Findings: In Bias Test, Shades of Gray
By JOHN TIERNEY, The New York Times, November 18, 2008
Last year, a team of researchers at Harvard made headlines with an experiment testing unconscious bias at hospitals. Doctors were shown the picture of a 50-year-old man — sometimes black, sometimes white — and asked how they would treat him if he arrived at the emergency room with chest pains indicating a possible heart attack. Then the doctors took a computer test intended to reveal unconscious racial bias.
The doctors who scored higher on the bias test were less likely than the other doctors to give clot-busting drugs to the black patients, according to the researchers, who suggested addressing the problem by encouraging doctors to test themselves for unconscious bias. The results were hailed by other psychologists as some of the strongest evidence that unconscious bias leads to harmful discrimination.
But then two other researchers, Neal Dawson and Hal Arkes, pointed out a curious pattern in the data. Even though most of the doctors registered some antiblack bias, as defined by the researchers, on the whole doctors ended up prescribing the clot-busting drugs to blacks just as often as to whites. The doctors scoring low on bias had a pronounced preference for giving the drugs to blacks, while high-scoring doctors had a relatively small preference for giving the drugs to whites — meaning that the more “biased” doctors actually treated blacks and whites more equally.
Does this result really prove dangerous bias in the emergency room? Or, as critics suggest, does it illustrate problems with the way researchers have been using split-second reactions on a computer test to diagnose an epidemic of racial bias?( Read More... )Observatory: Using a Variety of Tools, Researchers Unravel Tale of German Graves
By HENRY FOUNTAIN, The New York Times, November 18, 2008
Three years ago, archaeologists in Germany made what they described as a lucky find: a group of four graves near the Saale River, dating back to the Late Stone Age, 4,600 years ago. The graves contained two to four bodies each, adults and young children, all buried at the same time. The bodies were arranged in such a way — face to face in some cases, with arms and hands linked — that clearly the site told a tale.
Using DNA analysis and other techniques, Wolfgang Haak and Guido Brandt of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and colleagues have pieced together parts of the story. Their findings are in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
One of the graves contained a woman with three children, at least two of whom were not hers. The researchers suggest the woman might be their aunt or a stepmother. Another grave contained a family of four, according to the analysis — making it the oldest molecular genetic evidence of a nuclear family ever obtained.( Read More... )Found: An Ancient Monument to the Soul
By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD, The New York Times, November 18, 2008
In a mountainous kingdom in what is now southeastern Turkey, there lived in the eighth century B.C. a royal official, Kuttamuwa, who oversaw the completion of an inscribed stone monument, or stele, to be erected upon his death. The words instructed mourners to commemorate his life and afterlife with feasts “for my soul that is in this stele.”
University of Chicago archaeologists who made the discovery last summer in ruins of a walled city near the Syrian border said the stele provided the first written evidence that the people in this region held to the religious concept of the soul apart from the body. By contrast, Semitic contemporaries, including the Israelites, believed that the body and soul were inseparable, which for them made cremation unthinkable, as noted in the Bible.( Read More... )For Tasmanian Devils, Hope Against a Wily Cancer
By ERICA REX, The New York Times, November 18, 2008
They’re inky black, pointy-eared, furry and, in a fierce sort of way, cute. And in May of this year, they were added to Australia’s endangered species list.
Ordinarily solitary, Tasmanian devils commune only to feast on carrion and to mate in short-lived passionate couplings during which they tear each other to ribbons. Their spine-decalcifying caterwauls — a sequence of whuffings, snarlings and growlings — have evoked satanic visions since the first European settlers arrived on the island of Tasmania over a century ago.
“Parents used to tell their kids: ‘Don’t go out into the bush because the devil will get you,’ ” recalled Dr. Greg Woods, an associate professor of immunology at Menzies Research Institute in Hobart, Tasmania’s capital.
But in the past decade, the Tasmanian devil has been trapped in a purgatory of its own. Since 1996, a deadly cancer, devil facial tumor disease, has preyed on the devil. Its population plummeted to fewer than 50,000 from about 150,000, said Dr. Hamish McCallum, senior scientist with the Devil Facial Tumour Disease Program at the University of Tasmania.( Read More... )Personal Health: Caring for Family, Caring for Yourself
By JANE E. BRODY, The New York Times, November 18, 2008
Whether you choose to be a family caregiver or the job is thrust upon you by circumstances, your most important responsibility beyond caring for your ill or disabled relative is caring for yourself.( Read More... )F.D.A. Scientists Accuse Agency Officials of Misconduct
By GARDINER HARRIS, The New York Times, November 18, 2008
WASHINGTON — Top federal health officials engaged in “serious misconduct” by ignoring concerns of scientists at the Food and Drug Administration and approving for sale unsafe or ineffective medical devices, the scientists have written in a letter to Congress.( Read More... )