- chocolate: what is the best dose?
- tasting sugar water improves self-control
- The Beijing Interceptors.
- doctor complains about over-prescription of opiates. The author, a doctor named Susana Duncan, complains about several things, including “a system where symptoms are treated but the source of pain remains”. Treatment of symptoms rather than identification of causes is overwhelmingly true of the whole health care system, not just treatment of chronic pain. One example is depression. Anti-depressants do not reduce whatever caused the depression. Another example is high blood pressure. Blood-pressure-lowering drugs do nothing to eliminate what caused the high blood pressure. Duncan was once science editor of New York magazine, which may have something to do with her ability to cogently criticize the system.
- A British surgeon performs hundreds of unnecessary operations before being caught.
Archive for the 'Beijing' Category
Here at Tsinghua University, the Second Annual Chinese International Conference on Positive Psychology has just begun. The first speaker was Martin Seligman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and former president of the American Psychological Association (the main professional group of American psychologists). Seligman is more responsible for the Positive Psychology movement than anyone else. Here are some things I liked and disliked about his talk.
1. Countries, such as England, have started to measure well-being in big frequent surveys (e.g., 2000 people every month) and some politicians, such as David Cameron, have vowed to increase well-being as measured by these surveys. This is a vast improvement over trying to increase how much money people make. The more common and popular and publicized this assessment becomes — this went unsaid — the more powerful psychologists will become, at the expense of economists. Seligman showed a measure of well-being for several European countries. Denmark was highest, Portugal lowest. His next slide showed the overall result of the same survey for China: 11.83%. However, by then I had forgotten the numerical scores on the preceding graph so I couldn’t say where this score put China.
2. Work by Angela Duckworth, another Penn professor, shows that “GRIT” (which means something like perseverance) is a much better predictor of school success than IQ. This work was mentioned in only one slide so I can’t elaborate. I had already heard about this work from Paul Tough in a talk about his new book.
3. Teaching school children something about positive psychology (it was unclear what) raised their grades a bit.
1. Three years ago, Seligman got $125 million from the US Army to reduce suicides, depression, etc. (At the birth of the positive psychology movement, Seligman proclaimed that psychologists spent too much time studying suicide, depression, etc.) I don’t mind the grant. What bothered me was a slide used to illustrate the results of an experiment. I couldn’t understand it. The experiment seems to have had two groups. The results from each group appeared to be on different graphs (making comparison difficult, of course).
2. Why does a measure of well-being not include health? This wasn’t explained.
3. Seligman said that a person’s level of happiness was “genetically determined” and therefore was difficult or impossible to change. (He put his own happiness in “the bottom 50%”.) Good grief. I’ve blogged several times about how the fact that something is “genetically-determined” doesn’t mean it cannot be profoundly changed by the environment. Quite a misunderstanding by an APA president and Penn professor.
4. He mentioned a few studies that showed optimism (or lack of it) was a risk factor for heart disease after you adjust for the traditional risk factors (smoking, exercise, etc.). There is a whole school of “social epidemiology” that has shown the importance of stuff like where you are in the social hierarchy for heart disease. It’s at least 30 years old. Seligman appeared unaware of this. If you’re going to talk about heart disease epidemiology and claim to find new risk factors, at least know the basics.
5. Seligman said that China had “a good safety net.” People in China save a large fraction of their income at least partly because they are afraid of catastrophic medical costs. Poor people in China, when they get seriously sick, come to Beijing or Shanghai for treatment, perhaps because they don’t trust their local doctor (or the local doctor’s treatment failed). In Beijing or Shanghai, they are forced to pay enormous sums (e.g., half their life’s savings) for treatment. That’s the opposite of a good safety net.
6. Given the attention and resources and age of the Positive Psychology movement, the talk seemed short on new ways to make people better off. There was an experiment with school children where the main point appeared to be their grades improved a bit. A measure of how they treat each other also improved a bit. (Marilyn Watson, the wife of a Berkeley psychology professor, was doing a study about getting school kids to treat each other better long before the Positive Psychology movement.) There was an experiment with the U.S. Army I couldn’t understand. That’s it, in a 90-minute talk. At the beginning of his talk Seligman said he was going to tell us things “your grandmother didn’t know.” I can’t say he did that.
A friend of mine was at a KFC in Beijing. She returned from the bathroom to find her purse was gone. She called the manager. The police came in 15 minutes. At the police station, she saw security footage, which showed that her purse had been taken by an 11-year-old girl. “Heart-breaking,” said my friend.
- Yale cancels China year-abroad program. One reason is that students in Beijing (at Peking University, one of the best universities in the country) learned less Chinese than students at Yale.
- European plagiarism epidemic. “More than a third of a new book for law students on how to write papers properly was plagiarised . . . The authors vowed to find the culprits.”
- Penkowa for Dummies. Complicated scientific fraud.
- Self-tracking difficulties: a fickle and too-demanding exercise tracker. I try to walk 60 minutes/day. It’s easy to track.
Thanks to Anne Weiss.
Because Tyler Cowen is going to Beijing, I made a list of suggestions:
1. Don’t go to the Great Wall. It’s a long drive. I preferred to see it on the Today Show. The only interesting bit was a guy who sat in a chair on the path to the wall and charged 30 cents to go further. We paid the 30 cents but in retrospect I wish we hadn’t.
