Empathy, barfblog and rock and roll

I used to have Mick Taylor hair.

And then it turned grey, and went straight up, like Lyle Lovett.

I used to have a brain, but I feel it ever so slowly fading away, so I’ll get as much writing in while I’m somewhat together.

Personality, worse than ever, because I alternate between frightened, fearless and forlorn, and have no control over it.

This won’t end well.

Chapman asked me if doing all this end of life stuff like making sure my families were taken care of was a downer, and I say no, I’ve been fighting so long, it’s sort of cathartic.

My wife rolls her eyes and turns away when I tell people, I couldn’t remember my own phone number yesterday because I started taking pucks to the head in 1967.

She just thinks I’m a drunk.

Empathy may not be her strong suit.

Yet new research shows that just one concussion can mess the brain up.

I’ve had dozens, if not hundreds.

I’ve shared this with my physicians, but why not use this megaphone. When I die, someone please call this number and they’ll have a look at my brain. They’re hooked up with the CTE clinic in Boston (that’s a Sydney number, so needs a 61 first).

Research published by the American Psychological Association finds that even when feeling empathy for others isn’t financially costly or emotionally draining, people will still avoid it because they think empathy requires too much mental effort.

Amy’s had a lot to deal with and I blame her for nothing.

If I’ve learned anything on this journey, it’s the value of empathy (but like a good scientist, I want to know what works and what doesn’t, not just a bunch of catch-phrases).

I’ll stick with it as long as I can, because the reason I started the Food Safety Network in 1993 is still valid today: no parent, no individual, should say, they didn’t know the risk (followed by tragedy).

And where else would I get to play the music I love.

Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one.

Science behind the human urge to tell stories

Whenever I speak with a psychiatrist or psychologist who is trying to rearrange my brain until I’m sane, they all say the same thing: stop with the stories and get to the point.

They think I’m using stories as a distraction tactic, whereas I’m using stories to enhance the meaning of what is or isn’t going on upstairs.

If you’ve seen the film, Lincoln, you may know what I’m storying about.

And the eggheads don’t get it.

Leo Robson of New Statesman America writes that although it has been more than 60 years since Ernst Gombrich delivered his Mellon lectures on art and illusion – the title of his subsequent bestselling book – the application of empirical thinking to works of culture or creativity is still considered a minority interest, even a kind of novelty. There are academic courses in critical approaches such as “evolutionary literary theory” and “cognitive poetics”, but they are taught by academics with devoted professorships in other fields of study.

With notable exceptions, most of the movement has been from the humanities towards the sciences, as was the case with Gombrich, who used cognitive psychology to illuminate the processes of visual representation; with the film scholar David Bordwell, who has cited Gombrich’s example; and with the Nabokov biographer Brian Boyd, who in his book On the Origin of Stories (2010) mentioned the “revelatory” experience of discovering Bordwell’s work. Now Will Storr, a journalist and writing teacher, has written an account of our story-telling instincts that doubles as a guide to telling better stories.

It would be hard to imagine a case of more wholehearted advocacy. The book is heavy with categories, dichotomies and tags (“identity claims”, “feeling regulators”). Storr begins with the idea that stories emerged to address the fact that life is “meaningless”. This does not explain why a child oblivious to the planet’s looming “heat death”, the “infinite, dead, freezing void”, may still enjoy an episode of Paw Patrol, but it’s true that a desire for order has always prevailed among human beings. Or, in Storr’s rather Tarzan-ish phrasing, “Story is what brain does.” He goes further, arguing with clarity and conviction that it is due to our brains’ desire for control that we are excited by stories of change. Boy meets girl. Stranger dismounts from horse. Complacent youth is humbled. Ancient order shows signs of frailty.

