Author Archives: The Perfectionist

Increasing Organ Donations

As many will know, there is a major organ shortage currently (about 8000 people are on the waiting list) and encouraging a higher number of donations is a hot topic circulating around the news at the moment. This is because the government is attempting to come up with new ideas to encourage a larger number of people to donate organs.

The most recent possible incentive is that the NHS will pay for the funeral expenses (around £3000) of organ donors, portrayed to be like a “gift” for their generosity. A big cause of concern has been that this could open up trafficking of organs by people who are desperate financially; however, by paying for their funeral only, the government has tried to minimise this misapprehension as you will not be directly selling your organs individually for money.

The main argument against this is that people believe organ donation should be an entirely altruistic act – completely selfless, with no expectation of payment, and the funeral payment totally contradicts this. Many also believe that it won’t have a big effect as most people are not bothered about funeral expenses.

Personally, I believe the only way of increasing organs availability is by having an opt-out system (like Spain and Austria do), rather than an opt-in system, which England currently holds. This means that everyone is automatically signed up to donate their organs when they die but can choose not to participate, instead of the opposite. With this system, everyone will have to be educated thoroughly from a young age so that they can make the decision to pull out (but then again, what is the appropriate age for children to be able to make this decision?). They have thought about this system before but worry that the increase won’t be significant enough to combat the transplant demands and that it could possibly even reduce the number. Nonetheless, this would mean that organs of people who “never got around to” signing up aren’t wasted. It also considerably increases permission by family members who have the ability to veto a consent given initially by the donor when alive.

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Bad Science By Ben Goldacre – The Truth About Media Science Stories

“The media is game-like world of blurry truths, where the vague narrative shape of a story matters more than clarity, accuracy and evidence.”

In this book Ben Goldacre, doctor and author of the weekly Bad Science columns in The Guardian, extends his columns which criticise reports done on science and medicine in media nowadays. This book takes the reader through some of the aspects media misrepresentation of science which he disapproves of via clear-cut sections, making it very easy to understand.

Throughout the book, the most common theme noticeable will be Goldacre’s frustration at the lack of evidence-based science these days, commonly known as pseudoscience (collection of beliefs mistakenly regarded as being based on scientific methods). This means that the accounts reported as news don’t provide any substantial evidence for that result. Usually, the only people who are curious about these stories are those who have an interest in science of medicine and you can, therefore, presume that they’ll have the basic knowledge about the subject yet these articles are dumbed down to such an extent that it leaves out most of the crucial information, mostly because the journalists themselves don’t have any understanding of the matter.

The book takes you through 16 features of what’s thought to be “bad science”, starting off with detoxification processes which can be proved to be rubbish by some simple experiments (what I liked was that he would show you how to do the experiment at home so you get your own results, rather than taking his word for it). The more serious issues in the book comprise of homeopathy, where it is thought that a person can be cured by small doses of the substance that caused that disease, the placebo effect and the MMR vaccine deception, all of which is has the underlying message of how statistical facts to back up the hypothesis is lacking.

What I found particularly funny was how Gillian McKeith had her own personal chapter where Goldacre just completely tore her down with his ridicule (he really is not fond of nutritionists). An amusing quote which he’s used many times in any talks he gives is how she believes that dark-leaved vegetables, as they have a lot of chlorophyll in them, will “reoxygenate your blood”. I’m hoping that anyone with the basic GCSE education doesn’t need any explanation (watch the video above if you do but be warned, he speaks extremely fast).

What I’ve mentioned above is only some of the things talked about, read this book which reached #1 in the UK non-fiction charts to find out the rest!

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Stop Crying, That’s Why You’re Still Single

Everyone knows how men can’t bear a woman crying but actual evidence was found a few months ago to prove there is a special chemical in tears that result in men actually being “turned off”.

I read an article which described a study carried out which proved the theory that men are less sexually aroused when women shed tears when upset. Six women who could cry with ease watched films like Terms Of Endearment and My Sister’s Keeper (the usual chick flicks, I’m surprised The Notebook wasn’t on here) which, as expected, caused them to weep uncontrollably and these tears were then preserved by absorbing them with pads. Young men then sniffed these pads whilst looking at arousing pictures of women but there was also a control (anyone who does biology should be familiar with this) in the form of a saline solution (water and salt) being inhaled for comparison. The sexual excitement was measured by their heart rate, skin and brain responses and testosterone levels. The results, as you can guess, were that the emotional tears triggered a decrease in all of the criteria. One of the researchers (Israel Weizmann Institute) stated “Basically what we’ve found is the chemo-signaling word for ‘no’ — or at least ‘not now’.”

The message behind this type of behaviour that the tears induce is unclear at the moment. One hypothesis is an evolutionary protection against rape or deterring men from sex when PMSing/menstruating.

