Paxil and teenagers: when science makes mistakes


The New York Times has this article up on its web site:

Fourteen years ago, a leading drug maker published a study showing that the antidepressant Paxil was safe and effective for teenagers.

On Wednesday, a major medical journal posted a new analysis of the same data concluding that the opposite is true.

That study — featured prominently by the journal BMJ — is a clear break from scientific custom and reflects a new era in scientific publishing, some experts said, opening the way for journals to post multiple interpretations of the same experiment.

It comes at a time of self­-examination across science — retractions are at an all-­time high; recent cases of fraud have shaken fields as diverse as anesthesia and political science; and earlier this month researchers reported that less than half of a sample of psychology papers held up.

“This paper is alarming, but its existence is a good thing,” said Brian Nosek, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, who was not involved in either the original study or the reanalysis. “It signals that the community is waking up, checking its work and doing what science is supposed to do — self-­correct.”

Of course, scientologists (who generally oppose all psychiatry and psychiatric medications) will have a field day. So will all the voices out there — from climate deniers to vaccine opponents — who will say, “A-ha! This proves it! Scientists don’t know what they are doing with Paxil so how can we trust them on global climate change and childhood vaccinations?”

These kinds of scientific about-faces are confusing for many members of the general public.

First: butter is good for you. Then it was bad for you. Now it’s not bad for you again except if you eat too much of it. To many non-scientists it seems as of scientists have no idea what they are doing and you just can’t trust any of it.

I always tell people who are put off by all this switching and changing that the first thing they can do to put themselves on the road to being a scientifically aware person is this: All of this is perfectly normal. Science makes mistakes. Other scientists correct those mistakes.

Think of when you were first learning how to do something relatively simple — say, drive a car. You were likely not perfect the first time you got behind the wheel. You drove too slow or too fast. You ran over a curb. You could not parallel park. You mowed over your mother’s prized rose bushes.

But you got better at it the more you did it. This is called trial and error and it’s the best way many people learn. Just do it yourself, make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes. Nobody said, “Well, you made too many mistakes. This is proof you are an unreliable driver and we cannot ever trust you to do any better.”

Broadly speaking, science is no different. Think of how simple driving a car is now for you. Yet you made mistakes in the beginning anyway. Now think about a mathematically and logistically complex scientific experiments can be, involving highly technical measurements and calculations taken over years with thousands of variables. Then that mountain of data has to be analyzed by (one hopes) very smart people with years of education and training. But they are still, after all is said and done, just humans. 

Does anyone really expect that there will never be any errors in work like this? It’s naive to think so. 

But then someone else comes along — other scientists — and they take a new look at old data (as with Paxil) or they design a new study which uses better, more modern methods than an older study. 

This trial and error, the catching of old mistakes, is a sign that all is working as it should in the world of science. And some science is easier to quantify, which probably partially accounts for much of the high error rates in the psychology papers mentioned above.

The hard sciences — chemistry, much of physics, etc. — are relatively easy when it comes to getting more exact measurements.  You have known constants and specific end points which you can measure. In the simplest terms, say you wanted to test a substance to see if it turns water blue. You gets the substance, some water and you put the substance into the water. Does it turn blue? That is the end point.  Simple.

But the social sciences, psychology and psychiatry included, can be difficult to quantify because you are relying on self-reported behaviors and feelings. Does this drug make you feel less nervous? Well, that would depend on the person and how they define “less nervous.” Some people are nervous all the time. Some people tell researchers what they think that researcher wants to hear.

Many people — a very great number of people — are susceptible to the placebo effect. You give someone a pill that is nothing but sugar and tell them it’s to increase their energy. Viola! Many people will say they have more energy because they believed the pill is an energy pill. Just believing something is enough to make some people feel as if it is true. Some of those people might even show physical symptoms which suggest they are less sluggish despite the fact that they were only given a sugar pill. The mind’s effect on the body can be incredibly powerful.

Also, it can be difficult to design experiments with humans when it comes to psychiatric issues because you are playing science with people’s mental health, broadly speaking. Suicidal people, for example, deserve the best treatment available. They cannot be dropped into some study where some suicidal people are given something scientists think might help them not kill themselves, and others are given nothing, just to compare the suicide rates of the two groups.

