Wed Nov 30 22:11:14 EST 2016

Items of Interest

Various web links I found to be of interest recently.

  • Two not so horrible assessments of Donald Trump's victory from the left:
    • Barney Frank Looks for the Bright Side of Trump's Win

      But the election of Donald Trump has not shattered his confidence about the nation's political future. "This was not a wipeout. People will tend to overinterpret it. Remember, we got more votes than they did," he said, in an interview this week. "And there is one silver living for us. They have succeeded in blaming us for everything that goes wrong in the world. From now on, anything bad that happens is on them.

    • UpFront special: Noam Chomsky on the new Trump era

      I wouldn't compare it with Wedemark Germany. Hitler was a sincere dedicated ideologue. Trump isn't. He has no known ideology other than ME.

      ... But on the other he's also talked about reducing tensions with Russia which is probably the most dangerous flashpoint in the world on the Russian border. So it's hard to predict. In fact the most predictable aspect of Trump is unpredictability. I think it's dangerous.

      ... There's been real gains in the protection of freedom of speech and I think they're pretty deeply embedded and my suspicion is that though there will be attacks on freedom of speech, my own feeling is they are not likely to get very far.

  • Reelection Rates Over the Years

    If US citizens are really unhappy with their government, why are reelection rates for U.S. House of Representatives and Senators reliably above 90% and 80% respectively?
    See the bar charts at the above link.

  • How Steve Bannon and Breitbart News Can Be Pro-Israel -- and Anti-Semitic at the Same Time

    Some on the alt-right, the emerging group of racist activists who support Trump, oppose the close U.S.-Israel relationship as part of a broader critique of U.S. interventionism abroad. Yet they admire Israel as a "model for white nationalism and/or Christianism," according to the right-wing online encyclopedia Conservapedia. Some also see Jewish immigration to Israel as helping their cause of a Jew-free white America.

  • Why Steve Bannon Hates Paul Ryan

    Perhaps, the most critical disparity between the two men's worldviews is the way they conceptualize the relationship between working people and America's economic elites. While Paul Ryan champions our nation's corporate titans as "job creators" -- whose prosperity is inextricably linked with that of the middle class -- Bannon paints them as rootless, godless elites whose wealth is harvested from the exploitation of ordinary people.

  • Recent pause in the growth rate of atmospheric CO2 due to enhanced terrestrial carbon uptake

    Here using global carbon budget estimates, ground, atmospheric and satellite observations, and multiple global vegetation models, we report a recent pause in the growth rate of atmospheric CO2, and a decline in the fraction of anthropogenic emissions that remain in the atmosphere, despite increasing anthropogenic emissions. We attribute the observed decline to increases in the terrestrial sink during the past decade, associated with the effects of rising atmospheric CO2 on vegetation and the slowdown in the rate of warming on global respiration.

  • Why America Is Rich, at Least for Now

    The U.S., along with a handful of European nations, has had solid, fairly consistent economic growth for more than two centuries (with, of course, some notable dark times), and for most of that period economic growth has benefitted poor and rich alike. That growth is best understood by pulling the focus far back from the narrow lens of one election. What matters most are those things that endure for decades and centuries: democracy, rule of law, a civilian-led military, political stability, and freedom of speech and movement. America is a rich country not because of what the Democrats or the Republicans did separately. It is successful because of those things that the parties share, national values and institutions.

  • US dementia rates drop 24%

    A new study finds that the prevalence of dementia has fallen sharply in recent years, most likely as a result of Americans' rising educational levels and better heart health, which are both closely related to brain health.

    Dementia rates in people over age 65 fell from 11.6 percent in 2000 to 8.8 percent in 2012, a decline of 24 percent, according to a study of more than 21,000 people across the country published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.

  • The MMR vaccine and autism: Sensation, refutation, retraction, and fraud

    The next episode in the saga was a short retraction of the interpretation of the original data by 10 of the 12 co-authors of the paper. According to the retraction, "no causal link was established between MMR vaccine and autism as the data were insufficient". This was accompanied by an admission by the Lancet that Wakefield et al. had failed to disclose financial interests (e.g., Wakefield had been funded by lawyers who had been engaged by parents in lawsuits against vaccine-producing companies). However, the Lancet exonerated Wakefield and his colleagues from charges of ethical violations and scientific misconduct.
    ...
    The final episode in the saga is the revelation that Wakefield et al. were guilty of deliberate fraud (they picked and chose data that suited their case; they falsified facts). The British Medical Journal has published a series of articles on the exposure of the fraud, which appears to have taken place for financial gain. It is a matter of concern that the exposé was a result of journalistic investigation, rather than academic vigilance followed by the institution of corrective measures. Readers may be interested to learn that the journalist on the Wakefield case, Brian Deer, had earlier reported on the false implication of thiomersal (in vaccines) in the etiology of autism. However, Deer had not played an investigative role in that report.

