Tuesday, February 15, 2011

At home vs. at home

270,000 people have been killed at home by guns since September 2001, according to Doonesbury

PolitiFact, one of my favorite news critique sources, decided to Fact Check Doonesbury, rating the statement "mostly true".

The assessment of statistics, however, reveals what each of us ought to be asking every time we read numerical claims.
1.  Where did you get the data?
2.  What did you do with the raw data in order to arrive at your own number?  math, extrapolations, further assumptions, etc.
3.  How do you define your key words?
The reduction in Truth-o-Meter is due to the fact that most people would assume the statement meant "at or near my home".  Whereas Trudeau meant at home to be the opposite of abroad.

Pow - advocates of stricter gun laws see a huge number and embrace it as a supporting pillar of their dogma without asking if it's right.
Pow - advocates of looser gun laws see a huge number and immediately assume it's wrong because it doesn't support their dogma.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Radioactivity waste site leaking

Der Spiegel (in German)  Doppelt so viel radioaktive Flüssigkeit in der Asse wie bislang bekannt

Innerhalb nur eines Jahres hat sich die radioaktive Flüssigkeit in dem früheren Salzbergwerk verdoppelt

Not sure what's behind the increase of radioactivity within the past year in the salt mine where radioactive waste is being stored.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Lies, Truth, and the Graphs in between

I really like the Flowing Data website/blog.  The blog is a wonderful presentation of the myriad and often intriguing ways of presenting data.  Sometimes data I really could care less about, but sometimes data that gives me a chance to look at what's meaningful in the method of presentation.

Lisa's course (PubH 6172, IH Applications) included a lecture on data presentation.  It was the first time I had a coherent, planned discussion about the whole matter.  One can look at something and say "that's not very clear" ... but why?  how do I improve it?  Have I lost the whole point I'm trying to make?  Could it be presented with a different style of graph to make it better?  Is it a 2"x2" picture in the paper which, in fact, only has 3 data points amidst the colorful image? (data density)

This is not only applicable to the NYTimes or Strib.  I'm trying to figure out how to present the data for my masters' paper.  The question is not only what to present ... the questions to ask are:
Do the graphs have enough data?
Do they have too much data?
Can I show the graphs to someone without the text of the thesis and explain my research?

The books Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics and How to Lie with Statistics are some of many books on the topic of being deceived by statistics (intentionally or not).  If you are actively trying to avoid being lied to - or - are trying to assure you don't inadvertently deceive someone ... learning all you can about the topic is critical.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Food Safety Regulation revision

A legislative fight over new food safety rules spawns a repetition of 1906 fight.

The text of bill S510, FDA Food Safety Modernization act is here:

Interview with Prof. Craig Hedberg (UMN School Public Health) is here:

Yes, it passed ... unfortunately not nearly strict enough.

Too much procrastination & stressing over thesis.  Hopefully blog will be updated not only more often but more articulately.  Really, really, really, really want to have it completely written before Christmas.

Monday, November 29, 2010

[law rev.] Suppression of Environmental Science

30 Am. J. L. and Med. 333
Suppression of Environmental Science

If you've never read a law review article, here's one to cut your teeth:

Summary (their version of an abstract)
... In recent years, research results, rather than the scientist's religion or politics, have motivated attacks on scientists. ... Suppression of environmental science raises serious concerns about scientific freedom and threatens public health and the environment. ... The examples of suppression set out above suggest three areas of the law that may impact the
scientific freedom of environmental scientists: defamation; scientific misconduct rules; and protection of employee speech. ... Given the public's interest in issues of environmental science and the likely broad dissemination of the statement, as well as the likely impact of the statement on public health or the environment, an environmental scientist's research and opinions about issues of environmental science are likely to be considered statements of public concern and given enhanced First Amendment protection. ... Therefore, where an environmental scientist's research concerns an unresolved scientific issue or methodology or is expressed in cautionary fashion, proving false facts would be difficult. ... A 1996 report for the Public Health Service's Office of Research Integrity ("ORI") found that 60% of exonerated
scientists experienced at least one adverse consequence as a result of being accused of scientific misconduct. ... In a number of ways, federal scientific misconduct whistleblower protection rules may condone unfounded misconduct allegations against environmental scientists. ...

Nowhere woman

Must write thesis
Must write thesis

hey, this is funny
bonus Geek Points if you think the bottom frame is funny, too

must write thesis
must write thesis

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Okay, so I've been procrastinating about writing due to the World Cup. I feel positively European, since I can tell you which 8 games went on this week and who's advancing and when the next games are. One of the big to-dos about the games in South Africa is the use of the Vuvuzela, a traditional horn used there for soccer games.

