Thursday, February 4, 2010

GeriPal Gets New PVS Study Right, Rest of Media Fail.

Persistent Vegetative State: An apt description for the media coverage of PVS

The New England Journal of Medicine released a study today revealing some awareness in a minority of patients diagnosed with Persistent Vegetative State (PVS). Researchers used functional MRI tests on 54 patients with PVS or minimally conscious state (MCI). The MCI patient data is interesting but the meat of the study is in the 23 patients diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state, meaning that clinically all exams showed no signs of awareness. Four of these 23 patients showed brain activity in areas similar as healthy control subjects when given specific commands. One of these four patients was also able to respond to factual statements correctly by using a technique similar to answering yes-no questions.

My favorite part of the article is in the discussion section:
In the future, this approach could be used to address important clinical questions. For example, patients could be asked if they are feeling any pain, and this information could be useful in determining whether analgesic agents should be administered.
This would be the dawn of a new era where we have new tools to evaluate the symptoms of those who cannot verbally or physically communicate with us at the bedside. The caveat is the most patients with PVS in this study showed no signs of awareness and could not communicate in any significant manner even when placed in the fMRI machine.

Take a guess though what the media headlines focus on:
  • Scientists read the minds of the living dead (New Zealand Herald)
  • Patients in 'vegetative' state can think and communicate (The Telegraph)
  • Brain scan shows awareness in vegetative patients (BBC News)
  • Brains of vegetative patients show life (LA Times)
  • Study Finds Cognition in Vegetative Patients (Wall Street Journal)
These headlines are just wrong. They give the impression that all patients with PVS are aware and can communicate. In truth, this study showed that a minority of patients with PVS showed some signs of awareness, and those happened to only be in those who suffered from a traumatic brain injury (not from other causes such as anoxic brain injury). To be fair, there were some more appropriate headlines including Newsday with “Some vegetative brains show signs of awareness” and BusinessWeeks “Brain Scans Suggest Some Vegetative Patients May Be Aware”, but overall the media continues to show limited signs of self-awareness when reporting on journal articles.

From GeriPal's Eric Widera.

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How Much Do We Know About What We Believe?

From Rod Dreher at Beliefnet, musings on how we understand and articulate our faith. Here's a clip:

This morning on the way in I was listening to an old episode of the unfailingly excellent and indispensable Mars Hill Audio Journal, in which sociologist Christian Smith discussed his findings about American youth and Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. I was struck by the part of his discussion with host Ken Myers about how American teenagers lack the basic vocabulary to discuss religious particularities. They are so theologically ignorant they can't even articulate what their own traditions teach. And in this, Smith suggests, they are like their parents.

Myers asked if there are any data to indicate that teenagers today are any more ignorant than past generations of Americans. Not really, Smith said, but anecdotally, when he interviews older professors, they tell him that young people today are markedly less able to discuss religion to any informed degree. Atheist humanities professor Camille Paglia is also bothered by this, but for different reasons:

Can you have a vibrant culture without cult? Traditionalist conservatives say no. Dr. Paglia is inclined to agree - and says that our lazy secularism and superficial religiosity puts America at risk of succumbing to acedia, the Greek term for spiritual slothfulness. She is shocked to discover how few of her college students grasp basic biblical concepts, characters and motifs that were commonly understood one or two generations ago. This stunning loss of cultural memory renders most Western art, poetry and literature opaque.

"The only people I'm getting at my school who recognize the Bible are African-Americans," she said. "And the lower the social class of the white person, the more likely they recognize the Bible. Most of these white kids, if they go to church at all, they get feel-good social activism."

What are they left with? "Video games, the Web, cellphones, iPods - that's what's left," Dr. Paglia laments. "And that's what's going to make us vulnerable to people coming from any side, including the Muslim side, where there's fervor. Fervor will conquer apathy. I don't see how the generation trained by the Ivy League is going to have the knowledge or the resolution to defend the West."

We seem to love cultural and religious particularity, so long as it's not our own.

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