Storr succeeds in bridging evolutionary psychology and narrative theory, or making one the basis for the other. But unlike Gombrich or Bordwell, his aim isn’t to answer a critical question better. He’s probing his own craft in order to teach it to others. So it’s odd that he approaches the subject mainly as a researcher. He doesn’t bring to bear his experience of working on his novel, The Hunger and the Howling of Killian Lone; or of turning research into books, such as The Heretics; or, in his work as a ghostwriter, shaping reams of interview transcripts into a pleasing or plausible account of a life. It would be rather as if David Hockney had neglected to mention his life as “an artist, a mark-maker”, in Secret Knowledge, his remarkable study of optical devices.

Instead, Storr turns to novels and films for examples of storytelling that appeal to our neural processes, but they do little to help his case. He tells us that Raymond Chandler packs “a tonne of meaning” into the image “Dead men are heavier than broken hearts”; and that the lines “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” and “These go to 11” are “so dense with narrative information it’s as if the entire story is packed into just a few words”. His most frequently cited case studies are Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel The Remains of the Day and Citizen Kane, though neither is very representative, being less stories than meta-stories, respectively a faux-memoir of an unusually ruminative sort and the portrait of a journalist assigned to uncover what made a man tick.

It’s in the writing manual section that the book is at its strongest. In one terrific passage, Storr explains that an audience’s curiosity – resembling the shape of the lower-case “n” – peaks when we know something and fades away when we know everything. Then, in an appendix, Storr elaborates his theory that “more traditional” – ie non-science-based – “attempts at decoding story”, such as Joseph Campbell’s monomyth” or idea of the “hero’s journey”, have emphasised ideas of plot and structure at the expense of what he calls “character work”. Storr’s concept of the “sacred flaw” – an over-compressed phrase referring to the faulty concept that a character holds sacred – is lucid, original, plausibly grounded in the science and proves once again just how much goodwill can be derived from a satisfying ending, even when it depends on a deus ex machina (I don’t speak foreign languages).

Tangled up in blue: Finding food safety purpose

I used to write up the U.S. Centers of Disease Control with the enthusiasm of a teenage going on a date.

It was current, it was confident and it was cool.

Now, not so much.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m tired of watching Salmonella and other foodborne illnesses flatline, even if a Senator brings a day-old bucket of KFC into a hearing to make some sort of metaphorical point.

I’ll say the same thing I say every year: the numbers aren’t changing because the interventions are in the wrong place.

When national organizations go agenst the World Health Organization and don’t mention on-farm food safety, then they’re missing the source.

According to Food Business News, illness was more prevalent in 2018, according to preliminary surveillance data from the Centers for Disease Control (C.D.C.) and Prevention. Incidents of Campylobacter, Salmonella and Cyclospora infections increased last year, according to FoodNet 2018 preliminary data released by the C.D.C. The increases were due, in part, to more infections being diagnosed using culture-independent diagnostic tests (C.I.D.T.s), but the C.D.C. noted the possibility that the number of infections actually is increasing.

Campylobacter infections were the commonly identified infection in FoodNet sites since 2013 with poultry being the major source of infection.  More infections are being diagnosed, the C.D.C. said, because more laboratories use C.I.D.T.s to detect Campylobacterand other pathogens. C.I.D.T.s detect the presence of a specific genetic sequence of an organism. The tests produce results more rapidly because they do not require isolation and identification of living organisms.

Reducing Campylobacter infections will require more knowledge of how case patients are becoming infected, the C.D.C. said. The pathogen can contaminate raw chicken or poultry juices, and cross-contamination can impact hands, other foods or kitchen equipment.

“Focusing on interventions throughout the food production chain that reduce Campylobacter bacteria in chicken could lead to fewer illnesses in people,” the C.D.C. said. “Whole genome sequencing might help us figure out the contribution of various sources and help target interventions.”

Salmonella infections, the second most common infection, also appear to be increasing, according to the preliminary report. The most common Salmonella serotypes were Enteritidis, Newport and Typhimurium. Additionally, Enteritidis infections are not decreasing despite regulatory programs aimed at reducing Salmonella in poultry and eggs.

 

Not dead yet: Future of barfblog.com

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

That famous quote, often wrongly ascribed to Albert Einstein, is believed to have originated with Narcotics Anonymous in 1981 (the same year I began university).

