Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What it means to be a doctor

Two nice quotes from one of my favorite podcasts: Quakcast

1. "Becoming a doctor mean learning to be comfortable with incomplete and changing information."

2. "Becoming a specialist is being ignorant... with style."

These quotes I think are funny and since I am also teaching at a medical school I can say that in my experience these quotes are also relatively accurate. I always get surprised at the many changes that can occur from one edition of a textbook to the next, although I must hasten to point out that there is a large proportion that does not change to. It gets even worse if you compare different textbooks or say journal papers.

Does this mean that doctors are merely shooting at random? No, they are (if they are good doctors) basing their decisions, diagnoses and treatments on the best available evidence - and that is the doctors which have the greatest success in terms of healthy patients (read Neurologica blog for more on this).

So if you are a doctor or becoming a doctor accept that there is rarely such a thing as perfect knowledge, and if you are a patient accept that doctors cannot always say things with perfect certainty...

Watch this if you are afraid of mobile phones or microwave ovens

I have previously written about microwaves here and here. However, the fact is that even though I write about it sometimes there really isn't much to say except, fantastic technology, keep it coming. There are NO dangers associated with mobile phones or with microwave ovens (unless you stick your head in one and somehow manages to turn it on. Neither is there any reason to expect that these technologies could be dangerous.

If you want to hear this from a real expert there is a terrific lecture available on youtube which I admit, I found on the fantastic blog Bad Astronomy.

Here is the first part of the lecture.

The rest you can find here: part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5.

One statement that stuck with me was that the radiation you get from base stations (which many people worry about) is approximately equal to the radiation you get from the planet Venus (and as you know the radiation you get from venus is merely reflected sunlight).

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Mystery explained? Why women live longer

Since I started studying biology/neuroscience I have always been puzzled by the fact that no one has yet been able to explain why we age. This question may not have a simple answer. Perhaps it is one of those questions (like "what is life?") that will never really be answered, but rather re-formulated.

My own conclusion based on what I have read until now is that many different factors are involved in aging, including but not limited to 1) buildup of toxic materials in the body (from the environment as well as waste from your own body and 2) damage to DNA.

One related mystery is why women live longer than men? What is the cause of this unfair order? Until I read an article in Scientific American I always assumed that guys simply do more stupid things that sometimes kill us... The next explanation that comes to mind is that maybe our lives are just tougher, after all we always did all the difficult things while the women merely sits in their chairs, gossiping, problem solved, right?

Apparently not. It turns out that guys stupid behavior cannot account for the difference, and the latter explanation also fails because guess what, girls have been working to. Also, in the western world today men and women do pretty much the same things, and still we die earlier. Why?

The article in Scientific American suggests that the reason we die and the reason women live longer is that our self-repair mechanisms break down and that women's repair mechanism last longer and are more effective than men's. It is as if, after a certain number of decades, the body says that this body is now so crappy that it is no longer worth fixing, you will now be a burden for others so I will not repair you any longer.

Why would women have better repair? Because they give birth, and giving birth can be traumatic for many parts of the body. In order to recover from childbirth women need very effective repair mechanisms and as a side-effect of that, they also live longer...