At one of the U.S. games (I think it was England, if not it was Algeria), I saw two men in the American fan section wearing ear plugs. I was so amused (pleasantly). You could see the little yellow ear plugs, which means they probably weren't inserted exactly the right way. But, given the fact that these traditional horns can produce up to 120 dB(A) at 1 meter @ 1 kHz, I finally agree that any amount of noise reduction is a good thing. What I really want to know is who these two fellows are and why they thought that was a good idea. Do they already have occupational exposure to noise? Are they industrial hygienists or safety professionals or occupational medicine nurses/doctors? Or did they just decide 'hey, this is going to be really really loud, let's bring ear plugs!"

There are countless studies published on noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) and many involving sports-related exposure. Two months ago, immediately prior to the World Cup in South Africa, several articles have been published about the vuvuzula in particular, as well as - of course! - a Wikipedia page on health effects.

So, in summary, they're really really really loud.

original cited research (if the article is on-line, I included a link):

Swanepoel D, Hall JW III, Koekemoer D. Vuvuzela – good for your team, bad for your ears.
S Afr Med J (2010) 100, 4, 99-100.
with a follow up report from the authors explaining their noise measurement method & providing a table of results:  122 dB(A) at 1000 Hz and 2000 Hz at the bell opening.

Swanepoel D, Hall JW III. Football match spectator sound exposure and effect on hearing: A pretest-post-test study.
S Afr Med J (2010) 100, 4, 239-242

Berglund B, Lindvall T, Schwela DH, Goh KT, eds. Guidelines for Community Noise. Technical Report. Geneva: World Health Organization, 1999.

According to South African media Sports24, 1.5 million of these things have been sold in Europe since October.  If they were all being manufactured in South Africa, I would be more likely to believe the ever-present claims of sports proponents about how wonderful things like this are for the local economy.

One manufacturer has designed a vuvuzula which reportedly produces 20 fewer decibels.  While 100 dB dropped down to 80 dB will get you by in the workplace, it still ignores the fact that Soccer City in Johannesburg will hold up to 84,490 people for the World Cup this year.  Noise exposure is additive.  The end result of 20,000 (or more) people blowing is going to be far above 80 dB even with the new gadgets.

Picture of warning symbol on vuvuzula

One of these things turned up at the Riverview last week during the US : Slovenia game.  With the theater at almost capacity (I'd guess 90% of 700 person capacity), the vuvuzula was surprisingly loud.  Everyone turned around at the first blast and immediately knew what it was without seeing it.  One of them was a nice, if loud, addition to the game since it was only blown about a dozen times in short blasts.  In a really large movie theater, one was enough for me sitting at least 20 yards away.  I think it was at the back of the theater and I was sitting almost down front.

Last Sunday at the Germany : England game, someone brought a small (18") version to a restaurant.  It was an unholy racket.  Luckily he only blew it about 3-4 times before the game started.  The restaurant, needless to say, was much smaller than a movie theater.

Sports and Risk Perception

This is an astonishing example of public risk perception.  The public health advice is also shocking.

Soer, who was present when the study was done and is knowledgeable of the findings, gave some simple advice on how to avoid any danger.

"Wear earplugs to the games," she said. "Either buy them at a pharmacy or make them yourselves and take it with you to the soccer games.

make them yourself... ? And this comes from a medical doctor?
I don't know what Communication Pathology is.  I infer from their limited website it is infectious diseases.  One of study foci was transmission of disease by sharing horns, so I understand a pathologist being involved.  But she obviously isn't familiar with how ear plugs work.  Does she think a wad of cotton is going to help?  Or is there some common item South Africans use for this purpose?

With poor risk communication from professionals, it is unsurprising that individuals are not making optimum choices.

"I am not worried," said Matthew M'Crystal, a 24-year-old law student. "Anyway, it won't kill us."

The chronic excuse:  'it won't kill me'.  Well, one of these days, being a lawyer, he's going to decide to sue someone over his noise-induced hearing loss by claiming "But I didn't know it was bad for me!"

"I could have died in Mexico," said Ricardo Avila, a 56-year-old soccer fan visiting South Africa for the tournament. "So no, it does not bother me."

Here is a different problem with individual risk perception.  Even when you give a perfectly clear explanation of the risks of exposure, and the employee really does understand it ... her risk comparison may be standardized against something other than yours.

"You have a 1:100 probability of losing your hearing"
"Yes, but I live in the area of town with the highest crime rate, gang activity and there was a drive-by shooting on my block last night.  Losing my hearing isn't so bad."

There will be a few more posts about noise and the World Cup.

