You are currently browsing the monthly archive for June 2007.

The conclusion section is very easy to write: all you have to do is to take your abstract and change the tense from present to past.

A fine potshot on writing a scientific paper from the archives of Annals of Improbable Research. This is the same society that awards the Ig Nobels. The quoted excerpt reminded me of a query from a colleague concerning the difference between the abstract and the conclusion in scientific papers.

And if the world of academic publishing and paper-reviewing piques your interest, here’s more humor on reviewing papers and addressing reviewer comments. You’ve got to be a fellow geek, if you’ve clicked on the links and spared a laugh at the least.

If only I could swim 3500 miles.

Update: The link above led to directions on Google Maps from Santa Barbara, CA to Rome in Italy, that included swimming across the Pacific. Google maps has disabled this feature, the last time I checked on July 2, 2007.

On average, about 15 percent of a doctor’s diagnoses are inaccurate. Groopman directs a well-aimed arrow at a system of medical training that more often than not fails to investigate why these diagnoses are missed. Doctors are rarely taught to ask how an error could have taken place, let alone how it could be avoided in the future.

NYRB has a fine review of the book How Doctor’s Think by Jerome Groopman. Given our near blind-faith in doctors’ diagnoses, this cloud of doubt on the accuracy of such diagnoses is quite unsettling. The review highlights some of the cognitive biases that may lead to mis-diagnoses on the part of doctors, and provides a quick cheat-sheet like enlightenment based on parts of the book to the doctor and reader alike.

What I found particularly interesting, was the list of cognitive biases that may lead to incorrect diagnosis.

Patients might be stigmatized if they are thought to have a mental health problem, or caricatured if they are judged to have engaged in self-harming behavior, such as alcoholism. This kind of mistake is called “attribution error.” “Availability error” occurs when a doctor makes a decision based on an experience that is at the forefront of his mind but which bears little or no relation to the patient before him. “Search satisfying error” takes place when a doctor stops looking for an answer to the patient’s problem as soon as he discovers a finding that satisfies him, albeit incorrectly. “Confirmation bias” intrudes when the doctor selects only some parts of the information available to him in order to confirm his initial judgment of what is wrong. “Diagnostic momentum” takes over when the doctor is unable to change his mind about a diagnosis, even though there might remain considerable uncertainty about the nature of a patient’s condition. And “commission bias” obstructs good clinical thinking when the doctor prefers to do something rather than nothing, irrespective of clinical clues suggesting that he should sit on his hands.

When one thinks about it, these biases may as easily affect the way we reach an opinion in the course of our day-to-day interactions.Knowing and avoiding such and other biases may help us reach a clearer explanation for what we observe.

A list of cognitive biases can be found here.

After having seen a car make a dangerous lane switch on the freeway, a few days ago, I pondered if it were possible to report bad drivers, as a form of social policing. While the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) provides no such service, there are websites that allow for such reporting, albeit with interfaces that leave a lot to be desired. The objective of most of these sites is to provide an observer of rash driving, a medium to vent her frustration and relieve stress. The rash driver, though, may remain blissfully ignorant of the agony resulting from his driving. And with no penalty or censure, there is nothing to stop rash drivers from posing a future risk to other innocent lives, in addition to their own. Further, the reporting is web-based, which means that one cannot report a rash driver immediately after the incident. By the time the observer reaches her destination, the incident may be forgotten and go unreported.

Two factors – a quick and convenient means of reporting, and proactive action in terms of a warning from the DMV – may serve the purposes of educating rash drivers, preempting possible accidents, and leaving the reporter with the satisfaction that comes from being socially responsible. The omnipresent cellphone can be used to call up or SMS a number to report the misbehaving vehicle promptly, while the DMV can provide the means for such reporting, as well as notify rash drivers of the complaints against them. There are drawbacks to this system – false reports and inaccurate observations of license plate numbers being two of them. In my opinion, the upside benefit of saving lives far overshadows the drawback of mistakenly informing someone that he has been driving rashly.

Loretta was Clay’s girl. They intended to get married at their earliest convenience. She wrote to him fairly regularly, from a paradise of triple exclamation points and inaccurate observations.

Distinctively Salinger. Enjoy the complete story here.

Just moved into this space, after blogging for over a year on my domain using WordPress. Some of the advantages that I see in having a blog hosted on as compared to one’s own domain, include:

  • Automatic Upgrades: saves the hassle of reinstalling the latest release of WordPress
  • Fewer Spam: assuming has better spam filtering
  • Free: no beating that!


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