Friday, December 29, 2006

Aardvarchaeology: archeology, skepticism, and much much more

One of my favorite bloggers, Martin Rundkvist (formerly of Salto sobrius, with posts I've linked to a number of times), has moved to a new home at ScienceBlogs. His new Aardvarchaeology blog launched today.

Check out one of his first posts, discussing archeology and its relationship to the natural sciences featured in the other ScienceBlogs - "An Archaeologist in Lab Coat Land."

Congratulations on the move, Martin!

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Blog tag: 5 things you don't know about BeckyJ

Tagged by my blog friend David. I guess it isn't hard to come up with 5 things since I haven't managed to add a bio to my profile (working on it!)...

1. The J stands for Jerome; I had kept the blog semi-anonymous to keep it separate from work but I'm sure it's not difficult to figure out with a little effort (blog doesn't reflect the views of my employer etc etc) and really isn't that big a deal anyway I guess.

2. I worked as a library page at a public library during most of high school and college, never suspecting that I would eventually decide to become a librarian myself, fell into the idea a couple of years later while volunteering at a health sciences library.

3. I will read just about any kind of fiction, from romance novels to scifi to children's books, and I love book recommendations.

4. When I was 9 years old, I was the founding member of a "gang" called the Pink Unicorns. The main activities I remember were not at all criminal - building forts out of milk crates and trying to convince our parents to get us matching pink denim jackets took up most of our time (yes, we were just that classy)

5. I have a good memory for faces, and a fairly good memory for names, but not for matching the two up together, so I have a number of embarrassing and funny stories about re-introducing myself to people that I never actually knew in the first place or trying to force identities upon them.

Tagging Taneya, Tao, and Judith, and second-ing David's tag of Rachel and Stewart.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

New Google functions, including patent searching

Via Lifehacker -- Google has launched a beta version of Google Patent Search.

Results include the entire collection of the United States Patent and Trademark Office from the 1790s through mid-2006 (~ 7M patents total). The documentation notes that each result includes:
1. Patent Title: The title of each entry in the search results is the title of that specific patent.
2. U.S. Patent Number: The patent office assigns a unique number to each patent.
3. Filing Date: The filing date is the date on which the patent was filed with the USPTO. The filing date is when the inventors applied for the patent and should not be confused with the issue date, which is the date the patent office granted the patent. If we don’t have a filing date for a patent, this field will be blank.
4. Assignee name: The assignee is the person or organization to which the rights of the patent are assigned. If we don’t have an assignee for a patent, this field will be blank.
5. Patent snippet: We include a snippet of text from the patent to show where the specific search terms were found.
Only US patents are included at this time and the interface is only available in English. More information here and here.

And also via Lifehacker, "15 unusual ways to use Google," including tips on how to use Google more effectively an encyclopedia/reference tool, track packages, etc.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Quick survey: interest in an online course in critical appraisal?

For those who may be interested in providing feedback on a web-based course on filtering and critical appraisal of the literature, or participating in such a course:

Re-posted with permission by Nila Sathe, Eskind Biomedical Library at Vanderbilt:
Given the increasing number of training requests we receive each year and
the positive response to a case-based tutorial column we have begun publishing
in the JMLA, the Eskind Biomedical Library at Vanderbilt University Medical
Center is considering developing an advanced training program covering facets of
critically assessing and synthesizing the biomedical literature. The course
would also discuss techniques for developing a biomedical knowledge base and
integrating library resources with the institutional clinical and research
enterprises. The program would likely be partially online, with a weekend
or day-long site visit for intensive, hands-on training.

To gauge interest in such a program before we dedicate
significant resources and effort, including seeking scholarship funding, towards
developing it, we request that you complete the following 6 question interest
survey. The survey should take no more than 5 minutes, and responses are
anonymous unless you choose to provide your email address for further

You can access the survey at <> through Wednesday December 20th.

We appreciate your assistance!

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Saturday, December 09, 2006

Off-topic post: Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS)

Found via The Questionable Authority, penned by Mike Dunford -- Tomorrow in Tikrit, Iraq, runners from the Army and other Multinational Coalition Forces will be running a replica of the Honolulu marathon in memory of their fallen comrades.

A number of runners are accepting donations to benefit the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, TAPS, which provides aid to families that have lost loved ones in the armed services. I know that many, like me, have family members, friends, and other loved ones serving currently in the Middle East and elsewhere in branches of the Armed Services.

Donations are being accepted online here, where you can make a general donation or sponsor an individual runner. There's also more information on TAPS and its activities here


Predictive values of tests in the "real world"

Today, Ben Goldacre of badscience discusses what the sensitivity and specificity of diagnostic tests mean when applied to real world situations. He includes two examples to illustrate how much (or how little) these figures tell you when considering real-world scenarios -- predicting true HIV positives in a population, and understanding data regarding the rate of homicides committed by people diagnosed with a psychiatric illness.

The background rate of disease (e.g. HIV) in a population has a significant influence on the meaning of a positive or negative test result - the process of incorporating data on the prevalence of disease in a given population is called a probability revision - converting from a pre-test probability of a disease (disease prevalence) to post-test probability (likelihood that you truly have the disease when you test positive).

The badscience post provides a number of links to additional reading on this issue.

Other related links:
- this previous post discussing problems clinicians have with interpreting diagnostic test results, which includes a link to a CDC case exercise that works through a probability revision in detail, for those who really want to get at the "math" behind this issue

- this BMJ article by Elstein and Schwarz, "Clinical problem solving and diagnostic decision making: selective review of the cognitive literature," which looks at the cognitive literature describing specific issues that cause clinicians to inappropriately interpret diagnostic test data (also these other articles in the BMJ series, "Evidence base of clinical diagnosis").

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Another cool search engine: PageBull

Came across the PageBull search engine via Lifehacker and I've been doing a little test searching today - it displays search results in a more visually oriented way than some of the engines, tiling images of the pages it retrieves for your search, so that you can get a better idea of what kind of hits it's returning.

Just tried this search on sensitivity and specificity and it seemed like it might be a better shortcut for this search than trying to figure out from the Google snippets what the pages actually cover. Results load a little slowly but it's an interesting concept. Plus I really dig the cute little PageBull icon :)

Some have suggested that this type of engine might be helpful in researching people - with the inclusion of the Varmus papers in the National Library of Medicine's Profiles in Science site this week, I tried a quick PageBull search for Harold Varmus, and was pretty satisfied with the results.

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Hypochondriacal electromagnetosis

Who can resist a news brief with a title like "Hypochondriacal Electromagnetosis"?

This short item from the Wired blogs is referring to an increasing number of individual claims that wireless networks are causing health problems, linking to a more in-depth discussion in the Guardian, "Is there any proof that Wi-Fi networks can make you sick?" Associated symptoms ranging from vague feelings of illness to those serious enough that people terminate wireless connections in their homes.

Both pieces note that there are not any studies demonstrating a link between the increasingly ubiquitous presence of WiFi to any health conditions, though the Guardian article briefly summarizes a few research projects currently underway in the UK to explore potential "EMF sensitivity" (a reaction to electromagnetic fields) in some individuals.

The World Health Organization has a related factsheet, "Electromagnetic fields and public health," and a handbook to aid scientists and others in facilitating dialog on the topic. OSHA also has a good page linked to evidence and recommendations regarding this issue.