Cyberchondria or Coincidence? How Iatrogenic Death Shadows the Growth of the Internet
1% of all Google searches are health queries. Cyberpsychologist Mary Aiken explains how artificial intelligence diagnostics lead to psychosomatic symptoms, and potentially explain the fourfold increase in iatrogenic death in the US since 1999.
Mary Aiken specializes in the impact of technology on human behaviour, and has written extensively on issues relating to the intersection between humankind and technology — or as she describes it "where humans and technology collide." She appears regularly on radio and television and frequently gives talks to the public and private sector on an international basis. Dr. Mary Aiken is an Adjunct Associate Professor at University College Dublin, Geary Institute for Public Policy, and Academic Advisor (Psychology) to the European Cyber Crime Centre (EC3) at Europol. She is a lecturer in Criminology and Research Fellow at the School of Law, Middlesex University, a Fellow of the Society for Chartered IT Professionals, a Sensemaking Fellow at the IBM Network Science Research Centre, and Distinguished Professor of the Practice of Cyber Analytics at AIRS Hawaii Pacific University. She is a member of the Hague Justice Portal advisory board and Director of the Cyberpsychology Research Network. Her groundbreaking work inspired the CBS television series "CSI: Cyber."
Mary Aiken: Everybody knows somebody who searches health related information online. Well there’s actually a name for it and it’s called cyberchondria. Cyberchondria is defined as anxiety induced by escalation during online search to review morbid or serious content. So what does this mean? Well it means that you have a headache and you end up reading about brain tumor. And there’s a very good reason behind it. Humans have a propensity to escalate, to review the worst possible scenario probably to dismiss it. So come back to the headache. If you went to your doctor and you said I have a terrible headache and your doctor said well, you could have anything from a hangover to a brain tumor. You would say oh my goodness, talk to me about the brain tumor. And essentially that’s what happens online. People click on the worst case scenario and therefore those scenarios get driven up the search rankings. So the point about search it’s based on a frequency model, things that are frequently clicked are those things that actually rise to the top of search results. That’s fine if you’re looking at best beach in Florida but when it comes to health related matters it’s problematic. Why? Because it causes anxiety and you could be perfectly well but end up with a nasty case of health anxiety as a result of search.
So the thing is if there’s something wrong with your car and you Google it or search it inherently you’re not going to do any damage to the car. But in terms of bodily symptoms, the very act of searching can bring about or instigate psychosomatic factors. Psyche being mind and soma being body. So you can believe to feel that you are actually suffering from some terrible condition. If you put any body part now into search what you will see is pages of tumor and cancer. And, in fact, just a month or so ago on Google’s official blog they have well, owned up to the issue and have also told us that one percent of all online search actually relates to medical search, people Googling symptoms. I’ve published in this area and I’ve published a paper which actually looks at a phenomenon which I name as cyberchondria by proxy. And that is people searching health results of others. And the thing is if you survive the initial search and you get to the intuitive diagnostic websites that prompt symptomatology it actually can make the problem worse. Why? You’ve got a pain in your arm. Could be from carrying a heavy bag or a harsh workout in the gym. You go online and you’re led through this decision pathway. Is the pain radiating across your chest? Well it could be. Do you feel tingling in your fingertips? Well when I think about it I do.
Are you palpitating? Well of course I am. You then rush to your GP, your doctor, and you present with a cluster of symptoms that actually mimic a cardiac event. The point is that doctors don’t prompt symptoms but artificial intelligence based systems diagnostic tools do. There’s a great paper called hypochondriacal hermeneutics and the paper argues that the doctor-patient relationship is a hypochondriacal exercise in its own right. One person sitting there talking about symptoms and the other trying to interpret them. And effectively if you appear or manifest with this perfect cluster your doctor has got no choice but to put you in the pipeline for intrusive, diagnostic, investigative procedures which are all inherently risky. A report came out recently that was published in the BMJ that has stated that iatrogenic death is the third cause of death in the USA. Iatrogenic would cover – it’s a catchall for problems in terms of taking medication, medical error, infection. So it’s death by accident within the medical system. But in my book I note and of course I’m aware of causation correlation but there’s a very interesting trend that iatrogenic death has increased fourfold between 1999 and 2011 and actually shadows the growth of the internet. Let’s think about that.
The internet is full of information. It is a data piñata so stuffed that if you hit it, your baseball bat would split in two. But remember that old adage about quality vs. quantity? It’s never been more relevant than now, in the age of digital health searches and rampant self-diagnosis.
Way back when, by which we mean less than 20 years ago, if you had a strange rash or a suspicious lump or a pain, you either had to visit a real doctor, pluck up the courage to ask a friend or relative, go to the library in disguise, or die in silence and shame.
