Thu Nov 19 17:19:32 EST 2015


  • Economic and Political Inequality
    From the Seven Pillars Institute (SPI), a five part balanced overview on the topic of inequality.
  • Income and Wealth Inequality in the United States: Evidence, Causes and Solutions

    Debate: J. Bradford DeLong and R. Glenn Hubbard

    Video of public debate held February 3 2015 at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy featuring R. Glenn Hubbard, Ph.D., Dean and Russell L. Carson Professor of Finance and Economics, Columbia Business School versus J. Bradford DeLong, Ph.D., Professor of Economics, University of California, Berkeley.

  • The Poor in the US Are Richer than the Middle Class in Much of Europe

    We get much more insight, though, once we have a look at what UNICEF means by "poverty rate." In this case, UNICEF (and many other organizations) measure the poverty rate as a percentage of the national median household income. UNICEF uses 60% of median as the cut off. So, if you're in Portugal, and your household earns under 60% of the median income in Portugal, you are poor. If you are in the US and you earn under 60% of the US median income, then you are also poor.

    The problem here, of course, is that median household incomes -- and what they can buy -- differs greatly between the US and Portugal. In relation to the cost of living, the median income in the US is much higher than the median income in much of Europe. So, even someone who earns under 60% of the median income in the US will, in many cases, have higher income than someone who earns the median income in, say, Portugal.
    So, yes, the US has a higher poverty rate than many other countries, but the standard of living available to a person at poverty levels in the US is higher than it is to a person at poverty levels in places like the UK, Spain, Italy, France, Japan, New Zealand, and others.

  • The End of Outrage?

    If inequality is such a growing concern, why are no Americans taking to the streets?

    In a provocative new book, the critic and historian Steve Fraser tries to explain why mass protest on the left has become so scarce in what he aptly calls The Age of Acquiescence. For Fraser, the main culprits are not such usual suspects as right-wing politicians and the market power of global corporations but public admiration for workaholic entrepreneurs whose self-serving definition of freedom legitimizes their reign.
    ... Fraser describes how freedom, which bygone progressive movements and liberal icons like Franklin Roosevelt defined as a collective goal ("freedom from want," "freedom from fear," etc.), has now become synonymous with the "free market" in which every man and woman supposedly has the same chance to rise or go under.

  • Why Americans Don't Want to Soak the Rich

    With rising income inequality in the United States, you might expect more and more people to conclude that it's time to soak the rich. Here's a puzzle, though: Over the last several decades, close to the opposite has happened.

    In other words, respondents favored less redistribution if they believed that the person had already grown accustomed to a higher income. The psychology seems to be something like this: Rich people who have been rich for a while have gotten used to their money, so it would be unfair to tax them heavily. But people who have just gotten rich have not become accustomed to higher levels of after-tax income, so it wouldn't be as harmful to raise their taxes in the interest of greater equality.
    ... The shift away from a belief in redistribution has been stronger among older Americans than any other age group.

  • Why Inequality Persists in America - The New Yorker

    Richer and Poorer: Accounting for inequality

    Income inequality is greater in the United States than in any other democracy in the developed world.
    The causes of income inequality are much disputed; so are its costs. And knowing the numbers doesn't appear to be changing anyone's mind about what, if anything, should be done about it.

  • Low hanging fruit and the inequality question

    Scott Sumner

    We did have a tax on luxury goods, which seems like a really good idea if you are worried about inequality.

    ... So the tax was a huge success, which reduced the only kind of inequality that matters, consumption inequality. But apparently some progressives who supported the tax had hoped that it could raise lots of revenue for the government without actually depressing the living standards of America's rich. That would occur, of course, only if the rich maintained their living standards by donating less money to charity and investing less money in new capital formation. Instead, the rich actually did reduce their living standards, and America was on the road to greater economic equality. Senator Kennedy, et al, reacted in shock and horror and had the bill repealed. Meanwhile Massachusetts is among the leaders in taxing the poor via the lottery and cigarettes.

  • Inequality v growth

    Up to a point, redistributing income to fight inequality can lift growth

    Some inequality is needed to propel growth, economists reckon. Without the carrot of large financial rewards, risky entrepreneurship and innovation would grind to a halt. In 1975 Arthur Okun, an American economist, argued that societies cannot have both perfect equality and perfect efficiency and must choose how much of one to sacrifice for the other.
    While most economists continue to hold that view, the recent rise in inequality has prompted a new look at its economic costs. Inequality could impair growth if those with low incomes suffer poor health and low productivity as a result. It could threaten public confidence in growth-boosting policies like free trade, reckons Dani Rodrik, of the Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton. Or it could sow the seeds of crisis. In a 2010 book Raghuram Rajan, now governor of the Reserve Bank of India, argued that governments often respond to inequality by easing the flow of credit to poorer households. When the borrowing binge ends everyone suffers.

  • Tyler Cowen's Three-Card Monte on Inequality

    Tyler Cowen used his Upshot piece this week to tell us that the real issue is not inequality, but rather mobility. We want to make sure that our children have the opportunity to enjoy better lives than we do. And for this we should focus on productivity growth which is the main determinant of wealth in the long-run.
    This piece ranks high in terms of being misleading. First, even though productivity growth has been relatively slow since 1973, the key point is that most of the population has seen few of the gains of the productivity growth that we have seen over the last forty years. Had they shared equally in the productivity gains over this period, the median wage would be close to 50 percent higher than it is today. The minimum wage would be more than twice as high. If we have more rapid productivity growth over the next four decades, but we see the top 1.0 percent again getting the same share as it has since 1980, then most people will benefit little from this growth.
    The next point that comes directly from this first point is that it is far from clear that inequality does not itself impede productivity growth. While it can of course be coincidence, it is striking that the period of rapid productivity growth was a period of relative equality. At the very least it is hard to make the case that we have experienced some productivity dividend from the inequality of the post-1980 period.

  • No, The Decline in Marriage Did Not Increase Inequality

    Sean McElwee and Marshall I. Steinbaum: The New York Times' David Leonhardt gets it wrong.

