Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Archive for the ‘Biology and Health’ Category

Senators Bob Brown and Joyce on the same side

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-12-01

Whoa!  Do mine eyes deceive me?  Senators Brown and Joyce officially in agreement to the extent of jointly sponsoring a bill with Xenophon?

…and on something that aims, at a sustainable environment, being nice to cuddly animals, and improving the working conditions of laborers?

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Posted in Australia, Biology and Health, Environment, Legislation, Politics | Leave a Comment »

Increase penalties for scientific fraud and obfuscation

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-11-25

Regardless of your stance on the anthropogenicity of climate change, the urgency of any action required, or indeed the veracity (in terms of authenticity and representativeness) of the "leaked" emails from the Climate Research Unit (East Anglia) in the UK, there is at least one good thing that might come out of the mess.

The impact of scientific fraud might be properly recognized, and significantly greater punishments might be put on the books… indeed, perhaps in international law.

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Posted in Biology and Health, Economics and Business, Environment, Ethics, Governance, Information Management, International, Law, Politics | 2 Comments »

Missing in action: the key KPI for government

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-11-18

"Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" is an oft-quoted phrase describing rights of persons and therefore the duties of government, yet these are not measured as directly, nor as often, as much more indirect and much less relevant measures of government performance.

Perhaps the best way of assessing government performance quarter by quarter is to provide an indicator of the frequency and depth of depression in the community.  We might not be able to measure how successfully everyone in the community is pursuing happiness, but we can certainly measure how many are in the clutches of misery.

If a government is doing its job to perfection, then there would be zero incidence of depression that is a reaction to external circumstances, although there would be a small incidence of endogenous depression that would happen to a few unfortunate individuals however pleasant their circumstances.  Conversely, if nearly everyone has some degree of depression, even if only mild, and there are no signs of improvement, then any government that has been in power for more than a few months deserves to be ousted for incompetence (or malice).

It is fairly easy to measure depression incidence and depth as a number of indices exist, some of which can even be self-scored by patients and used as a quick screening tool.  These indices should also be used as a screening tool for government competence.

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Posted in Australia, Biology and Health, Governance, Politics | 22 Comments »

After 15 years, lack of data on Mental Health Crises is intentional

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-11-14

Unsurprisingly, the "Responding to Mental Health Crises in the Community" (2009-11-11) report from the Victorian Auditor General didn’t get a mention within a few days (at least) in either the old or new RSS feeds of all Victorian Premier and Ministers media statements.

Before having a brief look at the Auditor’s report on this topic (it ain’t pretty), it’s worth noting that very few of the auditor’s reports get a mention in the "All Media Releases" from the Victoria.  Three, according to searching within Google Reader, in a little over a year, had the word "auditor" in them… which suggests that only three were viewed as supporting the government, or even slightly spinnable.  There’s an opportunity for some interesting metrics, or even mashups there… looking for auditor reports and corresponding government/opposition media releases, especially the ones where the government avoids even the spin attempt.

The auditor examined the Department of Health, four Area Mental Health Services, Victoria Police and Ambulance Victoria to assess whether:

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Posted in Australia, Biology and Health, Governance, Information Management, Politics, Victoria | 2 Comments »

The species intelligence test

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-11-08

I propose a test for whether a species deserves civil rights:

Have members of the species found farts or fart jokes amusing, or have been observed playing fart/poop practical jokes on their fellows for no other good reason than amusement?

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Posted in Biology and Health, Civil rights, Humor, Philosophy | 8 Comments »

Stalin’s children – Western “democracies”

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-11-03

I propose what seems to be a general rule of politics these days:

The probability of policies being set in harmony with the opinion of experts is inversely correlated to the unanimity of expert opinion and the importance of that policy.

Climate change is but one example where unanimity of relevant experts is near total, yet scientists are ignored at best, and often punished

Economic policy is an example where there is no unanimity, so the politicians choose the expert opinion that suits them or political sponsors.

Nature ("Sacked science adviser speaks out" doi:10.1038/news.2009.1053 2009-11-02) has a depressing interview with a recently sacked advisor on non-therapeutic drug use, who made the following comment.

It just seems to me a nail in the coffin of evidence-based government.

– David Nutt
University of Bristol

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Posted in Australia, Biology and Health, Civil rights, Education, Environment, Governance, International, Politics, Science and Tech, Society | 9 Comments »

Wild buddies playing games

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-10-31

I’m wondering how many readers have animal buddies that aren’t pets, but wild, yet seem to enjoy the company of you or your family.

I think such relationships, all parties on equal footing, are much better for all concerned than that between a human and a pet… although it wouldn’t surprise me if sometimes the animal thinks it is the human that has been tamed.

I’ve written before about the local magpie patriarch ("Trav") at my daughter’s place (here, here, here and here), and the wild-animal/child relationship continues to deepen.

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Posted in Biology and Health, Environment, Society | 2 Comments »

Which female superhero?

