Articles of Interest this Week

quadruple DNA helix

Here are some of the articles I found interesting this week.


What kind of patient are we? Does it make any difference? Susan Gubar on the advantages or not of being a good, polite and cooperative patient in Living With Cancer: The Good Patient Syndrome. She is more cynical than me; my experience is that being polite, courteous and expressing thanks builds the relationship that allows one to flag, professionally, when things do not appear to be going right or potential mistakes are being made.

The ongoing discussion of Lance and Livestrong continues, with some interesting takes on celebrity cancer struggles, starting with Ilana Horn’s Lance Armstrong, Susan Komen, cancer and me, a great piece that reminds us that life provides plenty of adversity to remind us what counts, without cancer, and celebrity tales of success just place more pressure on us ordinary folk. Sunrise Rounds reminds us that cancer ‘heroes’ are all around us, no need to resort to the celebrities in Replacing Lance; Cancer heroes.

We tend to focus on certain aspects of our cancer treatment and recovery. While on one level, this is an example of  a superficial concern (First came my cancer diagnosis, then came my bad hair year), we all find different ways of dealing with our cancer and its after effects, and whether this is anchored more deeply or a more superficial ‘proxy’, matters less than whether it provides a helpful coping mechanism.

Australia is often at the leading edge on sun protection, given their hot and sunny summers, and this piece provides a good overview of good sunscreen and other sun protection techniques (Sunscreen, skin cancer and the Australian summer). Bit strange to be referring to this article during the extreme cold snap this week!

Encouraging news from the front line of cancer research on using synthetic HDL (high density lipoprotein) nanoparticles, by starving B-cell lymphoma cells of one of their key nutrients, natural HDL in New way to kill lymphoma without chemotherapy: Golden nanoparticle starves cancer cell to death. A number of years away, to say the least.

More on the research front as curiouser and curiouser, cancer genetics become more complicated in Quadruple DNA helix discovered in human cells, leading to possible treatment that would only target quadruple DNA helix cancer cells, with less toxicity to normal cells. But also a long way off and much more research required.

And on the more practical level, for those of you with peripheral neuropathy (numbness in feet or hands), this short 5 minute video from Memorial Sloan-Kettering may be of interest (Diagnosing Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy).

Health and Wellness

Contributing to the ongoing debate on cancer screening, Overdiagnosis: An epidemic or minor concern? takes an interesting approach, comparing screening to preventing snipers, arguing for better and more informed discussion with patients on the potential risks and benefits.

Building on this, another good piece on how patients and doctors need to understand each other, how probabilities work (and don’t work), and what the risks and tradeoffs are with any proposed treatment, always taking into account the patient’s priorities and wishes in When the Patient Knows Best. Part of the challenge that most of us have, particularly at the beginning, is that we are still too much in shock and starting the learning curve to be very effective. I was more effective the second time round than the first, given I was more knowledgeable, more confident in my discussions with my medical team, who were by then well-known to me.

On the general health policy front, while I agree with the assumption that patients need financial incentives to improve lifestyle choices in Patients need pay for performance too, this is not terribly well articulated and without examples. A better example of an integrated approach is an earlier post on the approach of the Cleveland Clinic (Smokers Penalized With Health Insurance Premiums).

We are what we eat and reflect our environment. The links between endocrine disruptors in household chemicals and obesity are explored in Warnings From a Flabby Mouse, yet another possible factor contributing to obesity in addition to poor lifestyle choices (lack of exercise, nutrition). See also earlier article How Chemicals Change Us.

Mark Bittman on the cleverness and cynicism of the Coke obesity ad Coke Blinks – I don’t recall Coke supporting the Bloomberg Big Gulp ban. The parody video is quite well done in calling Coke (and the soft drink industry) out on this. And this shameful position, given the obesity epidemic among their communities – money talks in Minority rights groups NAACP and Hispanic Federation join lawsuit against NYC big soda ban.

Good summary on recent findings on smoking death rates and the importance of stopping smoking early to avoid early death in New Report On Smoking In Women Confirms That “Women Who Smoke Like Men Die Like Men”.  While no hard evidence, and no link to some of the more graphic anti-smoking images on cigarette packages in countries like Canada,  Experts believe plain packaging of tobacco products would cut smoking. My own take is that is has been the range of anti-smoking initiatives, including labelling, that have contributed to declining rates.


A somewhat tongue-in-cheek piece on courtesy and politeness in The Courtesy Control Malfunctions, a bit similar to Susan Gubar’s piece but in a more general context. As always, context matters, sometimes being more direct is appropriate, sometimes not, although better to err on the politeness side.

On the more serious side, a discussion of how we are able to hold contradictory beliefs, and some of the biases that are reinforced by our worldview in The Mind’s Compartments Create Conflicting Beliefs. At the individual level, being aware of this phenomenon, and consciously reading and exposing oneself to different viewpoints, is one tactic; when trying to convince others, being aware of their worldview can be helpful in how one approaches a discussion. Useful in any number of personal and professional situations.

Lucy Kellaway on the importance and challenge of plain language. The test examples are funny but pointed in Bosses fail the 10-year-old test, and a reminder to us all.

If you apply the 10-year-old test to business in general, it quickly becomes clear which practices should be kept and which eliminated. Why do the bosses of big US companies earn almost 400 times more than the average worker? Try answering that in a way that a child would accept. It can’t be done.

Many of the things that most of us spend our days at work doing fail the test, too. Sifting through the emails that have arrived in my inbox in the past hour or so, I’ve found one from a management consultant telling me that “the next evolutionary change in business requires a paradigm shift in thinking, involving a grassroots revamp”.

