Ethics: A Slippery Slope that Affects the Public

The Photoshop alterations in the Syrian Conflict photo emphasize how ethics can be a slippery slope. I find it hard to believe that a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist was fired for such a seemingly harmless alteration. However, if the news agency allowed this minor offense to slide, they would have set a precedent for future journalists to make the same, if not worse, alterations which could misrepresent world events. This consequence would obviously be an ethical dilemma.

slippery slope - caution



We recently discussed in our HNFE graduate seminar the potential consequences of falsifying data in research studies. In the field of dietetics, we are ethically responsible to use evidence-based nutrition guidelines in nutrition counseling. It’s cool (and scary at the same time) to think about how research studies can change the way health professionals care for their patients. In rare cases, the influences of research studies are not so positive.

For example, there was a study by a British doctor, Andrew Wakefield that reported links between autism and a childhood vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella. This caused vaccination rates to drop drastically. However, it was later discovered that Wakefield altered the medical history of his participants; there was no link between autism and the vaccine. As such, Measles cases increased drastically in the following years. Full story here:

It’s mind-boggling to me how the falsification of data can negatively impact public health on such a large scale. It is our responsibility as researchers to follow not only our personal moral codes, but also our professional code of ethics, to ensure the safety of the public at large.

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My Reflection on Higher Education

They say “if you’re not advancing, you’re retreating.” The university or higher education system is always facing challenges that aid in the transformation and advancement of how we as a society function. In the past, general, information transmitting courses offered during freshman and sophomore years seemed to be sufficient to jumpstart students’ passion and career goals. More recently, and from my experience as an undergraduate at VT, I found myself feeling stunted by these classes. I wished I had learned more. I wished I left with more real-life skills that would prepare me to hit the ground running when I entered my field. Luckily I was able to stay for graduate school which has greatly aided in development of “real-world” skills. Reflecting on my differing experiences in undergrad and grad school, I found it interesting and relevant that undergrad instruction is often viewed as peripheral to a faculty member’s interest (Origins reading). The description of this was on point with my experiences (2-3 large lectures/week with recitation sections led by grad students with little teaching experience). Having seen both worlds, I understand completely how hard it must be for these faculty members to juggle their responsibilities. What I’m trying to say is this: There has to be a better way to make this all work. The concept behind general classes makes sense but students have so many resources at their fingertips today with laptops, iPhones, iPads, etc. University systems and class courses have to keep up with the ever evolving technologies. The college freshman today looks nothing like the college freshman 20 years ago…or even 10 years ago. Maybe if professors could meet students where they are, students would be more interested in course content, and faculty members would find more reward and fulfillment in teaching them.

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VT Principles of Community

Hi everyone,

My name is Erin. My roots are in PA but I have been a student at VT for almost six years. I graduated with a degree in HNFE, concentrating in dietetics. Currently, I’m pursuing my graduate degree in the same department, conducting research on artificial sweetener intake. With 4 months left in Blacksburg, I am excited to continue exploring my professional interests which include nutrition, health, mindfulness, and exercise.

I believe VT Principles of Community are all-inclusive and represent the spirit of VT. Principles are different from laws in that they cannot be enforced however they serve as great reminders to us all, even in times of hardship, to remain open-minded to those who are different from us. The university’s acknowledgement of previous exclusion indicates initiative/effort to move forward in a positive/inclusive way. It’s a great way to acknowledge previous pitfalls which says a lot about the university’s integrity. It could even be an effort to start a conversation about it, which usually allows people to feel more comfortable in speaking openly with each other. This brings me to the principle I find most fascinating:

We affirm the right of each person to express thoughts and opinions freely. We encourage open expression within a climate of civility, sensitivity, and mutual respect.

I think we live in a time where people are afraid to say how they feel. People fear they might hurt others’ feelings and say something that might not be “politically correct.” If we can learn to accept each other’s differences and perspectives and really make an effort to understand each other, we might end up getting along a lot better, despite our opposing views on things.

