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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Old-style breakfast at Keong Saik Road - RT/WW

Tong Ya's old-style breakfast set

Several friends have commented about the aromatic tea and coffee served at Tong Ya Coffee Shop. So one Sunday morning, we went with a friend to this old style kopitiam (coffee shop) for its popular old-style breakfast. :)

old-style coffee shop Tong Ya in the modern day city

Tong Ya Coffee Shop is located in an old shop-house in Keong Saik Road which had a notorious reputation for its brothels during the 1960s. The three-storey high shophouses flanking either side of the street are now housing several boutique hotels, art galleries and shops for commercial use.
traditional way of making aromatic coffee

We were lucky to get a table fast as the coffee shop is usually packed with customers. Each of us ordered a breakfast set. I was disappointed to see a coffee shop assistant who is a not a local, preparing our beverages. Although he was using the traditional method to prepare our drinks, our cups of teh si (tea with evaporated milk) and kopi or (coffee without sugar) didn't taste authentic. It was too diluted.

a leisurely breakfast

The old-style breakfast brought back memories of my many breakfasts with my parents when I was a young child. After slurping down the 2 half-boiled eggs, my Mom would pour the hot tea into the saucer and blew on it to cool it down. I would then lift up the saucer and drink the tea from it.

These days, it will be seen as ill manners to drink tea from a saucer, but in this old kopitiam, it seems appropriate to just do it. Cheers! :D

Tong Ah Eating House
36 Keong Saik Road
Open: 630am to 10pm, alternate Wednesdays 630am to 2pm

First Commenter - sgshortstories

Pancakes, Wagyu Burgers and Indian Festivals

It has been a very full week indeed. My to-do list is an unending list that is beginning to scroll all over the floor...! Most of it involves tedious school work which I won't bore you with, but needless to say I didn't get a chance to head out into town very much! Still, here are a few highlights from my week gone by:First, we finally got to try out the famous Pancakes on the Rocks at (where

Friday, August 28, 2009

Surprise! - PhotoHunt

PhotoHunt theme : Surprise

Deal or no deal?

I forgot my husband's birthday.

He announced to the whole world on FaceBook his wife forgot his birthday.

Yahhh ...... I ought to be shot, minced and thrown into the sea. :D

The next day I quickly sprang him a surprise. My own version of Deal or No Deal game show!

er.... I cannot find 26 beautiful girls but it was easier to get 5 envelopes.
I told him all the envelopes contain his birthday wishes. The prizes are :

1. 1 year StarHub Sports Channel
2. Holiday to UK to watch Liverpool Soccer Club play
3. Hot passionate s** with a sexy gal
4. COE* to take a second wife
5. Upgrade to a new car

It was no surprise to see him play the game with such enthusiasm. :P

Which prize did he win? Make a guess. I'm always full of surprises. hehe......

*Note : COE - Certificate of Entitlement

First Commenter - foong

Pretty Green Lies

The British government has a novel approach to public health advertising: flat-out, obvious lies. This is really the only way to describe this:

The message is that when you're on drugs, anyone looking at you can tell, because drugs make your eyes look funny. So if you're driving while under the influence, the police will know. By looking at your eyes. So, don't.

This is not true. It's obviously not true. Anyone who's ever seen someone on drugs will know that they don't cause your eyes to become the size of golfballs - the advert uses image morphing to make the eyes enormous, as explained in the Making Of clip:

Some drugs do have subtle effects on the eyes, such as pupil dilation, but you can only spot this if you're staring someone right in the face from about six inches away. Not to mention that anyone who's used a car will know that drivers don't spend their time examining the eyes of their fellow road users.

