trying to sell me on something that makes no sense, but smearing stuff on my face is definitely over the top.  I’m not sure what she thought she accomplishing, but I don’t think I’ll EVER buy any of her slime.

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Bring back science 1.0 September 19, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in science.
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Given my recent induction into the world of celiacs disease (CD), I’ve been spending a lot of time researching it.  I’ve been trying to spare all my blog readers the gory details, but I hope you’ll realize that this isn’t a normal post about the trials and tribulations of one dealing with CD.  In particular, most of my time is spent looking for the gluten status of foods.  (I thought I was happy to have an iPhone before, but now it’s become a necessity in the grocery store!)  One night, while looking up some information, one of the hits ended up being to the post, “Celiac: The Trendy Disease For Rich White People.”  The post is located on the site Science 2.0, which seems to have both original content as well as aggregated articles.

I was very disturbed by the post. I was even more disturbed when I found out that the author, Hank Campbell, was the founder of Science 2.0.

I’m not at all impressed with his science…at least on this topic.  If you don’t want to read through the post, I can summarize by saying that Mr. Campbell claims that the only people who have a valid reason to go on a gluten-free diet are those who have a diagnosis of Celiac’s disease.  His justification for this is a single study showing that a gluten-free diet doesn’t result in weight loss for most people.  Everyone else who is doing it is following a fad, and their non-scientific thinking means they need to be lumped in with groups like anti-vaxers.  GF is the trendy thing to do, and following a GF diet when it’s not medically indicated is just the trendy thing for rich white folks to do.

The whole article is a rant that only displays the ignorance Mr. Campbell has on this particular topic.  First, he throws out the number that 97% of people who have CD probably don’t know they have it, mocking it.  What he’s mocking are statistics from the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center.  The document in the previous link points out that there is both a huge correlation between autoimmune diseases in general and celiac disease in particular.  It also points out that the standard symptom of CD (GI issues) is only present in about 1/3 of those who are diagnosed with CD.  On average, it can take several years from the onset of symptoms before one actually gets a diagnosis.  (I can vouch for that given I have had symptoms for most of the past three decades and had an incorrect diagnosis of fibromyalgia when I was a teenager.  The fibromyagia seemed to go away after a couple years on a low-carb diet, much to the puzzlement of several doctors.  Apparently this particular misdiagnosis occurs in about 10% of CD patients.)

There are several non-GI symptoms that can indicate CD, but most physicians are unaware of them (for instance, anxiety).  There is also the problem that people with undiagnosed CD are likely to develop a range of autoimmune disorders, such as Hashimoto’s diease, Lupus, and Rheumatoid Arthritis.  (In fact, someone I know was recently told by their rheumatologist that they may want to try a GF diet to see if it helped with their RA symptoms.)  In most cases, these other disorders are discovered BEFORE it is determined that a patient may have CD…not the other way around.

Getting out of the realm of CD, there is also a lot of work being done on non-CD gluten sensitivity.  There are a number of people who apparently have a sensitivity or intolerance to gluten without developing CD.  They estimate there are about 6 million people in the US with gluten sensitivity.  Unfortunately, there is no biological marker for it.  The only way one can tell if the patient with symptoms goes on a GF diet, although there are studies underway to find quantitative tests showing an immune response.

So let’s go back to Mr. Campell’s “discussion” of the topic.  With a little work, he could have learned that his whole “when I was a kid, CD was a serious disease” may have been true.  Although he was implying it is overdiagnosed, it turns out that levels of CD are 4 times what they were 50 years ago.  There seems to be an uptick in diagnosis not only because of better diagnostic tools but because something has changed in American’s diets.  (One speculation mentioned in the Wall Street Journal article is that wheat has been bred to provide greater concentrations of protein.)  However, one can also look at the information above (and in the links) and easily conclude that CD is also incredibly difficult to diagnose.  There are over 100 symptoms linked to gluten intake, and as I mentioned before, often the associated autoimmune diseases will be diagnosed before CD is found.