  • New Measles Study Shows Why Anti-Vaccination Thinking Is Deadly

    Since the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine isn't recommended for children under 12 months, the only effective way of preventing it and fatal post-measles disorders like SSPE is through "herd immunity" --vaccinating enough people to prevent the spread of the disease even among those too young to receive the vaccine.


Posted by mjm | Permanent link | Comments

Mon Oct 31 13:00:24 EDT 2016

Items of Interest

Various web links I found to be of interest recently.

  • Interview with Professor Rebecca Goldstein

    -Novelist, Philosopher, and Public Intellectual-

    I've known mathematical geniuses who are dunces when it comes to the kind of imaginative intelligence that goes into interpreting works of art--or, for that matter, interpreting people. I've met brilliant novelists whose deductive talents aren't sufficient to get them through an elementary course in symbolic logic. I have an appreciation for sundry forms of smartness, though there are characteristics other than smartness that I value far more in people. Too many people who are celebrated for their intellectual or artistic talents think that their gifts license them to be jerks. What I call "talentism," the conviction that those with extraordinary abilities matter more than other people, is as faulty a normative proposition as any other that regards some people as mattering more than others--such as sexism, racism, classism, ableism, lookism, ageism, nationalism, imperialism, and hetero-normativity.

  • A science journalist takes a skeptical look at capital-S Skepticism

    Dear "Skeptics," Bash Homeopathy and Bigfoot Less, Mammograms and War More
    John Horgan (Scientific American blog) on May 16, 2016

    I'm a science journalist. I don't celebrate science, I criticize it, because science needs critics more than cheerleaders. I point out gaps between scientific hype and reality. That keeps me busy, because, as you know, most peer-reviewed scientific claims are wrong.
    ...
    Meanwhile, you neglect what I call hard targets. These are dubious and even harmful claims promoted by major scientists and institutions. In the rest of this talk, I'll give you examples of hard targets from physics, medicine and biology. I'll wrap up with a rant about war, the hardest target of all.

  • Economists Are Blind to How Little They Know

    Jeffrey Snider - October 21, 2016

    It changes none of this emotion that central banks have already admitted implicitly that it was all a lie. If QE had been such a success establishing how all these warnings are misconstruing what are really good times, then why are central banks everywhere quietly but very seriously evaluating only other options? The answer is, for once, refreshingly simple: faith in central banks among market participants is at a low, while faith in central banks in the media and mainstream remains largely (but not totally) undaunted. Central bankers in their vanity care much about the latter, but for their survival are finally forced to deal with the former.
    ...
    What all these have in common is more than just interest rates or TED spreads, even global depression; it is the entire idea of technocracy itself. Since before Plato, people have dreamed of a utopia where enlightened, dispassionate philosophers would govern and guide messy, often awful human existence toward and into "optimum" outcomes. It took until "economics" in the latter half of the 20th century for such hubris to take literal hold; there is an entire branch of the "science" dedicated through statistics just so to determining both "optimal outcomes" as well as the duty to "nudge" people toward them using the power of government if need be.