However, advances in brain imaging are moving at an incredible pace. The day is coming when brain scans can be used on a regular, relatively low-cost basis to actually measure whether a person is happy or depressed or telling a lie. They are already being used to measure what effects advertisements have on the brains of the people who see them and judge which types of ads are better at causing the positive feelings that businesses hope will cause you to take that extra step to actually purchase their product.

The point of all this is that if you feel confused about issues where science says one thing one year, and a totally different thing five years later, relax.  This is how it is supposed to work. Eventually the system — coming to an initial conclusion and then having other scientists all from all over eventually test your methods, data and results — is supposed to correct itself. 

Just as science did with Paxil.

And a few mistakes don’t call into question all of science, as many conservatives are trying to convince people in order to cast doubt on global climate change and other issues.

Paxil scientific-research
Much of scientific research is built around trial and error and mistakes are bound to happen. The important part is that they are caught eventually




Congressman posts tongue-in-cheek Speaker Wanted ad

Mark Takano Speaker of the House Craigslist


Debt collection: the poor get poorer

There is much muddled thinking in American society around poverty and that is not likely to change anytime soon given much of the electorate’s ability to be easily fooled by rich candidates and wealthy elected officials who demonize the poor and keep all of us fighting each other instead of the real culprits: Wall Street and the politicians in both major parties who do its dirty work.
But no matter where you stand on many of these issues, conservative or liberal, this much is certain: it is expensive to be poor in the sense that many things — including credit, groceries, etc. — are more expensive in poor neighborhoods than in middle class ones. And while poor people might pay the same amount as the middle class for utilities such as water, sewer and electricity, those bills can add up to a one-quarter or more of their weekly income. 
One major unexpected expense (car repair, dental bill, etc.) can eat up an entire paycheck and then you are left with a tough decision: should you (and possibly your child) eat or should you pay the electricity bill?
The consequences of that decision can cause you to spiral into greater debt and possibly even jail time over unpaid utilities and parking fines, as this investigation by Pro Publica discovered:
ON A RECENT SATURDAY AFTERNOON, the mayor of Jennings, a St. Louis suburb of about 15,000, settled in before a computer in the empty city council chambers. Yolonda Fountain Henderson, 50, was elected last spring as the city’s first black mayor.

On the screen was a list of every debt collection lawsuit against a resident of her city, at least 4,500 in just five years. Henderson asked to see her own street. On her block of 16 modest ranch-style homes, lawsuits had been filed against the occupants of eight. “That’s my neighbor across the street,” she said, pointing to one line on the screen.

As the lines of suits scrolled by on the screen, Henderson shook her head in disbelief, swinging her dangling, heart-shaped earrings.

“They’re just suing all of us,” she said.

There was a time when this society had enough money for parks, bridge repairs and other public goods. It could afford to let poor people slide on late utility payments. That was also a time when taxes on the rich and corporations added their fair share to operate roads, schools and other programs from which corporations and the rich also benefit.

Now taxes on the rich and corporations  are at historic lows — Donald Trump likely pays less in income tax than many of this low-level employees —  and cities and towns are being forced to go after poor people for unpaid bills, compounding already gripping poverty and destroying entire neighborhoods already decimated by the damages inflicted by Wall Street’s greed in the 2008 mortgage lending debacle.

It’s a hell of a way to run a government.

Source: The Color of Debt: How Collection Suits Squeeze Black Neighborhoods – ProPublica

Final Notice debt collector collections

Candidates ranked by supporters’ grammar

Washington Post: Candidates ranked by the supporters' grammar
Washington Post: Candidates ranked by the supporters’ grammar

Port of Amsterdam: Time-lapse coolness

Port of Amsterdam.

Seth MacFarlane on Dr. Ben Carson, nutbag scientist

Now the Kim Davis-Pope Francis meeting makes sense

Kim Davis Pope Francis
A never-before seen photo of the meeting between Kim Davis and Pope Francis, which Davis’ lawyers are saying was a session where “His Holiness counseled Kim and also taught her how to relax and stretch.”

