Monthly Archives: August 2010

Interesting NYT article on childhood depression

I read with great interest this article in the New York Times by Pamela Paul on childhood depression.

According to the article, researchers now believe that depression can be diagnosed in children as young as 2 or 3 years old, and the idea is apparently gaining wide acceptance in the medical community.  The article quotes researchers who insist that only “hard-core scientists” and “laypeople” remain skeptical.

To me, the fact that “hard-core scientists” have reservations about this theory is a red flag and a cause for serious concern and not a sign that the ideas behind it are ready for wide application.  What is reported in the following excerpt also concerns me:

Though research does not support the use of antidepressants in children this young, medication of preschoolers, often off label, is on the rise. One child psychologist told me about a conference he attended where he met frustrated drug-industry representatives. “They want to give these kids medicines, but we can’t figure out the diagnoses.” As Daniel Klein warns, “Right now the problem may be underdiagnosis, but these things can flip completely.

Perhaps I am interpreting this quote the wrong way, but can anyone blame me for feeling that the drug companies are drooling over the prospect of expanding the market for their anti-depressant drugs to include pre-schoolers and other children?

Let me repeat that last part again:

They want to give these kids medicines, but we can’t figure out the diagnoses.

Does that not sound like a solution looking for a problem?

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G20 riot apologists out in full force

Black to blogging. I have some things to get off my chest.

Local T.V. reported heavily on the mass court appearances held last week  in Toronto for people arrested for various G20-related security offences.

Not surprisingly, spokespeople for myriad social groups advocating for the accused were on hand to provide rehearsed (and mostly lame) excuses for the destruction wrought by the alleged perpetrators during the summit.

Some advice to protesters: next time you plan to participate in a “peaceful protest”, it is your obligation to police yourself. Just think of the upper hand you could have gained after the summit had you actually managed to keep the protests peaceful. Then you could have legitimately complained about the exorbitant security costs for the event. Instead, you helped justify them.

Note: I am not a supporter of this event.  See my previous blog post here for my full opinion on the matter.

– Dave

Autism news: Aug. 10, 2010

A few autism-related news items of note over the past week:

(1) [No surprise] Anti-depressants found to be ineffective for treatment of autism

The Boston Globe reports the following:

Children and adults with autism spectrum disorders have trouble with communication and social interaction. There are no drugs specifically approved to treat these problems, although antidepressants are sometimes recommended. But a new analysis finds no evidence that they help people with autism and some signs that they may cause harm in children.

The full story is here.

Dave: Last time I checked anti-depressants were found to be barely better than placebos in treating depression, which is the disease they were designed for, so it’s hardly surprising to me that they don’t work for autism. As far as I know, it has never been demonstrated that there is a link between low serotonin levels and autism, so it is hard to understand how these drugs could help address autistic symptoms. But with roughly 1% of the population suffering from this disease, it clearly behooves drug companies to promote this as a possible treatment, especially since they wouldn’t have to spend any money on development.

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This post is “all-natural” (but may contain lead)

Have you ever wondered what is meant when a food product is claimed to be “all-natural” or has “natural ingredients”? Market studies obviously demonstrate a clear competitive advantage for products bearing these labels; otherwise, they wouldn’t be used so frequently. But why is “natural” such a selling point?

To me, the word “natural” is relatively neutral and possesses neither positive nor negative connotations. There are many beneficial substances that occur naturally and probably just as many toxic ones, too, and the word “natural” can be applied to either category and anything in between.

So what does the average, uncritical consumer perceive the benefits of  “natural” ingredients to be? To me, the answer is relatively obvious: no doubt influenced by today’s common wisdom as promoted by the mainstream media, most consumers labour under the assumption that “natural” automatically means good, nutritious and safe, while “man-made” ingredients, like apparently all things man-made, are necessarily empty, harmful and just plain bad.

But how does the consumer’s view square with the food regulators’ view? Do food regulators require food manufacturers to use the word “natural” in the spirit of consumer expectations, or do they instead allow manufacturers to cynically pander to the masses while permitting them to “work” the labeling guidelines in a way that makes their claims totally inconsistent with what customers expect? That is an important question.

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Temperatures of the lower troposphere: models vs. observations

Update: Just a note that this post was not intended to be anything more than a “back of the envelope” look at how global tropospheric temperatures correlate with surface temperatures as I understand the models. I’m hoping I can look more deeply into this topic in the future, mostly as an educational experience for myself.

Climate models predict that the lower troposphere should warm globally approximately 1.2 times more than the Earth’s surface (1.5 in the tropics). Yet at present, satellite temperature data does not seem entirely consistent with those predictions.

The following graph plots GISS land/sea temperatures against UAH satellite temperatures for the lower troposphere from 1979-2010 for comparison purposes.  The red line represents the GISS data and the green line plots the actual UAH temperature data. The blue line represents the GISS temperatures scaled by a factor of 1.2 and therefore shows the predicted value of the global tropospheric temperatures according to the models.

Lower Troposphere Temps (Actual vs. Predicted) (using UAH/GISS)

As can be seen, the difference between the predicted tropospheric temperatures and actual temperatures (i.e., the difference between the green and blue lines) appears to be substantial. I am not attempting to determine at this point whether the difference is statistically significant or not (I suspect it is), but that can be a topic for future post.

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Curry faces her accusers – again

In Plato’s “Apology”, Socrates says the following of his accusers:

…for they do not like to confess that their pretence of knowledge has been detected–which is the truth; and as they are numerous and ambitious and energetic, and are drawn up in battle array and have persuasive tongues, they have filled your ears with their loud and inveterate calumnies.

I couldn’t help recalling these words as I read the over-heated comments in this recent thread at RealClimate where Dr. Judith Curry faced her own set of accusers, apparently upset with her for having the audacity to associate with climate auditor Stephen McIntrye (and his “ilk”) and also for encouraging mainstream climate scientists to rebut the arguments contained in A.W. Montford’s recent book “The Hockey Stick Illusion” which documents, from a skeptical point of view, issues with paleo-reconstructions of past temperatures using tree-ring proxies. The book focuses on the famous “hockey stick” graph, denigrated by climate skeptics as climate science’s biggest failure and lauded by AGW proponents as one of its strongest pieces of evidence in support of unprecedented 20th century warming.

The thread in question was initiated by a review of “The Hockey Stick Illusion” by pro-AGW blogger Tamino, a review in which he appears to have misrepresented and misunderstood several key points in Montford’s book (see here, for example). Enter Ms. Curry who rushed out a review of the review, giving it a grade of C-. What ensued was both hysterical and nauseating.

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When did “Global Warming” become “Climate Change”?

July was a difficult month personally, with a family crisis (still ongoing) and an extremely busy work schedule  But no complaints here.  If I’m going to continue to blog, I better get used to doing it in the face of some stiff time constraints, as work and family life are not likely to become any less demanding in the near future, as far as I can see.

To start things rolling again, I thought I’d do something short and fun.

Anyone who has been following the “Global Warming”, er, “Climate Change” debate for any length of time now has probably noticed that the former moniker seems to be losing ground in favour of the latter. But when exactly did it happen?

To answer this question, I decided to compare the number of times the terms “Global Warming” and “Climate Change” appear in news articles indexed by Google News since 2000. Here are the results:

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