Friday, November 29, 2013

Lili's quote for the day

It's easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.
- Mark Twain

I guess that is why Daniel Tammet's books sell so much more than my book about Daniel Tammet.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Lili's thought for the day

People from Headspace have been visiting the high school in which one of our children is a student. I know this because I saw an entry in an open visitor's book at the reception desk at the front office. I'm not pleased, I'm concerned. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Frightening report on the ABC about dangers of anti-psychotic drug Seroquel

Concerns grow over top-selling drug's side effects. 7.30.
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Broadcast: 27/11/2013
Reporter: Louise Milligan

"....doctors are warning the drug is being massively overprescribed and the potentially dangerous side-effects are being ignored."

This is a shocking and important report. Nice work Louise. 

The drug Quetiapine (brand name Seroquel) stands out among other anti-psychotic drugs for two reasons: the astronomical increase in the rate of prescription of this drug in the last ten years in Australia far outstrips the rates of prescription of other anti-psychotic drugs, and the measured rate of cases of serious harm to patients from side-effects of the drug also far outstrip those of other anti-psychotic drugs. As if that is crazy enough, consider the fact that that this drug is also prescribed for depression even though it comes with an increased risk of suicide compared to other anti-psychotic drugs. Something must be seriously wrong with medicine in Australia when increased potential for harm sit alongside spectacular prescriber popularity. 

Grave concerns about side effects are by no means the only reason why this drug has been hitting the headlines in Australia in the last few years. Readers of this blog might recall that the celebrity psychiatrist Prof. Patrick McGorry tried to trial this drug on patients thought to be at risk of developing psychosis in 2011 in a trial that was known as the NEURAPRO-Q study, but that study was closed down following objections from McGorry’s international peers. The drug has also been the subject of a deluge of litigation in the United States, which should surprise no one. So why does this drug continue to elicit such huge popularity with Australian doctors, and is even sought after by some people as a drug of abuse? I think there’s no over-estimating the power of marketing and there’s no under-estimating the common sense of my fellow Australians. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Let's get together and shoot some fish!

The annual convention of the Australian Skeptics is about to begin  I expect a roomful of very smart and very educated people will spend a lot of time explaining and arguing about how silly it is to believe in crop circles, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, alternative health therapies, aliens in UFOs etc etc. Isn't that what they call "shooting fish in a barrel"? Is this really a wise use of valuable human resources? Or more to the point; what's the point? 

Some people are smart and educated and privileged. Some people are not so bright and haven't had much of an education and have had few opportunities for intellectual growth or for challenging established religious institutions. Poor people don't have the luxury of being able to openly challenge nonsensical religious or mystical beliefs, because they rely on church charities for the basic essentials of life, or they might be in such a situation in the future. Less privileged people often rely on church-owned job placement agencies to find work, or they might volunteer for a church-run enterprise because that is the only volunteering opportunity in their area, or they might work for a church-owned business such as a school or a hospital or a nursing home and wish to keep their job. How nice it would be to be privileged enough to be able to flip the bird at irrational belief systems. How nice it would be to be privileged enough to be an Australian Skeptic. Will the Australian Skeptics be working to remove churches from the provision of basic and essential welfare, education and health services, and replacing these with government-run secular services? I don't see that in the convention program. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Lili's cynical thought for the day

You make your employees work very hard although you know perfectly well that many have painful injuries, and then you are shocked when you find that there's an illicit drug culture among your wage-slaves? Oh really? 

Lili's unimpressed thought for the day

As I sat down and noticed the big greasy smear on the rim of the glass of water at my place at the table I reflected; "Looks like I'm the only person at this interview who has a genuine eye for detail. What's new?"

Lili's question for the day

What did you do for World Toilet Day?

Lili's municipal thought for the day

Let's not pull the weeds out, let's spray them with chemicals instead.

Lili's thought for the day

Only a drug fiend would use the word "buzzing" to describe their mood.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

We need to keep this arsehole out of Australia


F*** you Enoch Adeboye, f*** you very much. Having a first name like Enoch should be reason alone to deny some fool a visa, but we certainly don't need some master-troublemaker who preaches hate against homosexual people and is a part of the international "witch-hunting" murder culture. I'm a champion of free speech, but I also know damn well that religious movements like this one are not about or in any way open to challenge, reasoned argument or rational debate; they are about self-indulgence, anti-rationality belief systems, emotion and the building and reinforcing of insular, exploitative and damaging communities. WE MOST CERTAINLY DO NOT NEED THIS STUFF IN AUSTRALIA.

Lili's puzzled thought of the day

The Conservatives in the UK appear to have a leader who cares more about human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, the rights of minority women and the rights of people who want to enter into a same-sex marriage than anyone on the left or the right of Australian federal politics. How does that work? 

