Review | Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything – Lydia Kang and Nate Pedersen

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10 years ago, I took a GCSE history course on Medicine through Time, which was so engaging for me that I now credit it as part of why I ended up studying science communication. Since then, medical history has stayed as one of my cyclic background interests.

Quackery aims for a tone somewhere between a medical history textbook and a standard popular-science narrative, then strikes that note precisely throughout. It focuses on information about historical treatments, figures and ideas, rather than any autobiographical elements or personal narratives. Because Quackery is so consistent, it skirted the edge of monotony when I read much of the book in one sitting. However, the authors’ quick pace, and their frequent dry-humoured side notes and reactions, liven up the text.

“Edinburgh physician James Young Simpson was another nineteenth-century pioneer in anaesthesia. That is, if pioneering meant inhaling random substances with your colleagues, just to see what would happen.”

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Research Update | Revision #1

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After submitting my article in September, I recently received my reviewer’s verdict. I had some revisions to do and two weeks to do them in, but now V2 of the article has been completed and re-submitted.

Luckily, most of the sections were satisfactory. My abstract needed some extra information, to which I initially thought “that’s impossible, I’ve only got 150 words!” However, I was wrong — my new abstract fits way more information into the limited space.

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Review | In the Land of Invented Languages – Arika Okrent

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Although we use language in everything we do, we rarely need to wonder about how our languages could be improved. Even if we do, the thought of making a whole new language to fix those flaws seems ridiculous.

Language creators, from scientists to philanthropists to eccentric sociologists, take centre stage in “In The Land of Invented Languages”. The book makes sense of invented languages — languages developed by just one person — by explaining why some of those languages were developed and what the inventors were trying to achieve by creating new languages.

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Review | The Violinist’s Thumb – Sam Kean

A hardback copy of the book The Violinsts Thumb.
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Biology is a conspicuous weak spot in my knowledge. My psychology education taught me a little about neurons, neurotransmitters, and brain structure. Beyond that, my main biological knowledge is trivia about platypi. So I read The Violinist’s Thumb less to learn about specific topics than to better understand how all these concepts of DNA, genes, cells and chromosomes related to each other.

The introduction sets up a powerful tension between the  scientific value gained by understanding DNA and the fears thrown up by confronting our genetic building blocks. From there, we discover the parallel stories of Gregor Mendel and Friedrich Miescher, who first isolated genes and DNA. Using these building blocks of genes, Kean leads readers towards larger structures such as chromosomes, viruses, humans, and human cultures.

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Review | Scientific Babel – Michael Gordin

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This year, about 2.5 million scientific articles will be published. Roughly 90% of them will only exist in English. So how and why did English become the default language for scientific work? If that question interests you, you might appreciate Scientific Babel.

Scientific Babel is about the languages we use to create scientific knowledge, and how the “language of science” has changed over time. It’s partly a history of science, and partly a discussion of how languages and cultures rise and fall.

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Study Summary | To protect students who self-injure, focus on helping them manage emotions

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Research from the University of Washington Medical School suggests how to improve treatments for college students struggling with non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI). Treatments which develop people’s practical skill in managing emotions may be more effective than the current therapies that increase people’s confidence in their ability to cope with events.

The study involved 187 students with a history of self-injury. The students provided information about their experiences with NSSI, including the age at which they first self-injured and the reasons behind their self-injury.

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Impressions | Forza Horizon 4

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If you’ve ever played a Forza Horizon game, the core of Forza Horizon 4 is pleasantly familiar. Its most important aspects — its cars and locations — are as impressive as you would expect. FH4 refines the classic Horizon open-world gameplay and extends it across even more environments, taking you from muddy cross-country treks to snowy hills and frozen lakes.

Showcase races, which place you against showstopper competitors like planes and hovercraft, also return. Although these are fun displays featuring ingenious opponents, the showcases occupy an awkward middle ground between a setpiece spectacle and a race. Showcase races are focused on putting you and your opponent in the right positions for dramatic jump scenes and conflict points, which detracts from their stated role as a race. I have a game clip of myself trailing a Showcase opponent yet suddenly being switched to first place as a race ended. It’s a minor gripe, but that kind of switching makes Showcases feel somewhat dishonest — I believe the Showcases would have been better if they were purely a spectacle, rather than being a mixture of race and setpiece.