In addition to helping raise five daughters, providing endless relationship entertainment to the folks I played pick-up hockey with back in Guelph (that’s pre-Amy, who is playing pick-up as I write this), helping teach lots of kids how to skate, influencing lotsa students (good and bad, not much in-between), pissing off lotsa bureaucrats and industry types, publishing lots of peer-reviewed stuff that still gets cited daily and almost 15,000 barfblog.com posts, I did news.

Food Safety Network news, long before wannabes.

For 26 years I’ve done news.

And always referenced the evidence, or lack thereof.

Until others do the same, they’re just plagiarists.

I combined my background in molecular biology with some journalism experience, and I carved out a path in food safety.

The vision I always had for food safety information, all those years ago, was what I heard about daily – and often directly: How the hell was I supposed to know?

We mined the world (I used Compuserve to get access to the AP wires and others back in the days before Google, when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s MMWR would take six months to arrive by mail, when those who needed to know should have had the information as soon as possible).

I am intensely loyal to the kids, er, students, that flourished and maybe we’ll write a book; or maybe not.

I did my best, even when my best wasn’t good enough.

I still love it – I haven’t been paid in over two years — but someone else should be in charge.

I have early-onset dementia, I have other health issues, so rather than submit any more family members to, I’ve got to do news, I am going to step away while I can.

Of the 15,287 barfblog.com posts, I authored (or cut and paste) 13,070 since 2005. That’s 86 per cent, or an ice hockey goalie save percentage of .8549, which isn’t great (should be over .91) but doesn’t exactly suck, because this isn’t hockey.

It’s something different.

And time for me to do something different.

I may still write, maybe about food safety, maybe about other things, maybe about the probability of monkeys flying out of my butt.

But for now, I’ve got other priorities.

Ben can figure out what to do and what he wants to do.

It’s been an honor and a privilege to share your computer screens, maybe even your brain space, and improve food safety, one tip-sensitive digital thermometer, one less serving of raw sprouts, and one calling out of bullshit advice, at a time.

Peace and love.

dp

Why whole genome sequencing is important for food safety

In 1999, I gave a talk to hundreds of farm leaders in Ottawa and told them that DNA fingerprinting – via PulseNet – would revolutionize foodborne illness outbreak investigations and that farmers better be prepared (the pic is from a 2003 awards ceremony where I was acknowledged for my outreach and extension efforts, the hair was fabulous).

Twenty years later and whole genome sequencing is even further piecing together disparate outbreaks.

Joanie Stiers of Farm Flavor writes that Michigan’s laboratory toolbox now includes whole-genome sequencing, allowing public health officials to stop the spread of foodborne illness faster than ever.

Since January of 2017, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) has actively used whole-genome sequencing to precisely identify illness-causing pathogens and defend against widespread outbreaks of foodborne diseases.

MDARD’s Geagley Laboratory works in tandem with laboratories in the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s GenomeTrakr network, which allows global collaboration in the fight against foodborne illness.

“With food now being distributed worldwide, illness can be spread from anywhere in the world,” says Ted Gatesy, laboratory manager of the microbiology section at Geagley Lab, which houses the whole-genome sequencing. “Using whole-genome sequencing, an illness can be tracked, for the most part, to the point in the food chain where it originated.

Washing does almost nothing, except remove the snot from the 3-year-old who sneezed on it

This is a risk communication embarrassment.

Stop Foodborne Illness published this thing the other day, about Rylee & Rusty (not sue if those names were chosen by focus group).

Anyone who writes in all caps is compensating for something, just like I’ve always told my daughters, anyone who says trust me is immediately untrustworthy.

