July 25, 2008

Randy Pausch Has Passed Away

A very sad but expected moment for those who were touched by his "Last Lecture". Randy was a Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist who chose to speak about facing terminal cancer in his "last lecture." These lectures are given by professors when they are retiring to look back and think about their successes and failures, imparting it on the audience, usually family and co-workers.

Randy's last lecture caught the nation by storm by becoming an internet phenomenon, quickly spreading through the academic circles and eventually earning him a spot on the New York Times Bestseller List with his book, aptly titled, "The Last Lecture".

In Pausch' last lecture he saw an opportunity to teach his kids and give them life lessons in a form that would last far longer than his body. "The lecture was for my kids, but if others are finding value in it, that is wonderful," Pausch wrote on his website. The theme of Randy's lecture was to never let go of your childhood dreams, chase them but don't be disappointed if they don't all come true, be grateful for those you were able to experience.

I have all of the respect in the world for Randy Pausch, he tried to leave as much as he could for his children and wife, packing up and moving closer to her family so she could better deal with his impending death. Today his wife Jai, three children Dylan, Logan, and Chloe I imagine are spending time processing the actuality of a situation that is never easy to accept, hopefully with those close to them and with the same amount of fearless joy their husband and father exuded. At 47, Randy Pausch has passed away due to terminal pancreatic cancer, but he accomplished another dream of his, to leave a legacy, a written and spoken account of what he would've said to his sons and daughter as they grew up, touching so many other lives in the process.

We offer our condolences to the family as well as the friends of Randy Pausch.

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July 23, 2008

Ready To Rumble: Texas Bible Classes Draw Reactions

Last Friday the Texas state board of education passed a measure allowing Texas high schools to teach bible classes, but did not provide guidelines for legal and illegal material. I am quite frequently wrong but this seems like an obvious disaster waiting to happen. Guidelines are very important for all class curricula, electives not withstanding. In fact, in the Spring of '09 the state board is going to be setting some interesting guidelines in the sciences classes which will effectively refute evolution by bringing in religion masked as academic freedom.

Mark Chancey, chairman of the religious studies department at Southern Methodist University offered some scathing words about the board's decision. "I predict we're headed for a constitutional train wreck. The people who suffer will be the educators and the students, and the people who will foot the bill will be us the taxpayers...the state board is sending them into a minefield without a map." Thank you Mark, that's what I've been saying about this, are there really that many people here that don't?

John Ferguson, Baptist minister, first amendment lawyer and professor at Howard Payne University in Brownwood what say you???
"It's deeply distressing," said John Ferguson, a Baptist minister, first amendment lawyer and professor at Howard Payne University in Brownwood.

State board members, who balked at establishing state standards because they might be too difficult to write, were wrong, Ferguson said. How can small school districts develop sound standards, he wondered?

"I'm not sure where these small districts with the six-man football teams in West Texas are going to come up with constitutional Bible scholars to help them craft these (standards)," Ferguson said.

The reason and rationality in this issue just came from a Baptist minister, take cover, the world may end soon.

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July 22, 2008

Those Wacky Chinese

What will they think of next? Check out this crazy skyscraper. Built to house the offices of China Central Television, the state-run media mogul of China's ruling Communist Party, this oddly shaped and eye-twisting design is slated to open before the 2008 Olympics.

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Bible Classes Ok'd in Texas Public High Schools

Uh-oh, get ready to ramp up the religious persecution and name-calling from all sides of the pew, the Texas State Board of Education gave final approval on Friday to establishing Bible classes in public high schools, "rejecting calls to draw specific teaching guidelines and warnings that it could lead to constitutional problems in the classroom."

These classes will be taught as electives (3% of schools districts offered Bible courses during the 05-06 school year according to the Texas Freedom Network) and the guidelines simply require that there will be religious neutrality and will not endorse or disfavor one religion. This of course is a very broad definition of what is and isn't allowed, leaving the door open to prejudice problems. Ed Brayton, on his trip to Netroots Nation in Austin, says he found at least one school in Texas which "has a Bible course that teaches Hamitic racism." For those of us outside the know, this is the claim that Ham was cursed by Noah and that the descendants of Ham (read: all black people) are therefore intended by God to be slaves. Technically I don't think that breaks the guidelines of promoting one religion over another, but it definitely promotes something that was supposed to be erased from our public education long ago, racism (and in the name of religion, wow these guys must have missed the "do unto others" talk in that big ol' book).

Get ready for the lawsuits to start flying. The ACLU is going to have a field day taking some naive teachers and school districts to court, and as I detailed in my posts last week concerning Louisiana's dip into the religious public education swamp someone is going to have to pay for these lawsuits. That someone will the be the taxpaying citizens of that school district, so I think it would be in the best interest of those who pay taxes to fund education to demand that strict guidelines detailing what is and is not allowed by law.

Here's one of my favorite quotes on the whole situation by Jonathan Saenz, a spokesman for the Free Market Foundation (via the Daily Texan). "It's important to remember that there's no way to guarantee that anything anyone does in a school will be constitutional...The other side is almost demanding some assurance and guarantee that nothing will happen that will be unconstitutional, and that's impossible."

You make a good point Jonathan, let's just throw out the guidelines on lethal force by police officers because it would be impossible to guarantee an officer won't cross the line into unauthorized force. What a childish argument, and one that leaves the burden of defining constitutionality with the courts, courts that cost a lot of money and will bleed dry the already suffering bank account of our state's education system.

