Wednesday, May 30, 2018

U Of Texas: Masculinity Is A Mental Health Issue

By Professor Doom

     One of the many problems on campus today is how males are targeted to the point of being second class citizens. As faculty, I’ve been warned against giving homework and tests, because these things discourage students…but admin doesn’t understand how creating a climate of hatred against males is discouraging male students from coming to campus (60% of graduates are female for reasons, after all).

      It’s isn’t just the endless “we need more females in STEM” promotions on our campuses, the systemic sexism on our campuses really does make males think they are the problem.

     To be fair, these sorts of initiations don’t simultaneously come from all departments. There’s usually a specific origin:

The Counseling and Mental Health Center at the University of Texas at Austin recently launched a new program to help male students “take control over their gender identity and develop a healthy sense of masculinity.”
--emphasis added.

     I really do remember a time when campuses were all about education and research, and campuses were composed of departments, each focusing on particular academic fields. Today, campuses are spit up into little fiefdoms, each filled with assorted Vice Presidents determined to find something to do; academic departments are now an afterthought, a mere curlicue on the new university mission of supporting the administrative fiefdoms.

     So it is that instead of Pyschology Departments handling this sort of thing, we have “Counseling and Mental Health Centers” doing what no university would consider doing a generation ago.

The program is predicated on a critique of so-called “restrictive masculinity.” Men, the program argues, suffer when they are told to “act like a man” or when they are encouraged to fulfill traditional gender roles, such as being “successful” or “the breadwinner.”

     Seriously, what’s happened to us as a people that being successful, acquiring enough resources to raise a family, are considered bad things, goals which are problematic for a man to pursue? Imagine being raised in a normal home environment where these goals are encouraged, and then coming to campus and being told that what you’ve learned in your family is wrongthink? Having this new point of view given to you by a $150,000 a year Vice President of Man-Hating is going to give a mixed, confusing message to be sure.

Though you might enjoy “taking care of people” or being “active,” MasculinUT warns that many of these attributes are actually dangerous,

     Holy cow. If I were the suspicious sort (though I guess I am), I could interpret the above as saying “you shouldn’t take care of people, let the government do it” and “don’t be active, become a couch potato, sit home and trust your government-supplied news, and get your health care from the government…”. 
     Perhaps that’s a bit paranoid, but for thousands of years, it was understood that a proper male did indeed take care of the people he loved, and engaged in rigorous physical activity—a gymnasium was a place both for exercise and intellectual pursuit in the ancient world, after all. Today a gymnasium is just for exercise, and they don’t want males doing even that.

      Why are our universities now teaching the exact opposite of the wisdom humanity accumulated over thousands of years? A healthy body really does contribute to a healthy mind, and we’ve known this for a very long time…but the university is negating this belief, for some reason.

“If you are a male student at UT reading this right now, we hope that learning about this helps you not to feel guilty about having participated in these definitions of masculinity, and instead feel empowered to break the cycle!” the program offers.

     Males need help to not feel guilty? Break the cycle of life which has created the most advanced civilization this planet has ever produced? If we’re really going to reject thousands of years of knowledge, shouldn’t we do so for a good reason beyond “maybe the students aren’t happy with this wisdom”? Seriously, is there nobody on campus cognitively able to question this new initiative?

The program is currently without leadership, but not for long. The school is in the process of hiring a “healthy masculinities coordinator” to run the program…

     Am I truly alone in thinking it ridiculous that “leadership” is defined as “mindlessly following the new narrative”? Is there truly nobody who finds the title “Healthy Masculinities Coordinator” a bit Orwellian in that this coordinator will be promoting the exact opposite of what “healthy masculinity” has meant for thousands of years? Does anyone think maybe this is a strange title to find on a university campus?

While many schools now have similar programs, this appears to be the first run directly out of a Counseling and Mental Health Center.

     As the article a bit too subtly points out, this isn’t just a problem at University of Texas. Many of our schools are now pursuing social engineering, tearing down the foundations which allowed us to build a great society in the past.