There's one very good reason why you shouldn't drive on drugs, which is that you might crash and kill yourself or someone else. Why the Department of Transport didn't use this as the basis of their advert, only they know. As it is, they've ended up with something that absolutely no-one is going to take seriously - see the YouTube comments. When YouTubers are making incisive criticisms of your campaign, you know you're doing something wrong.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Top 5 Pet Peeves in Sydney

I'm not usually one that complains about the country I'm in (or at least not on my blog) but after having lived here here for just over two months, I've noticed a couple of less-than-savory aspects about this great harbour city...1) Racism: Alive and Kicking...hard.It's been on the news a lot recently -- just take a look at this recent article from the Sydney Morning Herald (Racism Exists in

Geylang Serai Hari Raya Bazaar 2009 - RT/WW

BBQ quails

Every year I eagerly await the Hari Raya Bazaar at Geylang Serai. What draws me to the annual bazaar is the food - all sorts of food and kuih (traditional Malay delicacies) are sold for buka puasa (breaking fast). Some of the Malay dishes or snacks are not available throughout the year, so I would stuff myself silly on my favourite Malay food. :P

food stall holders doing a brisk business

There are usually long queues at the food stalls. Be prepared to wait ... amidst the pushing crowds and in the stilfing heat.

Yummy food for the hungry....

children at a game stall

I tried my hand at the game stalls but ended up empty-handed. The kids did better.

artificial flowers and flower arrangements

I enjoy walking through the bazaar, looking for some unique items to decorate my home. I always manage to find lovely lacy curtains or a pretty table cloth. And I usually end up buying a basket of beautifully arranged artificial flowers for my entertainment room.... all at a great price. Bargain lah! :P

First Commenter - bk

Monday, August 24, 2009

Top 5 Cheap Eats in Sydney

A personal (though not comprehensive) list of my favorite cheap eats in Sydney. Ok, they're not exactly the healthiest picks but I can think about eating a $30 rack of lamb at Rockpool Bar and Grill later when I have that sort of disposable income...!1) Guzman y Gomez (Newtown, Bondi, King's Cross, CBD)Usually, franchised, fast food Mexican food is a recipe for disaster but not so with GYG. Much

U.S. Antidepressant Use Doubled in A Decade

The proportion of Americans using antidepressants in a given year nearly doubled from 5.8% in 1996 to 10.1% in 2005, according to a paper just published: National Patterns in Antidepressant
Medication Treatment
, by Mark Olfson and Steven Marcus.

That means about 15 million more Americans were medicated in '05 than a decade previously. A huge increase in anyone's book. But the doubling in antidepressant use is not the only interesting result in this paper. In no particular order, here are some other fun facts -
  • Women are twice as likely to use antidepressants as men (female 13.4% vs male 6.7% in 2005); the ratio was the same in 1996. Studies consistently find that Western women are about twice as likely to report suffering from depression and anxiety disorders as men are. But these kinds of studies rely on self-report so this could merely mean that women are more willing to talk about their problems. This data suggests that they also seek treatment about twice as often.
  • The peak age bracket for antidepressants is 50-64, with 15.5% yearly use. This is more than double the rate in the 18-34 bracket. This surprised me, maybe because of the influence of books like Prozac Nation (tagline - "Young and Depressed in America"). So, it looks like the increasing use of antidepressants is not because younger people, having grown up in the "Prozac Era", are more accepting of them.
  • Antidepressants are a white thing - 12.0% of whites take them vs. about 5% of blacks and Hispanics. But it would be interesting to see a regional breakdown here. Are blue-state or red-state whites more likely to be medicated?
  • Family income was not correlated with antidepressant use, but the unemployed were twice as likely to use antidepressants: 22% in '05. This might be because unemployment is bad for your mental health, or because mental illness is bad for your employment prospects. Or both.
  • One of the questions in the survey asked people to rate their own mental health. Over 90% of Americans said it as "good", "very good" or "excellent" - including 80% of antidepressants users. This really surprised me, and suggests that these drugs are being prescribed to people who are not, overall, very unwell.
  • The % of antidepressant users also using an antipsychotic drug rose from 5.5% to 8.9% in 2005. Given that the number of users also doubled, this means the number of Americans using an antipsychotic as well as an antidepressant increased by a factor of more than 3. This is worrying since antipsychotics are generally the worst psychiatric drugs in terms of side effects. While there is evidence that some of the newer antipsychotics can be of use in depression as an add-on to antidepressants, this is controversial and it's not clear that they're any better than the older alternatives, such as lithium.
Overall, this report verifies that antidepressant use has risen dramatically over the past several years. This is hardly news, but the magnitude of the increase is still startling.

