Saturday, January 30, 2016

Did I really get an email from the late David Bowie?

When I checked my Junk Email folder for the account associated with this blog, I found the following item from January 27th:

A brief glance at Wikipedia shows David Bowie died back on January 10th. I don’t believe he tried to contact me, so I’m not about to open a file attachment containing malware. 

Snopes also has mentioned that Pat Robertson didn’t suggest David Bowie wasn’t really dead, or that “demons kidnapped him to entertain them in Hell.”

A wax museum image of David Bowie came from Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Today is National Speak Up and Succeed Day

Once again it is National Speak Up and Succeed Day. How do I know that? In the past day my blog post from January 24, 2013 titled National Speak Up and Succeed Day was on Tuesday had over five hundred hits coming from web sites called (All your holidays, updated daily) and Worldwide Weird Holidays.

I looked in the EBSCO Host databases at my friendly local public library and found that day also was briefly mentioned in an article back in the January 2003 issue of Middle Grades magazine titled 56 Skill-Building Activities You Can Use Right Now! which listed:

“49. Speak Up and Succeed Day

CHARACTER EDUCATION The fourth Tuesday of every January celebrates the importance of being able to speak publicly. Encourage students to stand up and speak out about something they care about. Invite professional speakers or local community leaders to give a short talk on how important public speaking is in their careers.”

It also was mentioned in a press release for a book at PRweb on January 27, 2004.

The image was modified from a 1909 illustration of Debate and Oratory at Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Two more prize-winning stories from Canadian family physicians

The January 2016 issue of Canadian Family Physician contains two stories which won the AMS-Mimi Divinsky awards. I’ve blogged about earlier award winners in 2015, 2014, and 2013.

The best story from a resident was The Dance by Jessica Ladouceur. In just 512 words she tells about getting to know a patient.

The best story by a family physician was Arctic data streams (graphing land and love) by Courtney Howard. She pointed out that:

“I have recently realized that although MDs think that we make decisions based on evidence, much more often we change our practice based on the story relayed along with the evidence—based on the efficacy of an epinephrine drip in a code run over the phone and the success of polyethylene glycol in a single, extremely constipated Chipewyan elder. We respect numbers but, for better or for worse, we follow stories.” 

She briefly mentioned that story with the elder:

“Fort Providence—a Chipewyan-speaking elder is brought in with constipation and gets tired of waiting for the translator. He suddenly bursts out, 'No sh*t!' and raps the table next to his chair, causing the loudest explosion of inappropriate laughter of my career.”

Most of her story tells about attending a meeting in Yellowknife after a spill from a coal tailings pond into the Athabasca river.  

“Finally, the man who has been sitting in a pool of quiet at the head table rises to speak. He is the leader of the aboriginal group from just downstream from the spill in Alberta. He thanks everyone for their information, nods at the coal company rep, says he respects him as a human for coming. The poor young man from the coal company looks miserable for the first time. 

Despite the fact that the leader’s eyes are cast down and he seems to breathe in fatigue, something about him makes us lean in. A palpable sense of responsibility, gracefully shouldered. My own breath slows, is almost held, as he speaks.

‘They’ve never been faced with a serious situation like this before. They felt like their man-made dykes wouldn’t fail. The provincial government doesn’t know what they’re doing. The federal government doesn’t know what they’re doing. This tailings pond was constructed 15 years ago. So it was a new tailings pond that breached. We have thousands of older ponds.’ He continues, describing how his people still fish on the river, still live traditionally as much as they can. Meanwhile, the accumulating development projects in his area are changing the landscape so much as to make it almost unrecognizable.

He looks up, ‘We are going to be environmental refugees because of environmental catastrophes occurring on our land.’ “

She mentioned a word I hadn’t heard before, solastalgia, which means feeling homesick while you are still at home. You can download a .pdf file with both stories here.

Ben Schott discussed solastalgia back in 2011 in his Schott’s Vocab blog.

