Friday, January 14, 2011

Publish or Perish

I got an essay accepted at truthout. Yay! I wrote about the Obamas' decisions regarding the education of their children and President Obama's statements about that decision in the context of his administration's education policies. (A recent excellent and comprehensive review of Obama's promises on education in contrast to his actual policies can be found here.)

"Mr. President, We Want Your Children's Education, Too" went through many, many drafts and I was very pleased when it was accepted by the first place I sent it. (An aside about the writing/publishing process: Almost all of my publications had been submitted to targeted publications I know well.) I submitted the piece back in November 2010, but the editor I corresponded with warned me it would be probably a while. It happened to come out on January 9, 2010. At first, I was ashamed of its publication date, given it was the day after the shootings in Arizona; it didn't seem to be an appropriate time to be so critical of the Obama administration.

But then I found out that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was butting (yet, again) into D.C. Mayor Gray's DCPS Chancellor selection decision, urging him to permanently appoint Rhee right-hand woman and Interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson, of whom he's "huge fan," and in the process by-pass a 2007 DC law which requires a rigorous review process including consulting a panel of teachers, parents, and students. Duncan also dangled the possibility of taking back Race to the Top money the District was awarded if his wish were not granted.

Besides registering my disgust with Duncan's confirmation that Race to the Top is nothing but a bribery scheme, with his interference in local affairs, and with his spitting in the face of transparent and democratic governance, I'll repeat one of the same questions I asked in the essay: If Duncan and his boss are such "big fans" of the reforms and "progress" in D.C.P.S., why do they not send their own children to them?

To those who tell me to mind my own business: Point taken. I'd be happy to. Just as soon as Obama/Duncan change course on the policies that are undermining the quality of my children's education and just as soon as, of course, they mind their own business.

UPDATE 1/20/11: A reader was puzzled about this sentence from the truthout piece:
My DCPS past, warts and all, has made me a different person than I would have been had I gone to a place like Sidwell, different in a way that seems lesser to my current eye. 
Reading it out of the context of the rest of the piece, I can see that the sentence is confusing and needs a re-write. Given the stance that I took, most readers probably knew what I meant, but I hardly want to assume that readers "probably know what I mean." Rather, I want them to know what I mean because my writing is clear. I can't go back and fix it in truthout (and there was never an interaction with an editor about clarity or wording where this might have come up) but just to be clear, what I meant was that:
My DCPS past, warts and all, has made me a different person than I would have been had I gone to a place like Sidwell. Had I gone to a place like Sidwell I think I would have been different in a way that seems lesser to my current eye.
Readers, if you ever see something that gives you pause or puzzles you or that you think may be factually incorrect, even if it's a simple typo, by all means, let me know. I value your feedback and pushback.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Vaccines & Science Revisited: Watch the Pharmaceutical Companies

A little over a year ago, I wrote a series of blog posts about vaccines and science. In honor of the Wakefield studies officially being found fraudulent (there's a decent post at the blog Modern School--with links!--about the study's history), I am reposting them, but with a few updates.

Since my original posting of those, I have grown more skeptical of medical studies, particularly as they are increasingly being funded by pharmaceutical companies and reviewed by outside, for-profit review boards. Given the severe conflicts of interests inherent in such arrangements, I hardly have confidence in the truths of the outcomes of these studies. Secondly, the findings of Dr. John Ioannidis (fyi: the task related to this post that took me the longest was spelling this guy's name correctly), which I highly recommend checking out, have also increased my skepticism. Ioannidis is not so much critical of the scientific process as he is critical of what happens to the scientific process in the contexts of medical treatments, academia, and our own (too high) expectations of what science can tell us.

That being said, it is the corrupting forces of money, fame, and politics on the scientific process that has caused my skepticism; my faith in science has not diminished, not because I think it's some kind of magic, but because it's the best process we've got for uncovering a few truths about the world around us. After all, Ioannidis is a true scientist in the sense that he wants to make the process more pure, truthful, and skeptical. How very scientific of him.

UPDATE I: I was cleaning up my delicious bookmarks this morning and came across this article, also by Carl Elliot, from the Chronicle of Higher Education on the phenomenon of medical industry "thought leaders," who are medical doctors paid by pharmaceutical companies to talk to other doctors about "research" findings. I meant to include it yesterday, but had forgotten about it.Take a look.
UPDATE II: Just out for a run, I realized I forgot about another article pertinent to this. (That's what I get for hitting "PUBLISH POST" so impetuously). Here's an article in Vanity Fair about drug trials and how they're increasingly being done in unregulated zones, not to mention on poor people, overseas.

(photo by flickr user jmaklary)