February 15, 2007

Compress your work into a haiku.

Category: Academic,Hackers,Research,Tech — Biella @ 3:15 pm

Is your idea of an awesomely good time writing, over the course of 15 hours, a series of haikus? Are you an academic? Or do you write about things academic ? Well if you answered yes then do join this contest and I guess you should do it for the love of haiku writing and not the prize because, well 10 bucks from the Itunes store is not a huge pot of virtual gold, and anyway, I know a lot of readers of this blog are pretty anti Ipod/Itumes for DRM but many are also into haikus so… go for it.

I am trying to get Seth Schoen to submit his now world famous haiku though it is a “little” long.

Since I am mostly a right brain person (so that writing a haiku is excruciatingly painful), I will not submit my own haiku but at least I am wrapping up an article on a haiku (and yes it is Seth Schoen’s haiku).

February 13, 2007

Survivor’s Voice

Category: Academic,Mad Movement,Pharma,Politics,Psychiatry — Biella @ 8:25 am

The Radical Journal of Psychcology has just published a series on the Survivor’s Voice and a lot of news continues to develop on the Eli Lily/freedom of speech case

February 6, 2007

Visualize the web

Category: Academic,Tech — Biella @ 9:59 pm

Wathching this video I was reminded that the image can quite often trump the power of the written word. Made by anthropologist Michael Wesh, I could not help but smile at his visual essay on the web, even though I am not all that rah-rah over Web 2.0 and the unbelievable proliferation of …. everything …. . But I immediately identified with most of the images and so there was something quite comforting in seeing a set of images that if nothing else, captures the everyday experiences of many folks hunched over their computers for hours everyday.

I think it would have been good, however, to include at least a small splash of the dysptopic in this representation, because even for its biggest enthusiasts, I imagine there is always a set of frustrations and downsides, like for example, taking over 3 weeks to catch up with your blogroll (and mine is pretty modest) because of this extreme explosion of well … everything… and all the organzing tools like tagging and citation software while are really “cool” in that gadget-gizmo sense are just not enough to soften the downsides of a really heavy (information-over) load.

February 5, 2007

Pharma and psychiatry joined at the hips, positive or negative?

Category: Academic,Pharma,Politics,Psychiatry — Biella @ 9:50 am

Are psychiatry and big pharma joined at the hips ? And if yes is this a bad thing?

In a recent speech, the new president of the APA sees the relationship as a little too cozy for comfort: “We have allowed ourselves to be corrupted in this marketplace with lucrative consulting to industry, speaker panels, boards of directors, and visits from industry representatives bearing gifts.”

Some industry representatives and psychiatrists were not moved and responded with their assessment statement:

Unless another model is proposed and shown to be effective, we believe that the strong partnerships and collective contributions of academic, clinical, and industry-employed psychiatrists and neuroscience researchers can best maximize our potential to deliver the highest quality of psychiatric care to all who suffer from mental illness.


It is nice to see the debate occuring within the field itself and I hope that it continues, especially with some hashing out of other models. And here is one of the most interesting ones in that it takes physical activity and cultural expectations quite seriously.

February 1, 2007

2 articles on the problematic effects of scientific endeavors

Category: Academic,Books/Articles,Tech — Biella @ 11:30 am

Technology and science are, at times, part of some solution. But once unleashed in the world, they can also perpetuate problems and act as barriers.

I just finished two articles that have addressed this conundrum in provocative ways and I recommend both to read just for the sake of reading as they are written stunningly well and if you teach a course related to science, technology, medicine and society, these two would make excellent introductions to the importance of critically dissecting science, technology, and medicine (and I think you could unpack them for hours and hours, which is very helpful if you are looking to fill up some time).

One, Happy Meal is by the author of the immensely popular Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan. In the article he starts with the simple suggestion of trashing most fast/junk/processed food in favor of whole foods, notably plants. But then he delves into the much more complicated topic of the science of nutrition, making a pretty sharp critique of the field, especially for 1) its reductionism 2) and the ways in which the food industry mobilizes nutrition data it is favor and often to the detriment of furthering the goals of real nutrition.

After I posted the link on an IRC Debian channel, I had a pretty heated conversation with a number of Debian developers about the nature of science and how one goes about critique it (and mobilizing data to make counter-claims). As often is the case, we ended up arguing over the merit of his attack (though everyone agreed that his food suggestions were quite sound, and I find this disjuncture pretty interesting), as some felt like his attack on the science of nutrition went too far. I did not feel like his article was anti-science or alarmist but saw it as attacking a particular configuration of nutrition science (the reductionism, the inability to admit more complexity, and the turning away from common sense principles), which carry with it serious consequences in the so-called real world. He offers a critical edge that I think does not attack the principle of science generally (after all, he is using the techniques of skepticism and he marshals plenty of scientific data, like studies on omega 3s and 6 to make his point, though he does not only employ the rhetoric of science, which I think is key to understand his critique too) but just what is sees as a particularly problematic rendition of it that is especially problematic for nutrition (though I am sure many of his critiques are easily transfered to other domains).

Here, for example, is an attack on reductionism:

If nutritional scientists know this, why do they do it anyway? Because a nutrient bias is built into the way science is done: scientists need individual variables they can isolate. Yet even the simplest food is a hopelessly complex thing to study, a virtual wilderness of chemical compounds, many of which exist in complex and dynamic relation to one another, and all of which together are in the process of changing from one state to another. So if youíre a nutritional scientist, you do the only thing you can do, given the tools at your disposal: break the thing down into its component parts and study those one by one, even if that means ignoring complex interactions and contexts, as well as the fact that the whole may be more than, or just different from, the sum of its parts. This is what we mean by reductionist science.

And muses on the effects of this narrow path:

No one likes to admit that his or her best efforts at understanding and solving a problem have actually made the problem worse, but thatís exactly what has happened in the case of nutritionism. Scientists operating with the best of intentions, using the best tools at their disposal, have taught us to look at food in a way that has diminished our pleasure in eating it while doing little or nothing to improve our health. Perhaps what we need now is a broader, less reductive view of what food is, one that is at once more ecological and cultural. What would happen, for example, if we were to start thinking about food as less of a thing and more of a relationship?

But you will see here that he reaches into scientific facts so that he is not throwing out the bathwater with the baby: