Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna -- Charles Wolfe (1791-1823)

Lieutenant-General Sir John Moore

NOT a drum was heard, not a funeral note, 
  As his corse to the rampart we hurried; 
Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot 
  O'er the grave where our hero we buried. 
We buried him darkly at dead of night,         5
  The sods with our bayonets turning, 
By the struggling moonbeam's misty light 
  And the lanthorn dimly burning. 
No useless coffin enclosed his breast, 
  Not in sheet or in shroud we wound him;  10
But he lay like a warrior taking his rest 
  With his martial cloak around him. 
Few and short were the prayers we said, 
  And we spoke not a word of sorrow; 
But we steadfastly gazed on the face that was dead,  15
  And we bitterly thought of the morrow. 
We thought, as we hollow'd his narrow bed 
  And smooth'd down his lonely pillow, 
That the foe and the stranger would tread o'er his head, 
  And we far away on the billow!  20
Lightly they'll talk of the spirit that 's gone, 
  And o'er his cold ashes upbraid him— 
But little he'll reck, if they let him sleep on 
  In the grave where a Briton has laid him. 
But half of our heavy task was done  25
  When the clock struck the hour for retiring; 
And we heard the distant and random gun 
  That the foe was sullenly firing. 
Slowly and sadly we laid him down, 
  From the field of his fame fresh and gory;  30
We carved not a line, and we raised not a stone, 
  But we left him alone with his glory.

The 42nd Highlanders storm the French positions at the Battle of Corunna, 1809



Friday, January 23, 2015

The brain stores trivial memories, just in case

Well, maybe not, internet quote graphic.

"The surge of emotion that makes memories of embarrassment, triumph and disappointment so vivid can also reach back in time, strengthening recall of seemingly mundane things that happened just beforehand and that, in retrospect, are relevant, a new study has found.
The report, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, suggests that the television detective’s standard query — “Do you remember any unusual behavior in the days before the murder?” — is based on solid brain science, at least in some circumstances.
The findings fit into the predominant theory of memory: that it is an adaptive process, continually updating itself according to what knowledge may be important in the future.
The new study suggests that human memory has, in effect, a just-in-case file, keeping seemingly trivial sights, sounds and observations in cold storage for a time in case they become useful later on."

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Psy-feld class brings psychiatry training to a new low
"It’s 9 a.m. on a Tuesday morning at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and 10 medical students sit around a conference table covered by coffee cups and clipboards. Preparing to start their morning rounds, the students chat about what they watched on television the night before.
“Jerry’s girlfriend doesn’t like George,” third-year student Marlene Wang says, referring to the iconic 1990s sitcom "Seinfeld." “And he just couldn’t live with the idea of this person not liking him.”
This isn’t a discussion about nothing. More than 15 years after the final episode, "Seinfeld" is the basis for “Psy-feld,” a teaching tool designed to help medical students identify and discuss psychiatric disorders."

Personally, I find this horrifying. This is training in psychopathology, I suppose, but for bright high school juniors -- not psychiatry residents. I wonder if part of the reason for this approach is that most of the psychiatry residents are foreign born? Watching American sit-coms might help them learn some idioms. But when they practice, all they are going to do is diagnose you as "bipolar," give you (oddly) an antidepressant, and when that doesn't work, add an antipsychotic. If they like you, they'll give you Xanax, too. Oh, and ADHD meds for the kiddies.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Persisting psychogenic deja vu in a 23 year old college student

Telegraph (UK)
"A student was forced to drop out of university after a bizarre case of chronic déjà vu left him unable to lead a normal life.
The 23-year-old even stopped watching TV, listening to the radio, or reading newspapers or magazines because he believed he had seen it all before.
He told doctors that he was "trapped in a time loop" and said he felt as if he was reliving the past moment by moment.
Details of the case have been revealed in a report published by the Journal of Medical Case Reports.
Doctors are baffled because the man does not suffer from any of the neurological conditions usually seen in people who normally suffer frequently from déjà vu - which is French for "already seen"."

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Celebrity Fertility Antics

All of the following could be avoided, if we just told young women the truth about fertility. Plan your life so that all your children are conceived before age 35. If you want 3 kids, spaced 2 years apart, a year of wedded bliss prior to the first pregnancy, and a year to plan the wedding, then you have to be engaged by age 28. Tick tock.

