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The difference between good journalism and …

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…pure shit is a thin one. Consider two articles that came out recently regarding the action of Sri Lankan bowler Suraj Randiv in their last ODI match against India.

Bit of the background: India needed one to win with plenty of overs to go, Sehwag was on 99, threshold of a well-deserved century. Randiv bowls a no-ball that galli-cricket players would be ashamed of, India has won and Sehwag doesn’t get the century even though he hit the ball for a six!

Sehwag being Sehwag, dispenses with any diplomatic niceties in the post-match questioning and asserts that Randiv did this on purpose. As you can imagine, this  incident unleashes a stupid shit-storm in the Indian media which completely over-reacts (wait! where have I heard that one before?). Even more surprisingly, though Randiv admitted his lack of sportsmanship and apologized personally to Sehwag, he was banned for a match by the Sri Lankan board!

Well, that was pretty much the gist of Sambit Bal’s (someone I often do not agree with) article in Cricinfo concerning the incident, with the perfect summation of the situation:

The bowler apologised, the batsman accepted; where do the rest of us come in?

Good stuff.

OTOH, Anand Vasu, former Cricinfo editor, tries to make the same point in Hindustan Times but with far less conviction. Firstly, he tries to make some  bizarre  analogy with breaking law in real life (speeding, drunk driving etc) and breaking law in cricket! This doesn’t really hold, since Randiv did not break any laws  (a better comparison may have been holding the lift door open for someone and not being an ass and pressing ‘Close Door’, yes you know who you are).

He also appeals with an anecdote from Chandu Borde showing gamesmanship has always existed:

Chandu Borde, who played at a time when cricket happened at a much gentler pace, recounted his experience. “When Gary Sobers was batting against us on 199, we ran him out by bringing in the field. We could have allowed him to make a double ton but we did not,” said Borde. “The lines between fair and unfair play have blurred.”

Really? Since when is running out, or dismissing a batsman unfair play? Don’t all teams like to put pressure on batsmen when they’re at 99/199/299 etc ? This wasn’t a question of trying to dismiss Sehwag, there wasn’t even a whiff for SL to win the match. The action, without doubt, was classless (but again, not worthy of so much controversy). A similar Indian action would have been to deny Murali his 800th wicket in the test match earlier this year (or if Pakistan had denied Kumble the 10-fer during that famous match).

But the ultimate zinger is this:

Closer home and specific to the latest controversy, Ajay Jadeja has a practical view. “Sehwag would have done the same thing if he was bowling,” says Jadeja. “This is very common in cricket.”

Oh yes, Jadeja – the guy who took money to lose for his team. Good to know he’s a mind-reader too. In the same vein, let me declare that even Ricky-the-ball-touched-the-ground-but-I-will-still-claim-a-catch-Ponting wouldn’t have resorted to this type of gamesmanship in a similar situation. Makes as much of logical sense.

Even more amusing is how Vasu tries to claim a badge of honor for upsetting Indian cricket fans. Newsflash: just tweet ‘Bradman was much better than Tendulkar could or will ever be’. Watch the fun. Doesn’t take much to upset Indian cricket fans (I know, I’ve been guilty too).

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

August 18, 2010 at 6:06 pm

Posted in Cricket, India, Rants

Further comments on the superbug controversy

with 5 comments

Since I blogged about the superbug controversy in India, there have been a few other pieces on the issue. In particular there are two blogs that I would like to comment on.

Firstly, take this blog, part of the Indian National Interest community, which is apparently an attempt to refute my earlier post. I usually strongly endorse the opinions expressed in the INI domain, but I have to politely (not really, but I try to be nice) disagree with the viewpoints in the blog.

Before that, I must applaud the blogger for raising concerns about Indian health-care. I am in total agreement with the author about the need for India to employ stringent medical procedures to control the spread of this particular resistance and prevent future outbreaks.

What I disagree with and do not understand is the rest of his rather absurd arguments.

Especially, lines like:

…the exaggeration, the dramatization of the threat, the hyphenation with Pakistan, etc. (emphasis mine)

do not make sense. I hate as much as the next person, the collectivization of the subcontinental people under a single name. But I doubt bacterial organisms care much for geopolitical boundaries.