    It is facile to divide rising inequality into "between" and "within" effects with respect to household types, and to argue that since inequality between types has grown and more households are now in worse-off types, changing family structure has caused inequality to increase. The evidence shows that family structure has changed because economic opportunities for most people have worsened. Why has that happened? There are some suggestive answers, but much more research is necessary. Leonhardt's claim that changing family structure causes rising inequality simply doesn't hold up.

Posted by mjm | Permanent link | Comments

Fri Oct 30 23:18:29 EDT 2015

Items of Interest

Various web links I found to be of interest recently:

  • Another flu vaccine myth--Big Pharma profits

    Today's myth is that the flu vaccine is being pushed because of money--that the flu vaccine somehow fills the coffers of the pharmaceutical industry.

    • Flu vaccine sales are small portion of worldwide pharmaceutical company revenues, less than 0.3%.
    • The Big Three flu vaccine manufacturers make less than 4.5% of their total corporate revenues with the vaccine.
    • Other pharmaceutical products have up to 10% greater gross profits than vaccines. The better strategic choice for Big Pharma companies is in other drugs.
    • If Big Pharma stopped making vaccines, they would probably make more money at a higher profit percentage.
  • Study: Antioxidant use may promote spread of cancer

    Researchers suggest that pro-oxidants may help to prevent metastasis of cancer.

    While antioxidants may be good for healthy people, researchers found they promote cancer growth in a study with mice.

    The study, researchers said, echoes some other study results showing cancer patients' tumors actually grew while being treated with antioxidants.

  • GMOs and Junk Science

    But scientists occasionally "go rogue," forsaking the scientific method -- often for notoriety or economic gain -- to produce propaganda and to sow fear in a public that lacks expertise but is hungry for information. This abuse of scientific authority is especially widespread in the "organic" and "natural" food industries, which capitalize on people's fear of synthetic or "unnatural" products.
    But the problems with Ayyadurai's paper are legion. Its title alone is enough to show that something is amiss. If you think that GMOs might "accumulate formaldehyde" -- a chemical that is probably carcinogenic at high levels but is present in most living cells and found widely in our environment -- the obvious response would be to measure its levels in the organisms. Ayyadurai, however, chose to make guesses based on modeling via "systems biology."

  • Why Hillary Would Make a Better President Than Bernie

    Clinton's skill as a bureaucratic infighter makes her the right pick for an era of political gridlock. As president, Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton would have to use executive power, stacking the courts, empowering Cabinet officials, shaping regulatory boards.

    That's not to say their rhetoric isn't important. That Sanders believes in a "political revolution" against money in politics tells you about his priorities as president. And Clinton's legislative incrementalism gives you a good signpost to how she'll work with Congress. But, the truth is that--in terms of writing new laws--both agendas are inert. They aren't passing Congress. Indeed, if Democrats hold the White House, they'll hold an inverse presidency of sorts. Like a second-term president, Clinton or Sanders will have to focus on executive power. To have legislative traction, she or he would have to wait for broader shifts to the electorate, as well as redistricting in 2020. It's only then that the big plans are plausible.

  • Sen. Bernard Sanders Congressional Record

    24 Sponsored Bills (Ranks 44 of 98) 0 Made Into Law (Ranks 21 of 98)

    138 Co-Sponsored Bills (Ranks 54 of 100) 0 Made Into Law (Ranks 73 of 100)

  • Why U.S. politics are a disaster

    The states that have the highest levels of inequality, or the fastest growth in equality, have also tended to see the most political polarization, the paper says.

  • If You're Not Paranoid, You're Crazy

    As government agencies and tech companies develop more and more intrusive means of watching and influencing people, how can we live free lives?

  • Why too much choice is stressing us out

    From jeans to dating partners and TV subscriptions to schools, we think the more choices we have the better. But too many options create anxiety and leave us less satisfied. Could one answer lie in a return to the state monopolies of old?

    Increased choice, then, can make us miserable because of regret, self-blame and opportunity costs. Worse, increased choice has created a new problem: the escalation in expectations.
    Schwartz's suggestion is that, at a certain point, choice shifts from having a positive relationship with happiness to an inverse one. So, what's the answer? "The secret to happiness is low expectations," he says, sensibly.

  • The Reign of Recycling

    Once you exclude paper products and metals, the total annual savings in the United States from recycling everything else in municipal trash -- plastics, glass, food, yard trimmings, textiles, rubber, leather -- is only two-tenths of 1 percent of America's carbon footprint.

    As a business, recycling is on the wrong side of two long-term global economic trends. For centuries, the real cost of labor has been increasing while the real cost of raw materials has been declining. That's why we can afford to buy so much more stuff than our ancestors could. As a labor-intensive activity, recycling is an increasingly expensive way to produce materials that are less and less valuable.

  • Can You Get Smarter?

    Can you get smarter by exercising -- or altering -- your brain?

    In the end, you can't yet exceed your innate intelligence. But that seems less important than the fact that there is much that you can do to reach your cognitive potential and to keep it. Forget the smart drugs and supplements; put on your shorts and go exercise. If you're 60 and up, consider brain training. And do it all with your friends.

  • Don't Worry so Much About Your Memory Loss

    New research published Aug. 26 in the journal Neurology studied 239 people drawn from several other larger study populations and found that those with the onset of significant dementia, no matter what its cause, forget that they are forgetting things. They gradually drift into a state in which they are unaware of the problem.

Posted by mjm | Permanent link | Comments

Tue Oct 20 14:18:48 EDT 2015

Forecasting Tournaments

Does Philip Tetlock hold the key to accurate predictions?
Seeing Into the Future

Within all the teams, researchers ran experiments -- for example, pitting individuals against groups -- to see which methods improved accuracy. The essential insight? Prediction accuracy is possible when people participate in a setup that rewards only accuracy -- and not the novelty of the explanation, or loyalty to the party line, or the importance of keeping up your reputation. It is within this condition that the "supers," the top 2 percent of each group, emerged.