What makes it especially interesting is that nothing much happened between 1996 and 2005 in terms of new antidepressants. A couple of new SSRIs, such as citalopram, were approved for sale in the US. But these drugs are very similar to Prozac (fluoxetine) which has been around since '87. Remeron (mirtazapine) hit the market in '96, but it's never been nearly as popular as the SSRIs.

So the change was a change in behaviour, a cultural or social phenomenon. For some reason, America decided to take more antidepressants. Books could be written on why this happened, and I hope they will be, because it's an important topic. But here's my personal take: the main reason why people are taking more antidepressants is that the popular concept of "depression" has become more broad. People have become more willing to label their experiences as "depression" and seek medical treatment. The notion that mental illness is extremely common - the one in four meme - is one aspect of this.

Finally, the inevitable caveats. The data here come from the Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys (MEPS) which were household surveys of "national probability samples of the US civilian noninstitutionalized population". This means that military personnel, the homeless, prisoners, and (presumably) illegal immigrants weren't included. And not everyone agreed to take part; the response rate was 70% in '96 but dropped to 60% in '05. On the other hand, the samples were extremely large (28,000 in 2005).

ResearchBlogging.orgOlfson M, & Marcus SC (2009). National patterns in antidepressant medication treatment. Archives of general psychiatry, 66 (8), 848-56 PMID: 19652124

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Of Carts and Horses

Last week, I wrote about a paper finding that the mosquito repellent chemical, DEET, inhibits an important enzyme, cholinesterase. If DEET were toxic to humans, this finding might explain why.
But it isn't - tens of millions of people use DEET safely every year, and there's no reason to think that it is dangerous unless it's used completely inappropriately. That didn't stop this laboratory finding being widely reported as a cause for concern about the safety of DEET.

This is putting the cart before the horse. If you know that something happens, then it's appropriate to search for an explanation for it. If you have a phenemonon, then there must be a mechanism by which it occurs.

But this doesn't work in reverse: just because you have a plausible mechanism by which something could happen, doesn't mean that it does in fact happen. This is because there are always other mechanisms at work which you may not know about. And the effect of your mechanism may be trivial by comparison.

Caffeine can damage DNA under some conditions. Other things which damage DNA, like radiation, can cause cancer. But the clinical evidence is that, if anything, drinking coffee may protect against some kinds of cancer (previous post). There's a plausible mechanism by which coffee could cause cancer, but it doesn't.

Medicine has learned the hard way that while understanding mechanisms is important, it's no substitute for clinical trials. The whole philosophy of evidence-based medicine is that treatments should only be used when there is clinical evidence that they do in fact work.

Unfortunately, in other fields, the horse routinely finds itself behind the cart. An awful lot - perhaps most - of political debate consists of saying that if you do X, Y will happen, through some mechanism. If you legalize heroin, people will take more of it, because it'll be more available and cheaper. If you privatize public services, they'll improve, because competition will ensure that only the most efficient services survive. If you topple this dictator, the country will become a peaceful democracy, because people like peace and democracy. And so on.

These kinds of arguments sound good. And they invite opponents to respond in kind: actually, legalizing heroin is a good idea, because it will make taking it much safer by eliminating impurities and infections... And so the debate becomes a case of fantasizing about things that might happen, with the winner being the person whose fantasy sounds best.

If you want to know what will happen when you implement some policy, the only way of knowing is to look at other countries or other places which have already done it. If no-one else has ever done it, you are making a leap into the unknown. This is not necessarily a bad thing - there's a first time for everything. But it means that "We don't know" should be heard much more often in politics.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Executive Chef Series : Eric Neo - WS

Eric Neo, Executive Chef (Crowne Plaza Changi Airport)

Katong Community Centre's Executive Chef Series invited Eric Neo, Executive Chef of Crown Plaza Changi Airport to conduct a cooking class on 22nd August 2009.

