Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

Welcome Back

Friday, August 17th, 2018

It’s been a long time, and lots has changed over the past six years. I didn’t have much to say for quite a while, but I just started writing a little bit about Fake News. So why not bring it back to where I started, right? Take a peek:

We all hate fake news, right? We need to start railing against skewed, misleading news as well. So let’s talk about how we can all be better consumers of medical literature that is presented by mainstream media.

Consider the article at the bottom of this piece, from CNN, entitled “Teens who Vape or Use Hookah are More Likely to Use Marijuana Later, Study Finds,” which is a summary of a study in the journal Pediatrics. This article is particularly relevant today, for several reasons:

1) The legalization of marijuana is an important and growing political issue.
2) Mainstream media has come under intense fire, sometimes fairly, sometimes not.
3) CNN is considered by many, although surely not all, as a “middle of the road” media site, which *theoretically* has less political bias than other major news outlets.
4) While science is mostly paving the way for cannibis as a relatively safe drug for recreational use – especially when compared with cigarettes and alcohol – with several medicinal benefits, its use by teens is somewhat more murky.
This is understandable, given the younger brain is not fully developed.

Let’s understand CNN’s slant from both a framing and scientific perspective:

CNN does not say that cannabis is bad for either teens or adults, this is solely about likelihood of use based on prior vaping or hookah-ing (if that’s a verb). That restraint by CNN is a good thing. However, when one reads the article, important questions for the reader should immediately come to mind:

1) Teens are “more likely” to use marijuana *how often?* Ten times per day? Once per year? Note that the answer to this question is buried at the bottom of the article, and the answer to that question is “we have no idea, we didn’t measure that.” For a society that often *only* reads the headline and perhaps a few paragraphs, this presentation of the title as only “more likely” is a natural anxiety generator for parents.

2) What does “more likely” mean in terms of causality, if anything? All we know, based on this study, is that hookha/vaping is *correlated* with later marijuana use. The default in society, based on articles such as this, is that one variable is causing the other. This is where a keen eye is required. One of the first rules of statistics is “correlation does not imply causation.” When two variables are correlated, factor A *may* cause Factor B, or Factor B *may* cause Factor A, or a third factor might be an underlying mechanism for the variation of both.
Note that the lead investigator says that the correlation does not *necessarily* imply causation. This is a misleading statement, as correlation does not imply causation, period. The word “necessarily” changes the entire tone, pushing the mind toward causality when it may or may not exist.

Consider the following two statements from a doctor to a patient:

1) The blood test results do not imply cancer.

2) The blood test results do not *necessarily* imply cancer.
Which one scares you more?

The article then goes on to suggest other factors that might be related to causality, but the harsh reality is that it’s too late for most readers, the message of causality has already penetrated the anxious parent’s mind. You can fact check the day after a political debate, but it’s too late. You can tell a jury to disregard previous statements made by counsel, but it’s too late. Timing on these studies is everything: the scary part comes first, *then* the qualifiers. This is dangerous and irresponsible.

So if this piece is nebulous and misleading in any way, what can we take from an article such as this. You may draw one, and only one reasonable conclusion:

In one study involving a select group of 12 year olds, there is a *link* between vape/hookah use and use of marijuana two years later. The nature of that link is unclear in any meaningful way. Maybe that link will become clear with more research, maybe not.

Note that I say *one* study. When issues regarding human behavior are studied, you should assume that, for every study confirming a hypothesis, there is at least one study that either does not support that hypothesis, and perhaps one that refutes (which may or may not be published). That is what makes psychology so fascinating/frustrating: human experience is so incredibly difficult to isolate and quantify, which is why one study means very little and why, very often, replicating a previous finding is quite difficult.

What you can NOT take from this study or article, no matter how much you and CNN might want to is, unfortunately, what most people will conclude:

Hookha/vape use causes teens to eventually smoke weed.

#DontFallForIt

https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/06/health/vape-hookah-marijuana-teens-study/index.html

Four Steps to Decrease Depression

Monday, December 17th, 2012

Men’s Health put up a quick, useful read in response to new research on the success of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy even when antidepressants fail. They asked me for some quick tips for those who don’t have the time or money for traditional therapy. Below is an excerpt and click here for the entire article (note: the techniques work for women as well):

You don’t need to keep a teen diary, but the moment you notice your mood change, write your thoughts down in bullet points, Dobrenski suggests. “One of the hallmarks of depression is assuming that all of your thoughts are true,” he says. “And it’s been shown that with depression, people have skewed thoughts.” When you see your cognitions on paper, you’re more likely to recognize that they’re not all true — maybe they’re too global (“everything is falling apart”), or too dark (“this is the worst day of my life”). Realizing that your thoughts don’t match reality can help bring you back to reality.

When is it (Not) Okay to Lie?

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

The good people at RoleReboot.com asked for a slightly different take on the notion that honesty is always the best policy. Fancying myself a psychological iconoclast, I chimed in with an article for them. There’s an excerpt below and go here for the entire piece. Enjoy.

Person A often reveals the truth under the guise of altruism or respect but, in reality, he or she is doing it to relieve his or her own guilt. People often fail to recognize that when they “get things off of their chest,” they often feel better, but they are transferring their pain onto the person who is hearing the words. This leads to a double kick in the teeth: “I’ve done something awful to you AND I’m going to ask you to help me feel better about it.” Guilt is an incredibly powerful emotion that most of us will do a lot to eradicate, and it’s particularly easy to do it when you believe that it’s “the right thing to do.” But simply believing that doesn’t make it so. It’s only the evolved person who ponders the question: Who benefits most from the truth and who will suffer because of it?