The Dodderimeter: helping to prevent falls in the elderly

Falls in the elderly are a significant cause of mobidity.

Falls in the elderly are a significant cause of mobidity.

Children are forever falling over but rarely come to harm. Falls in adults are rare but are frequently catastrophic. Indeed, they are a major cause of morbidity (and consequent mortality) and represent one of the most significant contributors to hospitalizations of the elderly in developed countries.

Fortunately, researchers at the University of New South Wales have developed a device which might help to identify those at greatest risk of falling. The latest incarnation of the device [1], for which I have coined the name, ‘dodderimeter’, measures acceleration along each of the x, y and z space axes and then uses a combination of frequency-domain and time-domain analyses of the signals to predict the likelihood of a fall. It might even become as ubiquitous as the Holter monitor.

[1] Liu, Y., Redmond, S., Wang, N., Blumenkron, F., Narayanan, M., Lovell, N. (2011). Spectral Analysis of Accelerometry Signals from a Directed-Routine for Falls-Risk Estimation. IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering, 99, 1. doi: 10.1109/TBME.2011.2151193. [PubMed]

VIA Strengths—scoring key

Nelson Mandela, who is widely regarded as showing the virtue of forgiveness. Picture:

Nelson Mandela, who is widely regarded as showing the virtue of forgiveness. Picture:

For a measure that has obtained so much publicity, it is remarkable that the VIA Strengths scale has, so far, and as far as I can tell, no published scoring key. In fact, using a variety of search engines, the only places I could find where you can score the scale are various websites, including, and . In the realm of scientific enquiry, the absence of an open scoring-key is remarkable. Even the Beck Depression Inventory has one, despite copyright being claimed in the test itself.

VIA Strengths scale published scientific work

Searching the web for information on the scale turns up thousands of entries, very few of which are related in any serious way to the scientific investigation of the scale. One of the few is the doctoral dissertation of Dennis P. O’Neil, PhD who did his doctoral research at the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University. His dissertation reproduces the entire VIA Strengths scale. Working from that, together with the information published by the International Personality Item Pool and the descriptions in the book by Christopher Petersen and Martin Seligman [1], it is possible to determine the structure, and hence the scoring key.

Structure and scoring key for the VIA Strengths scale

The scale is conceptually divided into blocks of 24 questions. Each block has one question relating to each of the 24 character strengths and virtues. Importantly, it turns out that the order, within each block, in which the questions relate to a strength or virtue, is identical across blocks. The full scoring key is described in detail in a new publication [2] in the December 2010 issue of Psychological Reports written by Angela O’Brien-Malone, Rosalind Woodworth and me. The article is available at the D.O.I. link given in the reference.

Help with scoring

Two versions of a spreadsheet for questionnaire scoring are available for download. A version in Open Document Spreadsheet format can be obtained here; and a version suitable for Microsoft Excel can be found here. I shall update and improve the spreadsheets as time permits.


[1] Petersen, C., & Seligman, M. (2004). Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[2] Diamond, M., O’Brien-Malone, A., & Woodworth, R. J. (2010). Scoring the VIA Survey of Character. Psychological Reports, 107(4), 833-836. DOI: 10.2466/02.07.09.PR0.107.6.833-836

The immoderately long arm of the Psychology Board of Australia

A very long arm

A very (very) long arm.

On 11 November 2010 the Psychology Board of Australia issued Consultation Paper 6: Proposed registration standard—Limited Registration for Teaching or Research. In the paper the Board outlines a definition of psychological practice that was approved by the Australian Health Workforce Ministerial Council for the purpose of determining whether a registered psychologist has engaged in sufficient recent practice to justify the renewal of his or her registration. In the context for which it was approved, the definition is very useful, but the Board uses that description of psychological practice as justification for demanding the registration of every person whose behaviour falls within the ambit of the definition!