Every prominent pundit who was invited to participate in the tournament declined. Put it this way, Tetlock says: "If you have an influential column and a Nobel Prize and big speaking engagements and you're in Davos all the time -- if you have all the status cards -- why in God's name would you ever agree to play in a tournament where the best possible outcome is to break even?"

... Now that we know some limitations, and strengths, of forecasters, Tetlock wants to focus on asking the right questions. He hopes to create what Kahneman has called "adversarial collaboration tournaments" -- for instance, bringing together two politically opposed groups to discuss the Iran nuclear deal. One group thinks it's great, one group thinks it's terrible, and each must generate 10 questions that everyone will answer.

The idea is that each side will generate questions with answers that favor their position, and that, with everyone forced to consider all questions, a greater level of understanding will emerge.

Good Judgment™ Open

Compete in the GJ Open against the smartest crowd online -- the one that decisively won the 4 year ACE forecasting tournament!

Edge Master Class 2015: Philip Tetlock:   A Short Course in Superforecasting

On the weekend of July 30th, Edge convened one of its "Master Classes."

... This year, the psychologist and social scientist Philip E. Tetlock presented the findings based on his work on forecasting as part of the Good Judgment Project. In 1984, Tetlock began holding "forecasting tournaments" in which selected candidates were asked questions about the course of events: In the wake of a natural disaster, what policies will be changed in the United States? When will North Korea test nuclear weapons? Candidates examine the questions in teams. They are not necessarily experts, but attentive, shrewd citizens.

... Over the weekend in Napa, Tetlock held five classes, which are being presented by Edge in their entirety (8.5 hours of video and audio) along with accompanying transcripts (61,000 words).

  • Edge Short Course in Superforecasting, Class I

    Forecasting Tournaments: What We Discover When We Start Scoring Accuracy

    If you read Tom Friedman's columns carefully, you'll see that he does make a lot of implicit predictions.
    . . . He's warned us about a number of things and uses the language of could or may -- various things could or might happen. When you ask people what do "could" or "might" mean in isolation, they mean anything from about .1 probability to about .85 probability. They have a vast range of possible meanings. This means that it's virtually impossible to assess the empirical track record of Tom Friedman, and Tom Friedman is by no means alone. It's not at all usual for pundits to make extremely forceful claims about violent nationalist backlashes or impending regime collapses in this or that place, but to riddle it with vague verbiage quantifiers of uncertainty that could mean anything from .1 to .9.

    It is as though high status pundits have learned a valuable survival skill, and that survival skill is they've mastered the art of appearing to go out on a limb without actually going out on a limb. They say dramatic things but there are vague verbiage quantifiers connected to the dramatic things. It sounds as though they're saying something very compelling and riveting. There's a scenario that's been conjured up in your mind of something either very good or very bad. It's vivid, easily imaginable.

    It turns out, on close inspection they're not really saying that's going to happen. They're not specifying the conditions, or a time frame, or likelihood, so there's no way of assessing accuracy. You could say these pundits are just doing what a rational pundit would do because they know that they live in a somewhat stochastic world. They know that it's a world that frequently is going to throw off surprises at them, so to maintain their credibility with their community of co-believers they need to be vague. It's an essential survival skill. There is some considerable truth to that, and forecasting tournaments are a very different way of proceeding. Forecasting tournaments require people to attach explicit probabilities to well-defined outcomes in well-defined time frames so you can keep score.

  • Edge Short Course in Superforecasting, Class II

    Tournaments: Prying Open Closed Minds in Unnecessarily Polarized Debates

    Four Performance Drivers in Tournaments:

    • Get Right People on Bus
      10-15% boost from screening forecasters on fluid intelligence/ active open-mindedness.
    • Benefits of Interaction
      10-20% boost: Forecasters do better working either collaboratively in teams or competitively in predictions markets.
    • Benefits of Training
      10% boost: Cognitive debiasing exercises help
    • Benefits of Elitist/Extremizing Algorithms
      15-30% boost: more weight to better forecasters AND then "extremize" to compensate for conservatism of aggregate forecasts ("super-fox" strategy)

    ... the Good Judgment Project outperformed a prediction market inside the intelligence community, which was populated with professional analysts who had classified information, by 25 or 30 percent, which was about the margin by which the superforecasters were outperforming our own prediction market in the external world.

  • Edge Short Course in Superforecasting, Class III

    Counterfactual History: The Elusive Control Groups in Policy Debates

    The U.S. intelligence community does not believe it's appropriate to hold analysts accountable for the accuracy of their forecasts. It believes it's appropriate to hold analysts accountable for the processes by which they reach their conclusions. It's not appropriate to judge them on the basis of the accuracy of their conclusions when their conclusions are about the future.

  • Edge Short Course in Superforecasting, Class IV

    Skillful Backward and Forward Reasoning in Time: Superforecasting Requires "Counterfactualizing"

    A lot of human beings take a certain umbrage at the thought that they're just an algorithm. A lot of superforecasters would not. They would be quite open to the possibility that you could create a statistical model of their judgment policies in particular domains, and that statistical model might, in the long run, outperform themselves because it's performed more reliably. They're quite open to that. Most people do not like that idea very much. That's another way in which superforecasters, not all of them, as Barb is pointing out, as they're a somewhat heterogeneous group, but the best among them would be quite open to that idea.

    ... Creativity is one of those buzzwords. I'm a little hesitant to talk about creativity. There are things they do that feel somewhat creative, but what they mostly do is they think very carefully and they think carefully about how they think. They're sensitive to blind spots, and they kick themselves pretty hard when they slip into what they knew was a trap. They slip into it anyway because some of these traps are sneaky and they're hard to avoid.

  • Edge Short Course in Superforecasting, Class V

    Condensing it All Into Four Big Problems and a Killer App Solution

    The first big problem I see is that in virtually all high stakes policy debates we observe now, the participants are motivated less by pure accuracy goals than they are by an assortment of other goals. They're motivated by ego defense, defending their past positions, they're motivated by self-promotion, claiming credit for things (correctly or incorrectly), they're motivated to affirm their loyalty to a community of co-believers because the status of pundits hinges critically on where they stand in their social networks. If you're a liberal or a conservative high profile pundit, you know that if you take one for the home team, they're going to pick you up and keep you moving along.

