Council Quotes

Communications from the Colorado Council of Medical Librarians

Archive for February, 2011

Treasurer’s Report

Posted by Lynda Lillwitz on February 17, 2011

CCML’s current balance is $10,545.30. We have had $2,604.08 in expenses and $779.47 in income since April 1, 2010.
We have two Certificates of Deposits. As of December 15, 2010 they are worth $3,529.99 (specified for emergency funds) and $2,005.00 (specified for MCMLA seed money). Both are 6 month terms maturing June 15, 2011.

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Posted by richardmaxwell on February 17, 2011

            So an abstract presented at the International Stroke Conference in early February suggests that there may be a connection between consumption of diet soft drinks (sodas, pop…take your pick based on your geographical spot of origin) and an increased risk of stroke and/or heart attack.  Fish around a bit and you’ll find that this terrifying little abstract stands proud but alone atop the gargantuan mound of medical literature currently out there in places such as PubMed from our own National Library of Medicine.  What this means, of course, is that when the authors say at the end of the document that “Further studies are needed…,” they’re not kidding. 

            The 444 word report generated, by a recent count of links in Google News, 547 (and counting, no doubt) news articles or blog posts from publications and sites ranging from Business Week to the Times of India.  Headlines sometimes at least recognize the ambiguity, as in ABC News’ “Diet Soda: Fewer Calories, Greater Stroke Risk?”  Others, however, appear convinced that the evidence is conclusive.  The aforementioned Times of India, for example, simply states that “Diet Soda Raises Heart Attack Risk.”  Case closed.

            Aren’t you delighted that there’s such an interest in medical news?  Well, maybe not in actual news, but at least an interest in medical headlines? The problem is that “news” no longer has a meaning that most of us agree on.  A blog posting by your three year-old neighbor Lucinda is just as likely to spread and morph from opinion to rumor to fact as anything emanating from a more reliable source.  No offense to Lucinda.  By my count, there are 11 gazillion things that you can check for bits and bytes that sort of turn into words and since CNN has to compete with Lucinda, taking a deep breath before passing on the diet pop/heart disease mini-news is no longer a viable option.  Most of us curse the internet for bombarding us with junk, and then hurry right back into the line of fire without protective headgear.

            Still, there’s internet fun to be had, as you can see in the January 14, 2011 issue of Science.  The authors, led by Harvard’s Jean-Baptiste Michel, made use of Google Books and “constructed a corpus of digitized texts containing about 4% of all books ever printed.”  The problem in the past, they say, has been that attempts to study culture in a quantitative way “have been hampered by a lack of data.”  Looking at 5,195,769 books would seem to at least move them in the direction of overcoming that particular lack.

            The books contain more than 500 billion words in a number of languages (rest easy…English led the way with 361 billion, with French and Spanish in a tie for second place at 45 billion each…we can still claim to be Number One in something if we claim it quickly).  In a further effort to make us gasp at the size of what they were up to they point out that if “you” were to read just the English language books in their collection published since 2000, chugging along at 200 words per minute, it would take 80 years “without interruptions for food or sleep.”  “You” go ahead and test that claim.  “I” think I’ll pass.

            In quantifying culture (“Culturnomics”) they decided to have computers who perform for the most part without food or sleep or even bathroom breaks count words and look for phrases.  It might be hard to get the computers to agree to this simple task today, in the wake of IBM uberprocessor Watson’s humiliating slap-down of Jeopardy superstar humanoids Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings in a test of knowledge.  Merely crunching numbers might be seen as “human work” by computers from this point on.  Approach your keyboards or tablets with caution.

            By counting words and seeing how their use rises and falls in parallel with historical timelines, they produced charts and graphs showing such things as how often people were mentioned in these books over specific periods of time.  In 1976, for example, Jimmy Carter was a much hotter topic than Mickey Mouse, Che Guevara, Neil Armstrong, or even Barbara Walters.  He maintained his lead through 2000.  Ice cream, incidentally, took a lead in about 1930 that it refused to relinquish through 2000 over sausage, steak, pizza, hamburger, and young challenger sushi (barely a blip).

            As you can imagine, this report has led some people (my hand is up) to wonder what words turn up most frequently in the medical/nursing, etc. literature as represented in PubMed.  This is irresistible research since it requires virtually no effort other than to ask the software to look for something and then report back.  At least this time it seemed to cooperate.

            Disclaimer: this is all ancient data already.

            Say hello to telephone, with 37,003 appearances, dwarfing the presence of cell phone(s) at 731 despite all the concern over whether those things are emulsifying your gray matter.

            It’s probably reassuring in some way to see that quack or quacks show up only 547 times, while quark or quarks have made 2397 appearances. 

            Is it absurd (197) or ridiculous (76) or asinine (20) that blood-letting or bloodletting turns up 5308 times?  Not in a database with 142 yo-yo’s.  While that kind of thing is interesting (57,880), is it really fun (1762…that’s all the fun there is in PubMed)?

            Why not look for some things that just shouldn’t be in there?  This could be a party game for nerds, although there’s a Catch-22 (193) at the beginning of this sentence involving nerds (20) and parties (5254…not often the wild kind).

            For example: “a beer says you won’t find supercalifragilisticexpialidocious in there.” Missed by one…pay up.

            Godzilla is in there 10 times, Mothra only once, and Tarzan’s 29 put him in a dead heat with Lassie.

            George Clooney makes it twice (don’t worry, he’s fine) but Barbra Streisand not at all. Mick Jagger and Keith Richard just once, but that still dwarfs Justin Bieber’s “quoted phrase not found.”

            Star Wars in a runaway over Star Trek 66 to 27, but both top the Wizard of Oz’s 26.

            Isaac Newton justifiably gets 123 mentions, while Charles Darwin, even with a shorter time in the game, tops him with 748.  Bill Gates and Steve Jobs turn up only 16 times each, but it’s early and they lead Newton and Darwin in the bank account department in a pretty serious way.

            Closer to what the database is allegedly all about, Hippocrates is there 1428 times and Florence Nightingale 1369. 

            Stress appears a worrying 440,900 times, but calm only 1606.  By sad contrast clam checks in at 1727. We can hope for typos.

            1527 occurrences of too long suggest to me that now’s the time to stop (34,868).

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