There is no evidence that masculinity itself contributes to violence. Universities that run similar programs, such as UNC-Chapel Hill and Northwestern, have admitted that their programming isn’t supported by any evidence.

     Yes, this destroying of the foundations of our culture is unsupported by any evidence…and yet our schools are still doing it. It’s a shame none of our “leaders” in higher education can ask “why?” but allow me to offer a very simple answer.

     Our schools are drowning in fiefdoms filled with very highly paid administrators, far, far, far, more than could ever be justified for the university missions of education and research. These guys have to give themselves a job to do, and they do not care if there’s no reason for it, no evidence indicating their job is necessary. If it turns out what they’re doing is a disaster, that’s a bonus—you’ll just establish another fiefdom to fix the problems created by the anti-masculinity fiefdom.

       And so again I come to the student loan scam, which provides the money for these people who’ve given themselves the job of destroying a system which has created so much wealth it can pay them, exorbitantly, to do it. Just end the student loan scam already.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Illinois University: Cut Faculty Pay To Zero

By Professor Doom

     It’s so hard to keep up with the collapse of higher education. One of the big problems is administration; our universities are so overloaded with overpaid admin that they no longer can afford to have full time faculty. So far, they’ve addressed this issue with providing minimal pay and harsh working conditions to “adjunct” faculty, who receive so little they qualify for welfare.

       Soon, these will be the lucky ones. A recent request from a functionary at Southern Illinois University highlights how this school will deal with the “no money for teachers because admin is taking it all” problem:

…seeking qualified alumni to join the SIU Graduate Faculty in a zero-time (adjunct) status.

     “Zero-time” is admin-speak for volunteer. So, instead of adjuncts getting sub-minimum wage and no benefits, this school wants to get adjuncts to work for, quite literally, nothing.

     I feel the need to highlight the functionary here. His name is Michael Molino, and his title is (big inhale): Southern Illinois University Associate Dean for Budget, Personnel, and Research. Seriously, the length of the title is a hint there’s a problem here: we have so many deanlings on our campus that they can only distinguish themselves from one another by lengthy titles. If we ever do decide to restore sanity on our campuses, the first rule will be to eliminate any position whose title is twice as long as the name as the title holder. It’s disturbing how the majority of administrators I quote in this blog could not keep their jobs based on this rule. Do note: this guy is just the “associate” Dean…presumably there’s at least one Dean above him (and likely an Assistant Dean of Yaddayaddayadda below him as well).

      Now, maybe these “volunteer” adjuncts are just getting called adjuncts, and aren’t actual academics?

“…they will generally hold an academic doctorate or other terminal degree as appropriate for the field.”

     I’ve mentioned the Ph.D. glut a few times, but this is ridiculous. Do we really have so many jobless Ph.D.s floating around that they’d honestly do volunteer work? Perhaps they won’t actually do the job of faculty? Let’s see what is being asked of these volunteers:

…service on graduate student thesis committees, teaching specific graduate or undergraduate lectures in one’s area of expertise, service on departmental or university committees, and collaborations on grant proposals and research projects...

     Um…that’s a faculty member’s job. It used to be, the entire purpose of a university was teaching and research. Today’s universities exist only to support the administrative class, and thus it is that now they’re seriously considering volunteers to do the “extraneous” things like teach or perform research.

     I can’t make this stuff up.

     Could this get more insulting? Absolutely! Not only are they looking for volunteers to do what used to be the primary mission of higher education, these volunteers will have administration watching over them:

…appointments are for 3-year periods, and can be renewed. 

     Wow, how hard up do you need to be to consider, after spending a decade or more getting a Ph.D., working for absolutely nothing for 3 years, and after that, you’ll have to beg if you want to keep the “job”?

      I…can’t make this stuff up. This really is how insane administration is today, that they honestly think they’re going to get volunteers with the utmost of credentials, and they’ll have so many that they believe they can possibly “thin the herd” every 3 years. I admit, I live in a bit of a bubble in my ivory tower…is there any organization or field out there with so many top tier candidates they honestly have a problem with too many volunteers willing to work full time for free for three years or more?