    ... The second big point--we've already talked about attribute substitution. High stakes partisans want to simplify an otherwise intolerably complicated world. They use attribute substitution a lot. They take hard questions and replace them with easy ones and they act as if the answers to the easy ones are answers to the hard ones.

    ... The third thing we talked a bit about yesterday is rhetorical obfuscation as an essential survival strategy if you're a political pundit. To preserve their self and public images in an environment that throws up a lot of surprises, which, of course, the political world does, high stakes partisans have to learn to master an arcane art: the art of appearing to go out on a predictive limb without actually doing it, of appearing to be making a forecast without making a forecast.
          They say decisive-sounding things about Eurozone collapse or this or that, but there are so many "may's" and "possibly's" and "could's" and so forth that turning it into a probability estimate that can be scored for accuracy is virtually impossible. A, they can't keep score of themselves. B, there is no way to tell ex post which side gets closer to the truth because each side has rhetorically positioned itself in a way that allows it to explain what happened ex post.

    ... Attribute substitution, point four, is not just going on among the debaters, it's going on in the audience as well. Audiences are remarkably forgiving of all these epistemological sins that debaters are committing. There is a tendency to take partisan claims more or less at face value as long as the partisans belong to their community of co-believers.

Addendum: Interview with Phil Tetlock on the Rationally Speaking podcast.

Posted by mjm | Permanent link | Comments

Wed Sep 30 11:50:41 EDT 2015

Items of Interest

Various web links I found to be of interest recently:

  • America's Real Criminal Element: Lead

    New research finds Pb is the hidden villain behind violent crime, lower IQs, and even the ADHD epidemic. And fixing the problem is a lot cheaper than doing nothing.

    Gasoline lead may explain as much as 90 percent of the rise and fall of violent crime over the past half century.
    In states where consumption of leaded gasoline declined slowly, crime declined slowly. Where it declined quickly, crime declined quickly.
    When differences of atmospheric lead density between big and small cities largely went away, so did the difference in murder rates.

  • The Correlation Between Arts and Crafts and a Nobel Prize

    The average scientist is not statistically more likely than a member of the general public to have an artistic or crafty hobby. But members of the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society -- elite societies of scientists, membership in which is based on professional accomplishments and discoveries -- are 1.7 and 1.9 times more likely to have an artistic or crafty hobby than the average scientist is. And Nobel prize winning scientists are 2.85 times more likely than the average scientist to have an artistic or crafty hobby.

  • Getting it Wrong: 'Everyone' Suffers An Incorrect or Late Diagnosis
    According to the report:

    1. At least 5 percent of U.S. adults who seek outpatient care each year experience a diagnostic error.
    2. Postmortem exams suggest diagnostic errors contribute to 10 percent of patient deaths.
    3. Medical records suggest diagnostic errors account for 6 to 17 percent of adverse events in hospitals.

  • Neural network chess computer abandons brute force for selective, 'human' approach

    A chess computer has taught itself the game and advanced to 'international master'-level in only three days by adopting a more 'human' approach. Mathew Lai, an MsC student at Imperial College London, devised a neural-network-based chess computer dubbed Giraffe -- the first of its kind to abandon the 'brute force' approach to competing with human opponents in favour of a branch-based approach whereby the AI stops to evaluate which of the calculated move branches that it has already made are most likely to lead to victory.
    The lag between depth-based 'move-crunching' and neural-based branch evaluation has not completely closed, and Giraffe cannot perform yet at either the same level or with the same latency as traditional depth-based chess engines.

  • How Biohackers are Fighting a Two-front War on Antibiotic Resistance

    Enter CRISPR, or clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. CRISPRs are part of an immune system for bacteria -- a way for populations of bugs to share immunity to bacteria-specific viruses, called phages.
    CRISPR is a really powerful tool for gene editing, and one that has applications for overcoming antibiotic resistance. In an ironic twist, researchers are packing CRISPR/Cas systems into phages and using them to attack bacteria. The CRISPR system is programmed to search for and destroy the sequences that code for antibiotic resistance, like the beta-lactamase protein that confers penicillin resistance. The bacteria are then vulnerable to antibiotics they had previously been able to stand up to.

  • Restoring Henry

    Niall Ferguson, Kissinger's authorized biographer, begins the arduous task of rolling his subject's fallen reputation back up the hill.

    Negative review of authorized biography of Henry Kissinger.

  • The Rent Crisis Is About to Get a Lot Worse

    Millions of households could join the ranks of those spending more than half their income on rent, Harvard study warns

  • What Is College Worth?

    What's the real value of higher education?

    These types of studies, and there are lots of them, usually find that the financial benefits of getting a college degree are much larger than the financial costs. But Cappelli points out that for parents and students the average figures may not mean much, because they disguise enormous differences in outcomes from school to school. He cites a survey, carried out by PayScale for Businessweek in 2012, that showed that students who attend M.I.T., Caltech, and Harvey Mudd College enjoy an annual return of more than ten per cent on their "investment." But the survey also found almost two hundred colleges where students, on average, never fully recouped the costs of their education. "The big news about the payoff from college should be the incredible variation in it across colleges," Cappelli writes. "Looking at the actual return on the costs of attending college, careful analyses suggest that the payoff from many college programs--as much as one in four--is actually negative. Incredibly, the schools seem to add nothing to the market value of the students."

  • Men with unaggressive prostate tumors 'unlikely to develop, die from prostate cancer'

    With careful monitoring by a urologist, a man with relatively unaggressive prostate cancer is unlikely to develop metastatic prostate cancer or die from the disease. This is according to a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

  • Surprising benefits of sexually transmitted infections

    Some microbes passed on during sex could actually be good for us, are most of us missing out?

