TLTP 007 – Thanks For The Mammaries

Welcome to Episode 7 of The Last Tuesday Project, where we can clearly see that 2017 has neatly picked up from where 2016 left off.

Shaun is our Dimbleby this month. When Alex, David, and Hayley veto the first question on cultural appropriation, we’re left with a very interesting question about breast cancer screening. We discuss whether screening actually prevents deaths, clarify the difference between screening and diagnosis, and consider Nu Truth.

This month’s icon is the X-Ray Room at the Kitchener Hospital, from the British Library’s photo archive on Flickr.

With huge thanks to Strong4Life for the use of his music.
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TLTP 006 – None The Wiser

Welcome to Episode 6 of The Last Tuesday Project, where we celebrate Christmas the only way we know how – to “intellectually” dissect it.

This month Hayley takes the Dimbleby role, asking Alex, David, and Hannah, about the three gifts brought by the three wise men to that wee bairn, the Baby Jesus. Will gold help you feel indestructible? And what the hell are frankincense and myrrh anyway?!

Plus, David gives us some corrections for last month’s episode on US politics.

With huge thanks to Strong4Life for the use of his music.
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TLTP 005 – Trump Means Trump

Welcome to Episode 5 of The Last Tuesday Project, where a group of Brits show up their countryfolk and prove how clueless they actually are. And this episode is no exception.

This month David takes the role of Dimbleby and gets Hayley, Alex, and Shaun discussing the American Electoral College. What is its purpose? How democratic is the system? Is it possible to game the system? And where does this whole thing leave President Elect Donald Trump and former presidential candidate Hilary Clinton? Plus, are Americans allowed to do what they like with the limbs of bears?

With huge thanks to Strong4Life for the use of his music.
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Tuesday Recommendation: The Cochrane Collaboration

Tuesday Recommendation: The Cochrane Collaboration

Our Tuesday Recommendations series of blog posts aims to tell you about which sources we think are reliable, and how best to use them.

 

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What is the Cochrane Collaboration?

Cochrane is a global independent network of researchers, professionals, patients, carers and people interested in health.

They are not-for-profit, multi-national, and are widely regarded as one of the most reliable sources of healthcare information

Why do we like them?

Not all medical evidence is alike; some is worth more salt than others. Systematic reviews and meta-analyses, when done well, are the best of the bunch when it comes to evidence. The idea is that by gathering, assessing, and merging all available evidence, you see the fullest picture possible, and smooth out any erroneous results.

The Cochrane Collaboration do this sort of evidence, and they do it well. They’re independent, very thorough, and open with their methods. You can tell that you can trust a Cochrane Review because they publish exactly what they have done right there in every review.

Cochrane Reviews are a health researcher’s dream- so much so that I even once wrote a prayer about them. Finding one which answers your question exactly pretty much feels like finding the holy grail.

 

Furthermore, they seem committed to seeking out new and innovative ways to provide their advice in simple, understandable ways. Their Evidently Cochrane blog is a stunning example of how complicated, dull trial data can be transformed into something easy-to-understand and engaging, without being patronising. From using Lego to illustrate their data to their nifty social media summaries, they really are doing all that they can to make their evidence friendlier.

They also have an overwhelming library of podcasts.

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An example of Cochrane being creative- using Lego to describe how well a screening test for dementia works

 

What are the downsides?

The main downside to Cochrane Reviews is that they can be very long and intimidating. For example, their full review of ‘gabapentin for chronic neuropathic pain and fibromyalgia in adults’ is 124 pages long.

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Don’t let that put you off though. Only a very, very small minority of people need or want that level of detail, and Cochrane have provided a few ways to get around that.

Firstly, they provide their reviews in three different formats: a summary, a standard version, and then the big, lumbering full version. And Secondly, they provide a plain language summary for every one of their reviews, and they’re marvellous. These will boil down all of those 100-odd pages into the top-line, need-to-know information

Another sort-of problem is that, because they are multinational, you may find information on medicines or treatments that aren’t available in your country. That can also be a huge strength, of course.

 

What sort of questions can they answer?

Cochrane covers a huge variety of healthcare topics. Some examples include:

  • How well does a medicine work for a disease?
  • How well does a medicine compare to other medicines commonly used for a disease?
  • Does screening for illnesses work?
  • What public health measures work to reduce risks of a illness?
  • What type of surgery is the best for a condition?

 

They also cover medical devices, alternative and complementary medicine, and absolutely loads of other stuff (at time of writing, their most popular review is ‘Does chewing gum after a caesarean section lead to quicker recovery of bowel function’!)

TLTP 004 – Acting Directly

Welcome to the fourth episode of The Last Tuesday Project. Each month, this gaggle of rag-tag ruffians meet up to discuss one topic. Only one of us knows what that topic will be, and we get just one hour to research it. The outcome is a podcast full of laughs, stories, facts and tips on how to dig deeper.

This month, Alex, Hayley, Hannah, Shaun, and David veto a question on psychology and take a look at direct action activism. We talk about striking, Greenpeace, and the definition of “effective.”
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Continue?