      The school is being rightfully roasted over this, and has an official response:

"This is a proposed pilot project developed in collaboration with the SIU Alumni Association to connect qualified alumni with our students as mentors to enhance – not replace – the work of our faculty…

      Yeah, right, and if you buy that I’ve a wide selection of bridges I can sell you. The statement above, incidentally, comes from the (big inhale): Interim Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Meera Komarraju. Seriously, the titles alone really do tell the tale of what’s going on in higher ed today.

      If this school manages to acquire volunteer faculty, it will be pretty much over for higher ed. How can anyone possibly think education is a key to a better life when the most educated people in our country will literally be begging to be unpaid volunteers?

     This e-mail/atrocity is making the rounds, and some of the comments highlight the larger issues here:

I think we need a zero time volunteer chancellor

     It’s funny how getting rid of the excess administration is never on the table, no matter how severe the financial troubles the school claims to have. In times past, many administrative positions were volunteer positions. This may sound strange, but the Dean really only needs to do “Dean things” for a few hours a week, and then only when classes were in session. Because of this, a faculty member would take over as Dean; he might get a little extra money, he might get to teach one fewer class that semester…or he might just get kudos for his volunteer service to the institution. Because the pay, if any, was so minimal, most faculty didn’t serve as Dean for years on end, just a year or two before going back.

      But now these full time mercenary deanlings have flooded our campuses, to the point that, yes, there is no money left over for faculty pay. This place has had mass layoffs because there’s “no money,” so they’re trying this volunteer gambit.  I sure hope it doesn’t work.

       Inside Higher Education also covered this, and another issue was brought up in the comments section:

“…these appointments will probably be used to boost SIU’s placement rates.”

     The Federal government, as well as the general population, is slowly figuring out this Ph.D. mill business, responsible for the glut of Ph.D.’s. So schools are now reporting “placement,” in other words reporting how many of their graduates are actually getting jobs. The e-mail is targeting alumni of the school, and you better believe that the school will say these alumni “are in academia” when it comes to reporting how successful their graduates are. That the alumni will be “working” not simply a low paid adjunct position, but as a full on volunteer “we don’t care if you starve to death with that education we sold to you for hundreds of thousands of dollars” position will be left out of any reporting.

     There’s a part of me that really respects the brutal ruthlessness of admin here, as getting these volunteers would simultaneously free up more money to flow into administrative pockets and increase those “placement rates.” Brilliant.

     While our schools are reduced now to seeking out volunteers to do the teaching and research, our total student loan debt in this country is around $1.5 trillion dollars. It’s clear that quite soon literally none of the future student loan money will be going towards education, so can we just end the student loan scam now?


Thursday, May 24, 2018

College Students Slutting It Up

By Professor Doom

     A century ago, our culture respected “college boys,” kids who not only graduated high school, but managed to get accepted into college. Yes, “college boys” tended to be wealthy, so there was certainly some elitism here, but the fact remained that going to college was considered an honorable, respectable, achievement, and a sign of future success (a sign that was fairly accurate back then).

      I don’t want to come across as elitist, but nothing has denigrated the value and respect of going to college, much less a college degree, than opening up admissions to everyone. In the name of growth (and fatter paychecks for the folks running the places), most of our institutions have changed their polices to be open admission. Being a “college boy” is as much an achievement as buying a cheeseburger.

      In addition to allowing entrance to everyone, many of our campuses turned into playgrounds at best, and indoctrination camps at worst. I’ve covered the ideologically induced riots a few times, but there’s more damage being done here than just the riots:

     The “slutty sheep” reference above is in regards to the sexual promiscuity on our campuses. Every campus of any size (and all campuses do all they can to be as large as possible) has a “meat market” nearby where college kids go to drink and copulate with abandon.