One day when Rylee and Rusty were walking home after school, Rusty pulled an apple out of his bag and started to take a bite. Rylee, grabbing his arm asked, “Hey! Did you wash that?” “I dunno. My mom probably did,” Rusty replied completely puzzled. “HOW old are you?” Rylee asked. “You know food safety is everybody’s responsibility,” she exclaimed with exasperation. “Oh Rylee!” Rusty replied with a shrug of his shoulders, “Why are you making such a big deal out of this?” With her hands on her hips Rylee scowled at him and raised her voice, “WHY am I making a BIG DEAL?!” “Yeah, why?” he asked, calm as ever. “You have heard of E. coli O157:H7, right?” For a minute there Rylee sounded like Ms. Coffman, but then she said, “I sit next to you in science class every day Rustin Archibald Brown. Have you not been listening?” Rusty replied with an uncertain, “No?” “Well,” Rylee said, “E. coli is a kind of bacteria that can make you really sick. So sick, in fact… that if you had to choose between cleaning your room or being sick from E. coli, you’d pick cleaning your room any day of the week!” “That’s pretty sick,” said Rusty, “I hate cleaning my room.” Rylee continued, “Your stomach feels like an elephant is standing on it, you’re puking your guts out, and… well, let’s just say ya make a big mess in the bathroom.” “What did she just say?” he thought to himself. Clutching his stomach Rusty groaned, “Yuck! RY-LEE, stop!” Rylee paused for just a second to take a breath and then Rusty cut in, No more.

BS: Academics feel the invisible hand of politicians and big agriculture

Another takedown piece on conspiracies rather than science.

I got lots of money from big ag and was never compromised in my evidence-based writings.

70 peer-reviewed papers and book chapters, not a lot, but not bad, since they get cited daily, somewhere (thanks to Amy for keeping me up to date, I admit I’m somewhat humbled but also don’t care; I know what we did).

Kate Cox and Claire Brown of The Guardian write that in a windowless conference room epidemiologist Steve Wing was frantically blacking out chunks of his own research.

Wing had been working on a study looking into the impacts of industrial-scale hog operations on health for the University of North Carolina. But the state’s Pork Council had caught wind of the research, and filed a Freedom of Information Act Request (FOIA) to gain access to his findings. “They went after Steve, asking him to turn over any documentation. They went directly to the university and got the lawyers to try and make him hand it over,” says Naeema Muhammad, one of Wing’s community partners.

I consulted on risk communication activities for the U.S. National Pork Board back in the 1990s or thereabouts. I received no money.

The others on the advisory committee were honest and devoted to their research.

Academia don’t pay much (and when it does, they find a reason to dump ya).

Me, I always spoke my mind and never felt any industry pressure – the only pressure I got was from green groups culminating in death threats taped to my lab door.

We had to involve the university cops, which was somewhat hilarious because a couple of grad students had bailed me out of jail or other situations (should be a grad student requirement).

Yes I took money. Yes we did good research that was published in peer-reviewed journals (and sometimes won awards). Yes, like my four Canadian daughters, those students have gone on to have remarkable and varying lives.

Look how young Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn are in this Stax Records clip.

Trump gets his news here: Fox News host says he has not washed his hands in 10 years ‘Germs are not a real thing’

To the chagrin of his co-hosts, Fox and Friends presenter Pete Hegseth told the show’s audience Sunday morning that he hasn’t washed his hands in a decade.

Katherine Hignett of Newsweek writes the revelation came after co-hosts Ed Henry and Jedediah Bila questioned Hegseth’s off-camera consumption of pizza left out after National Pizza Day Saturday. Hegseth had argued that pizza “lasts for a long time.”

Bila then quipped Hegseth “might take a chomp out of” anything on a table “that’s not nailed down”—including mugs.

“My 2019 resolution is to say things on air that I say off air… I don’t think I’ve washed my hands for 10 years. Really, I don’t really wash my hands ever,” Hegseth continued, prompting laughter from his co-hosts.

“Someone help me,” Bila said. “Oh man.”

“I inoculate myself. Germs are not a real thing. I can’t see them. Therefore the’re not real,” Hegseth said.  

“So you’re becoming immune to all of the bacteria,” Bila replied, rolling her eyes. “My dad has that theory too.”