The Board’s demand is almost certainly ultra vires, founded on a misunderstanding of the limited powers granted to the Board by the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law. In a paper that Angela O’Brien-Malone circulated on 3 December 2010 to university psychology departments around Australia, we argued that, were the Board able to effect its claim, it would subvert the explicit object and purpose of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law, have a seriously adverse effect on the discipline of psychology in Australia, and and have a substantive negative effect on the national supply of health practitioners. Our paper, entitled Beyond Its Power and Against the National Interest, can be downloaded here.

Contributors: Mark R. Diamond

Senate Inquiry into the Reform of Australian Government Administration

The doorway to the Senate Chamber at Parliament House Canberra

Doorway to the Senate Chamber at Parliament House, Canberra. Image: Wikipedia

The original enquiry into the Reform of Australian Government Administration (ROAGA) began back in September 2009 with the issue of a discussion paper. In May 2010, a report with the cumbersome title of Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the Reform of Australian Government Administration was issued by the advisory committee that was leading the enquiry. The report, and more particularly the recommendations contained in it, has led to a Senate Committee enquiring into the kind of legislative changes that might be needed to support the suggested reforms to the Australian Public Service.

The scope of the Committee’s enquiry is broad and they were willing to accept submissions on any matter related to the original discussion paper. Angela O’Brien-Malone and I made a submission to the Committee emphasising the important roles that evidence and evaluation play in open and transparent government. A copy of our submission is available here.

Contributors: Mark Diamond, Angela O’Brien-Malone

The ethical status of Geek Power


Does the janitor have access to your confidential computer files? Clip art licensed from

A colleague of ours — an academic at another university — is faced with the following situation, which provides both the title and the inspiration for this post.

Our colleague, whom we will call Alice, is the recipient of a large grant to fund a research project examining psychological and genetic variables in a large population sample. As part of the research, data are collated from a range of genetic and psychological tests as well as on past sexual behaviour and current antibody status to several diseases.

Alice would like to store her data on a computer. Indeed, given the vast amount of information being collected, and the analyses that will ultimately be done, it is difficult to imagine that the data would be stored in any other way.

Alice has guaranteed to the granting body, to her volunteer subjects and to the university that the data will be held securely, in confidence, and that only those people who need to have access to the data will be able to access it. Such a guarantee is also implicit in various Australian laws. But Alice has a problem — geek power. Alice’s computer was purchased, using her grant funds, by her university’s IT department because the university requires that all IT purchases be made this way. The IT department has installed a popular operating system on the computer. The particular operating system allows one or more users of the computer to be given special privileges which will allow those users to change the usage rights (“permissions”) of other users, and to access and change any files stored on the computer. Users with such status are sometimes referred to as “administrators”, “super-users”, and “root password holders”. Readers should note that most Unix®, Linux®, and Windows XP® systems, as well as others, fit this description.

Alice’s now has a problem. The university IT department will neither (a) disclose to Alice the administrator password for her own machine, (b) surrender their own Administrator privileges on Alice’s machine, nor (c) give her the privileges associated with being an Administrator. The results of this denial are manifold, but all derive from the fact that Alice cannot be sure of the integrity, confidentiality or security of any of her data.

One method of securing data is to render it indecipherable to an unauthorized person by using suitable cryptographic software but Alice cannot install such software on her machine, because only an Administrator can install new software so that it functions correctly. Furthermore, even were Alice able to install the software, she would have no way of preventing or discovering whether the software had subsequently been subverted in a way that destroyed the security it purported to give. The covert alteration of software is hardly a far-fetched idea — many of the recent computer viruses that have plagued users do precisely this.

Lest anyone suggest that the situation Alice faces is that same as that faced by an office that gives access to a janitor, we should point out that this is not so. A paper based office can lock files in a drawer, a filing cabinet, or safe if need be. The janitor who cleans and tidies a bank does not have automatic access to the vault; and it is not the janitor who decides where the bank manager can and cannot go. Geek power is the exact reverse of janitorial power, though we would argue that they should be the same.

IT departments do not exist because they are a desirable feature of a research institution in and of themselves. Rather, they are a service department, and however sophisticated the service that they provide might become, they would have no raison d’etre but for the utility of that service to the productive components of the university.

Contributors: Daniel D. Reidpath, Mark R. Diamond