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Weekend read: My final recommendation



by sjhoward

This is the 2,287th post. It was published at 16:23 on Friday, 12th December 2014.

I recommend an article I've read and enjoyed every Friday afternoon. You can browse all previous selections here.

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My recommended read for this week is by Zachary Crockett on the Priceonomics blog, and concerns the invention of sliced bread. As an American, Crockett fails to point out the remarkable fact that the dates in the article mean that Sir Bruce Forsyth is older than sliced bread – which is a quite remarkable fact. But the rest of the article is so good that I can probably, just about, forgive him.

wheat toast bread

This week’s selection is the 125th in this two-and-a-half year series, and I’m sorry to say that it is also the last. It isn’t for want of material: I’ve 71 future ‘weekend reads’ – more than a year’s worth – tucked away in Evernote. The truth is that I’ve grown a little bit bored with this series. It’s not a series where I add much, but rather one where I just point and gawp. And pointing and gawping gets boring after a while. The fact that I have so many future options tucked away is revealing: why have I not just shared them as I’ve gone along? And I guess, at least in part, it’s because I feel constrained by my own format. So I’m ditching it.

I’m going to take a couple of weeks away from the blog, and then I’ll be back in the new year with some new ideas and a slightly more flexible format – but I’ll tell you more about that in 2015.

In the meantime, if you didn’t catch every one of those 125 recommendations first time round, you can access the whole back catalogue here.

Have a great Christmas!

Weekend read: Accidental deaths in Tudor England



by sjhoward

This is the 2,286th post. It was published at 08:39 on Friday, 5th December 2014.

I recommend an article I've read and enjoyed every Friday afternoon. You can browse all previous selections here.

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» Health
» Weekend Reads
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Since this is my blog, I reserve the right to geek out once in a while… and today is one of those times. My recommended read for this weekend is a fascinating bit of historical epidemiology published in The Lancet back in 2012 (it’s free to access). Gunn and Gromelski present their review of the documentation from 16th century coroners’ inquests (Who knew there were coroners, let alone inquests, in the 16th century?!)

Getreideernte

Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to have some of my work featured in the British Library’s Beautiful Science exhibition, and – just a few exhibits along from mine – they had some brilliant Parish records of deaths from the 19th century on display. It was intriguing to see diagnoses like “rising of the lights”, which killed an awful lot of people – especially when one considers that knowledge of what this phrase actually described is now lost to history.

The Gunn and Gromelski paper is interesting for its analysis of what the deaths tell us about lives during that period, and how things have changed over the years. My description of the paper may sound geeky, but it really is fascinating, and well worth spending a few minutes reading this weekend.

And can any of my medic friends honestly say they wouldn’t love to write something as artistic as “a rush of water entered his mouth and nose and stupefied his spirit” in the relevant box on a crem form? I know I would.

Weekend read: What kind of king will Charles III be?



by sjhoward

This is the 2,285th post. It was published at 22:03 on Friday, 21st November 2014.

The image in this post is a Creative Commons licensed photo shared by Victoria Johnson on Flickr.

I recommend an article I've read and enjoyed every Friday afternoon. You can browse all previous selections here.

This post was filed under:
» Weekend Reads
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I’m sure I’ve read in the past that the Prince of Wales plans to use the title King George VII on accession to the throne… but that’s not hugely relevant to my recommended read for this weekend, which is a long piece by Robert Booth published in The Guardian this week. Booth explores the likely manner of Charles as monarch.

4622669364_c07aff035e_o

Of course, this being a Guardian article, it’s more than a little critical of Charles and tinged with more than a hint of republicanism. But, while the heavy-handedness grates from time to time, it’s an enjoyable article with some interesting observations which is well worth a read this weekend.

Ten statistics for International Men’s Day



by sjhoward

This is the 2,284th post. It was published at 18:15 on Wednesday, 19th November 2014.

This post was filed under:
» News and Comment
» Politics

прогулка

19th November is International Men’s Day. The politics of International Men’s Day are often portrayed as complex, and many people seem to be of the opinion that it’s little more than a “me too” event to match International Women’s Day, or – at worst – some sort of anti-feminist fest.