Chef Eric Neo has worked in some of the best restaurants in Singapore. He is the honorary treasurer of the Singapore Chefs Association.

He taught two dishes - Ayam Panggang (Malay-styled Baked Chicken) and Shanghai Lion-head Meatballs.

He used a lot of local spices for his Malay-styled baked chicken. The result was a fragrant and uberlicious chicken dish that can either be pan-fried or baked. When fish fillet or squid is added to the paste used for marinating the chicken, you could have another dish. Cool!

Pan-frying the marinated chicken

Chef Eric was patient and most importantly, ever willing to share his cooking tips and accept feedback. Whenever there is a suggestion to use a different type of meat in his recipe, he would gamely take up the challenge to test it in his kitchen. He promises to email his findings to the participants.

Executive Chef Eric spooning gravy over the meatballs

Chef Eric's Shanghai Lion-head meatballs were so tasty, the ladies couldn't help going for a second serving. :P They tasted like the filling of my favourite xiaolongbao (小笼包 pork dumplings). Chef Eric mentioned a Claypot version which I will review in a special post on Shanghai Lion-head Meatballs.

His recipes are so easy to follow, anyone can cook like a chef at home! Can't wait to try them soon. :D

Executive Chef Series
Katong Community Centre
Tel : 6345 8258

Next date : 12 Sept 2009
Chef Hiew Gun Khong, Executive Chef at Cherry Garden, Mandarin Oriental Hotel

Fees : S$25 (member)
S$30 (non-member)

First Commenter -

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Create Ripples when Cheerleading - PhotoHunt

PhotoHunt theme : Ripples

Oh my gosh!!*gulp*

Some time back, a friend who was the organiser of a charity event forced asked me to be a member of a (Aunties) cheerleading team.

An instructor was hired to train us. When we were first shown the moves, we were stunned and felt sorry for ourselves. We could end up with broken bones!

Luckily we were not asked to perform the difficult stunts. Ample measures were taken to prevent unnecessary injuries. *phew*

We learnt how to use waves and timing ripples when cheering. We created some ripples with our performance. :P

I watched this video clip on cheerleading tips. You may want to surprise your husband/ boyfriend with these moves. haha.....

Note : The above photos are not from our performance. I lost them. :(

First commenter -

Emotions are Still Universal

Are facial expressions of emotion culturally specific, or universal? For decades, the dominant view has been that they are universal, at least when it comes to a set of "basic" emotions: fear, happiness, sadness, surprise, anger, and disgust.

Darwin was an early proponent of the idea that all humans (and indeed other mammals) display emotions in certain ways; his book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals is still a very interesting read.

More recently, the universalist view has been closely associated with the psychologist Paul Ekman. In the 1960s Ekman reported that people from diverse cultures, including isolated tribespeople from Papua New Guinea, make similar faces in response to similar situations.

Now, a new paper claims that Cultural Confusions Show that Facial Expressions Are Not Universal. This article has got a lot of media and blog attention, not surprisingly, since at least judging by the title, this is a major upset.

But the paper's findings are rather modest. The authors, Jack et al, took 13 white British and 13 East Asian subjects. The Asians, who were mostly from China, had only been in Britain for about a week, and all subjects reported that they had never lived in, or even visited an "other race" country, dated interracialy, etc.

Subjects were shown pictures of faces and had to pick the appropriate "basic emotion" - anger, disgust, fear, happy, neutral, surprise, and sadness. The faces were of actors posing the emotions, in accordance with Ekman's "FACS" system.

The result was that Western subjects did well on all emotions, but the Asians did less well on fear and digust, as they tended to confuse these two emotions. The authors also used eye-tracking technology to see where the subjects were looking, and found that the East Asians tended to focus on the eyes more while examining the faces, which may explain their differing performance.

