Who is more corrupt? Correlating politicians and corruption using Google

Posted: Wednesday, August 31, 2011 | Posted by Debajyoti Datta | Labels: 2 comments

This post was inspired by a post on The Madura Beats.

Let me start off by saying that this should not be taken seriously. It’s a quick and dirty work of half hour and not a rigorous study. If you want a rigorous study then probably a journal on political science would be a good starting place. That being said let me begin the post.

There is a nifty tool powered by Google called Google Insights for Search that lets you see the interest in particular search items overtime. You can also compare different search items and see how they vary over time. So I began my experiment. I searched for the search terms “lalu prasad yadav” and “corrupt” originating from India from 2004 till date. The graph shows the Google output.

I then downloaded the data and fired up R (a very powerful free statistical software). If you notice carefully you will see that the interest in “corrupt” went up sharply towards the end, that’s probably because of the recent interest in anticorruption movement. Hence I removed the outliers from the data using the rm.outlier() function of outliers package in R. Then I calculated Pearson’s correlation coefficient to see if the searches of Lalu Prasad Yadav and corrupt are correlated and plotted a scatter graph. The results are below.

Lalu Prasad Yadav and Corrupt
Pearson's product-moment correlation
data:  lpydata$lalu.prasad.yadav and lpydata$corrupt 
t = -6.4745, df = 398, p-value = 2.806e-10
alternative hypothesis: true correlation is not equal to 0 
95 percent confidence interval: -0.3947899 -0.2172100 
sample estimates: cor = -0.3086874 
Scatter gram of interest in LaluPrasad Yadav and Corrupt
I did the same using the search terms “manmohan singh” and “corrupt”. The results are below –

Manmohan Singh and Corrupt
Pearson's product-moment correlation
data:  newdata1$manmohan.singh and newdata1$corrupt 
t = 7.7384, df = 398, p-value = 8.371e-14
alternative hypothesis: true correlation is not equal to 0 
95 percent confidence interval: 0.2732764 0.4439476 
sample estimates:cor= 0.361638
Scatter gram of Manmohan Singh and Corrupt
The findings are counterintuitive. Though searches of both Manmohan Singh and Lalu Prasad Yadav are weakly correlated with the search of coruupt, they are correlated in the opposite way. Manmohan Singh has a positive correlation with corrupt while Lalu Prasad Yadav has a negative correlation with corruption. This means more the interest in the search term “corrupt”, more the interest in search term “Manmohan Singh” while more the interest in search term “corrupt”, less the interest in search term “Lalu Prasad Yadav”. Not what you expect, eh?

What does this mean? This means correlation doesn’t equal to causation and that my model is too simple to model the actual reality! Of interest, in the beginning of the tine series, there was almost no interest in the search term “Lalu Prasad Yadav” but there was a high interest in “corrupt”. Probably this screwed up the results.

Edited to Add -
Spurred on by the comment of confused yuppie, I did a bit more calculation, now comparing "lalu prasad yadav" and "manmohan singh" wit the search term "honest". The results -

Lalu Prasad Yadav and Honest

Pearson's product-moment correlation
data:  lpynew$lalu.prasad.yadav and lpynew$honest 
t = 0.1226, df = 59, p-value = 0.9028
alternative hypothesis: true correlation is not equal to 0 
95 percent confidence interval: -0.2368133  0.2667080 
sample estimates: cor = 0.01595912 
Lalu Prasad Yadav and honest
Manmohan Singh and Honest -

And then I run into problems. Somehow on downloading the .CSV file the data for honest is not there. So I can't test for correlation. I anyone is able to find the data for honest then please let me know.

At least the interest for Lalu Prasad Yadav is not correlated with honest.

Taking on Yoga

Posted: Monday, August 29, 2011 | Posted by Debajyoti Datta | Labels: , 5 comments

My routine after getting up in the morning comprises of going through the newspaper. Imagine my irritation when I flipped open t2, the supplement that comes with The Telegraph. The article was titled “Yoga for immunity” and I quote the first paragraph of the article –

The onset of monsoon brings along with it a number of ailments such as asthma, allergies, common cough and cold, abdominal disorders, typhoid, malaria, swine-flu, jaundice, diarrhoea and eye disorders. And to beat such disorders during the season, the best treatment one can resort to is yoga.

