Monday 23rd February 2015 – Health Economics, Cognitive Sciences, Musicology

Our first event set PubhD Manchester up for a great future!  We had three speakers, from very different subject areas, who all gave illuminating talks.  We chose The Church Inn for our event because it’s just cosy enough to feel warm and welcoming (they also do good beer and food!), but just large enough to comfortably accommodate an event like ours.

Our first speaker was Daniel Elphick, who spoke for ten minutes on Weinberg’s String Quartets.  We got to hear a brief history of Weinberg’s life, the society in which he grew up, and how the culture of the time reflected his music, and how his music is in turn culturally relevant. Some of Daniel’s work is about making Weinberg’s work available to present-day musicians, so that we can hear his music played again now.  Speaking of which, Daniel played exceprts from the String Quartets during his talk to illustrate the concepts he was presenting – this really livened things up, and thanks to the understanding nature of the landlord, we were allowed to play some more of this music during the interlude before the next speaker.  There’s a wealth of information about this little-known composer on Daniel’s blog, here.

Interesting fact of the talk: Weinberg composed the theme tune for the Russian version of ‘Winnie The Pooh’.  And in Russia, Winnie The Pooh is a more realistic, scary bear!  Here’s a YouTube video of “Vinni Puch” – delightful, but very different.

Our second speaker was Cheng Luo, from Manchester Business School, who spoke about the use of data mining to optimise the purchase behaviour of consumers.  Cheng’s research is based on real-world physical transactions (i.e. in an actual shop), although some questions were asked on the topic of e-commerce, which is an area for further research.  Cheng was the only speaker on this night to make full use of the whiteboard (our investment paid off!), which she used to illustrate the consumer’s typical purchase cycle, and described the changes in decision-making over time. Cheng’s research has applications right across the retail sector, as data on past behaviour and choices can be used to tailor the shopping experience, and promotions, to suit individual consumers.

The third, and final, speaker of the evening was Caroline Vass, who presented on preferences for breast cancer screening programs, and also fielded a number of questions on healthcare choices and the perception of benefit and risk associated with various testing regimes.  The notion of risk in screening programs refers to the likelihood that a patient will be referred for unnecessary treatment based on the test results, as opposed to the possibility of detecting a disease that does require treatment.  Economics is relevant to healthcare because our publically-funded healthcare system needs to prioritise treatment types based on the best value (i.e. those that improve quality of life by the greatest degree for a given cost).  Caroline’s research focuses more on the perception of cost and benefit from the patient’s perspective, which might affect the way in which a patient enagages with a service, or even chooses to attend for treatment or screening at all. An interesting discovery in her work was that if complex information is presented in a simpler format, the level of risk was understood more quickly (as expected), but the same conclusion was generally reached overall – it just took more time to get there if the complex version was presented (this wasn’t quite as expected).

The whole event lasted about two hours. 30 minutes each for the speakers – yes, we timed them – and a few short breaks in between.  We had a good audience turnout and they sure had a lot of questions; all answered eloquently and completely.  Well done everyone!