Indoctrination, pt. 2
by Hannah Rose Williams
Finishing this project a decade later, because we have kids now!

326: "The Best of Both Worlds, Pt. 1" - Riker begins to feel his career has hit a dead end. Then the Enterprise comes face-to-face with the Borg.

401: "The Best of Both Worlds, Pt. 2" - conclusion

404: "Suddenly Human" - the Enterprise discovers a wrecked ship with a human survivor, a boy raised by other species. He wants to go home to the people who kidnapped him, but Picard is unsure whether this is the right thing to do.

407: "Reunion" - K'Ehleyr returns to advise Picard, who has been chosen as a neutral party to arbitrate the selection of the new Klingon leader from two candidates, one of whom is suspected to be a traitor.

411: "Data's Day" - During a tense diplomatic mission, Data must also navigate the complex emotional minefield of Miles and Keiko's wedding.

417: "Night Terrors" - The Enterprise becomes trapped at a location that slowly drives its crew to dangerous insanity.

421: "The Drumhead" - A witch hunt breaks out on the Enterprise.

422: "Half a Life" - Troi's mother falls for a man whose culture is forcing him to commit suicide.

426: "Redemption, pt. 1" - Klingon civil war breaks out.

501: "Redemption, pt. 2" - conclusion
by Hannah Rose Williams

I plan to expose my children to many specific things, but I don't want them wasting too much time on Star Trek: The Next Generation. I love Picard and Worf and Data, but man. Most of that show really sucks. I've been watching it on Netflix and keeping track of the episodes that make the cut:

118 - "Home Soil" - A terraforming project is interrupted by the presence of a non-organic life-form.

120 - "Heart of Glory" - Pulled between his Klingon heritage and his human upbringing, Worf comes into conflict with a pair of old-fashioned Klingons commandeering the Enterprise.

220 - "The Emissary" - A half-Klingon woman fom Worf's past boards the Enterprise to help with an upcoming conflict. Stuff gets real.

[Yes. In all of Season 2, there was ONE episode that I thought was really good.]

302 - "The Ensigns of Command" - Star Fleet comes into conflict with a decidedly unrelatable, non-humanoid life form intent on destroying a human colony discovered in its sector; while Picard barters for time, Data is sent to the colony to convince them to flee. Thing is, they don't want to leave.

315 - "Yesterday's Enterprise" - During a pivotal battle, the Enterprise from decades past slips out of its own time, creating a new future where Star Fleet is at war with the Klingons and losing.

317 - "Sins of the Father" - When Worf's dead father is accused of treason, he and his secret brother return to Klingon to clear the family name, uncovering a political agenda.


How Habits Hold Us
by Hannah Rose Williams

fom The Wall Street Journal, Sunday, February 18-19, 2012

Jonah Lehrer


"Ninety-nine hundredths of our activity is purely automatic," the psychologist and philosopher William James famously wrote. "All of our life is nothing but a mass of habits."

James was pointing out that, though we give habits little thought, they define our lives: how much we eat, save or spend, how often we trek to the gym and what we say to our kids each night.

But these compulsions aren't inscribed in our genes or hard-wired into the brain at birth. Scientists are discovering that habits are simply an extreme form of learning, a behavior that's so familiar we no longer need to think about it.

The malleability of habits isn't news to Madison Avenue: Effective commercials show how people can be quickly trained to do something new and then keep on doing it. The secret, it turns out, is the quick combination of a memorable cue and a rewarding experience.

Consider Febreze, a product designed by Procter & Gamble in the 1990s to remove bad odors. As Charles Duhigg recounts in his fascinating new book, "The Power of Habit," Febreze underperformed in early tests and was in danger of being canceled. Consumers couldn't fathom what the product was for.

Febreze didn't become a superstar until the P&G marketing team created an ad campaign based on habit formation. The television spots showed homemakers performing a chore-- making a bed, mopping the kitchen --and then spritzing a little scented Febreze into the air. The spritz was always followed by a big smile.

What's most interesting is that instead of focusing on removing bad smells, the ads set up Febreze-- to which perfume had been added --as the rewad for a bout of cleaning, satisfying the desire to make things smell nice, not just look good. The ads taught consumers a new habit, training them to associate the rewarding positive cue--a spotless space--with the use of Febreze. Before long, the product was a best seller.