Lili's thought for the day

If natural selection is do bloomin' wonderful, why are human arms barely adequate in length for bottom-wiping? 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Kevin has left the building

This was the day when Kevin Rudd quit parliament. Kevin has left the building! In Canberra it has been quite a distraction. There have been emotional speeches, which is what you’d expect from politicians who make attention-seeking a profession. Today is as big a landmark as Rudd was unique and memorable as a Prime Minister of Australia, and I’m sure many will regard today as a sad day. I’m not wasting a lot pity on a leader who has failed to show moral and practical leadership in such important ways after previously demonstrating that he could do better. Rudd knew the utter importance of climate change, but he stunned the nation when he yielded to pressure from his party in 2010 and dumped his ETS plan into the too-hard basket. Rudd reversed John Howard’s temporary protection visa policy in 2008 and it looked as though we had a leader with the moral courage to treat asylum-seekers like humans, but a few years down the line in 2013 Rudd was one side of the “race to the bottom” with the execrable Tony Abbott to put in place the most punitive and illegal set of refugee policies. Rudd was Australia’s Foreign Minister at CHOGM 2011 in Perth, welcoming at least one war criminal as a valued guest in our country. It was enough to make any right-thinking person retch. I didn’t vote for Rudd or his party in any federal election that I can remember, including his landslide victory in 2007. As a rule I don’t vote for major political parties. My attitude towards things that are very popular is that they must be rubbish if they are simple enough for the common fool in the street to find them appealing. This attitude of mine applies equally to Hollywood movies, major political parties, number one hit tunes and the popular image of Kevin Rudd.

But that’s not to say that I’m not sad to see Rudd go. It seems a waste and Rudd made politics interesting for me in various ways. Life under the Rudd Government was interesting because things happened and changes were made. Rudd was constantly announcing something new on the box.  For too many years to recall I’ve been of the opinion that politicians don’t realty alter the course of history terribly much, at least in any positive way. I see current and historical events as largely driven by population demographics and technological innovation. This is why I think Rudd was extraordinary as a leader, because I believe that if someone less determined, intelligent and perceptive had been our leader during the GFC Australia would have been f***ed. Another thing that I liked about Rudd was the way he presented himself as a public figure. He is a highly intelligent person and he has never pretended to be otherwise. He wrote essays in an authoritative voice about important policy matters and moral issues and secured their publication in a magazine that anyone could buy from a suburban newsagency. He showed off his linguistic talents in public speeches. He owned up to being a “nerd” but he never apologized for being one (refusing to apologize for stuff was quite a habit of Rudd’s).  Unlike so many intellectually gifted people he did not yield to pressure to “hide his light under a bushel”.

I’m sure that many would agree that Rudd was an interesting public figure. Even though Rudd had an intense manner of speaking which appeared to be the product of genuine sentiments his political motives were far from obvious, and were the subject of controversial speculation. The psychobiographical essay about Rudd by biographer and journalist David Marr was identified as a factor that possibly led to Rudd’s 2010 removal as ALP leader and PM. At various times one gets the impression that Rudd’s biography and his internal world are obscured, different, difficult to interpret or painfully transparent. We know what a quivering chin means in a regular person, but what are we to make of the Rudd chin twitch? Watching Rudd can be rather like watching a squid in the sea; those dramatic ripples of ever-changing colours surely mean something about what the squid is thinking or feeling, but a squid is such a vastly different kind of creature that we can only guess about what the colours signify. I’m left with (we are left with) so many unanswered questions about our former two-times Prime Minister. Are our questions any less or more likely to be answered now? 

I’ve have some consolation that one of the questions about Rudd which most bothered me has recently been answered by a snippet of information found in a magazine. Some time in 2011 I started to realize that there is something visually interesting about Rudd’s eyes during press conferences. For quite a while I couldn’t identify exactly what it was, I just felt that I was looking at something unusual or extreme. In some photos of Rudd his eyes were clearly a drab pale grey colour. In others it looked like his eyes were dark. How is that possible? The colour of the irises cannot change. Once I figured it out it was so obvious. It was the pupils. The more convoluted, clever and pressured Rudd’s answers to the interrogations from a roomful of journalists the bigger his pupils became, one always more than the other. At times Rudd reminded me of a pet cat in a furious mood. I compared Rudd’s eyes with those of other pollies and celebrities in press conferences and I saw nothing similar. I hoped these eyes weren’t a sign of some health issue, medication side-effect  or drug habit, but I thought it more likely that it was just a sign that Rudd is a bit of an outlier in the way he is put together. Then I read in a magazine article that “it’s been known since the 1960s that the pupil dilates with mental effort”. That made sense. Rudd’s massive mydriasis was due to massive mental effort in situations which were the ultimate challenge of thinking on one’s feet. Rudd’s experience of public speaking can be traced back to his schooldays. He can converse in at least three languages. Perhaps he is an athlete of talking, a jock of the jawbone, with his cavernous pupils the equivalent of sweat on the brow of a champion runner. I think it is quite telling that the pupils of so many other politicians don’t appear to do a thing when they are making speeches or doing press conferences. Are they thinking or are they merely reciting a set of speaking points? Rudd was different. You could literally watch him thinking when he spoke. The fact that his speeches were impossible to follow didn’t seem to matter much, it was just nice to see a bit of cognition in action. I don’t expect to see it again for a very long time.

That was one question about Rudd answered, but I have so many more. I’ll never have the opportunity to interview Rudd, but if I did, these are the questions that I’d ask.

