You wouldn’t want this Oscar

Satyajit Ray received his Lifetime Achievement Oscar on his deathbed. The only Oscar most of us can probably get on ours is this feline fatale:

Oscar the cat seems to have an uncanny knack for predicting when nursing home patients are going to die, by curling up next to them during their final hours. His accuracy, observed in 25 cases, has led the staff to call family members once he has chosen someone. It usually means the patient has less than four hours to live.Oscar the cat

Note that the above is a CNN story. I Can Has CNN, can’t I?

Wait, what about a scientific explanation? Well, at present, there’s none:

No one’s certain if Oscar’s behavior is scientifically significant or points to a cause. Teno wonders if the cat notices telltale scents or reads something into the behavior of the nurses who raised him.

Nicholas Dodman, who directs an animal behavioral clinic at the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and has read Dosa’s article, said the only way to know is to carefully document how Oscar divides his time between the living and dying.

If Oscar really is a furry grim reaper, it’s also possible his behavior could be driven by self-centered pleasures like a heated blanket placed on a dying person, Dodman said.

Not surprisingly, this research was first published in the New England Journal of Medicine. For more information on the various research methodologies and statistical techniques used in the papers of this journal, read an enlightened surgeon’s lucid explanation.

No wonder then that the number of students enrolling for medical schools in the US is increasing, while the numbers for computer science is decreasing. Scholarly students are attracted by the complex challenges involved in studying cat behavior and such distinguished journals, rather than wasting time in trivial things like solving computer programming puzzles.

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12 thoughts on “You wouldn’t want this Oscar

  1. Mahendra,
    Based on a Level I (randomised, double-blind trial) on more than 22,589 patients from 1998 till 2006, I have incontrovertible evidence that the following are the reasons for the Oscar phenomenon (which is not unique, but has been studied by me with serial CAT scans on 5530 cases):
    1. Cats smell acetone in the breath of the dying (cats have strong sense of smell): 57.61% of cases.
    2. Cats get curious when people stop moving. In these cases, the curiosity cat kills (26.23% of cases).
    3.Cats follow movement of staff, and may sense that the more nurses crowd around sick patients, the more the chances of death (13.49% of cases).
    4. Doctors and nurses see their own emotions reflected in the cat-eyes, since cats emotions are very reserved as a rule (miscellaneous).
    I am pussing to publish this article (have failed nine times so far), but there is something fishy and catatonic about the NEJM. I can categorically say this, without further mewsing.

  2. Rambodoc-

    I cannot tell if you are joking are not. But I am interested in this phenomena. I have a friend who has seizures, she has a dog that cam smell minute blood composition changes that take place before seizures happen and warn her. It would make sense to me, then, that cat’s could ‘smell’?? physiological changes that happen before a person dies. However, I do not know if ‘universal’ physiological changes happen a few hours before death. Do they?

    Mahendrap –

    You are making me crazy. I like what you have to say, but why do you preference such an opressive view of science? Studying cat behavior can lead to important important discoveries, I think. Maybe? I don’t know. But I do know that I Can Has Cheezburger is funny, funny, funny. And I did my undergraduate studies in both theoretical physics and philosophy, and I am also a computer programmer – for fun. so I do like science, and I probably think a lot like you. But those cats are funny. Admit it.

  3. Aikaterine:

    Rambodoc is not joking in the substance of what he’s saying. In fact, he’s shed scientific light on the whole phenomenon!

    Seizure dogs are a very well documented and studied phenomena, there is no mystery surrounding them. Just google “seizure dogs” and you’ll see, for e.g. http://www.epilepsyfoundation.org/epilepsyusa/aboutseizuredogs.cfm.

