Hocus Pocus For Premiership Players

November 26, 2009

It appears some local bloggers (e.g. Ulaca and In Black and White) like to comment on football or soccer, particularly but not exclusively from England’s Premier League. I’m also a fan so I’ve been thinking about posting something about soccer but with HKSARblog’s usual skepticism about certain practices.

So how about: Desperate and Injured Premiership Players Place Faith on Placental Fluid Miracle Cure?
The media circus started when Arsenal’s star striker Robin van Persie injured his ankle a week ago when playing for Holland against Italy. The initial diagnosis was that he had a partial tear in his ankle ligaments and would be sidelined for six weeks. He then announced that he was going to Belgrade in Serbia to seek a “mysterious housewife” who apparently can help players recover quicker by using placental fluid. Initially, the media did not know much about the treatment, by first saying that the woman massaged placental fluid taken from horses on the injured area. Next, it was dripped on. And now, there are reports that injections of placental fluid are involved. No one appears to know exactly what this alternative therapy is, or who this woman is.

Despite this, it later emerged that a whole gaggle (plethora? pile? posse?) of premiership players (e.g. Liverpool’s Glen Johnson, Fabio Aurelio, Yossi Benayoun and Albert Riera; Chelsea’s Frank Lampard; Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta) and some top European players have also been treated by this “Mariana Kovacevic” who has at least three aliases and four different addresses. Why all the secrecy? Tax evasion perhaps, or something more sinister?

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger (usually considered rational, relative to other Premiership managers that is) said he “recognised the psychological benefits such a treatment may have on an injured player”. Yes, Arsene may be on to something here. As with many alternative therapies, the placebo effect can sometimes be significant.

Furthermore, we are talking here about elite athletes in the prime of their lives, whose body conditioning can be significantly different compared with “normal” people (i.e. ordinary citizens who do not maintain their bodies at above-average condition on a full-time and prolonged basis). For instance, if you treat a bunch of injured people with the same therapy and divide them in to two groups (one group being young elite athletes; the other being older, unfit and overweight people), it would not be unreasonable to perhaps expect a difference between the groups in their recovery period and performance. A good example would be swine flu: there have been cases of professional football players who have caught swine flu, and none have died. Whereas in other demographics, some people have died from swine flu.

This is why proper clinical trials should always be arranged, rather than relying on testimonies; in this case testimonies from superfit elite athletes.

Still, all this Hocus Pocus malarkey in the Premiership is interesting to follow. Eventually, the truth will out.

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Born To Run

November 11, 2009

Humans evolved to be long-distance endurance runners. An interesting New York Times article mentions the ability for humans to run long distances is an evolved trait. Apparently, having good stamina that allowed early human hunters to track their prey for long periods, spanning time and distance, was of great survival advantage.

Tracking prey for long periods over vast distances is necessary to tire out prey animals. This trait can be observed in wolves, animals also known for their ability to track their prey for long periods. Wolves are capable of covering several miles trotting at about a pace of 10 kmph (6.21 mph) and can reach speeds approaching 65 km/h (40.39 mph) during a chase.

Therefore from an evolutionary perspective it makes sense that humans generally are good distance runners. Humans have evolved to run over long distances, with world-class distance runners being at the extreme end of the scale. As mentioned previously, I admire world-class distance runners, who can run on average at sustained speeds* of:
22.82 kmph (14.18 mph) for a distance of 10,000 metres run in 26:17.53 (current record holder is Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia); and
20.42 kmph (12.69 mph) for a marathon (42.195 km) run in 2h03:59 (current record holder is Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia).

However, I don’t especially admire their physique (particularly female marathon runners):

[Paula Radcliffe, New York Marathon November 1, 2009]

In comparison, the world’s fastest man in terms of sprinting short distances is Jamaica’s Usain Bolt who sprints at 37.58 kmph (23.35 mph) over a distance of 100 metres. So a world-class marathon runner is able to run at a little over half of Bolt’s top speed over 100 metres … but can do so 422 times consecutively. This is simply astonishing.

* These times are based on men’s events

Related Blog
“Lightning” Bolt vs Duracell “Battery” Bekele


Learning Common Sense?

September 27, 2009

In the SCMP’s letters page, there was an interesting premise: “Hospital staff need to learn common sense”. This is rather like closing the stable door once the horse has bolted … only the door is probably so ridden with huge gaping holes that it is little wonder the horse escaped in the first place!!

[Stable Door, courtesy The Free Dictionary]

The premise is wishing thinking. Once people reach adulthood, their brains’ wiring is pretty much fixed on certain pathways of cognition and “reasoning”. It is extremely difficult to unlearn this and to learn some “common sense” if it has not already been instilled. This is why it is extremely difficult to teach old dogs new tricks. Besides, what is “common sense” to one person may not be so “obvious” to another.

Teaching people at a young age (i.e. at school) critical thinking skills is the best solution. The next best solution is for employers (in this case, the Hospital Authority and/or the HKSAR Government) to test job applicants and assess all current employees on their reasoning skills. This will at least help to filter out those who are just plain stupid or lazy to think and act appropriately in real time. Unfortunately, this will never happen.

Reference (SCMP; subscription required)

Hospital staff need to learn common sense
Sep 26, 2009

I was puzzled by the comments of the Hospital Authority chief on another blunder by Caritas Medical Centre staff regarding the treatment of a seven-year-old boy with an eye injury (“Hospitals chief defends Caritas staff member”, September 21).

Shane Solomon said that “what the clerk was doing was to implement the policy”.

