Sunday, August 06, 2023

Subatomic Writing: 6 Fundamental Lessons to Make Language Matter

Jamie Zvirzdin. 2023. Johns Hopkins University Press. [260 pages, including index. ISBN 978-1-4214-4612-7. US$29.95 (softcover).]

“The demon wasn’t as ugly as I’d feared, although the cheerful IKEA lighting and the sun-yellow rug in our library can make anything seem cozier, even a blue-skinned night fiend (p. 7). A very dubious quotation from what is overall, a textbook about grammar, style, syntax, and punctuation—a summary and application of rules like those in The Chicago Manual of Style or Strunk and White.

In Subatomic Writing: 6 Fundamental Lessons to Make Language Matter, Jamie Zvirzdin outlines her knowledge of advanced writing in detail and provides students with exercises at the end of each chapter. By day, Zvirzdin is a science writer and educator at Johns Hopkins University and, by night, a program analyst for the University of Utah.

Her unique approach incorporates her knowledge of the mechanics of grammar and science with her love of narrative, action, and mystery into a one-of-a-kind textbook. Zvirzdin’s imagined demon is modeled after the famous hot/cold sorting demon of the brilliant physicist James Clerk Maxwell. The author uses her fabricated “demon” to suggest the metaphor of the book that “particles of language are like particles of matter” (p. 4). And when her house cat is “Schrodingered” (disappears) upon the threat of NOT creating a manuscript, Zvirzdin is forced to comply. To get her cat back by Halloween night, she composes six lessons. In each lesson, she takes a physics concept and likens it to some aspect of writing. Some of her metaphors work better than others, but for the reader it is the process of thinking about the validity of each that makes the book achieve its goal, to provide clarity and a source of communication between these elusive subjects that so desperately need each other for mutual success.

For example, there is a problem with her metaphor that likens writing to collisions between little balls: “Because if all the world is to be explained mechanically in terms of little balls (molecules, electrons, photons, gravitons, etc.), then the only way one ball affects another ball is if the little balls hit. If that is so, collision becomes the essence of physical interaction” (p. 16). Scientists who research molecular motion and thermodynamics will recognize this as an overgeneralization about their topic—most molecules do not behave this way and that is why equations like the ideal gas law are just that—for unreal, ideal situations.

After several chapters of rather exhaustive definitions of physics terms (like quarks and leptons), Zvirzdin concludes her textbook with a return of her demon. To conclude, the mystery of the “Schrodingered cat” resolves itself when Zvirzdin submits her manuscript to the demo, and the cat miraculously reappears. A clever application of the statistically disappearing feline of quantum mechanics.

The narrative approach to Subatomic Writing provides humor and a breath of fresh air in an otherwise arduous, backbreaker science communication textbook. Zvirzdin tackles two challenging subjects by likening them to each other hoping to bring them in closer collaboration: a demon of a task.

Julie Kinyoun

Julie Kinyoun is an on-call chemistry instructor at various community colleges in Southern California. An avid reader, she enjoys reviewing books that help her become a better educator.

Tuesday, March 07, 2023

Book Review: Partial Truth

Partial Truths: How Fractions Distort Our Thinking

James C. Zimring. 2022. Columbia University Press. [ISBN 978-0-231-20138- 4. 244 pages, including index. US$28.00 (hardcover).]

In a world of exponentially growing data in all subjects, fractions and percentages are more important for both official and casual communication. In Partial Truths: How Fractions Distort Our Thinking, James C. Zimring claims that everything from scientific research to new age beliefs are distorted by bias created from numbers. By omitting sample size, failing to create appropriate data, or even manipulating existing data, our society derives faulty conclusions. His analysis of how and why this happens examines evolutionary human psychology and how misperceptions can lead to propaganda and polarization of society.

In this twelve-chapter book divided into three sections, Zimring lays out his arguments about data misperceptions. In Part 1, he explains how anecdotal evidence can persuade people with a sample size too small for valid conclusions, called “ignoring the denominator” (p. 17). A relevant example of this occurred when then President Trump claimed the United States had more cases of Covid-19 than other countries because we were testing more people. Trump ignored the denominator by failing to communicate that our rate of infection (cases per total number of people tested) was higher than other countries. Zimring goes into more depth on possible ways the data could have been collected and analyzed to derive different conclusions.

