Reaching Down The Rabbit Hole is a collection of medical stories from patients at the renowned Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Jointly written by neurologist Allan Ropper and neuroscience researcher Brian Burrell, the book melds Ropper’s perspective and experiences with Burrell’s extensive notes and related information.
Continue reading “Review | Reaching Down the Rabbit Hole – Dr Allan Ropper and Dr Brian Burrell” →
“If (an aneurysm) reaches a critical size and form, it can burst open with the entire force of the body’s blood pressure. Blood then fills the spaces around the brain in a split second and causes a thunderbolt of a headache that no one forgets and many don’t survive.”
10 years ago, I took a GCSE history course on Medicine through Time, which was so engaging for me that I now credit it as part of why I ended up studying science communication. Since then, medical history has stayed as one of my cyclic background interests.
Quackery aims for a tone somewhere between a medical history textbook and a standard popular-science narrative, then strikes that note precisely throughout. It focuses on information about historical treatments, figures and ideas, rather than any autobiographical elements or personal narratives. Because Quackery is so consistent, it skirted the edge of monotony when I read much of the book in one sitting. However, the authors’ quick pace, and their frequent dry-humoured side notes and reactions, liven up the text.
Continue reading “Review | Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything – Lydia Kang and Nate Pedersen” →
“Edinburgh physician James Young Simpson was another nineteenth-century pioneer in anaesthesia. That is, if pioneering meant inhaling random substances with your colleagues, just to see what would happen.”
Biology is a conspicuous weak spot in my knowledge. My psychology education taught me a little about neurons, neurotransmitters, and brain structure. Beyond that, my main biological knowledge is trivia about platypi. So I read The Violinist’s Thumb less to learn about specific topics than to better understand how all these concepts of DNA, genes, cells and chromosomes related to each other.
The introduction sets up a powerful tension between the scientific value gained by understanding DNA and the fears thrown up by confronting our genetic building blocks. From there, we discover the parallel stories of Gregor Mendel and Friedrich Miescher, who first isolated genes and DNA. Using these building blocks of genes, Kean leads readers towards larger structures such as chromosomes, viruses, humans, and human cultures.
Continue reading “Review | The Violinist’s Thumb – Sam Kean” →
This year, about 2.5 million scientific articles will be published. Roughly 90% of them will only exist in English. So how and why did English become the default language for scientific work? If that question interests you, you might appreciate Scientific Babel.
Scientific Babel is about the languages we use to create scientific knowledge, and how the “language of science” has changed over time. It’s partly a history of science, and partly a discussion of how languages and cultures rise and fall.
Continue reading “Review | Scientific Babel – Michael Gordin” →
Research from the University of Washington Medical School suggests how to improve treatments for college students struggling with non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI). Treatments which develop people’s practical skill in managing emotions may be more effective than the current therapies that increase people’s confidence in their ability to cope with events.
The study involved 187 students with a history of self-injury. The students provided information about their experiences with NSSI, including the age at which they first self-injured and the reasons behind their self-injury.
Continue reading “Study Summary | To protect students who self-injure, focus on helping them manage emotions” →
I previously talked about how scores on an IQ test are developed, and what they mean mathematically. Now, I’ll look at what they can mean for individuals.
IQ scores can be seen as the mind equivalent of BMI scores. Although both numbers can provide useful information when averaged across large groups, they shouldn’t be used to directly compare individuals, or used to sum up a person in one statistic. BMI can be helpful for an average-height and middling-framed Western person, but it is near-useless for athletes, who will often score as overweight or obese due to their increased muscle mass. Similarly, IQ measurements may be an accurate representation for a neurotypical person who is familiar with Western education systems and standardized testing. But they are not an accurate summation for people with neurodevelopmental disorders, or people who aren’t used to standardised tests and solving problems in a room with a stranger.
3) IQ tests cannot always measure someone’s ability accurately. Health conditions and neurological differences result in people having uneven patterns of ability, which confuse IQ tests.
Continue reading “IQ | What does someone’s IQ say about them?” →
The Intelligence Quotient- or IQ- is one of the most popular subjects in psychology. Yet despite us often using IQ as a shorthand for intelligence, and even using it to define others, misconceptions about IQ are often louder than explanations.
So how do IQ tests work, and what does an IQ score mean?
1) An IQ test does not directly measure your ability. It uses maths to estimate your ability in relation to other people.
Continue reading “IQ | How do IQ tests work?” →
This post is much later than intended, as I wasn’t able to watch all six episodes at the time and had to wait for reruns. Late enough, in fact, that the unfortunate news of its cancellation has already had its 15 minutes of angry tweets. So consider this a retrospective look at Season 10 rather than a live response. Also, spoiler warnings for the finalists and winner of Season 10.
Going into Season 10, I had been concerned about a few aspects of the show, such as the low profile of female team members, the robot reliability issues, and the focus on professionally-built robots. Rule changes ahead of Season 10 promised to bring in more diverse robots, and to counteract the dominance of spinners. So, how well did Season 10 live up to those promises?
Robots and Weapons
Episode One started well by introducing clusterbot The Swarm, built by Ian Watts of Team Big Brother fame. Clusterbots have often been failed experiments in previous series, mostly due to their weight limits and elimination rules. Clusterbots were either equally-sized pairs, or a near-heavyweight bot accompanied by a distraction minibot. As they were ruled out if either piece was immobilised, minibots were merely a liability, while paired bots were weaker than standard competitors without many corresponding advantages. However, due to advances in materials and weapons, The Swarm was made of five featherweight robots with individual working weapons. The Swarm could use four robots in each fight, and they would remain in if at least two robots (>40% by weight) were moving. This approach meant they could carry out the roles clusterbots were designed for, and generate tactical advantages like distractions and multiple angles of attack.
Due to these material advances, the rule changes, and the team’s cohesion and experience, The Swarm performed well for a clusterbot. Team Big Brother defeated Donald Thump by tactically combining the clusterbot’s weapons, and they used the clusterbots to protect and self-right each other during their narrow defeat by Sabretooth. Unfortunately, the sheer weight and power of Behemoth was too much for the small bots, and Team Big Brother were eliminated.
Continue reading “Robot Wars Season 10 Post-Mortem” →
I was introduced to “The Two Cultures” during the first lecture of my scicomm MSc. When we were talking about scicomm history, “The Two Cultures” stood proudly on our timeline alongside documents which were fundamental to the field. So I wanted to read it for myself.
Originally “The Two Cultures” was a lecture, presented by scientist-turned-fiction-author C. P. Snow in 1959. Snow’s titular cultures were “people of the humanities and literature” and “people of the sciences”. In the lecture, Snow sketched out divisions between these cultures, with anecdotes from his experiences as a novelist amongst scientists and a scientist amongst literary intellectuals. He blamed this cultural divide on Britain’s education system, which forced people to specialise in one subject too early and prioritised humanities at the expense of science and engineering.
Continue reading “Impressions | The Two Cultures – CP Snow” →
Books that ask “what’s wrong with our brains?” are a current pop-psychology staple. Cordelia Fine’s A Mind of Its Own was ahead of this trend, as it was first published in 2005.
A Mind of Its Own explores ways in which our brains don’t make sense and cognitive biases that funnel us down faulty mental shortcuts. The book starts with the bias equivalent of little white lies, detailing how almost all of us are biased to see things as a little easier, happier, and less flawed than they really are. From this gentle introduction, Fine talks us through the progressively larger mental failings discovered through social psychology studies.
Continue reading “Review | A Mind of Its Own – Cordelia Fine” →