Last post

December 25, 2007
Dear friends,

This blog is  closed until further notice; I’ll be in touch with you through my Yahoo blog.

Happy new year!

Kamyar

a quick update!

November 19, 2007

1. I’m still busy with my course😦 one month moreeeeeeeeeeeeeeee and I’m done with it!

2. Meanwhile, I had a trip to San Diego for a conference and paid a quick visit to Las Vegas where I was warmly welcomed by my dearest Sina🙂

3. Here are some photos from Las Vegas and San Diego Zoo:

 

Some updates!

September 13, 2007

Finally the summer is over, and I’m back to my normal coursework/research type of lifestyle! I took my first Canadian medical exam last week and I have to wait for 7 weeks to get my results (I really have no idea what in the world they want to do with that multiple choice questions type of exam that it has to take that long). Anyways, the exam is also over and for some reason everyday I’m getting more confident that I did well on that; maybe I just forget the questions that I got wrong and remember the ones that I THINK I got correct!

 

In the following semester I’ll be supper busy with a lovely course in biological neuroscience! and also my thesis. So I guess there won’t be enough time for me to discuss about scientific discoveries or philosophical junk! Instead I will post some nice video clips and music tracks. Let me start with this lovely piece of work by my dear friend Raha: Listen from here.

On Scientific Rationality (last)

August 7, 2007

In the last post I talked about my friend who prescribed the wrong medication for himself. He has enough knowledge to KNOW that antibiotics are not effective for common cold (and they can be even harmful) but he ACTS otherwise. Where does this knowledge-action discrepancy come from? Is there not enough evidence out there to guide us through making rational decisions? If external evidence should support rational actions, why do we act so irrationally most of the time? It is sometimes possible that right decisions are made via irrational decision making processes (voting for someone because you like her glasses and IT HAPPENS to be the best candidate). This is especially true in more complicated decisions that the results, and even the decision making processes are not readily assessable. But these are just exceptional situations and in the long run, accumulating evidence from our own life should support the rational decision making not the opposite.

 

I don’t want to address all these issues here; irrationality is a multifaceted issue and talking about all different aspects of it is far beyond my knowledge and the scope of this blog. What I’m interested in is explaining human irrationality using the concepts of “cognitive biases” and also “logical fallacies”. Since I mentioned cognitive biases before, in this post I only talk about logical fallacies. Logical fallacies are flawed patterns of reasoning by using which the false conclusion follows the true premises. Here is an example:

 

If A is correct, then B is correct

B is correct

Therefore A is correct

 

One logical fallacy which is related to my friend’s example is something called “regression bias”. In this fallacy, the person makes predictions that “expect exceptional results to continue as if they were average”. Let’s get back to our example to see what exactly this means. Common cold is a self-limited disease that takes 3-5 days if uncomplicated. After 2-3 days the symptoms get worse and this is the point that most people try to do something for it (random antibiotics, etc.). They wrongly assume their current condition as average, and believe that if they get better there must be a cause and that cause must be whatever they did (e.g. taking antibiotics) to feel better. These diagrams show how I see this problem:

 

Rational: The person’s average, normal condition (being healthy) –> Virus (CAUSE) –> Getting cold –> No virus – happens naturally in the course of the disease – (REMOVING THE CAUSE) –> Getting better

 

Irrational: Having cold (WRONGLY ASSUMED TO BE THE AVERAGE CONDITION) –> Antibiotics (CAUSE) –> Getting better

 

Because the person gets better soon after taking antibiotics (which would happen even if she didn’t take them), this behavior (taking antibiotics whenever you have a BAD COLD) is reinforced and continues in the similar situations.

Note: this post is written based on my personal unsupported speculation and has nothing to do with my background in medicine.

 

——————————————

 

FARZAD said:

“hi dear.wazzup? i’m not good at thinking scientifically! but i think u were talkin bout a case of wishful thinking that sth happens coz u just think n expect it to happen.is that right or i got it wrong?! u know a lot of superstitions come to exist just that way!a cow licks ppl n they r healed! just the coincidences that r interpreted as the cause!”

HERE IS SOME MORE EXPLANATION:

You are right, one of the most common mistakes that we do is to assume that every correlation implies causation.