Mr. Campbell then goes on to ridicule people who try a GF diet without a diagnosis and then claim it improves how they feel.  Let’s see…how does one diagnose non-CD gluten sensitivity?  At this point, one goes on a GF diet to see if they feel better, then they tell their doctor.  As far as I can tell, people are trying to pay attention to their diet and connecting it to how it makes them feel rather than waiting for them to have their doctor tell them to do something.  Imagine that…people taking initiative to improve their health.  Given non-CD gluten sensitivity may occur in as many as 1 in 20 individuals, as well as the diverse number of symptoms linked to gluten ingestion, likelihood of such a diet being successful in helping someone to feel better are actually pretty high.

Finally, Mr. Campbell attempts to make the argument that all this ‘fad stuff’ is hurting those of us who have CD.  As you may have noticed in the approximately 450 comments, he’s dead wrong.  All of us are ecstatic about the awareness of the disease, the variety of grocery and dining options, etc.  How can this be hurtful to us?  Further, many of us have had to deal with years of symptoms, and I don’t think anyone honestly wants others to have to deal with it.  If someone is trying to fix their diet and tries GF, good for them.  My guess is that they aren’t faking it, as Mr. Campbell implies.  In fact, I honestly don’t understand why he would think people would go through the pain of adopting a GF diet unless they really were concerned about their health.

The whole article is an example of ignorance about the topic, and it’s particularly disappointing that this is what passes for science blogging.  If this is Science 2.0, I think I want 1.0 back.

Don’t call me stupid! February 21, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in societal commentary.
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I’ve been a situation where I’m having a discussion and I eventually think something along the lines of, “Either they think I’m really stupid…or they’re really stupid.”

What do you do in those situations?

I don’t think too much about this when I meet random people off the street.  However, when I meet someone who is supposed to have a particular competence, especially if technical, I’m always in a quandry.

First, I try not to make snap judgements.  Sometimes I’ve probed a bit further and either found out that the person was just unfamiliar with a particular area but may be pretty brilliant in another.  Other times, it turns out that they really are…ummm…undereducated.  I remember one person who, after ten minutes, had me convinced that finding their way out of a paper bag would be challenging.  Other people around me were willing to give this person more time to figure things out.  About a year later and many, many episodes of this person’s stupidity, people started saying, “You know, you were right about hir.”  In another situation, I began discussing my work with someone who smiled and basically said they had no idea what I was talking about.  Later I learned that while they didn’t know much about my work, they were pretty brilliant in their own field.  (I always appreciate people being up front about their strengths and weaknesses.)

But what do you do if you can’t probe further?

Another problem I run into is people being condescending because I apparently have an “I’m stupid” look on my face when they’re explaining something.  I admit that when people are explaining things, I often need some ‘offline’ time later to process all of it.  This is especially true the farther I get from my field.  I do try to ask questions as I think of them.

But there are some people who start explaining things to me, and it’s like they’re reviewing high school physics.  I feel like I’m ten steps ahead of them, but I can’t figure out if they’re trying to be helpful or if they don’t think I really understand.  In this situation, I don’t want to say, “Yes, yes, move along,” because they may not be able to…or they may think I’m rude.

So, dear readers, what do you do in these situations?  Put up with it or tell them to pick up the pace?  Or is there another option? Also, how do you avoid being the one that is condescending?

Ass. Prof. January 31, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, societal commentary.
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I was conversing with my favorite barista today, and she asked me how things were going.  I took this opportunity to complain about someone who has been getting on my nerves.  She looked at me sympathetically and said, “It’s a professor, isn’t it?”

I almost spit out my drink laughing.

She asked me what students thought of this person.  I had no idea, so I whipped out my iPhone and did a search on Ratemyprofessor.  I’d never seen such a low score. Not that I take RMP seriously at all, but I have to admit the descriptions of this person as a teacher were an awful lot like my interactions with hir on a peer level.

I have to wonder, though, why it seems like profs seem to fall to the extremes of personality.  Based on the conversation with the barista, it’s obviously not a secret.  I realize that being intelligent and creative can create a sense of superiority, especially if you don’t often have the opportunity to hang out with people who have the same level of intellectual facility or background knowledge.  On the other hand, if you take the stance that you’re always smarter than the other person, how do you ever find out if someone else has a good idea or a different approach?  (Or is it fear that they will have a good idea and you won’t?  I’m not sure.)

There are also a few who manage to make it through without becoming asses.  Somehow they manage to feel confident enough in their abilities to put their egos aside and give other people a chance. Believe me, I really appreciate them.

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