    Microbes that cause sexual diseases need to ensure they can hop from human to human
    A six-study review found that it (GB virus C) was associated with a 59% reduction in the mortality rate of HIV patients. Scientists think GBV-C does this by reducing HIV's ability to compromise our immune system cells. It may also stimulate other parts of the immune system to actively fight the infection.

  • Food Goes 'GMO Free' With Same Ingredients

    As consumer concern grows over genetically modified products, more produce purveyors are paying to use such labels

    While the U.S. government and most major science groups say evidence shows that GMOs are safe, consumer concern has grown so strong that some vendors of products such as blueberries and lettuce are paying for non-GMO labeling even though their products aren't among the small number of crops that are genetically modified in the U.S.

  • Ice cream that does not melt 'could soon hit the shelves'

    Scientists have discovered a protein which binds the components of ice cream together and stops it melting so fast.

    The new ingredient should create firmer, longer lasting ice cream that will keep it frozen for much longer in hot weather

  • Can't sleep? Try getting less

    By reducing your "sleep window", you're raising the stakes, giving your powers of sleep a real challenge, which brings out the best in them'

    Also see, Sleep Restriction Therapy (SRT).

Posted by mjm | Permanent link | Comments

Thu Sep 17 13:51:34 EDT 2015

Changing New York City

  • How the Big Schlep Is Changing the Way New Yorkers Live

    But as the city transformed into an exceedingly safe and exceedingly expensive place to live over the past two decades, it's not only the crime and the pervasive decay that have fallen away, but the close proximity, creating a social commute that echoes and exacerbates a work commute that, at more than six hours a week, is the longest in the nation
    Manhattan, once the center of the world, is not even the center of the city anymore. Or, at least, it's not the only center.

  • What Jane Jacobs Got Wrong About Cities

    The peerless urban theorist misunderstood the suburbs and failed to see how gentrification would make urban neighborhoods unaffordable to all but the rich.

    "The most successful urban neighborhoods have attracted not the blue-collar families that she celebrated, but the rich and the young. The urban vitality that she espoused--and correctly saw as a barometer of healthy city life--has found new expressions in planned commercial and residential developments whose scale rivals that of the urban renewal of which she was so critical. These developments are the work of real estate entrepreneurs, who were absent from the city described but loom large today, having long ago replaced planners and our chief urban strategists."
    Cities, as Jacobs hoped, have indeed experienced a renaissance, but not in the form she preferred. To be sure, this revival is a hell of lot better than the urban dystopia that developed in the years after Jacobs's Death and Life of Great American Cities first appeared. But it's time to recognize that we are not seeing a renaissance of the kind of middle-class urbanity that she loved and championed. That city has passed into myth, and, unless society changes in very radical ways, it is never going to come back.

  • NYC landlords face new limits buying out tenants

    New York Landlords hoping to pay tenants to move out of the city's 1.3 million rent-regulated apartments will face new limitations on extending offers under measures signed Thursday to rein in a practice that has come under scrutiny in a roaring real-estate market.
    Under state laws, vacant rent-stabilized apartments often can be renovated, deregulated and re-rented at triple the price or more -- $5,200 a month instead of $1,700 for a Manhattan two-bedroom, for example. Citywide, about 266,000 apartments have been deregulated since 1994.

  • Real New Yorkers Can Say Goodbye to All That

    We did leave our hometown because of all these aspirational New Yorkers. But we didn't leave to get away from these people, exactly. We left because those of us who grew up there were less willing to bear any burden, pay any price, to stay. The dreamers simply outbid us for our New York, and in the process, they created a city we no longer loved quite so much. This is apt to make such musings hard reading for us.

Posted by mjm | Permanent link | Comments

Mon Aug 31 11:11:47 EDT 2015

Items of Interest

Various web links I found to be of interest recently:

  • Oliver Sacks: Sabbath

    One of the most interesting people I've run across, contemplates his life and dying.

    And now, weak, short of breath, my once-firm muscles melted away by cancer, I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual, but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life -- achieving a sense of peace within oneself. I find my thoughts drifting to the Sabbath, the day of rest, the seventh day of the week, and perhaps the seventh day of one's life as well, when one can feel that one's work is done, and one may, in good conscience, rest.

    He died August 30 2015. One eulogy,

  • The Costs of Accountability

    The ballooning demand for misplaced and misunderstood metrics, benchmarks, and performance indicators is costing us big.

    The attractions of accountability metrics are apparent. Yet like every culture, the culture of accountability has carved out its own unquestioned sacred space and, as with all arguments from presumed authority, possesses its characteristic blind spots. In this case, the virtues of accountability metrics have been oversold and their costs are underappreciated. It is high time to call accountability and metrics to account.
    Clearly, the attempt to measure performance, however difficult it can be, is intrinsically desirable if what is actually measured is a reasonable proxy for what is intended to be measured. But that is not always the case, and between the two is where the blind spots form.
    Gaming the metrics also takes the form of diverting resources from their best long-term uses to achieve measured short-term goals.

  • This is how science can finally start to fix itself

    Reproducibility Problems

    The amount of funding available to scientific research hasn't kept up with the growing number of scientists in training. To get a bite of the funding pie, many scientists have been led astray. How many? Witness the ten-fold rise in the number of retractions issues in scientific literature, nearly half of which may be the result of fraud.
    Scientists need to balance their work on research that pushes the boundaries of science with less eye-catching studies that simply strengthen convictions on what we already know.

  • The Case for Teaching Ignorance

    Presenting ignorance as less extensive than it is, knowledge as more solid and more stable, and discovery as neater also leads students to misunderstand the interplay between answers and questions.

    People tend to think of not knowing as something to be wiped out or overcome, as if ignorance were simply the absence of knowledge. But answers don't merely resolve questions; they provoke new ones.

  • Tech's Enduring Great-Man Myth

    The idea that particular individuals drive history has long been discredited. Yet it persists in the tech industry, obscuring some of the fundamental factors in innovation.

