Papers of the Week: 01/2012

I’ll keep this brief, since I should be doing far less useful things than posting while on holiday.  But here are three that caught my eye:

1. Qualitative research on sexual relationships is so important in interpretting sexual behaviours.  Especially partner types, as discussed here by Noar and colleagues.  I do note that many examples of this type of study focus on minorities (often by sexual preference or race/ethnicity).  One day I should probably look at the variation in findings by such factors, but I’m lazy when it comes to meta-analyses or just pulling together whole literatures.

2. I often find interesting, but not immediately useful, stuff in the Milbank Quarterly.  The latest edition has a piece using the Earned Income Tax Credit as an IV to measure the impact of income change on health status (both self-reported) at the individual level.  Larrimore finds a correlation in levels between income and health status, but not an effect in changes (i.e. more income to better health).  As the author notes, etiologic period is key here, and these effects are short-run, but it’s always good to be reminded that correlation and causation are very different things.

3.  And finally a quickie – state inequality is associated with a higher familial burden for children with special healthcare needs in the USA.  Not shocking, but another brick in the evidential wall that unequal states are less supportive than others.

NB.  As ever, I haven’t read these papers in detail and cannot vouch for them – they are just the abstracts/titles that caught my eye this week.

Potentially interesting papers: Week 51 2011

I had expected this week to be quiet, what with the upcoming festive season and all, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a few titbits to look over and decide ‘yes, I should definitely read this some time soon’.   Therefore, without further ado,  I present:

1.  A simple, yet elegant, study of the interplay of individual and national income in determining who volunteers to be tested for HIV (this paper has been around for a year or so it seems).  It looks like the positive income gradient seen within countries (more income = more testing) is less pronounced in richer countries.  The analysis uses individual income in within-country quintiles, which makes interpretation difficult.  As the authors suggest, one way to look at things is to see this as evidence for the need to focus on poorer people in poor countries.  Another angle would be to see this as evidence that there may be a positive but decreasing slope to the overall relationship internationally – i.e. there is a positive relationship up to some income threshold internationally, and then the relationship levels out.  Which would suggest that focus needs to be on poor people everywhere.  Either way, food for thought.

2. A recent paper on drinking and STI acquisition in the US has me thinking about the causal relationships around sex and drugs (and rock and roll) again.  The paper finds various alcohol-related activities in adolescence linked to various risky behaviours (non-condom use) and self-reported STIs in early adulthood.   The temporality of this relationship is clear, but the almost syndemic nature of the package of behaviours that goes with alcohol and sex – can I call it a lifestyle without implying too much or too little agency? – makes me loath to attribute any direct causal effect from the alcohol to the sex/STI.  Not that the authors of this piece are claiming this, but I remain very unclear on how we might make an impact on STIs through interventions on adolescent behavioural patterns.  Of course, this may just be me banging my ‘social epi’ drum, so you may wish to let me bang it in peace.

3. Here’s something from another field that interests me greatly, but I have never had the time to get into deeply enough.  This is a nice conceptual effort to link human and pathogen behaviour together in an Ordinary Differential Equations setup to consider the mitigating/conflagratory effects of the former on the later in studies of dynamic disease spread.  It doesn’t look too technical for the non-mathematicians amongst us, so might be worth a skim for thought-provocation, if nothing else.