After two failed attempts to explain why exactly I wasn’t thrilled with Adam McKay’s Netflix movie — brevity will only get you so far — I found this review by Scott Alexander to perfectly capture my doubts about the movie’s message. I agree with Alexander only about 60% of the time, but I can agree with 100% of his review.
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A big reason Don’t Look Up didn’t sit right with me was its simplistic view of the scientific consensus. “Listen to the goddamn qualified scientists…” bellows Ariana Grande paternalistically.
Meanwhile, qualified scientists from reputable institutions of higher education act as petty and vindictive prima donnas. The linked article is one scientist’s story of having to suffer through years of academic harassment for publishing a paper that rubbed some of her fellow researchers the wrong way. From the abstract:
A naïve researcher published a scientific article in a respectable journal. She thought her article was straightforward and defensible. It used only publicly available data, and her findings were consistent with much of the literature on the topic. Her coauthors included two distinguished statisticians. To her surprise her publication was met with unusual attacks from some unexpected sources within the research community. These attacks were by and large not pursued through normal channels of scientific discussion. Her research became the target of an aggressive campaign that included insults, errors, misinformation, social media posts, behind-the-scenes gossip and maneuvers, and complaints to her employer. The goal appeared to be to undermine and discredit her work.
Goddamn scientists indeed.
The world in general, and the US in particular, is spending too much on goal-directed, targeted biomedical research while undervaluing both applied and theoretical physics. Picture Leonardo da Vinci drawing helicopters: that’s the modern-day cancer researcher. The universal cure for cancer — and there should be one, if humanity survives long enough to create it — will not come from an NIH grant. If grants are involved at all, it will be something initially funded by the National Science Foundation. The current system of funding (government, non-profit, biotech, you name it) is broken, and if you account for the opportunity cost it is a complete disaster. Each of these statements deserves at least a paragraph, but I am saving my carpal tunnels for a manuscript, an LOI, and a couple of protocols (oh, the irony).
In the meantime, a few things physician-scientists should do for the overall good: * find causes and create better prevention strategies, because a look at the SEER database will tell you that it’s not just bad luck; * eliminate barriers for administration of known curative therapies world-wide (do we really want to leave this to politicians and economists?); * ensure rapid and honest evaluation of the many new treatments, procedures, and diagnostic/prognostic methods coming out of the biomedical behemoth.
How beneficial any of this would be for one’s career is a different question altogether, but let’s not get into incentives because RSI. I am also very open to opposing opinions, since my being wrong would make my life easier.
Another week, another Quora question.
What is an online resource for learning statistics needed for clinicians explained in a language that could be understood by doctors?
There are many biostatistics courses available on Coursera. Living in Baltimore, I’m biased towards JHU’s offerings. “Case-Based Introduction to Biostatistics” by Dr. Scott Zeger is a good one. If you prefer text to video, here are three good resources:
- An article: “A Review of Basic Biostatistics” by Kimberly Dukes and Lisa Sullivan (free PDF)
- A short book: “The Science of the Art of Medicine” by Dr. John Brush (free, iBooks only)
- A textbook: “Statistical Inference for Everyone” by Brian Blais (also free)
If I had to pick one, it would be Dr. Brush’s book. He is a cardiologist writing for other physicians in a language they can understand. Also, Dr. Lehman recommended it, which is more than good enough for me.
This has become the mantra of every medical student, intern, and resident wanting to appear smart on rounds and conferences, of every attending intent on shooting down a team member’s suggestion. Five, ten years ago it might have have signaled genuine interest. Now it means, usually, “I don’t know anything about the subject, but I’m still calling you out on (what I think is) your BS. Here, look at me! I am evidence-based!”
No, nobody has posed me that question in quite a while, and I don’t remember ever asking it in any context1. But, honestly, except for a few very well-known examples listed in this excellent post, you can find “evidence” in the medical literature to back up any claim. Off-the-cuff conversations during lectures and rounds are not the best place to dissect them, especially when one side has seniority.