The format of the Last Tuesday Project takes some inspiration from a Youtube gaming channel called “Continue?”

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The premise of the channel is simple: three chaps play a retro video game for a short period of time, usually 15- 20 mins or so. Their goal isn’t to provide their viewers with a full review of the game, or to definitively decide whether it’s a good or bad game. Instead, they make a decision as to whether or not they would want to continue playing the game. 

 

That’s a really important, yet often forgotten concept. None of us have the time or energy to research every topic to the point where we have a full and detailed knowledge of the subject, but it’s sometimes important to take a few minutes out to consider whether or not you want to know more.

 

“I’m not sure, but I’d really like to find out” is a legitimate answer, arguably  just as valuable as “Yes, this is definitely true” or “no, that’s utter bollocks” – perhaps more valuable (and more mature), as it acknowledges depth and nuance.

 

With just an hour of research time, it’s really easy to feel pretty overwhelmed. We worry a little that we won’t take in the information properly, that we’re looking for the wrong thing, that we’re not finding the best sources in the limited time available. But the important thing is really to plant the seed. To give us, and you, the enthusiasm to want to keep looking, and to show you that, even in such a limited time frame, that seed can be planted.

 

We recorded our fourth episode last night. Most of us were really, really tired after a long weekend at the QED conference. We had planned to record while we were there, but we couldn’t find the time. We’d had pretty stressful journeys home, and we all seemed to just be having one of those days. There were lost wedding rings, missed trains, traffic jams, floods and of course obligatory technical problems.

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However, we finished up the recording enthusiastic and with a longing to know more about a subject we probably wouldn’t have really considered otherwise. We discovered a real treasure trove of fascinating stories, dressed up as something quite mundane.

 

And that is something really awesome.

 

Hayley

TLTP 003 – Beginning With Coda

Welcome to the third episode of The Last Tuesday Project. Each month, this gaggle of rag-tag ruffians meet up to discuss one topic. Only one of us knows what that topic will be, and we get just one hour to research it. The outcome is a podcast full of laughs, stories, facts and tips on how to dig deeper.

This month, Alex, Hayley, Hannah, Shaun, and David have the daunting task of looking at The Beginner’s Guide and specifically asking the question of whether Coda, a major character in the game, is real. We take a look at the creator Davey Wreden, his previous creation The Stanley Parable, and the morality of giving someone else’s intellectual property away. Plus, we consider jam, Shaun’s beard, and rabbit holes, although not necessarily at the same time.

WARNING: THIS EPISODE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE STANLEY PARABLE AND THE BEGINNER’S GUIDE

With huge thanks to Strong4Life for the use of his music.
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TLTP 002 – Trust Me… I’m An Expert

TLTP 002 – Trust Me… I’m An Expert

Welcome to the second episode of The Last Tuesday Project. Each month, this gaggle of rag-tag ruffians meet up to discuss one topic. Only one of us knows what that topic will be, and we get just one hour to research it. The outcome is a podcast full of laughs, stories, facts and tips on how to dig deeper.

This month, Alex, Hayley, Hannah, Shaun, and new recruit David discuss what it means to be an expert. We mull over 10,000 hours (the concept – the episode isn’t that long), which sources to trust, the difference between being an expert and having expertise, plus some thoughts on chess.

Plus, this episode features our first topic veto. A decision which we later come to regret…

With huge thanks to Strong4Life for the use of his music.

TLTP 001 “Fungus In Salem” Clarifications & Corrections

By now you’ve probably listened to the very first episode of our shiny new podcast. If you haven’t, then head over here right now, partly because we think it’s really quite good, and partly because nothing else here is going to make much sense otherwise.

All sorted? Excellent.

The very nature of The Last Tuesday Project podcast means we’re likely to make some mistakes and will have to skip over some other interesting things that could do with a bit more of a thorough dig into.

First up, we have the History.com article on the Salem Witch Trials which Hannah mentioned. This gives a nice overview of what the Trials were, and the context in which they took place.

This is further expanded upon in Linnda (yes, 2 n’s) Caporael’s thesis from Science, although a later piece in same journal appears to dismiss Caporael’s claims. Things are further confused in a 1982 New York Times article, which again promotes the ergotism hypothesis by way of research published in American Scientist.

So far, these clarifications haven’t been very… clarifying, have they? Moving swiftly on…

Hayley’s ‘interesting source’ was erowid.org a site which claims to ‘[provide] access to reliable, non-judgmental information about psychoactive plants, chemicals, and related issues.’ You might not want to check that link on a work computer. Just in case.

The film that inspired the topic is The Witch, which has a mighty 6.8 rating on imdb.com and is certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

There’s a huge number of sources on what ergot and ergotism is and does. A brief selection of three of the many sources we came across can be found here, here and here. One of our favourite other podcasts, Sawbones, had an episode on Dancing Plagues, and it’s well worth a listen. And the 1951 French village outbreak is detailed here, although it might be a CIA experiment (obviously.)

