03 December 2007

Okay, Jason, here's something for you to comment on

Okay, even being in the midst of exams I had to comment on this one.

UNAIDS has recently revised its estimates for the number of people living with HIV/AIDS. The 2007 estimate was reduced to 33.2 million (down from 39.5 million in 2006). Report here.

This has lead to a fair bit of controversy, to the point where even relatively uninformed Leigh-Anne has stumbled upon multiple articles commenting on it in the past week.

Stephen Lewis made a speech at the World Health Editors Network in London, commenting that the revision "undermined public confidence in the reliability of the figures, introducing completely unnecessary levels of doubt, contention and confusion" (quoted at EATG and if that isn't reliable enough for you just google "World Health Editors Network" AND "Stephen Lewis"). He also pointed out that statisticians and epidemiologists have been calling for a revision for quite some time, that there was too much of a focus on statistics, thus failing to address the human tragedy, and that regardless the amount of aid still runs short of where it needs to be.

At least he acknowledged that UNAIDS did not maintain artificially high estimates in an attempt to garner more aid. I've seen this come up in some of the commentary and it's quite ridiculous. If that were the case, why bother revising the estimates in the first place?

The second point I agree with is that there is still so much that can be done to help tame the epidemic regardless of decreased estimates. Obviously.

However, I just can't bring myself to shift most of the blame to UNAIDS. Sure, maybe this will cause the general public to "doubt, contention and confusion" but if it's possible to improve the methodology for collecting data it is absolutely necessary. Accuracy is almost never unnecessary. Even if there are papers floating around in academia with ideas for improving the methodology, simply writing a paper will not solve the world's problems. You need to put some effort in if you'd like your idea to be implemented on a large scale. Come on, it's not like estimating the prevalence of a worldwide disease is a small job.

Also, how can you expect a statistical report to properly assess the human tragedy? In AIDS in Context we often talk about the effectiveness of making emotional connections, but any AIC-er can tell you that talking about emotional connections and actually creating them are two profoundly different things. The World Vision approach is completely overdone so what do we do now? One musn't talk flippantly about creating an understanding of human tragedy.

Another thing brought up in the UN report is that changing prevalence rates in India have legitimately affected the statistic. I think this is fair, but this is possibly because India is the quintessential example of generic ARVs having a significant effect on a population. In fact, since 1994, Cipla in Mumbai has launched 10 different types of ARVs, with the price of therapy constantly dropping. Generic HAART (Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy) can be bought for $250 USD a year, less than it costs to monitor CD4 counts and viral load. Definitely more people are receiving treatment, and thus transmission would also be down due to the effects of the ARVs. However, don't forget that correctly administered ARV therapy requires skilled and dedicated physicians to avoid ARV failure and resistance. With the current influx of ARVs, I'm not sure if this is happening, but I guess that just means I need to do more research (stats from a Lancet report here - subscription needed; if you're connected to the UBC VPN you'll be fine or email me if you have problems)

Yet another thing to consider is that ARV availability has not taken a positive upturn everywhere like it has in India. This statistic measures number of people living with AIDS, not number of cases contracted and we musn't be mesmerized by the successes in India and forget that there are still many who don't get the treatment they need (assuming they want it). This is a very roundabout way of saying that some people are still dying shortly after being infected.

A good point made by David Ng at Terry is that regardless of the actual number, HIV/AIDS is still a pertinent global issue that we need to keep caring about and acting on. It's not like the situation is any less important.

24 November 2007

step 2: actually typeset something

So if you haven't picked up on this, I'm trying to learn about LaTeX and I'm going to keep a blog to track my progress and motivate me to keep learning at a reasonable pace. I am not very good at computers so if you are, this is going to be terribly dull for you to follow. It will involve much oversimplification but what do you expect from a (disappointingly) computer-illiterate mathie who needs to break things down that way to understand? Haha, if you are good with computers and you're reading this you must think I'm a complete idiot. I'm not completely incompetent, I promise. I can write history essays. And, uh, write history essays.

Anyway... after reading a couple chapters detailing the intricacies of different dashes in TeX and adding emphasis to words, I became terribly bored and just wanted to try something out. The quadratic formula part is, for the most part, shamelessly stolen from Wikipedia's TeX entry.

Obviously I still have a lot to learn but there it's definitely a lot easier to learn things just by doing. A short summary of what I've learned and tried so far:

-Every document begins by defining what kind of document you're typesetting. I just used /documentclass{article} because that's what's in all the examples and I haven't explored the other options yet.
-You must add \begin{document}. You can add other things between these two commands but I don't know about them yet!
-$ and $$ set off formulas
-Bold and italics can be incorporated as follows: \itemphasis\rm or \bf{emphasis} with it being italics, bf being bold font and \rm being a closing tag meaning roman font
-As described in the sample, one should be conscious of dashes and hyphens. One hyphen(-) will produce a simple hyphen (for hyphenated words), two (--) will produce an en dash suitable for ranges, three (---) will produce an en dash for punctuation to represent a break in thought, and a hyphen inside a formula will produce a minus sign (use $-$).
-LaTeX will automatically adjust the spacing, so I added some errant spacing to observe this effect
-This introduced me to a few commands used in formulas like the square root (\sqrt) and how to represent fractions (\over).

This was the result:

08 November 2007

history graduate students ass'n book sale!

As you probably inferred from the title, I bought some books at the book sale in the SUB and I'm showing them off!

I got 2 essays by Arundhati Roy in the book The Cost of Living and a copy of my great grandmother's anthropological life history. I've never had a copy of During My Time to call my own, so I'm pretty happy I managed to pick one up for a dollar. I'll be blogging about The Cost of Living later.

04 November 2007

I've actually installed MacTeX this time...

I've always wanted to learn TeX but I kind of suck at computers. I'm not letting this stop me so let's get going!

I somehow managed to struggle with actually downloading TeX for hours. If you know anything about computers, this probably seems impossible and maybe it is a little. Actually I'm so bad with computers that this blog probably happened by accident, but I digress.

Anyway, after a few trials in the last month or so, I decided to give this download another try. I followed the instructions on the TeX users group, much like I did the other times, but this time it worked. Hurrah!

I clicked on the download then worked on my essay while I waited. When it finished:

1)Click on this:
Picture 3

2)Now you'll see this open. Click on the only option:
Picture 2

Now a very autonomous and straightforward installer opens. Go through all the steps and look in your applications for the program.

I have no idea how I managed to screw this up before.

03 November 2007

The Truth Experiment

I read the Science Creative Quarterly on a regular basis. Well, I've just started recently but I intend to continue. I came across SCQ's truth experiment which I think is worth a click. Aside from the fact that I do agree with many of the points presented, mostly it's the idea of playing with Google's results that is interesting (obvs). Check it.