“Regression fallacy” in this context could be a special form of causation fallacy (which is also called Post hoc ergo propter hoc). Let me first remind you of what Regression itself is. Regression in statistics is : if you just look at the extremes of one spectrum (e.g in “people’s height”, just looking at the tallest or the shortest people) and measure the correlation of that factor with another variable (the “heights of their children”), you see the regression towards the mean (average); meaning that the children’s height is closer to average than their parents. It is true that height of parents is positively correlated with heights of their children. BUT if you just look at the VERY high or VERY short parents, their children are not THAT tall, or THAT short, but they are still tall or short but closer to the average height that what you expect.

Regression fallacy is when you ASSUME special occasions to be the AVERAGE condition. In the example that I had (having antibiotics for a simple viral common cold), your average state is when you are healthy. In other words having cold or being ill is and extreme condition in the context of your general well-being (most of the time you are healthy; just occasionally you get sick). So there is a high chance that you get back to your normal healthy state without doing anything (unless you get a really bad disease that will kill or disable you with no treatment; we are not talking about this now). One type of logical error that people may commit is that they THINK that their current state (being ill) is their average; and it does not change unless they do something for it. Someone gets medications, someone go to the homeopath, magician, or whatever. While doing this, the disease takes it course and the person get better (getting back to the ACTUAL average). Then he wrongfully thinks that the medication made him better, and the vicious cycle (false belief –> wrong action –> false belief –> …) continues.

On Scientific Rationality (2)

July 21, 2007

mind-mesmer.jpg

Everyone who has worked in the primary health care filed knows that so many people BELIEVE that they NEED antibiotic for the treatment of their common cold. It’s sometimes hard to make the right decision in this regard: On one hand, science tells you that antibiotics have no effect whatsoever on the self-limited viral disease like common cold, and prescribing them for the patient may cause unnecessary cost, side effects and drug resistance. On the other hand, even after you take time to educate your patient about the nature of their symptoms and the (no) effect of antibiotics on them, you may end up hearing something like “but doctor, I know my body better than you do; my body works differently! I know I’m not gonna get better until I get a penicillin shot!”. And after this point, if you still insist on your position, the patient will go doctor-shopping to find one of those “good doctors” who prescribe whatever their patients ask for. Two weeks ago, I had a bad common cold with obvious viral symptoms. One of my friends who is a doctor himself gave me a call and when learned from my cold said:  

“Do you want me to bring you some amoxicillin?!!”. 

“Why? it’s just a common cold!”.  

“I know that ACADEMICALLY !! you only need to have some rest and fluids, BUT whenever I have a cold, I get a couple!! of antibiotics and I’ll get better soon!!” 

For the first time in my life I realized that we had two kinds of medicine: academic (which is based on controlled non-biased clinical experiments and also established chemical, microbiological, and … rules), and nonacademic (which is based on our own or other random people’s biased and faulty experiences); and even some medical graduates prefer the latter! The same story is for those who “BELIEVE” (and this word is extremely crucial) in some sort of alternative medicine, as a substitute for the scientific one.  

To be continued …

On Scientific Rationality (1)

July 15, 2007

thinker.gif

There are several reasons why people are not rational; staying rational is sometimes tough; is not always mentally accessible, can be depressing …. Then should it be considered abnormal when we sometimes act irrationally? My answer is NO! Or would it be even better if we always acted rationally? Again my answer is NO! First of all, like any other thing that I know, rationality is not absolute; neither is irrationality. Second, as I mentioned in some of my previous posts (e.g. here), we are not rational animals. This simply means that our thoughts and behaviors are naturally influenced and even regulated by a variety of irrationalities such as our emotions, and our past experiences. There is no rational reason why someone loves a woman, or why someone fears cockroaches. Having said all of these, I still believe that “under some circumstances” we‘d better be rational and it’s BEST to be rational for obvious reasons. To fasten my seatbelt while driving is a rational act; why? Because STUDIES have shown that doing so would significantly reduce the mortality rate if an accident happens, AND it doesn’t cost me anything or doesn’t hurt that much! if I fasten my seatbelt. So before newer and better studies will POSSIBLLY show the opposite results, a rational person fastens his or her seatbelt. And here is a key point; I met some people that for every scientific evidence argue that “nothing is absolute; who knows; maybe in the future other studies will show the opposite and …” My immediate type of response to such statement (note: there is nothing wrong with the statement itself; what is wrong is the conclusion that they want to make) has evolved during these years. Five years ago I would reply with such excitement and would act as if the whole world is in prompt danger! Later on, I realized that I went nowhere by that type of argument, so I just shortly expressed my disagreement. This strategy didn’t work either, because most of the time the other person wanted to start an argument! Now what I do is simply saying “that’s right!” and that’s it!