You may have noticed the insert Alex had to put into the episode where we really fucked up. It wasn’t typhoid or typhus that we were talking about. It was the very famous Broad Street Pump cholera outbreak, which was studied by John Snow in one of the most famous experiments ever conducted. We know nothing.

The Pepsi syringe panic happened in the US in 1993. Right from the off, there were suspected copycats and hoaxes. It fizzed away for a little time, with some of the hoaxers being charged for filing false claims with the police. We think Shaun may have made up misremembered the bit about diabetic syringes.

Hayley brought up the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. This seems to have originated a little earlier, following the publication of The Satan Seller by evangelical Christian Mike Warnke in 1972. The book was an alleged true-life story of satanism, and subsequent discovery of Christ, which was soon uncovered to be a hoax. The claims, however, accelerated in the 80’s where a number of children accused family members, nurseries, or schools of fantastical ritual abuse, which were again debunked, but not after ‘investigations’ by talk-show heavyweights Geraldo Rivera and Sally Jesse Raphael.

The Cottingley Fairies (not Cottingham) were set of hoax pictures produced between 1917-20 which managed to take in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and was only conclusively debunked in 1983, when the sisters who took the photos admitted to their fakery.

Slender Man is a much more modern, and more sinister phenomenon, which as mentioned, has lead to attempted murder. In this case, the origin is easy to pinpoint as a thread from 2009 on Something Awful asking for paranormal images, which gathered momentum quickly and is still around, with talks of a big budget movie ready for production.

Alex’s concerns about the Little Ice Age not actually happening appear to be unfounded, although it wasn’t a true ice age, there’s no consensus of when it started, and no one appears to know what caused it (but as Hannah mentioned, it may be down to volcanoes.)

‘Women being sexually frustrated’ was the original meaning of hysteria (originating from the Latin hystericus – of the womb.) ‘Female Hysteria’ was a common diagnosis for thousands of years, originally thought to be caused by a wandering womb, and was indeed regularly ‘relieved’ by doctors, using a variety of techniques.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) was published in 2013 and changed various diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorders, among other things. Let’s just say it’s been controversial. Restless leg syndrome, which has specific diagnostic criteria in DSM-5, was first described in 1685. Not the 70’s then. Another slight error, there. There’s definite controversy over whether it’s being over-medicated, though

There was indeed a case of witchcraft related murder in 2010 in London, and prior to the the ‘Adam’ murder of 2001 was considered to be potentially linked to witchcraft.

St. Antony’s Fire is definitely another name for ergotism, however St. Antony isn’t the patron saint of lost causes (that’s St Jude.) St Antony, it turns out, is patron saint of lost things. So close.

And if you’re really interested, the X-Files episode dealing with ergotism is 4.13 ‘Never Again.’

Alex talked about the use of ergot in abortions. Derivatives of ergot have also been used therapeutically in late pregnancy due to their effects on uterine contractility, though their use is limited nowadays.  Ergotamine, a derivative of ergot,  is still available as a component of a licensed medicine for migraine. It is rarely used nowadays, mainly due to its adverse effect profile. Hannah joked about hallucinations and she was not that far off the mark- they are listed as a recognised side effect.

That’s about it for our corrections and clarifications, but if you think we’ve got anything else wrong, or something needs explaining, let us know in the comments.

Pride and podcasting

It’s a scary feeling, sending something you have created off into the internet ether. But, like waving good-bye to a precocious fairytale child, we sent our first episode out into the world to seek its fortune a few weeks ago.

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What’s happened since has been beyond what any of us expected.

 

When we thought up this project, we realised that regularity was the key to keeping us engaged. We wanted something scheduled in the diary on a particular day of the month so that it would incorporate itself nicely into our usual routines. We knew that it would help us to maintain a healthy drive towards scepticism- and if that would help a handful of other people too, then that would be a huge bonus.

 

I expected a couple of people to listen to our first attempt. I would have been really happy if 25 or so people listened and liked it. So imagine how ecstatic I and the others feel as our first episode pushes about 300 listens.

 

Sure, it’s still a small number in the grand scheme of things. I don’t think This American Life are shaking in their boots at the moment. But it far surpasses anything we thought possible for our very first foray into the airwaves. I’ll be honest, and say that my eyes were a little leaky when I heard the final edited version. I just felt so proud that we’d seen it through and made a thing.

 

The feedback we’ve had has been amazing so far too. Everyone seems to love the format, including ourselves. It’s exciting to record, and it allows us to have a discrete amount of time for podcasting, rather than it leaking into the rest of our month. Sure, there’s loads of other work that surrounds the recording session, but it’s a whole lot more manageable without having to worry about cramming huge amounts of research in as well.

 

There’s still a lot of things to work on, and a lot of things that we will get better at with practice. But we’ve found ourselves having occasional “Holy shit, we’re really onto a Good Thing here, aren’t we?” moments. And goddammit, it feels really good.

 

So, thank you to all of you who have listened, liked, shared, and given us feedback. We hope we made you smile, and we hope we made you think. And we hope that we continue to do so in the future.

 

It’s a privilege and an honour to produce content for you all.

 

Hayley