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The Cost of Living for 120 Years

The idea of being able to identify the most effective medication for a person and their health problem is an exciting prospect that seems just over the horizon. Dr. Altman discussed the database Stanford is building  a database that contains information about how specific genes impact drug effectiveness while Dr. Leach spoke about the feasibility of industrializing the process of genome sequencing. With the number of genomes sequenced increasing every year, it is reasonable to assume that eventually the cost will decrease to a reasonable value, making this preventative medicine approach accessible for a majority of the population. Already the price has decrease from $2.3 billion to $100,000.

The skepticism in me was left with an eerie feeling after Dr. Leach asked his viewers if they would want to live to be 120 years old. I could not help but think of the environmental impact that would have on this planet’s resources. What is the cost of humans living to be 120 years old? Can we even begin to predict the true cost of this endeavor, financially, environmentally, emotionally, etc.? Is there any way to account for the “pendulum-effect” (the theory holding that trends in culture, politics, etc., tend to swing back and forth between opposite extremes) of huge cultural changes like this one? Some might call it a necessary risk, others might disagree…only time will tell!


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Stem Cell Research: On Human Subjects or Human Cells

There was an interesting contrast between the two videos on stem cell research. While the 60 minutes investigation on stem cell fraud focused on the use of stem cells to cure disease by way of essentially experimenting with humans, the TED talk with Susan Solomon about the promise of stem cells focused on their use as “testbeds,” that could accelerate research into curing diseases. The importance of evidence-based practice kept flashing through my mind as the defensive Dan Eckland told Scott Pelley of 60 minutes that he kept running up against conspiracies between drug companies and governments. Susan Solomon mentions these “interferences” that she also experienced in the field of stem cell research, which she dealt with by starting “private safe-haven laboratories” such as the New York Stem Cell Foundation Laboratory. This allowed her to advance her research on stem cells without the interferences from big organizations. Perhaps Dan Eckland should have considered these other pathways instead of starting his own “lab” in Ecuador.

Despite the promise of Susan Soloman’s research on stem cells, I was slightly hung up on her idea of collecting stem cells from all genetic subtypes. This seems like an infinite task to me especially when you add into this mix inclusion of all relevant cells – brain, heart, liver, etc. The combinations could truly be endless. However the robotic technology she mentions that creates thousands of stem cell lines might be promising in this quest for individualized medicine.

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Back to the Basics of Enjoying Food

The psychology of weight loss is a topic I discovered a year or two ago and have been exploring ever since. The discussion in the TED talk by Alisa Anokhina sounded very similar to the points Evelyn Tribole, M.S., R.D. and Elyse Resch, M.S., R.D. make in their book Intuitive Eating. Like Alisa, these authors have been pioneering the idea of mindful eating since 1995. Alisha’s discussion lays the groundwork for rejection of the diet mentality and adoption of a healthier, more mindful lifestyle. By letting go of the thoughts of willpower and guilt that is too often associated with food in America, people are freed to slow down and actively enjoy food and experience the culture of food. I believe this is what Americans have lost over the years, in the quest for weight loss through extreme dieting. It’s time we get back to the basics of cooking and enjoying good quality food. Maybe this could be part of the answer as to why America is so overweight despite all of our technology and resources.


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Body Fat Loss at a Cost

Dr. Dean Ornish and Dr. Sarah Hallberg both agree that people should be eating “real” food instead of the highly processed food Americans find all too convenient. However, that is where the similarities stop; if the two ever discussed the matter of health promotion and disease prevention, their disagreement would probably boil down to one macronutrient: fat.

Dr. Ornish discusses the 67% higher fat loss seen in people who limit fat intake instead of carbohydrate intake. Dr. Hallberg proposes limiting what she refers to as “GPS” – grains, potatoes, and sugars, and emphasizes that a person’s diet should be composed of mostly fat. Yes, these views are quite contradictory but this idea that fat should be the star macronutrient in an individual’s diet is also quite contradictory to a lot of evidence-based health guidelines. In the field of dietetics, we are taught to evaluate nutrition research carefully, assessing how the results of a study fit into a larger body of existing evidence. Results that oppose accepted dietary guidelines should raise speculation. That is not to say a novel idea or concept has no place in nutrition research, but further evaluation is absolutely necessary. Additionally, nutrition education and implementation for this type of diet will be especially difficult in low SES populations if Dr. Hallberg expects them to purchase the high quality food ingredients she mentions in her TED talk. Coconut oil for example starts at about $7 at Walmart.