Don’t you think the experiment’s a bit biased? Only testing the effects women’s tears have on men? What about the other side? Well, it was initially going to both but the reply to the advertisement searching for male criers was too low. One.

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The Human Face – Is Beauty Really In The Eye Of The Beholder?

I’m back with yet another TV recommendation: The Human Face which is, shockingly, about our face! It’s a 4-part series which aired on the BBC and presented by John Cleese (who’s just no Michael Mosley) that reveals the story behind everything related to the face: expressions, features and appearance, and celebrities using the help of true life stories to illustrate the points.

Though I was not immediately taken by this programme (mainly due to the cheesy and not very humorous “jokes”), I was fascinated by their 3rd episode: Survival of the Prettiest. The statement “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” has been reiterated many times but this programme challenges this theory by revealing how the majority of people find the same features attractive. The prettier a face, the better health it implies, suggesting that the person is more fertile so a better mate. Call this vanity or just living in this superficial world, I was fascinated by what was seen as the most beautiful face: a combination of adult characteristics (like high cheek bones) along with baby ones (most obviously big eyes). Make-up is made use of in order to accentuate aspects of your face. One fact that astonished me was the reason for having “smokey” eyes:

The other thing that  intrigued me was, being a mathematician, the degree to which maths plays a part in deciphering the “perfect” face: the golden ratio (1:1.618) has been used to geometrically figure out all the proportions of the face to form a map of this face, known as the “Beauty Mask” (which are often used in plastic surgeries with facial deformities).

The other episodes are Here’s Looking At You where you discover the mysteries of identity and face recognition; Fame And Infamy which demonstrates what memorable elements agents look for in a face, Secrets And Lies displays how expressions communicate with people.

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The Brain: A Secret History – Moral Issues Produced By Experimental Psychology

Michael Mosley, once again, presents this 3-part BBC series on the history of the development of the brain, focusing on the extent to which some scientists are willing to go in order to test their hypotheses. These, sometimes disturbing, experiments (experimental psychology) have opened up an important topic for discussion – the moral problems posed by some tests which, though have benefitted us greatly by providing with the knowledge into how the mind works, have imposed a lot of cruelty on its subjects. This documentary gets the story from the partakers and scientists and (excitingly) reveals the original films showing this research, essential in medical history.

The first episode, Mind Control, touches on the subject that has circulated around numerous times: is there such a thing as free will? The early experimentations expose how one’s reflexes can be trained. This is what Ivan Pavlov suggested through his “Pavlov’s Dog” (shown above). This was then used to modify behaviour such as changing the sexuality of a homosexual (as was not acceptable then) by him viewing soft straight porn whilst electrodes implanted into his brain activated the pleasure centres in order for him to relate that pleasure with heterosexual actions. A new degree of mind control then emerged which was used during wars: brainwashing (such as the type which the Koreans used against the Americans). 

The second episode was my favourite because it was on a subject I’m deeply interested in and have been trying to find more about: Emotions. I haven’t been successful in figuring out much because our sentiments is the topic that is very “grey” in medicine as no one can be truly confident about it. Mosley centres on a few specific emotions, thought to form the basis of our feelings. The first is fear which resulted in the most controversial experiment in medical history: John Watson researched to see if fear could be induced into children from an early stage (“Little Albert” experiment due to the child being named Albert) by showing them an object and banging a loud noise nearby so they would associate the object with fear. His theories are now used in practice to fulfil the opposite aim: manage phobias by gradually increasing exposure to what you fear.

Love was the emotion that was thought to be impossible to study; the conventional hypothesis was that it was produced by carrying out your basic needs (ie. food). Harry Harlow was the first to test this presumption by providing baby monkeys with 2 substitute “mothers”: 1 made of wire but with a feeding system whilst the other only had clothing on it. According to the theory, the monkey should go to the one which can feed it but what occurred was once the monkey had fed, it went to the mother which could provide warmth and comfort of touch. A scientist who helped with the procedure supported it 100%, claiming that it was worthwhile a monkey-model of depression was produced from leaving monkeys in complete isolation, some even in a restricted area (“The Well of Despair”) for a year. Aggression was tested by an adult being deliberately violent in front of a child which led to the infant imitating the parent (and this experimental evidence is often used when debating violence in TV/video games). Moreover, the importance of emotions was illustrated in this programme because 1 man, whose emotion-controlling section had been removed during surgery, stated deaths wouldn’t bother him; the only thing preventing him from becoming a serial killer is the memory of not being one.

The closing episode is called Broken Brains, where abnormal brains are made of use of to work out aspects of the usual brain. For instance, localisation (deducing which parts of the brain was responsible for which functions) became known after Paul Broca realised which part of the brain controlled speech after removing the brain of a man who could only say one word. Mosley also investigates surgeries gone wrong such as where a woman got Alien Hand Syndrome (where her left hand continuously attacked her as the right hemisphere tried to overpower the left).