Presentation of data is just as important as our perception of it. Zimring’s focus on human psychology and perception renders his title choice a bit misleading—the book might more accurately be called Partial Truth: How Fractions and Human Psychology Distort Our Thinking. One simple psychology concept introduced and carried is that of a heuristic. “A heuristic is a process by which human minds rapidly solve complex problems by replacing them with analogous but simpler problems” (p. 32). These mental shortcuts can play tricks on our minds and influence how we formulate conclusions. Confirmation bias is another important psychological concept that “... is not a belief. Rather, confirmation bias is a process by which we reinforce our beliefs—any beliefs—regardless of origin or accuracy” (p. 42).

Part 2 focuses on how heuristics, confirmation bias, and other tendencies influence the interpretation of data that often leads to faulty outcomes. Focus areas include identification of criminals, invasion of Iraq, interpretation of coded messages in ancient texts, new age methods, evolution/natural designer arguments and, most importantly, the physical sciences.

Part 3 discusses how we can try to influence the way people think and avoid harmful polarizations of disagreement often based on the same available data. Methodology includes “epistemic network models” (p. 178) of actors in simulated social networks enacting various scenarios. Social networks analyze the effects of human tendencies, including confirmation bias and heuristics to arrive at conclusions.

In conclusion, Zimring summarizes, “We need the availability heuristic, and confirmation bias, and all of the other forms of misperceiving the fraction described herein. They fuel our advances as well as lead to our demise” (p 201). A contradictory statement of sorts alludes to the complexity of trying to decipher something that should be logical and yet is not.

Julie Kinyoun

Julie Kinyoun is an on-call chemistry instructor at various community colleges in Southern California. An avid reader, she enjoys reviewing books that help her become a better educator.

Sunday, November 06, 2022

A Book Review about Balance

Balance: How It Works and What It Means

Paul Thagard. 2022. Columbia University Press. [ISBN 978-0-231-20558-0. 336 pages, including index. US$32.00 (hardcover).]

A laboratory balance is a simple, one- dimensional instrument dating back to ancient science. In its earliest form, the apparatus achieved balance with equal masses on both sides—adding mass to either side tipped it out of balance. Paul Thagard elaborates in his book Balance: How It Works and What It Means, that although the topic of balance dates to this ancient apparatus, it expands into immensely rich, multidimensional areas. In his book, the author first explains scientifically what balance is from a biological and medical perspective and then shifts into an evaluation of balance metaphors that help us fill in the gaps of our scientific knowledge—and whether these metaphors are strong, bogus, or even toxic to culture.

Inspired by Thagard’s own bout of vertigo, the first four chapters explain the science behind human balance and some of the common conditions that result as a breakdown of the mechanisms. He continues to use his personal experience with vertigo as an example, or the “experience of illusory motion: something seems to be moving even though it is not” (p. 42). This balance malfunction usually includes a mismatch of signals from all the neurological functions involved—the inner ear canals, vision, and hair cells send information to the brain—when vertigo occurs these signals do not match, thus creating a spinning sensation.

In the section linking balance to feelings, Thagard applies his balance mechanisms to the expanding field of mind and body, or the origins of consciousness. “My . . . theory explains why balance is usually unconscious but enters consciousness when problems arise. Unlike (other theories) my theory also explains why different imbalance experiences such as vertigo and nausea come with different feelings” (p. 105).

In chapter 5, Balance shifts to an explanation of metaphor and its role in understanding balance. Thagard states that literal mechanisms only explain basic biological and medical applications of balance, yet it is much richer than that. “But balance concepts flourish in other areas of human thought, including science (chemical equilibrium), medicine (balanced diet), psychology (stable personality), art (balanced composition), and philosophy (reflective equilibrium)” (p. 106).