But, for a moment, put the baggage to one side. It isn’t reasonable to argue that either men’s or women’s issues are more important – both are humanity’s issues, after all. But perhaps this is a good day to reflect on some of the challenges which are, in today’s society, more greatly burdensome for men than for women – just as we do the converse on International Women’s Day.

In that spirit, and without further comment, allow me to share ten statistics on which we can all reflect today.

  1. A man ends his own life every two hours in the UK; three-quarters of those who kill themselves are men.
  2. Men are 35% more likely to die of cancer than women – and if diagnosed with a non-gender-specific cancer, are 67% more likely to die from it.
  3. 90% of homeless people in the UK are men.
  4. 95% of the UK prison population is male.
  5. Girls consistently outperform boys in education, and young men are 25% less likely than young women to get into university in the UK.
  6. Young men are more than twice as likely as young women to be unemployed in the UK.
  7. Men account for 96% of work-related deaths in the UK.
  8. In England and Wales, men are twice as likely as women to be victims of violent crime, and twice as likely to be murdered.
  9. In the UK, 40% of victims of reported domestic violence are men, yet there are few services and little funding to support male victims. As a result, male victims are substantially less likely to access professional support.
  10. On average, men die four years earlier than women in the UK.

Male generations

Weekend read: The best Europe we’ve ever had



by sjhoward

This is the 2,283rd post. It was published at 17:25 on Friday, 14th November 2014.

I recommend an article I've read and enjoyed every Friday afternoon. You can browse all previous selections here.

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» Weekend Reads
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My recommended read for this is weekend is a column by Robert Cooper of the New Statesman, in which he puts forward a too-rarely-heard positive view of the European Union.

land area in Europe the night

The debate on the EU, as with so much in UK politics, is too often boiled down to a meaningless series of (usually factually inaccurate) soundbites: binning straight bananas, banning the imperial measurement system, and demolishing firemen’s poles. Doubtless, the EU does some crazy stuff – look at the right to be forgotten debate, for example – but rational discussion is all to hard to come by. All of which is to say: click and read.

Weekend read: My grandma the poisoner



by sjhoward

This is the 2,282nd post. It was published at 12:04 on Friday, 7th November 2014.

I recommend an article I've read and enjoyed every Friday afternoon. You can browse all previous selections here.

This post was filed under:
» Weekend Reads
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My recommended read for this weekend comes from Vice. It’s a gripping article in which John Reed describes his gradual realisation that his grandmother is – perhaps intentionally – poisoning people, and his reflection on his sense of denial and how he dealt with the situation.

coole Oma

Reed’s article is a chilling story, perhaps evoking the banality of evil. It grips from the start. It’s great.

People were always dying around Grandma—her children, her husbands, her boyfriend—so her lifelong state of grief was understandable. To see her sunken in her high and soft bed, enshrouded in the darkness of the attic, and surrounded by the skin-and-spit smell of old age, was to know that mothers don’t get what they deserve. Today, when I think back on it, I don’t wonder whether Grandma got what she deserved as a mother; I wonder whether she got what she deserved as a murderer.

On reflection, perhaps this would have made a good Hallowe’en read for last weekend. Do click through and have a read.

Weekend read: You’re wrong



by sjhoward

This is the 2,281st post. It was published at 15:26 on Friday, 31st October 2014.

I recommend an article I've read and enjoyed every Friday afternoon. You can browse all previous selections here.

This post was filed under:
» Weekend Reads
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Hans Rosling, the popular Swedish medical statistician, does a great line in pointing out the degree to which most people’s perceptions of the world are just plain wrong. My short recommended read for this weekend is much the same sort of thing, but based on a very recent survey.

Businessman wearing a dunce hat

This month, Ipsos MORI has been conducting a 14-country survey to find out people’s perceptions of the make-up of their populations and the scale of social problems. On most questions, the population of each country was way out of whack with reality. My recommended read is Zach Wener-Fligner’s snappy blog post about some of the key findings – but if you have time, it’s worth exploring some of the detail of the survey on the Ipsos MORI site, too.

