So, the hell that has been my thesis proposal is essentially over. Getting mine approved took a few weeks longer than usual because I got FUCKING SANDBAGGED BY MY GODDAMN BOSS DURING MY PROPOSAL. But whatever, I’m (somewhat) over it now that I have a project that’s been approved by my committee. The project is damn near impossible and almost certainly not going to work, but it’s better than not having a project. I’m still going to have to throw out 8 months of research, but I still think things could somehow be worse.
For the first time in years I’m actually making time to have fun and meet people. I’ve been going on freaking boatloads of dates the past two months and am loving the chance to go out and meet new people. I do feel somewhat bad for the first half-dozen or so of the women I went out with since I was still just working out the awkward out of my system. Never going on a real date as an adult will do that to you. I was FULL of awkward. Like, to the brim. Okay, not that bad, but it wasn’t pretty. Sorry, first six or so ladies, I really am.
But even though research isn’t going well I’m not letting it bring me down since life in general is actually quite enjoyable. I still have a few friends who either can’t or won’t see the world this way and that is really beginning to rub me the wrong way. I’m just now beginning to realize that happiness is largely a choice for those of us fortunate enough to be in our situation. I mean we’re doing bleeding-edge medical research at one of the best freaking labs in the field, in one of the best cities in America, and we’re getting fucking PAID to get our degree. This is, of course, a very rosy view of our current situation, but it’s one that helps change a possibly shitty situation into one that is at least tolerable.
So, life is decently good and I’m happy. That is all that really matters right now.
One of the more common complaints I hear about science from family, friends, and people online is that science is too slow. I heard the same complaint in a different form last night while watching the documentary “Vanishing of the Bees” about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). All throughout the doc I heard references similar to “we know something is wrong, but scientists can’t find the cause so it’s not getting any attention” and toward the end Michael Pollan brought out the awful “other ways of knowing” argument in regards to CCD.
Look, I understand that people can get a little pissed when their observations aren’t corroborated by science right away but that is not the fault of science. Science is a process that takes time. Lots of time. It is remarkably difficult both technically and conceptually and there are many more failures than successes. I can understand the plight felt by the beekeepers, but just because they felt something was wrong doesn’t truly mean there was anything wrong. In this case, yes, there was and science was able to get to the bottom of it (I think…). This is precisely how science works and yet people are blaming science for not figuring it out faster! It’s patently absurd!
You can believe it all you want, but there really isn’t any “other way of knowing” that beats the scientific way of knowing. If there was it would simply be taken over by scientists and would be the “new science.” But this simply isn’t the case and it never will be. “Other ways of knowing” are simply not as reliable as science because they don’t follow reproducible evidence wherever it leads and for that they will always be deeply flawed.
Science wins, get over it.
So, the time has come. My grad school qualifying exam is quickly approaching and that fact has me shitting my pants. For those of you who are unaware, the qualifying exam (“comps” at some schools) is a comprehensive exam that is supposed to test knowledge that a graduate student should have gained in the first two years. Mine is a grueling two hour oral exam split up into two sections: fundamentals of (subfield of neuroscience) and research.
I’m worried about both sections and really have to begin cranking out data and setting aside study time. This means I’ll be spending even less time at home and more time away from my wife which will probably not end well for me… I’m already spending 60-70h/week at the lab and much of my time at home I spend playing with images, reading papers, and all that other grad school junk, so I’m not exactly sure how spending even MORE time away home will work out. I really just want the next few months to be over.
Oh, and I hope to still be in grad school by the end of it.
Look, I know that all kinds of people are up in arms about this autism “epidemic,” but few of these idiots have actually been thinking rationally. I came across this idiot over in the comments at this post from a great blog I regularly frequent.
I try to understand these people. I really do. But when they start invoking Godwin’s law and just start spouting crazy I can no longer take them seriously. These people seem to be completely devoted to the fact that their son/daughter cannot be developmentally delayed due to anything other than vaccines, environmental “toxins,” or some other bullshit excuse. I’m not saying that those things may not play a role in their development, but to blame those things, and ONLY those things, with little to no empirical evidence is irresponsible at best. Development is a fickle beast affected by many things, but genetics plays the largest role. In fact, most teratogens have a relatively narrow window during which they have the terrible effects of which you hear.
Essentially what this comes down to is what you are willing to believe based on the evidence. Using the best evidence we have (and it’s damn good evidence) vaccines don’t cause autism. I’m far from an expert, but being in neurobiology for as long as I have I do know human cognition and other basic medical principles very well. Here is my take on this.
What is currently known as autism (or ASD) is a wide range of relatively mild to severe cognitive disorders that have been common in humans for centuries. The reason for the wide range in autism disorders is due to our relative lack of knowledge about the origins of the disorder and our current need to classify anything and everything that isn’t “normal” as a disorder (don’t get me started on the fucked up reasons why), so we just lump them all into the super-diagnosis of what the DSMIV (and soon to be V) calls ASD. There hasn’t been an increase in the number of people with autism, but there has been an exponential growth in the awareness AND diagnosis of autism, making the overall numbers appear to be skyrocketing when in fact they have probably been pretty stable for the past few decades at least. Those kids you used to make fun of for being weird back in the ’70s and ’80s? Yeah, they’re now diagnosed with mild autism or Aspergers. Does that mean that the number actually rose? No, it doesn’t, we’re just changing what it’s called.
Do I have any fool-proof evidence of this? No, I do not, and I don’t pretend to (unlike those anti-vax freaks). I’m using personal observation and common sense to piece together information that doesn’t appear to make a whole lot of sense otherwise. For instance, if mercury poisoning is what was causing so many autism cases then why did the numbers continue to grow even after taking thimerosal out of the most prevelent vaccines? Oh wait, you’ll just blame it on the other “toxins” in the vaccines. Sorry, I forgot that logic doesn’t play a part in your thought process. I shouldn’t be surprised though considering nearly all of you “vaccine caused my baby’s autism!” people lack even the most basic understanding of biological principles and yet still talk like you know something.
My advice: shut the fuck up, love your child for what he/she is, and do your very best to raise him/her regardless of the circumstances.
I nearly forgot what it was like to move out of an old and disliked, yet comfortable, place into completely different one. It throws your whole life off, as I have been for the past week. In a sense I have felt a bit manic depressive due to the elation I have felt unpacking all of the stuff I have accumulated over the past few years into my new apartment while feeling an overwhelming sense of loneliness. It’s weird, I haven’t lived with Emily for six months now, but for some reason living in a place where we had once lived together had fooled me into believing that I wasn’t alone. My new place doesn’t have that history and now, finally, I feel alone.
Being alone sucks.
Thankfully, I still see Emily fairly frequently which has helped immensely, but coming home to an apartment still full of semi-empty boxes just doesn’t feel right.
On the grad school front I’m nearing the end of my first rotation and attempting to set up my next three for the upcoming year. So far I’m zero for three of my top picks (one “no” and two haven’t replied yet) which is beginning to worry me a bit and now I have to spend a lot of time making a back-up list of profs I would possibly want to spend the next six years with. Fun stuff.
Also, one of the forgotten joys of moving involves eating a lot of crap because your kitchen isn’t completely unpacked and situated the way you like it. Throw in the recent Chicago heat wave and I’m left to eating prepared foods from the supermarket or anything cold I can get my hands on. I feel like crap eating that stuff but I’m so hot that I don’t want to cook anything. Talk about a rock and a hard place.
I’m going to do what I can to get most of the rest of my junk unpacked tonight just so I can begin to get my life in order.