Monthly Archives: December 2014

Learning management systems are, indeed, the undead of education technology,

Audrey Watters.

The educational revolution that says it isn’t

by reestheskin on 30/12/2014

No Comments

I like this, and agree with most of it. The issue that needs answering is what bits of learning require a teacher and what bits don’t [via Stephen Downes, and see his comments). But I also agree with Rich DeMillo“While technology is not the only enabler of change in higher education, it is on the critical path to all foreseeable change.”

Per-Ingvar Branemark, the inventor of dental implants, dies

by reestheskin on 29/12/2014

No Comments

This has to be one of my favourites examples of real medical innovation. All the hallmarks of one type of scientific and technological revolution are there. I have forgotten who first told me this story many years ago, not my brother the dentist I think, but an old school friend now in dental practice more likely, Dave Hudson. I was embarrassed not to have already heard of it, since I had already published a couple of papers related to how medical innovation works. This ranks up there at the top. Branemark, was an orthopaedic surgeon who, whilst researching healing, ‘noticed’ that titanium was not rejected by the body and integrated into bone, so much so that he could not remove it the end of his experiments into healing. The act of imagination, was to realise this provided a way to anchor artificial teeth. So, many of the key ingredients were there for a revolutionary discovery: he was an outsider, who the establishment rejected; the work was based on an original unplanned for observation (no project plan, or GANTT chart in sight); he did the experiments with his hands, so was in a position to make original observations; and the dogma of the day said it wouldn’t work (the arrogance of incomplete basic science strangling credible observations); and of course, his grants were rejected, so advance was delayed. Some quotes from the NYT flesh this out:

“To make sure that titanium would not be rejected by the body, Dr. Branemark enlisted about 20 students working in his lab to have titanium instruments inserted into their upper arms…..You have to understand, every male in the lab was considered a volunteer, including my older brother…
“Even after years of experimentation, though, it was difficult to convince the medical and dental establishment that titanium could be integrated into living issue. The conventional wisdom was that the introduction of any foreign material into the body would inevitably lead to inflammation and, ultimately, rejection.
“For years, Dr. Branemark’s applications for grants to study implants anchored in bone tissue were rejected…..
“Still, Dr. Branemark’s innovation was poorly received. After Dr. Branemark gave a lecture on his work in 1969, Dr. Albrektsson recalled, one of the senior academics of Swedish dentistry rose and referred to an article in Reader’s Digest describing Dr. Branemark’s research, adding, “This may prove to be a popular article, but I simply do not trust people who publish themselves in Reader’s Digest.” As it happened, that senior academic was well known to the Swedish public for recommending a particular brand of toothpick. So Dr. Branemark immediately rose and struck back, saying, “And I don’t trust people who advertise themselves on the back of boxes of toothpicks.”

Now, of course, implants have found many other medical uses, and Branemark worked on these ideas too: great ideas are generative. Surgical innovation is, in my opinion, harder than in many other areas of medicine, so it needs nurturing even more carefully. As Goldstein and Brown have said, the danger is that medics move into apparently fast moving areas of biology, the ones where you can buy the kits to do the ‘necessary’ bench work. Revolutions are harder, and require ever greater nurturing. Thank God he didn’t work at Imperial or Warwick medical schools.

[image  CC BY-SA 3.0 David Shankbone]


“Business schools are a legacy industry that is trying to adapt to a digital world.”

Douglas Stayman

Roger W. Sperry, perhaps the premier brain scientist of the last century, always plunged ahead with the sentiment, “Try it. And don’t read the literature until after you have made your observations. Otherwise you can be blinded by pre-existing dogma.” That is surely a paraphrase of what he said to me a hundred times, and that is how we operated in those delicious carefree and exploring days at Caltech. “Try it.”….

Looking back at those early days, it is hard to overstate the adventurous nature of our project. Nobody thought the patient would actually provide evidence the mind could be split. Weeks earlier, a case of callosal agenesis, a birth defect where there is a complete or partial absence of the corpus callosum, had come through the laboratory and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. From a larger view, even though one of the world’s greatest neurobiologists was involved, neither Sperry nor certainly I, a green-as-could-be new graduate student, had any significant experience examining patients. To others it might have seemed to be a fool’s game and a waste of time. However, it was not, because at Caltech, the attitude was always, “try it.”