This is quite interesting, especially the eye-tracking data (which goes into a lot of detail). But does it justify the conclusion that:
Our data demonstrate genuine perceptual differences between Western and East Asian observers and show that FACS-coded facial expressions are not universal signals of human emotion. From here on, examining how the different facets of cultural ideologies and concepts have diversified these basic social skills will elevate knowledge of human emotion processing from a reductionist to a more authentic representation. Otherwise, when it comes to communicating emotions across cultures, Easterners and Westerners will continue to find themselves lost in translation.
Well, sort of, but the differences found in this study were really rather small. Statistically, the Asians successfully recognized fear and disgust less often than the Westerners. But they still got them right 58% and 71% of the time, respectively, even when the faces were Western; they did better when the faces were Asian. Given that there were 7 options, had they been picking randomly they would only have got 14% right. 58% is still pretty good. The Asians were actually (non-significantly) better at recognizing neutral, surprised, and sad faces.

And the differences notwithstanding, the whole task relies upon the fact that the subjects know the meaning of "happy", "fear", and so forth, and associate them with certain face expressions. The fact that the experiment worked at all shows - as Ekman would predict - that both Westerners and East Asians share an emotional understanding. There appear to be some cultural quirks, but the essential universality of facial emotion still stands.

ResearchBlogging.orgJack, R., Blais, C., Scheepers, C., Schyns, P., & Caldara, R. (2009). Cultural Confusions Show that Facial Expressions Are Not Universal Current Biology DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.07.051

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Splinter and Quarantine are both very good horror movies that you might not have heard of. You should watch them, if you like scares - they're both "zombie movies", of a kind, but with enough originality and twists to keep them interesting.

Helpfully, they're both on the iStore. And on torrents, obviously, but neither was big-budget, and the filmmakers deserve your money, so you should really pay for them.

Maybe it's just because I share their interest in brains, but I've always preferred zombie movies to vampire ones. Vampires just aren't scary - at least in most modern portrayals, they're little more than psychopaths with a light allergy. They're too, well, human, to really horrify.

That's not to say there aren't some good vampire movies: Let The Right One In was great, and 30 Days of Night was pretty fun if nothing else - but as horror, which is the genre they always end up in, they just don't work for me.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Red Bananas - RT/WW

I was in Chinatown's wet market to buy some snakehead. I was going home when I saw an elderly lady selling these red bananas. I have never seen a red banana so I bought two for S$1 (US 70 cents).

I ate them on the spot. The red banana was sweet. The flesh is a pale yellow. Sorry, I ate it before taking a picture. :P

The seller didn't know what is the name of this red banana. Anyone knows?

My 90+ father-in-law is hospitalised. Last Friday one of my foreign students had a high fever and was given one week's medical leave. This morning, another student came down with fever. My husband is not feeling well too. My hands are full taking care of these sickly guys. I pray it is not H1N1. sigh.

First Commenter - dora

Schizophrenia: The Mystery of the Missing Genes

It's a cliché, but it's true - "schizophrenia genes" are the Holy Grail of modern psychiatry.

Were they to be discovered, such genes would provide clues towards a better understanding of the biology of the disease, and that could lead directly to the development of better medications. It might also allow "genetic counselling" for parents concerned about their children's risk of schizophrenia.

Perhaps most importantly for psychiatrists, the definitive identification of genes for a mental illness would provide cast-iron proof that psychiatric disorders are "real diseases", and that biological psychiatry is a branch of medicine like any other. Schizophrenia, generally thought of as the most purely "biological" of all mental disorders, is the best bet.

With this in mind, let's look at three articles (1,2,3) published in Nature last month to much excited fanfare along the lines of 'Schizophrenia genes discovered!' All three were based on genome-wide association studies (GWAS). In a GWAS, you examine a huge number of genetic variants in the hope that some of them are associated with the disease or trait you're interested in. Several hundred thousand variants per study is standard at the moment. This is the genetic equivalent of trying to find the person responsible for a crime by fingerprinting everyone in town.

