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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Tale of Two Suppressed Studies

Let me tell you a story. A big, powerful institution commissioned a report into something important. But the authors ended up writing something that the institution’s leaders couldn’t accept. They found it unpalatable. It went against their orthodox dogmas. So, they suppressed it. It never saw the light of day. It’s the report they didn’t want you to read.

Nice story. But does that mean the report is true? Couldn’t they be smarter than the authors of the report? Is “Commissioned to write a report by a big powerful institution” a qualification you would respect in any other context? Maybe they didn’t want you to read the report because it was just a bit rubbish?

The past couple of weeks has seen two classic texts from the ever-popular genre of Suppressed Reports. There was the World Health Organization study on cocaine that concluded that it isn’t all that harmful. And then there was the Environmental Protection Agency report that was sceptical of global warming. They didn’t want you to read either, so we’re told.

I’m not saying these reports are wrong. I haven’t read either. But it’s odd that their "suppression" has granted them the kind of uncritical attention that they would never have had if they’d just been published normally. How many global warming skeptics take what the Environmental Protection Agency says seriously? Yet when they deliberately don’t say something, they’re all ears. It’s like Catholics taking the Pope’s word as infallible, but only when he doesn’t want them to. It’s the argument from authority in reverse.

Shopping for the Dead - WW

A friend wanted to buy a laptop for her late husband. No, you didn't read it wrong. She lost her husband 3 months ago.

She misses him so much. Friends and relatives tried to console her but to no avail. :( Last Saturday, she asked me to accompany her to Chinatown to pick up a laptop and cellphone for him.

We went to a shop that sells incense and paper items for the dead.

black laptop (extreme left) for the dead

Besides the 'laptop', she also bought 'dentures', his favourite food and lots of menswear. All were made of paper. I didn't laugh nor chide her, I felt very sad and sorry for her.

paper dentures

I discovered some lacy paper bra but I couldn't find any matching G-string. Female ghosts also need to wear sexy underwear? -_- "'

Guys, beware! :P

Don't leave Hell Without a Hell Passport and Credit Cards

Note : My photos are missing due to Blogger's 'internal error'. I hope the problem can be solved asap. Meanwhile I have to upload my photos in another site. :(

First Commenter - Sasha

The Shotgun Approach to Psych Drug Discovery

A foundation is offering to fund research into novel psychiatric medications, we read in the latest Nature Neuroscience:
The Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts has launched an initiative called ‘PsychHTS’ inviting scientists with ideas and data suggesting novel mechanisms contributing to psychiatric disease to apply for access to the Broad’s infrastructure and expertise for high throughput screening (HTS) of chemical compound libraries.
HTS is a clever technique for discovering new drugs, based on the crude but effective principle of trying hundreds of thousands of different chemicals until you find one which works, by using machines to automatically run the experiments (“assays”) extremely quickly. Hence, “high throughput”. It’s pretty cool.

The Stanley Medical Research Institute wants to use HTS to find new psychiatric drugs. There have been no truly new drugs in psychiatry for a long time: there are dozens of different antidepressants, for example, but they all work (if and when they work) by increasing brain monoamine levels, just like the very first antidepressants, iproniazid and imipramine, discovered in the early 1950s. The same is true of antipsychotics, which all block dopamine D2 receptors, just like the very first, chlorpromazine.

So new drugs for the mind would be great. But how are you going to find them by doing experiments in test-tubes, even if you have 50,000 test-tubes? The mind doesn’t fit in a test-tube. Here’s where the proposal gets a bit iffy:
Readouts may be anything from classical enzymatic reactions ... up to subcellular changes captured by automated high-content imaging. ... ‘Hits’—compounds that affect the assay results in a way that indicates potential usefulness in a psychiatric research context—are automatically retested at several concentrations...
So, the idea is that potential new drugs will be found by measuring how they affect certain cellular processes or chemical pathways. But which ones? Until we know what cellular or protein or enzymatic changes underlie mental illness, we won’t know what to look for. And the whole problem is that we don’t know much about that – if we did we’d have lots of new drugs already.

