Saturday, January 18, 2020

Aren’t we the center of the world?

There is a natural tendency to view ourselves as the center of everything. How would Argentinians or Brazilians do that? As shown above, yesterday’s xkcd web comic, titled Bad Map Projection: South America, showed a phony Mercator projection with other continents replaced just by versions of South America (expanded or contracted, rotated, or stretched). Antarctica is missing though. An earlier comic explained What your favorite map projection says about you.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Did a clinical trial show the dietary supplement pill Prevagen improves memory? Only when you forget about more than half of their data.

When I watch TV, it’s hard to avoid 30-second ads for the dietary supplement Prevagen like this one and that one (on YouTube) which both claim:
“In a computer assessed, double-blinded, placebo controlled study, Prevagen improved recall tasks in subjects.”

On January 2, 2020 there was an article by Jann Bellamy at Science Based Medicine titled AARP Report: insufficient evidence that dietary supplements benefit brain health which linked to a 2019 report by Global Council on Brain Health titled The Real Deal on Brain Health Supplements. On December 9, 2019 there was another article by Ashlee Kieler at Consumer Reports titled Feds, New York accuse maker of Prevagen dietary supplement of false advertising.

I went to the research section of the Prevagen web site and downloaded the .pdf file of their clinical trial, the Madison Memory Study. But that file omitted significant details of the study, like the gender of participants. I looked around and found them in a February 2016 magazine article published in Advances in Mind-Body Research titled Effects of a supplement containing apoaequorin on verbal learning in older adults in the community. As shown above, the first thing you would look for in results of a clinical trial would be a main effect – a significant difference between two groups given a placebo and a treatment (apoaequorin). Also note the strange grouping of subjects - both by gender and between placebo and treatment. The results section from the file on the Prevagen web site instead began by stating:
“While no statistically significant results were observed over the entire study population, there were statistically significant results in the AD8 0-1 and AD8 0-2 subgroups.”

A decade ago on January 25, 2010 I blogged about Bach Rescue Remedy and Anxiety and discussed another clinical trial that did not find a main effect. What they next did instead was data dredging (also known as p-hacking) – dividing the data into subgroups until they found an apparently significant effect. As is shown above, for the Madison Memory Study you can do this if you keep just 29% or 46% of the data  - and ignore the rest. On June 21, 2018 there was another article by Jann Bellamy at Science-Based Medicine titled Prevagen goes p-hacking. A five-minute Prevagen video titled What you need to know about Prevagen eventually (at 3:22) gets around to mentioning just a subgroup.

According to a pair of professors things are even worse. There was an article by chemistry professor Joe Schwarcz on January 14, 2019 at the McGill Office for Science and Society titled Prevagen for mental clarity? that questioned whether the active ingredient apoaequorin could survive digestion, enter the bloodstream, and cross into the brain. Another article by Gary L. Wenk on May 4, 2019 at Psychology Today titled Prevagen: The 21st-century placebo also raised that same objection.

Friday, January 10, 2020

How old are brief (3 to 7 minute) speech formats?

Superficial research might lead you to believe that brief, 3 to 7 minute, speech formats are a 21st century phenomenon. That’s what I thought back on September 8, 2008 when I blogged about
Recent formats for brief presentations: Lightning Talks, Pecha Kucha, and Ignite. (Lightning Talks and Ignite have a length of five minutes while Pecha Kucha uses six minutes and forty seconds).

Similarly, in an article at Forbes on January 14, 2010 Scott Berkun proclaimed The end of boring presentations. Even Toastmaster magazine (who really should know better) published another article in their May 2018 issue by Dave Zielinski titled Tick – Tock – Tick – Tock and subtitled Fast, fun formats like Ignite and PechaKucha help speakers get to the point. The previous Toastmasters basic Competent Communication manual had eight five to seven minute speeches out of the ten. And most speeches in the current Pathways program also are five to seven minutes. That length goes way back, perhaps to the founding of Toastmasters in 1924. But brief formats are still older.

On August 9, 2010 I blogged about The power of brief speeches: World War I and the Four Minute Men. Back in 1917 Americans spoke in movie theaters while the film reels were being changed. So, a brief speech format (just four minutes) goes back to the time of biplanes, not smartphones. I tried to go even further back via desk-chair research at Google Books and the Internet Archive. 

At the Internet Archive I found that back in 1886 there were two books V1 and V2 of Five-Minute Sermons for Low Masses on All Sundays of the Year (by Priests of the Congregation of St. Paul in New York City). These were their sixth edition. These ‘sermonettes’ first were given toward the close of the year 1876 – in the time of steam locomotives and four decades before the Four Minute Men. In 1891 there was another book by Rev. Richard Newton of Five-Minute Talks for Young People. And in 1896 there was a book by Rev. Clinton Locke, D.D. of Five Minute Talks, followed in 1904 by his book Five Minute Talks second series.     