I also wonder what Dr. Ornish would have to say about the genetic impact of a high fat diet, as he discusses in his interview that his proposed diet (focuses on whole and plant-based food and limits refined sugars, animal protein, dangerous fats) can turn on “good” genes and turn off “bad” genes. I am sure he might also mention something about clogged arteries and this idea of “mortgaging your health” for immediate outcomes, such as weight loss. This high fat diet definitely sounds like it comes at a cost, especially considering the lethargy and brain fog a person might experience if their body is utilizing fat as it’s primary fuel substrate. Not only would this make incorporation of physical activity difficult, it would probably decrease quality of life.

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Bringing my Blog Back from the Dead!

This is just a test post to make sure I can put this post into my new category “HNFE Seminar.”


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YouTube Links

Hey Guys!


Here are the links to my YouTube videos from my final project presentation.

Scene 1 – Introduction

Scene 2 – Nelson and McLuhan

Scene 3-McLuhan and McCloud

Scene 4 – McCloud and Maxine

Scene 5 – Illich and Viola

Scene 6 – Conclusion

Hope you enjoy them as much as I did making them!



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Pick a Keyword, Any Keyword…

When I began brainstorming for a final project topic, I was so overwhelmed by all my options and I couldn’t even begin to think about them in a creative way, let alone continuously; my ideas were so fragmented it was hard to create a big picture of all my half-processed ideas. We read so many intriguing essays about cognition, learning, and the internet. Upon meeting with Dr. C, my worries were silenced when he informed me that no student had ever chosen Clifford D. Simak’s essay, Immigrant, as a final project. I was shocked and excited simultaneously (how is it that we can experience more than one emotion at the same time?). Why wouldn’t a student pick a narrative on which to map another layer? A whole other narrative to further tap into the senses and further augment thinking. Already that makes two meta layers, without even considering the viewers of my narrative and the mental places to which my narrative takes them. I felt an obligation to take the challenge, an obligation to those half-processed nuggets that were jumping around in my head; I didn’t look back once. I was so eager at the prospect of  incorporating the ideas of all my favorite essayists. Even more, I couldn’t wait to just think, an emotion that I have never felt or thought about before. Yes, I was thinking about thinking. Why do we always come back to that? It must be an indication that all these concepts, all these bolded words are, need I say it, INTERTWINGLED!

Something I kept trying to do throughout the semester was relate the nuggets from my favorite essays to each other. How better to do this than through a narrative wherein I am able to govern the conversations between say for example, Nelson and McLuhan? I really had to engage my imagination and let establish the necessary connections. I knew if I attempted a webpage I would inadvertently start making unnecessary divisions. The movie-making forum of Xtranormal enabled me to incorporate my thoughts with the characters and conveyed a sort of individual reflection through my use of scenes, emotions, and character scripts. Although I didn’t incorporate a lot on the augmentation and education power of computers, the WWW, and the Internet, I think the mere fact that I, Erin Passaro, created a small movie of my own is an indirect ode to the influence of these mediums/messages.

I spent hours trying to determine a clever story but I wanted to make sure it was something my viewers were still somewhat familiar with, so I could better reach out to them with these complex thoughts…because after all, not all my viewers on YouTube will be accustomed to the ideas we discuss in #vtclis12 (well let’s hope not anyway). I found that the introduction style utilized by MTV producers in  the making of the Real World television show provided the proper stage to engage curiosity.

