System for Approving New Medical Options Needs Improvement

Posted on December 31, 2012  Comments (0)

Something Doesn’t Add Up

Not only did the team find that evidence for Infuse’s benefits over existing alternatives for most patients was questionable; they also discovered in a broad array of published research that risks of complications (including cancer, male sterility and other serious side effects) appeared to be 10 to 50 times higher than 13 industry-sponsored studies had shown. And they learned that authors of the early studies that found no complications had been paid between $1 million and $23 million annually by the company for consulting, royalties and other compensation. Carragee, MD ’82, estimates Medtronic has sold several billion dollars’ worth of Infuse for uses both approved and “off label.”

Without a rigorous, data-driven context, medicine’s expensive traditions and hunch-based treatments threaten to bankrupt us. “People say that we shouldn’t delay science; people are dying; we should get new treatments out there. I do not feel the pressure to do that until we have solid evidence,” Ioannidis asserts. “The resources many procedures draw are enormous.” And that leaves insufficient funds for the prevention plans and treatments we know actually work.

I have written about the problems with our health care research system several times. The existing system is in need of improvement and is made much worse by the general state of the broken health care system in the USA. Dr. John P.A. Ioannidis, the focus of the article, is doing fantastic work in this area.

Related: Majority of Clinical Trials Don’t Provide Meaningful EvidenceStatistical Errors in Medical StudiesUSA Spends $7,960 Compared to Around $3,800 for Other Rich Countries on Health Care with No Better Health ResultsDrug Company Funding Taints Published Medical ResearchMistakes in Experimental Design and InterpretationUnderstanding Data

Make Crosswalks More Visible

Posted on December 25, 2012  Comments (2)

Good simple idea. And then executed well – for nighttime at least. Crosswalk lights up when in use giving drivers a more visible clue to stop.

Related: Ministry of Silly WalksKindergarten Students Pedel Their Own Bus to SchoolPassion for Mechanical Engineering Nurtured as a ChildBird Feeder That Automatically Takes Photos When Birds FeedEncouraging Curiosity in Kids

Circumhorizontal Arcs – Fire Rainbows – Cloud Rainbows

Posted on December 20, 2012  Comments (2)

photo of rainbow in a cloud

Fire Rainbow, Johor Bahru by John Hunter

Yesterday afternoon I spotted this odd, colorful, spectrum seemingly in a cloud in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. The colors are similar to a rainbow but the prism effect takes on a bit different form than a rainbow as I learned with a bit of searching online. I added a short post to this blog, about the phenomenon a few years ago.

photo of a large cloud over Johor Bahru

Johor Bahru under a large cloud which is topped with a fire rainbow.

A circumhorizontal arc is an optical phenomenon – an ice-halo formed by plate-shaped ice crystals in high level cirrus clouds. They are also known as “fire rainbows,” if the cloud is at the right angle to the sun, the crystals will refract the sunlight just as when rainbow is created.

Read more

Working as a Software Developer

Posted on December 17, 2012  Comments (11)

For most of my career I have been focused on management improvement – helping organizations improve results. Technology plays a big role in that and along the way I found myself becoming a programer for a while; and then a software development program manager. This is a good post on working as a software developer:

reading code is a very important skill. Before a program can be modified, you need to understand what it does, and how it does it. Only then can new functionality be added so it fits in with the existing structure, and without breaking anything. Reading and understanding a program can be a major effort, and one sign of a well-designed program is that it is relatively straight-forward to modify it.

Write for people first, computer second. The code you write will be read many times in the future (by you, or another developer). The computer doesn’t care how the code is written, so make it as easy as possible to understand for the next person that has to read it. A corollary to this is: don’t be too clever. It’s better to be clear than to be clever.

When there is a compelling need to write for the computer first and people second make sure to document that code well. For example, some code that is extremely dense and complex and confusing but greatly enhances the efficiency of a critical area of code.

I recently wrote a book, Management Matters: Building Enterprise Capability. There are many great things about a career in software development. It certainly is also challenging and not for someone looking for the easiest career but I have seem a higher percentage of happy software developers than I have seen in any other discipline.

Related: How To Become A Software Engineer/ProgrammerThe Software Developer Labor MarketAvoiding Tragedy of the Commons for Software DevelopmentPreparing Computer Science Students for JobsHiring the Best Fit For Your Company in an Inefficient Job MarketWant to be a Computer Game Programmer?What Graduates Should Know About an IT Career

Promoting Innovation in Sierra Leone

Posted on December 13, 2012  Comments (3)

Another inspirational kid that shows that the potential for human good is much greater than the talking heads and politicians that litter the TV screen so often.

In the video Kelvin says, “That is my aim: to Promote Innovation in Seira Leone, among young people.” See another video as Kelvin explains his homemade battery.

Support these young engineers in Sierra Leone via innovate Salone.

Related: Inspirational Engineer Build Windmill Using TrashSupporting the Natural Curiosity of KidsWhat Kids can Learn If Given a ChanceI was Interviewed About Encouraging Kids to Pursue Engineering

Physics Lesson

Posted on December 9, 2012  Comments (0)

Related: Brian Cox Lecture on Science and Quantum MechanicsScientific Inquiry Process Finds More Evidence Supporting Einstein’s Theory of GravityFriday Fun: CERN Version

Arduino Introduction Video Tutorial

Posted on December 5, 2012  Comments (1)

Arduino is a very cool open source programable hardware engineering initiative. It is great for kids and adults who like to learn and create electronic devices. The Arduino Starter Kit is a great education gift for those interested in such things.