2. Visit some of the many “markets” that consist of a building full of tiny booths. There are markets devoted to cameras, jewelry, clothes, electronics, furniture, etc. There can be more choice of furniture in one building (say, 100 manufacturers) than exists in the entire Bay Area. Along similar lines there is a whole neighborhood full of tea sellers — if you like tea.
3. Peking duck is a good dish but I cannot tell the difference between the better restaurants serving it. So don’t go out of your way to go to an especially good place. I usually go to Quanjude which has a branch very near my school (Tsinghua).
4. Middle 8 is a very good restaurant (in Haidian and Chao Yang).
5. Din Tai Fung is a very good dumpling restaurant. It is a big international Taiwanese chain. So it isn’t even mainland Chinese food exactly.
6. There are grilled chicken wing restaurants near the west gates of both Peking University and Tsinghua University. I don’t know their names but they are very good. Popular with students.
7. I have never found a nice place in Beijing to walk. Even in parks there is a lack of shade.
8. In my neighborhood (Wudaokou) there are excellent Korean restaurants.
Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments.
Long after the famous Kitty Genovese story — supposedly many people watched her being murdered without doing anything — doubt was cast on its accuracy. In the meantime, John Darley and Bibb Latane, two professors of psychology, it as the starting point for a series of experiments on what they called the bystander effect — the more bystanders, the less likely that each one will help. They concluded there was “diffusion of responsibility” — the more people that witness something, the less each witness feels responsible for doing something.
In China the problem is much worse. A few years ago a woman was hit by a car. A second car stopped to help her. The woman told the police that the second driver had hit her. The second driver was furious, gave many interviews, and eventually a witness was found who said it was the driver, not the injured woman, who was telling the truth. Someone I spoke to attributed her behavior to the need to pay hospital bills. The driver who hit her would never be caught, she reasoned. Maybe the second driver could be forced to pay.
My Chinese tutor, who is Korean, told me a story that illustrates the depth of Chinese bystander inaction and suggests another reason for it. A friend of hers was visiting from Korea. When this friend was in Wangjing (in the Chaoyang district of Beijing), she saw a person lying on a busy street, bleeding but still alive. Apparently the bleeding person had been hit by a car. Three hours later, the friend returned — and the accident victim was still there! Now dead. So, with difficulty — she doesn’t speak Chinese — she called the police.
The police treated her as a suspect. She was forced to come to the police station five times, for hours each time.
What a deterrent to calling the police! I cannot believe the police were so stupid as to consider a Korean tourist on foot who calls the police a serious suspect in the death of someone lying in the middle of traffic. I believe that by causing her a lot of trouble, they wanted to send a message: Leave us alone. The fewer calls they get, the less work they have to do. No wonder everyone ignored the bleeding victim.
“I am afraid I am scaring you,” said my Chinese teacher. “You are,” I said.
I recently had lunch with Richard Sprague, an engineer at Microsoft Beijing. He raised the possibility of starting a Quantified Self Meetup group in Beijing. The meetings could be held in one of Microsoft’s two brand new buildings, which are in the exact center of Zhongguancun. If you might attend, please let me know (e.g., by commenting on this post).
It has gotten hot in Beijing. Two days ago it was 90 degrees. Yesterday it was 84. For my (2 or 3) Beijing readers: I discovered an incredibly easy way to cool off. Take a T-shirt, get it as wet as desired, put it on. Instant cool. No need for noisy fan or air conditioner. Surely this is widely known, but I didn’t know it.
I heard Gary Shteyngart (latest book Super Sad True Love Story) at the Beijing Bookworm. No better job of authorial self-promotion have I seen. He was born in Leningrad in 1972, he grew up hearing jokes from his parents. For example: The 1980 Summer Olympics were in Moscow. At the time, Brezhnev was in charge. He was going senile. At an Olympic ceremony, he gave a speech. His hands shook holding the text of his talk.
“Ohhhhhh…..” he read.
An apparatchik ran up to him. “Senior Comrade Brezhnev, those are the Olympic Rings!”
The moderator asked Shteyngart what he thought of Putin’s plan to require every Russian teenager to read a specified 100 great books by graduation. “These things never work,” said Shteyngart. “American cities have done this. Everyone’s supposed to read a certain book, usually To Kill a Mockingbird. Never tell someone what to read.” However, he said one of his favorite authors is Karen Russell. (For a New Yorker podcast, he read a story by Andrea Lee.)
I asked about his favorite TV shows. He mentioned The Sopranos, The Wire, and Breaking Bad. “Who would have guessed that TV would become a great art form?” He is writing a show for HBO about Brooklyn immigrants.
I learned that he was interviewed by a magazine called Modern Drunkard. The interviewer — not Shteyngart — mentions an Russian saying: “The church is near, but the road is icy. The bar is far away, but I will walk carefully.” How true.
- One of my Tsinghua American colleagues writes an op-ed: “China wants you. Job prospects are abundant.”
- Robert Anton Wilson’s skepticism about skeptics. “Those people claim to be rationalists, but they’re governed by such a heavy body of taboos. They’re so fearful, and so hostile, and so narrow, and frightened, and uptight and dogmatic. . . . None of them ever says anything skeptical about the AMA, or about anything in establishment science or any entrenched dogma.” I agree. They should be called one-way skeptics.
- Excellent Vanity Fair article about Occupy Wall Street. Better than The New Yorker‘s article covering similar stuff.
- The many side effects of statins. I am impressed by the new way of learning about drug side effects.
Thanks to Ryan Holiday and Gary Wolf.