The article suggests only one route to finding truly novel mechanisms – genetics. In the past few years, there have been many genetic studies trying to find genes which cause mental illnesses. Some of them have identified risk genes which seem to imply new biological pathways. For example, the current orthodoxy is that schizophrenia is caused by abnormalities in the brain’s dopamine system. But the gene most strongly implicated in schizophrenia is called “neuregulin-1”, and it has nothing to do with dopamine. That’s interesting but unfortunately -
Recent genetic studies have indeed suggested new targets, but the identification of specific genetic risk factors remains elusive. The genetic results are themselves variable, often have small effect sizes and need independent replication.
In other words, the genetics evidence is so patchy, that using it as a basis for finding new drugs is like building a house on very shaky foundations. It might stand. But if the genetic links turn out to be spurious, all the subsequent research will have been in vain.

Personally, while I welcome any truly groundbreaking work in psychiatry, I would rather people spend time and money doing better research on the drugs we already have.

ResearchBlogging.orgNature Neuroscience Editorial (2009). Mining chemistry for psychiatry Nature Neuroscience, 12 (7), 809-809 DOI: 10.1038/nn0709-809

Sunday, June 28, 2009

On Psychiatric Cool

At Somatosphere, "Liz Oloft" (heh) writes about the dilemmas of "coming out" as a user of psychiatric meds while being an academic who researches them: Prozac In The Closet.

Liz is a social scientist, while I'm a card-carrying neuroscientist, but like her I also take antidepressants while studying them, and I identify strongly with her thoughts.

One sentence in particular struck a chord -
Depending on who you ask ... to engage in Lacanian psychoanalysis for neurotic problems of living might be cool, to take an antidepressant for depression without psychotherapy is less cool, and to take a cocktail for bipolar might be even less so (although bipolar disorder may be more legitimate than depression because it seems to be more widely accepted as a “real biological disease”).
This is something which isn't much talked about, but it's absolutely true. Some mental illnesses are just cooler than others. Cool is a famously elusive concept, maybe undefinable. Either you got it or you don't. But some diagnoses certainly have more of it than others. From most cool to least the pecking-order seems to be:
1. "Issues" – problems of living and/or "stress", rather than illness
2. "Physical" conditions with psychiatric symptoms, such as thyroid problems and PMT
3. Anxiety, phobias, panic attacks
4. Substance abuse & addiction
5. Bipolar disorder (manic-depression)
6. Eating disorders
7. Unipolar depression
8. "Personality Disorders"
9. Schizophrenia
This list is, of course, subjective - "cool" inherently is – and it goes without saying that I’m not endorsing this hierarchy, just reporting it as I perceive it. I’m no slave to cool as a glance at my iTunes library would verify.

What does it mean for one thing to be higher on the list than other? Amongst much else it means - that people are more comfortable talking about it and being in the presence of it; that people will tend to prefer it as a diagnosis for themself or a loved-one; and that it's easier to think of "cool" people who have it. And, simply, it means it that it’s easier to “come out” as having it.

Some of the rankings may surprise at first glance. If you read the textbooks, you'd think that bipolar disorder is generally speaking "worse" than unipolar depression. And in many ways it is. But it's still cooler, I think. Cobain sang about "Lithium", the quintessential treatment for mania, not "Imipramine". Hendrix sang "Manic-Depression", not "Depression". Lots of cool, or at any rate famous, people, are bipolar, or are widely believed to be. By contrast, try to think of a famous unipolar depressive, and you'll come up with Winston Churchill with his Black Dog and... who else?

The key factor behind psychiatric coolness seems to be the degree to which a problem is seen as internal to the self. There's little shame in being "stressed" due to things that happen to you, because then the problem is external. You're "normal", it's the situation that's screwed up.

