Norm Macdonald on battling cancer

The comedian just died of cancer at the age of 61. I had never actually seen him perform but read that he had a droll deadpan manner and an offbeat take on the mundane. I came across this audio recording of a stand up bit that he did ten years ago that dealt with something that also has struck me as odd, that when it comes to cancer, people who have it are always described as ‘battling it’, a fighting metaphor that is rarely applied to other ailments.

Macdonald had apparently kept his cancer diagnosis secret so that his death came as a surprise to those who knew him. Maybe he did not want to have people talking about him too ‘battling’ cancer.

Public Service Announcement: Never trust someone’s friend about anything

In the crazy media world we live in these days, I saw multiple headlines about a story in which Nicki Minaj had tweeted that a friend of her cousin who lived in Trinidad and Tobago got swollen testicles and became impotent after taking a covid-19 vaccine and his fiancee called off their wedding. The ensuing publicity resulted in the minister of public health in that country wasting his time investigating this before announcing that they could not any evidence of swollen testicles.

I grant that this story has many clickbait features: A celebrity, covid-19, impotence, and swollen testicles.

But really? Whenever you hear an outlandish story, your guard should immediately go up. And you should definitely ignore the story if it is ascribed to an unidentified friend of even someone you know personally, let alone someone whom you do not know at all. That almost guarantees that the story is at best highly exaggerated or more likely outright false.

This has been a Public Service Announcement. We now go back to our regular programming.

Dan Ariely’s work called into question

In my teaching work and on this blog, I have often referred favorably to the work of behavioral economist Dan Ariely who devised ingenious experiments to tease out human behaviors and motivations. (See here for the posts where I have discussed his work.) I have recommended his book Predictably Irrational which, as the title succinctly suggests, argued that while people are often irrational, their irrationality is not random. He has also given very popular TED talks.

A lot of his research dealt with the issue of honesty: what corners people are willing to cut, by how much, and how they view themselves. So I was disappointed to read that he may the latest example of an academic who has been sloppy or worse in the way that he has conducted his research, throwing his work into doubt.
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The Costa Rican health care system

In the August 30, 2021 issue of the New Yorker, Atul Gawande takes a close look at the health care system in Costa Rica that, within a few decades, improved so rapidly that now its people have a higher life expectancy than the US and at a much lower cost. The numbers alone tell the story.

In 1950, around ten per cent of children died before their first birthday, most often from diarrheal illnesses, respiratory infections, and birth complications. Many youths and young adults died as well. The country’s average life expectancy was fifty-five years, thirteen years shorter than that in the United States at the time.

Life expectancy tends to track national income closely. Costa Rica has emerged as an exception… Across all age cohorts, the country’s increase in health has far outpaced its increase in wealth. Although Costa Rica’s per-capita income is a sixth that of the United States—and its per-capita health-care costs are a fraction of ours—life expectancy there is approaching eighty-one years. In the United States, life expectancy peaked at just under seventy-nine years, in 2014, and has declined since.

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How do pandemics end?

In an effort to curb the rise in infections and deaths due to the spread of the Delta variant of covid-19, Joe Biden has announced sweeping measures to try and turn the tide. He has mandated that all federal workers and contractors be vaccinated and that all businesses with over 100 employees do the same. He has greatly reduced the options available for not getting vaccinated, especially for federal workers.

In his most forceful pandemic actions and words, President Joe Biden on Thursday ordered sweeping new federal vaccine requirements for as many as 100 million Americans — private-sector employees as well as health care workers and federal contractors — in an all-out effort to curb the surging COVID-19 delta variant.

Speaking at the White House, Biden sharply criticized the tens of millions of Americans who are not yet vaccinated, despite months of availability and incentives.facilities receiving federal benefits will also face the same requirements, he said.

The expansive rules mandate that all employers with more than 100 workers require them to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly, affecting about 80 million Americans. And the roughly 17 million workers at health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid also will have to be fully vaccinated.

Biden is also requiring vaccination for employees of the executive branch and contractors who do business with the federal government — with no option to test out. That covers several million more workers.

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The origins of the lizard people theory

I must admit that hearing that some people believe in the existence of ‘lizard people’ took me by surprise, even though you would think that by now I would have become accustomed to hearing that people believe in all manner of fantastical ideas. So what is this theory and how did it originate? Cultural historian Lynn Stuart Parramore walks us through this strange world that has anti-Semitic roots. She says that while the theory is undoubtedly bonkers, it is definitely not harmless.

The world-ruled-by-lizard-people fantasy shot to prominence in recent years in part through the ramblings of David Icke, a popular British sports reporter-turned-conspiracy theorist known for his eccentric ideas.

Icke would have you believe that a race of reptilian beings not only invaded Earth, but that it also created a genetically modified lizard-human hybrid race called the “Babylonian Brotherhood,” which, he maintains, is busy plotting a worldwide fascist state. This sinister cabal of global reptilian elites boasts a membership list including former President Barack Obama, Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and Mick Jagger.

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Another favorable review of my book

The American Journal of Physics has just posted a very favorable review of my book The Great Paradox Of Science. This is important because that journal reaches a significant portion of my target audience, those scientists who have broader interests outside their sub-speciality. You can read the full review here but below is an extract.

The book … is a deep and thoughtful attack on the fundamental issue of how science works. I use the word “attack” deliberately, for the central theme of his book is a devaluation of the concept of truth. As he puts it in his closing words (emphasis in the original),

Truth and correspondence with reality are unnecessary as explanatory concepts in science and …. we can regard them as irrelevant and can comfortably dispense with them as no longer serving any useful purpose.

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My Scientific American article on Kelvin and Darwin

In lieu of a post, I will refer you to an article of mine that was just published in Scientific American magazine titled When Lord Kelvin Nearly Killed Darwin’s Theory. It deals with an an interesting historical period in the second half of the 19th century that pitted two scientific giants against each other in which the age of the Earth was the key factor in determining the final outcome.

Enjoy! And let me know in the comments what you think.