Now we can see how these habits take hold in our brains. In a new paper, the neuroscientist Joe Z. Tsien and collleagues at Georgia Health Sciences University describe a mutant strain of mice that were incapable of developing new habits. While ordinary mice quickly developed the habit of pressuring a lever to get a food pellet (leading to overeating), the mutant mice stopped pressing the lever as soon as they felt full.

These mice were missing a protein known as an NMDA receptor on their dopamine neurons. Normally, these receptors help to generate a big electrial response when an animal is repeatedly exposed to a rewarding cue, such as a food pellet. According to M. Tsien's data, this specific response is what transfoms ordinary learning into an automatic behavior. It doesn't matter if we're learning to overeat or to spray Febreze. That big signal from the NMDA receptor makes the difference.

This isn't the fist time that Mr. Tsien has tinkered with NMDA receptors. A few years ago, he created a mouse strain with too much of the receptor and created a freakishly smart rodent-- Mr. Tsien nicknamed it Doogie --that could learn and remember far better than a normal mouse. He has also showed that younger brains have significantly more of this receptor, which is why they absorb new information and acquire new routines so much more rapidly.

William James would appreciate this research. As he pointed out, the intelligence of humans is inseparable from our reliance on habits, the most mindless of behaviors. That's because they let us reserve brainpower for those things that can't be predicted in advance, those situations without relevant cues. Those are the circumstances that we actually need to think about. We have habits for everything else.



Jared: Wow, you could use that to quit smoking.

Hannah: You could use that to cure Alzheimer's.

Jared: Ah. It always goes back to Alzheimer's.

Was 'Sybil' a case of mistaken identity?
by Hannah Rose Williams


by Jeff Strickler, Star Tribune
MINNEAPOLIS — Was one of the world's most famous medical cases a mistake? Or, worse yet, a hoax?

Author Debbie Nathan's book "Sybil Exposed" explores the history of the Minnesota woman who became a cause celebre in the 1970s after it was reported that she had 16 different personalities. Following the best-selling book "Sybil" and a movie adaptation starring Sally Field, multiple personality disorder, or MPD, was officially classified as a psychiatric disorder.

The medical records for Sybil — who really was Shirley Mason, a native of Dodge Center, Minn. — were sealed until she died in 1998. After combing through those records, which included tape recordings of therapy sessions involving hypnosis while under the influence of "mind-bending drugs," Nathan is convinced that the treatment caused rather than cured her condition.

"I don't think she had MPD," said Nathan, a journalist who rose to prominence in the 1980s for her investigation of so-called "therapeutic interrogation" techniques. "I'm not a doctor, but in retrospect, I think she had a physical illness, pernicious anemia, which is known to cause hallucinations."

If so, the condition would have been exacerbated by Mason's psychiatrist, Dr. Cornelia Wilbur, who prescribed liberal doses of drugs, many of which are now known to be hallucinogenic. When Mason was depressed, she would double, triple and sometimes even quadruple the dosages, Nathan alleges in her book.

Wilbur believed that Mason had repressed memories from a traumatic childhood. She would hypnotize Mason and suggest things that might have happened. Mason incorporated many of the suggestions into her stories about growing up.

"She was very susceptible to hypnosis and to suggestion," Nathan said of Mason. Even her real memories are suspect, she added, because they "got all mixed up with her hallucinations."

A case in point: "Sybil" describes an incident when she was 7 in which a gun went off and killed a friend right in front of her. Wilbur theorized that she escaped the emotional trauma by turning her body over to an alternative personality. But Nathan's check of newspaper archives revealed that while the story about the friend's death was true, it happened 10 years later and Mason wasn't there.

While it's easy to disprove Mason's "memories," how those stories came to be taken as fact is harder to pin down.

"Some people in the media who have skimmed my book or just read parts of it are saying that I'm arguing that it was a hoax" conceived by Wilbur and Flora Schreiber, the author of "Sybil," Nathan said. "I'm not willing to go that far. I don't know if it was a lie or a hoax or simply an inability to deal with the truth."

If it was a hoax, they did a really bad job of it. For starters, they saved things that refuted their claims.