The one question which has been posed throughout the series has been “Should the disturbing experiments have been done?” which is an important discussion that imposes decisions about future research. Michael Mosley leaves with his opinion: “Yes. I do believe that the knowledge gained was worth the price that was paid.”

(Clicking on the episode will link you to where it can be watched)

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Inside The Human Body – A Journey Through Our Internal Universe

“Travelling through the body, tiny clusters of hairs loom as large as a forest and hidden chambers of the heart rise up like a vast cathedral”

Inside The Human Body is a BBC documentary, presented excellently by Michael Mosley, which reveals how our body performs astonishing procedures so as to continue living. What really grabbed me about this programme was the use of the most modern technology to create graphics and animations, supported by the newest scientific studies, allowing a visual illustration in order to take the viewer on the journey through all the processes occurring inside us.

This 4-part series revolves around one specific topic in each episode, starting off fittingly right at the beginning: Conception. Here it demonstrates the likelihood of a sperm fertilising the egg by following their pathway with the use of computer-generated graphics; the race being like the “X Factor for sperm: millions will apply – 85% of them will be useless” and the body of the woman creating clever obstacles so that only the best are chosen, the ones that survive. It also reveals the formation of a human face (for the first time in television history):

In the second episode, First To Last, Mosley depicts the fight of existence; how the body carries out innumerable little wonders to keep it living such as regulating your body temperature and when the body ultimately stops working. Building Your Brain, the next episode, portrays the development of the brain as you grow: it turns out that the older you get, the fewer brain connections there are which causes Michael’s son, 16, to claim “so it’s just downhill” (quite rightly so!), but this adjustment is necessary (and explains the reason teenagers take many risks). The final episode, Hostile World, demonstrates the methods the body uses to defend against all the different infections, revealing how we grow completely new skin every 3 months.

Not only does this show contain all the scientific detail about our body but, to exemplify this science, each episode is full of numerous life stories about extraordinary people from all parts of the world who have challenged their bodies as much as possible. It includes a woman pregnant with her 16th child (and wanting more!), the oldest conjoined twins, a woman who has eaten solely Monster Munch crisps for over a decade (even the same flavour), a young girl fluent in 11 languages, the “Ice Man” who can swim in freezing glacial lakes for up to 15 minutes, a blind man who rock climbed, fishermen who can see clearly under water and even witnessing a man taking his last breath. Moreover, it allows some surgeries to be seen such as the separation of the malfunctioning right side of the brain from the left of a 1 year old, arm transplants for a man who was in a fire accident and a heart surgery to regulate the contractions.

Unfortunately, I only watched this show very recently after a friend showed it to me so couldn’t recommend it earlier so all 4 episodes have aired already. Nonetheless, there are repeats happening and they can be watched on BBC iPlayer (only 5 days left before it deletes them though!) but all of them are on youtube:

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Trust Me, I’m A (Junior) Doctor By Max Pemberton – The Truth About The Medical Career

“I think of how a year ago I could only have imagined the things I’d see, the situations I’d find myself in, and the incredible array of people I’d met. Would I go through it again? Not on your life.”

Max Pemberton is a doctor, journalist and writer. He is a columnist for The Daily Telegraph, writing weekly on news events concerning culture, social and ethical issues, the politics of health care and the NHS.

I first heard about Max Pemberton when he came to our school to give a talk on his career; working in the NHS, transitioning to being a newspaper columnist and his books: Trust Me, I’m A (Junior) Doctor and Where Does It Hurt?

His award-winning weekly columns in the newspaper are the basis for his first book: it’s a mixture of fiction and truth which tells behind-the-scenes account of his first year on the wards in the NHS as a doctor, along with a few others that made up the group. It’s written in the style of a diary which makes which allows the reader to relate with him on personal level.

What I enjoyed the most about it was its bittersweet undertone and gut-wrenching honesty complimented by humour. The medical career is not sugar-coated with any of those overrated phrases such as “what a rewarding career it is”, “saving lives” or “the grateful look on the patient’s face made it all worthwhile” etc. On the contrary, the junior doctors couldn’t wait to get away from the place but the fear of one device haunted them incessantly: their pager. Not only did the gang of medics have to endure rude and unappreciative patients, but cruel and sadistic senior doctors as well.

Containing numerous stories of individual patients (eg. the man with a hairbrush up his backside), it illustrates how death is perceived as a bother for the doctor attending to it (As I stare at Mr Clarke, all I can think is why does he have to be dying during my shift? Couldn’t he have waited?”) and everyone going through a period of doubt, wondering if they made the correct decision entering this profession, considering whether the never-ending hours were worth it in the end.

It’s an eye-opener to the world of medicine for people, like me, who’d been previously sheltered from the realities and was only familiar with the illusions fed to me by naive, wishful parents. I’d recommend the book to anyone thinking about this career.

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