Taken in concert with the shady practice of 11th-hour changes to the English curricula guidelines, severing ties to the National Association of State School Boards, and the upcoming vote to allow intelligent design into our state's classrooms and you have a good picture of how this state board operates. The driving motives behind these people are not the education that the students will receive or how to better prepare them for life outside of the home shelter, but simply injecting their dogmas into each and every subject they can.

Go forth and spread the good news, plant the seed and it will flourish, become fishers of men, speak to all nations of the world. Those are all from the Bible about spreading the word and works of christianity (as written by the creator himself, if you like) and nowhere does it say invade the politics and enslave the people to your beliefs. Get ready for it because it is coming.

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Vaccination and Asthma Shown to be Unlinked

Recently in the news there has been rumblings about a link between childhood immunization and asthma, which causes many parents to be concerned. Epi Wonk has written a post detailing a meta-analysis study published in the journal Pediatrics in November 2007 which found no statistical significant association between childhood vaccination and asthma.

I fully bow to Epi Wonk's writing on the subject (he is a now retired medical school professor and senior epidemiologist at the CDC) and thought I'd pass along some of his more pertinent information on the subject. Some of this information is very important, as the authors of the Pediatrics paper put it:

“It is important that researchers clarify this issue, because… the
perception that immunization causes asthma may become a significant
determinant of parents’ attitudes toward routine vaccination of their
A few important points I took away from Epi Wonk's discussion of the study. 1) The literature was scoured for randomized controlled and relevant birth-cohort studies from 1966 to March 2006. 2) To be included, each study had to meet three criteria: Directly compared vaccinated and unvaccinated children; Validated vaccination status by medical charts; Used preset criteria to define asthma.

This front-end criteria are very important for any review or meta-analysis because it will define the significance of the results received. Epi Wonk's last statement sums this up nicely. After pouring over the data and confirming the results it is important to qualify the significance of the results based on the input criteria, here's Epi:
A recent systematic literature review of high-quality studies that directly compared vaccinated and unvaccinated children, validated vaccination status by medical charts, and used preset criteria to define asthma found no association between childhood vaccination and asthma.
This is a good time to relate how the science works to the larger public community. I have been stressing the front end criteria of this study for a reason, by using these criteria the subject of the study is narrowed significantly, meaning this is not an overriding, large-scale study that was seeking to define the complete link between vaccination and asthma. This study was simply to define correlations within birth-cohort studies.

Birth-cohorts themselves are subject to a great deal of bias (something the author of the study acknowledges) and are extremely intensive in the front-end planning stages. A mini symposium on birth cohort studies published in 2002 in the journal Pediatric Respiratory Reviews examined the experience of a large, 10-year birth-cohort study conducted in Germany (Nickel R, Niggeman B, Gruber C, Kulig M, Wahn U, Lau S. Paediatric Respiratory Reviews. Sep 2002; Vol 3; Issue 3: 169-176) . The report detailed some difficulties encountered including changing nursing staff over the years which led to different bookkeeping and even patient evaluation scores. Racial differences need to be accounted for by including as many different genotypic backgrounds. The births need to be carefully selected to be evenly distributed over a 12 month period in order to account for seasonal affects. One of the largest problems is lost subjects, those who tend to not be affected by a disease will more regularly drop out of the study, pushing a bias towards those who are affected and are more likely to continue making their appointments. Interestingly enough it was found that as the personnel at the study centers changed the loss of subjects jumped significantly.

Recall bias is also an interesting phenomenon within studies where those affected by a disease under study, or who have had family members with the disease, can more frequently recall symptoms or are more observant of their child.

Epi Wonk himself shows how these studies need to be taken in the context in which the plan is laid out. He details a study conducted in Canada which shows that the timing of vaccination affects the risk of developing childhood asthma. This should show an obvious deficiency about the study, a variable that the study was not concerned about and cannot speak about. It doesn't mean that the study was not significant or not performed correctly, in fact in means the exact opposite; that the authors correctly narrowed down the significance of the results to mirror the criteria that was established before the study took place. The authors themselves even say "the multitude of biases in studies that have used a birth-cohort design stress the need for additional adequately controlled, large scale studies."

And there you have it, being able to identify the significance of data based on the parameters in which the data is being examined.

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July 21, 2008

Saving Money by Increasing The Doctor Bill

Interesting article in the NYTimes today about a very large insurance experiment designed to cut costs by paying doctors more. The plan centers around cutting expensive visits to specialists by better paying family physicians, internists and pediatricians to devote more time and attention to their patients. This should prevent later costly procedures and emergency visits.

Currently there are just over 250,000 practicing family physicians, general, practitioners, and internists in this country, and nearly 472,000 specialists. The salary of those primary care physicians is far less than the specialists who are compensated at a far higher rate for each patient visit. The plan comes on the heels of a report in North Carolina that says a program like this saved $162 million in 2005.

I think this is an innovative idea and fair to those physicians that don't necessarily perform surgeries or procedures, but spend hours pondering over multiple blood tests, x-rays, and other common tests. The job of primary care is usually much more complicated than that of many specialists. Specialists usually have the advantage of knowing what is wrong with their patient and what they're going to do about it before they even see them, family doctors have to study histories over and over to understand the patterns that may arrive or an unusual result by a patient that hasn't presented with any symptoms for 20 years.

Trying to Save by Increasing Doctors’ Fees - NYTimes.com

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