Archive for June, 2012

Election Season: Time for Critical Thinking

June 27, 2012

At this time of year the good citizen is likely to say, “I’ll keep an open mind, watch the ads, listen to the candidate‘s speeches, and decide for whom to vote.” I think that watching ads and listening to the candidate’s speeches are a waste of time and attention. Here is what I would recommend.

First read the Constitution, http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution.html.

Pay particular attention to the duties of the President. You will not see create or provide jobs anywhere in the Constitution. Yet, listening to the speeches of the two candidates for president, one would conclude that creating or providing jobs is their primary responsibility. Go to the web and read up on economics. When the economy is good, jobs are plentiful; when the economy is bad, jobs are in short supply. Usually, the primary factor determining who wins the presidential election is the economy. If the economy is good the incumbent or the party of the incumbent is re-elected. If the economy is poor, the incumbent or the party of the incumbent is defeated. It is important to realize that there are business cycles and lags in the economy. When something bad happens, that effect can prevail for years before new policies or changes in the business cycle can have an effect. So a president may fail to be be re-elected not for policies of his own, but because of the policies of his predecessor. This problem is further compounded when the party bearing primary responsibility for the economic decline is elected and brings back the policies that caused the problem in the first place.

Although it is true that the president does affect the economy and domestic policy, he is limited by the congress with which he has to work. It is foreign policy where the president has the largest and most immediate effect. So when voting for president, it makes sense to weight most heavily his ability to conduct foreign policy.

For me, a red flag is raised whenever I hear a candidate tell me what he believes. I want to hear what the candidate thinks along with the facts supporting what he thinks. In evaluating the facts that are used a useful source is www.factcheck.org. When the facts don’t check out it detracts not only from the thinking of the candidate, but also from the candidate’s integrity. Ideologues believe in a dogma so that their minds are made up. Moreover, their minds are made up to the extent that their minds are impervious to evidence to the contrary. Humankind has advanced due to the embracing of empiricism at the expense of ideology.

It is unfortunate that the word “politician” has been soaked with negative connotations. It has a good and very important sense for a democracy. For business to be conducted in a democracy, compromises must be struck and agreements made among people with different perspectives. So I would definitely not vote for someone claiming not to be a politician or who would never compromise his position.

So ignore the daily fray, the negative ads and the charges the candidates hurl at each other. Review what a democracy is and how it needs to function. Familiarize yourself with the policies and philosophies of the candidates and their respective parties. More importantly, consider how well those policies square with past experience and with the future needs of the country.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Has the Internet Really Made the Assessment of the Reliability of Information More Difficult?

June 24, 2012

This is a common complaint. Its justification seems simple enough. Anyone can place anything on the web. Prior to the web, some sort of vetting was involved before something went into print. The following is a quote from Ernest Hemingway cited in 1965: “Every man should have a built-in crap detector operating inside him.” Now this statement was made before the internet and Ernest Hemingway never experienced the internet. Unreliable or blatantly wrong information is nothing new. We’ve always had it with us. Perhaps one of the good effects of the internet is that it has sensitized us to be wary of the accuracy or reliability of information. Although it is true that the internet allows the communication of bad information to spread much faster, we also have more tools at our disposal to check the accuracy of information. For outright hoaxes there is www.hoax.com.

Rumors can usually be quickly checked out at www.snopes.com. The people sponsoring or running a website can usually be found by going to http://www.ip-address.org/tracer/ip-whois.php.

Usually the first step in looking for information about a topic is to go to www.wikipedia.org.

As this is a wiki, users can change information that they think is wrong. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia that is vetted by its users. Moreover, it provides references to other sources, so people can bootstrap themselves regarding any topic. One should become aware of controversies and differing points of view. One source leads to another source and additional searches. The problem is that there is a cost in terms of time and attentional resources. How much time and attention one spends on a topic is a matter of individual choice. There is always more than can be learned and more that can be understood. Indeed, one can be easily exhausted just keeping up with new information.