"One of 'Sybil's well-known stories was that when she was 9, she was taken over by an alternative personality for two years," Nathan said. "During that time, she learned the multiplication tables. The story is that she was good at math, but when her real personality returned, she flunked math because she couldn't remember anything that the alternative personality had been taught.

"Within the first hour of opening the first box (of documents), I found all of her report cards. She was never good at math. And as I'm looking at those grades, I'm asking myself, 'Why did they save this stuff?"'

She wonders if Wilbur and Schreiber got caught up in the ego rush of breaking new medical ground and were afraid to explore any avenues that might burst that bubble. The latter included diaries that contradicted many of Mason's trance-induced stories about her childhood.

"I don't know if they ignored what was in the journals or simply never bothered to read them," Nathan said.

While others might be focusing on the deception behind the Sybil myth, she sees her book as more of a cautionary tale. With "Sybil" and the movie both becoming hugely successful, MPD became the trendy diagnosis of the 1970s.

"It just made everything worse," she said. "Sybil supposedly had 16 personalities, which was unprecedented at the time. Within a couple of years, there were people claiming to have hundreds of personalities. There were even a few who were said to have more than a thousand."

The moral of the story, she said, is that even science is subject to fads.

"Science is not just test tubes," she said. "It comes from humans. What we need to take from this is that when science makes new claims that sound really, really impressive, we need to situate those claims in the culture."

She's Her Own Twin
by Hannah Rose Williams

reposted from, Aug. 15, 2006

Lydia Fairchild was a proud mother who faced the most unusual of challenges. She had to fight in court to prove the children born from her body were her own.

"I knew that I carried them, and I knew that I delivered them. There was no doubt in my mind," Fairchild said.

Fairchild's fight for her kids began when she was 26-years-old, unemployed and applying for public assistance in Washington state. Everyone in her family had to be tested to prove they were all related.

The Department of Social Services called Fairchild and told her to come in immediately. What Fairchild thought was a routine meeting with a social worker turned into an interrogation. The proud mother was suddenly a criminal suspect.


There Must Be an Explanation

"As I sat down, they came up and shut the door, and they just went back and just started drilling me with questions like, 'Who are you?'" Fairchild said.

The DNA test results challenged everything she knew about her family. Yes, her boyfriend was the father of the children, and, yes, they were all related, according to the DNA, except for Fairchild. She was told she wasn't the mother.

Fairchild was certain a mistake must have been made, but she recalled a social worker saying to her, "Nope. DNA is 100 percent foolproof and it doesn't lie."


Fairchild was not only denied government assistance for her young children, she was now suspected of possibly acting as a paid surrogate mother and committing welfare fraud. She was in danger of having her kids taken away for good.

Fairchild said before she left, the social worker told her, "You know, we're able to come get your kids at any time."

Fairchild began to panic. She knew they were her kids. So she rushed home to search for photos of her pregnancy and found her children's birth certificates. She told her parents, who couldn't believe the test results.

"I thought she was joking but then she started crying on the phone. I said 'Oh, it's got to be a mistake. I was there when the kids were born. I saw them come out. I held them in my arms, you know,'" said Fairchild's mother, Carol Fairchild.

"I almost went insane inside. I couldn't imagine why if this could happen, my daughter is not a liar," said Fairchild's father, Rod Fairchild.

Fairchild called her obstetrician, Dr. Leonard Dreisbach. He was there for all the births and assured Fairchild he'd vouch for her in court.

"I would have told them that she certainly had these three kids, and that they were hers, and that I don't know what's wrong with the DNA testing, but I know that she had the kids," Dreisbach said.

But none of that seemed to matter, because DNA tests were considered infallible -- the gold standard in court. DNA showed that Fairchild's genetic makeup did not match that of her children.

To eliminate any chance of human error, new DNA tests were ordered from different labs. It was an agonizing wait, but the results were the same: The children weren't hers.

Fairchild knew then that she was close to losing her kids. After three court hearings, she said the judge looked at her and told her to find a lawyer.


Battling in Court

It was another uphill battle in the courtrooms. Most of the attorneys Fairchild turned to were not willing to fight DNA evidence.

Attorney Alan Tindell finally agreed to take the case, but he questioned her extensively about her connection to the children. "These aren't your sister's children? These aren't your brother's children? You didn't abduct these children from anyone?" Tindell said that given how adamant Fairchild's answers were, he decided to believe her.