Anyway, the author goes on to say:

Scores of revelations (this blog has tried to document as many of them as it could) about the pharma industry in the last two decades literally implores us to treat any thing that they are behind, with scepticism first and acceptance later.

We need to adopt a two-pronged strategy going forward as these kinds of ‘attacks’ are bound to emerge. They are thinly-disguised protectionism from the economically beleaguered West, whether or not they are orchestrated at the sovereign level.

….

That does not mean I should accept this report with all its shades and hues.

The whole thrust of the blog’s argument – if one may accord that respect to the writings – is that pharmaceutical companies are not to be trusted. Ergo we shouldn’t trust this study and protest our heads off.

Firstly, the study was not a pharmaceutical company study. Yes, I am aware of the partial sponsorship by Wellcome and this ‘conflict of interest’ issue has already been explained in many places. [However, I do also ask how Wellcome gains anything from a paper that talks about superbugs in India when they (or any other pharmas really) do not have a drug to kill these organisms? But that is a separate matter]

Further, if we do extend this logic of the one bad apple, then, given the lack of stellar record of Indian scientists and doctors in the honesty department (let’s not even go into the politicians and the media), we should not really believe anything they say about the results in this particular journal paper!

What particularly bothers me about the post is that there’s hardly any attempt to directly engage the scientific merits of the article (other than use of quotes around the word ‘research’, which hardly justifies as a critique). Rather, the blog simply puts forward the nebulous idea of some Western extra-governmental entity insidiously planning to bring down the Indian health-care tourism industry one scientific journal publication at a time (why the same entities have not attacked other places such as Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Costa Rica etc which also has a thriving medical tourism industry, I do not know).

It is sad that a blog hosted by a portal that frames serious policy matters relating to India, deems fit to advance conspiracy theories on shaky grounds with zero evidence.

Note: I am not saying that India should sit back and not react at all to the publication. But doing so in the framework of ‘the west is out to get us’ media show is wrong.

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On the other end of the spectrum, Charakan, an MD from India, has written a very insightful post on this issue, which explains a lot of the science behind the bacterial resistance and tries to separate the facts from myths. I highly recommend reading the article in full.

I do however have a comment to make about this section:

The article in Lancet says
It is disturbing, in context, to read calls in the popular press for UK patients to opt for corrective surgery in India with the aim of saving the NHS money. As our data show, such a proposal might ultimately cost the NHS substantially more than the short-term saving and we would strongly advise against such proposals’.
This is an unscientific comment not based on any data.The authors have not proved that NDM 1 enzyme producing bacteria in UK was imported from India. More than 50% of patients in UK detected to have NDM 1 has never traveled to South Asia.Also the comment is not taking into consideration other groups and sub groups of Carbapenemase enzyme producing bacteria which are more prevalent in UK than in India.

The author of the article in Lancet seems to show undue haste in blaming medical tourism for antibiotic resistance in UK.

It is a valid argument weather the authors have overreached in ascribing all the bacterial infection in UK cases to South Asia. It is an unfortunate tendency on the part of scientific authors to sometimes over-interpret their data, usually in the Discussions section of the paper. Reviewers often let this slide as well.

However, in this particular case, I don’t think it is a huge stretch. The authors are commenting within the framework of a particular question: does NHS’ plan to reduce cost by outsourcing surgeries to India make sense? They conclude that this may not be cost-effective in the long run due to the dangers of superbug infections. Given the data showing incidences of such bugs showing up in India, it is perhaps not a wholly unreasonable point to make.

Still, the authors of the paper could have phrased it differently.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

August 16, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Superbugged

with 12 comments

There has been much brouhaha in India during the last two days  over a recently published paper in the journal, Lancet Infectious Diseases. The paper outlines the emergence of major antibiotic resistance in enterobacteria isolated from patients in  UK, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The appearance of bacteria resistant to the strongest of antibiotics is a cause for global concern, especially in these days of globe-trotting and in light of lack of new antibiotics developed by drug companies recently.