In this lengthy analysis covering many subjects regarding balance, Thagard again references vertigo. Most notably in his analysis of the film Vertigo starring James Stewart and Kim Novak. His observation, “Hitchcock largely flubbed the science of vertigo, but he powerfully portrayed the balance disorder of dizziness triggered by heights. Just as effectively, he presented metaphorical vertigo provoked by uncertainty in romantic relationships and especially by astonishing events that have no explanation” (p. 232).

In conclusion, the author’s analysis of balance in philosophy challenges the assumption that being out of balance is not entirely negative—the idea of metabalance. This implies that “leading a meaningful life requires finding a balance between balance and imbalance” (p. 269). Thagard concludes by suggesting that a satisfying life requires an element of both.

Julie Kinyoun

Julie Kinyoun is an on-call chemistry instructor at various community colleges in Southern California. An avid reader, she enjoys reviewing books that help her become a better educator.

Book Review about Healthcare Leadership


Human-Centered Leadership in Healthcare: Evolution of a Revolution

Kay Kennedy, Lucy Leclerc, and Susan Campis. 2022. Morgan James Publishing. [ISBN 978-1-63195-553-2. 236 pages. US$18.95 (softcover).]

Nurses in a 21st century workforce encounter new and unique problems daily: complex technology, new medicines and treatments, and a constant pressure to meet higher standards with ever shrinking resources. Conquering these issues requires effective modern nursing leadership that meets a wider variety of needs than a traditional top-down style. Nurses Kay Kennedy, Lucy Leclerc, and Susan Campis assert that their new model of nursing leadership—the human-centered model—is up to the challenge.

“Human-Centered Leadership in Healthcare embodies the principles of complexity science. It [is] different from traditional leadership in that the leader is embedded in the system. The influencers and innovators are those at the point of care” (p. 1). These three authors provide evidence for their leadership theory with a compelling Institutional Review Board- approved clinical study that yielded qualitative results. Results included anecdotes and narratives, along with literature studies and historical perspectives. Although they provide the reader with a citation to investigate the research study further, the authors’ study summary is somewhat limited. Improvements could include details that would make their conclusions more lucid; for example, the exact length of the study is omitted as well as details about the content of the focus groups. It is mentioned that they categorized the responses into a matrix and “coded” them, but this process is not explained thoroughly. Their arguments would be more compelling if more of the results were directly linked to the conclusions of their leadership model.

From this research study, the authors formulated their theory of leadership based on the idea that self- care, self-awareness, mindfulness, and emotional intelligence are all springboards upon which a leader embeds themself within a healthcare system. “Human- Centered Leaders require intentional development of skills that support the leader’s effectiveness and the ability to create a sustainable culture of Excellence, Trust and Caring” (p. 131). The authors’ outline the attributes of excellence as embodied by the Awakener: a motivator, coach, mentor, architect, and advocate (p. 131). They then list the characteristics of trust embodied by the Connector: collaborator, supporter, edge walker, engineer, and authentic communicator (p. 98). Concluding their leadership model by listing the components of caring embodied by the Upholder: mindful, others-oriented, emotionally aware, socially and organizationally aware, and personally well and healthy (p. 115). The authors’ primary argument is that a truly effective leader in nursing must have all these skills, as well as the ability to discern when it is appropriate to emphasize one over another.

Overall, Human-Centered Leadership in Healthcare: Evolution of a Revolution is an excellent resource for nurses. However, the terms and language used assume the reader has experience in both healthcare and leadership. Including a quick-reference glossary with leadership terms and nursing acronyms would be helpful for someone new to both fields. Many skills described like reflective journaling, mindfulness, and appreciative inquiry are useful in developing leaders in other service professions aside from nursing. With this leadership model, Kennedy, Leclerc, and Campis have opened the door to their “evolution of a revolution.”

Julie Kinyoun

Julie Kinyoun is an on-call chemistry instructor at various community colleges in Southern California. An avid reader, she enjoys reviewing books that help her become a better educator.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Making Research Matter

 Health and Care Researchers

Tara Lamont. 2021. Bristol University Press [ISBN 978-1-4473-6115-2. 198 pages, including index. US$34.95 (softcover).]