Hegseth later shared a Tweet in support of his unusual concept of health and hygiene with the hashtag “DontWash.”

But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that handwashing is a vital way to prevent the transmission of disease. By washing your hands—especially after using the bathroom—you prevent the spread of harmful bacteria like Salmonella and E.coli that can persist in tiny, invisible particles of human feces

It’s also important to wash your hands after handling raw meat, as this can harbor germs leftover from animal feces.

“A single gram of human feces—which is about the weight of a paper clip—can contain one trillion germs,” the CDC reports.

Filion, K., KuKanich, K.S., Chapman, B., Hardigree, M.K., and Powell, D.A. 2011. Observation-based evaluation of hand hygiene practices and the effects of an intervention at a public hospital cafeteria. American Journal of Infection Control 39(6): 464-470.

Background

Hand hygiene is important before meals, especially in a hospital cafeteria where patrons may have had recent contact with infectious agents. Few interventions to improve hand hygiene have had measureable success. This study was designed to use a poster intervention to encourage hand hygiene among health care workers (HCWs) and hospital visitors (HVs) upon entry to a hospital cafeteria.

Methods

Over a 5-week period, a poster intervention with an accessible hand sanitizer unit was deployed to improve hand hygiene in a hospital cafeteria. The dependent variable observed was hand hygiene attempts. Study phases included a baseline, intervention, and follow-up phase, with each consisting of 3 randomized days of observation for 3 hours during lunch.

Results

During the 27 hours of observation, 5,551 participants were observed, and overall hand hygiene frequency was 4.79%. Hygiene attempts occurred more frequently by HCWs than HVs (P = .0008) and females than males (P = .0281). Hygiene attempts occurred more frequently after poster introduction than baseline (P = .0050), and this improvement was because of an increase in frequency of HV hand hygiene rather than HCW hand hygiene.

Conclusion

The poster intervention tool with easily accessible hand sanitizer can improve overall hand hygiene performance in a US hospital cafeteria.

Wilson, S.M., Jacob, C.J. and Powell, D.A. 2011. Behavior-change interventions to improve hand hygiene practice: A review. Critical Public Health 21: 119-127.

http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~content=a934338802~db=all~jumptype=rss

Despite the role of hand hygiene in preventing infectious disease, compliance remains low. Education and training are often cited as essential to developing and maintaining hand-hygiene compliance, but generally have not produced sustained improvements. Consequently, this literature review was conducted to identify alternative interventions for compelling change in hand-hygiene behavior. Of those, interventions employing social pressures have demonstrated varying influence on an individual’s behavior, while interventions that focus on organizational culture have demonstrated positive results. However, recent research indicates that handwashing is a ritualized behavior mainly performed for self-protection. Therefore, interventions that provoke emotive sensations (e.g., discomfort, disgust) or use social marketing may be the most effective.

Evidence-based barf: Gwyneth Paltrow and Goop on new Netflix show

My friend, Timothy Caufield, a prof at the University of Alberta and author of, Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong about Everything? will get loads of material from this after the Goopster confirmed with ABC News that she had signed a deal with Netflix that would see 30-minute episodes of a docuseries focused on physical and spiritual wellness.

CULVER CITY, CA – JUNE 09: Gwyneth Paltrow speaks onstage at the In goop Health Summit at 3Labs on June 9, 2018 in Culver City, California. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for goop)

Set to air later this year, Paltrow and Goop chief content officer Elise Loehnen will co-host the show and talk to experts, doctors and researchers. The pair already have a popular podcast series.

Paltrow started the company more than 10 years ago and has been criticised for promoting products like jade eggs, that Goop alleged improved vaginal muscle tone, hormonal balance and chi, but which health practitioners warned were dangerous.

Other health practices Paltrow and Goop have promoted include vaginal steaming, bee sting facials, bio frequency stickers (to “rebalance the energy frequency in our bodies”) and earthing.

She was married to that singer from Coldplay, and they suck.