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Impressions | Spec Ops: The Line

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Last week, I finally played Spec Ops: The Line (only 6 years late!). I’d heard about its ambitious, ethically challenging story, but I’d tried to avoid spoilers. Going into the game, I knew one thing; I would have to make choices that I wouldn’t want to make.

I was expecting tough choices from The Line. However, I wasn’t expecting false choices. The Line contains a mid-game scene where protagonist Walker (and by extension, the player) is treated as if they can choose between two actions, even though the game mechanics allow only one. In the next dilemma, the game lets you continue assuming that only one choice is possible; this time, you could have done something else.

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EGX 2018

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After enjoying my visit to Insomnia63 last month, I was looking forwards to visiting similar events in future. However, I wasn’t expecting the chance to attend another one quite so quickly. On Sunday I went to the final day of EGX 2018, alongside two of my friends. Danny, aka Adoboros, has also written up his thoughts on EGX here if you want to read them.

The Arena

As Insomnia took place so recently, and in the same building as EGX, I instantly noticed the visual contrast between the two events. While EGX had a similar number amount of stands, it appeared less visually cluttered and more organised. Its fairly dimmed lighting made navigation easier by allowing colourful stands and lights to stand out. From an audio perspective, EGX also had fairly good sound balancing, where loud displays didn’t spill over into quieter displays too often.

Finally, the ratio of game displays to merchandise displays was weighted far more in favour of gaming at EGX. Merchandise was given a fair space, but games were front and centre.
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Review | Onrush

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The ingredients of Onrush are simple. Start with the frenzied speed and crashes of Burnout: Revenge, and mix in the co-operative objectives of Overwatch. Add cartoonish, Fortnite-styled character models and emotes, then finish with cosmetic loot boxes.

Onrush is a co-operative racing combat game, where players succeed by carrying out team-based objectives. It promises relentless speed and chaotic battles. It vows to keep you in the action at all times. So, how does Onrush achieve the goal of continual speed? And what does it feel like to play?

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Research Update | Submitting my research article

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Yesterday, I finally pushed the big green “Submit” button on the research article that I’ve been working on sporadically for nearly two years. Pressing that button provided a relief, though an anticlimatic one; seeing years of my life summed up in a file just 46kb small felt more painful than joyous.

But for now I’ve done what I can, and I need to wait for the journal staff to give their verdict. However, that could be a slow process. When I and two other students helped with another study during our undergraduate degree, it wasn’t fully published until three years later. Hopefully my paper won’t need too many revisions, but I’m not naive enough to think it will be waved through unchanged.

I’m glad to have completed a version of the paper, and I’m fairly happy with my work. So far, I’m annoyed about only one aspect. As part of studying science communication, and from my own interests, I’ve read quite a bit about the failure points of academic writing — how it can be jargon-laden,  hard to read, and artificially exclusive.  I’ve read about how to make academic writing more lively and well-crafted, and how to make it better do its job of communicating. After diving into this new topic, I wanted to try out those new techniques and approaches. But in the end I stuck with the conventional approach, the passive, impersonal “view from nowhere”.

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Insomnia63 Gaming Festival

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This weekend I had the brand new experience of going to the Insomnia Gaming Festival. Having never been to any gaming events or tournaments, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I had a full weekend ticket, so I was there from Friday morning until Sunday afternoon.

As families often attend over just Saturday and Sunday, Friday was a fairly quiet introduction to the festival environment. We were able to get our bearings and explore the arena, and we could try all but the largest activities without queuing.

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IQ | What does someone’s IQ say about them?

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I previously talked about how scores on an IQ test are developed, and what they mean mathematically. Now, I’ll look at what they can mean for individuals.

IQ could be described as the BMI of the mind. Although both numbers can provide useful information for a typical mind or body, they should still be regarded with caution especially in an atypical mind or body. BMI is near-useless for athletes, who will often score as overweight or obese due to their increased muscle mass. Similarly, IQ measurements may be helpful to understand a neurotypical person in a familiar situation, but they are flawed for people with neurodevelopmental disorders, or people who are unfamiliar with standardised testing.