The image of a woman’s hands by Daniel Sone came from the National Cancer Institute.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Is the average attention span of a presentation coach almost as short as that of a house fly?

At Gerry Sandusky’s web site I found a web page from January 14th titled Act Quickly. Attention Spans are Shrinking. On January 18th it was repeated at Presentation Magazine. He began by claiming:

“I recently came across some research on attention spans that shocked me. It essentially says that most of the people in your audience—whether that’s the audience for a keynote, a presentation, a sales pitch, or a meeting—have a shorter attention span than goldfish. Goldfish!

Microsoft conducted a research study in 2015 that found the attention span of the average North American has shrunk to eight seconds. That’s down from 12 seconds at the turn of the century. Down from 15 seconds late in the 21st century.

Goldfish, on the other hand, continue to hold steady at a nine second attention span.”

I went to the Microsoft web page for that 2015 report, titled How does digital affect Canadian attention spans? and downloaded it.

Page 6 of it says the 8 seconds, 9 seconds and 12 seconds actually came from a somewhat silly web site called Statistic Brain. ( The 8 seconds is for 2013). They were on their Attention Span Statistics web page, which I have previously blogged about. The current version for that web page claims an 8.25 second attention span for 2015. There is no mention of North Americans, and nothing about the 9 seconds for goldfish holding steady. It seems to really be from a BBC news web page back in 2002.

A chart (above) shows the research path I followed beginning with Gerry’s article.

Tooth Fairy Statistics

However, now things get very silly. Those three supposed data sources - the Associated Press, the National Center for Biotechnology Information, and the U. S. National Library of Medicine all are Nebulously Authoritative Places (NAPs). They are ridiculously general, and quite opaque. Looking further is pointless as trying to go scuba diving in quicksand!

If you are willing to pass along those unverified attention span statistics, then you probably also still believe in the tooth fairy. But, lots of people have been fooled. Perhaps that is because at the bottom of that Statistic Brain web page there also is a specific reference to an article from February 2008 in the ACM Transactions on the Web by Harald Weinrich et al titled “Not Quite the Average: An Empirical Study of Web Use.”   

For example, Joseph McCormack’s 2014 book Brief - make a bigger impact by saying less says in section 2 Inattention - The muscle is weakening of his Chapter 2 on  Mindful of Mind-filled-ness:

“The information inundation is weakening people’s ability to focus and prioritize. Prevailing research says the average attention span is down to 8 seconds from 12 over the past five years (Ref. 7).”

Similarly, an article on January 7, 2016 at Ethos 3 by Leslie Belknap titled How-To Conquer Short Attention Spans also referred to that 2008 article falsely claiming:

“In the study, Not Quite the Average: An Empirical Study of Web Use, researchers determined that the average human span in 2013 was only 8 seconds (the average goldfish can pay attention for 9 seconds).”

Sound Bite Statistics

There’s no 15 seconds listed either at Microsoft or Statistic Brain. So, in a comment, I asked Gerry Sandusky where he got that 15-second number for the late 20th century (not the 21st he said)?

He replied:

“The 15 seconds is a combination of personal experience and television research with soundbites. This article will show you the decline over the past third of the century.”

Without saying so he had changed the topic from attention span to sound bites. Sound bites should be shorter than the average attention span, or they wouldn’t be effective. Based on their length we could hope to get a lower bound for the attention span.

I looked for other articles about sound bites and found one by Joseph A Russomanno and Stephen E. Everett in the Summer 1995 issue of the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media titled Candidate sound bites: Too much concern over length? It looked in detail at the 1992 presidential campaign. They noted that:

“Studies have demonstrated a marked decrease in candidate sound bite length since the 1968 campaign. During that period, average sound bite length declined from 42.8 seconds in 1968 to 9.8 seconds in 1988.”

For the 1992 campaign they found an average of 9.90 seconds - almost exactly the same as for 1988. What was the average (in seconds) for each of four networks? For ABC it was 8.05, for CBS 10.37, for CNN 12.45, and for NBC 8.50. Those numbers vary about as much as the 12 to 8 second range reported as if attention span was decreasing. 

