Stories tagged testing

Jun
09
2009

Karina has some competition: This baby is WAY smarter than other babies.
Karina has some competition: This baby is WAY smarter than other babies.Courtesy quinn.anya
Silver bells are ringing across Britain as the nation celebrates the discovery of its lil’est genius. Two year old Karina Oakley has scored a 160 on the Stanford-Binet IQ test, administered to her by the professor her mother hired.

An IQ scored of 160 places little Karina on the lower edge of the “exceptionally gifted” intelligence classification. The high IQ society Mensa only requires an IQ score of 132 to enter, so Karina’s evaluation places her solidly in the ranks of such official geniuses as Cutthroat Island star and V8 juice fan, Geena Davis, as well as Playboy Playmate Julie Peterson and General “Stormin’ Norman” Schwarzkopf.

Despite all of the “Raising Your Gifted Child”-type books that are no doubt currently filling the padded horizontal surfaces of the Oakley household, raising this little genius will be difficult work. This is surely why Karina’s mother allowed the story to be printed in the respected British periodical The Daily Telegraph; she’s looking for support. So let’s help out.

What does an IQ of 160 really mean? Beyond “exceptionally gifted” or “Geena Davis-smart,” I mean. Let’s explore. For Karina’s sake.

The Stanford-Binet test administered to Karina had its beginnings more than a hundred years ago, when the French psychologist Alfred Binet and his colleague Theodore Simon were studying mental disabilities in school children. They devised a test of increasingly difficult questions and activities (ranging from touching one’s own nose to explaining abstract concepts) and determined the age at which a typical child could answer or perform them correctly. How well a kid tested would determine his or her “mental age,” or their level of development relative to others. But even a hundred years ago, Binet cautioned that the results of these tests should not be interpreted literally, because there’s a margin of error inherent in such testing, and because intelligence is plastic, or changeable, anyway.

Ten years later, researchers at Stanford University expanded on the Binet-Simon test, removing some items, and adding some new ones. The resulting Stanford-Binet test has been revised several times, and it’s now one of the standard IQ or “intelligence quotient” tests. The “mental age” concept from the original test, however, is still the key idea. It’s basically the same concept as an “intelligence quotient”—both are measurements of an individual’s intelligence (or mental age) compared to a standard or average intelligence.

So an IQ score near 100 is about average. That doesn’t mean that if you have an IQ of 100 you’re just okay, while most people might be smarter than you. Necessarily, most people should fall right around 100. With IQ tests, what you end up knowing is whether you test below, about the same, or above most people.

Now, little 2-year-old Karina has an IQ of 160. Does that mean she’s tossing around quantum mechanical problems, fixing the refrigerator, and deconstructing Proust in her spare time? Probably not. The test is going to be relative to her group; two-year-olds. So most of Karina’s colleagues will have an IQ of about 100, but Karina herself, well, she’s notably more intelligent than most two-year-olds. But, then again, so is my golden retriever.

It seems like administering an IQ test to a tiny kid like that is kind of silly. Their weird child-brains are all growing and developing, and all at different rates (which is normal). So does this just mean that Karina is as smart as a 3-year-old? The dog certainly aspires to that.

Karina will probably continue to be a clever little dude for the rest of her life, but what’s important is that she now has an official test, taken when she had been alive for just two years, to prove it. That test will be like the North Star, guiding her through life, and, like the star, perhaps just out of reach. It will be the trump card in shrill arguments with school councilors. And it will, above all else, make Karina friends, especially if she’s placed in a gifted and talented program early in her education. It’s the first stepping-stone on a glorious path to a nervous breakdown as a 16-year-old college freshman. Cheers, Mr. and Mrs. Oakley.

PS— Really, what it boils down to is that I’m insanely jealous of this little girl.

PPS—A fun little bonus story regarding child geniuses:
My young cousin: The doctor tested me to see how smart I am. He said I’m a genie!
My brother: You mean “genius.”

Sep
22
2008

What to know and when to know it: Two mammography images show the difference between a non-cancerous (left) and cancerous (right) breast.
What to know and when to know it: Two mammography images show the difference between a non-cancerous (left) and cancerous (right) breast.Courtesy National Institutes of Health
Record numbers of women are opting for a test that checks if their genetic make-up makes them stronger candidates for breast cancer. Last year about 100,000 women were tested. Doctors generally recommend against testing anyone under the age of 25, the same age that mammograms are first recommended. That’s because little can be done to screen or prevent breast cancer before that age.

But a growing movement among young women wants to find out how their genetic make-up could impact their risk for breast cancer. And they want to find out that news at an earlier age.

It’s a hot ethical question in clinics across the country today, which is explained in full detail here.

On the one side, pro-testing people point out that young people armed with this information could make lifestyle choices that could reduce their cancer risk. There is some evidence that young women with a positive genetic test have quit smoking, for example. Others have limited alcohol intake or avoided using birth control pills, two other factors that can raise breast cancer risk.

On the other side of the debate, researchers say that young women have enough health issues to deal with at an early age. Ringing alarms for something they can’t be “officially” tested for until later in life is just one more worry that they really don’t need to deal with at the time.

The tests themselves cost around $3,000. More and more medical insurance companies are providing coverage for the test.

If the test shows a faulty gene, the patient’s risk of developing breast cancer is three to seven times higher. In a few cases, parents have tested the genes of their pre-adolescent children. One girl test was just four years old.

What do you think? Is this good genetic curiosity or being a genetic busy-body? Is it important to find out this information if nothing can be done to treat the situation for a number of years? Share your thoughts here with other Buzz readers.