    Musk's success would not have been possible without, among other things, government funding for basic research and subsidies for electric cars and solar panels. Above all, he has benefited from a long series of innovations in batteries, solar cells, and space travel. He no more produced the technological landscape in which he operates than the Russians created the harsh winter that allowed them to vanquish Napoleon. Yet in the press and among venture capitalists, the great-man model of Musk persists, with headlines citing, for instance, "His Plan to Change the Way the World Uses Energy" and his own claim of "changing history."
    Hero myths like the ones surrounding Musk and Jobs are damaging in other ways, too. If tech leaders are seen primarily as singular, lone achievers, it is easier for them to extract disproportionate wealth. It is also harder to get their companies to accept that they should return some of their profits to agencies like NASA and the National Science Foundation through higher taxes or simply less tax dodging.

  • Climate Etc.

    Hosted by Judith Curry Professor and former Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology and President (co-owner) of Climate Forecast Applications Network (CFAN)

    A forum for climate researchers, academics and technical experts from other fields, citizen scientists, and the interested public to engage in a discussion on topics related to climate science and the science-policy interface.

    A balanced discussion in my opinion.
  • Don't Hate the Phone Call, Hate the Phone

    Our telephone habits have changed, but so have the infrastructure and design of the handset.

    When asked, people with a distaste for phone calls argue that they are presumptuous and intrusive, especially given alternative methods of contact that don't make unbidden demands for someone's undivided attention.
    But when it comes to taking phone calls and not making them, nobody seems to have admitted that using the telephone today is a different material experience than it was 20 or 30 (or 50) years ago, not just a different social experience. That's not just because our phones have also become fancy two-way pagers with keyboards, but also because they've become much crappier phones. It's no wonder that a bad version of telephony would be far less desirable than a good one. And the telephone used to be truly great, partly because of the situation of its use, and partly because of the nature of the apparatus we used to refer to as the "telephone"--especially the handset.

  • As You Sow Files Notice Of Legal Action Against Soylent Super Food

    High Levels of Lead and Cadmium Found by As You Sow in Two Samples of the Trendy Meal Replacement Powering Silicon Valley Coders

  • The Top Ten Things You Should Know About Alternative Medicine

    Harriet Hall, M.D. The SkepDoc

    I'm an equal opportunity skeptic. I'm skeptical about alternative medicine, pseudoscience, and quackery; but I apply the same standards of skepticism to conventional medicine. I don't write about conventional medicine so much, because I don't need to. Science itself is inherently skeptical and scientific medicine is self-criticizing and self-correcting. When better evidence comes along medical practices change

    1. Alternative v. Conventional Medicine
    2. Swine Flu Vaccine Fear Mongering
    3. Chiropractic: A Little Physical Therapy, A lot of Nonsense
    4. Vaccines and Autism: A Deadly Manufactroversy
    5. The Placebo Effect
    6. What to Eat: Food Not Too Much. Mostly Plants
    7. Homeopathy: Still Crazy After All These Years
    8. Acupuncture
    9. But It's Natural, and Natural is Good!
    10. Detoxify This!

  • No Evidence for an Early Dementia Epidemic

    Another interpretation is that people are just getting older. From 1990 to 2010, life expectancy increased and there are more old people now. Everyone knows that dementia is more common in old people. So an ageing population will, all else being equal, inevitably suffer more dementia.
    As 'control conditions', they consider deaths from cancer and heart disease in the 75+ group. These deaths have not increased from 1990 to 2010 -- in fact they have fallen. The authors argue that since cancer and heart disease are diseases of old age too, the "people are just older" argument would equally well apply to those diseases, yet neurological diseases have increased more, so there must be more than just an age effect.

    The problem is that this is comparing apples to oranges. For one thing, cancer and heart disease are often treatable, and we're getting better at treating them. There have been lots of new drugs, treatments and screening programs for cancer and heart disease since 1990, so it's no surprise that death rates fell. Dementia, on the other hand, is not treatable, nor are many other neurological disorders.

  • How to get the most out of your rechargeable batteries

    Every battery has a finite lifespan, and this is given as the "recharge cycle" or "battery cycle." Put simply, this is the number of charge/discharge cycles that a battery is expected to endure before it is no longer fit for service.
    If you only let your battery discharge by 25 percent, then doing this four times counts as a single cycle.

Posted by mjm | Permanent link | Comments

Thu Aug 20 21:50:34 EDT 2015

Problems with Medicine

  • Acupuncture and Quack Medicine at Georgetown University

    I was surprised when I saw this news item from Georgetown,

    Acupuncture Impacts Same Biologic Pathways in Rats that Pain Drugs Target

    and the coverage of it at The Guardian,

    Rats help scientists closer to solving the mystery of acupuncture.

    But thanks to Science Based Medicine it became clear:

    Basically, quackademic medicine is a phenomenon that has taken hold over the last two decades in medical academia in which once ostensibly science-based medical schools and academic medical centers embrace quackery. This embrace was once called "complementary and alternative medicine" (CAM) but among quackademics the preferred term is now "integrative medicine." Of course, when looked at objectively, integrative medicine is far more a brand than a specialty. Specifically, it's a combination of rebranding some science-based modalities, such as nutrition and exercise, as somehow being "alternative" or "integrative" with the integration of outright quackery, such as reiki and "energy healing," acupuncture, and naturopathy, into conventional medicine.
    Having received a ($1.7 million) grant from the then-National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), renamed in December the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), to integrate CAM into its core curriculum, Georgetown proceeded to do just that.

    And as for the study in question:

    The kindest description of the conclusions of this study is that it shows that running electrical current through the leg, as opposed to running current through the skin of the back, might decrease stress by decreasing the effect of stress hormones. It does not show that acupuncture works. A more realistic description of these results is that they don't show much of anything that is scientifically interesting. One even wonders if, for instance, there is a simpler explanation, namely that having a needle stuck in the leg and having current run through it hurts less than having a needle stuck in the back and having current run through it. There's no way of knowing because we can't ask the rat. Alternatively, I also note that St36 is rather close to the sciatic nerve, whereas the acupuncture point on the flank used for the sham-EA control is nowhere near a major nerve.