The authors conjecture is that patients in the UK who were found to harbor this ‘superbug’ picked it up during surgeries – some during health tourism visits – from the subcontinent. Needless to say, the results of the study  has been (excuse the pun) a bitter pill for Indians. The medical community is upset, the politicians and media are outraged and screaming ‘Western conspiracy‘.

Unfortunately most of this anger is highly misplaced. I strongly recommend reading Bhalomanush’s well-argued (and in the face of some of the stunning ignorance out there, highly restrained) response debunking much of the media outrage.

I just wanted to add a few words of my own.

1. The main problem I see with the Indian reaction is the  usual cry of victim-hood  (MNCs and the ‘West ‘are out to get us and our health tourism industry) that is unbecoming of a country that wants to be global player.

The mature (and the right) way of dealing with such a publication would have been a statement explaining that India has taken serious note of this study in major journal and will be conducting its own investigations, at the same time reassuring people with numbers (number of cases small compared to the vast number of patients in India) etc. Instead we’ve taken on a jstrange ingoistic tone mixed with juvenile petulance: blaming the scientists for spreading falsehoods and finger-pointing like a school kid (suggesting that the virus is everywhere, why point to us?).

The best (worst) example of this over-the-top reaction is the idiotic notion that naming the protein that confers resistance to the bacteria (NDM1 = New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase 1)  after our capital is somehow a huge insult to our nation.

National pride that is so easily dented is not really a pride worth having.

2. There seems to be no concern in the media about the actual consequences of antibiotic resistant bacterial strains. The rise of resistant strains is a real, fearful possibility in our antibiotic munching culture. What is anyone doing to ensure that such strains do not turn into a large public health problem in our country?

The medical tourism industry and most private hospitals in India are restricted to an elite population. These are the places where disinfection and sanitary methods are at their best. One wonders about the consequences of these bugs turning up in regular hospitals.

I am quite surprised that the supposed champions-of-the-underprivileged Indian media is rather silent on this (OTOH, actual medical and health concerns such as this don’t make good screaming matches on TV).

(Sakshi has a longer post detailing this concern)

3. This is not to say the western media is not totally guilty of hyping things a bit and spreading panic and fear. As Bhalomanush has pointed out, the misrepresentation of the UK and other international media is equally disgusting.

But again, a kicking and screaming response to such smearing doesn’t do anyone any good.

But, do also read the very balanced pieces by LA Times and Discover Blogs

4. The Indian media claims that the lead author of the study, an Indian doctor, Karthikeyan Kumaraswamy, has ‘retracted’ the study or at least distanced himself. If this is true, then there has been gross misconduct on the part of either Dr. Kumaraswamy or Lancet. As is true for any scientific publication, final manuscripts have to be vetted by all authors. As the footnote in the paper says:

All authors were involved in the compiling of the report and approved the final version.

If something was added after Dr. K looked through the draft and it was something he did not agree with it, he can and should take it up with Lancet. Retracting is not done in front of TV.

[actually, if you see the actual video of the interview with Dr. Kumaraswamy, he doesn’t really say anything that’s related to dissociating himself!]

5. Finally, thrown into this conspiracy theory mix is the fact that Glaxo-SmithKline recently published a paper in the online version of the journal Nature, where they have identified a compound that binds to a bacterial processive enzyme. It is possible that such a compound could escape the antibody destroying enzyme of the resistant bacteria and kill them.

Firstly, do note: the paper describes the snap-shot of the protein in its inhibited state i.e in a state where it is in a crystallized form. How such a compound succeeds as a drug is anybody’s guess with details such as efficacy, safety and stability that needs to be worked out (over a period of years).

And to those seeing another conspiracy in this, I really doubt that GSK could have pulled off the timing of their publication  (which btw is currently an advanced publication online only, has not come out in an issue) to coincide with the Lancet publication. More likely, it was a fortuitous occasion and the GSK PR department has jumped on it seeing a great opportunity to raise share prices. This is borderline dishonesty because, as I mentioned above, there is really no way to determine if the compound will be an actual drug and such drugs aren’t expected to be produced in a short time.