Likewise, as Liz says, bipolar disorder is in an important way cooler than depression, because it's seen a closer to being a "physical” illness that happens to you, like a thyroid problem. That’s as opposed to a weakness or failure of you as a person, which is the most damaging and most persistent stigma of unipolar depression.

The one apparent exception is schizophrenia, which is profoundly stigmatized despite being widely viewed as a biological disease. But isn't this because schizophrenia is seen as a disease that disturbs the self, leaving someone merely "mad" or "insane", no longer responsible for their actions and therefore no longer really a person?

Self-Quarantine, Limit the Spread of H1N1! - WS

mischievous students making fun of those on home quarantine

After a month of holidays, schools in Singapore are set to re-open tomorrow. But some of my foreign students who are returning from other areas with evidence of community transmission of Influenza A (H1N1) were advised to stay home by their schools.

I have placed those students on self-quarantine, hoping to limit the spread of Influenza A (H1N1) in the community.

They will stay at home throughout the 7 days quarantine period. I will monitor their temperature twice daily and check for flu-like symptoms. They must practice good personal hygiene and minimise contact with other house mates. They will have online lessons until they return to school on 6 July.

I don't know whether they are carriers of the virus. We just have to be socially responsible. I have prepared masks and hand sanitizers for every one in the house.

On 28th June 2009, Singapore has confirmed 145 new cases of H1N1, bringing the tally to 599.

First Commenter -

How Far Off Is Mind-Reading?

PopSci.com has a somewhat enthusiastic article about the possibility of using fMRI to "uncover your private thoughts"- Mind-Reading Tech May Not Be Far Off.
Neuroscientists are already able to read some basic thoughts, like whether an individual test subject is looking at a picture of a cat or an image with a specific left or right orientation. They can even read pictures that you're simply imagining in your mind's eye. Even leaders in the field are shocked by how far we've come in our ability to peer into people's minds. Will brain scans of the future be able to tell if a person is lying or telling the truth? ... While we aren't there yet, these possibilities have dramatic social, legal and ethical implications.
But what do we mean by "mind-reading"? I guess what most people mean by the term is being able to tell what someone is thinking, being able to "hear" their private thoughts. A stereotypical fictional "telepath" can get inside their targets minds and tell exactly what's going through them.

Sadly, what most fMRI "mind-reading" experiments have done is rather less impressive. they've shown that it's possible to tell whether someone is thinking about one thing as opposed to a second thing. But only if you already know what both things are, and only if you have already "read" the pattern of neural activity that corresponds to each one.

So, you could scan someone while they are thinking about, say, cats, and then again while they are thinking about dogs. From that, you could work out whether they are thinking about cats or dogs at any given point in time (here's how). If they were thinking about anything else, you'd have no idea what it was, or worse, you'd think it was either a cat or a dog. A lion, for example, would probably activate many of the same pathways that a cat does.

The great majority of "mind-reading" studies are like this. It's still pretty cool, but it's no telepathy. Is there any prospect of true "mind-reading"? In other words, could you read a mental state without knowing what you were looking for in advance?

Maybe. The parts of the brain concerned with visual processing happen to be arranged in a relatively straightforward way,which means that there are predictable relationships between visual stimuli and the areas of the brain that are activated when looking at them. Reports have claimed that it's possible to infer which picture someone is looking at out of a large set (1) and even to reconstruct the image that someone is looking at based purely on the visual cortex activity (2,3). For a good explanation of the last paper, which attracted a lot of attention, see Neurophilosophy.

Such studies come closer to true "mind-reading", but thus far the technique only works with vision. Even assuming that the same areas of the brain light up when you're thinking about something (visual imagery) compared to when you're looking at it (visual perception), the best this method could achieve would be to tell what picture was in someone's head at a given time. In ten years it might be possible to put someone in a scanner and tell, straight off the bat, that they were picturing a small white dog. But if you wanted to know what they were thinking about that dog, you'd be out of luck.