3) IQ tests cannot always measure someone’s ability accurately. Health conditions and neurological differences result in people having uneven patterns of ability, which confuse IQ tests.

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IQ | How do IQ tests work?

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The Intelligence Quotient- or IQ- is one of the most popular subjects in psychology. Yet despite us often using IQ as a shorthand for intelligence, and even using it to define others, misconceptions about IQ are often louder than explanations.

So how do IQ tests work, and what does an IQ score mean?

1) An IQ test does not directly measure your ability. It uses maths to estimate your ability in relation to other people.

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Language and Duolingo

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I went to a secondary school which at the time emphasised language teaching. Students were encouraged to take two different language GCSEs – one in Year 10, and one in Year 11. My class had Italian, then French.

Even though I had completed 4 years of French by the end of secondary school, I never clicked with the language. As I learn most readily through reading and writing, I found the gaps between spoken and written French confusing. So while the written side of GCSE French came easily to me, trying to speak in French was frustrating.

Italian was far more enjoyable –  the logical connections between how words are pronounced and spelt made the language easier for me to understand. I enjoyed the language so much that I’ve repeatedly considered revisiting it.

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Review | The Integration of Psychology and Theology – John Carter and Bruce Narramore

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When I was a psychology student and in my “learn everything about Christianity” phase, I discovered a book called “The Integration of Psychology and Theology”. Then I forgot to ever read it. By the time I eventually started reading the book, it logically shouldn’t have meant anything to me. But I found value in how the book was written and how it approached both topics.

Integration…  does exactly what you would expect; it talks about why people perceive conflicts between psychology and theology, and whether these conflicts can be overcome. It was written by the Rosemead School of Psychology, an APA-accredited University which aims “to train clinical psychologists from a Christian perspective”. The book lays out four potential ways in which someone can view psychology and theology:

  • Psychology and theology are in direct and irreconcilable conflict, so one must eventually override the other.
  • Both fields appear to have common ground because psychology is a subset of theology.
  • Psychology and theology are like two trains on separate tracks, which don’t need to interact or to confront each other.
  • Psychology and theology are separately valuable fields which have the potential to work together based on their underlying principles (This is the book’s main argument).
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Personality Disorders 101: Obsessive-Compulsive PD

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The final personality disorder in the current diagnostic system is Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD). First, I’ll explain why OCPD is not the same as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

In OCD, someone’s obsessions and compulsions are entirely subjective, and individual to them. While the person knows their obsessions and fears are irrational, they feel forced to listen to those fears. At the core of OCD are ingrained if-then loops: if the person does not listen to those fears, something bad will happen to them or people they care about. If the person carries out their compulsions – either activities or rituals of specific thoughts – then they have briefly stopped those negative things from happening

As a stereotypical example, consider a person with OCD whose particular obsession and compulsion centres on locking doors. The person may need to spend an hour checking that every door in their house is locked before leaving, to prevent the overwhelming consequences of leaving one unlocked. However, they will not think differently of their family members for being able to leave after checking once. They may envy their family for being free from that worry and may feel guilty over how the time spent checking intrudes upon other family members.

In OCPD, the person’s rules and beliefs are not subjective and personal. They see their rules and methods as “objectively” correct, regardless of how complex, rigid or time consuming their approach may appear to others. Someone with OCPD who had specific rules about the correct location of every item in their house would require everyone else to abide by those rules exactly. If a housemate wanted to do things differently, the person with OCPD would see them as incorrect, illogical, or even morally wrong.

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Personality Disorders 101: Dependent PD

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Dependent Personality Disorder was introduced in the first version of the DSM in 1952. Originally, it was seen as a subtype of an now-unused condition named “Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder”, but it was quickly changed to being a separate condition.

The core symptom of DPD is a person’s belief that they are unable to function independently. A person with DPD is compelled to rely excessively on either one person (often a significant other) or multiple people (such as a close group of friends) to help them navigate most or all parts of their life. This reliance is not out of laziness, nor a wish to delegate responsibility. Instead, it is to escape a primal fear of inability. A person with DPD sees the world as a cold, dangerous place, and usually believes that they are deficient and unable to survive on their own. Therefore, they will seek out others who they view as stronger and more capable to help them navigate through life. They are terrified of losing that support or angering their support network, as they believe they cannot function alone.

