Wednesday Round Up #157

Well, I missed last week because I was working on a grant. And I am all right with that. I’ll do the round up when I can, when there are things I want to highlight. But some weeks, particularly this semester, are too insane.

I also want to say that just because I’m not doing as much writing here for these round ups (or on the blog in general), doesn’t mean that I’m not writing. There is plenty of writing going on behind the scenes, and over the next year it should yield plenty of good material for interested people to peruse.

All right, onto the links.

My favorite piece over the past two weeks has been Christopher Berg’s Combat Resilience in the First World War – a Historiographical Review. We often hear that soldiers and commanders recognized shell shock and similar syndromes in early wars. This review brings us right into the modern recognition of PTSD as a wide-reaching, complex, and difficult problem affecting troops. Today’s researchers would do well to read the history and work from a broader understanding of trauma, combat, and morale.

Vaughan Bell, the marvel behind Mind Hacks, has been living and working in Colombia for quite some time now – psychiatry in action! Here Vaughan gives us his full The Psychologist’s Beyond Boundaries column on trauma, micro-culture, and para-military organizations in Colombia.

The reason for why none of these [PTSD] symptoms presented in day-to-day life seemed to lie in paramilitary subculture. While aggression and drug abuse are tolerated, anxiety is taboo to the point where members showing signs of anxiety can be killed by their compatriots for being ‘weak’.

*** The Social Inequality Interlude ***

At the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which seeks to identify roots causes of social problems and identify ways of overcoming them, Karen Rowlingson provides a considered take on the argument and data behind the links between social inequality and health and social problems, in particular the book ‘The Spirit Level’ by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (2009). Here are the opening three points:

(1) The literature shows general agreement about a correlation between income inequality and health/social problems.
(2) There is less agreement about whether income inequality causes health and social problems independently of other factors, but some rigorous studies have found evidence of this.
(3) The independent effect of income inequality on health/social problems shown in some studies looks small in statistical terms. But these studies cover whole populations, and hence a significant number of lives.

Richard Wilkinson provides a detailed comment to the same report, where the most interesting rebuttal goes:

At several points it is said that the size of the effect of income inequality “on health and social problems” is small. There are several mistakes here… The magnitude of difference in outcomes between more and less equal societies is often vast: three-fold differences in population rates of mental illness, four-fold differences in the proportion of people who feel they can trust each other, two-and-a-half –fold differences in rates at which pupils drop out of US high schools, six to ten-fold differences in teenage pregnancy rates, almost ten-fold differences in the proportion of the population in prison and vast differences in child-wellbeing, drug abuse, and social mobility.

Everyone call for more research, but I do think that Wilkinson is definitely onto something when he writes about methods: “There is now widening agreement (see for instance M. Marmot’s The Status Syndrome) that individual income and education are related to health substantially because they serve as markers of social status. To measure the effects of inequality after controlling for individual status differences is clearly over-controlling… Not to recognise this is analogous to thinking you can measure the effects of social class hierarchy while controlling for the effects of individual social class.”

Over-controlling, particularly for individual factors which are at the conceptual heart of so many epidemiological approaches, is a fascinating idea, one which opens thinking about how we can best get at these more social or group level effects. I also believe we need better measures for those group effect, e.g., a more robust measure of markers of social status rather than simply assuming individual income and education are markers. Get at what people actually view and act on as markers of social status in particular settings; create a scale from that, and presto, an effective measure to incorporate into research.

As a follow-up, here is the World Health Organization’s comprehensive discussion paper on the Social Determinants of Health for its world conference this month in Rio.

*** End of the Social Inequality Interlude ***

(Yes, the interlude should probably have been its own post; it looks longer than all the other links combined.)

Dave Robson over at The Guardian gives us a very long history of the brain (from single-celled organisms!) in very brief form. Here’s a relevant piece for humans:

The overall picture is one of a virtuous cycle involving our diet, culture, technology, social relationships and genes. It led to the modern human brain coming into existence in Africa by about 200,000 years ago.

For the bonus, you can also get the Dana Foundation’s Neuroanatomy – A Primer.

Here is a great and funny (in that bittersweet way) video: Open-Access Scientist Meets For-Profit Publisher – “Your royalty share will be 0%”. Hat-tip to Jason Baird Jackson.

Inside Higher Ed gives us ZOMBIE PUBLISHING. Publishers want brains, brains, bbrrraaaiiinnnsss as they suck out the intellectual life from all of us.

The scholarly press book, [Kathleen Fitzpatrick] writes, “is no longer a viable mode of communication … [yet] it is, in many fields, still required in order to get tenure. If anything, the scholarly monograph isn’t dead; it is undead.”

John Hawks has a reflection on this, which goes along with his Anthropologies essay on how embrace new forms and open up how students and young professors are trained and treated. Like me, this line also caught his eye.

Under such a [new] system, faculty members could glide to tenure on the wings of their reputations as positive contributors to the advancement of knowledge in their field — a metric the current “publish-or-perish” model does not adequately represent, Fitzpatrick says. “Little in graduate school or on the tenure track inculcates helpfulness,” she writes, “and in fact much militates against it.”

Finally, the mind/brain Encephalon round up and the Four Stone Hearth anthropology round up are back in action!

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