What we’re reading: 19 March 2010

blogsIn the BMJ editorial office, we often come across interesting articles, blogs, and web pages. We thought we would share these with you. Some are medical, some techie, and some just general.

David Payne, editor bmj.com
From tomorrow The Times is serialising right-to-die campaigner Debby Purdy’s book, It’s not because I want to die. Today’s newspaper features an interview with Mr Purdy, who has MS. Her love of life shines through. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/health/article7067837.ece, and there’s a nice image of her in Bradford park enjoying the spring sunshine.

I’m sure that the long-awaited arrival of spring drew my eye to a Times obituary of GP and gardener Lady Jill Parker http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/obituaries/article7064398.ece

It did mention her deep admiration of the NHS, but the creation of a garden at Minster Lovell in the Cotsolds will be her most lasting legacy. Will the BMJ cover her, I wonder, and if so will it refer to the “clump of scarlet mopheaded Paeonia officinalis, harbingers of summer,” as the Times obituary does.

David Mitchell’s brilliant Observer column about dangerous dogs and Jon Venables http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/mar/14/david-mitchell-column-jon-venables-dangerous-dogs last Sunday helped me understand my prurient interest in the fate of James Bulger’s 27-year-old killer and his return to custody. I was so grateful to him and I wrote a doc2doc blog about it!

Trish Groves, deputy editor, BMJ
Clincial Trial Magnifier, a free monthly e-newsletter from the University of Hong Kong about (mostly industry) trials http://www.clinicaltrialmagnifier.com/ comes this month with a comprehensive free report for ethics committees on reviewing trial proposals. It’s remarkably international and, despite a lot of technical detail, it’s a good read. I liked this bit: “The earliest recorded clinical trial is documented in the Old Testament, and describes how Daniel followed a diet of pulses and water instead of the meat and wine recommended by King Nebuchadnezzar II.” [Don’t worry, it then goes on to mention James Lind’s trial in scurvy and the first trial using randomisation and blinding, by the UK Medical Research Council in 1948]

Sally Carter, technical editor
I had a bit of an Ian McEwan week. I started with the spooky and excellent The Comfort of Strangers (1981) http://www.amazon.com/Comfort-Strangers-Ian-McEwan/dp/0679749845. It’s a brutal little book that left me feeling pretty horrible, but wanting to read more of the author’s work so I went for one of his more recent books, Saturday http://www.amazon.com/Saturday-Ian-McEwan/dp/1400076196/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1268995898&sr=1-1. Thank goodness this one was gentler, and, well brainier. It’s got brains everywhere. The novel is a day in the life of a neurosurgeon that begins with him seeing a plane coming down over the Post Office Tower, and goes on to include lots of surgery and a run in with three dodgy characters in a red BMW. The descriptions of surgery are great. “He slipped a gloved forefinger into the back of her mouth to feel the route, then, with barely a glance at the image intensifier, slid a long needle through the outside of her cheek, all the way up to the trigeminal ganglion. ” They are interspersed with everyday details, “For lunch he had a factory-wrapped tuna and cucumber sandwich with a bottle of mineral water. In the cramped coffee room whose toast and microwaved pasta always remind him of the odours of major surgery, he sat next to Heather, the much-loved Cockney lady who helps clean the theatres between procedures.” Very twisty and clever. I’ll definitely be giving Ian McEwan another go.

Helen Jaques, technical editor
Do fat people just have “metabolic syndrome”?
The Economist has an interesting article about metabolic syndrome, a disorder I know very little about. The crux of the syndrome is that obesity and its ill effects, such as heart disease and diabetes, are all actually just symptoms of an excess of circulating lipids. Controversial indeed.

Does the U.S. Produce Too Many Scientists?
This article in Scientific American argues that rather than having a dearth of scientific and technological talent, the US is actually producing too many scientists for the number of jobs available. My friends doing PhDs worry enormously about whether there will be enough academic tenure spots in their field to allow them to land one, so it was interesting to read about a similar problem over the pond.

Science Inspired Design
I’ve just come across the blog Science Inspired Design via fashion blog Style Bubble.  London based radiologist Brooke Roberts has used CT scans of the sinus to make knitwear for her A/W 10 collection.  Given that I love graphic prints and, er, medical imaging, I may have just found a perfect new wardrobe!

The odds are, it’s wrong
Statistics are my nemesis.  So from a personal perspective it’s gratifying to read an article pointing out the shortcomings of modern methods of statistical analysis and generally giving my loathed subject a dressing down.