“Researchers start their work wanting to make a difference. The extra steps and actions set out in this book and elsewhere to reach and engage people in meaningful ways, paying attention to story, language and appropriate channels are part of the job of a researcher in the 21st century. Research findings should not stay in the library or on the university bookshelf. They should be translated and worked up with the right communities into new policies, decisions, conversations and practice” (p. 166). This summary statement of Making Research Matter: Steps to Impact for Health and Care Researchers by Tara Lamont embodies her argument that the relevance of current research and its resulting impact on society are critical now more than ever.

Lamont’s introduction uses her own storytelling tools of chapter 8, the example of Florence Nightingale and her report to the Indian Sanitary Commission, published in 1863. The “pull” Nightingale created for her report included concise and orderly summaries with vivid images. These briefs were circulated among people like John Stuart Mill and even Queen Victoria- people whose support she would need later in promoting the policy and reforms suggested in her report. Nightingale forged ties with decision makers who could implement reforms themselves or communicate with others for influential changes. And she did it all without Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn! It is proof that the skills of impact for research resonate then as they do now despite the vast difference in the technological tools available.

Making Research Matter starts each chapter using the Why, What, Who, When and How format. The Why follows the introduction to clarify the overall importance of her book. In the current information and digital climate, the sheer amount of research available has increased exponentially. It is important for people to discern valuable research from either false data or irrelevant results. Valuable research involves asking the right questions of the population involved. One example compared mechanical devices to manual compressions in treating cardiac arrest in an ambulance. A high-quality research study proved that the outcomes for each showed negligible difference, and therefore the cost of implementation was not worth it. However, when staff were interviewed, they said that the technology allowed them to sit securely in a seatbelt which made them feel safer. This detail addressed a separate issue from cost analysis and could only be determined through interviewing the right people.

Lamont’s arguments for increased communication and interaction between researchers, policy makers, and lay people describes an ideal culture of collaboration, support for necessary reform and openness to change. It is her hope that researchers in all areas of health and care examine their skills, interest, and investment in this type of exchange for the enhanced quality, relevance, and implementation of valuable research findings into all areas of healthcare and wellness.

Sunday, August 07, 2022

New Digital Natives

Supporting New Digital Natives: Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing in a Hi-Tech Age

Michelle Jayman, Maddie Ohl, and Leah Jewett, eds. 2021. Bristol University Press. [ISBN 978-1-4473-5645-5. 210 pages, including index. US$45.95 (softcover).]

Mental wellness and digital technology are traditionally not viewed as collaborative partners, especially in youth development. The negative aspects of digital technology include cyberbullying, inappropriate visualcontent, social media competition, and the (sometimes) misconception of “too much screen time.” However, nobody can dispute that exposure to technology is unavoidable—from online homework to discussion groups on Zoom, students are required to have an email address in early elementary school. With the new reality of technology-savvy younger children, it is critical to figure out the implementation of it for maximum benefits/fewest risks and how to impose critical boundaries. To this end, Supporting New Digital Natives: Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing in a Hi-Tech Age was compiled in ten chapters with sources at the end of each chapter, a section on the background of the contributors, a glossary, and index. The editors selected eight case studies by health care providers, teachers, and mental health professionals/researchers to approach mental wellness from a complex wholistic landscape rather than examining any one influencing factor.

“These eight case studies were selected because of their original contributions, each focusing on different aspects of CYP’s (children and young people) lives which are inextricably linked to mental wellbeing, such as friendships and relationships, play and learning experiences, and opportunities for connecting with nature and the community. More than this, each chapter is a platform for raising CYP’s voice, rightly placing them, as experts in their own lives, at the heart of mental wellbeing interventions and services” (p. xxx).

Ironically, the first case study on supporting new digital natives (as the title states) introduces a pyramid club that removes children from all technology and places them in an intentional support group—an environment where they can practice relationship building in a supportive place. For ten weeks, kids meet with other kids who either lack social skills and/or have trouble with friendships. During these ten weeks, the kids do activities targeted toward connection, building teamwork, and creating a safe space like arts and crafts, food preparation and sharing, and circle time. This approach contrasts with the next case study in which Book of Beasties is used to explore how to get children to build virtual friendships through an online card game. “Children learn best in interactive environments which invite them in as interactive collaborators and include content which is meaningful to them” (p 96).