Or if you haven’t got the time for that, here’s an infographic they put together with some interesting findings:

perils-of-perception-infographic_lightbox

 

Of course, there are lots of interesting implications here for democracy and social norming, and some interesting thoughts about responsibility, too. Though, before getting into this, we should take a moment to recognise that Great Britain did pretty well in the survey ranking, for all that we criticise ourselves for this sort of thing.

When articles have been published about similar surveys in the past, many commentators have reacted by blaming the media. I disagree: I don’t think that non-Public-Service media has any implicit responsibility to inform the electorate. I think their responsibility is to their shareholders, and if distorting the truth without breaking the law increases profit, then sobeit.

This is why Public Service media is so important, and so valuable. Public Service media outlets should, indeed, have a responsibility for educating and informing. This is a difficult task against the torrent of inaccurate information from elsewhere, especially when those outlets choose to pursue large audiences at the same time as giving entirely accurate information. I would challenge the existing industry assumption that Public Service media should obtain a large audience. Does it matter how many people consume BBC News, for example, provided it is understood to be a reliable source in times of uncertainty?

But then, I guess, there’s a reasonable counter-argument that if it doesn’t pursue an audience, the widely understood social narrative will likely deviate further from reality.

It’s a complicated problem – and shouting about the Daily Mail doesn’t help.

Ebola and big data: Call for help



by sjhoward

This is the 2,280th post. It was published at 08:08 on Friday, 24th October 2014.

This post was filed under:
» News and Comment
» Rants
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This Economist article on the potential use of mobile phone tracking data in the West African Ebola outbreak us quite interesting. I’m not nearly expert enough to make any meaningful commentary on how useful or otherwise such data would be, but it seems unhelpful for networks to block data sharing.

But – and here’s the rub – there’s a really distracting logical flaw in the middle of the article. The Leader claims that tracking based on incomplete mobile phone data is “better than simulations based on unreliable statistics”.  Yet the Leader also describes the mobile phone data as incomplete and imperfect, which means it, too, will be a simulation based on unreliable statistics. And, besides, if they’re bemoaning the lack of availability of the data in the first place, how do they have the foggiest clue as to whether it will be better or worse?

I expect better from Economist Leaders!

Weekend read: Supermarkets aren’t dying



by sjhoward

This is the 2,279th post. It was published at 07:37 on Friday, 24th October 2014.

I recommend an article I've read and enjoyed every Friday afternoon. You can browse all previous selections here.

This post was filed under:
» Weekend Reads
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»

My recommended read for this weekend is by food critic Jay Rayner, and was published a couple of weeks ago in The Guardian. I think they would have been better holding it back until this week: as Tesco’s profits drop precipitously, too many commentators have said ridiculous things about the future of supermarkets in general, and Rayner’s article provides a nice counterbalance.

Buying food

With my public health hat on, I would’ve liked Rayner to include some commentary in his article on the hygiene standards supermarkets have introduced to the supply chain, and the way that this has improved food safety to a level never previously achieved in the history of humanity. But he makes a good case without it, and it is refreshing to see The Guardian, of all the newspapers, celebrating the achievements of supermarkets for once.

Weekend read: Consequences of surviving a lightning strike



by sjhoward

This is the 2,278th post. It was published at 19:35 on Friday, 17th October 2014.

I recommend an article I've read and enjoyed every Friday afternoon. You can browse all previous selections here.

This post was filed under:
» Health
» Weekend Reads
»
»

My recommended read for this week is The Body Electric by Ferris Jabr in Outside.

As it turns out, lightning strikes are commoner than one might think, and the odds of surviving are pretty good. But there are bizarre, under-researched and under-explained after effects associated with survival.

Lightening over Manhattan

In his article, Jabr interviews some of the 500-a-year US survivors of lightning strikes, and explores several of the after-effects. It’s a really absorbing story, almost all of which was new to me. The only thing I remember from medical school about lightning strikes is the distinctive skin marking. This article made me wonder whether I should have been taught more – but then, probably as a result of the more temperate UK climate, human lightning strikes are rather less common here than in the US.

Anyway, it’s well worth a read.

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