Most people seeking answers then were genuinely sick, but some would have been hypochondriacs. The condition, described as abnormal anxiety about one’s health and imagined illness (even to the point of psychosomatic symptoms), has been around for centuries, and recently it has grown a new branch: cyberchondria. "Before the internet, it was called medical student's disease," says Dr. Aaron Krasnow, associate vice president of Arizona State University’s Counseling Services and Health Services, in an interview with The State News. "The thing about medical students is that they learn about so many diseases and disorders, they start to think they have them… The internet is filled with an enormous amount of fantastic information. It is also filled with an enormous amount of terrible information. One of the things the internet does poorly is filter the information."
The more people click on a certain search result , the higher it rises in the ranks. Mark Aiken, forensic psychologist and director of the Cyberpsychology Research Network explains why you may have a headache but end up reading about a brain tumor. "There’s a very good reason behind it. Humans have a propensity to escalate, to review the worst possible scenario – probably to dismiss it. … If you went to your doctor and you said, ‘I have a terrible headache,' and your doctor said, ‘Well, you could have anything from a hangover to a brain tumor.’ You would say, ‘Oh my goodness, talk to me about the brain tumor.’ And essentially that’s what happens online. People click on the worst-case scenario and therefore those scenarios get driven up the search rankings."
These frequency-based search models are fantastic if you want to know where to eat in Texas, but they are devastating when it comes to health queries. Intuitive diagnostic websites can actually have negative health impacts, escalating and prompting symptoms, leading a person to imagine feelings that aren’t there and rushing to the doctor with a cluster of symptoms that mimic a real disease. The doctor has a responsibility to refer you to the next medical stage for testing and diagnostics and potentially risky investigative procedures.
A recent report published in the BMJ states that iatrogenic death – a catchall term for problems with taking medication, medical error, infection, or death by accident within the medical system – is the third cause of death in the USA. Noting that correlation does not imply causation, Aiken notes an interesting trend: iatrogenic death has increased fourfold between 1999 and 2011 and actually shadows the growth of the internet. Perhaps cyberchondria is a more serious problem than we all thought.
Mary Aiken's most recent book is The Cyber Effect: A Pioneering Cyberpsychologist Explains How Human Behavior Changes Online.
Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live this Thursday at 1pm ET.
The images and our best computer models don't agree.
A trio of intriguing galaxy clusters<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQzNDA0OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTkzNzUyOH0.0IRzkzvKsmPEHV-v1dqM1JIPhgE2W-UHx0COuB0qQnA/img.jpg?width=980" id="d69be" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2d2664d9174369e0a06540cb3a3a9079" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The three galaxy clusters imaged for the study
Mapping dark matter<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d904b585c806752f261e1215014691a6"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/fO0jO_a9uLA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The assumption has been that the greater the lensing effect, the higher the concentration of dark matter.</p><p>As scientists analyzed the clusters' large-scale lensing — the massive arc and elongation visual effects produced by dark matter — they noticed areas of smaller-scale lensing within that larger distortion. The scientists interpret these as concentrations of dark matter within individual galaxies inside the clusters.</p><p>The researchers used spectrographic data from the VLT to determine the mass of these smaller lenses. <a href="https://www.oas.inaf.it/en/user/pietro.bergamini/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Pietro Bergamini</a> of the INAF-Observatory of Astrophysics and Space Science in Bologna, Italy explains, "The speed of the stars gave us an estimate of each individual galaxy's mass, including the amount of dark matter." The leader of the spectrographic aspect of the study was <a href="http://docente.unife.it/docenti-en/piero.rosati1/curriculum?set_language=en" target="_blank">Piero Rosati</a> of the Università degli Studi di Ferrara, Italy who recalls, "the data from Hubble and the VLT provided excellent synergy. We were able to associate the galaxies with each cluster and estimate their distances." </p><p>This work allowed the team to develop a thoroughly calibrated, high-resolution map of dark matter concentrations throughout the three clusters.</p>
But the models say...<p>However, when the researchers compared their map to the concentrations of dark matter computer models predicted for galaxies bearing the same general characteristics, something was <em>way</em> off. Some small-scale areas of the map had 10 times the amount of lensing — and presumably 10 times the amount of dark matter — than the model predicted.</p><p>"The results of these analyses further demonstrate how observations and numerical simulations go hand in hand," notes one team member, <a href="https://nena12276.wixsite.com/elenarasia" target="_blank">Elena Rasia</a> of the INAF-Astronomical Observatory of Trieste, Italy. Another, <a href="http://adlibitum.oats.inaf.it/borgani/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Stefano Borgani</a> of the Università degli Studi di Trieste, Italy, adds that "with advanced cosmological simulations, we can match the quality of observations analyzed in our paper, permitting detailed comparisons like never before."</p><p>"We have done a lot of testing of the data in this study," Meneghetti says, "and we are sure that this mismatch indicates that some physical ingredient is missing either from the simulations or from our understanding of the nature of dark matter." <a href="https://physics.yale.edu/people/priyamvada-natarajan" target="_blank">Priyamvada Natarajan</a> of Yale University in Connecticut agrees: "There's a feature of the real Universe that we are simply not capturing in our current theoretical models."</p><p>Given that any theory in science lasts only until a better one comes along, Natarajan views the discrepancy as an opportunity, saying, "this could signal a gap in our current understanding of the nature of dark matter and its properties, as these exquisite data have permitted us to probe the detailed distribution of dark matter on the smallest scales."</p><p>At this point, it's unclear exactly what the conflict signifies. Do these smaller areas have unexpectedly high concentrations of dark matter? Or can dark matter, under certain currently unknown conditions, produce a tenfold increase in lensing beyond what we've been expecting, breaking the assumption that more lensing means more dark matter?</p><p>Obviously, the scientific community has barely begun to understand this mystery.</p>
Scientists have found evidence of hot springs near sites where ancient hominids settled, long before the control of fire.