Michael S. Gazzaniga in PNAS

Imperial, Warwick, Grimm, and careers in UK science

by reestheskin on 24/12/2014

1 Comment

David Colquhoun has a good follow up post on the Imperial affair (the death of Prof Stefan Grimm) (see my earlier post on Corrupting the Young. He links to a blog post from Federico Calboli. Federico highlights what  this debacle says about UK science overall: there is inevitably collateral damage being done to the rest of the UK higher education community. If you are seriously trying to encourage young doctors to embark on a career as a clinical academics in the UK  this episode (and what is going on at Warwick) is an utter disaster.  It would be nice to think other institutions might come forward and condemn  some of this idiotic perforamce management(sic), but I fear they won’t. I now worry about the birthday card the Principal of my my own institution sent me earlier this year — I have never had one before. I just hope nobody is sitting there looking at birthdates and wondering who they might get rid of….

A more engaged audience yields high ad rates (or student learning)

by reestheskin on 22/12/2014

No Comments

From an article in today’s NYT

Last year an Interlude video of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” which let viewers flip through a fictional TV wasteland — infomercials, game shows — in which actors mouthed Mr. Dylan’s lyrics, got more than 70 million views. Recently, an interactive video for “Stayin Out All Night“ by the rapper Wiz Khalifa, a Warner artist, was viewed 3.8 million times, while a conventional version on YouTube got only 3.6 million views. “This Interlude technology is game-changing,” Mr. Khalifa said in a statement. “I’m very glad to be at the forefront.”  For Warner, as well as for advertisers that have begun to use Interlude, the appeal of the technology lies in how it lures people to be more active viewers. According to Mr. Bloch, the company’s chief executive, 90 percent of Interlude’s music video viewers make choices while watching (videos will play even if a viewer does nothing). A more engaged audience yields higher ad rates,

Well, I haven’t sampled (no pun intended) the technology, but the key point is familiar to anyone who knows anything about how students learn: they have to engage, and the more effort them have to put in to any teaching session the more they will learn. Remember Robert Bjork’s phrase: desirable difficulty, in learning.


Carl Djerassi interview

by reestheskin on 22/12/2014

No Comments

Terrific interview that gives a feel for Djerassi’s heft. A wonderful case-study of how medicine ‘works’.

Corrupting the young (part 2); and corrupting universities

by reestheskin on 18/12/2014

1 Comment

I meant to write earlier, as a follow on from my part 1 post, but in all sorts of ways events have overtaken me, and the delay in any case helps me make my case. One reason for the delay was that I was on leave, chilling (or not) by the side of a pool stimulating my melanocytes (yes, I know I am a dermatologist…), reading interesting things, and wondering a little more about what is happening in the clinical academic landscape. It is of course worth commenting on the fact that I felt the need to take a holiday to do any serious work. My friend, and former colleague, Bruce Charlton, pointed out to me many years ago that if you walked into a colleagues’ office and they were reading a book or an article, they often seemed to act as though they had been caught reading porn, as though ‘real work’ didn’t involve reading or thinking. One wonders what an academic is meant to do? (My advice: put up an Excel spreadsheet on your monitor; the world will end not in war or pestilence, but in one giant Excel performance management spreadsheet, that will be unread because all those it refers to have left for better pastures, usually as performance managers, or Deans).

One of the things I talked about in Madrid (when I was corrupting the young, or at least trying to advise on medical science careers) was to draw attention to an article by Sydney Brenner published in Science in 1998. Now, in the pantheon of the experimental geniuses of modern biology, Brenner is up there in the first handful. I cannot remember reading anything by him that has not make me see the world differently. He has a depth and clarity of mind (and expression) that puts into shadow all the usual pomp of ‘serious academia’. I did one meet him, but suffered what I can only describe as stage fright, and choked on my first few words. Still, I can still read him.
Continue Reading

He declined to divulge the size of his gift to Stanford, but said it was sufficient to fund the study for a century and suggested the amount might be increased in the future. US style philanthropy.