One needs to estimate how well different topics are understood. One can be expert in very few, but have a glancing familiarity with many. This self-assessment can be difficult. My personal experience is that the longer I have lived, and hopefully learned, the more I am aware of my own ignorance. I felt much smarter when I graduated from high school than after I earned my Ph.D. Now after several more decades of learning and experience I am painfully aware of how little I knew when I first earned my Ph.D. compared to how much I know now. Yet, now I am even more painfully aware of how much I still don’t know. One of my favorite lines is from the play Da by Hugh Leonard. In a conversation between two academics, the elder responds to the statement by the younger that he is certain about his statement by saying something along the lines of, “after all my years of study and learning the only thing of which I am certain is that the incoming traffic in a public rest room always has the right of way.” So I am certain of nothing and try to weight my confidence in what I know in terms of my subjective probability of it being accurate. My personal interests and my assessment of the importance of the topic bear on how much more attention I will devote to the topic. Even if information is, as best as can be ascertained, correct at the moment, it could always change.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Net Smart

June 21, 2012

Net Smart: How to Thrive Online is a most welcome book by Howard Rheingold. A common theme for many articles and books is on the dangers the internet and its accompanying technologies. They argue that it is causing us to lose our ability to focus and concentrate on tasks; that technology is causing widespread attention deficit disorder. It is causing us to be isolated, connected with technology rather than our fellow humans. What I resent about these publications is that they make us seem like helpless victims of technology. This is not to deny that there are dangers that can result from the misuse of technology, but we can use them to our advantage so that we leverage technology to our own benefit rather than become helpless victims. Howard Rheingold informs us how to use technology to our benefit. In the lingo of the Healthymemory Blog, this is transactive memory. Transactive memory encompasses our fellow humans as well as technology. So does Rheingold’s approach to thriving online.

The first chapter is titled “Attention: How to Control Your Mind’s Most Powerful Instrument.” Many Healthymemory Blog Posts have addressed this topic (try entering “Attention” into the search box.). The first step involves harnessing our own attentional processes and becoming more mindful.

Chapter 2 is titled “Crap Detection 101: How to Find What You Need to Know, and How to Decide if It’s True.” A major criticism of the web is how to determined the veracity of stuff posted on the web. Actually this problem is not unique to the web, as this skill is needed for evaluating texts, newscasts, and statements by friends and acquaintances. A less well-recognized problem involves finding this good information. Search is a skill in itself that needs to be learned to benefit fully from the offerings on the web.

Chapter 3 is titled “Participation Power.” It provides guidance on how to be an active participant on the web and explains the benefits of this participation.

Chapter 4 is titled “Social-Digital Know How: The Arts and Sciences of Collective Intelligence.” This chapter explains how interactions with your fellow humans can produce collective intelligence that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Chapter 5 is titled “Social Has a Shape Why Networks Matter.” This chapter explains how networks function and why they are important.

Chapter 6 is titled “How (Using) the Web (Mindfully” Can Make Your Smarter.” This chapter echoes an ongoing theme of the Healthymemory Blog, that Transactive Memory can help you grow your intelligence and enhance your cognitive health.

I highly recommend Net Smart. Although some future posts will be based on this book, particularly those dealing with developing and enhancing your memory and cognition, there is no way I can come close to doing justice to Rheingold’s superb volume.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Exploitation of Patients with Alzheimer’s Disease

June 17, 2012

The Outrage of the Month published in the Public Citizen Health Letter1 begins “For the second time in less than two years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) at the behest of companies seeking to exploit the large market for Alzheimer’s Disease has approved a product with little proven benefit and documented risks.” According to the article, the earlier of these unwarranted FDA approvals occurred in July 2010 when the FDA approved a new high-dose version of the top selling Alzheimer’s drug Aricept 23. The article states that the agency approved the drug over the objections of most of its own scientists who argued that the drug did not improve overall functioning, but caused considerably more side effects than the older, lower does version of the drug.

According to the article, the most current example is the dye Amyvid that is injected into patients with possible Alzheimer’s disease and on the basis of a brain scan is used to detect amyloid plaque in the brains of such patients. Although amyloid plaque is found in the autopsies of those who have died from Alzheimer’s disease, it can also be found in individuals who never evidenced any symptoms of the disease. This test is inaccurate. It has been found to detect plaque in some patients who do not have Alzheimer’s disease and failed to detect the plaque in some patients who have the disease. Nevertheless, the dye is a financial boon for the drug manufacturer as was Aricept 23.

It is important to realize that there is no drug that cures Alzheimer’s disease. Some drugs have been shown to slow the progression of the disease. A friend of mine has a father-in-law who is suffering from Alzheimer’s and is undergoing expensive drug treatments. His father-in-law has no idea who is son-in-law is or even who himself is. This raises an interesting question. Are these drug treatments enhancing life or delaying the release from suffering that death provides? I stress that this is a question for each individual to decide.