Astronomers spot an object heading into Earth orbit.
Minimoons<p>Scientists have confirmed just two prior minimoons. One was <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2006_RH120" target="_blank">2006 RH120</a>, which orbited us from September 2006 to June 2007. The other was <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2020_CD3" target="_blank">2020 CD3</a>, which got stuck in the 2015–2016 timeframe, and is believed to gotten away in May 2020.</p><p>2020 SO, the new kid on the block, is expected to arrive in October 2020 and pop out of orbit in May 2021.</p><div id="37962" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f4c0fc8a2cba6536ea4cd960ebed3e6e"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1307729521869611008" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Asteroid 2020 SO may get captured by Earth from Oct 2020 - May 2021. Current nominal trajectory shows shows capture… https://t.co/F5utxRvN6Z</div> — Tony Dunn (@Tony Dunn)<a href="https://twitter.com/tony873004/statuses/1307729521869611008">1600621989.0</a></blockquote></div>
Identifying 2020 SO<p>The first clue 2020 SO isn't your ordinary asteroid is its exceptionally low velocity. It's traveling much more slowly that a typical asteroid — their <a href="https://www.lpi.usra.edu/exploration/training/illustrations/craterMechanics/" target="_blank">average rate of travel</a> <a href="https://www.lpi.usra.edu/exploration/training/illustrations/craterMechanics/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"></a>is 18 kilometers (58,000 feet) per second. Even <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon_rock" target="_blank">moon rocks</a> sent careening into Earth orbit by impacts on the lunar surface outpace pokey 2020 SO.</p><p>For another thing, 2020 SO has an orbital path very similar to Earth's, lasting about one Earth year. It's also just slightly less circular than our own orbit, from which it's barely tilted off-axis.</p><p>So, what is it? <a href="https://cneos.jpl.nasa.gov/ca/" target="_blank">NASA estimates</a> that the object has dimensions very reminiscent of a discarded Centaur rocket stage from the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surveyor_2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Surveyor 2 mission</a> that landed an unmanned craft on the moon. Back in the day, rocket stages were jettisoned as craft were aimed toward their desired position. This stuff, if released high enough, remains in space. It appears that this Centaur rocket, launched in September 1966, is now making its way back homeward, at least for a little bit.</p><p>When 2020 SO arrives at its closest point in December, the rocket is expected to be about 50,000 kilometers from Earth. Its next closest approach is much further: 220,000 kilometers, in February 2010.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQzMDk3NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyODg1MTQ1MX0.HGknDwqp0GmeuczKY_AS7vrPG7KMFUc_XO95tNoI2xo/img.jpg?width=980" id="e5cda" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="85eb1f790d8c3ee5b261f7ba13eaa5e1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Centaur rocket stage" />
Centaur rocket stage
What we may be able to learn<p>Earthly space programs being as young as they are, scientists would love to know what's happened to our rocket during a half century in space.</p><p>While 2020 SO won't get close enough to drop into our atmosphere, its slow progress has scientists hopeful that they'll still get some kind of a decent look at it.</p><p>Spectroscopy may be able to reveal what the rocket's surface is like now — has any of its paint survived, for example? Of course, being out in space, it's likely to have been hit by lots of dust and micrometeorites, so the current state of its surfaces is also of interest. Experts are curious to know how reflective the rocket is at this point, valuable information that can help planners of future long-term missions anticipate how well a craft out in space for extended periods will remain able to reflect sunlight.</p>
Finances can be a stressor, regardless of tax bracket. Here are tips for making better money decisions.
- Whether you have a lot of money or a lot of debt, it matters how you handle your personal finances. A crucial step when it comes to saving is to reassess your relationship with money and to learn to adopt a broader, more logical point of view.
- In this video, social innovator and activist Vicki Robin, psychologist Daniel Kahneman, Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton, and author Bruce Feiler offer advice on achieving financial independence, learning to control your emotions, spending smarter, and teaching children about money.
- It all starts with education and understanding. The more you know about how money works, the better you will be at avoiding mistakes and the easier it will be to take control of your financial circumstances.