    Basically, this is a poorly done study with small numbers that doesn't even test acupuncture but electricity. If this is the "evidence" for acupuncture that Georgetown touts, it's thin gruel indeed. Yet it was published in a respectable journal, Endocrinology. Clearly, Endocrinology needs a better class of peer reviewers, as peer review utterly failed in this case.

    Do read the entire SMB post Bastions of quackademic medicine: Georgetown University as it contains many more details and is entertainingly written.

  • The Cure Culture

    There is no cure for cystic fibrosis. There is no cure for cancer. There is no cure for diabetes. There is no cure for HIV. There is no cure for Tay-sachs or Huntington's disease or ALS.

    And yet, scientists, the media, and the foundations that fund research consistently promise patients and their families that cures for very serious, lifelong diseases are imminent, or at least "around the corner." For cystic fibrosis, that cure has been pitched as being gene therapy, in which a faulty gene is replaced with a functioning one.

  • An Epidemic of False Claims

    Competition and conflicts of interest distort too many medical findings -- John P. A. Ioannidis | May 17, 2011

    False positives and exaggerated results in peer-reviewed scientific studies have reached epidemic proportions in recent years. The problem is rampant in economics, the social sciences and even the natural sciences, but it is particularly egregious in biomedicine.

  • What is medicine's 5 sigma?

    "A lot of what is published is incorrect."

    The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness.

    Can bad scientific practices be fixed? Part of the problem is that no-one is incentivised to be right. Instead, scientists are incentivised to be productive and innovative.

  • Atul Gawande: Overkill

    An avalanche of unnecessary medical care is harming patients physically and financially. What can we do about it?

    The researchers called it "low-value care." But, really, it was no-value care. They studied how often people received one of twenty-six tests or treatments that scientific and professional organizations have consistently determined to have no benefit or to be outright harmful. Their list included doing an EEG for an uncomplicated headache (EEGs are for diagnosing seizure disorders, not headaches), or doing a CT or MRI scan for low-back pain in patients without any signs of a neurological problem (studies consistently show that scanning such patients adds nothing except cost), or putting a coronary-artery stent in patients with stable cardiac disease (the likelihood of a heart attack or death after five years is unaffected by the stent). In just a single year, the researchers reported, twenty-five to forty-two per cent of Medicare patients received at least one of the twenty-six useless tests and treatments.

    Doctors generally know more about the value of a given medical treatment than patients, who have little ability to determine the quality of the advice they are getting. Doctors, therefore, are in a powerful position. We can recommend care of little or no value because it enhances our incomes, because it's our habit, or because we genuinely but incorrectly believe in it, and patients will tend to follow our recommendations.

    The United States is a country of three hundred million people who annually undergo around fifteen million nuclear medicine scans, a hundred million CT and MRI scans, and almost ten billion laboratory tests. Often, these are fishing expeditions, and since no one is perfectly normal you tend to find a lot of fish. If you look closely and often enough, almost everyone will have a little nodule that can't be completely explained, a lab result that is a bit off, a heart tracing that doesn't look quite right.

    Excessive testing is a problem for a number of reasons. For one thing, some diagnostic studies are harmful in themselves--we're doing so many CT scans and other forms of imaging that rely on radiation that they are believed to be increasing the population's cancer rates. These direct risks are often greater than we account for.

    Overtesting has also created a new, unanticipated problem: overdiagnosis. ...
    For instance, cancer screening with mammography, ultrasound, and blood testing has dramatically increased the detection of breast, thyroid, and prostate cancer during the past quarter century. We're treating hundreds of thousands more people each year for these diseases than we ever have. Yet only a tiny reduction in death, if any, has resulted.

  • Doctor group seeks to clear confusion in cancer screening

    Cancer screening is a balance to ensure the people who will benefit most get checked while not over-testing. After all, there are potential harms including false alarms that spark unneeded extra testing, and sometimes detection of tumors too small and slow-growing to be life-threatening.

    Colonoscopies, which allow doctors to see precancerous growths in the colon, get the most attention. But the ACP advised people ages 50 to 74 to choose from equally good screening choices: a stool test every year; a colonoscopy every 10 years; a sigmoidoscopy, which views the lower colon, every five years; or a combination of a stool test every three years and a sigmoidoscopy every five years.

Posted by mjm | Permanent link | Comments

Thu Jul 30 13:05:29 EDT 2015

Items of Interest

Various web links I found to be of interest recently:

  • Is There a Viable Alternative to the Iran Deal?

    Three Atlantic writers debate the merits of the Iran nuclear agreement.
    Peter Beinart, David Frum, and Jeffrey Goldberg -- July 17, 2015

    A reasonable and sensible discussion of pros and cons of the Iran deal. But still they only talk about problems trusting Iran and forget about problems trusting the United States as I have pointed out.

  • Paul Krugman vs Steve Moore 720

    Video of a debate between Paul Krugman (New York Times) and Steve Moore (Heritage Foundation) at FreedomFest 2015.

    Some commentary about it:
  • Here's what your stolen identity goes for on the internet's black market

    The going rate for a stolen identity is about twenty bucks.

    Though the transactions are usually illegal, marketplaces on the dark web function much like those on the popular internet. Prices for stolen identities vary based on factors like quality, reliability, robustness, and the seller's reputation.

  • The (Dis)Honesty Project

    (Dis)Honesty -- The Truth About Lies is a documentary feature film that explores the human tendency to be dishonest. Inspired by the work of behavioral economist, Dan Ariely, the film interweaves personal stories, expert opinions, behavioral experiments, and archival footage to reveal how and why people lie.

  • Harbingers Of Failure

    If You Buy The Stuff No One Else Likes, You Just May Be A "Harbinger Of Failure". In a study published in the Journal of Marketing Research, researchers identified particular kinds of consumers whose preferences can predict products that will flop, calling those folks "harbingers of failure," reports the Chicago Tribune.

    "Certain customers systematically purchase new products that prove unsuccessful," wrote the study authors. "Their early adoption of a new product is a strong signal that a product will fail."

  • Predicting things is hard, but we keep doing it. Why?

