Sunday, June 29, 2008

Post #200: Beep beep

Hey! This is my 200th post! Rock on.

During the last few months of my pregnancy, I enjoyed a brief hiatus from being honked at by dudes in cars. Though Mrs. Gerbil would beg to differ, I've never thought of myself as particularly attractive. The extra forty pounds made me feel even less attractive (again, Mrs. Gerbil would beg to differ), so I was glad for the lack of honking.

A staple of my post-partum summer wardrobe is the nursing tank top. I highly recommend these things. It's been beastly hot, humid, or both over the past few weeks, so I'm even more thankful that these tops exist. They provide excellent coverage. But I'm finding that when I go out on my bike, I'm getting honked at again. One time an SUV full of male 20-somethings honked, wolf-whistled, and hey-sexied at me over the course of about 3/4 of a mile. I was sorely tempted to flip them a very ladylike bird, but I decided that ignoring them was probably the best policy.

But when I slather myself up with sunscreen and take Tovah out in the stroller for various errands, the last thing I expect on our walks is to be honked at.

And yet it happens. Like, every time.

I would think that, from an evolutionary-biology perspective, men in their reproductive prime would not be interested in women with babies. After all, the baby's presence should suggest that there's a father somewhere--i.e., competition. (For the sake of argument, we shall not consider the possibility that the baby has two moms. As far as I know, humans are the only creatures with the capacity for family-building by artificial insemination.) Men with babies, however, should be a big huge draw for women in their reproductive prime, for these guys basically advertise their sensitive, protective nature.

Here, too, Mrs. Gerbil begs to differ. She thinks that men in their reproductive prime should be very attracted to women with babies, as the baby is proof of fertility.

Then again, perhaps the baby has nothing to do with it. Maybe it's just all about my awesome tank tops--and my (baby-nourishing) honkers.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Grand Rounds at Shrink Rap

My blog-pals Roy, Dinah, and ClinkShrink are hosting this week's Grand Rounds over at Shrink Rap.

Even if you are not excited about the prospect of lots of health- and mental-health-related blog posts, it's worth it just for their awesome interactive iPhone graphic. (Which has a little purple gerbil in it!)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

On peer review and cell phones

My cell phone and I have a love-hate relationship. I do not care for bells and whistles like call waiting, text messaging, or camera functions; and I always have a devil of a time explaining myself to the guys at the Verizon store. I also do not care for cell phones' collective implication of round-the-clock availability of their owners. But I like being able to talk to certain people for free, as well as to call Mrs. Gerbil to check on the little gerb while I'm off on my errands.

But alas, my cell phone's battery is dying a slow, horrible death. It demands to be charged at least once a day, regardless of whether I have been using the phone; and the phone now starts beeping its "feed me!" beep 30 minutes into a conversation. Yet if I hang up but don't plug it in, it will miraculously find a partial charge after only a few minutes' rest.

(Perhaps my trusty rusty phone is jealous of the baby--I like to talk on the phone while nursing.)

I don't really want to get a new battery. I have no idea whether I can even get a replacement battery for my no-frills phone; and besides, Verizon will give me a new phone, or at least a credit toward a new phone, in September. So I'm content to put up with its constant demands for attention for a few more months. I just wish that I'd known ahead of time that the battery would begin sucking this much less than 18 months into my relationship with this phone. Isn't that what all this R&D money is for?

There has been a lot of kerfuffle in the media and the blogosphere lately about a certain Harvard researcher's failure to disclose some of the money he's received from industry sources. This researcher, whose name begins with a "B" and ends with an "iederman," has been churning out scientifically solid work on pediatric bipolar disorder for a long, long time. (His CV probably requires at least a ream by now.)

Some are taking his disclosure malfunction as an indication that his research is shoddy, and, by extension, that bipolar disorder (and, for that matter, the entirety of DSM-IV-TR) is a load of bunk. This is one big logical fallacy--the straw man, to be precise.