The Nature papers were based on three seperate large GWAS projects - the SGENE-plus, the MGS, and the ICS. In total, there were over 8,000 schizophrenia patients and 19,000 healthy controls in these studies - enormous samples by the standards of human genetics research, and large enough that if there were any common genetic variants with even a modest effect on schizophrenia risk, they would probably have found them.

What did they find? On the face of it, not much. The MGS(1) "did not produce genome-wide significant findings...power was adequate in the European-ancestry sample to detect very common risk alleles (30–60% frequency) with genotypic relative risks of approximately 1.3 ...The results indicate that there are few or no single common loci with such large effects on risk." In the SGENE-plus(2), likewise, "None of the markers gave P values smaller than our genome-wide significance threshold".

The ISC study(3) did find one significantly associated variant in the Major Histocompatability Complex (MHC) region on chromosome 6. The MHC is known to be involved in immune function. When the data from all three studies were pooled together, several variants in the same region were also found to be significantly associated with schizophrenia.

Somewhat confusingly, all three papers did this pooling, although they each did it in slightly different ways - the only area in which all three analyses found a result was the MHC region. The SGENE team's analysis, which was larger, also implicated two other, unrelated variants, which were not found in other two papers.

To summarize, three very large studies found just one "schizophrenia gene" even after pooling their data. The variant, or possibly cluster of related ones, is presumably involved in the immune system. Although the authors of the Nature papers made much of this finding, the main news here is that there is at most one common variant which raises the relative risk of schizophrenia by even just 20%. Given that the baseline risk of schizophrenia is about 1%, there is at most one common gene which raises your risk to more than 1.2%. That's it.

So, what does this mean? There are three possibilites. First, it could be that schizophrenia genes are not "common". This possibility is getting a lot of attention at the moment, thanks to a report from a few months back, Walsh et al, suggesting that some cases of schizophrenia are caused by just one rare, high-impact mutation, but a different mutation in each case. In other words, each case of schizophrenia could be genetically almost unique. GWAS studies would be unable to detect such effects.

Second, there could be lots of common variants, each with an effect on risk so tiny that it wasn't found even in these three large projects. The only way to identify them would be to do even bigger studies. The ISC team's paper claims that this is true, on the basis of this graph:

They took all of the variants which were more common in schizophrenics than in controls, even if they were only slightly more common, and totalled up the number of "slight risk" variants each person has.

The graph shows that these "slight risk" markers were more common in people with schizophrenia from two entirely seperate studies, and are also more common in people with bipolar disorder, but were not associated with five medical illnesses like diabetes. This is an interesting result, but these variants must have such a tiny effect on risk that finding them would involve spending an awful lot of time (and money) for questionable benefit.

The third and final possibility is that "schizophrenia" is just less genetic than most psychiatrists think, because the true causes of the disorder are not genetic, and/or because "schizophrenia" is an umbrella term for many different diseases with different causes. This possibility is not talked about much in respectable circles, but if genetics doesn't start giving solid results soon, it may be.

Edit: I missed it at the time but the great Prof. David Colhoun wrote an extremely good piece about this study.

Purcell, S., & et Al (2009). Common polygenic variation contributes to risk of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature08185

Shi, J., & et Al (2009). Common variants on chromosome 6p22.1 are associated with schizophrenia Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature08192

Stefansson, H., & et Al (2009). Common variants conferring risk of schizophrenia Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature08186

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Bondi to Coogee walk

I did the famous Bondi to Coogee walk this weekend... or rather, Coogee to Bondi, but who's keeping track of these things?It took around 2 hours at a slow stroll, with plenty of scenic stops in between. The weather lately has been incredibly wonderful -- strong, warm sun and a light cool breeze, just enough to keep you feeling fresh all day long. I could seriously get used to this! Who can

Saturday, August 15, 2009

93% of Surveys are Meaningless

Over at Bad Science, Ben Goldacre decries an article about a spurious "study", lifted straight from a corporate press-release, in his own newspaper The Guardian:
On Monday we printed a news article about a “report” “published” by Nuffield Health, headlined “No sex please, we’re British and we’re lazier than ever”. “This is the damning conclusion of a major new report published today,” says the press release from Nuffield ... I asked Nuffield’s press office for a copy of the new report, but they refused, and explained that the material is all secret. The Guardian journalist can’t have read it either. I don’t really see how this “report” has been “published”, and in all honesty, I wonder whether it even exists, in any meaningful sense, outside of a press release.