Television Commercial Statistics

In October 2005 Jeff Davidson gave a speech that was published as Taking Back Control of Our Days in the November 1, 2005 issue of Vital Speeches of the Day. He said that:

“While the typical TV advertisement was 53 seconds in 1965, by 2000 it had dropped to 25 seconds with 15 second ads as well as 3 second ads peppering viewers at every turn.”

Also, a newspaper article by Emily Fredrix titled TV Commercials shrink to match attention spans in USA Today on October 30, 2010 noted that:

“The number of 15-second television commercials has jumped more than 70% in five years to nearly 5.5 million last year, according to Nielsen. They made up 34% of all national ads on the air last year, up from 29% in 2005.

....On average, about 5% of an audience viewing a 15-second commercial will give up on it. The number jumps to about 6% for 30 seconds and 6.5% for 60 seconds, says Jeff Boehme, chief research officer for Kantar Media.”

On September 27, 2015 I blogged about What can you communicate in 20 seconds or less? In that post I mentioned 20, 10, and 5 second TV commercials.

Bull and Bronco Statistics

How else can we find a lower bound for people’s attention span? Out west there are two relevant rodeo events - bull riding (see PBR) and bronc riding. If people couldn’t manage to pay attention for the length of a full ride, then they wouldn’t be paying for tickets to watch them. Well, both events call for the cowboy to do an eight second ride. So, the attention span really should be more than 8 seconds.

How short is the attention span of a house fly? Would you believe it is five seconds? I don’t know if that’s right or wrong, and neither do you. 

The image of a farmer’s boy and his sister came from Wikimedia Commons, as did that of a bull rider and a house fly.  The tooth fairy was derived from an image found at Openclipart.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Over a quarter of workers in the UK chose careers to avoid their office fears

That is one interesting statistic from a survey of around 3000 workers in the UK by CV Library and reported on December 31, 2015 in an article at Fresh Business Thinking. Two other articles discussed what apparently were other results from this survey. 26.2% of a national sample chose careers to avoid their office fears, as did  29.5% in the East Anglia region.

As shown above, when asked about their fears the five most common were public speaking (15.7%), delivering presentations (12.2%), cold calling (11.5%), leading a meeting (7.3%), and missing targets (6.7%). The next five were speaking on the phone (6.4%), attending social events (6.0%), managing budgets (5.7%), liaising with senior staff (4.8%), and being away from home (3.4%).   

A second article in Bar Magazine on December 30th didn’t list percentages but just ranked the ten most common fears for hospitality workers as being:

1]   Public speaking
2]   Speaking on the phone
3]   Presenting
4]   Saying “no”
5]   Making important decisions
6]   Not being able to be yourself
7]   Using new technology
8]   Working social events
9]   Managing budgets
10] Working with other people

A third article in Cambridge News just ranked the ten most common fears of workers in East Anglia as being:

1]   Public speaking
2]   Presenting
3]   Cold calling
4]   Leading a meeting
5]   Managing budgets
6]   Liaising with senior staff
7]   Speaking on the phone
8]   Missing targets
9]   Making important decisions
10] Being away from home

Public speaking was the most common fear for all three samples.

All three articles also listed the ten most common reactions by workers to their fears. For the national sample they are shown in another bar chart. Two most common and sensible reactions were to Tackle it head on (26.6%) and to Use it as an opportunity for growth (15.6%). But then came another eight less than useful reactions: Ignore it (12.2%), Avoid the situation for as long as possible (9.0%), Keep a low profile (7.6%), Panic (4.0%), Make up an excuse to get out of it (2.2%), Call in sick (2.0%), Become aggressive (1.0%) and Take annual leave (1.0%).    