To truly read someone's mind you would need to understand how every brain state relates to every mental state. In other words, you would need to know how the brain allows us to think. At the moment, we really have no ide about that, so true mind-reading remains over the horizon.

Edit: I must be telepathic because I just saw that Mind Hacks covered a new study about mind reading a few hours ago: I know where you are secretly attending! Yet again, it involves the visual cortex.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Flags A-Fluttering at Asian Youth Games - PH

flags fluttering stiffly in the breeze is an inspiring sight, and does a country proud

The 1st Asian Youth Games will be officially opened by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on 29th June 2009 in the Singapore Indoor Stadium.

Find the flag of your country!

Over 1000 athletes aged between 14 and 17 from 42 countries will be competing in more than 90 sporting events from June 29, 2009 to July 7, 2009.

Athletes and officials are housed at the Games Village at Swissotel The Stamford. Due to the recent H1N1 outbreak, one level on the ninth floor of the 5-star hotel has been set aside for atheletes who have suspected cases.

An athlete from the Philippines and 4 Hong Kong footballers have been tested positive for H1N1 flu. All are doing well.

The Games Village at Swissotel The Stamford.

I have several requests from overseas friends to buy Asian Youth Games Singapore 2009 merchandise. The T-shirts and caps are pretty cool!

Go Singapore! Go! Go! Go!

First Commenter - DC

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Are 1 in 64 Kids Autistic?

Quite possibly, yes. In the last post I discussed the interesting background to a new paper about the prevalence of autism in British children, Prevalence of autism-spectrum conditions: UK school-based population study. Here's some more about the study itself.

The authors, Simon Baron-Cohen et al from the University of Cambridge, set out to assess the prevalence of “autistic spectrum conditions” in the county of Cambridgeshire, England, by sampling all of the school children aged 5 to 9 years during 2003-2004.

The most recent major study examining the prevalence of autistic spectrum conditions in Britain was Baird et al (2006), who reported a prevalence of about 1 in 86. But Baron-Cohen et al point out that this may have been too low, since Baird only looked for autism in children who were already on the government's “Special Educational Needs (SEN)” register of children with difficulties in school. If there were autistic children who were doing OK in school, or at least well enough to get by without attracting concern, they’d have been missed.

So, Baron-Cohen’s team first wrote to every school in Cambridgeshire (162 of them) and asked them to report how many of their children had been diagnosed with an autism-spectrum condition.
79 schools replied and reported 83 children diagnosed out of 8824 total, or 1 in 106 children – pretty close to Baird et al's in 2006.

But those were only the kids who had already got a diagnosis. In order to try to find undiagnosed cases, they then sent questionnaires to the parents of 11,635 children. The questionnaires included a screening form developed in Cambridge called the CAST, which asks parents about various aspects of their child’s behaviour (“Does s/he come up to you spontaneously for a chat?” “Does s/he like to do things over and over again, in the same way all the time?” Etc.)

The authors invited all of the kids who scored highly on the CAST to a face-to-face assessment to confirm whether they really had the condition. The end result was that out of 3373 kids whose questionnaires were returned, 11 were judged (in the opinion of the research team) to have an autism-spectrum condition which had never been previously diagnosed.

What does this mean? Well, good question. All it strictly means is that 11 out of 3373 children had undiagnosed autism. However, because not all of the children who scored highly on the CAST agreed to be interviewed, the authors estimate that the true figure was probably more like 22. That compares to 33 out of those 3373 whose parents reported already diagnosed autism. (Actually it was 41 reported, but only an estimated 33 were declared “confirmed”. See page 503 if you’re sceptical of this fudge, but it seems kosher to me.)

The bottom line: for every 3 children with a diagnosis, 2 others went undiagnosed. Since about 1 in 100 children have diagnosed autism, that makes 1 in 64 children with autistic spectrum conditions in total.

