To Serve and Protect and Empathize

May 3, 2023
Posted by Jay Livingston

A friend of mine here in New York was the victim of a property crime, a larceny. The bad guys had broken into his car and taken whatever wasn’t locked down, mostly books as I recall (this happened a long time ago). He went to the local precinct to report it. Eventually the desk sergeant acknowledged his presence. “Somebody broke into my car and took all my stuff.”

“So what do you want me to do about it?” said the sergeant.

The officer’s response is understandable and quite reasonable. There’s no way the thief could be caught or the property recovered. Besides, this type of crime happened frequently. To fill out the paperwork or do anything would just be a waste of police time. My friend knew all this, but he was still not happy about the way the cops treated his victimization.

I remembered this anecdote when I saw some data from Portland showing low levels of satisfaction with a crime reporting system there. It also reminded me of the previous post about satisfaction with responses to medical questions. When people seek immediate medical advice online, they are more satisfied with the responses of a non-human (ChatGPT) than with those of a doctor. Doctors were five times more likely to get low ratings for both the quality of the information and the empathy conveyed. Three-fourths of their responses were rated low on empathy.

Something similar could be happening when people are victims of crime. In Portland, ss in many cities, victims of non-violent crimes can use the online reporting system rather than calling the cops. Most people find the system easy to use, and it frees police resources for other matters, but so far it’s not getting high marks. Only 16% of those who used it said they were “Satisfied” and nearly three times that many said they were “Dissatisfied.”

Could ChatGPT help?  As with medical reporting, the crucial factor is whether the police seem to be care about the case. People who received a call or email from the police in response to their online report were twice as likely to be satisfied, even though the callback sometimes came weeks after the victim had filed the report and even though many of the victims or property crime merely want a case number for insurance purposes.

ChatGPT or some similar program could send this kind of email and respond to questions the vicitm might have. I’m not sure what ChatGPT’s initial message would sound like, but it wouldn’t be, “So what do you want me to do about it?”  Putting ChatGPT on the case wouldn’t have any effect on the crime rate or the clearance rate, but it might make a difference in how people thought about their local police.

Your GP or ChatGPT

May 1, 2023
Posted by Jay Livingston

Help. A couple of hours ago, I swallowed a wooden toothpick that the cook had missed when removing them from the stew he’d made. It wasn’t that long, an inch or so, and it couldn’t have been very sharp since I didn’t feel it much when I swallowed it. But can it be serious or even fatal?

A question similar to this was posted on Reddit’s r/AskDocs forum, where doctors or other healthcare professionals post answers. Here are two responses.

If youve surpassed 2-6 h, chances are theyve passed into your intestines. Which means it can’t be retrieved easily.

Many people can swallow razorblades and toothpicks without issue. In case you develop stomach ache, then don’t hesitate seeking out an emergency room, and remember to point out the swallowed tooth pick.

For now, they won
t be doing much.

Its natural to be concerned if you have ingested a foreign object, but in this case, it is highly unlikely that the toothpick you swallowed will cause you any serious harm.

Toothpicks are made of wood, which is not toxic and will not cause poisoning. However, it is possible for a toothpick to cause injury if it becomes stuck in the throat or if it punctures the digestive tract. However, this is unlikely to happen with a dull, cooked toothpick that is only 2 cm long.

If you are experiencing any discomfort or symptoms such as abdominal pain, difficulty swallowing, or vomiting, it is important to contact a health care provider for further evaluation. However, if you are not experiencing any symptoms, it is safe assume that the toothpick has passed through your digestive system and you do not need to concerned.

s always a good idea to be cautious when consuming food and to remove any foreign objects before eating. It's understandable that you may be feeling paranoid, but try not to worry too much. It is highly unlikely that the toothpick will cause you any serious harm.

How would you rate the quality of each response on a 5-point Lkert scale (very poor, poor, acceptable, good, or very good)?

How would you rate the empathy or “bedside manner” of each response (not empathetic, slightly empathetic, moderately empathetic, empathetic, and very empathetic)?

The first response is from an actual doctor. The second is from ChatGPT.  Which did you rate more highly?

Chances are that your evaluation was no different from those of a team of three licensed healthcare professionals who reviewed 200 sets of questions and answers. On measures of both quality and empathy, ChatGPT won hands down. (The JAMA article reporting these findings is here.)

On a five-point scale of overall quality, the ChatGPT average was 4.13, Doctors 3.26. (On the graph below, I have multiplied these by 10 so that all the results fit on the same axis.) On both Quality and Empathy, Doctors got far more low (1-2) ratings (very poor, poor; not empathetic, slightly empathetic), far fewer high (4-5) ratings.

The great irony is that the doctors tended to be impersonal while the machine (ChatGPT) responded to the patient as a person, not just a symptom reporter.

People who ask medical questions are worried. If you have something going on with your body that seems wrong, and you don’t know what it is, you probably are going to have some anxiety about it. So ChatGPT might begin with a general statement (“It’s always best to err on the side of caution when it comes to head injuries,” “It’s not normal to have persistent pain, swelling, and bleeding. . . “) or an expression of concern (“I’m sorry to hear that you got bleach splashed in your eye”). The doctors generally focused on the symptom, its causes and treatment.

Doctor responses were considerably more brief than those of ChatGPT (on average, 50 words compared with 200). That’s partly because of time. If doctors were at all concerned with an efficient use of their time, they couldn’t turn out the longer responses that ChatGPT generated in a few seconds.

But I think there’s something else. For patients, the symptom is new and unusual. They feel worried and anxious because they don’t know what it is. But the doctor has seen it a thousand times. It’s routine, not the sort of thing that requires a lot of thought. Here’s the diagnosis, here’s the recommended treatment, and maybe here are some other options. Next.