For all three articles the most common reactions are summarized in the table shown above, which lists them ranked in decreasing order for the national sample. The most common reaction was sensibly to Tackle it head on. For the East Anglia sample, the second reaction was to Use it as an opportunity for growth - but for hospitality workers it instead was to Ignore it, which was the third most common one for the national sample. The third most common reaction for East Anglia was to Keep a low profile.The fourth most common and silly reaction for the national and hospitality samples was to Avoid the situation for as long as possible.   

A Detour sign was modified from one at Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

What percent of your speech audience really likes you? The 20-60-20 rule

I heard that people can be divided into two categories: those who like to divide things into two categories, and those who do not. The first category would be content to hear that perhaps a famous comedian said:

“Half the audience will like you, but the other half won’t.”

The second category instead would be more intrigued by a LinkedIn Pulse article on January 4, 2016 by Alf Rehn titled The 20/60/20 rule - or why you shouldn’t worry about frowns in the audience. It can briefly be paraphrased as follows: 

“In every audience, there will be 20 percent of listeners who don’t really like you all that much.

Conversely, in every audience, 20 percent of listeners will really, really like you.

In most audiences, 60 percent could go either way.”

On December 16, 2015 Gerry Sandusky similarly blogged about The 20-60-20 rule from the front of the room. His post also appeared at Presentation Magazine.

It sounds plausible, and suggests that you would do well to ignore those inevitable frowners. Instead concentrate on the rest of the audience. You might persuade some of that 60 percent that they can learn from listening to your speech. That 20-60-20 is a simple bar chart, a very rough histogram for a bell shaped curve.

You could get slightly fancier and instead show a 10-40-40-10 bar chart. Here you would start out by having half the audience in your favor. 10 percent love you, and 40 percent like you. Then imagine changing the other 40 percent who don’t like you. Forget about the last 10 percent who just hate you.    

You could get even fancier and instead show a 10-20-40-20-10 bar chart. Here you start out by having almost a third of the audience in your favor. 10 percent love you, and 20 percent like you. Then imagine changing the other 40 percent who, as of yet, don’t care. Forget about the 20 percent who don’t like you, and last 10 percent who just hate you.    

A normal or Gaussian distribution is what we’d imagine to be hiding behind the 20-60-20 rule. Last year there was an article at ArXiv on The 20-60-20 Rule by two Polish mathematicians, Piotr Jaworski and Marcin Pitera. Their abstract says that if a random vector follows multivariate normal distribution and we split the whole population into three groups, then this fixed ratio leads to a global equilibrium state.

Alf Rehn also mentioned that you might misread the reaction of an audience member. One he thought was seething with anger turned out to have been so deeply engaged he’d memorized parts of Alf’s speech! Similarly, back in 2011 in a blog post about Learn to ignore these audience behaviors I mentioned a speaker who was disconcerted by seeing a woman (presumably a professor) who kept screwing up her face in disagreement and contempt. She just was a former graduate student with a very mobile face and a habit of attending lots of lectures.
 The 20-60-20 rule also shows up in management articles that claim it represents how people perform on the job - 20 percent are strong (go-getters), 60 percent are average (mediocre), and the last 20 percent are weak (slackers).

But there also is a nasty bunch of performance review claptrap claiming there instead is a mythical Vitality Curve justifying “rank and yank.” Here the three categories are 20 percent stars (the tigers), 70 percent average (the sheep), and 10 percent not up to expectations (the goats).

Back in July 2003 Andy Meisler discussed that in a Workforce article titled Dead Man's Curve. There isn’t a solid basis (like a Generalized extreme value distribution) for why 10 percent are scapegoats. It is just an arbitrary decision. It’s really not about a bell curve. It’s just about for whom the bell tolls. Perhaps the Machiavellian thought is that flushing more than ten percent down the toilet annually would completely decimate corporate performance. Still, if you repeat the yanking process about three times you likely will eliminate what once were some very solid performers.

