A great way to zerotask

Ever wondered about those TLAs? Well onboard yourself with The Ridiculous Business Jargon Encyclopedia, and be careful if you’re homing from work. Don’t get the axe because of your hypertasking and leave a bunch of ghost work, but I do find it useful to ramp up the RDB from time to time so I can leverage file thirteen when I have to touch base with those that have gone suit F2F.

Ugh. Time for bed. I’ve been the real mucus trooper these days at home and at the salt mine. It’s questionable whether I’ve been fit for purpose, but given that I’ve been fire fighting I’ve not had much choice. I just hope I haven’t flubbed anything, as is the risk when everything comes off the back burner onto the front burner at the same time. Hypertasking was hard. (Yes, I had to repurpose that word, or was that retread?) But it wasn’t face time. I just hope I don’t have to face a Come to Jesus meeting.

An auspicious beginning

January 27 was Yoga Day, and a very auspicious beginning to my first Anusara immersion. Despite falling ill with the latest craze in preschool viruses, practice was blissful. I even found a way to incorporate falling ill into the practice. When you fall ill, you really have to learn to respect your new boundaries. Just the acceptance of the new boundaries is part of the practice, and probably the hardest part.

The immersion is about 1/3 philosophy and 2/3 practice. That’s a bit heavier on the philosophy than 1% theory, 99% practice noted by Sri K. Prattabhi Jois, but, then again, 12 hours of straight asana probably would have taken everybody out. The most beautiful part of the Anusara system, to me, is how they take the Tantric cosmology and embody it in the asana practice. Everything you do in the poses is designed to be a reflection of Beauty and The Divine, even if our own self-vision is, well, not so perfect. It’s the intention to reflect Beauty that drives the practice. Before each asana practice, we set our intention, and that fuels us throughout. One of the stated goals of Anusara is that every student ought to leave class feeling better than going in. With few exceptions, that’s been the case for me.

We ended this weekend with Yoga Nidra, which is a delightful guided relaxation that is extremely restful. It’s probably the reason that I’m still going at 9:30 pm, even though I only had 5 or so ours of (not-so-restful) sleep last night due to illness.

I get to do 5 more weekends of this. Rock on.

Revolution, Part III: Assessing your health needs

This entry is part 3 of a series on my review of the Revolution Health website. Revolution health is attempting to provide a community and a set of tools enabling people to take responsibility for their health, in cooperation with healthcare practitioners and researchers.

While calculators allow the exploration of several different scenarios and their impact on the risk of, say, heart disease or stroke (and one of those scenarios may be your own …), assessments are a more comprehensive set of questions that are designed to provide recommendations which you can then take to your doctor. For example, the health history screening says the following:

This Coupler collects a detailed personal and family medical history,
and documents current symptoms and immunization status. For problems
identified, the Coupler provides recommendations for screening or
diagnostic tests, or suggests other Couplers for diagnosis or
management. The Coupler provides health and safety information, as well
as strategies for illness prevention and health promotion, and
identifies issues that should be discussed with a healthcare provider.
Data collected with this Coupler can be used to begin or expand a
personal medical record that can help structure regular health checkups.

The assessment is thorough. It asks if you have allergies, personal history of a wide variety of conditions, current conditions you may want to ask your doctor about, family history, and just about everything else that you may want to bring up with your doctor. The point of the tool is health maintenance — see if there are any issues you need to bring up, lifestyle changes you should consider (e.g. losing weight), and next steps. This tool points to other tools on the site that can help you with a goal as well, such as the weight tracker and calculators.

I think this will be a very handy organization tool for maintaining health and preventing needless diseases. The results are going to be commensurate with the effort put into an honest self-evaluation, and in the end I think tools like this will help people handle their individual health issues.

Previous entries in this series:

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Vaccines, the preface

This part of the review of Vaccines: Are they really safe & effective? (Neil Miller) will be short, as it is about the preface.

I have to admire a person willing to go the distance to research an issue as important as vaccination. This man looked up newspapers, congressional testimony, and the scientific literature for answers. He basically concludes that vaccines are not safe or effective, and, contrary to popular opinion, have not been responsible for the decline of infectious disease in this country. I’ll have to see about that one as I get further into the book.

He goes a step beyond this claim, however. He claims that professors, drug developers, medical professionals, professional societies, and regulatory agencies (US and international) are part of some scheme to hide the facts from the public. This is a serious charge to make against a lot of people, and, I must admit, I find this charge a little hard to swallow. Miller continues the line of thought with medical professionals that turn down vaccines for their own children and doctors who require indemnification before vaccinations. But let’s take this conspiracy theory with a grain of salt and set it aside for a while.

Miller claims then that he is presenting facts so that parents won’t “religiously trust their pediatricians.” He’s presented a difficult-to-justify opinion so far, so let’s see what his facts can do.

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Qualia? Qua?

Click here and follow the directions. You know you want to.

