August 19, 2012, 10:55 am
Brainstorm readers: We’re excited to call your attention to The Conversation, The Chronicle’s new home for opinion and ideas online. Building on Brainstorm and Innovations, it includes many of the regular contributors you have seen over the years and offers new ones as well.
Please follow us there. We hope to enlighten and entertain, and we also hope to hear from you. Feel free to reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
August 17, 2012, 1:39 pm
In my previous post, I talked about how my experience in changing my way of sneezing taught me how hard it is to change a habit even in instances where we know it would be better for us if we did. Habits don’t merely concern things like the way we sneeze, however. For example, habits writ large are what define a culture, for a culture is nothing but a vast collection of shared habits that go by the more lofty designation “customs.” And though it’s not apparent at first glance, habits also deeply affect artistic style.
In my case, for example, after more than forty years of painting, I’ve developed a “mature” style (or what’s known as a “signature” style). People who have seen my pictures easily recognize one of my new paintings even when they encounter it outside my studio or gallery. All serious painters, no matter the quality of their work, inevitably end up with…
August 16, 2012, 7:00 pm
Jenny Dyck Brian
Is it a conflict of interest for a bioethicist to work as a paid consultant for the pharmaceutical industry?
In recent weeks I have posted my conversation with Jenny Dyck Brian of Arizona State University, who wrote her doctoral dissertation on corporate bioethics boards. (See parts one, two and three.) Today we reach the final installment.
Q: A lot of people outside bioethics seem shocked when I tell them about academic bioethicists working for pharma. But within the field, I don’t see a lot of pushback.
A: Within the field there is little pushback. A lot of people said they themselves wouldn’t do it (or that an interesting opportunity has yet to present itself), but they think it’s a good thing that industry is getting some good advice, or at least seeking different perspectives. …
August 16, 2012, 10:48 am
“Texas Cow Poke” by Clotee Pridgen Allochuku via Flickr/CC
Sometimes I find it useful to think about things that bear no obvious relation to one another. For example, I’ve recently been thinking about sneezing, cars, and cows, and a connection to the problem of climate change has occurred to me.
First, sneezing. When I was young, I was taught to cover my mouth with my hand whenever I sneezed. Good girl that I am, I followed this rule until a couple of years ago, when I read that in order not to spread germs, it’s best to sneeze into one’s elbow. (You don’t shake hands, set the table, or serve drinks to your guests with your elbow.) But it was no small matter to alter a longstanding habit that was sustained, in part, by a feeling that I was doing what my mother had told me was the right thing. With a lot…
August 15, 2012, 10:44 am
You have got a fever, your body aches, and you feel dreadful. What should you do? The traditional answer is: “Take two aspirin, drink lots of fluids, get to bed and call me in the morning if you don’t feel better.” Could it be that this is just the wrong advice? That the last thing you should do is reduce your temperature with aspirin or ibuprofen or whatever? Is it, to use a phrase, nature’s way of fighting illness?
This is very much the position of a small group of biologists and medics who are pushing what has come to be known as “evolutionary medicine.” Crystallized about 20 years ago by a book – Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine – authored by the distinguished evolutionist George C. Williams and the psychiatrist Randolph Nesse, it claims that the force that caused us all, Darwin’s mechanism of natural selection, does not care about human…
August 14, 2012, 12:10 pm
Jenny Dyck Brian
Do bioethicists make pharmaceutical companies more ethical?
This is a central question motivating my interview with Jenny Dyck Brian, an Arizona State University professor who wrote her doctoral dissertation on corporate bioethics boards. (See parts one and two of the interview.) Today we turn to Eli Lilly, a company that has had its share of ethical scandal: the recruitment of homeless alcoholics for drug-safety trials, the suicide of a healthy volunteer in a Cymbalta study, the company’s controversial promotion of Xigris, a sepsis drug that was later taken off the market, and most recently, a record-setting penalty for fraudulent marketing of its antipsychotic drug, Zyprexa. Throughout it all, Lilly has been guided by a group of bioethicists that includes some of the most prominent names in…
August 13, 2012, 4:31 pm
Like many people, I spent my summer vacation with my large and fiercely loyal extended family. Unlike many people, my family is mixed. No, I don’t mean mixed race or mixed class, although we are that too, but mixed politically. There are plenty of lefties among us; there are also plenty of conservatives. During the Bush years, I often found it incomprehensible that these people whom I love and respect could vote for a man who got this country into wars they didn’t believe in and cultural battles over gay rights that they actually opposed. Among the Essig Republicans, there are no homophobes or hawks, just people who genuinely believe that the fiscal policies of the GOP are better for this country than the Democratic ones.