One of the common negatives associated with digital technology is the reduction of outdoor play for children—this is the basis of Forest School and Girlguiding. These case studies look at the effects of nature on the mental wellbeing of youth and the importance of building a support community. In the girlguiding study, the implementation of digital technology has improved some of the programs and the girls are encouraged to use the technology if it helps them.

One of the final case studies introduces LifeMosaic—an app for a smartphone that tracks various data points that might help children understand their mental health better. For example, after tracking sleep and diet they might see the link between poor eating habits and poor sleep quality—and their overall mood as a result. The app allows children to design their own study and then plot graphs and charts which can be shared within their online LifeMosaic community.

All these studies describe either the use of technology to enhance mental wellbeing or the intentional removal of technology to eliminate a technology-driven issue—the intersection of which is a balance the new digital natives of our generation will be forced to eventually navigate themselves.

Julie Kinyoun

Julie Kinyoun is an on-call chemistry instructor at various community colleges in Southern California. An avid reader, she enjoys reviewing books that help her become a better educator.

Saturday, May 07, 2022

How to Lead in Data Science


How to Lead in Data Science

Jike Chong and Yue Cathy Chang. 2021. Manning Publications Co. [ISBN 978-1-61729-889-9. 514 pages, including index. US$59.99 (softcover).]

Many recent advancements in our world are data science (DS) applications in industry/academia. In healthcare, genomics/virus research relies on vast databases to make life saving vaccines for public health. Handheld devices may soon transform the way healthcare operates by transmitting real-time data. In the field of artificial intelligence, the neural net is only as effective as the “learning” it does with data input to “teach” it how to conduct its task. These applications support the relevance of How to Lead in Data Science to create, organize, and manage leadership in the field. For this reason, it is a needed resource for an expanding industry.

Jike Chong and Yue Cathy Chang state that they authored this book for data scientists. Lay readers may have difficulty with the book yet are encouraged to scan through it as it can serve as a generic management guide. This book describes concepts that are universal to other technical fields, which makes it useful across all industries besides the growing DS field. “The contribution of DS to the economy is still in its infancy as of 2021. According to LinkedIn Talent Solutions data, the discipline has found the most traction in IT, computer software, and internet industries” (p. 412). Growth in the data scientist field is occurring in financial services, banking, insurance, health care, biotech, pharmaceuticals, and fitness, and is likely to increase quickly due to delays in current product pipelines. “The scarcity of data product manager talent is a significant bottleneck for companies looking to develop data and intelligence-driven products and features” (p. 454).

The initial chapters introduce real-life data scientists at varying levels of their career development. Each scientist is analyzed according to their positive performance and areas of needed growth. The authors tie these examples to detailed graphs of the progressive levels of data science advancement. The book uses the TEE-ERA fan (Technology, Execution, Expert Knowledge, Ethics, Rigor, Attitude) in Figure 2.1 of Chapter 2, which also appears on the inside of the back cover. The authors refer to these capabilities and virtues at all levels of the data scientist’s development from a strong technical lead to a manager to a director and, finally, to arrive at the executive level of performance. (The authors also outline a second career track as the path of an individual data scientist outside of management.)

Although How to Lead in Data Science emphasizes that technical knowledge and expertise are foundational to DS, these are the bare minimum skills for survival. The authors sprinkle advice throughout the book with tips for thriving in the field with the most important being to select an industry you like and will grow to love. Only with this affinity can you develop proper relationships with others, remain positive, keep current on technical advances, and keep a relevant skill set for influencing and inspiring an industry. The bottom line is to prove that data can bring impact and success in data science through this detailed guide. Who could go wrong!

Julie Kinyoun

Julie Kinyoun is an on-call chemistry instructor at various community colleges in Southern California. An avid reader, she enjoys reviewing books that help her become a better educator.

