Thursday, February 4, 2010

SAD (but three-dimensional!) update

So there I was on Sunday night, idly flipping channels as usual, and I suddenly came upon numerous hotshot CELEBRITIES with million-dollar winter-tans, trillion-dollar designer-gowns, thousand-dollar botoxed facial expressions (or lack of them) and fancy upswept hairdos, wearing... what?! 3-D glasses! They looked like my dearly departed grandpa at the drive-in movie! (In fact, it was a segment of the Grammy Awards.)

I admit, I laughed my ass off and made Mr Daisy come look at the spectacle of rich people with astronomically-expensive faces, hair and makeup, wearing cheap-ass 3-D glasses that looked like they came out of a Crackerjack box. HAHAHAHA! Did they know how stupid they looked? DEAD AIR certainly hopes so!

Interestingly, I can't find any photos of this humorous event online... did the stars agree to do it only if nobody took photos of audience-members while they looked dopey? If I'd known that, I woulda grabbed my camera for a video capture...

EDIT: In response to this post, has helpfully provided us with video captures of celebs in 3-D glasses at the Grammy Awards.--DD


In other news, blogging is becoming an old people's thang (something I have long suspected!):

Could it be that blogs have become online fodder for the — gasp! — more mature reader?

A new study has found that young people are losing interest in long-form blogging, as their communication habits have become increasingly brief, and mobile. Tech experts say it doesn't mean blogging is going away. Rather, it's gone the way of the telephone and e-mail — still useful, just not sexy.
The study, released Wednesday by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, found that 14 percent of Internet youths, ages 12 to 17, now say they blog, compared with just over a quarter who did so in 2006. And only about half in that age group say they comment on friends' blogs, down from three-quarters who did so four years ago.

Pew found a similar drop in blogging among 18- to 29-year-olds.

Overall, Pew estimates that roughly one in 10 online adults maintain a blog — a number that has remained consistent since 2005, when blogs became a more mainstream activity. In the U.S., that would mean there are more than 30 million adults who blog.

"That's a pretty remarkable thing to have gone from zero to 30 million in the last 10 years," says David Sifry, founder of blog search site Technorati.

But according to the data, that population is aging.

The Pew study found, for instance, that the percentage of Internet users age 30 and older who maintain a blog increased from 7 percent in 2007 to 11 percent in 2009.

Pew's over-18 data, collected in the last half of last year, were based on interviews with 2,253 adults and have a margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points. The under-18 data came from phone interviews with 800 12- to 17-year-olds and their parents. The margin of error for that data was plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.

So why are young people less interested in blogging?

The explosion of social networking is one obvious answer. The Pew survey found that nearly three-quarters of 12- to 17-year-olds who have access to the Internet use social networking sites, such as Facebook. That compares with 55 percent four years ago.

With social networking has come the ability to do a quick status update and that has "kind of sucked the life out of long-form blogging," says Amanda Lenhart, a Pew senior researcher and lead author of the latest study.

More young people are also accessing the Internet from their mobile phones, only increasing the need for brevity. The survey found, for instance, that half of 18- to 29-year-olds had done so.

All of that rings true to Sarah Rondeau, a freshman at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass.

"It's a matter of typing quickly. People these days don't find reading that fun," the 18-year-old student says.

I can't improve on that last line. ;)

(Thanks to Vanessa for the link!)


Pardon my spotty blogging over the past month, sports fans. I have had a pretty pronounced bout of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) this year, and my reliable herbal standbys, Rhodiola, Ashwanghanda and Ginseng have not helped me as much as they usually do. And then I read the Newsweek article, about how all of these BigPharma anti-depressants may be just as good as a placebo (OR AN HERB, Daisy interjected):
The research had shown that antidepressants help about three quarters of people with depression who take them, a consistent finding that serves as the basis for the oft-repeated mantra "There is no question that the safety and efficacy of antidepressants rest on solid scientific evidence," as psychiatry professor Richard Friedman of Weill Cornell Medical College recently wrote in The New York Times. But ever since a seminal study in 1998, whose findings were reinforced by landmark research in The Journal of the American Medical Association last month, that evidence has come with a big asterisk. Yes, the drugs are effective, in that they lift depression in most patients. But that benefit is hardly more than what patients get when they, unknowingly and as part of a study, take a dummy pill—a placebo. As more and more scientists who study depression and the drugs that treat it are concluding, that suggests that antidepressants are basically expensive Tic Tacs.

Hence the moral dilemma. The placebo effect—that is, a medical benefit you get from an inert pill or other sham treatment—rests on the holy trinity of belief, expectation, and hope. But telling someone with depression who is being helped by antidepressants, or who (like my friend) hopes to be helped, threatens to topple the whole house of cards. Explain that it's all in their heads, that the reason they're benefiting is the same reason why Disney's Dumbo could initially fly only with a feather clutched in his trunk—believing makes it so—and the magic dissipates like fairy dust in a windstorm. So rather than tell my friend all this, I chickened out. Sure, I said, there's lots of research showing that a new kind of antidepressant might help you. Come, let me show you the studies on PubMed.

