Video of the day

Wow– just discovered a series of videos called “Minute Physics.”  In an extraordinary feat of self control, I did not spend my whole afternoon watching these, but only watched a few.  I should probably bookmark and watch one every day.  Really liked this one on Common Physics Misconceptions:

Chart of the day

Via Phil Plait in Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog:

Pie chart of global warming denier papers

Goes along nicely with one of my favorite factoids that 97% of actual “climate scientists” not just any “scientists” mind you, support the theory of anthropogenic global warming.  I also appreciate that the post anticipates and responds to the obvious criticism:

Now I know some people will just say that this is due to mainstream scientists suppressing controversy and all that, but let me be succinct: That’s bull. Science thrives on dissenting ideas, it grows and learns from them. If there is actual evidence to support an idea, it gets published. I can point out copious examples in my own field of astronomy where papers get published about all manners of against-the-mainstream thinking, some of which come to conclusions that, in my opinion, are clearly wrong.

And, how’s this for one heck of a concluding rant.  Couldn’t have said it better myself.  I should pull this out for my public policy class:

So let this be clear: There is no scientific controversy over this. Climate change denial is purely, 100 percent made-up political and corporate-sponsored crap. When the loudest voices are fossil-fuel funded think tanks, when they don’t publish in journals but insteadwrite error-laden op-eds in partisan venues, when they have to manipulate the data to support their point, then what they’re doing isn’t science.

It’s nonsense. And worse, it’s dangerous nonsense. Because they’re fiddling with the data while the world burns.

Photo of the day

From Alan Taylor’s set of National Geographic photo contest submissions. This is an amazing, amazing set of photos.  I’d be happy to make virtually any one a photo of the day.  The fact that many of them were shot by amateurs (I presume, as it’s a photo contest) is even all the more impressive and makes me extremely jealous.  Here’s two of my favorites:

Lucky Bay: Beautiful Lucky Bay in Esperance, Western Australia, is home to many kangaroos. Not only is the turquoise water and white sand a sight to see but at sunset the kangaroos bounce their way across the sand looking for dinner.(© Mandy Wilson/National Geographic Photo Contest)

Charging Black Drongo: The Black Drongo selects a good perch near a water body, and takes off when an insect is sighted on the surface, skimming across the water and back to its perch. I spent almost 10 days (1 hr daily morning — sitting quietly and motionless) and on October 25, 2012, this was clicked. I was lucky to get this just before any skimming action started. I like the concentration level in its eyes, wing position and wide open mouth ready to catch the insect by surprise, and the same action in reflection.(© Vinayak Parmar/National Geographic Photo Contest)

On cancer “survivors”

Not to belittle for a moment anybody who’s had cancer and successfully gone through treatment, but the seeming overuse of the term “survivor” has always bothered me.  The other day I was watching a college basketball game and the announcers mentioned all the men they knew that were prostate cancer “survivors.”  Now, as I’ve written about many times, whether you have treatment or not, the substantial majority of men with a prostate cancer diagnosis would not die of the disease even if they received no treatment.  Now, how exactly do you survive something that wouldn’t have killed you anyway?  I was looking for another article on Slate– which I’ll save for a future post– and I came across this excellent piece on the trouble with “survivor” from a couple years back.  It’s by an oncologist who is a breast cancer “survivor.”

The National Cancer Institute defines a “cancer survivor” as someone who’s had a malignant tumor and remains alive. This holds whether you’re thriving after a single intervention, like surgical excision of a small tumor, or struggling for years with metastatic illness. The American Cancer Societyreports that nearly 12 million Americans are living today after a cancer diagnosis; each of us is a “survivor.”…

I can’t help but wrestle with the expression. The Latin roots—super and vīvere—support a straightforward meaning: that a person has outlived another. As an oncologist, I’m not convinced of this label’s accuracy, at least as it applies to a woman living after breast cancer; this, like some lymphomas and other tumors, can recur years, even decades after treatment ends. What’s more, I worry the “survivor” lingo might cause harm: Just as the term can support or reflect upon a patient’s courage and tenacity, it might alienate or wound someone who knows she can’t alter the course of her disease…

At a deeper level, what’s wrong is that the expression connotes strength or heroism. Today, survivor feeds into the concept of cancer as some sort of contest of harsh ordeals. Best sellers like Dr. David Servan-Schreiber’s Anticancer: A New Way of Life push the impression that survival implies you’ve done something right. The fault’s in the converse: If you don’t lick your tumor, you’ve failed. Maybe you chose the wrong treatment plan, ate the wrong foods, exercised too little or too much, or weren’t sufficiently optimistic. But cancer is not a mystic life challenge or game. It’s a disease, or really a set of complex diseases, that’s common, feared, and widely misunderstood…

Only a cynic would dismiss all the tangible, big-money support for research and the information and practical assistance offered by the survivor community’s enthusiasm. But the true heroes in this—those deserving of pink ribbons and medals, if they’re to be given—are those who struggle longest and hardest, who will never truly be “survivors” in the commonly accepted sense of the word.

It’s not the same for people like me, who move on with their lives after a discrete, albeit sometimes harrowing episode of illness. I’m an oncologist; I know I’ve done nothing in particular to deserve these eight years since my diagnosis. I lucked out, nothing more. And sure, I’m uncertain about my future. But who isn’t?

Good stuff.  I think on some level these issues bothered me (in addition to what I raised above) without me really realizing what it is about the term that’s always rubbed me wrong.  And for those who have survived an ordeal with cancer– good for you, most definitely.  I just think there are some real downsides to the term and that, in some case, it paints a false picture as well.

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