There are few other issues e.g the constant touting of the supposed ‘conflict of interest’ that have been covered by fellow bloggers, so I am not going there.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

August 14, 2010 at 6:20 pm

Posted in Desi Connections, India, Rants

Tagged with ,

Friday Drunk Audio

with 4 comments

(with apologies to the Dictator, original founder of the Friday Audio meme)

Rabbi Shergill’s Bilqis (Jinhe Naaz Hain…).

Back-story (feel free to ignore):

Found this track via a twitter feed [1] ( h/t to whoever originally linked – some others like Nitin have mentioned it as well since then) that associated the song quite appropriately to this excellent blog post by Neo-Indian [2] .

Without being preachy, the song manages to pack a powerful punch on the face of those hollow, meaningless ‘I love India’, ‘proud of my country’ etc flag waving patriotism during January and August. Also love the way the national anthem is played on guitar riffs.

(lyrics, details, context of the song etc can be found here and links therein)

A must listen.  So do listen. And since it is Friday and remaining sober is not an option – Get Drunk. Then listen again. Then weep because the reality is so depressing and on that note get more drunk.

—————————————-

Speaking of drunk: an unrelated link to my new hobby – brewing.

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[1] Bongo also hits himself for not noticing the release of Rabbi’s second album over a year ago, having adored the debut ‘Bulla Ki Jana’.

[2] Easily among the top two funniest on the desi blog-scene – now that gawker has stopped writing …hint, hint.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

February 12, 2010 at 5:45 pm

Shoddy journalism by Sagarika Ghose on Global Warming

with 29 comments

Last night on her Twitter account, Indian journalist Sagarika Ghose posted the following:

Is even the science of climate change dodgy? is there any evidence that CO2 is bad for us? who says the climate’s changing for the worse?

I am not sure where to begin parsing the statement, which displays either a stunning naivete or a sly dishonesty  calculated to get people charged up. Either way, it is quite appalling.

Actually, what is really appalling is the way she then goes about trying to prove her point.

Considering she works for CNN-IBN, which must to their disposal have at least one computer connected to this technology called the internet, where there exists these sites called Google and Bing that can be used to quickly search any topic. Not to mention that she must have at her disposal some sort of a research team, or the ability to get in touch with the relevant specialists for researching.

But what does she do when called for evidence of her statement? She retweets from some other guy offering up Bjorn Lomborg, the thoroughly discredited Danish academic as her source for anti-climate change (e.g see this, this or this).

If you are going to argue such a controversial issue, it pays not to be lazy – not to mention incredibly lame – enough as to cite Lomborg as your anti-climate change source! Heck, she could have even gone the Dubner-Levitt pathway given it has been on the news so much recently!  This is just stupendously shoddy journalism.

I have no problems with Ghose formulating a question for a proper debate – after all it is a supposedly free country with freedom of speech (though one of her contemporaries at least, has some sort of a problem with the definition of free speech, but we will let that go for now). However, it is inexcusable that she goes forth and makes statements that could be proven to be laughably false with the most perfunctory research.

Could it be that she is simply indulging in cheap sensationalism to improve ratings of her news channel? Quite possible given that she framed her question in the context of India’s role in reducing green house emissions, and whether

we [are] about to retard our industrial development because of america’s demands that we cut carbon emissions? (link)

Trying to whip up a bit of nationalist pride and sentiments against the US does no harm to ratings.  Statements such as, “Interesting point raised last night: our problem is poverty, not climate. lets first get rich, then we can go green.” are lame but sure to be a hit with the masses. Even then, it is  rather sad what she does to a complex discourse.

Consider that most die-hard skeptics now agree that climate change is real, and there is even a major consensus regarding the anthropogenic contribution to climate change. But how to solve the issue is however a highly charged debate involving as it does socio-economics and politics of a wide variety of country. For Ghose to reduce such complexity to levels stooped by the likes of Fox News and cronies is an incredible low.