On November 14, 2013 there was a commentary article in the Wall Street Journal titled Jack Welch: ‘Rank and Yank’? That’s Not How It’s Done and subtitled Using ‘differentiation‘ aligns employee performance with an organization’s mission and values. That reuse of the word differentiation belongs in the Guffipedia.    

The image of a normal distribution came from Wikimedia Commons. đź””

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Most humorous junk email title this year

A few times a week I check the Junk Email folder for the Hotmail account associated with this blog. This time I burst out laughing when I saw the title of an email from Auto Facebook Notifier. It read:

“Hi You have delayed emails vomiting”

That was a hilariously accurate image for the spamming process. There is no Facebook account associated with that Hotmail account, so I knew not to open it. 

By the way, there is a TEDx Global Geneva talk by James Veitch titled This is what happens when you reply to spam email. Please don’t do that unless you are a fully qualified comedian.

The image of vomiting was adapted from one at Wikimedia Commons showing it as a symptom of ebola. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

13 words or phrases banished for 2016

Every year some words or phrases get so misused they need to be banished from the Garden of Eden of  common use. Since 1976 Lake Superior State University annually has published a List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness. This year’s thirteen from their 41st list are (in alphabetical order):

Break the internet
Giving me life
Join the conversation
Price point
Secret sauce
Walk it back

Their tongue-in cheek press release said that compilers hoped this year's list will be so popular that it will “break the Internet.” The LSSU spokesperson warned that overused words and phrases are “problematic” for thousands of Queen's English “stakeholders,”  while “vaping” an e-cigarette during a “presser.”  Once a word or phrase is banished, there is no “walking it back;” it is our “secret sauce,” and there also is no “price point” for that.

They also have a web page with their Complete List. If some of your commonly used jargon words are on there, then you need to rethink your speech writing.

The Domenichino painting of God giving Adam and Eve The Finger is from Wikimedia Commons. It was flipped, and also modified to add a leaf bra for Eve so now it is Suitable for Work

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A great story about how Keith Jarrett delivered a wonderful improvised performance in spite of multiple handicaps

I just saw a TEDx Global London talk by Tim Harford titled How messy problems can inspire creativity. His first example is Keith Jarrett’s famous January 24, 1975 Köln Concert. That improvised solo piano jazz performance is a best selling CD (over 3.5 million copies), and one of my favorites. A Wikipedia page and another page at have more details. You can listen a YouTube audio of the first part from that concert.

The concert was scheduled to begin at 11:30 PM, after a regular performance at the Cologne opera house. 1400 people still showed up. Keith hadn’t slept for almost 24 hours, he was wearing a brace because his back hurt, and he hadn’t eaten much of a hasty restaurant dinner.

Mr. Jarrett had requested a Bösendorfer Imperial Grand piano - their largest and loudest model. Instead by mistake the opera house had set out a worn-out baby grand in terrible shape. They used that one only for practice. It was barely capable of producing enough volume to fill the opera house:

“I went onstage and realized, ‘Hey, I have a Bösendorfer here and it's not the right size and it sounds like a modified electric harpsichord.’ And then we found out that they couldn't get the right piano, even though it existed, because their rental truck was gone.”

But the recording equipment already was set up. So he sat down and played for an hour and seven minutes:

“It just seemed like everybody in the audience was there for a tremendous experience, and that made my job easy. What happened with this piano was that I was forced to play in what was - at the time - a new way. Somehow I felt I had to bring out whatever qualities this instrument had.

And that was it. My sense was, ‘I have to do this. I'm doing it. I don't care what the f*** the piano sounds like. I'm doing it.’ And I did.”

Even if things go wrong, a good speaker still should be able to improvise a successful presentation. Back in 2012 I blogged about Surviving presentation problems with visual aids. I described how Lord John Butterfield once was supposed to speak on the history of medicine to a student audience at Cambridge University. The man setting up the slide projector tripped on the cord, the bulb broke, and slides were scattered far and wide.

“It seems we have lost our slides,” he said. “But, no matter, let me tell you about these people without their pictures.”