Vaccines – wading into the debate (a skeptical book review)

So far, with only a couple of exceptions, my children have had their vaccines on schedule. I have refused the chickenpox vaccine for my older child and will refuse it for my younger child. I also refused the 6-hour HepB vaccine for my second child, but he has received the others on schedule (and the HepB at 2 months, which is apparently becoming a standard policy in my area).

However, there’s been the nagging question in the back of my mind about whether this is the right decision. I understand the basic arguments on both sides: we need to contribute to “herd immunity” and keep some nasty diseases at bay. On the other side, we talk about side effects of childhood vaccines (including autism, but that will be a rather minor issue in this series) and whether we need vaccinations at all. Even if we do need vaccinations, some have questioned the vaccination schedule, preferring a less aggressive approach that will still accomplish keeping the worst childhood diseases at bay. Still others wonder if we only need a subset of the current childhood vaccines we receive now, and let the body take care of the other ones.

So, now I kick off a new blog entry series reviewing the book Vaccines: Are They Really Safe & Effective? Neil Z. Miller looks to be a medical journalist who compiled this information because he was faced with the issues of vaccinating his children. The book is about 100 pages of text and figures, with 916 references (including newspaper articles, congressional testimony, and scientific articles). Miller makes the following disclaimer:

The decision regarding whether or not to vaccinate is a personal one. The author is not a health practitioner nor legal advisor, and makes no claims in this regard. Nor does the author recommend for or against vaccines. All the information in this book is taken from other sources and documented in the Notes. If you have questions, doubts, or concerns regarding any of the information in this book, go to the original source. Then research this topic even further so that you may make a wise and informed choice.

I can certainly second that.

I realize that the topic of vaccinations is a very touchy one. The most active blog entries I’ve had to date was on the subject of thimerosal, and arguments coming from both pro- and anti-vaccine proponents are filled with emotion and, often, venom. This is understandable, as the stakes are very high. If anything, this issue can use illumination of facts, and I hope that my review of a well-referenced book on the matter can do that.

So, as I go through this series, my primary goal is to provoke thought. I don’t care about comments; in fact, depending on how much value is added (or taken away) to the discussion I might disable them. We’ll have to see, as I don’t want this blog to resemble some of the forum pages I’ve seen on the matter.

So, on an overview of the book, and my reason for reviewing it publically, is that it is very well-referenced. Well-referenced does not mean true, but it does mean that I can go to the sources and evaluate them for myself. I probably won’t do that with all 916 references, as I do have other things on my plate, but I can probably hit some of the main points and try to find counterpoints as well.

The overall tone of the book seems to challenge the notion that vaccines are necessary and safe. (As the series progresses, I hope to see if the challenge stands.) A skim through the book reveals data, quotes, and events that presumably back up this challenge.

On Pseudoskepticism

So, I’ve been wondering why pseudoskepticism bothers me so much. I think I finally have the answer. All my life I’ve loved learning and curiosity, even in those cases where we are “surprised” by new discoveries in areas that we though were settled.

Pseudoskepticism is an affront to all that, but masquerades as science and learning. At its very worst, as in the cases of Stephen Barrett (of quackwatch fame) and the amazing James Randi, it substitutes real science and research with, well, bullshit. I’ll refer to this page and others in my resource on alternative medicine on examples of replacing real honest inquiry with platitudes, false reasoning, and general BS.

In addition, I’ll offer the amazing million dollar challenge as an example of an attempt to replace reasoning with BS. Often cited as a piece of evidence that paranormal phenomena, homeopathy, water memory, and a host of other phenomena do not exist, a little deeper digging reveals the challenge is a poor exhibit of this extraordinary hypothesis. Randi has positioned himself as the sole judge of the outcome of the tests in the challenge, a process that is not open and certainly not scientific. He also does not accept all applicants, and, while Mr. Randi is welcome to do whatever he wants with his money and his challenge, the procedures he has set up (including the poor reasoning for rejecting an application in the example I linked to) has made it a poor process for scientifically elucidating the existence and nature of the phenomena he’s claiming to disprove.

I especially detest the hiding behind “the skeptic has no burden of proof,” which, while a skeptical remark does not need any proof, no such statement applies to the claims made by pseudoskeptics. The reason a skeptical remark, such as “I am unconvinced by this study,” has no burden proof is because there is no claim. (Though most well-reasoned critiques of studies talk about whether the study design is capable of producing the information required to reach the conclusion, whether adequate controls are in place, and so forth.) But the pseudoskeptic makes claims, such as “cold fusion belongs in the dust bin of history” while hiding behind the idea that he has no burden of proof. The idea behind this opinion, i.e. “cold fusion is false,” is a claim and requires evidence in a reasonably scientific discourse.

So there you go. For the most part, I couldn’t care less what members of the Skeptic’s Circle think of alternative medicine, cold fusion, psychic phenomena, or anything protoscientific or pseudoscientific. However, when the poor and lazy reasoning masquerading as critical thinking starts to take traction, I have to speak out.