One would have expected that further to the blunder in December of last year (when a man collapsed with a heart attack outside Caritas Medical Centre and later died), instead of reviewing policies and procedures and probably implementing new ones, the authority would have tried to promote the concept of common sense with its staff.

What kind of place are we living in when it is fine to simply “implement the policy” for HK$700 without caring for a seven-year-old boy?

Any patient has the right to expect Hospital Authority staff, of whatever the rank, from receptionist to neurosurgeon, to be equipped with some common sense and a conviction that they are paid by the public to help and care for the public.

At the very least, if they feel that they are not in a position to bend the rules for a good cause, they should call a supervisor who hopefully will be able to make a correct decision.

Raphael Blot, Sai Kung


What’s The Story Morning Glory?

August 30, 2009

I love the fact that these strange phenomenal tubular atmospheric condensations are called Morning Glory clouds! The name reminded me of the delicious stir-fried tubular vegetables, albeit tangled, that are so popular here.


Even better, their formation (these clouds appear every autumn over Burketown, Queensland, Australia) remains clouded in mystery. Ta da (had to get that remark in)!! There’s obviously a meteorological explanation, but as yet no scientist has come up with a reasonable one.

Reference Mysterious Tubular Clouds Defy Explanation (Wired Science)


Chinese Cherry Picking

August 21, 2009

The following sentence sounds pretty lucky: “Eight [people] work at the “888” noodle shop in the basement of the Cameron Centre in Cameron Road” … until you realize these “lucky eight” were victims who succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Do people (i.e. numerologists, Chinese astrologists, Fung Shui practitioners, and those who believe in such Hocus Pocus) take notice of the “lucky” number eight in such negative situations? Clearly not. It is human nature that people only pay attention to “lucky” numbers that confirm their biases and will usually ignore any incidents that reject their predetermined view.

Related Post Chinese Fiddlesticks!

Reference (SCMP; subscription required)

10 ill after inhaling gas at noodle shop
Clifford Lo
Aug 13, 2009

Ten people at a Japanese-style noodle shop in Tsim Sha Tsui ended up in hospital yesterday when the ventilation system broke, raising carbon monoxide levels to 20 times the standard level.

Eight of the victims work at the “888” noodle shop in the basement of the Cameron Centre in Cameron Road. There was also one customer – a three-year-old boy – and a man who works in a ground-floor shop.

Last night a 27-year-old man was in serious condition in Queen Elizabeth Hospital and the others had been discharged.

Six fire engines, eight ambulances and a mobile casualty treatment centre were dispatched after the restaurant workers complained of inhaling gas and feeling unwell just before 2pm. Most said they felt dizzy or were having difficulty breathing. They were connected to oxygen masks after being carried into ambulances.

Police cordoned off a section of Cameron Road while firemen wearing breathing apparatus and carrying gas detectors were tracing the source of the gas. Shops at ground level were ordered to close until about 6pm.

Workers from the Drainage Services Department were called in to open the covers of nearby manholes to carry out checks. The Fire Services Department said there was a high concentration of carbon monoxide in the restaurant and an initial investigation showed it had been caused by a faulty ventilation system.

Lo Kam-wing, Tsim Sha Tsui fire station commander, said the level of carbon monoxide at one time was 20 times higher than the standard level.

“Carbon monoxide is a colourless and odourless gas. Inhaling the gas makes it difficult to breathe and you feel dizzy,” he said.

A fire officer said the gas level was raised because there was no fresh air being pumped into the restaurant.

Choi Kin, former president of the Medical Association, said the percentage of carbon monoxide in fresh air was low and it would not have a fatal effect even if the level was 20 times higher than normal. However, inhaling large amounts could cause suffocation and brain damage.


“Lightning” Bolt vs Duracell “Battery” Bekele

August 19, 2009

How fast can you run 100m and how many times can you repeat it consecutively?

I’m simply amazed at how fast elite athletes run. At the 2009 Athletics World Championships in Berlin, we have seen Usain Bolt of Jamaica running 100m in a world record time of 9.58 seconds, and then Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia running 10,000m in a championship record time of 26 minutes 45.11 seconds.


[Usain Bolt (L) and Kenenisa Bekele (R)]

Having recently started to run on the athletics track, I am in awe of what elite athletes achieve, particularly middle- and long-distance runners.

Even though Bolt smashed the 100m world record (a remarkable feat), I am more inclined to be amazed at the pace set by middle-distance runners like Bekele and fellow Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie, and by long-distance runners.

To put it into context, Bekele completed 10,000m in 26 minutes 45.11 seconds. Essentially, he ran the 100m in 16.05 seconds one hundred times. That to me is incredible … non-stop sprinting for about 27 minutes. At a guess, Bolt can probably run 100m at a steady pace (say, 12 or 13 seconds) for perhaps 10 or 20 times non-stop before his pace drops dramatically.

And yes, there is a difference in body make up, with powerful explosive sprinters having a preponderance of fast twitch muscles, while middle- and long-distance athletes having a predominance of slow twitch muscles. That’s the physiological difference: explosive but short-lived performance versus endurance.


Do you recognize that there is a difference between those two numbers?

August 18, 2009

The following YouTube soundclip is a great example of irrationality (and ignorance, and stupidity, and whatever else …) at work! Enjoy.

Reference: FailBlog.org

Caller: Do you recognize that there is a difference between one dollar and one cent?
Manager: Definitely

Caller: Do you recognize that there is a difference between half a dollar and half a cent?
Manager: Definitely

Caller: Then do you recognize that there is a difference between 0.002 dollars and 0.002 cents?
Manager: No

Caller: Honestly!
Manager: Well, it’s obviously a difference of opinion.

Caller: It’s NOT opinion!