Going through my old blog posts and notes proved to be very beneficial. I stumbled across a Word document entitled “My Revelation” and it talked about McLuhan’s signature phrase “the medium is the message.” It only seemed appropriate then, for me to start with the point at which I felt revolutionized. In thinking about the medium, which is the channel through which an idea is communicated, I realized that WAIT a second…our minds can be channels right? Because when I think about something and then relay it to another part of my body, well that’s a channel right?! And then when that part of my body does something with it (whether it be my hand or my mouth), there’s another channel, and therefore, another medium! So where does the message part come in then, right? Well can’t an idea, which is the preconceived notion of a message, be a channel? Because can’t one idea lead you to another idea? Can’t one idea help a person gain insight into another idea? YES. So we’ve established that an idea, is obviously the message and less obviously the medium

Of course, that’s just my way of thinking about it…remember, we’re all our own individuals, with our own thought processes. My path of thinking might not lead you to the same idea but the two together could create something so complex and so much more advanced and meaningful, which is why I also talked about the holistic view, which Nelson emphasized a great deal. “THE UNIFYING VISION MATTERS A LOT MORE THAN THE LITTLE TECHNICAL PARTS.” Insert line about the unifying power of the WWW and Internet…here………………………..and here……………and…..right..about….HERE.

Did we just move in time and space simultaneously? Well of course not, it’s a continuous sentence, therefore a single instant in time, RIGHT? Not exactly, according to McCloud, “words introduce time by representing that which can only exist in time — SOUND” (p. 713). Our eyes have been trained well, huh? Speaking of our eyes, sometimes they play tricks us. Did my use of the grid-lined backdrop in scene three with McLuhan and McCloud do anything for your perception of time? Maybe a sense of “lingering timelessness” (p. 721)?  Since we’re on the topic of time, let me pose this question, the question of the semester: is time linear? Well, it must depend how you’re thinking about it…if you’re hopping around from past to present to future to fantasy…then where are you in time? It all depends on your first meta level, but good luck finding that!

Since McCloud is so willing to let his mind play tricks on himself (or so it seems in his comics), I thought it would be kind of funny to introduce him to Maxine. Not only did I want to see how that scene would play out, but I also wanted to snap viewers back into a semi-normal level of consciousness, to provide a sort of “comic” relief from all the complex thinking. Maxine represents the only person in this movie who is concrete and unyielding. By concrete and unyielding, I mean something that readers can hang onto for a second and be POSITIVE they know what she is saying for she doesn’t allow curiosity or uncertainty into her brain like the others do but do not fear, McCloud threw in the monkey wrench (does that surprise you?) when he started talking about teleportation, mass, and matter. I know we never talked about that in class but I thought it was relevant and when I thought about it while making my project, my brain was screaming “nugget” at me, so I just went with the flow.

Anyways, Maxine’s pride and defensiveness led me into my next frame with Viola and Illich. Maxine, to me, represents the typical student so I thought it would be a smooth and relevant transition. Also, as I’m sure most of you picked up on my casual mentions of Bishop. The characters touch on this progression through thinking about thinking and at the end of scene five, you will pick up on the strides the others see in him. That is because, Bishop to me, represents students like US, students who are willing to open ourselves up to randomness.

Viola and Illich make this whole episode recursive; Viola when he talks about the learning structures. The fact that schizo even exists clarifies to me that time/thought do not necessarily have to be linear, which is pretty cool. I want to have a day where it will be socially acceptable for me to voice aloud all my nonlinear thoughts. That would be cool, maybe we should start a petition for yet another national holiday. Off topic. Thanks Dr. C. Back to Illich and how recursive his thoughts were. He takes us back to the importance of individual-based education system, tailored to each and every learner’s needs. Funny how that works though, because when individual-level learning takes place, the sum of the parts (society as a whole) benefits exponentially more…than when we are educated in a “one size fits all” manner.

My last scene, the preview for “next week’s” episode recaps on the nuggets that truly interested me throughout this class and they convey the sincere hope I have for myself, for us, and for the future of a more meaningful education.

As I sat down to write one of my last blog posts for class I tried not to let myself approach the essay as I normally would when writing a final term paper. Although for a second, I did allow myself to get psyched out by the gravity of importance that always accompanies the word “final.” I found my mind reeling for a decisive or purposive point of From Memex to Youtube; a question for which my essay must provide a conclusive answer. I still couldn’t provide you with a concrete answer and I don’t think I ever will be able to, but I think that’s the very thing that has preserved my interest and pleasure in this class…the fact that there is never a right or wrong answer.



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