If you have not spent a lot of time in academia, you may not be aware of the process by which research like this gets published. After you've obtained the necessary human subjects approval from your local Institutional Review Board or its equivalent, after you've collected and analyzed and interpreted your data, and after you've written up your manuscript, you must figure out which journal might publish it. Then you send your manuscript to that journal's editor, and the editor sends it as a de-identified document to three people who know your subject matter inside and out.

If you're trying to get psychological research published, one of these people might just be yours truly.

As a peer reviewer, I read your manuscript thoroughly, check your analyses and your interpretations thereof, determine whether it's appropriate for this particular journal, and write up a few paragraphs on my findings. I make a recommendation to the editor as to whether your manuscript should be published as is, with minor revisions, considered as a "revise and resubmit," or rejected outright. The editor then sends you a letter containing all three reviews and his or her decision.

I get about a month to complete my review, and it typically takes me about 20 hours, but I don't get paid. At no point do you know who I am, do I know who you are, or do I know who my two compatriots are. If your manuscript gets published and I recognize it, I sure hope you thank your anonymous reviewers in your acknowledgments footnote.

In my time I've saved the world from a lot of crappy manuscripts.

Although research ability and ethics overlap, they are not one and the same. Yes, conflict of interest is a huge problem. But before dissing a researcher's entire body of work, as well as the work of his or her colleagues, consider the lowly peer reviewer... who along with two other unidentified colleagues decided that each of his or her publications was worthy of ink.

Confidential to Motorola: Revise and resubmit, yo.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


I am a very, very bad child of the 80s.

Last weekend I finally saw Michael Jackson's "Thriller" in its entirety. All 14 cheese-tastic minutes of it.

(In my defense, I was three when the video was released, and my parents do not have cable. But still, this is kinda embarrassing.)

And it made me wonder--what, exactly, is involved in an audition for a zombie movie? Do they ask aspiring zombies to stumble around the room? Is it possible to be typecast as a zombie? (Relatedly: is it at all desirable to be typecast as a zombie?)

Also: if you have not yet seen A Hard Day's Night of the Living Dead, what are you waiting for?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Gerbil Jumble #4: Didja miss me?

I haven't posted one of these in ages--almost two years, to be exact. But that's not to say I haven't been doing them. I just haven't been posting them.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Design flaw

What with the rising price of gas, Mrs. Gerbil and I decided it was high time to get new bicycles. My old beloved purple bike had died a valiant death of rust before our move from Ohio to California, and Mrs. Gerbil's black one was sacrificed for our move from California to Massachusetts. Mrs. Gerbil had promised me a new bike for Hanukkah a few years ago, and we'd gone to a bike shop of good repute in Berkeley to check out the stock; but the very nice employee wasn't able to identify the right bike for my overall size (not very big) and posture needs (weird).

So a few weeks ago, on recommendation from one of Mrs. Gerbil's co-workers, we went to Joe's Bike Garage. Joe's Garage is a tiny little place whose website, as far as I can tell, only has an index page; but Joe had the perfect bike for us. We each got a Redline R510, and dang, am I in love with my bike.

The other day I went on an extended little jaunt in search of a prescription and some ingredients for dinner. As I was unchaining my beautiful bike from the trash can at Big Y (note to local businesses: please provide bike racks!), an older man in a boater hat approached me. "Can I ask you a question about your hat?" he asked.

"My helmet?" I asked.

"Yes," he said.

"Sure," I replied.

"Why is it shaped like that?" he asked.

Assuming he was referring to its fairly typical contour, I said, "It's more aerodynamic this way."

"It doesn't cover the side of your face," he said. "Why isn't it shaped like a football helmet?"

"There are some helmets like that," I said, "but I guess this one is just made to protect your brain. If you fall on the side of your face and break your jaw, they can wire it back, but if you hit the top of your head and get a brain injury, you're pretty much screwed."

Dammit, I thought, I shouldn't use words like "screwed" when conversing with nice 80-year-old men.

"Oh, okay," he replied. "But me, if I fell off a bike, I would probably fall on the side of my face. Bye!"