But this relies on some assumptions. In particular, this only works if you assume that the parents of autistic children were no more or less likely to complete the CAST questionnaire, and no more or less likely to agree to a face-to-face interview, than parents of the non-autistic kids.

However, it could well be that the parents of autistic children were already concerned that there was “something wrong” with their child and wanted to get a professional opinion, so they were keen to take part – that would mean that this study overestimated the rate of undiagnosed autism. On the other hand, it could equally well be that the autistic children were less likely to get included in the study. Maybe they just didn't want to go along to the interview with a stranger. In which case, the rate of autism would be underestimated.

Because only 29% of parents did the questionnaire and even then only about 60% of the children who scored high came up for the face-to-face, the potential for bias is great. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing which way the bias operates. The authors acknowledge these concerns and admit that their estimates are not exact.

But this is still an important study. Even if you assume that the data were extremely biased towards finding autistic children there were still 11 cases of undiagnosed autism out of about 11,000 kids aged 5-9, compared to 83 diagnosed, which means that at an absolute minimum 1 in 9 children with autism of that age are undiagnosed. And the true figure is likely to be a lot higher, maybe 2 in 5 as the paper claims.

On this blog I've often been skeptical of claims that mental illness is extremely common. But I can easily believe that 1 in 64 children has a significant autism spectrum-condition, and that some cases go undiagnosed in primary school. While we still don't know the exact numbers, and these will always be somewhat arbitrary since they depend upon the chosen diagnostic, about 1 in 50 sounds about right. Certainly, the idea that autism is an extremely rare condition affecting more like 1 in 2000, as was believed twenty years ago, is out of date.

ResearchBlogging.orgBaron-Cohen, S., Scott, F., Allison, C., Williams, J., Bolton, P., Matthews, F., & Brayne, C. (2009). Prevalence of autism-spectrum conditions: UK school-based population study The British Journal of Psychiatry, 194 (6), 500-509 DOI: 10.1192/bjp.bp.108.059345

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sydney: First Impressions

It is Day 3 in Sydney for me; so far, still hanging in in there!I am currently staying at the most inconveniently-located serviced apartments (Oaks Goldsbrough on Pyrmont)-- there seems to be no way of getting around except by cab which sets you back a minimum of $10 with any trip. The apartments are nice enough, although there have been some iffy issues with Foxtel TV, keycards not working and

EYES & BEHOLDERS.. Dorothea + Sigrid for W

Craig McDean shoots W Magazine June 09

Sessilee for VOGUE ITALIA

Sessilee Lopez stars in this month's Vogue Italia, in an amazing story by Tom Munro

SIGRID for i-D

Our star of the season Sigrid Agren features on this month's i-D cover, photographed by Alasdair McLellan... gorgeous!

Autism, the Media, and "1 in 58" - the story continues

It was about this time two years ago that my faith in the British media died. It had never been in the best of health, but up until then I believed that the (non-tabloid) newspapers were written by professionals trying to find out and communicate the truth as best they could.

Journalists might be wrong, I thought, but they did their best to ensure that they weren't. And they might have a bad habit of focussing on sensational stories that "sold papers", but such stories would at least be accurate. A career in journalism was something that strongly appealed to me.

What happened on July 8th 2007 was that The Observer printed a front-page article so demented that I’ve never been able to take that newspaper at face value since. And if you can't trust The Observer, which sat on my family's breakfast table every Sunday since before I can remember, you can't trust any of them (at least, I can’t.)

The article was about autism, and it claimed to be a report on a new research study carried out at Cambridge by the famous Professor Simon-Baron-Cohen. The upshot was that Baron-Cohen’s team had found the rate of autism to be 1 in 58 children, much higher than the previous study from a few years earlier, which found a rate of about 1 in 86. Furthermore, The Observer said, two of the team, “world experts” in autism, thought that this “dramatic rise” (i.e. a rise of 50% in a few years!) might be something to do with the much-maligned MMR vaccine.