Like many people in mixed-political families, I more or less ignore it and focus on what ties us together: eating, eating, and more eating. This month, as I sat…
August 13, 2012, 4:14 pm
I know you’re already sick of reading about MOOC’s. But I’m afraid there’s no avoiding them. In The Chronicle this morning, UCLA philosopher Pamela Hieronymi argues:
Education is often compared to two other industries upended by the Internet: journalism and publishing. This is a serious error. Education is not the transmission of information or ideas. Education is the training needed to make use of information and ideas.
And so forth, before concluding:
Can technology make education less expensive? College is expensive, but colleges do things other than educate. Many courses simply convey information and provide technical vocational skills. These could be automated, presumably at savings. The price tag includes the campus experience—an education of a different sort—with all its lovely, cherished amenities. But the core task of training minds is labor-intensive; it requires the…
August 13, 2012, 3:53 pm
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Those of us engaged in teaching, writing and speaking about science are participating in a Great Deception – well-intended, to be sure, but a deception nonetheless. The gist of that deception is that we teach science as a list of established findings rather than what it really is: The world’s best and most rewarding process of “finding.” Students and the general public are for the most part receptive to learning about science, but all too often, this means learning what we place before them, consuming our discoveries, then waiting for the next course.
The reality, on the other hand, is that it’s the kitchen, not the dining room, where the exciting stuff happens. More to my point, it’s in the imagination of the chefs, those who try new combinations and invent new recipes.
Enough with the culinary metaphor. My point is that…
August 13, 2012, 3:10 pm
Thanks for your note today; your mom told me you’d be writing to me to get some advice about how to make your second year at college better than your first.
Let’s begin: The best way to get off to a good start with your professors is to call them “Professor,” and, if they’re women, not “Miss” or “Mrs.”; “Ms.” is preferable to either of those, but I’d stick with “Professor” since you know the person whose advice you’re asking happens to be one of those.
It’s also good to spell that person’s name correctly. You didn’t. Not even close despite the fact that you had the correct spelling right there in the email address.
If I mention these details early it’s only to begin our relationship the way I hope it will be built: I’m delighted to help you determine what’s best for you at UConn–and UConn has a great deal to offer–but I’m not going to coddle you or let you off…
August 13, 2012, 2:59 pm
In the most recent American Freshman Survey, the top reason for going to college was “to be able to get a better job,” with 85.9 percent of respondents rating it as “very important.” Only half of the respondents rated “to make me a more cultured person” as “very important” (50.3 percent).
No wonder the humanities now collect only around 12 percent of bachelor’s degrees, including history. (See the Humanities Indicators project for handy compilations of data.) According to the MLA, all the foreign languages combined (!) pull in only 1.05 percent of all four-year degrees. Even though knowledge of Asian and Middle Eastern languages is, indeed, a potent job skill in numerous areas of business, government, diplomacy, and the military, the humanities strike ambitious 19-year-olds as merely an academic pursuit. Shakespeare, Dante, Wordsworth, George Eliot . . . they seem like little …
August 8, 2012, 5:05 pm
Jenny Dyck Brian
In the first part of my interview with Jenny Dyck Brian of Arizona State University about pharma’s bioethicists, we talked about whether or not ethicists could be used as public relations tools. Today we turn to a specific case. In the mid-1990s, SmithKline Beecham—a company that later became part of GlaxoSmithKline—set up its Ethics and Public Policy Board to look especially at issues in genomic science, an area in which the company was eager to become a leader. The board met three times a year for two-day meetings, and according to Brian, the membership was “all male, Caucasian, middle aged and highly distinguished.” The members were Ronald Dworkin, John Harris, Lawrence Gostin, David Weatherall, John Robertson, Hamilton Moses, Philip Reilly, Ian Kennedy, Gordon Dunstan, and
August 8, 2012, 11:25 am
11. “Have you ever wondered about the stupidity of the term ‘o’clock’? Americans have happily incorporated into our everyday speech a term that makes us sound like leprechauns.” Gene Weingarten, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer for The Washington Post, from The Hypochondriac’s Guide to Life. And Death.
12. Voice-mail prompt: “After the tone please leave your I.Q. or your blood pressure, whichever is higher.” Lewis Frumkes, author of How To Raise Your I.Q. by Eating Gifted Children.
