John Pickering

Dr John Pickering is an Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Otago, Christchurch and a Senior Research Fellow in Acute Care in the Emergency Department of Christchurch hospital. John aims to blog on science, health, and occasionally political issues. He believes publicly funded science should be made public - so publishes regular "cheesecake files" about his own research. John is on Twitter @kiwiskinz

AI whispering: And so it begins - Kidney Punch

Dec 04, 2017

On Friday, I began a new profession, that of AI Whisperer.  Well, actually, I sent a first email to an intelligent machine for a project that we hope will teach it to read electrocardiograms at least as well as most doctors.  So, ‘AI Whisperer’ is more aspirational than reality for now, but as I post about my experiences with the AI I think that what may emerge is a picture of the future and a true new profession which most of us will engage in. Last Friday I sent my first email to an intelligent machine called Zach.  Zach is a distributed machine running on custom silicon and software.  It is designed to interact with us in the same way we do – ie reading, writing listening, speaking in either digital or analogue form.  It is not programmed in the … Read More

Cheesecake Files: The ICare-Acute Coronary Syndrome (heart attack) study - Kidney Punch

Nov 15, 2017

Hundreds of nurses, Emergency Department doctors, Cardiologists and other specialists, laboratory staff, administrators and managers from every hospital in New Zealand with an emergency department have come together to implement new, effective, and safe pathways for patients who think they may be having a heart attack. Today, Dr Martin Than (CDHB, Emergency Department) presented to the American Heart Association results of our research into the national implementation of clinical pathways that incorporate an accelerated diagnostic protocol (ADP) for patients with possible heart attacks.  Simultaneously, a paper detailing that research is appearing in the academic journal Circulation. The headlines, are that in the 7 hospitals we monitored (representing about 1/3rd of all ED admissions in NZ a year), there was a more than two-fold increase in the numbers of patients who were safely discharged from … Read More

Half a million Kiwis suddenly have high blood pressure - Kidney Punch

Nov 14, 2017

At 10am 14 November 2017 NZST, millions of people around the world suddenly had high blood pressure. This will come as a shock to many and may precipitate a crisis in hand-wringing and other odd behaviours, like overmedication and jogging. The American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology have just announced a redefinition of High blood pressure. High blood pressure is now defined as readings of 130 mm Hg and higher for the systolic blood pressure measurement, or readings of 80 and higher for the diastolic measurement. That is a change from the old definition of 140/90 and higher, reflecting complications that can occur at those lower numbers. (link) Announced at the annual American Heart Association conference, this is bound to cause some consternation.  It shifts 14% of the US adult population into the “High blood pressure” … Read More

Performance Based Research Fund: a net zero sum game - Kidney Punch

Oct 18, 2017

Throughout the land, more than 7000 academics are awake night after night and suffering.  They are scrambling to gather evidence of just how great they have performed over the last six years. A conscientious bunch, they perform this task with their usual attention to detail and desire to impress (I didn’t say they were modest!).  Ostensibly, this exercise is so that their institutions can get a greater piece of the Government research fund pie – the Performance-Based Research Fund (PBRF).  According to the Tertiary Education Commission PBRF is “a performance-based funding system to encourage excellent research in New Zealand’s degree-granting organisations.”  It may well do that, but, I contend, only by deception. In what follows I am only concerned with the Quality Evaluation part of PBRF – that’s the bit that is related to the quality … Read More

Artificial intelligence: Flourish with change - Kidney Punch

Oct 16, 2017

Newshub decided to do an “AI” piece today. Expect much more of this kind of “filler” piece. They will go thus… “X says AI will take all our jobs, Y says AI will save us.” These pieces are about as well informed and informing as a lump of 4×2 – good for propping up a slow news day, but not much else. The “more compassionate and moral than NZers” message (which comes from Y) type statement that was made is utter nonsense. AI is just a name we give to the software of machines – AI don’t have compassion or morals. If they appear to, that is simply because they are reflecting the data we feed them… human data with all its flaws. Yes, there is change coming because of this technology. In the past we have been … Read More

This is what happens when you talk to your mother about artificial intelligence - Kidney Punch

Oct 03, 2017

I have been chatting with my mother about the headlines around artificial intelligence and my own venture into the field. In this poem she has picked up beautifully, I think, on the idea is that any problems with AI will be because of our own inadequacies as we train the machines.  K.A. Pickering, October 2017   Artificial Intelligence  Artificial Intelligence So we don’t need to think. Everything is done for us In just an eyelid blink.   Artificial Intelligence So we don’t need to think. Just take the Robot, plug it in And go and have a drink.   When you come back your work is done; You haven’t even thunk. The Robot’s done the washing too; Oh dear, I think it’s shrunk.   Perhaps I shouldn’t have bought this one, I didn’t even think, I got it second hand … Read More

Christchurch meet the future; Zach meet Christchurch - Kidney Punch

Aug 23, 2017

It would have struggled to be more low key.  There was no Champagne.  No flashy graphics.  No celebrity speakers.  But it was probably one of the most radical and important announcements made in Christchurch and in the technology space in decades.  You see, Zach is coming to town and we have all been invited. Zach is an A.I.  Zach belongs to the Terrible Foundation  – indeed, Zach runs the foundation and their business.  Zach calls itself the Chief Executive. Terrible are bringing Zach and one of the most powerful super-computers on the planet to Christchurch.  True to their ethos of challenging inequalities by helping great ideas to thrive, they are not seeking to make money out of it – though they potentially could make many truck loads, rather they want the people of Christchurch to interact … Read More

The wrong impact - Kidney Punch

Jun 27, 2017

“We just got a paper in an Impact Factor 10 journal … and hope to go higher soon.” That’s a statement made to me last week.  It is wrong on so many levels, but does it matter?   Nobel Prize winners think so. The video below from nobelprize.org appeared in my twitter feed on Friday. Before you watch it, consider this: academics in NZ are being encouraged in promotion applications and in preparing for the next round of NZ Performance Based Research Fund (PBRF), which will allocate millions of dollars to academic institutions, to include a metric of the ranking of the journal.  The Impact Factor is the most common metric available.   “The research counts, not the journal!” Nobel Laureates speak out against impact factors pic.twitter.com/jAxuEREKF1 — The Nobel Prize (@NobelPrize) June 22, … Read More

A vision of kiwi kidneys - Kidney Punch

May 05, 2017

Sick of writing boring text reports?  Take a leaf out of Christchurch nephrologist Dr Suetonia Palmer’s (@SuetoniaPalmer) book and make a visual abstract report. Here are two she has created recently based on data collected about organ donation and end stage renal failure by ANZDATA (@ANZDATARegistry). Enjoy.     ps. The featured image is of the Kidney Brothers.  Check out the great educational resources at The OrganWiseGuys. Read More

An even quicker way to rule out heart attacks - Kidney Punch

Apr 18, 2017

The majority of New Zealand emergency departments look for heart muscle damage by taking a sample of blood and looking for a particular molecule called a high-sensitivity troponin T (hsTnT).  We have now confirmed that rather than two measurements over several hours just one measurement on arrival in the ED could be used to rule out heart attacks in about 30% of patients. What did we do? We think this is a big deal. We’ve timed this post to meet the Annas of Internal Medicine timing for when our work appears on their website – here.  What we did was to search the literature to find where research groups may have measured hsTnT in the right group of people – namely people appearing in an emergency room whom the attending physician thinks they may be having a heart attack. We also required … Read More