And then he did, calmly, briefly and clearly - based on knowing his topic very well.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

A great leadership story about using all the brains you can borrow

At my local public library I just found and skimmed through L. David Marquet’s 2012 book, Turn the ship around! A true story of turning followers into leaders. It’s a great story about when he was assigned as captain of the U.S.S. Santa Fe, a Los Angeles class nuclear attack submarine with a less than stellar record. You can watch a ten-minute animated YouTube video titled What is Leadership that presents the main point of his story. At 6:40 he says that:

“....On another submarine there was one guy in charge, one guy giving orders, one guy thinking, and 134 people dong what they were told. I don’t care how smart you are. On my submarine I got 135 thinking, active, passionate, creative, proactive, taking initiative people. It’s a tidal wave. You don’t stand a chance!” 

You can also watch an 18-minute TEDx talk he gave at Scott Air Force Base titled How Great Leaders Serve Others. At five minutes into that talk he describes getting a moment of clarity from giving an order that could not be followed. That incident also is described in an article at Fast Company titled A submarine captain on the power of leadership language. Captain Marquet has both a web site and a blog.

What Marquet has described is how to achieve what he calls Leader-Leader management rather than Leader-Follower management typical of military organizations, particularly those depending on conscripts.

A table on page 205 of his book compares Leader-Follower and Leader-Leader styles. A slightly rearranged version of it is shown above. (Click on it for a larger, clearer view).

Back in the 1960s Douglas McGregor discussed how there were two management theories - Theory X and Theory Y. The Wikipedia article about them says:

“Theory X considers that on the whole, workers dislike their work, and have little inherent motivation to perform well. Therefore, if organizational goals are to be met, 'Theory X' managers must rely heavily on detailed rules and instructions, on close monitoring, and on the threat of punishment to gain employee compliance.

....Theory Y, in contrast, is based on the belief that, given appropriate working conditions, most people perform well. The worker is considered as the most important asset of the company. It is believed that workers can derive satisfaction from their physical and mental work, viewing it as a game or as something to be enjoyed.”

Early in 2015 Marquet published another book titled Turn Your Ship Around!: A Workbook for Implementing Intent-Based Leadership in Your Organization.

Back on June 14, 2008 I blogged about how Woodrow Wilson had said that:

“I use not only all the brains I have, but all I can borrow.”

Friday, January 8, 2016

Fear surveys in Pakistan, Kuwait, and the UAE ranked public speaking 8th, 4th, and 7th, while injections were 5th, 6th, and 3rd

For Halloween 2012 I blogged about how Either way you look at it, public speaking really is not our greatest fear. Three more recent surveys confirm that statement. Snakes came first in all three.

A Daily Times newspaper article from December 21, 2015 titled Diabetic patients in Pakistan afraid of injecting needles: experts reported that a nationwide survey had shown the ten most common fears there were:

1]   Snakes
2]   Heights
3]   Sharks
4]   Lighting
5]   Injections
6]   Spiders
7]   Flying
8]   Public speaking
9]   Exams
10] Clowns

Another article in the Kuwait Times on December 27, 2015 titled Needles make top ten of Kuwait’s residents biggest fears list reported that the six most common Kuwaiti fears were:

1]  Snakes
2]  Sharks
3]  Heights
4]  Public speaking
5]  Spiders
6]  Injections

but it inexplicably opened by instead claiming that:

“Needles top the list of Kuwait residents’ biggest fears according to a recent nationwide survey where residents were asked to rank things people are commonly afraid of.” 

A third article in the Gulf Times on January 3, 2016 titled Needle phobia among UAE’s biggest fears said the seven most common fears in the United Arab Emirates were:

1]  Snakes
2]  Sharks
3]  Injections
4]  Heights
5]  Spiders
6]  Lightening
7]  Public speaking

I think they really meant to say lightning rather than lighting or lightening. When I looked on Google, I could not find press releases with more survey details. Perhaps those originally were in Urdu or Arabic.  

