Tuesday, October 20, 2015

How much is enough?

Younger son's homework is to choose a country and find out about it.  He has a list of questions.  What is the climate like?   Does it rain?  Is it hot?   What animals live there?   What about the culture?

We found something about animals in "Planet Earth", a BBC related book he was given by a friend.  We found the names of three ("mountain monkey", kodkod, a small wild cat, and the pudu, the world's smallest deer, in case you want to guess which country it might be!).  

It was the weather that made me write this.   The country in question is so large that the climate in different parts of it is very different.  Some parts are very high, and cold, some parts are very far from the Equator and also a bit cold, but other parts are equatorial and tropical.   So what is the answer to the question on the sheet?  What would the answer be if the country was the UK?  Would it depend who you asked?  How much detail is required?   We went for an answer about how there was a range of climate, which is a way did not answer the question.

It made me think: how much detail was needed?   Was I thinking too hard about the question, which after all was designed for a 7 year old, not a *@ year old parent.  Was a quick to write sentence what was needed, even if it was not the whole story?  Was the point to be able to write something, or to realise that climate is different in different countries?

Then I thought, what about the level of detail needed when thinking about literature searching?   What a first year undergraduate needs to be able to do is different from a PhD researcher or systematic reviewer.   What a clinician looking for evidence for practice needs to find will be different from that systematic reviewer.  I think I knew this, but had not really thought about how it was ok not to go into detail or give what I, as an experienced searcher, thought was the complete answer.  An answer that enables people to do what they need to, at that time, is the one to look for.

The point of my son's question was not to test the knowledge or information finding powers of the parent, or to write a complete account, but to look for particular qualities in the student, which suggests that an answer incomplete to the parent is ok.

de Clérambault, and Enduring Love again

Some more thoughts about the "appendix" to Ian McEwan's Enduring Love, discussed in an earlier post.  The appendix is, or, as it turns out, purports to be, a reprint from the "British Review of Psychiatry", by Wenn and Camia, about de Clérambault's syndrome.  An early review of the book,as you may remember from that earlier post, thought it was the article on which the novel was based.  But others were suspicious, noting that the journal was not one they had heard of, and also that the authors' names were an anagram of Ian McEwan.

I was interested to know what would happen if you critically appraised the paper.   Could you tell that it was (as McEwan admitted in Psychiatric Bulletin) fictional?

Of course, the psychiatric science in the article might well not be fictional at all.  According to Oliver Burkeman's Guardian article (cited in my earlier post), this paper was submitted for publication to the British Journal of Psychiatry, but did not make it into print - it would be fascinating to know why!  An appraisal of the content, though, would be a critical appraisal exercise for psychiatrists or mental health nurses.  But I wondered - what about the references?

The last one is also by Wenn and Camia, so once you know that these are fictional authors, this one is suspect.  It turns out the volume number and year don't match, and those pages in that volume are something else entirely.

One of the British Journal of Psychiatry references has an author name and title belonging to different page numbers and volume, but the page numbers and volume cited actually belong to another article about the same syndrome.

The other British Journal of Psychiatry references are correct, as is the one from Social Science and Medicine (which is, however, missing a section title, being made up of many sections at the time).

One reference has no article title.   Another has different punctuation. 

But apart from the Wenn and Camia article, and that mixed up British Journal of Psychiatry reference, this is all relatively trivial.   In days gone by I was "bibliographic adviser" for a microbiology journal, and checked the reference lists for accuracy.   There were often errors of this sort, so this "British Review of Psychiatry" paper is, I suspect, no worse!

de Clérambault is cited as C.G., rather than G.G., but that again is minor (although possibly if you were a psychiatrist, you would know - possibly not, though).

Here, in closing, is some reading material about de Clérambault and his work.  He was a French psychiatrist, who trained first in law, who published many articles, and whose "Oeuvres psychiatriques" were collected together after his death.

de Clérambault's syndrome, from Patient.info.

Signer, S. F. (1991). “Les psychoses passionnelles” reconsidered: a review of de Clérambault’s cases and syndrome with respect to mood disorders. Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, 16(2), 81–90. 
(Another of Signer's papers is cited in the appendix, but with the wrong initials, I think).

Clérambault, from Encyclopedia Universalis (in French)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Escherichia coli

The University of Sheffield's Krebs Festival, in honour of the work of Hans Krebs, is currently under way, and as part of this, there is this giant inflatable E. coli in the Winter Gardens, made by Luke Jerram:

Pathogenic E. coli make it to the news (see this site from the CDC or this one from the NHS about O157), but it is also an important experimental organism, and here are some sites about that:

eLS (Encyclopedia of the Life Sciences)  - you will need a subscription, or your institution will*, to read the full thing, although a summary is freely available which outlines E. coli's importance in genetics and molecular biology.

EcoliWiki, about non pathogenic E. coli.

PortEco (who produce EcoliWiki), a data resource.   PortEco is described in this paper in the annual Database issue of Nucleic Acids Research (if you use the data resource, it is accepted practice to cite the paper, and not the website where the resource lives).

EcoCyc, a database for E. coli K-12 MG1655, performing "literature-based curation of the entire genome" and covering transcriptional regulation, transporters, and metabolic pathways. 

NCBI - across all databases

Encyclopedia of Life

* the University of Leicester does.  Email us if you have problems accessing it!

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Enduring love, especially the appendix

I have made reference to this book by Ian McEwan in two previous posts, one about autobiography and biography as health literature, and one about mental health in film.  In that latter post I said I would write about Enduring love again.  Here at last is that post.

As an appendix to Enduring love, there is a scientific paper, a case report, about the condition that one of the characters in the story is living with, De Clerambault's syndrome.    A review of the book in Psychiatric Bulletin talks of the book as based on this case report.   But a later letter to the same journal rings an alarm bell.   The authors are not in the medical register, and there is no journal of the name quoted (British Review of Psychiatry - I had my suspicions about this).  Another letter in the same issue points out that the last reference in this scientific paper does not exist, and that the authors' names are an anagram of Ian McEwan.

There is also an article by Oliver Burkeman in the Guardian, 16th August 1999, which tells the story in more detail, who thought it was a real paper and who did not, and has a confession from the author himself.    For other discussions, see this post on Novel Ideas, and the guide by Roger Clarke and Andy Gordon, some of which is in Google Books. p.67 onwards refers to the appendix.  

I read the novel when I was off work last year, at the same time my elder son was reading it for AS Level English.   Being at somewhat of a loose end, I found myself wondering about the value of this "paper" in teaching.   What would happen if you were to use the appendix as a critical appraisal example?   Would anything tell you it was not a real paper?    How could you tell?  I have not yet tried it out.  Perhaps another blog post beckons!


McIvor, R. Enduring love [book review].  Psychiatric Bulletin, 1999; 23(1): 61

Granville-Grossman, K. Enduring love. Psychiatric Bulletin, 1999; 23(4): 242-3.

McCreadie, R. Enduring love. Psychiatric Bulletin, 1999; 23(4): 243.