Archive for the ‘psychology’ Category

Stating ”race” enforces racism? Should the US Census ask people to state “race”?   Leave a comment

Stating ”race” enforces racism? Should the US Census ask people to state “race”?

On the web site of Time magazine, US Census Bureau Director Robert Groves is interviewed He is reporting that a large number of US citizens state more than one race. In Europe we do not state “race” when counting the population, because it is so difficult to understand what it means. And it supports feelings such as racism.

The New York Times had a series of articles on the topic earlier in the year More and more Americans do not know what to tick when they have to state “race”. Personally I think the term “race” should be skipped, as it more describes social structures and history, rather than genetically important differences. Actually, race implies that the individuals “phenotype” is related to “geographic ancestry” The definition is certainly drifting away from the genetic definition, towards a more social explanation. However, it is also discussed that scientific studies through the twentieth century has found no biological basis for the classification of race, and perhaps a primary factor in racial classification has been the social conventions established during the colonial period. For example, what is “African American”. There is no clear definition to be found, except “at least one ancestor from sub-saharan Africa”. If we reverse that definition, it is absolutely clear that Barack Obama is IRISH (next time, plese do not tick “black or African American”! Actually, tick nothing…

I think the US Census should stop requiring citizens to state“race” because it is a term that enforces racism One could just as well describe “culture”, because that would better explain how society develop and how cultural interactions shape the world. Most NY-times readers seem to agree

Posted May 31, 2011 by Jan Lötvall in behaviour, psychology, race, science, US Census

The core of science and politics, wise words by Bertrand Russel   Leave a comment

There is a lot of politics in science, and arguing about this that and the other. We scientists see it all the time, and perhaps we sometimes forget the core of science: Finding the Truth. And only the Truth… And when we find the truth, there is not much to argue about… As long as we agree with it…

And in politics, there is one core principle that is important. Live in peace!

These two core principles of humanity were well described by Bertrand Russel in this old interview, when asked “what advice would you like to give to future generations”:

Thank you Maneck for directing me to this video.

In the exosome field we are searching for consensus to be able to establish the truth. By using crowdsourcing. Are we trying to bridge science and politics, to avoid conflict. Maybe. And to find the truth and provide opportunities to communicate that truth.
From my previous blogpostings:

Judging research networks, its complexities and social interactions in the process   Leave a comment

I have just had the pleasure (and hard struggle) to together with almost another 40 scientists judge advanced research networks in life sciences. It was a three day experience where really good science, built into extensive networks of different size, was judged by an international committee.

Less than a year ago, the call for applications went out. People have spent months preparing these applications. Many of us have read, re-read, and re-re-read the applications. Applications that were 100-600 pages long. Applications that describe research of different fields, at different levels, and that bridge different fields and are built in fundamentally different ways.

A series of questions come up.

Firstly, are networks helping the efficiency of science, or are their creation built on politicians believing that networks will create better science? I am sure they are, where the abundance of study material is short, where exceedingly large cohorts are required for statistical power, or sometimes perhaps for efforts that require rapid interventions.

Secondly, can a network with 25 participating centres be compared with networks containing three?

Thirdly, can ecology and plant genetics be compared to diseases, disease genetics and disease management?

Fourthly, can any reviewer, or any series of reviewer, get a holistic view of a 600 page application?

The answer to all of these questions is of course: NO. These things cannot be directly compared, and there will always be some unfairness in the process, but it still had to be done. So we did it, and we reached a reasonable consensus on a rough scoring. There is no question that the best applications received top scores, and are likely to receive funding. And the least well thought-through applications received the lowest scores. The problem lies with the “borderline” scored projects. Those that are good, but perhaps do not contain mainstream research. Those that are excellent, but perhaps not in every single element of the structure. Will these projects receive funding? Fortunately, we did not have to decide that detail. That will come at a later date, and will be decided by a different group of individuals. Good luck! I hope to see generosity.

Another interesting experience was the classical development of group interaction. I am talking about the group of reviewers present at the meeting. A typical social group interaction process begins (see, with inevitable series of events occurring. The first day, everyone is very polite, smile extensively, and create relationships at the level of smaller groups. The second days, relationships begin to get established, and even friendship-like interactions develop.  The third day, conflicts and fights for resources start appearing. That is what we experienced, and this is what Wikipedia so well describes in the development of any social groups.

From the two perspective of review-group sociology and political implementation of network-based applications, it is not surprising that randomness occurs in the allocation of resources to research. Sometimes the resource allocation (or lack of it) is fair, sometimes it is not.