  • Truth and myth about the effects of openness to trade

    The Economist - Oct 1st 2016

    But China's accession to the WTO caused a big shock. The country's size, and the speed at which it conquered rich-world markets for low-cost manufacturing, makes it unique. By 2013 it had captured one-fifth of all manufacturing exports worldwide, compared with a share of only 2% in 1991.
    ...
    Still, when David Autor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), David Dorn of the University of Zurich and Gordon Hanson of the University of California, San Diego, looked into the job losses more closely, they found something worrying. At least one-fifth of the drop in factory jobs during that period was the direct result of competition from China.
    ...
    Still, some rich countries, such as Germany, Britain and Canada, have done rather better than America at keeping prime-age men in work, though others, including France, Italy and Spain, have done even worse. That is partly a matter of policy. Members of the OECD, a club of mostly rich countries, set aside an average of 0.6% of GDP a year for "active labour-market policies"--job centres, retraining schemes and employment subsidies--to ease the transition to new types of work. America spends just 0.1% of GDP. By neglecting those whose jobs have been swallowed by technology or imports, America's policymakers have fuelled some of the anger about freer trade.
    ...
    A study by Pablo Fajgelbaum of the University of California, Los Angeles, and Amit Khandelwal, of Columbia University, suggests that in an average country, people on high incomes would lose 28% of their purchasing power if borders were closed to trade. But the poorest 10% of consumers would lose 63% of their spending power, because they buy relatively more imported goods. The authors find a bias of trade in favour of poorer people in all 40 countries in their study, which included 13 developing countries.

  • Calcium supplements may not be heart healthy

    New research suggests that dietary calcium in the form of supplements, but not calcium-rich foods, might have a harmful impact on the heart.
    ...
    "But our study adds to the body of evidence that excess calcium in the form of supplements may harm the heart and vascular system," Michos said in a news release from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.

  • Big cities healthier? How some cities make life better, study says

    Big cities healthier? Having sidewalks to walk on and access to parks and good public transport makes for happier city residents, a new survey says.

    With more opportunities to exercise, walk and stay outdoors, the report finds, residents also tend to smoke less and find the housing "ideal" for individuals and families alike. It's a trend that can be observed in a number of cities, such as Seattle and Minneapolis, where young families are choosing to forego suburbs for downtown housing despite having less space.

  • How This Year's Nobel Laureates In Physics Changed The Game

    The fundamental reason why Haldane, Kosterlitz and Thouless needed to do what they did is that they're working in a subfield where the simple and straightforwardly reductionist approach that characterizes physics seems to run into trouble.
    ...
    One of the biggest of these is the subfield of "condensed matter," which tries to study the properties of vast assemblages of atoms making up solid or liquid systems. In condensed-matter systems you're worried about the collective behavior of many more particles than you have any hope of counting. As Phillip Anderson pointed out in a famous paper from 1972, these collective behaviors aren't necessarily obvious, even when the underlying rules governing the interactions between particles are simple and well-understood. More is different, in Anderson's phrase, but more importantly, more is difficult.


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Thu Oct 20 12:03:28 EDT 2016

Health Care policy

  • Obamacare: What we didn't see coming
    Jonathan Gruber, 07/21/16

    An architect of the law reflects on its surprises and its future.

    Insurance premiums on the exchanges have also surprised me -- but not in the way that most readers would think. Most press coverage recently has focused on the high premium increases in exchange plans, and the exits of some insurers losing money on the exchanges, notably United Healthcare. But what those articles tend to ignore is that exchange premiums in 2014 came in much lower than expectations -- about 15 percent below what CBO projected. So even with recent increases, premiums are probably still lower than what would have been expected before the exchanges began. That gets overlooked.
    ...
    Employer-sponsored insurance was slowly declining before the ACA, and I expect that it will continue to slowly decline. But there is no evidence that the ACA is leading to its collapse. We see no large shift in the preferred mode of health care coverage for employees.
    ...
    The recent rise simply reflects a "catching up" after insurers initially set prices too low. After a few years of large premium increases, premium growth rates should settle back down to keep pace with the growth in health care spending.
    ...
    The fact is that exchanges in every state are well above the minimum scale required to function effectively. And the fear of "death spirals" from rapidly rising premiums is greatly exaggerated when the vast majority of exchange enrollees are subsidized, meaning they don't pay those higher premiums. This provides a stable base of enrollees, even as premiums rise.

  • Single Payer Trouble

    Paul Krugman, January 28, 2016

    To be harsh but accurate: the Sanders health plan looks a little bit like a standard Republican tax-cut plan, which relies on fantasies about huge supply-side effects to make the numbers supposedly add up. Only a little bit: after all, this is a plan seeking to provide health care, not lavish windfalls on the rich -- and single-payer really does save money, whereas there's no evidence that tax cuts deliver growth. Still, it's not the kind of brave truth-telling the Sanders campaign pitch might have led you to expect.

  • Life Expectancy and Infant Mortality are Unreliable Measures for Comparing the U.S. Health Care System to Others

    July 2006

    Life expectancy and infant mortality are wholly inadequate comparative measures for health care systems. Life expectancy is influenced by a host of factors other than a health care system, while infant mortality is measured inconsistently across nations. Neither of these measures provides the United States with conclusive guidance on health care policy, let alone serve as reliable evidence that a system of universal health care "should be implemented in the United States."

