Friday, 16 July 2010


I think I knew I wasn't cut out for broadcast journalism when I stuttered my way through an interview with Sir Michael Parkinson in his backwater days when he had a talk radio show in London.
When I say stuttered, I mean that I paused and muttered "umm" a lot. Afterwards I didn't feel like I had presented a very good image of a professional female journalist, though I was only a cub reporter at the time.
Now that I have experienced some significant - though intermittent - cognitive dysfunction as part of my illness it has led me to reflect more on the speed at which other people's brains individually assess and respond to conversations and situations.

I was listening tonight to the BBC's business editor Robert Peston on the Radio 4 PM programme. Now he is highly regarded as a journalist and has a lot of intelligent insight.
But I was thinking - if he was a woman journalist and he spoke as he did tonight, I believe he would be assumed to be a stuttering incompetent and simply not up to the job.
I have no idea if Robert Peston simply has an idiosyncratic speaking style or genuinely has the same problem as I have; the need to stop for a second, consider what the person has just asked me, recall the information in my brain, then arrange my words in the most helpfully communicated order.

Unfortunately the interview doesn't appear to be on the BBC website for you to listen again, but in this case Peston was not only slow and erratic in his speaking (something he does already get criticised for); he seemed to be thrown by Eddie Mair's initial comments, emitted a strangulated pause and was unable to construct a reply that made sense.
It sounded like he might have been fine if he had simply been able to launch in to the material he had prepared for the interview. But he was interrupted in his thought pattern and had to respond as quickly as he could, which appeared to be incredibly slowly.
But nobody would dare question his intelligence.

Unfortunately women (often professional women) are significantly more likely than men to get a chronic illness, and many include the rarely recorded symptom of cognitive dysfunction. If it is recorded by doctors then it often gets put down as part of anxiety or depression, or simply the catch-all thing that "sometimes happens after you've had children".
But let's face it, we all have unique brains with our own patterns of thinking and recalling information. The speed of recall will also vary, and this should have no bearing on our ability to learn, understand and use information in our work. Yet we sadly do judge people by how they can respond, particularly we females who stumble over our facts, or admit we can't remember the name of something (tut, tut).

I am so glad that I was never tempted to take the radio or TV career path.
I much prefer the written word because I can take... my... time over it.
(And to be fair to Robert Peston, he writes an excellent blog.)

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Are humans bigger mice without tails?

I have been sighing a lot over my laptop lately as a plethora of research these days claims that scientists could soon protect the whole of human kind from this disease or that disease.....on the basis of experimentation on mice.
One example is this reported in ScienceDaily which states: "The immune system of mice is very similar to that of humans".

I'm sorry but I cannot accept this bland statement. So often when I check the research papers, the researchers refer to the adaptive immune system (the one that recognises particular pathogens and then attacks) as if this is the only one there is.

In addition to the skin, the other layer of protection for the body is the innate immune system. This offers a constant and universal defence against dangers presented by microbes in the body. It is permanently on stand-by and can react to anything within seconds, sending a change along hundreds of response pathways.

The innate system consists of a variety of relatively little-researched receptors embedded in to the cells of our body. Some of these are called Toll-like receptors (TLR).

It is now known that humans - but not mice - have TLR10, plus mice have the additional TLRs 11, 12 & 13. Also the working of TLR8 is different in humans, compared with mice. 
I wish scientists would stop publishing papers that raise false hopes when clearly there is a big difference between the two mammals.

We may need increased research on fruit flies, not mammals, in my opinion. Yes! According to NASA scientists "Genetically speaking, people and fruit flies are surprisingly alike. About 61% of known human disease genes have a recognizable match in the genetic code of fruit flies, and 50% of fly protein sequences have mammalian analogues."
And they seem perfect for researching the little-known innate immunity pathways since fruit flies have no adaptive immune system.
Knowing these facts, I wonder if I could evolve a tail in the time that current pharmaceutical-based research can come up with human disease cures based on mouse models. Sorry to sound pessimistic, but I wish research money was directed in to more helpful avenues.