What? Consider being hit by such load of non-sense, at a time when I wasn’t still fully out of the clutches of Hypnos, it is not pleasant I tell you. But it did drove out the last remnants of any sleep from my eyes. I generally don’t pay much attention to articles like this but this is different. One rarely comes across this much non-sense compressed in two sentences. Published in a leading daily this is potentially dangerous. About 2,00,000 people below the age of 70 years die every year in India due to malaria (source). It is a very serious disease and can easily take your life unless treated properly. Enteric fever or typhoid is a similar dangerous disease. Jaundice can occur due to many causes form infection to cancer and needs medical evaluation. Certainly they can’t be cured by Yoga, leave alone the claim that yoga is the best treatment for these conditions. This is a fact. And there it was, a leading newspaper telling yoga is the best treatment for all these diseases with any evidence whatsoever

I did search Pubmed (a database of biomedical literature with over 20 million citations) to be sure that Yoga didn’t work. No surprise there. On searching with the limits clinical trials, meta-analysis and randomized controlled trial – the results showed zilch. There is not a single trial done to test whether yoga works for malaria, jaundice or enteric fever, leave alone testing if it’s the best. So where from the author is getting her information? It doesn’t matter, whatever her source is, it's not reliable as there has not been a single trial of yoga for these diseases.

I did send a complaint to the newspaper asking to give evidence in support of the claims in the form of randomized controlled trials or to retract the claims. I urge you do the same. It will only take a moment of your time to send an e-mail at t2@abp.in but it may stop the spread of misinformation.

Sunday Book Club: Intensive and Critical Care Medicine – Chapter I

Posted: Sunday, August 28, 2011 | Posted by Debajyoti Datta | Labels: , 0 comments

I have been reading this book titled “Intensive and CriticalCare Medicine: World Federation of Societies of Intensive and Critical CareMedicine” by A. Gullo, J. Besso, P.D. Lumb, G.F. Williams (Eds) published by Springer and thought about writing a review of it. 
Intensive and CriticalCare Medicine: World Federation of Societies of Intensive and Critical CareMedicine
First things first, the book is divided into 12 sections, beginning with section I – Introduction and Mission. I will talk about the rest of the sections as I work through the book. 75 authors have contributed to the book and it is of 573 pages including the index. The book is hard bound which is rather nice.

Moving on, the first chapter “History of Critical Care Medicine: The Past, the Present and the Future” is written by G. Ristagno and M.H Weil. Now Dr. M.H Weil was a pioneer in the field of Critical Care Medicine, infact he can be attributed with coining the term “Critical Care”. He was right there when it all began and it is fascinating to learn about the birth of a specialty from him. Unfortunately, Dr. Weil passed away on July 29 this year.

The chapter gives a concise overview of the history of Critical care Medicine as a specialty, how it evolved from “Shock Ward” to the modern day Intensive Care Unit. It’s very interesting to learn about the introduction of real time patient monitoring devices and their evolution into today’s point of care devices, the setting up Society of Critical Care Medicine and how the first three presidents of the Society set up an impromptu meeting in the Boardwalk of Atlantic City.

All in all, the chapter is quite nice. There are some pictures depicting how the ICUs looked back then. Such nuggets are rarely present in textbooks. It provides a good commentary from someone who actually shaped the field.

Measuring corruption in India

Posted: Thursday, August 25, 2011 | Posted by Debajyoti Datta | Labels: 0 comments

Let’s have a look at the level of corruption in India in the past few years.

Fig. 1 Global Integrity Index
Fig. 1 is the data from the Global Integrity report which measures legal framework of a country and the actual implementation of the framework associated with all things related to corruption. More the value less is the corruption. The data for 2005 and 2008 are missing. The integrity index should be interpreted as -
  • Very strong (90+)
  • Strong (80+)
  • Moderate (70+)
  • Weak (60+)
  • Very Weak (< 60)

Hence India is fluctuating between weak and moderate integrity.

Fig. 2 Percentage paying bribes
Fig. 2 is prepared with data from the Global CorruptionBarometer which shows what percentage of the survey respondents gave a bribe. Data for 2007 is missing. It is interesting to see that the percentage shot up suddenly in 2009. Wonder why?

Fig. 3 Corruption Perception index of India
Fig. 3 shows the Corruption perception index of Transparency International. More value indicates less corruption.

There has been gradual decrease in the level of corruption across the years but some may say it’s not enough. Will the anti-corruption movement change the scene. We have to wait and see.