All three surveys were done by Medtronic, a U. S. medical device company. They were using them to get publicity about a new injection port for diabetics called the i-Port Advance. It is a plastic “nipple” that adheres to the skin surface. That port provides a reusable septum to insert insulin needles for up to three days. It is a big advance in comfort for diabetics who might otherwise have to poke needles directly into their skin up to four times a day, or twelve times as often. You can watch a YouTube video about using the i-Port Advance. Back in December 2008 the U.S. Sunday-newspaper supplement magazine, Parade, had an article about how The I-Port is a Long-Awaited Breakthrough.

There was another fear survey covering the UAE and Saudi Arabia reported in 2010 which was done by Crest toothpaste. It ranked public speaking 3rd.

An injection syringe image came from Armin KĂĽbelbeck at Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

According to Consumer Reports, homeopathy is an emperor with no clothes

Two days ago I blogged about Will homeopathic Natrium Muriaticum reduce stage fright? How could that work?

The 10:23 Campaign has a web page titled Why You Can’t Trust Homeopathy that briefly discusses the following ten points:

It doesn’t work.
It couldn’t work.
It’s a waste of your money.
It’s a waste of everybody’s money.

It's a waste of your time.
It’s a waste of everybody’s time.
There are alternatives to this alternative.
It’s not what it says on the label.
It detracts from medicine.
It has abused its placebo privileges.

A placebo is something inert, like plain sugar pills, that is used as a comparison in a clinical trial of a medical treatment. It is there to keep us from fooling ourselves.

On December 21, 2015 at the Washington Post web site there was an article from Consumer Reports titled Homeopathic drugs: No better than placebos? A section titled Does homeopathy work? stated:

“....Yet after reviewing 176 studies, the National Health and Medical Research Council in Australia this year found that homeopathics worked no better than placebos, concluding that ‘there are no health conditions for which there is reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective.’ ”

and then concluded:

“...after evaluating many reliable studies, including comprehensive, independent reviews of the research, Consumer Reports’ medical experts conclude that homeopathic preparations are no more effective than a placebo.”

A typical response to this gloomy news from homeopaths would be to attack the organization as shills for BIG PHARMA. That won’t work against Consumers Union, who are independent and only draw conclusions based on their own tests or other reliable evidence. 

They were not the only ones to discuss that Australian report. Two days later at the Science-Based Medicine web site Steven Novella had an article titled Continuing Battle over Homeopathy. He concluded that:

“...Homeopathy cannot work and does not work.”

On January 4, 2016 Dr. Edzard Ernst posted a web article titled The place of the history books! He concluded that it finally was time for homeopaths to sit down and shut up:

“What place does homeopathy have in medical schools? Its place is in the history books of medicine! Even homeopathic optimists cannot reasonably doubt this answer. Systematic research in cooperation between experienced homeopaths and university-based methodologists complying with the currently accepted quality standards has filled the gaps in our knowledge, particularly in respect to the proof of homeopathy’s clinical effectiveness. Now it is up to homeopaths to demonstrate that they are sufficiently responsible to adapt to this new knowledge in the best interest of their patients. If they don’t, they cannot be considered to be members of the community of ethical health care professionals. ”

The image of an almost naked emperor was adapted from a WPA poster at the Library of Congress for a play based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Emperor’s New Clothes.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

How is PowerPoint putting your audience to sleep?

Yesterday’s Savage Chickens cartoon by Doug Savage featured a chicken complaining he was having trouble sleeping through a PowerPoint presentation. Perhaps he should have asked for a pillow, as mentioned in his August 3, 2015 cartoon I previously blogged about.

One way to quickly put an audience to sleep is to design slides using light text on a dark background. Room lights must be turned off, and ever since we were cavemen we knew darkness calls for sleep.

Changing to dark text on a light background is better, but bullet-point word slides with no pictures still are boring and call for sleep.

Using Assertion-evidence slides containing pictures (or other images) is even better.