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-10-28

Your choice: Wonderwoman, Supergirl or Batgirl?


(Indirect link to preserve innocent eyes from the scientific paper published today which includes video references. And no complaints about being sexist … the Hoydens regularly ask similar questions from a female perspective. Damn limber those fruit bats!)

Posted in Biology and Health | Leave a Comment »

Is it a bird? Is it a game? No… it’s SUPER JOURNAL!

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-10-20

iSee/PLoS Idiot Guide

iSee/PLoS Idiot Guide

On your marks, ready, steady….. GEEK!

It’s an ultra-cool, life-like (well, if you are a radical) interactive 3D virtual world that you fly around, zoom in on details… installed as a browser plugin, but it’s not a game, it’s part of an open access, free, peer-reviewed scientific journal publishing exercise!

And promises of more and more "landscapes" coming up….

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Posted in Biology and Health, Information Management, Media, Science and Tech | 1 Comment »

Xenophobes for Labor?

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-10-14

It looks like (in Britain, but probably coming soon to the antipodes) that the Labor government is crawling up to xenophobes, (HT: Nature Human Genetics Special 2009, yep Nature… the gold standard of science journals) using methods that would give Mengele and Hitler wet dreams.

The UK government has already introduced dodgy genetic tests that it says will separate the illegal aliens from the citizens… even though the prestigious Nature reckons that not only is the science completely wrong, the government could well be lying about the program getting the tick of approval from scientists, but that the program will actually harm science itself, making research harder.

The Nature editorial "Genetics Without Borders" has the teaser:

A UK government scheme to establish nationality through DNA testing is scientifically flawed, ethically dubious and potentially damaging to science

And a few snippets, after which I’ll add a few thoughts, including some Australian context.

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Posted in Australia, Biology and Health, Civil rights, Ethics, Europe, Politics, Science and Tech, Society | 5 Comments »

Drug test answer – I bought bikkies from a church, officer

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-09-04

Turn about is fair play it seems.

A few years back in Melbourne, a couple of door-to-door salesmen for imaginery friends called an ambulance after being asked into a house, and eating some biscuits proffered by their hosts.  (The symptoms were probably an over-the-top psychological reaction to the buzz.)

Now, from the Centre for Disease Control, in the usually very dry Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, comes a tale of turned tables.

The tables in question being a church-run stall on the footpath selling munchies.

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Posted in Biology and Health, Humor, Law, Society | 1 Comment »

The Hollowmen National Preventative Health Strategy

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-09-03

I was looking through the National Preventative Health Strategy Report, made public (after pressure) with a media release by Nicola Roxon, which doesn’t point directly to Overview and the more detailed Roadmap, but the home page of the site – which doesn’t exactly help anyone find it easily.

Some of it is good, with obesity identified as the number one issue, followed by smoking and alcohol, along with admissions that markets can stuff up social outcomes.  The thrust of the "active neighborhood" push, identifying town planning and public transport as key elements of health policy is great – but the state governments and councils won’t like it!

However, looking at the fine print of the targets for the three main problems, and the way it tiptoes around things that might offend the food giants, I’m worried that we are going to end up with an obesity strategy that, in the style of "The Hollowmen", will be an extremely watered down version, like turning mandatory controls on junk food advertising into a voluntary and self-regulated code.

There is the hint already, by looking at the targets, that obesity, despite being the biggest problem, will have a low bar set.

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Posted in Australia, Biology and Health, Economics and Business, Governance, Politics | 4 Comments »

Teaching your kids to floss – macaque style

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-07-18

Long-tailed macaques near an old Buddhist shrine in Lopburi, Thailand, often pull hair from female tourists for use as dental floss.  When female monkeys see their young watching them, they exaggerate their flossing. –

If you want a video, go to "Learn From Mum", National Geographic, 2009-03-12, but you’ll need to temporarily disable your adblocker if you run that plugin!

It’s the exagerration that I find significant.

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Posted in Biology and Health | Leave a Comment »

3 million dollars on offer in an email – and not spam!

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-06-25

I wonder how many spam-filters stopped the email I got a couple of days ago?

Inside the email was an offer of 3 million dollars (presumably US), and a "click here" link to make an application.

Was it for real – you betcha!

It was one of my newsletters from Nature:

Play your part – Help bring new multiple sclerosis treatments to market.
$3 million in funding available now for innovative research and commercial development proposals.
Who can apply?
– Academic investigators
– Seed and early stage companies.

I’m hoping that they get some good applications.  MS is a nasty condition, as well as being very interesting.

And the numbers they’ll be after first?  A doi list, not bank accounts.

Posted in Biology and Health | Leave a Comment »

Hospital Productivity Inquiry

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-06-24

The Productivity Commission has an inquiry open for public submissions until 2009-07-17 on the relative performance of public and commercialprivate hospitals.

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Posted in Australia, Biology and Health, Economics and Business, Politics | Leave a Comment »

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