The original article no longer exists on the Observer’s website, but the WayBack Machine has it.

It was pulled after Ben Goldacre, amongst many others (including Baron-Cohen and even the Government), criticized the piece vociferously and it was, eventually, replaced by an unsatisfactory “clarification”. Goldacre’s take on things was chronicled in a astonishing series of articles (1, 2, 3, 4, et al.) which revealed some horrific journalism, including, amongst much else, attributing opinions to people who didn’t hold them and failing to reveal conflicts of interest. If for some reason you’re not already a Goldacre fan, read those posts, and you’ll see what all of the fuss is about. But you need to know one other thing – he is literally the only journalist in the country who does what he does.

The most damning criticism at the time, however, was that the research in question could not possibly have found an increase in autism rates, let alone a “big surge”, a “dramatic rise”, or an “upward trend”. The new research, quite deliberately, used more extensive assessment criteria than previous studies. It was specifically designed to find the highest possible estimate. So only a fool would try to compare it to other sets of data and see this as evidence of rising rates. Also, even if there had been a real increase, it couldn’t have been because of MMR, because the kids in both studies will have had the MMR vaccine. The oldest kids in the Baird et al study of 9-10 year olds were born in 1991, a few years after MMR was introduced, while the youngest in the Baron-Cohen study were born in 2000, when MMR uptake was, if anything, lower, thanks to the MMR-autism scare.

Now, two years after The Observer’s “scoop”, the research is finally out in the British Journal of Psychiatry: Prevalence of autism-spectrum conditions: UK school-based population study. I’ll be examining this paper in detail in the next post, but here’s what you need to know if you remember the story from 2007:

The paper doesn’t mention the Observer affair but it’s obvious that the authors had the article in mind while they were writing up their results. They repeatedly emphasise that their prevalence estimate cannot be compared to previous ones. They make it very clear (to the point of seeming a bit stilted) that they believe that the apparent rise in prevalence of autism over time is due to better detection and diagnosis, rather than a real “epidemic”. And they do not mention MMR – not that they had any reason to, of course. The highest estimate they arrive at, which they say is probably somewhat too high but close enough, is 1 in 64 children. 1 in 58 doesn’t appear in the paper.

What’s most interesting about the paper is who wrote it. The author list includes Simon Baron-Cohen (obviously) and Fiona Scott. The Observer named Scott as an MMR-autism theorist, something she strongly denied, in 2007. However, fascinatingly, Carol Stott is not an author, although she receives a massive acknowledgement at the end of the paper – “Carol Stott was a member of the research team throughout the main phase of the study and contributed to the coordination and running of the study, data management and data collection. She also made valued contributions to team discussions.” On the basis of this, she clearly had a right to be listed as an author – but wasn’t. We can only assume that she chose not to be, because if the other authors had left her off the list without her permission they would have been guilty of a serious breach of trust.

Carol Stott, you’ll remember, played a role in the Observer autism story. Unlike Fiona Scott, she does (or at least did in 2007) believe that MMR is linked to autism, and she had very close links with Andrew Wakefield as well as displaying a, er, penchant for the scatological in some bizarre emails to journalist Brian Deer. (Goldacre does say he “genuinely warmed to her, and she regrets that many people have fallen into entrenched positions on MMR on both sides” though, so she’s not all bad!)

So, questions remain. How did the preliminary research get leaked in 2007? What happened to make 1 in 58 become 1 in 64? What’s the deal with Stott? We don’t know. But we do know a bit more about autism thanks to this paper, and in the next post I’ll be discussing that.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Tribute of Love (Part I) - RT/WW

On 20th June 2009, I was invited to the Yellow Ribbon Cooking Competition 2009 'Tribute of Love' Father's Day Luncheon at Changi Prison Complex. Guests-of-honour included Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Home Affairs Mr Masagos Zulkifli BMM and MP Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC).

