Category Archives: Health

Mindless Eating

and mindless research:

Problems with p-hacking are by no means exclusive to Wansink. Many scientists receive only cursory training in statistics, and even that training is sometimes dubious. This is disconcerting, because statistics provide the backbone of pretty much any research looking at humans, as well as a lot of research that doesn’t. If a researcher is trying to tell whether changing something (like the story someone reads in a psychology experiment, or the drug someone takes in a pharmaceutical trial) causes different outcomes, they need statistics. If they want to detect a difference between groups, they need statistics. And if they want to tease out whether one thing could cause another, they need statistics.

The replication crisis in psychology has been drawing attention to this and other problems in the field. But problems with statistics extends far beyond just psychology, and the conversation about open science hasn’t reached everyone yet. Nicholas Brown, one of the researchers scrutinizing Wansink’s research output, told Ars that “people who work in fields that are kind of on the periphery of social psychology, like sports psychology, business studies, consumer psychology… have told me that most of their colleagues aren’t even aware there’s a problem yet.”

I think the hockey stick episode shows that this is a problem with climate research as well.

The point of peer review has always been for fellow scientists to judge whether a paper is of reasonable quality; reviewers aren’t expected to perform an independent analysis of the data.

“Historically, we have not asked peer reviewers to check the statistics,” Brown says. “Perhaps if they were [expected to], they’d be asking for the data set more often.” In fact, without open data—something that’s historically been hit-or-miss—it would be impossible for peer reviewers to validate any numbers.

Peer review is often taken to be a seal of approval on research, but it’s actually more like a small or large quality boost, depending on the reviewers and scientific journal in question. “In general, it still has a good influence on the quality of the literature,” van der Zee said to Ars. But “it’s a wildly human process, and it is extremely capricious,” Heathers points out.

There’s also the question of what’s actually feasible for people. Peer review is unpaid work, Kirschner emphasizes, usually done by researchers on top of their existing heavy workloads, often outside of work hours. That often makes devoting the time and effort needed to catch dodgy statistics impossible. But Heathers and van der Zee both point to a possible generational difference: with better tools and a new wave of scientists who aren’t being asked to change long-held habits, better peer reviews could conceivably start to emerge. Although if change is going to happen, it’s going to be slow; as Heathers points out, “academia can be glacial.”

“Peer review” is worse than useless at this point, I think. And it’s often wielded as a cudgel against dissidents of the climate religion.

AI In Medicine

Self-taught systems beat MDs at predicting heart attacks:

All four AI methods performed significantly better than the ACC/AHA guidelines. Using a statistic called AUC (in which a score of 1.0 signifies 100% accuracy), the ACC/AHA guidelines hit 0.728. The four new methods ranged from 0.745 to 0.764, Weng’s team reports this month in PLOS ONE. The best one—neural networks—correctly predicted 7.6% more events than the ACC/AHA method, and it raised 1.6% fewer false alarms. In the test sample of about 83,000 records, that amounts to 355 additional patients whose lives could have been saved. That’s because prediction often leads to prevention, Weng says, through cholesterol-lowering medication or changes in diet.

To be honest, while it’s statistically significant, I’d have expected a bigger improvement than that. And it’s not clear how useful it is if the recommendations aren’t science based, as prescribing cholesterol-reduction or diet change generally aren’t.

Trump To Democrats

“Negotiate on ObamaCare, or I’ll enforce the law“:

At stake are “cost sharing” payments that Obamacare backers say are supposed to be made to insurance companies to cover their losses from low-income customers.

A federal court has invalidated the payments, saying the Obama administration spent the money even though Congress specifically stripped the funds from its annual spending bills.

The government is still making the payments pending an appeal of the case, but Mr. Trump hinted last week that he would halt the payments himself, forcing Obamacare into a quick death unless Democrats agree to negotiate over major changes to the Affordable Care Act.

“If Congress doesn’t approve it, or if I don’t approve it, that would mean that Obamacare doesn’t have enough money, so it dies immediately as opposed to over a period of time,” he told The Wall Street Journal.

Live by the pen and phone, die by the pen and phone.

[Update a few minutes later]

Related: What is Trump’s deal?

he confusion here is rooted in trying to figure out what Trump’s convictions are, what his foreign policy is. This inevitably goes astray, because Trump doesn’t actually have any firm convictions, at least along those lines. He can be in favor of and against gun control; be against the government being involved in healthcare and in favor of a government single-payer system; be opposed to bombing Syria and okay with Tomahawk cruise missiles striking Syrian airbases—because he doesn’t actually have any sort of coherent large-scale vision or any particular ideals about the human condition.

He’s a salesman. What he cares about is the Deal. He even says it outright: his autobiographical business book is called The Art of the Deal.

If you want to understand salesmen, the best start is to watch the famous “Always Be Closing” speech from Glengarry Glen Ross.

“Always Be Closing” is not David Mamet’s invention, it’s an observation. It was the advice given to salesmen back at least into the ’60s when I was reading sales training materials that my grandfather had for the salesmen that worked selling pianos and appliances in the family business. (Yes, I actually will read anything.) It’s the advice given to salespeople now.

“Always Be Closing” means everything you do should be in the service of getting the deal, getting a signature and a check.

Whatever else one may think of Trump, you have to admit that Trump is a master salesman. Look at the campaign, where he took various positions — expel Muslims, deport Mexicans, or well, maybe not all Muslims, and Mexicans are mostly wonderful people — one after another, clearly responding to the reaction. Always Be Closing: he made sure his positions got him closer to closing the deal on the presidency. Did it matter that he contradicted himself? No! Concerns about things like that weren’t helping him close the deal.

This has been clear to me from day one. Beyond his boorishness, his utter lack of principles or coherent worldview was the reason so many principled conservatives (and libertarians) opposed him. But I’m still glad she lost.

[Update a few more minutes later]

Trump’s choice: Populism or corporatism.

It’s a shame that neither are particularly principled. The Founders would weep.

[Update a few more minutes later]

Corporate America’s support for the Paris agreement is why Trump should get us out of it.

Well, it’s not the only reason, but yeah.

Vitamin D

Should we be supplementing, or not?

As is often the case, the science is iffy. I’m taking 5000 IU of D3 daily (or at least when I remember to take anything). No idea if it’s helping, but I don’t generally spend a lot of time in the sun. In fact, I have a solar-powered watch whose battery occasionally runs down because I spend so much time in my office. So it seems likely that I’m somewhat deficient.