Those leaks…..?

Do you believe that non-Christians are inferior people or morally inferior?

Do you believe that atheists are inferior people or morally inferior?

According to a report released in 2011 Australia ranked 21st out of 29 OECD countries in employment participation rates for those with a disability. Since the 1980s your wife Therese Rein has been the principal of an Australia-based rehabilitation and welfare to work business which has grown into an international empire, and she is very wealthy. Does your wife accept any personal responsibility for the deplorable rate of employment of disabled Australians?

Do you believe that Hazara people and the Tamil people are only coming to Australia as economic refugees?

Was June 2010 a surprise?

It seems as though Christians are over-represented as Prime Ministers of Australia. Can you explain this?

What is your definition of the term “evidence-based”?

What do you think of Julia Gillard as a person?

What do you think were her motivations as a politician?

What do you think of Bob Hawke as a person?

What do you think of Julian Assange as a public figure?

What do you think of the late H. V. Evatt as a politician?

What’s with the planes?

Three hours sleep a night? How is that possible?

Do you use drugs to enhance cognition, promote alertness or to stay awake?

Do you use memory techniques?

What’s with the shoes? Do you have an issue with shoelaces?

Does she smile 24/7?

What colour is the letter E?

What next?

Friday, November 08, 2013

Did I mention that I've written three books?

You can buy them here. There's the book that I wrote about the real story of Daniel Tammet. The title of that one is Daniel Tammet: the Boy with the Incredible Story. There are two reasons why I need to warn you before recommending that you read this book. Firstly, if you are a fan of Daniel Tammet, be warned that you will find a mountain of evidence that will inevitably tarnish your image of this British-French celebrity who has become hugely famous for being a savant and an autobiographer. The second reason why I must warn you about reading my book is that if you have faith in science as a human endeavour and have faith in the peer review process as a guarantee of the reliability of arguments and research evidence presented in papers published in neuro-psychological journals, a reading of my book could launch you into a crisis of faith. Who knows what might happen then? You could go religious or something. Don't sue me if you do. 

The Tammet book was my third published work. To get the hang of this book-writing caper I warmed up with two previous projects. The Strange and Mysterious Life of Opal Whiteley was my first project, which I created just to master the techniques. This little book is about the American child prodigy, amateur naturalist, nature-writer, diarist, synaesthete, personifier of things, odd duck and imposter Opal Whiteley who rose to international fame in the 1920s. There's nothing particularly original in that biographical book, but it's a good introduction to the literature and documentaries about Whiteley and being an ebook it can be used to directly access many other openly accessible and free resources. My second book, The Mysterious Mind of Opal Whiteley: Four Unique Lives Compared, grew out of the first, and in that book I compare Whiteley with three other enigmatic famous personalities and an interesting fictional character created by one of those people. I guarantee that you will read a book similar to this book nowhere in this solar system or galaxy. It's an original, bursting with my own highly novel ideas and questions. There's more questions than answers in the book, but what else can you expect from a book that is about the minds of some interesting people? Everyone's mind is a mystery because you can't look into mine and I can't look into yours. And perhaps that is not such a bad thing, but you can read my books. If you have a credit card handy. 

Look again Professor Hoj

The ABC have made another report about the research misconduct scandal at the University of Queensland involving Prof. Bruce Murdoch,  Dr Caroline Barwood and the European Journal of Neurology. In a post at this blog from September I suggested that the University of Queensland's vice-chancellor Professor Peter Hoj should take a look at Tomas's comment on a post that I had written about the scandal and slack standards in science. Tomas had identified an error and an irregularity in another published study that had Murdoch and Barwood as authors, which were a definite indication that something was amiss with that paper and that study also, but the ABC has reported that Prof. Peter Hoj, who has taken on the task of investigating these matters, has found that "....a review of about 100 studies published by Dr Barwood and Professor Murdoch has so far found no evidence of incorrect or non-existent data." I think the professor hasn't looked too hard, and I expect that Tomas the extraordinary blog commentator might agree. Although Prof Hoj has overlooked some irregularities in one of the papers, he has reportedly identified other aspects of the work of Barwood and Murdoch that require investigation, possibly evidence of plagiarism. Considering that these Aussie academics have had the gall to make up a complete study and get it published in a legit science journal, I'm sure that they would hardly think twice about committing the common academic sin of plagiarism. Australian academic Dr Tracey Bretag who is not connected with the scandal has explained why these issues of scientific fraud are a problem for everyone; "We've also got issues around public safety, reporting data that is in fact not true which could have an impact on people's health and their treatment which is very serious......So you've got like a perfect storm."

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Lili's thought for the day

Google are celebrating the birthday of the bloke who invented the Rorschach Test. When you look into the ink blot, what do you see? I see bullcrap. 

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Lili's thought for the day

We know that priming is a powerful effect in human psychology. When a job-seeker writes job applications, CVs and resumes the job-hunter is repeatedly writing about how fabulous she or he is. So does this mean that long-term unemployment and active career-building both put one at risk of developing an inflated ego or a distorted self-image?