It seems I am not alone in having moral qualms about blowing the whistle on antidepressants. That first analysis, in 1998, examined 38 manufacturer-sponsored studies involving just over 3,000 depressed patients. The authors, psychology researchers Irving Kirsch and Guy Sapirstein of the University of Connecticut, saw—as everyone else had—that patients did improve, often substantially, on SSRIs, tricyclics, and even MAO inhibitors, a class of antidepressants that dates from the 1950s. This improvement, demonstrated in scores of clinical trials, is the basis for the ubiquitous claim that antidepressants work. But when Kirsch compared the improvement in patients taking the drugs with the improvement in those taking dummy pills—clinical trials typically compare an experimental drug with a placebo—he saw that the difference was minuscule. Patients on a placebo improved about 75 percent as much as those on drugs. Put another way, three quarters of the benefit from antidepressants seems to be a placebo effect. "We wondered, what's going on?" recalls Kirsch, who is now at the University of Hull in England. "These are supposed to be wonder drugs and have huge effects."

The study's impact? The number of Americans taking antidepressants doubled in a decade, from 13.3 million in 1996 to 27 million in 2005.

To be sure, the drugs have helped tens of millions of people, and Kirsch certainly does not advocate that patients suffering from depression stop taking the drugs. On the contrary. But they are not necessarily the best first choice. Psychotherapy, for instance, works for moderate, severe, and even very severe depression. And although for some patients, psychotherapy in combination with an initial course of prescription antidepressants works even better, the question is, how do the drugs work? Kirsch's study and, now, others conclude that the lion's share of the drugs' effect comes from the fact that patients expect to be helped by them, and not from any direct chemical action on the brain, especially for anything short of very severe depression.

As the inexorable rise in the use of antidepressants suggests, that conclusion can't hold a candle to the simplistic "antidepressants work!" (unstated corollary: "but don't ask how") message. Part of the resistance to Kirsch's findings has been due to his less-than-retiring nature. He didn't win many friends with the cheeky title of the paper, "Listening to Prozac but Hearing Placebo." Nor did it inspire confidence that the editors of the journal Prevention & Treatment ran a warning with his paper, saying it used meta-analysis "controversially." Al-though some of the six invited commentaries agreed with Kirsch, others were scathing, accusing him of bias and saying the studies he analyzed were flawed (an odd charge for defenders of antidepressants, since the studies were the basis for the Food and Drug Administration's approval of the drugs). One criticism, however, could not be refuted: Kirsch had analyzed only some studies of antidepressants. Maybe if he included them all, the drugs would emerge head and shoulders superior to placebos.

Now, we need to talk about placebos and why they work. I think, you know, it's something quaintly known to some of us as FAITH.

Which leads me to...


Left: Cross by Wes-Wilson (1968)

And finally, more brawling over Jesus, Krishna, Moses, and all their friends. Good God (joke deliberate)--will I never learn? Why do I do this? I should know by now to listen to myself and what I hear myself saying: The atheists are as intractable as the fundamentalists. Buddha's extremely sane Middle Path will never go over with either party, so why on Earth do I bother?

I quit arguing with the fundies, since I decided their minds were already closed, but I really hate giving up on the atheists. I thought they were supposed to be SMART? If they are, do they honestly believe that the VAST MAJORITY of people in the ENTIRE WORLD will give up our magic talismans and superstitions?

Barefoot Bum, in above link, keeps lambasting me unmercifully as superstitious... but what he doesn't seem to understand is that I fully grant him the point. Now, in his perfect religionless world, what is he going to do with all of us incurably-superstitious people? Psychiatric hospitals? Gulags? Collective farming in the countryside? It's all been done. Didn't work. Now what?

Honest question, not at all rhetorical, and I put it out there for all "militant atheists" (name of thread wherein aforementioned brawl took place) to answer. I know what the fundies think. What do you think? You can't consign us to hell, since you don't believe in it, so would you lock us up? Barefoot Bum says no, of course not. But if you think certain people are DANGEROUS and spread evil and ignorance simply by existing, don't you think they should be locked up? If not, you must not really think we're that bad and it's all an exercise in advanced rhetorical hubris.

The above argument was borrowed from Michael Kinsley, who used to demand (during his stint on CNN's Crossfire) that pro-lifers answer the question: Would you put all women in jail who obtain abortions? If you say no, you must not truly believe abortion constitutes the crime of murder, as you SAY you do. Gotcha.

If Christians are dangerous wackos, it seems you would believe we should be locked up in hospitals for wackos. If you think we are spreading vicious awfulness and engaging in horrific hate-speech, you would of course want us to at least be ARRESTED, yes? And you don't?

Excuse me, radical atheists, I call bullshit.