13. On health foods: “To strengthen their argument [about eating unprocessed foods] they tell you that peasant boys in Cuba, those kids out in the fields, eat raw sugar cane and they have perfect teeth. What they don’t tell you is that they develop rickets. ‘Look at me, Ma! No cavities! But I can’t walk too straight.’…After you eat all this, you can wash it down with tiger’s milk. So help me…
August 7, 2012, 2:10 pm
Iconic phrase from the old TV show, Dragnet; now reduced to an endangered species (Wikipedia)
I have a great fondness for experiences, ideas, certain people, many animals, places, even some things. And I assume you do, too. Among these sources of delight, respect, and appreciation, I would include regular old-fashioned facts, although with the full recognition that not all of them are equally verifiable, or even equally definable. Nor are they equally pleasant, although part of the pleasure comes from knowing that they have that traditional, pre-postmodernist virtue: being true. Nonetheless, I would like to think that it isn’t only practicing scientists who grant facticity a special place, and that we do so not only when it comes to comprehending and communicating about the natural world but also in our daily…
August 6, 2012, 7:33 pm
In the arresting words of an Atlantic headline, ”We Now Have Our Smallest Government in 45 Years.” The proportion of government workers in the population is down to where it was in 1968, a decline of about 10 percent from its peak in the year 2000. Since the official end of the Great Recession alone, there are 600,000 fewer folks on government payrolls.
If you’re a fan of Arthur Laffer, whose eponymous curve was the most deceptive geometrical form since the Stars and Bars, and who still enjoys the embrace of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, you ought to rejoice that an immense burden has been lifted off the collective shoulders. If you think that government is a swarm of leeches crying to be chased, this should be wonderful news for the unemployed, not to mention taxpayers whose lifeblood for so many years has been drained into unproductive channels. All the capital…
August 6, 2012, 5:16 pm
It’s been almost half a century since Apollo 11 carried Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin, and Neil Armstrong to the moon. I remember running to make sure I’d catch the actual landing on television. Like many who heard Neil Armstrong’s first words when he walked on the moon, I heard them incorrectly. They are much more moving the way he actually said them: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind,” That a single man was walking on the moon was a magnificent idea, even though it was awfully hard to fathom. That mankind, in a historical sense, was now moving into space was unfathomable. In effect, many of us never did much with either of these ideas. Landing on the moon became merely one of many things that marked the 20th-century.
For me, part of the shock of watching men land on the moon came from their having done it on such a rickety-looking mechanical…
August 6, 2012, 2:55 pm
Jenny Dyck Brian
It is no secret that many academic physicians work for the pharmaceutical industry as speakers and consultants. Less widely known is that the pharmaceutical industry also employs academic bioethicists.
Beginning in the 1990s, a number of pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies began to set up bioethics advisory boards, ostensibly to obtain guidance about controversial ethical issues. Over the years, the ties between industry and bioethics have gradually grown closer, with companies setting up endowed chairs and hiring bioethics consultants. Yet very little is known about how bioethics advisory boards work. What exactly is their purpose? Do they prevent ethical wrongdoing, or do they provide ethical cover? How many bioethicists are involved and who are they?
Not many people are…
August 3, 2012, 5:21 pm
More than 30 years ago, Elisabeth Landes and Richard Posner provocatively observed that a “glut” in black babies exists in the United States foster care system. Their controversially framed assessment attracted ardent criticism, including charges of racism. Nonetheless, Posner and his colleague touched on urgent and yet unresolved problems, including how to (a) provide more meaningful life opportunities for child wards of the state by transitioning them into permanent home placements, (b) reduce the prevalence of black children in foster care, and (c) decrease state expenditures on foster care, while not sacrificing quality of care. There were other questions of great importance that arose in response to their research. However, the use of economic terms as analytical tools to describe the collision of both a terrible racial phenomenon and family law crisis launched the type of…
August 2, 2012, 6:37 pm
Protesters in front of Pennsylvania Station on Aug. 2, 1962 (Photo by Eddie Hausner/The New York Times. Click on image to get to source page.)
In 1882, New York Central Railroad president William Henry Vanderbilt declared, “The public be damned.” Although one might think this sentiment an anachronism that went away with the demise of 19th-century robber barons, it’s actually a perennial problem for democracies whenever private owners own what function as public spaces.
Here’s an example of what I mean. To get to Hofstra from where I live in Lower Manhattan, I take the train from New York’s Penn Station. I always stop first to grab a coffee at the Starbucks along the main corridor inside the station. While waiting on line, I groggily gaze at the large, black-and-white posters with images of the old Penn…
August 2, 2012, 6:03 pm
“The Man With the Muck Rake,” courtesy of National Archives UK
Everyone knows how muckraking is supposed to work. An investigative reporter uncovers hidden wrongdoing; the public is outraged; and the authorities move quickly on behalf of justice and righteousness. There can be failure at any of these points, of course. Sometimes there is no outrage. The timing of the story may be poor, or the media outlet might be too small to get any real attention. If the target of the investigation has a skilled public relations team, it may be able to spin the story in a way that minimizes the damage. Often, the relevant authorities simply don’t take any action. And once the initial shock of the story has settled, the public demand for justice vanishes, like a bullet that has missed the target.
In American medical research,…