See the Healthymemory Blog post “The Myth of Alzheimer’s” that reviews the book written by Peter J. Whitehous, M.D. Ph.D. Whitehouse is a renowned researcher into drugs for the treatment of Alzheimer’s. He has given up on there being a drug to cure the disease and is researching other methods for coping with dementia. He does not believe that Alzheimer’s is a distinct disease, but is rather a manifestation of dementia. It is interesting to note that the founder of Alzheimer’s disease, Alois Alzheimer, never was convinced that it was a distinct disease.

It should be realized that this is just another instance of the problem with medical care in the United States. Hardly anyone in the United States receives the best medical treatment. The plight of the uninsured is well known, but few realize that those at the other end of the treatment spectrum, those who receive treatment in the most expensive health care system in the world, are also ill-served. People at this end are grossly overmedicated and undergo unneccesary costly operations. See the book, Worried Sick: A Prescription for Health in an Overtreated America,” by Nortin M. Hadler, M.D.

1May 2012, 28, 5. Sidney M. Wolfe, M.D. (ed).

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Solution to the Excessive Cost of a Higher Education

June 13, 2012

When I attended college, the costs were affordable. Indeed, the tuition at some outstanding universities was free. Somehow the cost of a higher education has grossly escalated. Graduates end up with a ridiculous debt burden to begin their careers. And some cannot even begin their careers because they cannot find jobs!

How has this happened? Most public universities have undergone significant reductions from their respective governments. Even so, these reductions do not account for all of the increased costs. And why the large increases at private universities?

Given the advances in technology, costs should have decreased, not increased. Texts should be available in pdf and electronic formats. Classes can be delivered over the internet resulting in very large economies of scale. Students, their spouses and parents, should not put up with this and should demand change.

Some esteemed universities are making public, via the internet, their course materials. The internet offers vast resources for learning. The opportunities for the autodidact are manifold. The problem is that although educational materials are readily available, the coin of the realm is the degree. These need to be offered by accredited colleges, and that costs money. The term diploma mill is pejorative and connotes certain types of colleges, but, in truth, all colleges are fundamentally diploma mills. They are in the business of selling diplomas.

Here is my proposal. We need a testing organization offering something like a GED for the different degree levels, but without the stigma of a GED. For example, lawyers have their bar tests, accountants have tests to become CPAs. The Graduate Record Examination offers advanced subject tests for virtually all college majors. We need accredited testing organizations to develop and administer these tests. Colleges might do this. In addition to hours completed, degrees could be offered on the basis of proficiency tests. Although tests would be involved, autodidacts would be rewarded for their efforts in providing their own education.

In my career I have encountered many individuals who have college degrees, but I still find it hard to believe that they have college degrees. Similarly I have encountered some individuals who have not attended college, and I find it difficult to believe that they have not attended college. I am not arguing that attending college is not a worthwhile activity. Rather, I am saying that it is not necessary to have attended college to manifest the benefits of a college education. It is what someone knows, and how well they communicate and think that is essential. I believe it was Robert Frost who said, “College is just a second chance to read the books you should have read in high school.” Should this be a misquote, please comment and correct me.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

My Problems with Facebook

June 9, 2012

I don’t like Facebook. I find it to be unwieldy and cluttered up with junk in which I have no interest. I assume there are means for tidying things up, but I don’t have the time or patience to learn them. There are two reasons I have a Facebook account. One is to have a means of providing additional exposure for this blog. The other reason is that I do not want to offend friends and old acquaintances. My facility with Facebook is such that there are times when I think I might have responded, but I am not sure, so I don’t know whether I am fulfilling my second objective.

In the early days, I responded positively to all friending requests. I didn’t want to offend anyone and I was especially afraid that I might offend an old acquaintance who had momentarily slipped my mind. However, there came a time when I realized that this is foolish. Why be a friend to someone I do not know and have no reason to know just so they can boast of the number of people they have friended. Tbere is a fairly limited number of people with whom one can be genuinely friends (See the Healthymemory Blog post, “How Many Friends are Too Many.”)

The vast majority of stuff on my page consists of items and people that are of no interest to me. Of course, the stuff from my real friends is there and I treasure it. It is just that I would rather correspond privately by email, but Facebook discourages one from doing this. I appreciate their convenience of being able to contact many people, so I continue to endure.

One of my pet peeves is Farmville. Notes on purchasing something or other for Farmville periodically appear. I am still working and don’t have time to deal with this. I have a hunch that most of these requests are coming from people who are retired. If retirement reduces one to playing the Farmville game, then you can count on me never retiring!

Feel free to tell me what a fuddy-duddy I am; what a poor sport I am; or to pity the poor people I am offending. What would be most appreciated are tips on how to clean up my Facebook Page!

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.