I think I might borrow a noise meter from the U's IH lab to see how loud it gets on Saturday during the Germany-Argentina game over at the Glockenspiel in StPl.  I'm considering playing hookey with my spouse on Friday to watch the Brazil-Netherlands game.  Maybe I can compare the two?  Get a publication?  lol

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

BP & OSHA citations & data presentation

Following the ecological disaster in the Gulf, British Petroleum is in the news about all of the myriad failures to comply with regulations.  Of course, the regulators are also in the news about failing to do the regulating.  I'm wondering if OSHA is going to come under fire?  Or if anyone will notice OSHA's inspection frequency compared to MSHA.

Flowing Data is a great site with interesting examples of data presentation.  The OSHA citation frequency for BP is notable due to its calculation based upon production in barrels of oil, rather than dollars of profit/cost.  The worker hazard exposure is the same regardless of whether crude is $50 or $200/barrel.

I like the presentation even more because the author cites the data and provides links to it.  The presentation of prostitution in San Francisco as a 3-D topographic over a map of the city is not so data-dense, but certainly visually impressive.

With the post on BP's citations, I am really amused by the posts discussing different ways to normalize or present the data.  Something any scientist should be trained to do.

Back in the saddle again?

The 3 sentences I want to hear:

You should start writing.

You should stop writing.

Congratulations, you passed.

one down, two to go.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

IH Job @ Sandia Nat'l Labs (Albuquerque)

We at Sandia National Laboratories are currently seeking an entry-level
Industrial Hygienist. In recruiting for this position, we are asking
that you circulate this job description and application information to
any of your graduates that may be interested. This is a full-time,
technical staff position at our Albuquerque, NM location. The attached
file describes the position and provides instructions on accessing our
careers website to apply. In addition to applying at the careers
website, I ask that any interested persons also contact me directly via
email. I am also available by telephone at 505.845.8040 to answer any
questions. Thanks in advance. -Mike

Michael C. Oborny, CIH
Dept. 4127, MS-0792
Sandia National Labs
PO Box 5800
Albuquerque, NM 87185-1050

Tel: (505) 845-8040
Fax: (505) 844-0636
e-mail: mcoborn@sandia.gov

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Abatement fraud in NYC

How good is your data?  Spending countless hours as a chemistry major at university, and then working as a chemist for many year, good documentation practices have been driven into my subconscious.  But that only applies to me generating data.  I am confident of the quality of the data in my lab notebook:  after all, it's mine.

What about the lead analysis I did at my internship?  I'm sure about how the samples were collected.  But what about the lab reports?  Are the numbers even real?  Well, I'm forced to assume they are.  I got the numbers directly from the laboratory.

What about the mercury sampling I had done at my last house?  I watched them do the sampling.  But what about the results?

How do I know they weren't lying?

I haven't given much though to what I, as an ordinary person, would do in the situation of needing environmental testing.  The people I purchased that house from had done lead testing.  What would I do?  Just call an 'inspector'?  How does a person verify their honesty/quality, beyond calling to verify the license is current?

This fellow, creating a ruckus in New York City, demonstrates both the fractured nature of public offices as well as the consequences of underfunding government agencies.  The result?  Moaning and wringing hands over the inability of the state to control this, then crying that too many agencies aren't working together.  Is anyone going to sit down, ask "so how can we do this better?" and then change something? change anything?


Monday, April 26, 2010

What's up

Graduation is in a couple weeks (May 17).  I'm trying to get the 2nd half of my research done so that my poster, which just got accepted, will be able to go to AIHce.  I'm trying to find someone to share a room with, so that I can go to AIHce.  I keep forgetting to track down the person suggested for the 3rd person on my committee...


... I keep thinking of the shocking news stories recently about occupational fatalities, especially the Upper Big Branch Mine in WV and the oil rig in the Gulf. more soon

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Fatality Perspective

The explosion at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia on Monday killed 25 people.

21 people died during the whole of 2009 in the entire state of Minnesota.

Nervous about job interview

"How would you like to come in for an interview?"

ahhh, the magic words a grad student wants to hear before graduation.

So - I have an interview tomorrow afternoon with Minnesota OSHA.  Like any responsible person, one researches the potential employer.  Sure - I'm already in the business.  Sure - everyone knows what OSHA does, right?  Nevertheless, I did.

Their website is fairly user-friendly.  Detail dense, but with a little looking around, it didn't seem hard to find what I wanted.

I'm looking forward to the opportunity to visit many different types of worksites.  Construction, meatpacking, chemical processing, paper mills, etc.  Then, I found the list of 2009 Fatalities and Serious Injury Investigation Summary.  It hit me.  What's the sure-fire guaranteed way to get a compliance inspector at your worksite?

1 - kill one of your employees
2 - injure a bunch all at once
3 - complaint

I never considered doing what compliance inspectors have to do: fatality investigations.  It's horrible enough 1,000 miles away listening to the news about the Big Branch Coal Mine in WV.  Can you imagine being the MSHA compliance officer who has to do the investigation after they open the mine?