28-room Schweppes Mansion still for sale

1 Schweppes mansion Lake Forest Illinois haunted
What a dump!

This listing for 405 North Mayflower Road in Lake Forest on Redfin describes it this way:

One of Illinois’ most architecturally significant estates on Lake Michigan, the Schweppe Estate, was restored to perfection in 1987 & 1988 by 70 craftsmen & European artists/stonecrafters. Over 440′ of lake frontage, 28 Rms/12 beds/12.4 baths, marble fpls, intricate limestone mldg & plaster relief clngs. Exquisite dining rm w/ beveled mirror panels, handsome library w/ spectacular detail. Fabulous gardens & grounds.


A 30-year on this, the Schweppes Mansion (yes, THAT Schweppes) would only cost you an estimated $49,254 a month. Whip out your checkbook.

But there is one more thing: it is rumored to be haunted:

The Schweppe Mansion became the home for Laura, Charles and their children. Its beautiful, breathtaking interior and exterior would soon be darkened by tragedy. According to, Laura Schweppe lost her life due to a heart attack in 1937. Laura was only 58 years old. But this devastating death would not be the last that the Schweppe Mansion would experience.

In 1941 relayed by, servants entered Charles Schweppe’s bedroom and found him dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Charles Schweppe was only 60 years old. The only clue left by Charles as to why he took his own life was a note found on his dresser that simply read, “I’ve been awake all night. It’s terrible.”

There are several theories as to why Charles Schweppe committed suicide. When Laura Schweppe passed she had amassed a fortune of over 10 million dollars, of which a mere 200 thousand dollars was bequeathed to her husband Charles. The remainder of her fortune was given to their children. At the time of his death Charles’ health was rumored to be riddled with sleepless nights, deteriorating health and mental status. Could it be that Charles was so disappointed with his inheritance, or that sleep deprivation and or ill health created enough turmoil within his soul, that he believed death was the only way to escape his pain? One will never know the true reasons behind Charles’ desperate act. The spirit of Charles Schweppe will forever hold the secret.

I don’t believe in ghosts. But some people apparently do because they are having a hard time selling the place despite repeatedly dropping the asking price.

Video tour of the place is below. Buyer beware?

3 Schweppes mansion Lake Forest Illinois haunted
Just a little home by the Lake.
2 Schweppes mansion Lake Forest Illinois haunted
In case you like entertaining, one of the dining rooms should be enough for your uses. Assuming your guests don’t mind a reported few dead spirits about.


This is how one MMA fighter celebrates a victory

MMA fighter Sage “”Super” Northcutt shows off his particular style of celebrating  for the cameras. 

I could totally do that. Easy. 

No, I couldn’t. Not now. Not ever.

He makes it look so effortless.

What a single gay man does: truth vs. reality

What Single Gay Man Does

So many of my friends think my life is one big nightclub party here in Chicago.

There are dozens of gay bars and nightclubs in the Chicago area.

I’ve been to three of them in two years.

Not that there is anything wrong with going to bars and nightclubs a great deal. I used to do it a great deal. In my 20s and 30s. It was fun. And expensive. And meant most of us couldn’t afford to do much else.

It’s not that I don’t like the idea of going out to a bar or nightclub. It sounds fun. In the middle of the week I see some event that catches my eye at a nightclub and I think, “Oh, that could be fun. I really do need to get out more.”

Friday rolls around I’m on the fence. The frozen pizza in my freezer looks delicious and I’ve got a movie I’ve wanted to watch all week.

I eat just half the frozen pizza — OK, the entire pizza — lie down to watch the movie, and rest up for my big night out.  

People still go out at the same late hours. Except now that is way past my normal bedtime.

Next time I’m conscious it’s midnight and I think, “I’ve missed the best part of the evening. The bars will all be there next week.”

Lights out. Stumble to bed.

So for all you straight dudes out there who think gay life at any age is always a non-stop party compared to straight life, relax. 

Most of us are just as boring as you are. 

Man, I wonder how exhausted I would be with kids. How you parent people — gay or straight — do all that and stay awake at work is a mystery to me.

Tired at work
This would be me if my ambitions for going out on weekends ever met reality.


Just because you want to be informed doesn't mean you can't laugh along the way. Science, politics, religion, pop culture and the law.