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The history of efforts to improve university teaching

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 08/06/2017 - 9:02am in



TEF is just the latest in a long line of public efforts to improve university teaching, and public anxieties about quality have not changed for many years. We take a look at the litany of initiatives in this space.

The post The history of efforts to improve university teaching appeared first on Wonkhe.

Germs Revisited

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 25/04/2017 - 10:43pm in


medicine, history

On Thursday 16 March 2017, Dr Emilie Taylor-Brown gave a talk with Dr Jamie Lorimer (School of Geography and the Environment) and Dr Nicola Fawcett (Medical Sciences Division) on the subject of Germs Revisited. The talk discusses bad germs, friendly bacteria and whether we need to rethink our relationships with the microscopic world! The talk draws on past and present ideas from medicine, fiction and art to discuss new ways of thinking about human-microbe relationships along with developing trends in microbiome studies.

The end of the binary divide: reflections on 25 years of the 1992 Act

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 12/04/2017 - 9:01am in

The 'binary divide' between universities and polytechnics proved to be unsustainable, but the challenges it created are still with us today. Mike Ratcliffe evaluates the 1992 Act's background and legacy.

The post The end of the binary divide: reflections on 25 years of the 1992 Act appeared first on Wonkhe.

The Spirits of Crossbones Graveyard

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 11/02/2017 - 4:27am in

The book's author Sondra Hausner (Professor of Anthropology, University of Oxford) will explore the issues raised in her book. Every month, a ragtag group of Londoners gather in the site known as Crossbones Graveyard to commemorate the souls of medieval prostitutes believed to be buried there—the “Winchester Geese,” women who were under the protection of the Church but denied Christian burial. In the Borough of Southwark, not far from Shakespeare's Globe, is a pilgrimage site for self-identified misfits, nonconformists, and contemporary sex workers who leave memorials to the outcast dead. Ceremonies combining raucous humor and eclectic spirituality are led by a local playwright, John Constable, also known as John Crow. His interpretation of the history of the site has struck a chord with many who feel alienated in present-day London. Sondra L. Hausner offers a nuanced ethnography of Crossbones that tacks between past and present to look at the historical practices of sex work, the relation of the Church to these professions, and their representation in the present. She draws on anthropological approaches to ritual and time to understand the forms of spiritual healing conveyed by the Crossbones rites. She shows that ritual is a way of creating the present by mobilizing the stories of the past for contemporary purposes.

The book's author Sondra Hausner (Professor of Anthropology, University of Oxford) will explore the issues raised with:
Bridget Anderson (Professor of Migration and Citizenship, University of Oxford)
Diane Watt (Professor of Medieval Literature, University of Surrey)
Chair: Antonia Fitzpatrick (Departmental Lecturer in History, University of Oxford)

The Alfred Jewel and Kingship

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 09/02/2016 - 4:04am in

Amy Faulkner explores how Alfred’s translations question what it means to be a good king in this TORCH Bite-Size talk at the Ashmolean Museum LiveFriday The Alfred Jewel is a testament to Alfred’s educational reforms, supposedly one of the mysterious and valuable aestels that would have accompanied the translations Alfred distributed to his bishops. This talk shows how Alfred’s translations question what it means to be a good king, and how the use or misuse of wealth is at the heart of this question.

DSM-5: A Ruse By Any Other Name...

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 13/01/2013 - 8:45pm in

In psychiatry, "a rose is a rose is a rose" as Gertrude Stein put it. That's according to an editorial in the American Journal of Psychiatry called: The Initial Field Trials of DSM-5: New Blooms and Old Thorns.

Like the authors, I was searching for some petal-based puns to start this piece off, but then I found this "flower with an uncanny resemblance to a MONKEY" which I think does the job quite nicely:
Anyway, the editorial is about the upcoming, controversial fifth revision to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

A great deal has been written about the DSM-5 over the past few years, as "the rough beast, its hour come round at last / Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born" (see, I can reference early-20th-century poetry too).

But now the talk has moved into a new phase, because the results of the DSM-5 'field trials' are finally out. In these studies, the reliability of the new diagnostic criteria for different psychiatric disorders was measured. The new editorial is a summary and discussion of the field trial data.

Two different psychiatrists assessed each patient, and the agreement between their diagnoses was calculated, as the kappa statistic, where 0 indicates no correlation at all and 1 is perfect.

It turns out that the reliabilities of most DSM-5 disorders were not very good. The majority were around 0.5, which is at best mediocre. These included such pillars of psychiatric diagnosis like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and alcoholism.

Others were worse. Depression, had a frankly crap kappa of 0.28, and the new 'Mixed Anxiety-Depressive Disorder' came in at -0.004 (sic). It was completely meaningless.

The American Journal editorial was written by a group of senior DSM-5 team members. I'm sure they wanted to write a triumphant presentation of their work, but in fact the tone is subdued, even apologetic in places:

As for most new endeavours, the end results are mixed, with both positive and disappointing findings...Experienced clinicians have severe reservations about the proposed research diagnostic scheme for personality disorder...like its predecessors, DSM-5 does not accomplish all that it intended, but it marks continued progress for many patients for whom the benefits of diagnoses and treatment were previously unrealized.

Remember: this is the journal published by the organization responsible for the DSM and even they don't much like it.

But the real story is even worse. The previous editions of the DSM also conducted field trials. These trials had a system to describe different kappa values: for example, 0.6-0.8 was 'satisfactory'.

However, the new DSM-5 studies used a different, lower threshold. They simply moved the goalposts, deeming lower kappa values to be good. At one point, they wrote that values of above 0.8 would be 'miraculous' and above 0.6 a 'cause for celebration', yet this wasn't the view of previous DSM developers.

The indispensable 1boringoldman blog has a nice graphic showing the results of the DSM-5 trials, with the kappas graded according to the old vs. the new criteria. As you can see, the grass is greener on the new side.
The fact is that the DSM-5 field trial results are worse than the results from DSM-III, the 1980 version that's served mostly unchanged for 30 years (DSM-IV made fairly modest changes.) The reliabilities have got worse - despite the editorial's claims of 'continued progress'. It's true that the DSM-5 field trials were a lot bigger and conducted rather differently, but still, it's a serious warning sign.

Finally, there was great variability in the results between different hospitals - in other words the reliability scores were not, themselves, reliable. Some institutions achieved much higher kappa values than others, but it's anyone's guess how they managed to do so.

Still, there's great news: the DSM-5 is just a piece of paper (well, a big stack of them). Any psychiatrist is free to ignore it - as the creator of the more reliable DSM-IV (not III, oops) is now urging them to do.

ResearchBlogging.orgFreedman R, Lewis DA, Michels R, Pine DS, Schultz SK, Tamminga CA, Gabbard GO, Gau SS, Javitt DC, Oquendo MA, Shrout PE, Vieta E, and Yager J (2013). The Initial Field Trials of DSM-5: New Blooms and Old Thorns. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 170 (1), 1-5 PMID: 23288382