links for 2008-09-14

What’s Up With My Data, Doc?

I can’t find the original article on the IHT website, but there’s a great piece in today’s edition on how pharmaceutical companies push their drugs by funding — I would say bribing — doctors. It’s written by Daniel Carlat, who writes a blog and publishes the Carlat Psychiatry Report.

The most interesting part of the piece is on something called prescription data-mining, where data from pharmacists on prescriptions — what patients are given what medicines — are linked to the doctors prescribing said medicines. This allows pharmaceutical companies to target doctors and get them to push their drugs by paying them to make presentations to other doctors.

Carlat himself made $30,000 in a year doing this before he saw the light. He is now a major critic of the practice, and challenges in a recent blog post the absurd industry defense of the practice of prescription data-mining that it’s all about transparency:

Today, however (on a tip from PharmaGossip), I read the most absurd argument in its defense yet, reported in yesterday’s Philadelphia Inquirer. The reporter, Karl Stark, quoted Jody Fisher, Verispan’s vice president of product management, as saying: “Doctors are trying to create a special right of privacy. I can certainly appreciate where they’re coming from. But the way the world is going is toward increased transparency of information.”

“Transparency of information”! What a wonderful Web 2.0 buzz phrase!

Of course, I’m interested because you can see in it the power of data-mining. The original pharmacist data doesn’t include the doctors’ names, only their Drug Enforcement Agency registration numbers. It’s the American Medical Association that effectively reveals the doctors’ names to Big Pharma by licensing its file of U.S. physicians, allowing data-mining companies like IMS Health and Verispan to match the numbers with the names, Carlat writes in today’s IHT piece. The AMA makes millions of dollars in this process, by the way.

Are similar things being done with our Internet-based data? Is the anonymous becoming less anonymous? If it’s not being done now, assume it will be in the future. It’s a great example of how data aren’t always valuable until they’re linked to other data, and then they’re extremely valuable.

The Carlat Psychiatry Blog: September 2007

Doctor’s Decorating Taste

Maybe other countries are different, but where I live doctors don’t just put any old picture on the wall. They seem to prefer to scare the bejesus out of you with graphic cross sections of your innards, usually in a state of advanced decay. This one had a nice picture clock on the wall, featuring a charming young lady. Only upon closer inspection the blurb read “I beat Hep C” or something. Great. Good pickup line, lady.

Update: Popular request, here’s the clock:

image

apparently it comes from a Schering-Plough campaign of the same name.

The Big Chill

 Freeman and Ferguson in a tank

Football (OK, soccer) is pushing to the forefront of adopting interesting technologies. Here’s one I hadn’t heard from Bolton Wanderers, where players enter a chamber at minus 120 degrees Celsius to enhance muscle recovery after training. It’s called cryotherapy, according to the Daily Mail:

The technique was originated in Japan in 1978 to help arthritis sufferers and patients with joint conditions. In time, athletes claimed it enhanced muscle recovery and reduced muscle pain. [Bolton’s new head of sports science and medicine Richard] Freeman said: “It’s made from liquid nitrogen and liquid oxygen mixed to the right proportion to become liquid synthetic air. It’s quite safe despite the temperatures.

“It’s still in its infancy but players benefit. It’s like stretching before a game. There’s little scientific evidence why it works but it clearly does. The players like it and feel they benefit. After a heavy training session, a weights session or an intense game, they feel better quicker and it has been shown to improve muscle structure and muscle function.

Cryotherapy, according to Wikipedia, stretches from applying an ice pack to this chamber approach, which is properly called cryogenic chamber therapy:

The chamber is cooled, typically with liquid nitrogen, to a temperature of –110 C. The patient is protected from acute frostbite with socks, gloves and mouth and ear protection, but in addition to that, wears nothing but a bathing suit. The patients spends a few minutes in the chamber. During treatment the average skin temperature drops 12 C, while the coldest skin temperature can be 5 C. The core body temperature remains unchanged during the treatment, while after it, it may drop slightly. Curiously enough, some patients compare the feeling to sauna at +110 C. Release of endorphins occurs, resulting in analgesia (immediate pain relief).

Want one of your own? Buy the CryoCabin CYRODOC from the Zwolle-based company of the same name:

Treatment in the CRYODOC CryoCabin takes only 3 minutes at a temperature of -130 Cº to -150 Cº , producing several important salutary effects throughout the body: energy boost, skin regeneration and rejuvenation, protection against fading skin, strengthening of the immune system, fighting stress and chronic fatigue, increased metabolic rate, weight reduction, fighting cellulite, pain reduction, and generally improving the overall state of health.