…their sexual promiscuity is practically the only part of their lives that their colleges refuse to police…

     I know how bizarre my next anecdote sounds, but I feel the need to add my eyewitness testimony. A friend of mine’s daughter was born, and I watched her grow up for 18 years.  She grew up into a pretty young woman, smart (she scored higher than I did on those standardized tests), and barely dated in high school. Darn near the first thing she did when she went to a top tier university? Register on Tinder to find males to copulate with. I got to be there for the fallout/bailouts as these “relationships” consistently ended badly.

      I’ve certainly heard many similar stories, as well as seen with my own eyes. We really, really, need to start asking questions about what happened in our culture that makes such behavior commonplace. Tinder exists for a reason, so I don’t think my anecdote should be discounted.

The author of Excellent Sheep, which fleshes out his views on the failure of elite education, told the Franciscan crowd that most students nowadays think that being intellectual simply means getting good grades.

      I grant every generation of scholars says things much like the above, so much of it can be discounted. But there is a grain of relevant truth here:

He began assigning A-minus grades to students whose papers simply checked all the necessary boxes for an A but didn’t add any real insight, while working with those students to help them find their own intellectual voice.

    Educationist theory has warped quite a bit of higher education, and the article only implicitly touches on one way it’s been deformed. While in the past, your papers were “must be 10 pages, must have 6 references” and past that it was up to the professor to grade them, today’s assignments often have “grading rubrics,” a page of boxes, of moronic guidelines that tell the student exactly what to include in the assignment, and when, and how, in what order, in what way. So now students follow a “paint by numbers” approach to assignments, checking off boxes to get their guaranteed A (or in this case, A-). Rubrics make grading easy enough that the professor’s job can be automated…we really should resist this stuff, for several good reasons.

“…students go into fields including law, medicine and finance because they assume it will yield a lucrative career, not because they actually have a passion for those disciplines.”

     Allow me to put in my obligatory rant against the student loan scam here. All the money flowing into higher education has forced the reasonable students to abandon scholarly work, and they know their only hope of paying off their student loans is to choose a field which, hopefully pays well. The authors complain, rightfully, that they don’t get students interested in academics anymore, but somehow don’t realize the student loan scam is another reason for this, with open admissions supplemental to the problem.

“…colleges only act in the place of a parent selectively, Guroian said: If colleges are policing alcohol and drug use, why aren’t they policing where and when students are in situations where they can behave promiscuously?”

     The author mostly focuses on the sexual escapades which seem to be the focus of many students, but seem to miss other issues on campus. Yes, our schools do indeed police alcohol and drug use, but it’s important to understand schools also guide our students into a certain ideology, to the point that some schools even employ commissars to police student activity on social media (i.e., off campus). We truly have thought police on campus today, and they even reach off campus…the author doesn’t seem to know that the ideology being enforced rather supports sexual profligacy.

He believes colleges are “unreformable,” and that any attempt at reining in the problem of sexual libertinism will only cause more problems.

     I’m not ready to throw in the towel here. If we just shut down the student loan scam, I strongly suspect the student base will drop considerably, and that much of the remaining students will be more focused on education than copulation. I think it’s a risk worth taking.

Guroian said he’s “dreading the idea” of his grandchildren reaching college age.

     There is no greater damning sign of higher education than having professors tell their kids “don’t do what I’ve done, do not get into academia,” and yet that’s what we’re seeing here. I already saw it myself when I was at a scammy community college, and saw the looks of disgust on my co-workers and boss’s faces when I suggested their kids come to the community college.

     There are many issues plaguing higher ed today, and our leaders in the media and education scream that these issues are unimportant, not worthy of addressing. A simple test to see if they believe their own words? Find out what they’re doing with their kids after the kids graduate high school.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Education Schools: The Source of Campus Anti-White Racism

     The massive student loan scam is slamming our kids into a lifetime of debt slavery, but this fact just can’t seem to get into the news. On the other hand, scarcely a day goes by without one more “racial” scandal in higher ed, usually with another faculty or administrator coming out against the “epidemic” of racism supposedly plaguing our campuses, followed shortly thereafter with admin unleashing another “bold” plan in “response” to this newfound “problem.”