    This Commerce Department report from 1948 shows how disastrously, off-the-charts wrong forecasters can be.

    If you had to make a list of America's most important developments during the 20th century, the baby boom would be in the top 10. And it was totally unpredictable.
    What's more, the report's projection of total U.S. population wasn't just a little off; it was disastrously, off-the-charts wrong. The baseline 1948 forecast predicted 163 million people would live in America by the year 2000. In reality, it was 282 million. That difference -- 119 million people -- is the equivalent of missing three Californias, or 14 New York Cities.

  • Another 'Too Big to Fail' System in G.M.O.s

    By Mark Spitznagel and Nassim Nicholas Taleb

    The G.M.O. experiment, carried out in real time and with our entire food and ecological system as its laboratory, is perhaps the greatest case of human hubris ever. It creates yet another systemic, "too big too fail" enterprise -- but one for which no bailouts will be possible when it fails.

    I am not convinced by their argument. Scientists are not economists and they do not function in the same manner.

  • Jon Stewart skewers Scalia after justice's string of Supreme Court outbursts

    Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia shown to be the hypocrite he is.

    For more evidence see The Incoherence of Antonin Scalia by Richard A. Posner.

  • Judge Alex Kozinski identifies 12 huge lies about justice in America:
    1. Eyewitnesses are highly reliable
    2. Fingerprint evidence is foolproof
    3. Other types of forensic evidence are scientifically proven and therefore infallible
    4. DNA evidence is infallible
    5. Human memories are reliable
    6. Confessions are infallible because innocent people never confess
    7. Juries follow instructions
    8. Prosecutors play fair
    9. The prosecution is at a substantial disadvantage because it must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt
    10. Police are objective in their investigations
    11. Guilty pleas are conclusive proof of guilt
    12. Long sentences deter crime
  • A non-French speaker just won the French Scrabble championship

    On Monday, July 20, Richards-- a native of New Zealand--won the French-language world Scrabble championship.
    He does not speak a word of French.
    Richards reportedly memorized an entire French dictionary in the two months leading up to the competition.

  • Give Well

    In-depth charity research.

    Thousands of hours have gone into finding our top-rated charities. They're evidence-backed, thoroughly vetted, and underfunded.

Posted by mjm | Permanent link | Comments

Tue Jul 21 22:31:31 EDT 2015

Iran vs United States

With the signing of a nuclear agreement between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany (P5+1), there is talk of Iran's support for people and groups the United States does not like, for example Bashar al-Assad in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

How do Iran's actions compare with those of the United States:

  • overthrow of the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran in 1953 and support for the Shah
  • support for Iraq and its use of chemical weapons in war against Iran in the 1980's
  • support for terrorist groups inside Iran to kill their nuclear scientists
  • infecting with destructive software Iran's computers that were being used in their nuclear efforts (in support of or with Israel)
  • flying drones over Iran (they shot one down)

Which country has more reasons to distrust the other?

And why is Saudi Arabia considered a better ally than Iran?

  • Saudi Arabia is a monarchy and Iran is a democracy (albeit one we may not like)
  • Saudi Arabia has had 85 beheadings so far this year. All I can find for Iran is one beheading in 2003.
  • Saudi Arabia has given free reign to the conservative Islam movement Wahhabism and this has led to ISIL. Now they may be having second thoughts about it's alliance with conservative clerics, but it may be too late.
  • Fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers were citizens of Saudi Arabia. Can you imagine what people would be saying if they were from Iran?

Why during the endless interviews with those discussing the pros and cons of the Iranian nuclear deal are these issues not mentioned every time? I would like the opportunity to do so.

And finally this odd fact from The Economist:

Iran is not as unfamiliar with the West as it may seem. Mr Rouhani's cabinet boasts more American doctorates than Mr Obama's.

Posted by mjm | Permanent link | Comments

Wed Jul 15 11:43:38 EDT 2015

R. Roberts vs P. Krugman

I've been listening to Russ Roberts' podcasts EconTalk for many years and it is one of my favorites, even though I often disagree. In Krugman is human, just like me he writes:

Krugman has responded to my claims about empirical evidence, confirmation bias, and the lack of science in macro policy discussions. Here's the argument so far.

I suggested on Twitter that economists see what they want to see. We tend to latch on to evidence that supports our worldview and ideology and ignore evidence to the contrary.

Krugman responded by saying that might be true of me, but not him. He is a Keynesian because of the evidence. He is mainly unbiased. Nor does his desire for a larger government role in the economy pre-dispose him to interpret the effects of fiscal policy in a particular way.

I responded that the evidence in support of Keynesian fiscal policy is very mixed. There is too much evidence. People on each side of this debate can easily find lots of evidence--some historical, some econometric to support there view. As an example of the challenge of using evidence vs. bias to reach a policy conclusion, I pointed out that in 2013, Krugman predicted that the fiscal contraction from increased taxes and reduced spending would hurt the economy. When economic growth turned out to be healthy in 2013 and greater than in 2012, Krugman responded by arguing that "other stuff" explained the failure of his prediction. This is a common response by people on both side of these kinds of debates. Very rarely does one side concede that their worldview may need revision. There is always "other stuff."

What and why people believe fascinates me and I've blogged about it and the associated confirmation bias a fair amount. It's been interesting for me to see how Roberts has, over the years I've been listening to him, come to realize that everyone, including himself, is susceptible to easily accepting evidence that supports their view while ignoring evidence that doesn't. However knowing this doesn't stop him from taking sides as witnessed that he blogs at Cafe Hayek.

But still that is better than claiming to be (mostly) bias free. Saying your predictions failed because "other stuff" happened is similar to some religious cult leader predicting the end of the universe and then when it doesn't occur saying it was because people didn't pray enough. Why when a prediction does come true, do you never hear anyone say it's because ""other stuff" happened?

For more discussion on the topic see Noah Smith's blog Economic arguments as stalking horses.

Following in the footsteps of the Open Science Framework, when economists make predictions they need to write down in advance what they think will happen and when and under what conditions, and what outcome would prove them wrong.

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