Researchers were able to take a single teaspoon of water from a city's sewage plant, and test it to see what drugs, legal and illegal, people were using. The tests cannot identify individual people -- it merely measures the level of certain drugs in the city's waste water.

Feb
27
2007

With all the buzz in the news about new vaccines and other drugs and whether or not they're properly tested for safety and efficacy, I was totally intrigued with an article in the December 18, 2006, issue of The New Yorker: "The Right to a Trial: Should dying patients have access to experimental drugs?" (Jerome Groopman)

The whole topic was fascinating, but the article included a summary of the F.D.A. approval process:

"Guaranteeing drug safety has been part of the [Food and Drug Administration's] mandate since 1938, when Congress passed the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act after more than a hundred people died from taking a medicine for strep throat which contained diethylene glycol, an active ingredient in antifreeze. Today, the vast majority of patients with life-threatening diseases are treated with drugs that have been approved by the F.D.A. after a stringent evaluation process designed to insure they are safe and effective. It typically takes a pharmaceutical company six and a half years from the time it discovers a promising molecule to gather enough data to apply to the F.D.A. for permission to test a drug on patients. Completing the clinical trials requires, on average, another seven years: an initial set (Phase I), usually involving fewer than a hundred patients, to determine the maximum tolerated dose and likely side effects; a second set (Phase II), involving several hundred patients, to identify the diseases—or stages of a disease—that are affected by the experimental therapy; and a final set (Phase III), in which the drug is given to several thousand patients and compared with another drug that has already been approved by the F.D.A., or with a placebo. After the trials, the F.D.A. reviews the results and, usually in consultation with an advisory panel of experts, decides whether to approve an experimental drug. Drug companies pay most of the costs of clinical trials, and by the time a drug reaches the market the manufacturer will have spent nearly a billion dollars on its development.

Nearly ninety per cent of drugs that enter Phase I trials are eventually abandoned because they are shown to be unsafe or ineffective. (Last week, Pfizer announced that it was canceling its Phase III trial of torcetrapib, an experimental drug for heart disease, after eighty-two patients in the study died. Pfizer had spent almost a billion dollars on torcetrapib, whihc had shown exceptional promise in earlier trials. 'This drug, if it worked, would probably have been the largest-selling pharmaceutical in history,' Steven E. Nissen, the chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, told the Times.) In the past decade, the number of new drugs approved by the F.D.A. has fallen sharply. According to a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, between 1994 and 1997 the agency approved an average of nearly thirty-six new drugs a year, but between 2001 and 2004 the approval rate averaged just twenty-three a year."

It's kind of mind-blowing. And it explains why drug companies do so much lobbying and marketing directly to patients.

I also found a cool article in the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston's Regional Review, Quarter I, 2003: "Too Much of a Good Thing Can Be Bad." (Carrie Conaway). It's about the development of cholesterol-lowering drugs, which are among the top-sellers in the US, but it touches on the same issues:

"The cost and uncertainty of the drug development process mean that pharmaceutical firms need to receive large returns on any successful drug in order to counterbalance the failures along the way. Yet the products they make, once discovered, are extremely easy for other firms to copy. Without some kind of legal right to the economic returns from their research findings, pharmaceutical companies would have no incentive to develop new drugs—and society would miss out on the new and improved treatments for disease and illness that the companies would discover. To solve this problem, the government grants drug manufacturers patents—short-term monopolies that limit competition and thus help ensure that companies receive a return on their research. But this benefit to inventors comes at a social cost. The shield from competition that patents provide gives manufacturers the economic power to set prices higher than competitive markets would allow, on the very goods that society regards as critically important to make available.

There is no doubt that patents foster innovation, especially for pharmaceuticals. But it is harder to know whether their current structure has struck the right balance between their costs and benefits for society."

What do you think IS the right balance between pharmaceutical costs and their benefits to society? Does FDA licensing make you feel okay about the safety and efficacy of a drug? Do you think that drug prices are fair? What could we do differently?

Over at the New York Times, John Tierney has a science great blog, Tierney Labs : Putting Ideas in Science to the Test. One exemplary post highlights scientific research explaining why supermodels don't smile.

Dec
14
2006

CAFE SCIENTIFIQUE
Professional Guinea Pigs
Tuesday, December 19, 6:30p.m. (Doors at 5:30 p.m.)
Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater, Minneapolis
Admission $5

Dr. Carl Elliott, author and professor at the U of MN's Center for
Bioethics, discusses the use of healthy humans in medical research. As drug companies offer higher payments to test subjects, will people be tempted to undergo frequent and dangerous trials? For those who make most or all of their living as paid research subjects, what protections are in place to safeguard against their exploitation?

Some suggested pre-Cafe reading:
Guinea Pig Zero: A Journal for Human Research Subjects

ABOUT THE BELL MUSEUM'S CAFE SCIENTIFIQUE:
Cafe Scientifique is a happy hour forum for science and culture presented by the University of Minnesota's Bell Museum of Natural History. Each month, experts from a variety of fields present cutting-edge research on diverse scientific topics-- from the politics of genetic testing, to the possibility of a new flu pandemic. Host John Erik Troyer, Ph.D., keeps the discussion moving in unexpected directions and audiences are encouraged to join in. The Bell Museum's Cafe Scientifique puts current science and popular culture on the table and up for debate!

For more information or a list of scheduled Cafe Scientifique programs, visit the Bell Museum's website or call (612) 624-7083.

For directions or to purchase tickets online, visit the Bryant-Lake Bowl's website.