Although I understand asking questions means showing interest, I’ve always preferred looking things up myself. This would make me appear either very smart or very dumb, depending on whatever subcontious impression I made on the person in the first few minutes of us meeting. Try to use the halo effect to your advantage. ↩
Of the three pillars of medicine, research is the most ellusive. Unless you are in an MD/PhD program—-not an option for most Europeans—-you will have other priorities in medical school. And unless your residency program has a built-in research year, the way most surgical residencies do, you will either be way too busy in a university or a large community program to do any research, or have plenty of free time in a lower volume community hospital that doesn’t have many research opportunities.
When I interviewed residents-to-be last year, my first thought on seeing a non-PhD applicant having 18 publications on his or her CV wasn’t “Wow, she is a research machine, we gotta have her”, but rather doubt that anyone could be that productive during medical school. More points subtracted for thinking the interviewers would be so gullible.
I graduated six years ago, far enough not to be able to give advice on how to do research as a medical student. The hows and whys are institution-specific, so anything I wrote would have to be in Serbian anyway. Residencies, though, are similar enough to each other that I do have some words of advice for new residents wanting to do Research! in a community hospital, university-affiliated or not.
Patient care trumps research. Unless you have already worked as an attending in another country before coming to the US for residency, don’t waltz in to your PDs office on day one asking about research opportunities. Prove yourself on the field first, then six months later, when you’re comfortable managing DVT prophylaxis, septic shock, and what not, start asking questions.
Get your own idea? Common wisdom says it is better to come up with your own question and start your own projects, since you will be more invested in the outcome. Well, yes, sort of. Unless it is a quick-and-dirty chart review you can do over a two-week vacation—-and even then there are IRB hoops you’d need to jump through to get anything done—-you will get your inexperienced self into the murky world of project management. Many brilliant ideas have died on the field of required signatures, ambiguous data points, and impossible-to-coordinate meetings. Which is why this next advice is important.
Find good mentors. Surrounding yourself with a few good people is orders of magnitude better than having many good ideas. Research topics come and go, as does our interest in different fields of medicine (yesterday’s apoptosis is today’s epigenetics is tomorrow’s something or other). It is unlikely that the research your started in residency will continue onward into fellowship, but the knowledge, skills, and general wisdom you pick up from your mentors should serve you well into your career. NB: don’t wait for someone to be “assigned” to you—-although that’s what many residency programs will do. Seek out people who match your character and who would be able to give you advice in at least three fields: patient care, research methodology, and research topics. This can be one person, or five. And if you find an awesome mentor who just isn’t doing any research right then, you can always write a review.
Is it Science! or quality improvement? ACGME is big on Quality! and Patient Safety! this year. Programs take notice. If you can present your interest as a quality improvement project rather than small-s-science, consider doing it. Not only does showing interest in quality improvement look good on a CV, your institution might have special funds for resident QI projects. A dedicated QI mentor is also a good resource, if you want a carreer as a Sith lor—-erm, hospital administrator.
Interest in research goes from I just want something on my CV so I could get a fellowship to When I grow up, I’ll have my own lab, but this applies to most people in most circumstances.
It is always a pain clicking on a link to a journal article only to hit a paywall. It’s doubly painful when I know I have institutional access via my library’s proxy server, but have to jump through hoops to get it: go to the library website, log in, copy and paste the article name or PMID into its PubMed search box, and finally download the PDF. Arduous, and—turns out—unnecessary.
Enter Alfred 2 workflows. Here’s a nice article I found on Twitter today. The NEJM link in the top right corner leads to an abstract, but I need a special archive subscription for the full PDF. No matter—I can just highlight the PMID and hit my special Alfred 2 keyboard combo:
Since I’m not already logged into the Welch library proxy, I hit a login wall. It’s nothing 1Password can’t solve, but you can also just type in your username and password yourself, like an animal.
And Bam! The ugly but magic button is where it should be. Your institution might have a prettier one.
To make it clear—this simple workflow will do a PubMed search of any selected text anywhere in OS X, all through your institutional proxy server. Finding an interesting reference while reading an article, highlighting its title, and hitting ^⎇⌘P to get to the PDF always feels like magic.