Should giving a bribe be made legal? A radical idea against corruption

Posted: Tuesday, August 23, 2011 | Posted by Debajyoti Datta | Labels: 2 comments

I came across this radical idea propounded by Dr. Kaushik Basu, the Chief Economic adviser to the Ministry of Finance. The idea is to make bribing legal for giving a certain kind of bribe, which Dr. Basu calls “Harassment bribes”. The suggestion is that this will reduce the incidence of harassment bribes. How? The logic is as follows – a person is forced to pay a harassment bribe but he is unwilling to do so. According the prevailing law both the bribe giver and the bribe taker are equally wrong and liable to punished. Hence after giving the bribe, there is no incentive for the bribe giver to come forward. Instead, he is just as likely as the bribe payer to be punished if he comes forward. Under the new proposal, the bribe payer wouldn’t be punished only the bribe taker will. Hence the bribe payer can come forward against the bribe taker. How will he prove that bribe taker took the money? He will take a secret photograph or write down the numbers of notes paid etc.

Do we need this? Well, we can take photos of the bribe taker soliciting for bribes; we don’t have to actually pay them. That being said, this is an interesting idea. As the new law, if introduced, will be disproportionately against bribe takers, if properly implemented this has the potential to stop harassment bribes which in my opinion is the most pressing problem facing us. I, at least for one support this idea.

One problem though, how do we define harassment bribes? Ideas such as these, which are being lost in the din of anti corruption clamour need more wider promotion. I urge everyone to have a look at Dr. Basu's original article.

Further reading:

Will Anna Hazare succeed in curbing corruption?

Posted: Monday, August 22, 2011 | Posted by Debajyoti Datta | Labels: , 5 comments

Everyone has an opinion on Anna Hazare and the anti corruption movement; so I guess why should I be left behind? Being a skeptic I decided to look at the whole thing from a more basic and scientific perspective.

Let’s see what Anna Hazare is proposing – he is asking to pass a bill that will supposedly curb corruption. Here I will not comment on his methods and leave them for a future post may be. I will deal with a much more basic premise; can such a bill reduce corruption? The point that is of utmost importance here is Anna Hazare is following a top down approach, not a bottom up approach. Do we really know if the people of India want such a bill? Even lakhs of supporters in a country of 100 crore does not mean much and I’m being very generous in saying that he has lakhs of supporters.

A look at the science now - why do people bribe? I will leave out extortion by the bribe takers because I feel it will not be a stable system unless people are willing to give bribes. One theory is of “Speed money” or efficiency theory of bribes (see Huntington 1968, Lui 1985). This basically says that in a resource constrained setting people will pay bribe for efficiency. For example, let us suppose that you go to passport office to get a passport. The office can issue a passport within 14 days. But you need the passport in 5 days. So you bribe to get it done. This can be generalized in any resource constrained setting where the act of bribing results in a net profit and I use profit in a very general sense, not only monetary. The act of bribing will only stop when the cost of the bribe exceeds the expected profit, otherwise one will stand to lose by bribing.

This brings me to a very interesting study. Recently a study titled “Greasing the Palm. Can Collectivism Promote Bribery?” published in the July issue of the journal Psychological Science showed that companies which belong to countries with collectivist cultures (East Asian cultures) were more likely to bribe. What does this mean? Say there are 10 people standing in a queue and one of them pays a bribe to get ahead; then one or more others standing in the line will also be tempted to pay bribe to get ahead. They would justify it with the reasoning that everyone else is bribing so why shouldn’t I? The act of bribing thus becomes a collective act. Each act of bribing legitimizes the next act but only in a twisted misguided way.

It has also been shown that companies that make more profits also pay higher bribes. This in effect creates a vicious cycle. The company bribes to make more profit (see the efficiency theory of bribing) and with more profits they bribe even more. And the cycle goes on.

So will a top down bill work? All the evidence shows it won’t. So how can we reduce corruption? We begin at the bottom by eliminating the need for giving and taking a bribe.

Further reading:

Reading a CAM (Ayurveda) paper

Posted: Sunday, August 21, 2011 | Posted by Debajyoti Datta | Labels: , 5 comments

With the Indian government spending big bucks on complementary and alternative medicine under the aegis of the department of AYUSH, we must question whether all these spending is justified or if the money will be better spent improving the infrastructure of conventional health delivery system. With this in mind I set out read a CAM paper to find out what the CAM practitioners are up to. The paper is titled “Clinical efficacy of herbal Padmapatradi yoga in bronchial asthma (Tamaka Swasa)”. I must say at the outset that I have no knowledge about ayurveda but I do have some knowledge regarding asthma (had to study it for 4 straight years and still studying) and research methodology that I suppose will be more than adequate in examining this paper.