The DSM-5 describes DPD as a pervasive and excessive need to be taken care of, which leads to submissive and clinging behaviour and fears of separation. To be diagnosed with DPD, someone needs to have at least 5 of these criteria:

  • They have difficulty making everyday decisions without excessive advice and reassurance from others
  • They need others to assume responsibility for most major areas of his or her life
  • They struggle to disagree with others because they fear a loss of support or approval.
  • They have difficulty initiating projects or doing things on their own. because they lack self-confidence in their own judgment or abilities (Not because of lacking motivation/energy etc)
  • They go to extremes to get nurture and support from others, even to the point of volunteering for uncomfortable or dangerous situations
  • They feel uncomfortable or helpless when alone, as they are convinced they cannot care for themselves
  • They must urgently seek out new relationships to provide care and support when a relationship ends
  • They are unrealistically preoccupied with fears about being left to take care of themself alone
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Personality Disorders 101: Avoidant PD

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Today we move on to the Cluster C personality disorders, which are known as the “anxious” or “fearful” disorders. The first of these is Avoidant Personality Disorder (AvPD).

In 1911, Swiss psychiatrist Bleuler wrote about people who shied away from most social contact and activities. Bleuler is better-known for coining the words schizophrenia and schizoid, and he interpreted people’s avoidance through that lens; he assumed severe social avoidance was part of an unnoticed type of schizophrenia. However, this opinion was not widely accepted, and within ten years others described severe social avoidance as a separate condition.

AvPD is leagues beyond being shy and introverted. Instead, it is a deep-rooted and severe fear of rejection and criticism which impacts almost every aspect of a person’s life. While someone with AvPD will want to connect with and develop friendships with others, their fear of being criticised and disapproved of can be so painful that they are unable to take part in social activities. Their self-loathing and feelings of inferiority may be so strong that they assume others would not want to interact with them. As a result, they often interpret neutral statements as containing hidden rejections or reminders of their perceived social inability, which reinforces their perception of being socially inadequate.

The DSM-5 describes AvPD as a widespread pattern of being inhibited around people, feeling inadequate, and being very sensitive to any negative judgements. To be diagnosed with AvPD, someone must meet 4 of these criteria:

  • They avoid occupational activities that involve significant interpersonal contact because they fear criticism, disapproval, or rejection.
  • They are unwilling to get involved with people unless they can be certain of being liked.
  • They show restraint within close relationships because of the fear of being shamed or ridiculed
  • They are preoccupied with being criticized or rejected in social situations.
  • They are inhibited in new social situations because they feel inadequate
  • They seem themselves as socially inept, personally unappealing, or inferior to others
  • They are unusually reluctant to take personal risks or to engage in new activities in case they embarass themseleves.
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Personality Disorders 101: Borderline PD/ Emotionally Unstable PD

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Today’s topic, Borderline Personality Disorder, is perhaps the third most argued-about psychiatric disorder (with first and second place going to Dissociative Identity Disorder and ADHD/ADD).

One of the many contentious points is its name. When the DSM was first developed during the 1950s, psychiatrists divided mental health issues into “neurotic” and “psychotic”. People with “neurotic” illnesses were in distress but still aware of reality and that they were ill, while people with “psychotic” illnesses were detached from reality and often unaware that they were ill. Borderline personality disorder received its name because psychiatrists saw the symptoms as being on the border of both categories. However, that method of categorising mental health conditions is no longer used, so “borderline” now doesn’t mean anything. It can also be actively unhelpful, because people can assume it means that someone is on the border of having a mental health condition and not having one. The ICD-10 instead uses the name “Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder”, which better reflects the condition’s core symptom.

A person with EUPD experiences much more intense and changeable emotions than a typical person, and the overwhelming nature of those emotions underpins the other EUPD symptoms. To be diagnosed with EUPD in the DSM-5, someone must meet 5 of the 9 criteria:

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