     Now, administrators get their administrative degrees from Administration departments, and these departments are often nested inside of, or strongly associated with, education departments on campus. It’s no stretch to consider their sick obsession with identifying the ills of racism is coming from the schools of Education on campus.

      Similarly, when some faculty comes up with another crazy “[common thing] is RACIST” idea, it only takes a bit of digging to realize the faculty is someone with some sort of Education degree…and again, it’s easy to conjecture their strange obsession must be coming from the school of Education, where so many of the other problems of higher education come from.

      I made such an argument in my book, years ago, but I’ve been far more concerned with how higher ed is creating victims and destroying all standards. A recent article by Lyell Asher, “How Ed Schools Became A Menace,” in the Chronicle of Higher Education, investigates the School of Education—Anti-White Racism relationship. It’s a fine piece but, sadly, behind a pay wall. Allow me to hit some highlights and add additional commentary.

Ed schools, such as Teachers College of Columbia…have trained and certified most of the nation’s public school teachers and administrators in the past half-century. But in the last 20 years especially, ed schools have been offering advanced degrees in things like “educational leadership,” “higher education management,”…

     Again, I’ve mentioned before the plethora of silly Administrative Doctorate degrees, and I even entered such a doctoral program so that I could review the entire curricula, and see with my own eyes what frauds these degrees are, at least relative to actual academic degrees.

The schools have long been notorious for two mutual reinforcing characteristics: ideological orthodoxy and low academic standards.

     The author goes on to quote deans at Harvard’s school of Education, with the Deans noting how what was going on in those departments was un-intellectual. The reader should note this observation was made in 1969, when administrators were also scholars, and thus were saying this as a negative, unlike today, where deans have insufficient academic background to understand that being un-intellectual is a bad thing for a university department.

     The author notes that nothing has changed since those observations from 1969, at least according to a more recent study:

…education-administration programs range from “inadequate to appalling, even at some of the country’s leading universities,”…with “no quality floor.”

     That “no quality floor” comment is revealing, as it does much to explain why I kept running into people with administrative/education doctorates who clearly had serious issues with reading comprehension, extraordinary weakness in their writing skills (I emphasize these were people for whom English was their only language), and additionally had no trouble demonstrating no academic knowledge, talent, or appreciation.

     When there’s “no floor” on what a graduate should be able to do, you can go quite low, after all.

    This also explains why, when I was at sketchy schools, these people often viewed me as a loon (or punished me, if I was under them in the hierarchy) for having standards. Being “trained” in an “academic” “discipline” where there is no floor, neither at the graduate nor undergraduate level, they probably had no understanding of the entire concept of standards.

     As an aside, however, I feel the need to point out these people honestly  believe successful teaching is simply making sure all students get an “A.” I’m not a bad person, of course I want people to succeed…but if the skills we’re supposedly teaching are so trivial that everyone can instantly achieve perfect mastery of them, why should a degree take 4 years and cost over $100,000?

     The author then extensively discusses the “micro-aggression” madness infecting our campuses today, by focusing on the key paper “Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life.” Again, I’ve discussed the micro-aggression issue, but author focuses on how the entire concept is formulated as though it were certainly true, that these infinitesimally small “insults” really do exist, and he uses this to explain the other aspect (in addition to un-intellectualism) which our leaders in higher ed are increasingly famous for: ideological demagoguery.

     He highlights how our administrators are increasingly inserting themselves into our student’s lives. Now, I grant with so many administrators on campus, there’s little else for them to do, but with an ideology all about “everything is racist” and “we must battle the evil racists at every turn!,” the author has a great point here.

      So it is unsurprising that dorm life now includes mandatory ideological training (in addition to indoctrination camps for the faculty), to entire campuses having anti-white days (where whites are not allowed on campus, under penalty of violence to their person), to explicitly racist hiring policies, to lecturing students on Halloween costumes, and all the rest.

      Our leaders are, bottom line, trained in this ideology as they get their Administration degrees. Moreover, they’re trained in nothing else.