I have never encountered a workplace fatality.  I've even managed to make it to this point in life without having many people I know die.  I've only had 2 friends die:  chronic medical problems and power tool accident(or suicide, depending on who you ask).  I've had 3 co-workers die:  motorcycle accident, drug o.d., and cancer(not related to our mutual job).  Suddenly I found an aspect to this job that is rather unsettling.

Of course, I'm nervous about having a job interview.  What questions should I ask them?  Should I ask

How do you cope with doing fatality investigations?
Do you ever run into employers who are verbally abusive when you do an unannounced inspection?
Do you like your job after 5 years?
What's the average time before someone leaves & why do they do it (other than money)?
What's the worst place you've ever had to do an inspection?


Wednesday, March 31, 2010

(not) user-friendly websites

The AIHce website really doesn't cut it for user-friendly.  It should be relatively intuitive to find basic information, like a Call for Submissions instructions.  I should not need Google to find it.  And, the requirements for abstracts should be directly available on-line.  It doesn't make much sense to require me to interrupt someone's day to ask for the information.  Especially since I doubt I'm unique in submitting it at the last minute.  I really hope that the information is adequate, beyond the actual abstract, e.g. title, formatting, author names, etc.

Someone at AIHA told me that at least 60% of the abstract submissions come on the last day.

oops - sorry - I can't even claim my dog ate it.  I can claim that I missed 3 days within the last week due to puking children, fevers, sick children, and sick grad students.  Oh, and perhaps even more so - I've never written one of these things before. I really feel sorry for my prof, even if I appreciate the time he took to help with this.

I'm left wondering if
a)  it will get accepted, and
b) if anyone else from our program is going, and
c) I'll get altitude sickness in Denver.

value of networking

I have a job interview next week.  My first in 13 years - I've been employed, or voluntarily unemployed, or a student.  I'm not sure if the intern-interview 2 years ago counts - considering how utterly horrible it went, I've decided that it doesn't count.

I told my prof/adviser of the news.  His response:  a summary road map of people/information to allow me to make a better impression.

Sure, I think he's a nice man, and a good researcher, but this information is what makes someone a good colleague.

Now, I just need to convince the interviewer that I'd make a good colleague.

Friday, February 26, 2010

another smaller world

Yet again a reason to give consideration, before uttering the Truth about your boss. No matter how true it is, eventually you'll say it in front of someone who knows her/him. And, with a relatively small profession like industrial hygiene, it will likely be sooner rather than later.

I'm going to be working through a consultant to do a project for the firm I did my internship with last year. I mentioned I'm taking a law course, and he of course asked who my teacher is. Yup - consultant knows my prof. They used to work together. Discussing the course material, I mentioned one of my classmates works here at the U. Yup, consultant knows him, too. Both people, in turn, also know the consultant personally.

Interestingly, the opinions expressed by the various parties was rather amusing, when taken as a whole.

It's also the sort of thing that reminds me that there are other folks out there who know me professionally, and whose opinion of my abilities and personality can quite easily be passed on to some total stranger. Which leaves me wondering what sort of opinons they are tossing around.

Hmmmm.... yup, maybe I ought to keep my opinion of my boss/co-worker/etc. to myself. Or, at least, keep the entire truth to myself.

Response to failure

Today at Rodent U.'s Industrial Hygiene lab
we return to the on-going saga of our grad student's valiant efforts to get data.
In the last episode, her experiment actually produced data!
We open on the scene of her meeting with her research adviser,

meet with Dr.P --- ok

The missing peak in last experiment is supposed to be missing --- ok

the annoying peak at 0.7 is still there and pretty much just as big --- hmmm

check out experimental set up, connections, tubing --- how many gallons of oil were needed to make all of this Tygon tubing??

Find wiggly thing that's not supposed to be wiggly --- hmmm

find a the leak --- good

correct leak --- even better

annoying peak at 0.7 gone --- great

have finally gotten really ready to get to the meat of the experiment

set up power source --- ok

turn power source on

power source "on" light lights up --- yea!

power source makes the right kind of ticking noises --- good

fiddle with voltage regulator --- looks right

loud pop --- huh?

flash of white light at ammeter scale --- wow, pretty lights

no more voltage

no more joy

Dr.P & I looked at each other and sighed ...

I might as well laugh; at least it doesn't make my nose run afterwards.

Thesis tip

When you decide to be supportive of your classmate, and attend her thesis' defense ...

and you realize the only people in the room besides yourself are the degree candidate, and her 3 committee members ...

make sure you think of something really intelligent to ask at the end of the presentation.

So that when her advisor (who also happens to be yours) turns to you and asks, "So, at this point, we'd like to ask our guest if she has any questions" ...

you can whip out that great, insightful observation and impress a) your advisor and b) the other departmental prof sitting there, whom you want to have on your committee.