Is “African American” a “race” or a term more related to “social” issues   Leave a comment

Today I read an article in the New York times describing the necessity to remove the American tradition of listing people as belonging to a “race”. Is race a genetic entity or a social structure?
Being a medical scientist, I am often exposed to research that is discussing medical findings related to the “race” which is denominated ”African American”. From a European perspective this is an incomprehensible term. What is “African American”? A term defining a person with dark skin living in America I presume? Looking for a definition, it seems that it is more a political or social term rather than something that is defined by genetic background. Well, perhaps partial Sub-Saharan African ancestry is required, which includes being a descendant from the slavery era, but also immigrants from African, Caribbean, Central American or South American nations are included in the definition. Thus, clearly the term “African American” is by definition involving a diverse group of people with fundamentally different genetic background. And from that perspective, individuals belonging to this “group” has very little genetically in common.
Therefore, I was so happy to see this article, because maybe it is time to start removing the conceptual thinking away from “race”, and start thinking about the “individual” as a unique entity where “race” is unimportant. The example of Ian Winchester, the partly Ghanian, partly Scottish, partly Norwegian mentioned in the article, illustrates very well that family history and cultural background is more important than “race”.
Medical research reporting differences in health outcomes in “African Americans” and “Whites” often imply differences in genetic background as explanations of different findings. That could of course be correct in some instances, but I would argue that differences in the social situation, health-related behaviour and health care utilisation, including health insurance access, are of much greater overall importance than small differences in genes and gene expression.

comments from NY times readers, most agreeing that race should become unimportant:

“Creativity, imagination and intuition” vs “standard operating procedures” and detailed checklists – a limitation of our time   Leave a comment

I watched a really interesting lecture on the computer this morning, given by Ken Robinson (link at the bottom of this blog posting). It had been posted by Cezmi Akdis on his FB wall, and it is not only exceedingly interesting, but also witty and actually a “must see”.

It is discussing extensively about how the current educational systems are build around linearity, standard operating procedures and achieving pre-defined goals, without capturing the imagination, creativity and intuition of students. The lecture was passionate about finding models to develop schools to capture creativity in people, empowering them to develop new ideas and even new jobs.

But I think these concepts go way beyond our educational system, and capture the clash between on one hand “rules, regulation and standard operating procedures (SOP)”, and on the other hand “entrepreneurship, passion and invention, based on creativity and imagination”.

One example how today’s society has got it so wrong:

In our current time “invention” is a buzz word, which is related to “intellectual property (IP)” and “patents”. Those very closely connected terms have two processes connected to them that are based on totally and fundamentally different principles that contradict. Invention needs the lateral thinking and creativity of the inventor, but for the invention to have any value, society has built up a very complicated system of legal framework to protect patents and IP. The detail and structure by which patents can be legally claimed are exhaustive, complicated and to be honest, utterly boring for a creative inventor that eats and breathe lateral thinking and imagination, and from this spits out new ideas on a regular basis. For most inventors it would be impossible to sit down and author a document that requires very specific language and follows very specific SOPs. It is probably a contradiction in term.

Just think about the different personality traits of an inventor. He or she would most likely score high on personality traits such as “openness” and probably quite low on “conscientiousness” and “neuroticism”. On the other hand, a person that creates SOPs or legal framework, probably score very low on “openness” as they are prone to follow convention and rules, and very high on “conscientiousness”, for the same reason.

This contradiction in term, by which creativity is becoming packaged into boxes of limitation through the creation of regulation and SOPs in the workplace, is a key limitation of our current time. Here is a clip from Ken Robinson’s lecture:


Or check out the whole lecture, it is just over an hour long, but certainly worth the investment in time…

Sir Ken Robinson’s lecture at the Aspen Institute, >1h:

Cost effectiveness of asthma medication in children – a dollar a day keeps the doctor away…   Leave a comment

It is not easy to quantify cost effectiveness of treatments in any area of medicine, but Wang and colleagues from the “Childhood Asthma Research and Education Network of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute” have attempted to compare the effects of fluticasone by inhaled route and mometasone given by oral route. The investigators state: “For example, fluticasone treatment cost $430 less in mean direct cost (P < .01) and resulted in 40 more asthma-control days (P < .01) during the 48-week study period.”

I have no access to the full article at this time, but a major issue with cost-effectiveness evaluations is of course the huge difference in pricing of drugs in different countries. It is absolutely clear that cost in the US has no relevance for any other country. Medical costs are overall higher, doctors charge substantially more, and medications are generally higher priced than anywhere else in the world. Regardless, if we start thinking about the cost of medication on a daily basis, USD 430 in 48 weeks, the cost of treating a child with asthma was USD1.30 per day. In view of the very high efficacy such drugs have, and the substantial improvement in quality of life and “asthma free days”, this cannot be seen as very expensive in any western country. We even know that these drugs can reduce mortality. If we compare these prices with anything else we spend money on most days, perhaps a cup of coffee in the cafeteria, treating asthma is not so expensive?

In developing countries with large populations that have very little financial power, effective medicines certainly need to be provided at even lower prices. Asthma and allergies are on the rise in these countries, and the world needs to start thinking about how to provide to a global asthma population that most likely will reach 300-500 million individuals in a few decades. In 2050, the world population will probably be approximately 9 billion individuals, and if the prevalence of asthma in the developing world increases to levels of the western world (currently 6-12%), my estimate here is probably not exaggerated.

Asthma will obviouosly be a huge global health issue in the decades to come. And if it’s cost will be 1 dollar per patient per day, that is a daily expense of 300 million dollars per day globally, and thus more than 100 billion dollars a year. Is that expensive?


Just saw this (see link below), arguing that asthma prevalence in Puerto Rico is huge. The post is just over a week old. Will seek the scientific evidence supporting this statement, and will comment in a few days. It supports my argument above, that asthma is going to rise in developing countries. And it probably has very little to do with genetics… And it will have a financial impact on soicety…