What about books teaching public speaking (or oratory or elocution)? There was a series of educational handbooks on elocution by Walter K. Fobes, four of which had titles beginning with Five-Minutes. An ad for them appeared in front of the title page for a later edition of his 1877 book Elocution Simplified, as is shown above. In 1886 there was his book of  Five-Minute Readings (for school and college). There also were Five Minute Declamations first part and second part, and Five-Minute Recitations (which is not in the Internet Archive). In 1890 there was a book of Three Minute Declamations for College Men by Harry C. Davis and John C. Bridgman. The Internet Archive has the 3rd revised edition from 1894. In 1897 there was another book of Three Minute Readings for College Girls just by Harry C. Davis. So brief presentation formats really go back to the nineteenth century rather than the twentieth or twenty-first.

In Walter K. Fobes book Elocution Simplified, on page 15, the Acknowledgements include one:
“to Prof. A. Graham Bell of Boston for valuable instruction in articulation and inflection;”
Most of us are more familiar with Bell as the inventor of the telephone.

The cartoon woman using her laptop while sitting on an hourglass was adapted from an image at Wikimedia Commons, while the biplanes and locomotives came from the Library of Congress.

Monday, January 6, 2020

A startling statistic about Idaho agriculture for opening a presentation

You might open a presentation by asking your audience: What Idaho agricultural product is most valuable? Some would say that’s a silly question - right on our license plates it says FAMOUS POTATOES.

But on October 11, 2019 the United States Department of Agriculture had a press release titled Value of Idaho’s 2018 Agricultural Production Totals $7.69 Billion, which listed the top five products (as are shown above in a bar chart). Potatoes ($1.03 billion) only were third, exceeded by both milk ($2.38 billion) and  cattle ($1.41 billion).

I saw that press release discussed in a newspaper article by Nicole Foy in the Idaho Statesman on January 4, 2020 titled These products top the list for driving Idaho’s ag economy. (Hint: it isn’t spuds). Where does all that milk go? Some goes into a million-square-foot Chobani facility in Twin Falls - the world’s largest yogurt plant.

An image of an Idaho license plate came from Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Toastmasters may also enjoy reading articles in another bimonthly magazine

Speaker magazine from the U.S. National Speakers Association is subtitled The Art and Business of Professional Speaking. There is a web page with a directory of bimonthly issues you can read for free.

The latest issue is January-February 2020. Pages 22 to 25 have an excellent article by Ben Glenn titled Tips for a Creative Mindset. The seven he describes are: Research, Write it down, Be curious, Incorporate pop culture, Travel, Go for a walk, Test your material. Pages 26 to 29 have a great article by actor coach Tom Todoroff titled Sharpen Your Stagecraft. Tom advises:

“There are essentially five motivations that bring an audience to the theater or cinema: to laugh, to cry, to learn or be enlightened, to be scared, or to be stimulated….

It’s your job as a speaker to take the audience on a journey. Unlike acting, though, the script comes from you! Strive to craft a story, first on paper and then in performance, that touches on all five of the essential audience motivations. By engaging ‘the head and the heart and the hips’ you will leave your audience feeling deeply moved, inspired, and motivated by your words.”

On November 6, 2019 I blogged about Excellent advice on how to deal with a distraction or an emergency during your speech, and linked to another article from Speaker magazine.

A cartoon in my dummy magazine cover was modified from one at Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

The 2019 Chapman Survey of American Fears still is missing in action

Starting in 2014 the annual Chapman Survey of American Fears was released before Halloween. In 2019 it did not emerge to replace the 2018 one at their Division of American Fears web page. But back on August 12, 2019 there was a blog post titled Research students work all summer long collecting data for fear survey.

And for Halloween there was another post at From the Square (the NYU Press blog) titled Fear of Muslims in American Society with some data from the 2019 survey. At the bottom of that post is an image with the cover of a forthcoming book titled Fear Itself: the causes and consequences of fear in America which is supposed to appear in March 2020. Perhaps the survey finally will appear after the book is finished.

A 1930 Western Union Telegram image from Wikimedia Commons was Photoshopped for background.  

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

For 2020 only you can prevent bad presentations

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines oratory as: “The art of speaking eloquently or effectively.” Let’s resolve to deliver effective presentations. Bad presentations are the opposite of that, as illustrated above via four PowerPoint posters. I started doing this annual series in 2015 with Smokey Bear’s “Only You” catchphrase.

A newspaper article on December 29, 2019 by Amy Oberlin at the Herald Republican (Angola, Indiana) says to Make resolutions that make you happy.

The pointing cartoon man came from Wikimedia Commons. The weeping audience, stamping man, and writer came from the Library of Congress.