    Finally, I apologize – there was no such intention! “Oppressive view of science”? What luck – I try my hand at my first satirical post and I turn up driving people crazy! I should give it up! 🙂

    To clarify: I’m the most aggressive supporter of science you’ll ever meet. In my post, I was making fun of how much hoopla is being made in the press, and what is being published as ‘research’ in a medical journal. Rambodoc’s comment above contains more substantial scientific research than what was published in the journal. That is what I was (trying to) make fun of…

    Regarding I Can Has Cheezburger: I’ve nothing against cats, and yes they’re funny. I just don’t think that millions of human beings should be obsessed with this particular hobby when there are so many other, more important things, to see, feel, listen, experience, think, write, and comment about.

    Theoretical physics and philosophy…now that’s interesting! I was always so frustrated with Indian education that I had to choose between ‘science’, ‘commerce’, or ‘arts’, and that I couldn’t mix and match my interests. How I envy you…:-)

  4. Hey, guys!
    I WAS joking (the numbers and ‘trial’)! Trust me to hang a Poor Joke in your blog!! 😦
    Of course, well-hidden in the satire were the plausible explanations of this behavior. Much of the substances which we can’t smell and animals can, are unknown territory. It is difficult to talk about universal chemical give-ways at the time of death. But a few compounds, like acetone in the breath of an acidotic, sick, dying patient, could be common. The rest is, well, smoke and mirrors!

  5. That’s what I meant by ‘substance’. Not the numbers, but your points themselves shed much more light on the issue than that ‘research’. 🙂

  6. Oh, I think I was not clear. I can tell that you support science. And I could see the humor and it was funny. But what I meant with the ‘opressive’ view was the traditional view. I tend to be very open about what I consider science. And like to see non-traditional things printed in medical journals. Still subject to the tenants of the scientific method, but a little on the edge, if you will. I like to see boundaries pushed.

    And I do agree with you on this statement:

    “I just don’t think that millions of human beings should be obsessed with this particular hobby when there are so many other, more important things, to see, feel, listen, experience, think, write, and comment about.”

    But, isn’t humor, passion and emotion just as important as science? Aren’t they equal in importance? Don’t we need to laugh just as badly as we need to learn?

    There are things about your culture that I envy:

    (1) the food – fabulous
    (2) the weddings – I have been to three and they are amazing.
    (3) indian women have a sense of pride that is absent from American women, luckily I am Greek and I get my pride from that side. But young American women, in general, depress me.
    (4) saris

    I sometimes think that men preference science too much. Rationality is important, but not as important as passion. That is why I went into my education, not to impress you, but to highlight that someone with a love and knowledge of science could also say that emotion is just as important.

  7. Rambodoc –

    Thank you for answering. It just ‘makes sense’ that they would smell something, some chemical. I certainly don’t buy into the theory that it is a ‘sixth sense’ or psychic thing.

  8. Historically, sixth sense, paranormal behaviour and supernatural phenomena have always referred to things that generally didn’t have a rational explanation at that point in time. Kind of like when man used to worship the Sun and then pretty much stopped being in awe of the sun when scientists told us that its a middling yellow dwarf in a remote corner of a medium sized galaxy.

    But cats, on the other hand, are definitely paranormal. The one who haunts my house has the ability to break open the milk packet delivered by the milkman no matter what protection we give it.

  9. Aikaterine: I do not subscribe to the view that science/rationality are at opposing ends to emotion/passion. I’m extremely passionate and emotional about science and rationality. Regarding men preferring science too much, how I wish it were true!

    Nevertheless, I get your drift – that men don’t seem to value emotion and passion as much as women do. I believe “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” does shed some light on this issue.

    Ashok: ha ha ha! Jokes apart, do you really think “man” has stopped being in awe of the sun? These days, who listens to, or reads, what scientists are saying? The swamijis, devis, gurus, and other enlightened spiritual leaders hold millions of people in awe, not the boring scientists!

  10. Mahendra –

    “Regarding men preferring science too much, how I wish it were true!”

    You have a good point. And it is good to know that you see the value in passion/emotion, I always got a sense from your writing that you did. But, one never knows.

    By the way, what is the picture on your icon/avatar thing? It is mysterious and beautiful.

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