Nuffield Health are the people who run private hospitals and clinics which you can’t afford....the Guardian gave free advertising to Nuffield, for their unpublished published “report”, which nobody even read, in exchange for 370 words of content. This is endemic, and it creeps me out.

The Telegraph also reprinted the press release; sorry, wrote an article drawing on the press-release amongst many other carefully-research sources. The other papers probably did too; I'm too lazy to check.

For you see, the alleged study found that British people are monumentally slothful: 73% of couples said that they are "regularly" too tired to have sex while 64% of parents say that they are always "too tired" to play with their children, and so on.

Yes, according to Nuffield Health, only one in three British parents ever play with their own children. The rest are always too exhausted. It's a wonder they found 2,000 people who were awake enough to answer their survey - although, as Goldacre says, maybe they didn't.

This "study" is, obviously, bollocks. It serves only as advertising for Nuffield Health's network of fitness centers, the benefits of which are helpfully listed at the end of the press release. That newspapers regularly reproduce press releases because they can't afford to pay journalists to fill the space any other way is well known nowadays. This is thanks mostly to Nick Davies and his outstanding book Flat Earth News which revealed, in great detail, just how bad things have got.

But the fact that this advert was published in the Health section of The Guardian, is more than just a symptom of the decline of British journalism. It also reflects the peculiarly British obsession with "surveys".

Even if the Nuffield data was fully published in a proper journal, and even it had been a survey of 200,000 people, it would still be meaningless. Asking people whether they are lazy is not a good way of finding out whether they are, in fact, lazy. All it can tell you is whether people think of themselves as lazy, which is very different. If you wanted to prove that British people really were lazy and getting lazier, you would have to look at actual indicators of activity like, say, gym membership rates, or amateur sports team participation, or swimming pool use, or condom sales if you really think people are too tired have sex, etc.

Yet surveys like this seem to be almost mandatory if you want to draw attention to your cause in Britain at present. You have to do one, and you have to massively over-interpret the results. The gay rights group Stonewall this week accused British football of being institutionally homophobic. Their basis for this claim was a survey of - guess - 2,000 football fans, finding, amongst other things, that

Only one in six fans said their club was working to tackle anti-gay abuse and 54% believed the Football Association, Premier League and Football League were not doing enough to tackle the issue.

This survey demonstrates, at best, that many football fans think British football is institutionally homophobic. It does not "Sadly demonstrate that football is institutionally homophobic", as a Stonewall spokesman said, unless you think that British football fans are infallible godlike beings.

I have nothing but sympathy for Stonewall, and they may well be right about homophobia in football. But their survey is meaningless. It's advertising, just like Nuffield Health's survey. Attentive Neuroskeptic readers will remember the case of "In The Face of Fear", yet another survey of about 2,000 people, claiming that Britain is in the grip of an epidemic of anxiety disorders (it's not) and serving as advertising for another well-meaning group, the Mental Health Foundation.

A large and growing proportion of British newspaper articles are essentially promotional material for some kind of company, charity, or activist organization. Honestly, newspapers should just go the whole hog and replace half their pages with paid adverts, and use the money earned to pay their journalists to actually do some journalism. There would only be half as much news, but it would at least be news.


Friday, August 14, 2009

So Artificial! - PhotoHunt

PhotoHunt theme : Artificial

One of the things I enjoy when I am in a museum is to be able to have fun and pose for some funny photos with the artificial figures. I am normally denied that fun by security guards. :(

caught my hubby flirting .... grrr....

I got my hubby to pose with an artificial lady too. haha.....

I can flirt too!

After an exhausting photo shoot, it's time for tea. I wonder if these Indian sweets use artificial colouring?

First Commenter - keeyit