A 10-year-old could never see the sense in that, so it deserves to be eradicated. As, perhaps, does the entire management consultancy industry.


It’s time to stop stressing about stress –

A bit of a counterpart to the previous post. Fun column by Lucy Kellaway on stress. Good dose of reality beyond much of the piffle – many people enjoy busy, active and ‘stressful’ lives, even if they complain:

For a start, stress and living are not in conflict. If we didn’t feel some stress there would be no good reason to get out of bed in the morning. It is quite wrong to think about stress as the enemy. It is even more wrong to think about stress at all.

When I am feeling stressed, the very worst thing I can do is dwell on it. Even saying the word is bad. Indeed, the only reliable cure I’ve ever found is to spend 30 seconds with my husband. This always goes the same way: I moan about how stressed I’m feeling and he invariably replies, without looking up from his laptop: “What rubbish. You lead an interesting, busy life and you like it that way.”

On receipt of this put-down I always feel much better. I realise that I’m not stressed: I merely have a lot to do.

And if the problem is having too much on, the answer isn’t a massage – which is yet another thing to organise and arrive on time for – it is to drop some of the things I’m meant to be doing. The neighbour’s Christmas party, answering pointless emails and making mince pies can all be easily dispensed with.

As distinct from, of course, those life changing events – marriage, becoming a parent for the first time, serious illness, unemployment, divorce etc – where stress naturally increases until we adjust to our ‘new normal.’

It’s time to stop stressing about stress –

Fatherhood is no degree in management –

Nice piece on parenthood and management by Lucy Kellaway, debunking some of the myths and suggesting further areas for research, provoked by Will and Kate’s recent announcement:

As well as making managers more grasping, I can think of three other effects parenthood may have, none of them especially good. Again, there seem to be no studies to test any of them, which is a pity, especially if you consider the drearily obscure things that management academics spend their lives researching. First, being a parent probably makes people more risk-averse, more inclined to take the steady career path rather than the more interesting one. Second, it may also make us marginally less creative – the pram in the hall being the enemy of good art, and all that. Since Cyril Connolly raised the matter in the 1930s, I haven’t seen anyone put it to rest. Third, it makes you conflicted. You are endlessly divided over how to allocate time – and anxiety. This last effect could make you a better boss as work is also about conflict and managing time, and therefore parents have a head start. Or it could mean that you simply give your family priority and never have quite enough left over to do the job properly. I’ve seen both effects in operation; which is more common I would dearly like to know.

Either way, for the royal couple it doesn’t matter much. For them there is no conflict. If you are a hereditary monarch, having babies is the most important part of the job. Traditionally, monarchs have hoped for boys. Yet I have scientific reasons for hoping the child Kate is carrying is not a boy. The Danish study shows that bosses behave better when they have girls. They take a much lower rise for themselves (3 per cent as opposed to 6 per cent) and are inclined to be generous, especially to their female underlings.

I have noticed this effect too, and it doesn’t stop when the children grow up. Indeed, I’ve known male managers who have never been keen on promoting women suddenly become bigger feminists than Simone de Beauvoir the minute their daughters join the workforce.

Fatherhood is no degree in management –

Why I’m proud to have no Klout –

kloutFunny and perceptive column by Lucy Kellaway on Klout and its attempts to measure influence in social media. Quote:

It is also hard to respect a system in which Justin Bieber (whose moronic Twitter page says: “you are always there for me and I will always be there for you. MUCH LOVE”) is the only human to have briefly reached a perfect score of 100. It is only a minor consolation that, following some recent tweaking of the algorithm, he has dropped a few points in order to allow Barack Obama to squeeze in ahead of him.

But the main problem with Klout is that it is a nonsense to try to boil down something as qualitative as influence into a single number. It fails to distinguish between someone who is influential in the world of dog biscuits and someone who is influential in defence policy: both are ranked the same.

Even more objectionable is what obsessing over Klout scores does to people: it makes them twitchy and stupid. On Twitter, every few seconds someone tweets: “My Klout score has just gone up two points!!!!” And then sycophants retweet these dreary messages and the scores rise even further.

For disclosure, my Klout score, last time I checked, was 48 – and I have many few readers and followers than Kellaway.

Why I’m proud to have no Klout –

Heard the one about women at the office? –

On humour, power and gender relations, a different take by Lucy Kellaway of the FT:

This all rings a distant bell, but I fear there is something more sinister at work. If laughter varies with gender, it varies even more with power. The single fastest way of understanding the balance of power and alliances in any group is by looking at who is laughing – and not laughing – at whose jokes. You only need to watch the Queen or Prince Charles meeting ordinary people to note that even the lamest pleasantry is greeted by gales of laughter. So, if other board members don’t laugh when their women colleagues crack a joke, it may not be because the joke isn’t funny but because boards can be hierarchical places and women are too low in the pecking order to command much in the way of fawning laughter.

Heard the one about women at the office? –

Good enough is better than perfection –

A fun piece by Lucy Kellaway, not tongue-in-cheek, about the obsession and distortion in perfection and being a perfectionist. Concluding quote:

In most things, being good enough requires quite a lot of effort. More recently, CEOs of Barclays haven’t been nearly good enough. Nor have most other bankers, or most other workers, or most products, or, come to that, most newspaper columnists. And most universities are nowhere near good enough either – they are increasingly places where students emerge with a lot of debt, having suffered more wear and tear on their livers than on their brains.

Good enough is better than perfection –