Monthly Archives: June 2009

Donating blood

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I went to give blood this morning. To my shame, I’ve never done it, because I am too squeamish. It’s never been about having a needle put in my arm (I’ve had blood tests taken), it’s the thought of all that blood draining out of me. But the recent TV ad campaigns have been so powerful and heart-breaking, I felt compelled to overcome this silliness and just do it. It’s been on my “to do” list for months.

I sat there reading the information sheet they gave me this morning and started to get worked up already over the fact that some people faint afterwards. With my blood sugar control issues, I feared I would be one of them.

Because it was my first time, a nurse came in to interview me and I had to fill out a questionnaire. It turned out that because of my travels to Malawi and to Algeria, she wanted to test me for malaria antibodies before letting me donate. There is no malaria anywhere near Algiers, but I don’t mind that they are checking meticulously… if I ever have to receive blood I will appreciate that.

Even though I have had blood tests before without any problem, there was something about the way she spoke about it that made me think this time would be different. Maybe it’s because I was already in an anxious frame of mind. Maybe it’s because the information sheet had alarmed me by saying I’d be offered a local anaesthetic… for what?? Right before leaving the room to get the test tubes, she said, “we use a butterfly system”… and for some reason this awful picture leapt into my mind of something like a butterfly clip forcibly holding my vein wide open! I glanced at the thing in its cellophane packet, and the first thing I saw was what looked like an enormous needle. I looked away in horror. Fortunately I looked back and saw that the other end of the tube actually had a very thin needle in it. Also, the only butterfly-like thing was a little blue plastic tap, presumably to stop the blood flow while changing the test tubes over. Phew.

In about 2 weeks I should have the result, and hopefully I will be able to go and face more of my fears!

People trust confidence

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The research… shows that we prefer advice from a confident source, even to the point that we are willing to forgive a poor track record. Moore argues that in competitive situations, this can drive those offering advice to increasingly exaggerate how sure they are. And it spells bad news for scientists who try to be honest about gaps in their knowledge.

…Moore said that following the advice of the most confident person often makes sense, as there is evidence that precision and expertise do tend to go hand in hand. …

There are times, however, when this link breaks down. With complex but politicised subjects such as global warming, for example, scientific experts who stress uncertainties lose out to activists or lobbyists with a more emphatic message.

So if honest advice risks being ignored, what is a responsible scientific adviser to do? “It’s an excellent question, and I’m not sure that I have a great answer,” says Moore.

From this article.

I know there have been times when I’ve been swayed too much by people’s over-confidence (for example, religious leaders/preachers). Lack of confidence in myself has let me down in a lot of situations, too (for example, job interviews). That first sentence is depressing because it means the rich (in confidence) get richer and the poor get poorer. Catch-22.

Obviously confidence can be worked on and this is something I’m seeing, as per my last post. But what do you do about over-confident people? Confidence should ultimately bow to reason, and as long as the most reasonable arguments are presented confidently, I think they should win out, even if they are “negative”. Positive weak arguments only survive because (i) they are somehow avoiding being exposed to counter-arguments; maybe certain scientific communities are too isolated (all the wacky earthquake prediction stuff doesn’t get reviewed by anyone outside of that field?) and (ii) the media gives them a disproportionate amount of attention (stories about predicting earthquakes through the behaviour of snakes are just more interesting than stories about not being able to predict them).

On a more personal note, you have to have confidence before you can even sit down and work out what you think, and sometimes I lack even the ability to do that.