Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Medical myths

Rational as I may be I sometimes engage in superstitious behaviors because of advice I have heard a long time ago and then stuck. For example, when I have a flu I usually overdose on C-vitamin. I believe that this piece of advice was made famous by Nobel prize winning scientist Linus Pauling who asserted that C-vitamin could cure the common cold. According to other sources that I trust more on this particular issue, such as Harriet Hall, also know as the "Skep Doc", a C-vitamin overdose will at best shorten the common cold for a day, and that is for people who do not eat a lot of C-vitamin in the first place (I am one of them why I may perhaps benefit somewhat), at worst a C-vitamin overdose can make you quite sick.

Two other behaviors which I sometimes engage in is drinking coca cola when my stomach is upset, and eating garlic when I have the common cold. Quick google searches did neither prove or disprove the efficiency of these two questionable treatments. Perhaps someone out there know something about it (in which case I hope you will share your knowledge).

What I really wanted to write about in this post is an article published in the British Medical Journal in which widespread myths, often reinforced by doctors were punctured. Some of these myths I believed in firmly until I saw the article. For example I have thought for a long time that reading in dim light is bad for your eyes. Now, becuase of this article, I know that there is no good evidence to back this claim. I had been wrong, but now I have changed my provisional world model to fit the new data (I stand corrected to put that more simply).

However, I am proud to say that I never bought into the myth that you only use 10% of your brain. Then again, I am a brain researcher so perhaps I cannot brag to much about this accomplishment. The idea, though popular in books such as Uri Geller's "Little Mind Power Book", is completely absurd. Would evolution allow 90% of our brain just sit there and do nothing, I think not. By the way, the claim can be easily disproved by sending a person into an FMRI and watch how the entire brain lights up which is an indication of energy expenditure (maybe with the exception of people like Uri Geller). Furthermore, in contrast to predictions of the "we only use 10% of our brain" hypothesis, removal of almost any part of the brain will result in clear symptoms,

The entire list of medical myths which are debunked in this nice article are as follows. Take a look at the article if you are not willing to take my word for it (there are nice references as well).

1. People should drink at least 2,5 litres of water per day
2. We only use 10% of our brains
3. Hair and fingernails continue to grow after death
4. Shaving hair causes it to grow back faster and be coarser
5. Reading in dim light ruins your eyesight
6. Eating turkey makes people especially drowsy
7. Mobile phones cause electromagnetic interference in hospitals

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Teaching Company – My Favorite courses

This is my second post in a short time when I am going to help a commercial business. Last time it was Nokia, because of their brilliant software "Nokia sports tracker". This time I want to take my hat off for The Teaching Company. I have mentioned them in previous posts here and here, but now I want to dedicate an entire post to this wonderful company.

Their concept is easy. They hunt down University professors who excel in their subject and in teaching skills. Then they ask these professors to record a series of 30-45min long lectures (on average about 30 lectures in each course) on their subject. Then they sell these lectures over the internet. You can download them as mp3's, have CD's with audio sent to you, or buy video recordings of the lectures. I normally prefer the first alternative since I can convert the files to the Nokia audiobooks (another terrific application from Nokia) format which use up very little space on my mobile phone, however, sometimes it is nice to have video also.

The lectures are normally equivalent to what you would expect from an introductory university course - rather detailed in other words. When do I have time to listen to these lectures? Well, on the top of my head, here are a few situations in which I normally put in my earphones and broaden my universe a little bit.

1. When I am riding my bike to work

2. When I am doing the dishes

3. When I am vacuum cleaning

4. When I am out jogging

5. When I am walking the dog

These situations actually correspond to a few hours a day, which adds up to a great many hours per year. Since I discovered The teaching company little more than a year ago I have been listening to an estimated 240 hours of lectures (a modest estimation, in reality it is probably more than that). It has really enriched my life.

If any of my readers are also fans of The teaching company then I am very interested in hearing which courses you liked and which ones you did not like, so that I know which courses I should get in the future. Here are a list of the courses that I have completed as well as my rating of them (5= Brilliant, 1=Not worth buying)...

Classical mythology: 3 - The teacher does everything you would expect, but not more. Mythology is exotic and interesting which makes this course very attractive

Second world war: 5 - I may be a bit biased because I think wars are interesting to study. I think that I finished this 30 lecture course in three days or so. Teacher is brilliant.

First world war: 5- Same rating as for the second world war

History of Russia: 4 - One of the first courses I listened to, very good lecturer, unfortunately I have forgotten a lot of what was said in this course

Argumentation: 3 - I remember this course as being engaging, but for some reason I don't remember so much of this course, and in addition I retoric has always been a little bit too abstract an inconcrete for my taste

Philosophy of Science: 3 - Good course which can get a bit complex every now and then, and that can make you loose focus

Books that have made history: 5 - Probably the most entertaining course of all, like listening to engaging stories. The professor even makes voices for the characters in the book which makes it even more entertaining

Biology and human behavior: 5 - Robert Sapolsky from Stanford (see above), may simplify a lot, however, a more entertaining course on human behavior will be extremely hard to find. Great, great course!

Science and religion: 3 - Seemed to me that the professor was very biased, and that he wanted to defend religion, however, you will learn a lot about interesting historical events

Biology: 3 - 80 lectures long course going through a huge amount of biology, works well to fresh up your memory, and the lecturer manages to put in a lot of details to, however, I would have liked some more jokes and stuff from him

Economics 3rd ed: 5 - Also a fantastic series from a lectures from a great professor. I thought economics would be boring but now I know it isn't so

Contemporary economic issues: 4 - Very similar to the course above, same lecturer, great stuff.

Utopia and terror in the 20th century: 4 - Takes you through genocides and massacres in the 20th century which is always interesting, greatly recommended.

Philosophy of the mind: 5 - John Searle's course on the human mind is simply brilliant. Many good illustrative jokes.

History of the United States: 5 - A massive 84 lectures on the history of the united states. Loved the part about the civil war, but everything was great in this course.

United State and the middle east: 5 - Manages to guide you through a century of conflicts. Gives you the facts without taking sides which is an impressive feat in an on itself.

Here are a few other blogs that have written about The teaching company as well.

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