All things science and technology.

Arecibo Radio Telescope

The Scientific Method

The scientific method is at the heart of so much of our modern world, whether it’s the development of new treatments for serious diseases, the search for habitable planets around other stars, or your thought process of determining which driving route will get you to work fastest in the morning.

But what exactly is The Scientific Method?  …

Fans watch the Curiosity rover landing at the Adler Planetarium

Study finds sickly kids more likely to become geniuses

A study conducted by researchers at the University of California has found a negative correlation between IQ and physical health in youth. The study — published in Psychological Science — examined data from 282 historical geniuses, including Rene Descartes, Abraham Lincoln, Michelangelo, Isaac Newton and Voltaire.

Study co-authors Dean Keith Simonton and Anna Song found a link between superior intelligence in adulthood and inferior physical health during youth. While the study’s results may simply reflect the sample’s extreme selectivity, the researchers hypothesize that being “sickly” in youth may help accelerate intellectual development.

Read more about the study.

Finding humor in serious illness

Sicknesss webcomic, from xkcdRecently the webcomic xkcd has run a number of strips dealing with health and serious illness. For years, xkcd has applied it’s unique (often sarcastic) humor to science, math, and romance. So it was a pleasant surprise to see the webcomic begin skewering topics that are close-to-home for anyone who has lived with chronic illness or struggled with a disease or serious health issue.1

The strip Positive Attitude gently pokes fun at the difficulty (and philosophically contradictory nature) of maintaining a positive attitude while fighting a disease.

Genetic Analysis imagines an extreme example of what a genetic test might reveal.2

And best of all, the strip Sickness makes a logical case for the power of science and scientific inquiry in battling illness and disease, as opposed to unquestioning belief in the supernatural.

I wish Randall Monroe and his family the best as they deal with any continuing health issues.

  1. Back in November, xkcd artist and author Randall Monroe announced that he was “dealing with a serious family illness” and took a month-long break from creating new xkcd material. Monroe recently resumed posting new material and several of those newest strips address illness and disease. []
  2. “And you paid how much for your personalized genetic analysis in order to uncover this fact?” []

Is psychiatry’s bible still in the dark ages?

New Scientist recently published an article1 describing the conflict that has emerged in American psychiatry over the upcoming revised version of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), frequently referred to as psychiatry’s bible.

BiologicsFrom my point of view, disagreement over the diagnostic approach employed by the DSM is decades overdue. I initially encountered the DSM2 in the ’80s when I was working on my master’s degree. My master’s thesis examined how (and how much) the media influence an individual’s perceptions and eventual behavior, so I took a mix of graduate-level classes in communications, psychiatry, sociology and several other areas. Even at that time, the DSM already was used almost universally as the resource for diagnosing psychiatric disorders.

What struck (and bothered) me from my first encounter with the DSM was the process through which it diagnosed disorders — it diagnosed an individual’s illness solely on the basis of the symptoms observed. In other words, the root cause of any psychiatric ailment was irrelevant when making a diagnosis. And since diagnosis drives treatment, that meant that treatments were being prescribed on the basis of symptoms, not underlying causes. …

  1. Psychiatry’s civil war, New Scientist, 12 Dec. 2009 []
  2. In those days, it was DSM-IIIR, meaning the revised third edition of the manual. []