      Students get this stuff crammed down their throats from day one. It used to be orientation programs took an afternoon, and showed students where everything was on campus. Now, “orientation” takes an entire semester, and students become indoctrinated into concepts such as “toxic masculinity,”
“white privilege,” “there are 23 genders,” and on and on and on.

“…”racism” is something only white people can be guilty of. As with Newspeak in Orwell’s 1984…”

--at least I’m not the only one seeing Orwellian concepts being adopted regularly on our campuses…

     The problem with this ideological training is no discourse is allowed, and so there is no questioning of the beliefs being imprinted. Words are redefined to the point that it becomes impossible to even formulate a counter-argument. If “racism” can only be done by white people, what word do you use when non-whites practice racism?

      Even in the dorms, students get no escape, and the author talks about how resident advisors are being transformed into “resident educators,” obligated to teach students about things “beyond the classroom.” Since this “bonus” education is not being done by academics and scholars, the curriculum can be the only thing admin knows about: yes, more ideology!

     Back to the main thesis of this long article. A big part of why our schools are now all converging to ideological hellholes (at the risk of triggering our mainstream media with such a word) is our leaders are all getting their training from the Schools of Education on various campuses.

     In times past the administration was drawn from faculty, so your dean might be a chemistry professor, your provost might be an English professor, and so on. No, they weren’t trained in “leadership,” but somehow, for centuries, selecting leaders like this allowed for considerable diversity of thought on our campuses, and our universities led humanity to the modern world.

     Now all our “leaders” come from one system, hold only one system of belief, and despite their degrees in “Diversity of Leadership Excellence,” they are monomaniacal in thought, have no leadership skills, and are consistently degrading higher education into a system where the exact opposite of excellence is the outcome.

      So, what we have here is a well-researched paper with a solid argument that the anti-white racism occurring on many of our campuses is simply an outgrowth of choosing our leadership of those campuses from a department notorious for adhering to an ideology which strongly embraces anti-white racism.

      While I still maintain ending the student loan scam will do much to reversing the downward spiral of our higher education system, based on this research, I concede that we should also close down all departments of Education as well.

      Too bad this article is behind a pay wall, as more people should see this sort of thing. I’m kidding myself, the only thing that gets publicity is finding yet another thing being RACIST…but I can nevertheless hope that someday rational thinking will be back in vogue.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Statistical Drugs: Depression and Cholesterol

By Professor Doom

     It’s summer, higher education slows a bit, and I get to consider other things. So, we have another depressing headline in the news:

CDC: Teen suicide rate up 70% from 2006 to 2016

     This is a pretty hefty increase over a mere decade. Some news sites are trying to spin this as inadequate medical coverage, but I’m not buying it.  Americans are the most medicated population on the planet, though we pay very dearly for those drugs, even when insured. It’s not just teens in any event, suicide rates in general are increasing in this country.  

     But wait just a minute here. Anti-depressant drugs are very easily prescribed, doctors pass them out all the time—when I was diagnosed with cancer, the doc had a bottle in my hand very quickly (I refused to take them, almost certainly a great decision on my part).

     These things really are being passed out like candy on Halloween:

Between 2011 and 2014, approximately one in nine Americans of all ages reported taking at least one antidepressant medication in the past month, according to national survey data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Three decades ago, less than one in 50 people did.

     Now, the ol’ “conspiracy theory” sites say these drugs are useless, and doctors who claim such things (there are a few) generally have their careers smashed but…the bottom line is we have over 30 million Americans taking drugs to offset depression, the most debilitating symptom of which is death by suicide.

     And yet the suicide rates are increasing.

     These drugs supposedly help based on statistical studies.

      Now, I know a thing or two about statistics, and I know how trivial it is to manipulate statistics in a study to say whatever you want. To get a drug approved, a drug company need only bribe convince our government into saying the drug works, and all that takes is money a statistical study.

      These studies typically have only a few dozen people, maybe a few hundred, and this study might be performed over a few weeks, perhaps a year. On the basis of such studies we’ve now inflicted these drugs on more than 30,000,000 human beings, for decades. Most importantly, we’re giving these drugs to human beings which our doctors believe are most vulnerable to the most debilitating symptom of depression, suicide. If these drugs really helped, we’d be seeing a reduction in suicide in general statistics for the population.