Senior Parlimentary Secretary, Education and Home Affairs, Mr Masagos Zulkifli (left) and Director of Prisons Mr Ng Joo Hee (in uniform) speaking to guests at the luncheon

It was a special day for the finalists who have cooked and dedicated their winning recipes as a tribute of love to their strongest pillar of support: their families.

When the dishes were served, several elderly parents were visibly touched. It was the first time their child has cooked for them. They nodded and smiled as they savoured the food, they were so proud of their child at that moment.

When the chefs from SHATEC went round to speak to the family members, many thanked them for giving their children a second chance. They were extremely grateful for the support and help given.

Family members thanking the chefs from SHATEC

I saw one finalist pass a Father's Day message to his elderly Dad. Written in Chinese, when it was read out, tears welled in the eyes of the elderly man. It was a touching moment.

family members were served the winning dishes

The champions from Khalsa Crescent Prison won S$500 cash and together with the other 2 teams which have made their way to the finals, will get the chance to undergo a 35-week certified culinary training course conducted by SHATEC and sponsored by staff of Temasek Holdings.

Performers from the SPS Performing Arts Centre

Besides a sumptious lunch, we enjoyed a lovely performance put up by the SPS Performing Arts Centre. Their melodious rendition of 'Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree' keeps playing in my head..... until today. :D

Chef Catan Tan to the finalists : 'All of us are here today, because .... we Care'.

Photos - courtesy of Singapore Prison Service

First Commenter - Mama asid

Sunday, June 21, 2009

50 Plus Active Ageing Carnival 2009 - WS

Dance, Grandpa, dance!

When I started planning for my retirement, I wanted to live near a beach and spend my remaining days fishing or gardening, dozing off in my rocking chair.......

Can you imagine EastCoastLife retiring? I wanted to lead a quiet sedate life until ...... I went to this Active Ageing Carnival and discover lifestyle choices that seniors can embark on.

It wants to promote an active ageing culture amongst seniors in Singapore. Turning 50 can be healthy and fun!

A senior tries his hand at archery

Surprisingly, I am a good archer. My hubby Chris protested vehemently against my taking up archery. He said he would not be able to run faster than my arrows. hahaha......

Rock n Roll with Singapore First Elvis Fan Club

Chris' eyes sparkled like diamonds and his body started gyrating when he saw these seniors rock n roll like the King on stage. Oh boy! You should have seen these people perform! More on this club in my next post.

Contact : sfefc2004@yahoo.com.sg

Learn Cantonese Opera

Cantonese opera is a traditional Chinese art involving music, singing, acting, martial arts and acrobats. But this art is slowly dying in Singapore. I was glad to find this group that offers opera lessons. Let's see if I'm cut out to be an opera singer. :P

For Enquiry, call Lam Kam Ping Cantonese Opera : 9119 2661

Free medical screening

Besides the mind boggling variety of activities, seniors also enjoy special deals and promotions.

I couldn't enjoy the discounts because I'm still far from age 50! :P

First Commenter - stanley


Pictures by Valerie Fujita

That night, the Trump Room was full of strange creatures, cyber, gothic, dolls, girly boys and some otaku, because, we're in Japan and there is always an otaku somewhere. The Trump room is an incredible place furbished with tones of chandeliers and mirrors, more baroque that baroque itself, but I cannot get enough of those creepy interesting spots. I'm a photographer and I like theatrical places and people, I cannot deny it. People were here to enjoy the now famous Tokyo Decadance.

I had the chance to talk to Adrien and DJ Sisen that night. It's not something new but I have to say again that Adrien and Sisen are very sweet people. They do what they like, seem to enjoy, and they are obviously good entertainers.

