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February 17, 2017

Long weekend reads: Spider bite or skin cancer?

Daily Briefing

The Daily Briefing editorial team highlights several interesting health care stories and studies that didn't quite make this week's Briefing. What are you reading this weekend? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.

Rachel Schulze's reads

What you can learn from watching the office candy jar. To glean some insights into human behavior, a team at the Washington Post launched a self-described "unscientific" experiment, tracking how people acted around a candy jar strategically placed near Kevin Uhrmacher, a graphics editor for the newspaper. The team observed that almost everyone who came up to the jar while Uhrmacher was working made some kind of sound—such as an "mmm" or an explanation as to why they shouldn't be eating candy. That tactic makes sense, according to neuroscientist Gary Wenk. As Wenk put it, Uhrmacher's presence injected social complications to the act of taking candy, so people had to decide, "'Okay, I'm worth it, and I'm going to come over there and talk to you.'" Other, perhaps expected findings, according to the Post team: "Chocolate is popular, journalists stress-eat like crazy people as an election draws near, and candy corn is polarizing."

'Do you have any major problem communicating with other planets?' Highlighting his coverage of the Etan Patz murder trial, in which the defendant was questioned about his mental competency, New York Magazine's Thomas MacMillan spotlights the Structured Interview of Reported Symptoms (SIRS-2), a set of questions designed to help mental health evaluators detect whether someone is mentally ill or malingering—pretending to have an illness to gain an advantage of some kind. The questions are designed to trip up malingers. For example, SIRS-2 might intentionally pair together unlikely symptoms to trip up malingers (such as, "Have you ever felt that people were following you? Did you experience an increase in appetite during those times?") or expose malingers' incorrect assumptions about mental illness.

Sam Bernstein's reads

Spider bite or skin cancer? A bite from a brown recluse spider can lead to painful skin lesions that happen to look a lot like skin cancer, staph infections, and diabetic ulcers, among other ailments. In some cases, doctors may misdiagnose such issues because they look so much like the spider bite.  It's a serious enough issue that a group of researchers published a study in JAMA Dermatology that includes tips to help providers know a bite when they see it.

The story of Oregon Trail—the ultimate middle school time waster. Most millennials are probably familiar with Oregon Trail, the 90s-era computer game that simulated a trek westward toward a better life. It was "edutainment," Kevin Wong writes for Motherboard. Sure, you got to shoot buffalo for hours on end—which in retrospect is a bit disturbing—but you also learned history and developed some critical thinking skills. In an essay for Mother Board, Kevin Wong talks to the game's creators to understand how the iconic hit came to be.



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