      In short, I have a study with 30,000,000 subjects on a drug which is supposed to reduce the suicide rate over the course of years…and the rate has gone up, dramatically. So…how exactly are these drugs helping? There are various studies saying these drugs are addictive, these drugs have very harmful side effects (including, amazingly enough, suicide), and so on, but challenging these studies is completely irrelevant, because we now have unbiased data more powerful than any study performed by the drug companies, which shows the drugs aren’t helping (it’s possible society is just so horrible now that the rates would be far worse without the drugs…but I just don’t buy that one at all, not without extraordinary evidence).

      I could toss in how there’s a strong link between these types of psychotropic drugs and mass shootings but, again, it’s beside the point. It would be up to the philosophers to decide if the occasional mass murder was worth it in exchange for helping millions of people. We need not consider this, however, because the evidence doesn’t show these drugs helping the general populace at all.

      I’m no doctor, and you must of course follow your heart regarding taking these kinds of drugs. I totally understand how one might take these drugs in desperation, and the placebo effect is legitimate enough that even if the drugs are worthless medically, they might still have a benefit in the short run for an individual.

      But, bottom line, in terms of statistics? I deeply dispute studies performed by the drug companies or a corrupt government taking money from the drug companies (i.e., with a conflict of interest, direct or indirect) which say these drugs do much against the worst side effect of depression, because the general evidence says, if anything, these drugs are increasing the rate of suicide.

     I was confronted with another statistical drug recently. I’m easily in the last half of my life, so I went to the doctor for my first checkup in five years.

Doc: “Your cholesterol level is high, I’m going to put you on some statins.”
Me: “How high? What are my risks here? How safe are these statins?”
Doc: “You’re at a 15% elevated risk of a heart attack. You need to take these drugs for life.”
Me: “Hmm. Okeedoke.”

--pretty much the conversation I had with the doctor, a young man who struck me as fairly bright. It really was surprising that concepts such as “diet” and “exercise” didn’t come up.

     We’re really at the stage of “big data” for our drugs, where benefits are not determined by direct observation, but by statistical manipulation. Now, I grant I’m no athlete, but I’m fairly active, go up and down 4 flights of stairs without any issues (I teach in an old building, built before elevators, but does have nice views of the modern administrative palaces on campus), go to the gym and lift weights weekly, and no specific health problems. Checking the ol’ stats, I see I have around a 1% chance of having a heart issue/heart disease, based on my age, gender, and race. That’s an average, and I’m pretty sure my fitness level, minimal drinking, no smoking, good diet, and having no health issues will put me in that area (no family history of heart disease, either), give or take a few tenths of a percent.

      So the doc says I have a 15% elevated risk. Now that sounds like a lot, and I imagine most people get suckered by hearing it expressed that way. But I know the math, and I know that now my chance of a heart attack (again focusing on the worst effect of what the drug should prevent) soars from 0.01 all way up to 0.0115.

      With effects this small, this is another statistical drug, you really need to look at a sizeable part of the population to have any hope of determining any benefit. The gentle reader should compare these drugs to say, aspirin, where the fever-reducing effects are immediately noticeable on any lone individual who takes a few pills—you don’t have to study a few hundred people over the course of a year to calculate a few tenths’ of a percent improvement with aspirin.

     So, the doc says if I take the drugs (and they work perfectly) we’ll have a reduction in heart attack/death here, changing my percentage from a low 1.15% all the way down to 1%. That’s not so easy to visualize.

      Hmm. Let’s put that in terms most people can more easily understand. Under the assumption these drugs were perfectly effective, then a group of 700 males like me who used these drugs would see 7 heart attacks in a year (i.e., 700 times 1%), while a group of 700 who didn’t use the drugs would see 8 heart attacks in a year (i.e., 700 times 1.15%, or 8.05 heart attacks—I’m rounding a bit).

