January 27th, 2008

Revisiting SIDS

If you are a younger parent, you've probably been exposed to the "Back To Sleep" campaign, which recommends putting infants to sleep on their backs.

This campaign has been hugely successful at reducing the incidence of SIDS - Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. 

You might ask - why were parents putting infants to sleep on their tummies?  Is that a traditional folk-way or something?  No.  It was modern medical advice, circa the 1950's:
Believers in stomach sleeping, including Dr. Benjamin Spock, preached that prone sleeping could prevent babies from choking on their own vomit or developing pneumonia caused by inhalation of vomit or foreign objects.
The reporter now casts this advice in religious terms: "believers" listened to one who "preached".  But at the time, mothers thought they were acting according to sound scientific principles.

I lost an infant brother to SIDS.  Francis was his name.  He was sleeping on his stomach when he died.  He had another major risk factor - he was a twin.  So perhaps he would have died anyway.

Note that Dr. Spock & co. had a reasonable hypothesis.  But should they really have been so definite in their advice giving?

I think when he preached,
He over-reached.

I suppose that susceptibility to fads is part of human nature.  It has certainly been a part of human science.  In the long run, it's self-correcting.  But in the short-run, it can sometimes cut off your long-run.

Keep up your defenses
In the face of faddish consensus.

First Man In Space, Revisited

Yuri Gagarin has always been honored as the first man in space.  Now Pravda reports that he had 3 predecessors who got up there too, in suborbital flights.  But they died along the way. 

So the Soviets kept that quiet.  Typical.

In the early days of the Soviet space program, they didn't pre-announce their flights.  They just told you about them once they were successful.  We were always kind of suspicious about this.

Gagarin eventually died in a training flight of a jet aircraft, a MiG-15UTI.

Of course, this new report takes nothing away from Gagarin.

He was a brave and able man
Shot into space in a thin metal can.