Tuesday, March 08, 2022

Being a Mom

Recently I processed my infant-mothering days from the rear-view mirror by compiling an album for the family of a friend. It was for the family of this friend and not the friend herself because my friend died. Yes, my forty-year-old, “younger” friend died of colon cancer. Sigh. That is a different blog post. 

On the cover of the album is a beautiful photo of six soul sisters- six women who banded together and shared maternity and baby clothes, birthday and pool parties, holiday cookie exchanges and weekly play dates at people’s homes and at local parks. We are all calmly smiling for a perfectly posed picture of a perfect friendship because we had just sailed carefree through motherhood together….. NOT! I look at these six women (and two toddlers who unknowingly photobombed our picture by running to mommy) and I know we were tired, we had just disagreed about the time and location of our picnic and some of us had done a separate party with alcohol the night before. That is why this cover photo is unique- never before had someone (my parents in this case) gotten us organized for such a picture. The rest of the 50 assorted photos of these women include one or more of us as dots in the background, serving food, speaking to a child while holding a plate and balancing a baby in the other arm. Truthfully most of the pictures are just of the kids- playing at the park, eating, blowing birthday candles, and posing for mom saying “smile for a picture honey.” 
You can’t survive motherhood alone. Period. With a brand new baby I showed up at mommy events designed for the isolated, family out-of-town mother to bond with other moms only to be asked to work in childcare (What?) or to meet women who lived an hour’s drive across town or just to leave feeling rejected in some way. Wasn’t I the pretty, involved, musically talented teenager who qualified for a highly-select college with professionals at the highest level of accomplishment? What happened to popular me? Now I was the slightly pudgy (from pregnancy), perpetually tired, slightly out-of-fashion maternity clothes who was always asking for a babysitter. People started to avoid me when I would arrive. What is she asking for now? I was thinking THEY were thinking.

So to find a group of women who wanted to share these moments was inner-soul soothing. Being accepted on the raw level of something never experienced- being in a low, vulnerable place and having other women surround me and say “we are here too.” Not perfect but definitely critical. I recently told the sister of my deceased friend:  Mothering is the hardest thing you will ever do. People you thought were your friends will disappear and let you down. You will feel alone. You will feel rejected or not good enough or lonely. You will show up at the park with your baby only to feel left out by the elementary-school aged moms who all know each other from soccer league. You will sit with your baby, not knowing anybody, and nobody will introduce themself to you. They look right through you. They do not need a woman with a baby nor is a woman with a baby of any use to them. You are a nuisance. You are an extra responsibility. You are a person always looking to shift responsibility onto others. And it doesn’t matter if that is not who you are- people will make you feel that way.

The album for my friend’s family is called “Good Times.” Our smiles in these select twenty photos don’t reveal our exhaustion, our health problems, our recent fight with our spouse, our disagreements or disappointments with each other, our own insecurities with our body image, relationships and extended family. But we survived and even overcame and thrived despite these things partly because we found each other. Closer with some women at certain times than others- that too changed as time went by. The woman with whom I currently communicate most was probably the woman I knew the least at the time of the photo. Now our kids play on the same sports teams and we see each other frequently. Of the other four, one lives in an adjoining neighborhood and we occasionally bump into each other on a walk, two moved out of the country (and then one of those died), and one lives a few miles away with kids at different schools and in different activities (she has boys and I have girls). Our lives has drastically changed since this photo was taken. We no longer need each other the same way. But speaking for myself- I don’t know what I would have done without this support group when my girls were babies.

All of the women in this tribe shared a few characteristics: our families were all out-of-town, we were all married to highly educated men who primarily worked in the high-tech industry, we had all graduated from college and worked at a job. And most of us had some serious hobbies with which we could throw ourselves into during the drudgery of motherhood.
It was drudgery that nobody could have prepared me for. No amount of babysitting, educational observations, or other preparation would have made a difference. It was sink or swim. 

Together we swam. That swim propelled us out of the world of babies and toddlers into the world of older children where we currently stand. We were a team.