The cave painting image at Wikimedia Commons came from Danniel Mietchen.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Will homeopathic Natrium Muriaticum reduce stage fright? How could that work?

On February 15, 2015 naturopathic doctor Peter Swanz discussed Homeopathic Courage for Performing in Front of a Crowd. He listed eight remedies:

“For someone that feels timid about appearing in public consider: Carbo vegetabilis, Lycopodium, or Silicea.

For an individual that begins to feel anxiety anticipating an upcoming event or encounter consider: Arsenicum, Carbo vegetabilis, Gelsemium, Lycopodium, Natrium muriaticum, Silicea, or Thuja.

An individual that has fear and dread about appearing in public should consider: Carbo vegetabilis, Gelsemium, Lycopodium, or Silicea.

For someone suffering from stage fright consider: Gelsemium, Mercurius solubilis, Natrium muriaticum, or Silicea."

I have previously blogged about three of his eight:  Gelsemium, Lycopodium and Silicea (silica). One on Gelsemium is my all-time 10th most popular post. (Another on Argentum nitricum is my 4th most popular post).

What is Natrium muriaticum (or Natrum Muriaticum). It’s just sodium chloride (the main compound in sea salt) obscured by a Latin name. You probably have a shaker in the kitchen. At the web site for the British Homeopathic Association you can even find an article titled with the cryptic abbreviation Nat Mur.

Mr. Swanz doesn’t say what homeopathic dilution to use, but another web page titled Homeopathic Remedies for Anxiety - Natural Ways to cure Anxiety Attacks by Brendon G. Burwell says to use 30C, which means 1 in ten to the 60th power. That is:

000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times.

When you think about it, there is a big problem with how salt could get into the body from the usual homeopathic remedy form of solid sugar pillules. An Frequently Asked Questions page on the Boiron web site under the heading Should I take my Boiron medicine with or without food? says:

“The most efficient route of administration for oral homeopathic medicines is sublingual absorption (under the tongue).

 ....Since the absorption takes place through the mucous membrane coating on the inside of the mouth, food in the stomach has no influence.”

But in the mouth the solid will be exposed to saliva and dissolved. Are sodium and chloride ions present there? Yes, both already are in saliva. Table 1 in an article by Silvia Chiappin et al titled Saliva specimen: A new laboratory toll for diagnostic and basic investigation that appeared in Clinica Chimica Acta in 2007 (Volume 383, pages 30 to 40) lists a sodium ion content of 5 mmol/liter and a chloride content of 15 mmol/liter  for unstimulated saliva. For stimulated saliva the sodium ion content is 20 to 80 mmol/liter and the chloride content is 30 to 100 15 mmol/liter. Homeopathic remedies will have vastly lower concentrations of sodium chloride, which will be overshadowed by the saliva that dissolves them.

The salt shaker image came from Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Is there really a TV show called Downtown Abbey?

No, it’s just an incorrect spelling for Downton Abbey. That British period drama TV show airing on PBS just began its final season.

But, if there was a Downtown Abbey, it might be subtitled Nuns in a Skyscraper and take place in a 42-story Late Gothic Revival building like the Cathedral of Learning in Pittsburgh shown above.

Famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright was not impressed at all by that building. He told the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph:

“That’s the most stupendous ‘keep-off-the-grass’ sign I’ve ever seen.”

Friday, January 1, 2016

Remember that only YOU can prevent bad presentations

You have the responsibility to stop and think before you write a speech, fire up Word, Excel, or PowerPoint, and finally open your mouth in front of an audience.

Once again it’s New Year’s Day, and thus time to reflect and make resolutions. My title comes from those old Smokey Bear public service announcements. Last year I began with an image of Uncle Sam taken from a World War I recruiting ad. This year instead there first is a British version with Lord Kitchener.

A third much older Wellcome image points at one man, and a fourth from an 1895 play points at three men.

A fifth from 1540 is an ancient predecessor to warning about Death by PowerPoint. Have a happy New Year!