Hollywood Reporter
"At a time when Apple and Facebook are picking up $20,000 tabs for employees to freeze their eggs as well as offering other generous high-tech fertility benefits, it's clear that professional women have more and more options with assisted reproduction technology. Many of them will need it: At least one in eight couples overall suffer from infertility, and much of that is due to delayed childbearing. Even as the U.S. birth rate is at an all-time low, multiple births have skyrocketed from fertility drugs and in vitro fertilization treatments involving multiple embryos. In 1980, there were 70,000 twins born in the U.S.; in 2012, there were 131,269, along with 4,598 triplets and 276 quadruplets.
Credit goes to the 450 high-tech fertility clinics in the U.S., 75 of them in California....
...Even so, media coverage of glowing older celebu-moms — from Halle Berry, who just had her second child at age 47, to Laura Linney, who gave birth to her first child in 2014 at 49 — can mislead. "My concern is when celebrities in their mid- to late-40s announce they're pregnant," says Guy Ringler of California Fertility Partners, one of Southern California's most in-demand clinics. "It gives many people false hope that you can get pregnant at any age. It's not realistic."
L.A. women in particular have misguided expectations, adds Ringler: "Many of our patients eat well, exercise, are very health-conscious." Then they realize physical health and appearance largely are irrelevant to the viability of their eggs... "They've done studies that found going through infertility is equivalent in stress to cancer or HIV."
...IVF is a more complicated process in which sperm and harvested eggs are joined in a petri dish to become 100-cell blastocysts. The best one or two embryos are implanted; the rest are frozen for later use. A round of IVF costs from $15,000 to $18,000; most women in their late 30s or 40s require more than one round.
...Genetically testing the embryos, known as preimplantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD, is one way to stack the odds in favor of a pregnancy. Nearly every embryo that Steinberg transfers has been tested to confirm that it has the correct number of chromosomes; other tests confirm the lack of certain inheritable-disease genes such as BRCA, the breast cancer gene that Angelina Jolie carries. Steinberg says PGD reduces miscarriages: "What that's done is eliminate Down syndrome. We can't guarantee a perfect baby, but we can guarantee that anything you're concerned about isn't there." (Including the wrong eye color: In 2009, after admonishment from the Vatican and the medical community, Steinberg stopped allowing parents to choose their babies' blues — the most popular color — but quietly started up again with 15 infants last year: "There's a huge interest. Even when we retracted, the emails just kept coming in.")
Despite genetic testing, IVF still has significant limitations. "A woman in her 40s has a less than 5 percent pregnancy rate per treatment cycle," say Ringler, while a woman in her early 30s has up to a 70 percent rate. One proven way to conquer fertility decline from aging eggs is using a donor egg. (A woman's eggs start to decline in fertility in the late 20s. "At 40, most women drop off the cliff," says Steinberg.) "For a woman in her mid-40s who uses a donor egg, her pregnancy rate jumps up to 75 percent per treatment cycle," says Ringler, who thinks donor eggs are the best option for "all women 44 and older, an age when 95 percent of eggs are chromosomally abnormal." Adds Steinberg, "Nature won't let abnormal embryos make babies."
...Most donor eggs come from women in their 20s, paid $5,000 to $10,000 to undergo egg retrieval. "Bloating was the biggest downside," says an egg donor named Sara, who first donated eggs in 2007 when she was a 22-year-old acting student. (Sperm donors are paid $75 to $150 a go for a vial of sperm that might sell for $700 or more.)...
Disclosure is one of the stickiest issues with egg-donor use, which one L.A. mom, who suffered three miscarriages on the way to a biological son at 42, calls the "last bastion of shame" in fertility medicine. It's common for couples to seek out a donor who resembles them to "pass" — letting family, friends and the kids themselves believe they are the genetic parents. Several Westside fertility doctors say that about half their patients plan to keep their offspring's origins under wraps; Steinberg estimates 70 percent of his patients do.
...Oddly perhaps, hiring a stranger to carry a child for you has become less taboo than buying an egg. Nicole Kidman used a surrogate for her youngest child, born when she was 43. Sarah Jessica Parker used a surrogate to carry her twin daughters, who went home to a 44-year-old mom. Both actresses were effusive in their thanks to their carriers but avoid discussing the genesis of the eggs.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Grade inflation

A chemistry lecture hall at University of Texas.

"A 2013 study conducted by the University of North Texas’s Department of Economics might help explain the forces behind recent grade inflation, suggesting that several key players could be responsible for the overall trends. For one, the study shows that classes in certain subject areas are more prone to inflation than others. English, music, and speech courses experienced higher rates of inflation compared to those in math and chemistry, for example.   

Class size also appears to be a factor. One theory is that departments with smaller student-faculty ratios have a greater tendency to exaggerate grades because those instructors have less job security than their colleagues in larger-scale college divisions...[In my experience, grades are higher with smaller sections because students feel that the spotlight is on them and so produce their best work.]
The instructor’s gender could be a factor, too: Inflation is much higher among female educators than it is among their male counterparts. [Ironic that women are easier graders but still get worse student evaluations.]
Meanwhile, student evaluations could incentivize instructors to give their pupils higher grades than they deserve in an effort to “buy” higher evaluation scores, the study says. [So tenured faculty should grade harder than non-tenured faculty. I wonder if that is what the data show?]
Whatever the cause, an analysis of average test scores—as well as literacy levels—over time confirms that rising GPAs are not a reflection of increasing academic achievement. Though standardized exams are certainly flawed measurements of intelligence, comparing trends in scoring with those in grades is revealing: Unlike average GPAs overall test scores have remained relatively steady over time, demonstrating that the grade inflation is artificial. Graduate literacy has also kept constant; the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy found that average literacy hasn’t changed since 1992." [SAT scores are stable but GPAs are rising.]

The article's conclusion is great:

We’re not in an era of strong, moral ethical leadership in higher education,” Rojstaczer said, “Leaders are obsessed with national reputation and the size of their endowment and not very concerned about the quality of education.”