Speaks volumes.

Going public: Norovirus ‘sweet spot’ at Pennsylvania college

“It hit me like a train wreck.” This is how one of the many infected students described his symptoms of what is likely norovirus.

Stool tests performed on those who are ill haven’t confirmed this diagnosis, but Director of Health Services Dr. Goldstein said that norovirus is “likely” the culprit of the students’ symptoms, which include vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain. Resident Advisors on campus have reported 103 cases of students having contracted the debilitating stomach bug as of Wednesday evening, according to Goldstein, Director of Health Services.

Goldstein first notified the campus community about the virus in a campus-wide email sent Monday, Feb. 4 at 2:40 p.m., but didn’t name the illness as norovirus at that time.

Some students, however, felt this email did not come soon enough. Haley Matthes ‘19 voiced her frustrations and warned students to be aware of its spreading in a post in the Lafayette College Class of 2019 Facebook group on Feb. 2.

“I’m just tired of the school waiting for a campus-wide sickness to escalate to a point where they need to send out a bulletin [or] cancel classes,” Matthes said in a follow-up email.

Matthes was also upset that extended hours weren’t offered at Bailey Health Center.

Several students in the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity have also had the virus. According to Mikey Burke ‘21, approximately 12 to 15 members of the fraternity had contracted the virus as of Tuesday, although he said he expected that number to grow.

“I think it just spread really quickly throughout the house, it originated there and spread to a lot of the brotherhood, I live in McKeen and only hung out at the [Phi Psi] house for a couple hours…and got sick,” Burke said in an email.

Bobby Longo ‘21, another Phi Psi fraternity member to have the virus, said he believed the email warning on Monday was “too late.”

“Norovirus is an extremely contagious stomach virus that spreads like wildfire. After the first or second case on campus we should have been notified… it ramps up as people go from class to class spreading it,” Longo said in an email.

According to Goldstein, his level of concern about the virus was raised when the health center began receiving phone calls and emails from concerned students and parents, as the health center was “not overwhelmed” by the number of students coming to Bailey about the virus. 

Goldstein said he wanted to find a “sweet spot” of not raising a level of hysteria but also communicating with the students. He decided to send the campus-wide email more based on “the feedback from students,” Goldstein said.

“I think what’s happening is students are self-treating and getting through this without needing to see a provider, but the numbers are pretty significant on campus. The students communicating with me was a good thing,” he said.

According to Goldstein, reports from Resident Advisors and Bailey total a little over 150, but Goldstein said there may be overlap among these reports, if for example, a student both went to Bailey and reported their illness to their RA.

While Goldstein said that the discussion of the school closing “hasn’t happened yet,” he believes certain social gatherings will be cancelled if the virus continues spreading rapidly. One event, the Lunar New Year dumpling making party hosted by ISA and ACA, was cancelled on Tuesday as a result of the spreading sickness.

University students’ hand hygiene practice during a gastrointestinal outbreak in residence: What they say they do and what they actually do
01.sep.09
Journal of Environmental Health Sept. issue 72(2): 24-28
Brae V. Surgeoner, MS, Benjamin J. Chapman, PhD, and Douglas A. Powell, PhD

Abstract
Published research on outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness has focused primarily on the results of epidemiological and clinical data collected postoutbreak; little research has been done on actual preventative practices during an outbreak. In this study, the authors observed student compliance with hand hygiene recommendations at the height of a suspected norovirus outbreak in a university residence in Ontario, Canada. Data on observed practices was compared to post-outbreak self-report surveys administered to students to examine their beliefs and perceptions about hand hygiene. Observed compliance with prescribed hand hygiene recommendations occurred 17.4% of the time. Despite knowledge of hand hygiene protocols and low compliance, 83.0% of students indicated that they practiced correct hand hygiene during the outbreak. To proactively prepare for future outbreaks, a current and thorough crisis communications and management strategy, targeted at a university student audience and supplemented with proper hand washing tools, should be enacted by residence administration.