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Updated 2:30 PM April 12, 2006




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Scholarship & Creativity

You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours

It was once thought that only humans gestured to direct another person’s attention, but such “referential” gesturing recently was observed in wild chimpanzees.

(Photo by John Mitani)

John Mitani, anthropology professor, and colleague Simone Pika, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at University of St. Andrews in Scotland, observed male chimps habitually using “directed scratches” to request grooming of specific areas on the body. The findings suggest that our closest living relatives may be capable of mental-state attribution, making inferences about the knowledge of others.

“The more we learn, the more we see chimpanzees employing remarkable, seemingly human-like behaviors,” Mitani says. “To me that is one of the lessons of this little paper.” The findings appear in the March 21 issue of Current Biology, in a paper entitled, “Referential Gestural Communication in Wild Chimpanzees.”

To reach their conclusions, Pika and Mitani studied the social grooming habits of male chimps in the Ngogo community in Uganda’s Kibale National Park. During observation, male chimps routinely scratched a certain spot on themselves in view of their grooming partner, usually in a loud, exaggerated manner. In the majority of cases (64 percent) the groomer responded immediately by stopping and moving to groom the exact spot the gesturer had just scratched, Mitani says.

The behavior appeared frequently between males who formed strong social bonds, and Mitani surmised that further study might reveal that males who do not display such friendly relations do not engage in the behavior as often.

“It’s almost as if it’s being used selectively by males who know that they are going to obtain a positive response,” similar to asking a friend for a favor as opposed to a stranger, Mitani says.

Surgery delay decreases bladder cancer patient survival

Bladder cancer patients whose surgery was delayed for more than three months after diagnosis were more likely to die from their disease than patients whose surgery was performed sooner, according to researchers at the Comprehensive Cancer Center (CCC).

A study published in the April Journal of Urology found that 39 percent of patients without a delay died, while 54 percent of patients with a delay died. The patients whose surgery was delayed lived on average only one year, and their three-year survival rate was 38 percent, compared to a three-year survival rate of 51 percent for patients whose surgery was not delayed.

The most common reason for delay was scheduling issues.

“Most of these causes for delaying surgery are potentially reversible, and physicians—despite busy schedules and the need for second opinions—need to be diligent about coordinating appointments and information in a timely way,” says lead study author Dr. Cheryl Lee, director of the bladder cancer program at the CCC and assistant professor of urology at the Medical School.

The researchers believe a delay in treatment could cause micrometastases, cancer cells that spread through the body but in small quantities that cannot be detected by standard imaging techniques. The short survival—less than a year—among patients whose surgery was delayed more than 93 days is similar to survival for bladder cancer patients in whom it is known the cancer has spread.

Typically, five-year survival rates after surgery are as high as 80 percent.

In addition to Lee, U-M study authors were Dr. Rabii Madii, clinical lecturer in urology; Stephanie Daignault, biostatistician; Rodney Dunn,statistician expert; Yingxi Zhang, research associate; Dr. James Montie, the Valassis Professor of Urologic Oncology and professor and chair of urology; and Dr. David Wood Jr., professor of urology.

Firms benefit when execs spend less time doing core jobs

Companies whose top executives spend less time doing their jobs actually perform better, according to a U-M business professor.

Research by Theresa Welbourne of the Stephen M. Ross School of Business shows that firms—especially those with fewer than 500 employees—have higher levels of overall performance if senior executives spend more time on “non-core” job roles.

Welbourne asked nearly 400 top business leaders about how they spend their time at work. She then examined how that time spent is associated with firm performance. Welbourne found that, on average, executives spend less than half of their time (45 percent) doing their basic core job—the work they were hired to do as indicated in their job description.

But they spend more time on non-core jobs: 19 percent of their time developing new ideas, creating new routines or improving job processes; 16 percent on responsibilities for project-based teams; 12 percent on work done to support their company overall (when it is not part of their other job roles); and 8 percent on enhancing their careers and skills.

“The average time spent by CEOs, in particular, in the job role within a high-performing company is 36 percent versus 46 percent for the low-performing firms,” says Welbourne, adjunct associate professor of executive education. “This is not surprising in that we know long-term competitive advantage comes from a work force that is spending time doing things other than the core job.

“If employees are focused only on the job, everything that a company does can be easily copied by its competitors and replicated easily,” she says. “Long-term competitive advantage comes from the right combination of core job and non-core job roles.”

Justice about getting even, restoring balance

Revenge is justice when it honors its commitment to getting even in a proportional manner, according to a U-M law professor.

In “Eye for an Eye,” William Ian Miller, the Thomas G. Long Professor of Law, takes an historical look at justice as getting even, which involved setting values on harms and wrongs, and then paying for them.

“An eye for an eye, if you think about it, states a price,” says Miller, an expert on legal history, theory and philosophy. “It is compensatory, not punitive. It values my eye as you value yours. Before laws took the form of ‘Thou shalt not,’ they seem to have largely taken the form of ‘for X pay Y’ or ‘for X pay X.’”

“Justice is always understood to involve ideas of paying, paying back and discharging debts. Payback is what justice is at its core, and thus that revenge, as long as it meets the principle of proportionality of getting even, is justice, he says.

Some ancient societies and cultures believed victims or their families must be compensated appropriately—either with goods or with bodies and body parts working as money.

“The body was employed to serve the standard money functions of measuring value, and, sometimes, too, of providing the means of payment,” he says. “You might have to pay yourself over to pay for the wrongs you did or the debts you could not pay.”

Miller writes about “honor cultures,” which have a sense of justice and value for life. Even at the office, people find ways to retaliate, not in blood obviously, but with gossip, backbiting and innuendo when they feel slighted, Miller says.
Automatic system to follow up on scans a ‘safety net’

Every day in hospitals around the country, thousands of patients undergo CT, MRI, X-ray and other kinds of scans, producing detailed images of their bodies. Specially trained doctors read those images to look for problems, and then send a report of what they’ve found to each patient’s own doctor.

But every once in a while a new study finds a patient falls through the cracks—the victim of an incomplete handoff between doctors. Fortunately, the study also shows it may be possible to prevent such occurrences.

In a paper in the April issue of the American Journal of Roentgenology, researchers from the U-M Health System and the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System report the results from their first year using an automatic system at the VA hospital.

Results show the system kept eight patients with serious signs of trouble on their scans from falling through the cracks, including five who turned out to have cancer. The authors say their findings show the value of an inexpensive safety net system to catch those few patients who might otherwise be missed.

“We hope that other hospitals can use these findings to develop their own responses to this issue, especially as they implement computerized radiology systems,” says author Dr. Charles Marn, chief of radiology at the Ann Arbor VA and an associate professor of radiology at the Medical School.

Marn and his colleagues, including lead author and U-M radiology lecturer Vaishali Choksi, developed a system of codes that radiologists could assign to each medical image as electronic tags. The study focused on scans where the radiologist spotted an unexpected sign of cancer that required immediate follow-up by the patient’s own physician.

Such scans were reported to the patient’s physician via a written report and a direct phone notification. Each week a staff member pulled up the records, tagged with Code 8s, and checked if each had received follow-up care. If they hadn’t, she contacted the patient’s physician, as well as the hospital’s cancer-care group.

In addition to Marn and Choksi, the paper’s authors are Dr. Ruth Carlos, a radiologist at the U-M and VA hospitals, and Yvonne Bell, CTR, the cancer registrar for the Ann Arbor VA hospital.

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