      8 heart attacks without the drugs, but 7 for the group using the drugs for this group of 700, and you could scale that for any group size. So, if I don’t take the drugs, the chance of that decision hurting me is 1/700. Hey, heart attacks are bad things, and if these drugs were completely harmless, I’d have no problem doing something to give even a piffling 1/700 chance of not having a heart attack.

       But these drugs do have side effects. They increase the rate of diabetes (I’m citing an official medical site, not a conspiracy by any means), and diabetes dramatically increases the chance of all other health issues, including heart attacks, by far more than 1/700. I’ve a family history of diabetes so I’m pretty motivated not to get it. The drugs also might well cause dementia and memory problems…I like having a functional brain, so another strike against taking these drugs.

     Do these drugs even work? Well, the doc says a 15% increased rate, so they must have been studied pretty hard. To quote me that number, he must have been given a margin of error of 0.0005. A quick check of the sample size for this margin of error shows a study of around 80,000 people much like me, for a year (assuming 95% confidence, with an estimated 1% chance) must have been done at some point.

      I would have liked to have seen that study, as that’s basically a very large proportion of the population with stats somewhat like me…I don’t know anyone who was in it (and I know plenty of people in my age group), nor could I find evidence of such a study being performed. There are at least a dozen age/sex/race categories, so assuming they did this for every group indicated, we’re talking a clinical trial of over a few million people for over a year. I don’t think it actually happened despite the doctor’s confidence. Hmm, just how many numbers are simply being made up, here?

     On the other hand, we have been using the population of this country to experiment with this drug. 25,000,000 Americans take statins now, and, much like with anti-depressants, these drugs are given to people who, supposedly, are most vulnerable to heart disease (if I can use the formal description for a range of heart-related issues, though like the general public I’ll simply express this a as a heart attack).

     With such a massive prescribing of drugs to reduce heart disease, we totally should see a reduction in the general population, right? Statins were first introduced in the late 80s. Again, I focus on the worst effect of a bad heart: death. So, are deaths from heart disease decreasing?

     It turns out, they are. More for males than females, even, and I’ll just consider males for statistics here.

     From 1990 (when these drugs started being given to nigh everyone) to 2014 (most recent stats), heart disease deaths dropped almost 10%. That’s pretty impressive. Is all of this due to the minor benefits (at best) claimed by the drugs? That drop doesn’t even cover what the doctor told me, 15%, for my particular numbers, and these drugs are supposedly more effective for more “at risk” people. Have we truly made absolutely no other medical advances in the last 24 years? It really seems like there have been improvements in medicine in the last generation.

     My suspicions aroused, I look harder at the data. I note that from 1969 (earliest stats provided above) to 1990, deaths from heart disease dropped 14% Seriously, the rate was dropping faster without the drugs. So…again I’m pretty wary of using these drugs, as unbiased statistical evidence points in the exact opposite direction which the drug company claims. (Scaling for population changes over this time period, incidentally, only makes these drugs look more irrelevant.)

     The gentle reader must, of course, follow his heart. I do encourage you to make an informed opinion, however. (I again consider the possibility that perhaps we’re damaging our hearts so much that death rate would be worse without the drugs, but again I would need to see some extraordinary evidence to accept this as a possibility.)

     Personally, I filled the prescription, but I’ll not be taking the drugs. The doctor is only claiming a 1/700 chance that I’d be helped by them, after all, and that’s the best case scenario of assuming no negative side effects, assuming there have been no heart-related medical advances in the last 24 years, and assuming the empirical evidence of the 21 years before that is falsified. I’m willing to bet 1/700th of my life against at least one of those assumptions being invalid.

       I personally find more realistic options, such as cutting down sugar, losing weight, and fast walking a mile a day on the new treadmill, are more likely to help me…admittedly, “more likely to help” is a pretty low bar than what the doc offered. I’ll let you know how well my plan works out after a few months.

       If I suddenly stop posting, well…1/700 is greater than zero, and disregarding doctor’s orders always has risks. Like I said, follow your heart.