A one sample survey

On 5th Feb. I attended a talk on maternal health in construction workers. Several  thoughts occurred to me which I note in this personal account.

This dates back to the year 2000 when I was expecting my baby, I was 31 then and according to my then doctor at the Nazareth hospital in Allahabad I needed to take extra care of myself and not continue my post-doc fellowship.  Now one of my strong opinion has been that


So I neglected my doctor’s advice and went to continue my post-doc at Regensburg, Germany. Matthias and Liz were my wonderful hosts and  equal believers in normalcy of pregnancy. I still remember that Matthias picked me up at the railway station and dropped me to my apartment and with fatherly affection watched me carrying my not so light suitcase up the stairs. Sasha, my collaborator on the other hand used to be overly caring. Some advice samples:

“ Don’t carry that heavy book, I shall carry it for you”

“Don’t sit so close to the computer, it will damage your eyes”

“Let me carry your plate back”

“Don’t drink flavored drinks” (a stranger had given me a bottle at a cafeteria as a mark of friendship, I poured it down the sink)

Apparently similar advise also went to Misha’s wife, who was also expecting. When Murthy asked how I was getting along with Sasha, my reply was “He has been mothering me”. Actually he was worse than my mother, even my mother would not have been so much concerned about me. I swum regularly, visited Paris and climbed up the Effiel  tower  and took a bus to the hospital several days after my baby was due. It used to be fun to answer in negative numbers when people asked “when are you due?”.

However the main point for this blog is about a survey I took. I returned to India in June about a month before my son was due and started visiting Nazareth again. My friend who is a nurse had advised me to go to a charity hospital, as “they shall not keep you longer than they need to”. I have found that advice quite meaningful. The doctors were very busy, often seeing 2 or 3 patients at a time. The visits were highly educative.

At the time, a researcher who was studying nutrition in pregnant women asked me if I shall fill up survey forms for her regularly. I readily agreed. What was unexpected was that the doctor I was seeing tried to guide what I should fill into the form. She suggested that I should write, I eat frequent small meals during the day. As a researcher I respect facts and so did not give-in to the doctors suggestion.

When I was listening to the seminar several thoughts came to my mind. I list them here,

  • The speaker seemed to imply that people in lower income group have less human values: In my experience people in lower income groups have more human values than middle class. For, for them interacting with others is a major part of their activity. Dominique Lapierre in the “city of joy” seems to agree with me, so does Obama in his autobiography.
  • While showing data about research it is more meaningful to show actual number of samples than percentages. 10 out of 50 is more meaningful than 20% of samples. In my example if I say 100% of women were influenced by their doctors to mis-represent  their food habits. I shall not be wrong.
  • The speaker compared the values with the best in the distribution. Sure Tamilnadu and Kerala lead in medical infrastructure and access. Comparisons should be done with the average or as a good teacher of mine suggested with median.
  • Shortcoming of the study need to be honestly accepted, research is not a race. One’s work becomes more credible if one can point out the areas where more work would help. So instead of saying, I have taken into account all possible causes, which is next to impossible one may identify the problem areas. In my mind there were two major problem areas,
  •        There are genetic factors involved, people coming from harsher climates like              deserts and mountains may have a skewed health indicators, as survival                        requires it.
  •         Demography decides nutrition and so participants have already started out                with good or bad health which had nothing to do with their work conditions.

Such factors are very difficult to incorporate, especially when the study size is mere 50 with 3-4 demography present.

  • Again in my one sample study, when a big complex was being built opposite my house one of the favorite pastime of my husband’s students who visited often and had dinner (Pratik, Ratnik, Guneshwar, Purushottam, you guys had so much fun in my absence) was to sit on the steps of our house and listen to the bhajans being sung by the construction workers. They appeared to be socially richer than the upper middle class people in our gated community complex.

I value the hard work put in by the researcher. There certainly needs to be more work in the area. I list out my concerns only because I think they may be of value. I can never thank enough peple who do good work. Thank You.


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PhD in Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos. Teaching Physics and Mathematics to engineers for more than 11 years. I have a huge interest in teaching and learning and an incurably optimistic attitude to the limit of sounding insane. Unless specified I always interpret words as per average public perception where I take the average over my known universe, the context unfortunately is only limited to my universe, but I hope neuroscience will change it sooner or later.

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