I’ll spare you some of the more graphic pictures on their website (think cellulite and elbow rash. But I like the way this lady’s earrings twinkle in her CryoCabin:

image
Come in, the air is lovely

Why giving players the cold shoulder – and everything else – is keeping Bolton Poles apart | the Daily Mail

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How To Remember Stuff

I long suspected this was the case, and now we’ve proof: Try too hard to remember something and you can almost feel yourself forgetting it. Stop trying to remember and it will come back. Of course, this could be extended to other mental activity: Your brain can only cope with so much stuff, so better to let it float and do what it wants to do. If it’s a good brain and has plenty to feed on, it should give you what you want in its own sweet time. Hey, a slacker’s manifesto.

clipped from scienceblogs.com

One explanation for this fascinating failure of memory is retrieval-induced forgetting, in which the retrieval of closely related concepts and words actually competes with the word or concept you intended to retrieve (discussed previously). The intended item becomes available only after the residual activity among the incorrectly retrieved items has decayed.

Sudoku’s Secret: Open Source Collaboration

Great piece in the NYT/IHT on the company behind Sudoku and similar games. Their approach — no trademarking, harnessing users to help develop and perfect games — all sounds very Open Source:

clipped from www.iht.com

Nikoli’s secret, Kaji said, lay in a kind of democratization of puzzle invention. The company itself does not actually create many new puzzles — an American invented an earlier version of Sudoku, for example. Instead, Nikoli provides a forum for testing and perfecting them. About 50,000 readers of its main magazine submit ideas; the most promising are then printed by Nikoli to seek approval and feedback from other readers.

Phones & Our Sense of Value

Jan Chipchase, who has to have one of the coolest jobs on the planet, points out that as phones get cheaper — or at least appear to, as they are sold for very little as part of a service package — so does our perception of their value. Living in a country where you buy the phone yourself, I find attitudes to phones in places like the U.S. and UK startlingly cavalier, as if the device is unimportant and easily replaceable. Which I guess it is. For me, losing my Treo would be deeply, deeply painful.

But the gulf between sticker cost and actual cost hides something deeper than a lighter wallet. Like the humble biro it changes our perception of what it means to ‘own’ a product and may well have significant impact on the speed at which the product ends up reaching the end of its life as a functional object, of being discarded.

Movies vs Games. They’re Not the Same

A remark by Will Wright picked up by Jason Kottke captures why movies and computer games are different, and why we should not think one is going to edge out the other. I would add something else: Computer games allow us to experience emotion, while movies allow us to feel those emotions vicariously. We have no control over those emotions on film, since they’re being manipulated by the director of the movie — sometimes crassly, sometimes brilliantly. But we are passengers. With computer games we are in the driving seat.

clipped from www.kottke.org

Notes from Will Wright’s keynote at SXSW 2007. “Movies have these wonderful things called actors, which are like emotional avatars, and you kinda feel what they’re feeling, it’s very effective. Films have a rich emotional palette because they have actors. Games often appeal to the reptilian brain – fear, action – but they have a different emotional palette. There are things you feel in games – like pride, accomplishment, guilt even! – that you’ll never feel in a movie.”

Podcast: Waking Up

My WSJ column for the BBC on devices to wake you up in the morning.

Here are some links for products mentioned in the piece:
Clocky
SleepTracker

Give Your Mouse A Bath

Those who got excited about the idea of a washable keyboard (which I wrote about in a WSJ.com column a few weeks back — sorry, subscription only; a version appeared on the BBC World Service, and is available as a podcast) can now get excited about Washable Computer Mice, from Unotron:

Unotron’s pioneering mice design configurations and materials allow these patented products to be easily washed, immersed and disinfected by commercial-grade detergents and anti-bacterial agents while providing users with comfort, control and reliability. SpillSeal washable mice are manufactured and assembled to support restrictive cleaning/disinfection procedures without any detrimental effect to the exterior or the products’ internal components.

Makes sense, actually. As I realised when I was doing the keyboard column, we spend an inordinate amount of time with our fingers on these things, and while we may not spend quite as much time using the mouse, there’s still enough gunky activity going on for us to pay the same attention to keeping the little rodents clean. Sadly no pictures or details of mice having a bath are available on Unotron’s website yet, so here’s a picture of a keyboard getting washed instead:

Wash