But Fairchild and her family remained frightened, fearing a knock at the door at any moment. So they made plans to hide the children from authorities.

"Getting that summons in the mail to go to court, that they were trying to take my kids from me, my stomach just went into a big old knot. I just started crying, and I called my family, and I held my kids and was scared," Fairchild said.

"I'd sit and have dinner with my kids and just break out crying. They would just look at me like, 'What's wrong, Mom.' They'd come get me a hug, and I couldn't explain it to them, because I didn't understand," Fairchild explained.

Fairchild was in a tough spot, up against a government that thought she was at the very least a fraud, with foolproof scientific evidence weighing against her.

But then she got a break. Across the country, there was another woman with DNA that didn't match her children's, but in this case, the doctors had cracked the medical mystery.



Another Woman, Same Story

In Boston Karen Keegan had received a chilling phone call from her doctor. It came during a very difficult time in her life, just as she needed a kidney transplant.

Keegan recalled what the doctor said to her: "Mrs. Keegan, we have some unusual news to report to you. We've never had this happen before, but your children don't match your DNA." That revelation came after her family members had had their blood tested for compatibility.

"Any child from a mom and dad should inherit genes from both the mom and the dad. In Keegan's case, it appeared that her two boys hadn't inherited any of her DNA," said Dr. Lynne Uhl, a pathologist and doctor of transfusion medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. "They weren't hers. So we scratched our heads and said, 'This is really unusual. How can this be?'"

Boston doctors asked Keegan the same type of questions that had been asked of Fairchild in Washington They asked Keegan where her two sons had come from, since their genetic code was not the same as hers.

"They wanted to know the name of the hospital where my children were born. They had some other thoughts, like perhaps this was some kind of in vitro fertilization or even worse, that this woman just might not be completely telling the truth or even be psychologically unbalanced in some way," Keegan said.

Keegan's doctors investigated the case further.

"It was a medical mystery. Certainly there were individuals whom we ran the story by who said, 'There must be a skeleton in the closet," Uhl said.

Doctors took DNA samples from all over Keegan's body. They tested her blood, her hair and swabbed her mouth. Still nothing matched her sons' DNA. But Keegan had another idea.

Keegan told Uhl that she'd had a thyroid nodule removed a while back.

After an extensive search, doctors found a sample of her thyroid tissue saved in a nearby lab in the Boston area. According to Uhl, this piece of tissue was the key to solving the medical mystery.

The DNA that would match her sons' DNA could have been anywhere in Keegan's body. But her thyroid was where she matched her sons' genetic code.

The mystery was solved. In a way, Keegan was her own twin.

"In her blood, she was one person, but in other tissues, she had evidence of being a fusion of two individuals," Uhl said.

It's a rare condition called chimerism, with only 30 documented cases worldwide. In Greek mythology, "chimera" means a monster: part goat, part lion, part snake.

In human biology, a chimera is an organism with at least two genetically distinct types of cells -- or, in other words, someone meant to be a twin. But while in the mother's womb, two fertilized eggs fuse, becoming one fetus that carries two distinct genetic codes -- two separate strands of DNA.

The twin is invisible, but for chimeras the twin lives microscopically inside the body as DNA.

When Uhl told Keegan she was her own twin, Keegan said she was shocked. "You wouldn't imagine that that could even be possible."



Still Fighting to Keep Children

But what did this new discovery mean for Lydia Fairchild, the woman living across the country who'd been fighting to keep her children?

The state was still so suspicious of Fairchild that when she gave birth to another child, a court officer stood in the delivery room to witness an immediate DNA test.

"They took DNA from the baby and myself right then and there, after birth, and it came back that there is no way possible that baby is mine," Fairchild said.

Even though they'd witnessed the birth, officials believed she was acting as a surrogate, possibly bearing a child for money.

Fairchild's attorney was determined to solve the mystery. That's when he came across Keegan's chimera story in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"I asked the judge to postpone the case until these tests could be done," Tindell said.

After the tests were done, there was proof that Fairchild was her own twin as well. The judge finally believed Fairchild was the biological mother of her children and dismissed the case.

"I probably wouldn't have my kids today if they didn't discover her situation. They wouldn't have known to even consider me as a chimera," Fairchild said.

If not for Keegan, Fairchild said she might have lost her family forever.