Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Infinity grows more infinite

Oct. 14, 2009 (Part 2)--Bone of contention No. 2--The other day NPR Morning Edition's Alix Spiegel did a good story about how doctor-patient relationships in this country have changed over the past 10 or 20 years. Because of the Internet, pharmaceutical ads on TV, and, ironically, the rise of HMOs in the 1990s--which led physicians to avoid certain medical tests and procedures so they could clear more profits (since they were paid per patient, not per service)--patients have gotten in the habit of requesting their physicians prescribe new drugs, MRIs, etc. Even demanding them. And doctors say okay whether or not the procedure or medication is indicated, because a) they're afraid of losing business to the doctor down the street, and b) they're afraid that if they missed something, if something goes wrong, they'll be sued.

This isn't so much a problem, except perhaps to the insurance companies, unless we're talking about over-prescribing antibiotics. Which causes them to lose effectiveness and leads to stronger, more dangerous microbes. You still with me?

At any rate, the young-sounding reporter (OK, I looked her up; she's about 37) ended the piece with a terrific albeit ominous quote from one of the physicians--Dr. Joseph Zebley, a family doctor in Baltimore. He said, "We have an infinity of need."

Bingo! That should have been the end of the story. An infinity of need. The need--or people's perceived need--is infinite. Perfect!

But then Spiegel, the reporter, who's won a Peabody Award among other accolades, just had to put her own, unnecessary cap on it. Before closing, she chimed in with, "An infinity of need that grows more infinite all the time."


Infinity grows more infinite?

Isn't the whole point about infinity that it's basically as fully grown as it can be? Infinity cannot grow. If something is infinite, it goes on forever. Yes?

Sure, we all say stupid things sometimes. But this was in an edited piece. It wasn't a news item hot off the microphone. It was obviously prepared well in advance. Why didn't someone cut or correct this?

I may have a grudge against NPR, because it's basically stopped using my commentaries, but I began to wonder if it's quality is slipping. Wouldn't be surprising, given its budget cuts over the past few years.

In fact, my most recent commentary submission was accepted but I'm waiting to hear back from my editor about necessary changes. When I asked her what's taking so long, she apologized and conceded that much of the staff was on furlough so those remaining were having to double up on the workload.

Aha! Perhaps my suspicions are correct. The program is not being as thoroughly edited as it used to be! Or, to save money, is it using younger correspondents than it used to? I mean, it's great to give up-and-comers a shot, but I still prefer the old pros, the seasoned experts who made NPR news the great thing it is. Or was.

I hope I haven't just blown my chances there...

A transcript of the story is here:

You can hear the NPR broadcast here:


photo of Alix Spiegel

1 comment:

  1. First, you're absolutely right. The word "infinity" is being abused here.

    But second (and more pedantically), there are actually different kinds of infinity. Some kinds of infinity contain fewer things than other kinds of infinity.

    Probably the simplest way to see this is to compare the set of all integers (whole numbers) to the set of all real numbers. There are vastly more real numbers than there are integers, although both sets are infinite.

    But the reporter's comment was still stupid.