(Thanks to Sakshi for many of the links)

update: Found this link with an incredible amount of resources to satisfy anyone’s climate change questions. I am not asking Ghose or anyone to absolutely agree with everything said here, but at least the person should argue on some intellectual basis.

——————————————–

1. On these lines, it is quite unfortunate that TV journalism in India has been reduced to screeching hosts and overexcited, juvenile on-site reporter.s Ghose is married to Rajdeep Sardesai, whose histrionics during the Mumbai bombings were rightly criticized. Much has also been said about the media’s culpability during the 26/11 siege of Mumbai.

2. On a lighter note, Ghose’s naive question “ is there any evidence that CO2 is bad for us?” reminds me of Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachman trying to argue that global warming is of no concern because carbon-dioxide is natural and causes no harm!!

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

October 21, 2009 at 12:02 pm

Bad advices – celebrity edition….

with 4 comments

As if the hysteria over the H1N1 swine-flu is not enough, now we have a celebrity providing bad advice on preventing the flu.  Via Twitter no less.

Actress Gul Panag wrote today:

There’s a “preventive” homeopathic medicine for Swine flue (sic) – INFLUENZUM,available at all homeopathic chemists.Prevention is better than cure (link)

No shit ! And so when do I get to give advice on how the director should frame her next shot. Because, you know – I have dabbled in amateur theater. (Btw, the medicine is not called INFLUENZUM – it is influenzinum)

Although Gul hasn’t gone off on the deep end like her American counterparts, Jenny McCarthy or Jim Carrey and their anti-vaccination idiocy, it is still bad advice.

To set the records straight, a homeopathic treatment is no prevention against the flu.  Notwithstanding the tall claims on websites such as this  which state:

Influenzinum is made each year from the influenza vaccination shot. Here’s how it is made, and how we have made it for years. It is in the HPUS (Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States).We take the shot itself and place it in 9 parts water and succuss (25 thumps)- the result is 1x – We then take that 1x, put in 9 parts alcohol and succuss it again and make a 2x (& a 1c). The 3x or 2c are then made separately – 1:9 (x) or 1:99 (c).We continue in this manner up to 30x and 30c (by hand and from the 30c on to the 200c using the Helios potentizing machine). (Joe Lillard,WHP)

Apart from the alcohol, I am not sure there is much palliative in this prescription. By the time, the dilution takes place, you will be lucky to catch any strain of the original virus to boost your immunity. Prevention of flu, as it were, can be through a combination of  keeping  your hands and face clean,  and avoiding infected people. The latter, even in a low density populations is difficult without shutting yourself completely from the world. Even taking the flu vaccine every year is no guarantee against the infection during the season since new viral strains can easily appear. For the H1N1 particularly, even though a vaccine has been developed, not much is yet known about its efficacy.  Hence the so-called Influenzium treatment – even if effective against other flu – would be useless for H1N1.

Overall, the best option is to remain safe and pretty much hope for the best. And yeah – get the shot if available. There aren’t any easy alternatives.

Unfortunately, I suppose this kind of quackery will be very popular in India – especially where you have countless millions brainwashed by one Baba Ramdev, who among other things, proposes cure for homosexuality through yogas. (And yes, according to him, swine-flu can be prevented through yogas too.)

The scary part is that people may take such advice to heed and have an elevated sense of safety. Does not help the individual or the community.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

August 20, 2009 at 1:11 am

Posted in India, Rants, Science

Tagged with , ,

Today’s WTF statement (1)

with 2 comments

…is proud to contain WTF within itself:

What the f…k was that? Does Danny Boyle know what Bachchan saab means to us Indians? Who would dare approach him like that? (link)

He seems more upset that someone would dare to approach Bacchan-saab covered in shit, rather than the being covered in shit part !

And dude, if someone calls you a ‘slumdog’ as a gaali – take it on the chin, and move on, or better: call him back with gaalis like ‘nixon’, ‘milk’, ‘wrestler’ etc.

(1) Today is a day for WTF-ery, will post more if I get a chance.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

February 24, 2009 at 9:39 pm

Posted in Fun, India, LOL, Music

Tagged with , ,

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