Introduction – Let us look at the introduction first. The paper begins with an unwarranted attack on conventional medicine.  
The reason for the therapeutic efficacy of herbal combinations in asthma is due to multiple blocking and homeostasis of very complex and interdependent cellular and mediator networks supporting and involved in the inflammatory process of asthma, whereas modern synthetic drug therapy aimed at blocking one mediator alone would be unlikely to have any significant effect on the disease process.”

Eh, what? Why? What relevance does it have on the study at hand? For what it’s worth, lots of asthma patients lead a perfectly healthy life free of morbidities thanks to “modern synthetic drug therapy”.
Herbal preparations have been cited as the third most popular complementary treatment modality. Sometimes herbal remedies increase the morbidity and adherence to inhaled corticosteroids.But Padmapatradi yoga. is an experience-based polyherbal compound having five herbs i.e. Padmapatra (Inula recemosa), Bhargi (Clerodenum serratum), Malaya Vacha (Alpinia galanga), Shati (Hedychium Spicatum), and Pippali (Piper longum).”

Generally when people begin with a “But” they come up with an argument. Suffice to say that the authors begin with a “But” but never say whether their preparation decrease the morbidity to inhaled corticosteroids. That they remain silent suggests that it does not. Important point to note, herbal remedies increases the morbidity to inhaled corticosteroids and should not be used together.

Also note that it is a  polyherbal therapy and the pharmacokinetics of different components will almost certainly be different. Wonder how they managed to get the dosing schedule right.

Methods – Now let’s have a look at the most important part of the study, the methods section.
Inclusion criteria - Patients above the age of 15 years and below the age of 65 years were included, irrespective of their sex, on the basis of clinical signs and symptoms. Bronchial asthma with a history for at least one year, nonsmokers and absence of long-term remissions of asthma (lasting more than one month) are included in the study.

So there are no proper inclusion criteria. How do they define asthma? We don’t know. Were the patients actually suffering from asthma? We can’t say with any degree of certainty. It’s not that an objective diagnosis of asthma can’t be made. The diagnostic criteria are there for all to see (NAEPP3 guidelineSection 3). Pulmonary function tests should be done to diagnose asthma as history and physical examination alone are not sufficient. But the study botches up this vital step. We can stop reading the paper here only. Without proper inclusion criteria there is no point in going through it, we don’t even know if the subjects were truly asthmatic.
Study design and duration - The study design was open clinical trial of over 40 cases of bronchial asthma. The study was a preliminary attempt to know the efficacy of this formulation, therefore a control group was not taken. Moreover, the trial was in an Ayurveda hospital and administration of modern control was an ethical problem. The duration of treatment was one month. “

No control group – point to be noted. The ethical problem noted is laughable. What is so special about ayurvedic hospital that placebo control could not be given? Oh wait, what is modern placebo control? Is it different from ayurvedic placebo control? Perhaps they have heard of crossover trials, that way every subject would have got their ayurvedic pills but I wonder why they didn’t do that?

Criteria for assessment – it appears that the authors made up their own criteria for improvement disregarding the available criteria. How do we know their criteria are valid?

Results - They did find a statistically significant increase in PEFR after the treatment, but they botch it up again. It’s not the absolute value of the PEFR that matters but the percentage of PEFR compared to predicted value or personal best is what’s important. PEFR values change with age and sex. No data is given in the study in this regard. Were the PEFR values actually abnormal? For example, as per EU/EN13826 scale PEF meters a 45 year old lady with height 152 cm can have a normal PEFR of up to 325 l/min but this would be classified as abnormal according to the study which is plain wrong. Also why did they leave out FEV1 despite saying they did measure it? Did it not show any significant improvement? I guess not. It’s important to note that FEV1 is better than PEFR to measure asthma severity.

In conclusion I should say it may be possible that herbal treatment may have some active ingredients in which case it would be appropriate to identify the active component and then see if it works. But studies such as this are just obfuscations. Before long some charlatan will come along and may quote this study to push more non-sense.

Panda AK, & Doddanagali SR (2011). Clinical efficacy of herbal Padmapatradi yoga in bronchial asthma (Tamaka Swasa). Journal of Ayurveda and integrative medicine, 2 (2), 85-90 PMID: 21760694