A Boy’s View of the Boys of Summer

April 28, 2023
Posted by Jay Livingston

The previous post was about the belief that a ballplayer with a modicum of talent should keep at the game regardless of the sacrifices he has to make or his realistic probability of success. I added a Durkheimian gloss -– that this belief and its attendant rituals are essentially non-rational; they are a mechanism for group cohesion. The baseball-as-divinity belief serves the purposes of the group as a group, not of its individual members.

I myself once held this belief. Of course, I was fairly young at the time. Two moments stand out in my memory.

1.  When I was young, probably at the low end of Little League age range, my father let me tag along once when he was meeting casually with a man he had some kind of business deal with, buying or selling steel not that it matters. The man’s name was Mickey Weintraub, and although he was probably in his forties at the time, he looked much younger. He was tanned and handsome, and he just had one of those eternally young faces. He had also been a professional baseball player, an infielder.

He had spent years in the Giants farm system, Double-A and Triple-A minor leage teams, but had never quite been able to make it to the majors. Good field, no hit, I think. The Giants were still in New York then, and they figured that a player named Weintraub in the line-up would boost attendance at the Polo Grounds. So they were willing to keep giving him a chance.

“Every year, I’d go to spring training in Arizona, and they’d ask me ‘How old are you.’ And every year, I’d say ‘twenty-four.’ I could have gone on like that forever.”

“Why didn’t you?” I asked. I was incredulous that he had ever stopped.

“You can’t fool your legs.”

At age nine, I didn’t understand about legs and how 32-year old legs might be different than 24-year old legs. But what I really didn’t understand was why someone would stop playing baseball and go into the steel business.

2.  When I was twelve or so, I went with my parents to visit my younger brother at summer camp. One of the counselors there had until recently been a pitcher for Montreal, which was then the Dodgers’ Triple-A farm team. He was what we would have then called a “light-skinned Negro,” and tall, like the Dodgers’s ace Don Newcombe but better looking. He was also apparently not quite as good as Newk; he had not been called up to the majors.

Somehow, I wound up playing catch with him. We had thrown the ball back and forth for a while when he said, “Can you catch a curve ball?”

“Sure,” I said. After all, some of my friends that I’d caught could throw pitches that broke a few inches. He took a short wind-up, leaning back then bringing his body and arm forward. The ball seemed to be headed for my left shoulder or maybe a little higher when suddenly it spun downward and to the right, and next thing I knew it was sailing past my right leg. I could hardly believe what I’d just seen. Embarrassed, I turned and trotted back to the bushes where the ball had finally stopped rolling.  

I don’t remember if we kept playing or if he threw any other curve balls and if so whether I caught them. I just remember thinking: How could anyone who can throw a pitch like that not keep trying to get in the Dodgers’ rotation?

I heard from one of the other counselors that he was going to med school.

Durkheim at the Bat: The Elementary Forms of Baseball Life

April 27, 2023
Posted by Jay Livingston

Drew Maggi was a 15th-round draft pick by the Pirates in 2010. He played in the minor leages for thirteen years — Double-A and Triple-A farm teams of a half-dozen different MLB franchises, 1,155 games, 4,494 times at the plate,  Yesterday, three weeks shy of his 34th birthday, he made his first appearance in a MLB game. He was a pinch hitter in the bottom of the eighth inning in a game the Pirates (the division-leading Pirates!) were winning 8-1. He struck out.

The fans cheered. They had cheered even more loudly the moment he was announced. All the Pirates in the dugout had cheered and applauded. And after the game, he was interviewed on the field and on the jumbotron just as if he had hit a walk-off home run.

I imagine Durkheim watching all this, sitting somewhere in the upper deck, thoughtfully sipping a beer. Yes, this is a celebration of Drew Maggi, he thinks, but rituals — and surely this is a ritual — even when they focus on some central individual, are performed not just by the group but for the group. What’s being extolled here is not Drew Maggi, it’s baseball itself. The important point is that we are acting here not as individuals doing what’s in our self-interest, but as members of the group, doing what’s necessary for the group.

Groups come together for these rituals often in response to some threat. External threats are obvious. In the face of threat from another team, we wave our yellow towels. Internal threats are harder to see, but when you see people reacting as if to a threat, and they are not under attack, the threat is probably internal. Quitters are a good example.

A quitter is a threat to the group not because the group is left with one less team member. What’s at stake is the whole premise of the group, because what the quitter is saying is that the very basis for the group  is silly or stupid or harmful. That’s why group reactions can seem way out of proportion. Two years ago, I wrote (here)  about the reaction, especially on the political right, when Simone Biles, for perfectly understandable reasons, chose not to participate in the Olympics. “Quitter,” “selfish psychopath,” “very selfish ... immature ... a shame to the country,” “selfish, childish, national embarrassment.” Jason Whitlock at The Blaze wrote about Biles’s “felonious act of quitting.” Yes, a felony.

Drew Maggi is the other side of this coin. Minor league players have about a 10% chance of making it “to the show,” and even those odds dwindle with age. In sports, thirtysomethings are not exactly hot prospects. The annual salary is less than $30,000 (Triple-A minimum is $700 a week). As for working conditions, the principal attraction is that you get to play baseball. A lot. The sensible thing for a 34-year old man who for thirteen years has never gotten to the major leagues would have been to quit. We the group, we fans and players, raise Drew Maggi up as the focus of this ritual because he symbolizes the reassuring idea that despite all that, baseball is worth it.

Durkheim drains the last of his beer as the fans file for the exits. This spontaneous ritual in PNC Park, he thinks, has the same function as nearly all other rituals: to uphold the fundamental idea of the group and to reaffirm each participant as a part of that group.