A word on the accessories and clothes exposed (yes, this was also an exhibition for fashion). If you don't know where to find accessories like fake eye lashes (the cyber type), skin jewels, cyber accessories, the only thing you have to do is come to a Tokyo Decadance party and you'll find the good addresses. People are willing and always very happy to give you their business card, offering you a discount and explain you how to get to their shop.

This special night offered me also the enchantment to meet with two undercover great creatures! Ken, the well educated and mannered dandy of GPKISM, very matching with the identity of his band, and the former designer of Stigmata, Kenzo-A, now running his own brand, Rituals, and also vocal and guitarist from Gadget.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

On Anonyminity

You'll probably have heard about the "outing" of formerly anonymous blogger Night Jack, a British policeman. Night Jack went to court in an attempt to prevent The Times newspaper from publishing his identity, but the judge ruled against him. His award-winning blog, http://nightjack.wordpress.com/, has been taken down; I don't know if this is going to be permanent.

Lawyer Jack of Kent has a typically lucid and detailed legal commentary on the case, but as a fellow anonymous blogger, I believe that this is an issue which goes beyond British law.

I write anonymously because it allows me to write things that I otherwise couldn't. I could write under my own name, as many excellent bloggers do. However, the content of Neuroskeptic would not be the same.

Broadly speaking, my "neutral" coverage of science news would remain (like this), and my criticism of journalists probably also would (like this). However, I don't feel that my more "critical" writing about science - like this - would be possible without anonymity.

I'm an academic at a junior stage of my career. Some of the targets of my (implicit and explicit) criticism are people and organizations who might well play a part in that career. Quite simply, I don't want to go on record criticizing them, for obvious reasons of self-interest.

Perhaps this just makes me a bit of a coward, but I prefer to think about it in a more philosophical light. Often when we say or write something, two things happen in parallel. We are doing something in the social world, and we are asserting a proposition.

If I were to say to someone "Your wife is having an affair", I would be doing something momentous, something that might well be very painful and damaging. This is why we don't say things like that lightly - even if they are true. We value tact. Yet at the same time, my statement is true (or false), just like any other statement of fact, and it remains true (or false) whether or not I say it.

As a society, we recognize that it's sometimes desirable to allow people to assert things without having to worry about the consequences of their words as a social act. This is why we have anonymous feedback forms, anonymous comment boxes, anonymous witnesses (in some cases). It's also why we don't regard an election as fair and open if it doesn't have a secret ballot.

And in science, we have anonymous peer review. In order for a paper to be published, it must first be subjected to the criticism of one or more experts on the topic in question, writing anonymously. The anonymonity is fundamental because it allows them to criticize the research as harshly as necessary without having to worry about the consequences. Few people want to go on record as criticizing someone else's work, especially as most scientific fields are sufficiently narrow that peer reviewers personally know the authors of most of the papers they have to critique. Yet someone has to do the dirty work of criticism.

So anonymous peer review is valued in science as a way of facilitating objectivity, something otherwise in short supply, because scientists are people with careers and reputations to uphold. At the risk of giving too much dignity to a mere blog, I see Neuroskeptic as a continuation of this review process once papers have been published. Scientific debate shouldn't be hampered by concerns about careers and reputations, although scientists being only human, it is - anonymous comment is one way of getting closer to the ideal of pure objectivity.

All of that said, anonyminity is not all roses. It's open to abuse. Someone could persue a vendetta against a rival by making apparantly objective, anonymous criticisms that were in fact motivated by nothing more than self-interest. This occasionally happens during the process of peer review - a reviewer might trash a manuscript just because they just don't like the results, or because they are planning to publish the same results and they want to do so first. And an anonymous blogger could exploit their status for similar reasons. I would like to think that I have never personally criticized anyone who is acting in good faith, which includes the vast majority of academics. I try to stick to criticising ideas, not people. But of course, I would say that.

So anonymous writing has to be seen for what it is - something that has the potential to be more objective than on-the-record statements, but with no guarantee that it in fact is. Caveat lector, as always.