I believe that rationality can be learned of course, but it cannot be taught.

Now I have some topics and groups of people on my “no-argument list”! including: chauvinists, racists, topics regarding all sorts of superstition (after her brain MRI scan, one of my subjects told me that she had been FEELING her “aura” during the scanning session; and now you know what my answer looked like!), and also if someone rejects an established scientific evidence (e.g. chemotherapy for treating cancers) in favor of any old-world or new-world shamanisms (e.g here).

To be continued …

A tribute to a dear friend

June 29, 2007

I’d like to dedicate this post to an old friend, Dr. Mehran Memarzadeh. Our friendship dates back to 10 years ago, when I was trying to expand my knowledge in different fields and he was literary a fountain of knowledge (so much that I called him “a portable encyclopedia”!) and also an enthusiastic teacher. I never forget our long discussions over several social and political issues, and although at times we had (and still have) different viewpoints on many of those issues, I always respect his knowledge and thoughts. He never stopped reading and learning, and right now he is a respectful physician with much broader and deeper knowledge than ever.

After I came to Canada, we lost touch until last year that he started his  amazing Persian blog where he wrote hundreds of posts about topics on art, medicine, history and political science especially conceptualization of patriotism and conservatism (which I, as a non-conservative, found them interesting and informative). Unfortunately recently he has stopped updating his blog due to some online harassment. I hope he starts updating his blog soon and passes his knowledge to interested Farsi-speaking fellows.

mehran.jpg

With Mehran (Pasargadae; 1999)

A lovely song!

May 24, 2007

I feel that I have some sort of disease that makes me take so many responsibilities at the same time and then nag about how busy the life is! I’m giving a conference talk in 3 days and then another one in 3 weeks on a different study for which I don’t have the analyzed data yet! and … and this is going to be the same for the rest of summer and after that! Anyways, I’d better stop nagging right now! and let you listen to this lovely song by Cat Stevens. I have a feeling that I have missed a lot by not having listened to this song so far, and now I am trying to catch up by listening to it 20 times a day! Download the song from here (you need to wait for a 10 or so seconds and then look for “download file” somewhere in the middle of the page; sorry for the inconvenience!).

Cat Stevens – Lady D’Arbanville Lyrics:

My Lady d’Arbanville, why do you sleep so still?
I’ll wake you tomorrow
and you will be my fill, yes, you will be my fill.

My Lady d’Arbanville why does it grieve me so?
But your heart seems so silent.
Why do you breathe so low, why do you breathe so low,

My Lady d’Arbanville why do you sleep so still?
I’ll wake you tomorrow
and you will be my fill, yes, you will be my fill.

My Lady d’Arbanville, you look so cold tonight.
Your lips feel like winter,
your skin has turned to white, your skin has turned to white.

My Lady d’Arbanville, why do you sleep so still?
I’ll wake you tomorrow
and you will be my fill, yes, you will be my fill.

La la la la la….

My Lady d’Arbanville why does it grieve me so?
But your heart seems so silent.
Why do you breathe so low, why do you breathe so low,

I loved you my lady, though in your grave you lie,
I’ll always be with you
This rose will never die, this rose will never die.

I loved you my lady, though in your grave you lie,
I’ll always be with you
This rose will never die, this rose will never die.

The top 100 global universities

May 4, 2007

I have been recently asked about top university rankings. You can see one of the most recent university rankings done by Newsweek magazine from here.  To make life easier for you, I put the ranking here as well!

