Latest from Birmingham Post science...
As a parent, I can only start to imagine the pain, grief and suffering of the family of Hannah Smith, who committed suicide recently after being bullied on the ask.fm website. Almost daily, fresh headlines emerge about social media sites like Twitter being used to issue threats of rape, violence and murder. My visceral, emotional, immediate reaction is much like everyone else: something must be done.
But principles, and policy, must be driven by reason, logic and a sense of proportion. We must understand what is happening and why. Bullying and intimidation are an integral part of human nature and of society; while the recent media storm might make us believe that all this is new, it has forever been the case.
I've done it. I'm now clean. I've not touched it for a couple of months now, and most significantly the craving to consume more and more has pretty much gone. I have time for others, time for events, activities, and headspace to think and enjoy them. I don't have wasted hours, where I can hardly remember what has happened.
Yes, I've stopped using Facebook.
Whilst it's slightly early for the prediction season, I thought I'd put forward a few possibilities, based on some digital crystal gazing, some wistful looking off into space, a finger in the air and some personal perspective. Some of these may even come true.
When I was a research biochemist, I used to enjoy the occasions when I would meet someone new, perhaps in the pub, and they would ask me what I do for a living. Upon hearing the word 'biochemist', you could see their face turn to stone and the panic come over them in a wave as they tried to think of a follow up line that did not involve having to ask what a biochemist is or does. More often than not, this thinking time would rapidly become a tumbleweed moment and I wish I had never said the dreaded B word. Apparently though, if you are a genetic counsellor, rather than a tumbleweed moment, one of the common responses you get is, "so you tell people not to have children then?". And this is how the October Birmingham Café Scientifique started.
Organ donation is always an interesting discussion because it is one of those things that most people, if you were to ask them, do not seem to have an issue with and are generally very supportive of in the UK. And yet we have one of the lowest rates of organ donation in Europe. Why is this? To start to discuss these points, the first thing you need is someone who knows a thing or two about organ donation and the second is a suitable environment for honest and open discussion - welcome to the Birmingham Café Scientifique.
More developments from the battlefront on the war with stress. Unfortunately, it looks like "stress" is winning the PR war...
Stressful jobs that involve a lack of control and decision-making from the worker are linked to increased risks of heart attacks, a new study has found, that has been published in the latest edition of The Lancet. This of course, is nothing particulalrly new, other than the results eminate from a meta-analysis of the data from over a dozen high-quality large-sized cohort studues in the field. Research in this area is often faced with a wall of indifference - on one hand the results state the obvious, which turns off many lay-readers from looking beyond the headlines. Yet on the other hand the results are important in terms of public health promotion, but still become over-shadowed by the authors' own assertions in the very same article that the health effects are minimal compared to those of smoking.
The paper, led by Mika Kivimaki, was a combined effort from researchers at many top-level research institues, and does indeed show strong evidence of the links between those jobs with little freedom, autonomy and worker-choice and heart attack episodes. Sensibly the authors also address their data seperately, taking account of the publication bias that often exists, resulting in published papers demonstrating larger effects (numbers of heart attcks) than those in un-published papers. All-in, the researchers found strong links that show decision-poor jobs have an odds-ratio of 1.23 (23% increased likelihood) of heart attacks than jobs which involve worker decision-making (based on workers' own self-rated questionnaire responses).
The researchers state that "Our findings suggest that prevention of workplace stress might decrease disease incidence; however, this strategy would have a much smaller effect than would tackling of standard risk factors, such as smoking." This statement, while providing balance and setting the results in context, also delivers an own goal to those who campaign for improved and healthier work environments.
We should not infer from this important piece of work that improving workplaces and the quality of working lives is neither impossible or pointless relative to other hazards, but we should also accept that making working lives better for millions of people will also contribute to reducing the exposure to hazards such as smoking and drinking. There will be an additive effect.
Improving workplace conditions, health promotion possibilities and work-life balance will reduce the wilfull exposure to other recreational hazards for millions of workers. What's that you say? You want a meta-analysis to prove it? OK.....
Nokia released their latest Lumina smartphone to the most desultory of audience applause - but is it good or bad? Actually, I'm not going to discuss that - it has it's good points, in terms of wireless charging and camera technology, and it's bad ones - poor PR in faking its performance in an advert, for example. But are these the factors that will make buy it, or not?
Facebook was offered to investors at $38/share - and at the time, I commented that I'd love to be able to short the stock. It's now at about $21, so I'd have made a killing. Mind you, I'd have made a killing if I'd have sold my shares in Psion years ago when I'd bought them for pence and they reached the heights of pounds. I event told my sister to sell when she asked for my view - but I didn't follow it myself, and now they're worth.....less.
Reports suggest that many investors who got in early enough can still make a lot from selling Facebook shares now that they are able to, but for the standard investor, it's not an obvious share to make a quick buck on.
The tabloids have been quick to label as "skivers" those ten thousand civil servants who have been given permission to work from home when suitable over the Olympic and Paralympic games. Can our understanding of human behaviour in the workplace help us to predict what may happen to Londoners who have been advised to work from home over the Olympics to avoid travel chaos and those extra three million journeys that will be made? What will be the downside to this natural experiment?
Civil servants are one group who have been given dispensation to work from home from July 21st (6 days before the Olympics started) until the Paralympics end on September 9th. May have criticised the decision - complaining there will be a backlog of public sector work for up 7 weeks. However, when we're not working within the confines of an office, does our behaviour change differently when we're working at home, on our own, and could there be longer-term implications to follow?
The Olympic torch relay continues, and I can't help but be impressed by the moving stories, personal triumphs and tragedies that have been highlighted as it moves over the country. It's clearly given a lot of enjoyment to many people.