The video explains how to build a basic circuit with the Arduino board, and how to use each of the basic components such as LEDs, switches, and resistors. See more videos on related topics. Massimo Banzi, the co-creator and CEO of Arduino, and seen in the videos, also has a book: Getting Started with Arduino.

Related: Schematics of Electronic CircuitsEZ-Builder Robot Control Software

Cancer Risks From Our Food

Posted on December 3, 2012  Comments (3)

comic showing the dangers of drawing false conclusion based on statistical significance

Randall Munroe illustrates RA Fisher’s point that you must think to draw reasonable conclusions from data. Click the image to see the full xkcd comic.

Pretty much everything you eat is associated with cancer. Don’t worry about it. by Sarah Kliff

The changes in cancer risk were all over the map: 39 percent found an increased risk, 33 percent found a decreased risk and 23 percent showed no clear evidence either way.

The vast majority of those studies, Schoenfeld and Ioannidis found, showed really weak associations between the ingredient at hand and cancer risk. A full 80 percent of the studies had shown statistical relationships that were “weak or nominally significant,” as measured by the study’s P-values. Seventy-five percent of the studies purporting to show a higher cancer risk fell into this category, as did 76 percent of those showing a lower cancer risk.

Sadly the evidence is often not very compelling but creates uncertainly in the public. Poorly communicated results and scientific illiteracy (both from publishers and the public) leads to more confusion than is necessary. Even with well done studies, good communication and a scientifically literate population nutrition and human health conclusion are more often questionable than they are clear.

Related: Researchers Find Switch That Allows Cancer Cells to SpreadGlobal Cancer Deaths to Double by 2030Physical Inactivity Leads to 5.3 Million Early Deaths a Year

Friday Fun: Cat Playing Ping Pong

Posted on November 30, 2012  Comments (1)

Related: Robot Playing Table TennisMonkey and Kitten PlayingExercise Wheels for Dogs and CatsKindergarten Students Pedel Their Own Bus to School

Drug Company Funding Taints Published Medical Research

Posted on November 26, 2012  Comments (2)

Science provide the opportunity for us to achieve great benefits for society. However, especially in medical research money can make what are already very difficult judgments even less reliable. Add that to a very poor understanding of science in those we elect and you have a dangerous combination. That combination is one of the largest risks we face and need to manage better. I wish we would elect people with a less pitiful appreciation for science but that doesn’t seem likely. That makes doing a better job of managing the conflicts of interest money puts into our current medical research a top priority.

How Drug Company Money Is Undermining Science by Charles Seife

In the past few years the pharmaceutical industry has come up with many ways to funnel large sums of money—enough sometimes to put a child through college—into the pockets of independent medical researchers who are doing work that bears, directly or indirectly, on the drugs these firms are making and marketing. The problem is not just with the drug companies and the researchers but with the whole system—the granting institutions, the research labs, the journals, the professional societies, and so forth. No one is providing the checks and balances necessary to avoid conflicts.

Peer-reviewed journals are littered with studies showing how drug industry money is subtly undermining scientific objectivity. A 2009 study in Cancer showed that participants somehow survived longer when a study’s authors had conflicts of interest than when the authors were clean. A 1998 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found a “strong association” between researchers’ conclusions about the safety of calcium channel blockers, a class of drugs used to reduce blood pressure, and their financial relationships with the firms producing the drugs.

Most of those in the system have an interest in minimizing an effort to clean this up. It is just more work they don’t want to do. Or it goes directly against their interest (drug companies that want to achieve favorable opinions by buying influence). The main political message in the USA for a couple decades has been to reduce regulation. Allowing research that is tainted because you find regulation politically undesirable is a bad idea. People that understand science and how complex medical research is appreciate this.

Sadly when we elect people that by and large are scientifically illiterate they don’t understand the risks of the dangerous practices they allow. Even if they were scientifically illiterate but understood their ignorance they could do a decent job by getting scientific consultation from experts but they don’t (to an extent they listen to the scientists that those that give them lots of money tell them to which does help make sure those giving the politicians cash have their interests served but it is not a good way to create policy with the necessary scientific thinking needed today).

Related: Problems with the Existing Funding System for Medical ResearchMedical Study Integrity (or Lack Thereof)Merck and Elsevier Publish Phony Peer-Review JournalAnti-Science PoliticsStand with Science, Late is Better than Never

Solar Powered Water Jug to Purify Drinking Water

Posted on November 22, 2012  Comments (4)

Deepika Kurup, a 14-year-old New York student, won the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge for her invention of a solar-powered water jug that changes dirty water into purified drinking water. She won the top prize of $25,000.

During “the 5 minutes of my presentation 15 children have died from lack of clean drinking water.”

I am thankful we have kids like this to create solutions for us that will make the world a better place. We rely on hundreds of thousands of such people to use science and engineering methods to benefit society.

Related: Strawjet: Invention of the YearCheap Drinking Water From SeawaterWater and Electricity for AllThanksgiving, Appropriately (power of capitalism and people to provide long term increases in standards of living)