The top 100 global universities:

1. Harvard University   
2. Stanford University   
3. Yale University   
4. California Institute of Technology   
5. University of California at Berkeley   
6. University of Cambridge   
7. Massachusetts Institute Technology    
8. Oxford University   
9. University of California at San Francisco   
10. Columbia University   
11. University of Michigan at Ann Arbor   
12. University of California at Los Angeles   
13. University of Pennsylvania   
14. Duke University   
15. Princeton Universitty   
16. Tokyo University   
17. Imperial College London   
18. University of Toronto   
19. Cornell University   
20. University of Chicago   
21. Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich   
22. University of Washington at Seattle   
23. University of California at San Diego   
24. Johns Hopkins University   
25. University College London
26. Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne   
27. University Texas at Austin   
28. University of Wisconsin at Madison   
29. Kyoto University   
30. University of Minnesota Twin Cities   
31. University of British Columbia   
32. University of Geneva   
33. Washington University in St. Louis   
34. London School of Economics   
35. Northwestern University   
36. National University of Singapore   
37. University of Pittsburgh   
38. Australian National University   
39. New York University   
40. Pennsylvania State University   
41. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill   
42. McGill University   
43. Ecole Polytechnique   
44. University of Basel   
45. University of Maryland   
46. University of Zurich   
47. University of Edinburgh   
48. University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign   
49. University of Bristol   
50. University of Sydney   
51. University of Colorado at Boulder   
52. Utrecht University   
53. University of Melbourne   
54. University of Southern California   
55. University of Alberta   
56. Brown University   
57. Osaka University   
58. University of Manchester   
59. University of California at Santa Barbara   
60. Hong Kong University of Science and Technology   
61. Wageningen University   
62. Michigan State University   
63. University of Munich   
64. University of New South Wales   
65. Boston University   
66. Vanderbilt University   
67. University of Rochester   
68. Tohoku University   
69. University of Hong Kong   
70. University of Sheffield   
71. Nanyang Technological University   
72. University of Vienna   
73. Monash University   
74. University of Nottingham   
75. Carnegie Mellon University   
76. Lund University   
77. Texas A&M University   
78. University of Western Australia   
79. Ecole Normale Super Paris   
80. University of Virginia   
81. Technical University of Munich   
82. Hebrew University of Jerusalem   
83. Leiden University   
84. University of Waterloo   
85. King’s College London   
86. Purdue University   
87. University of Birmingham   
88. Uppsala University   
89. University of Amsterdam   
90. University of Heidelberg   
91. University of Queensland   
92. University of Leuven   
93. Emory University   
94. Nagoya University   
95. Case Western Reserve University   
96. Chinese University of Hong Kong   
97. University of Newcastle   
98. Innsbruck University   
99. University of Massachusetts at Amherst   
100. Sussex University

You can also find another (a bit older) ranking which includes the top 500 global universities from here

Are we the smartests!?

May 2, 2007

1. Human intelligence is determined by a variety of genetic and environmental factors such as socioeconomic status, health, education, race, nutrition … . Intelligece Quotient (IQ) is an estimate of intelligence which was originally defined as “mental age” divided by “chronological age”, multiplied by 100. So for example if a child is 10 years old and her mental age is estimated to be 12, her IQ would be 120. This definition which was based on Alfred Binet publication is not used anymore; however, the IQ tests that are used now still have the average of 100 (with the standard deviation of 15-16).

2. Based on anecdotal evidence and my own personal experience a substantial number of Iranians (even the most highly educated ones) strongly believe that we as a nation have one of the highest, or even the highest intelligence in the world! To provide evidence for their claim, they normally mention successful and famous Iranians like doctors, professors, businesspeople, etc. This type of reasoning is flawed enough that no discussion is required to disprove it (I am going to start a series of posts on the argument fallacies pretty soon).

3. Today I came across a post in a blog that listed the average IQ scores of different nations in which Iran had the 102th highest among 192 countries with the average IQ score of 84. I searched a little bit and found out that this figures had been actually taken from a couple of studies (see here and here).

4. Of course the results of these (or any other) studies are not definite and every experiment should be looked upon carefully and critically. However, first of all, the findings of even a “not perfectly conducted” study should be regarded superior to any anecdotal report or rumor, until proven otherwise by a better-conducted study. And second, the gap between what is shown by research and what is being claimed by people is high enough to challenge that delusion (Iranian are the smartest!).

5. Every nation needs some things to be proud of, even if those things are not real; at times they can boost people’s morale and give them the sense of unity as a nation. But depending on what those ‘things” are, they can have negative effects as well. Unfortunately, in a culture that working hard is not valued that much (and sometimes is even being ridiculed), bragging about our high IQ may serve as another excuse for us to be less diligent and hardworking than we should be.

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