  • Health Care's Continental Divide
    Jan 22, 2016

    Online print debate between Bloomberg view columnists Megan McArdle & Leonid Bershidsky about single-payer health care in the U.S.

    MM: We might like an American government that was better at technocracy (or we might not), but we don't have one. We have instead a messy, fractious democracy that offers interest groups almost unlimited veto points against legislation they don't like. Love it or hate it, these forces make our government extremely bad at controlling costs, which shows up not just in our health-care and education systems, but also in the price of building our infrastructure or providing various social services.

  • A Single-Payer System Won't Make Health Care Cheap

    Megan McArdle, April 30, 2014

    The financing is impossible, in part because the politics is impossible. And the politics is impossible in part because the financial hit would be too big. Single-payer would have to be paid for at the extremely high prices that Americans pay, not the lower European prices that we'd rather have. And when you look at the taxes needed to finance a government takeover, you quickly realize that most people just aren't willing to pay the price


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Fri Sep 30 19:16:47 EDT 2016

Items of Interest

Various web links I found to be of interest recently.

  • The natural selection of bad science

    Poor research design and data analysis encourage false-positive findings. Such poor methods persist despite perennial calls for improvement, suggesting that they result from something more than just misunderstanding. The persistence of poor methods results partly from incentives that favour them, leading to the natural selection of bad science. This dynamic requires no conscious strategizing—no deliberate cheating nor loafing—by scientists, only that publication is a principal factor for career advancement. Some normative methods of analysis have almost certainly been selected to further publication instead of discovery. In order to improve the culture of science, a shift must be made away from correcting misunderstandings and towards rewarding understanding.

  • Why is the scientific replication crisis centered on psychology?

    The strengths and weaknesses of the field of research psychology seemed to have combined to (a) encourage the publication and dissemination of lots of low-quality, unreplicable research, while (b) creating the conditions for this problem to be recognized, exposed, and discussed openly.
    ...
    It makes sense for psychology researchers to be embarrassed that those papers on power pose, ESP, himmicanes, etc. were published in their top journals and promoted by leaders in their field. Just to be clear: I'm not saying there's anything embarrassing or illegitimate about studying and publishing papers on power pose, ESP, or himmicanes. Speculation and data exploration are fine with me; indeed, they're a necessary part of science. My problem with those papers is that they presented speculation as mature theory, that they presented data exploration as confirmatory evidence, and that they were not part of research programmes that could accommodate criticism. That's bad news for psychology or any other field.

    Also see: What has happened down here is the winds have changed.
  • Dear "Skeptics," Bash Homeopathy and Bigfoot Less, Mammograms and War More

    A science journalist (John Horgan) takes a skeptical look at capital-S Skepticism.

    I'm a science journalist. I don't celebrate science, I criticize it, because science needs critics more than cheerleaders. I point out gaps between scientific hype and reality. That keeps me busy, because, as you know, most peer-reviewed scientific claims are wrong.

    So I'm a skeptic, but with a small S, not capital S. I don't belong to skeptical societies. I don't hang out with people who self-identify as capital-S Skeptics. Or Atheists. Or Rationalists.

  • How Big Sugar Enlisted Harvard Scientists to Influence How We Eat-in 1965

    Industry-funded research sought to discredit links between sugar and heart disease -- more than half a century ago.

    An article by University of California-San Francisco researchers, published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, shows how far back such efforts go: In 1965, the Sugar Research Foundation, the precursor to today's Sugar Association, paid Harvard scientists to discredit a link now widely accepted among scientists --that consuming sugar can raise the risk of cardiovascular disease. Instead, the industry and the Harvard scientists pinned the blame squarely, and only, on saturated fat.
    ...
    In a commentary accompanying the JAMA Internal Medicine article, Marion Nestle, a nutrition and public health professor at New York University and the author of Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health, called the findings a "smoking gun" showing how those who fund research can heavily influence its findings.

  • Statins or not? New study aims to help doctors and patients decide

    A new study reviews harms and benefits of statins treating patients with elevated LDL cholesterol

    But one concern among some experts, and opponents, is the eventual use of statins to treat people who have high cholesterol, but have not had previous cardiovascular issues and do not have diabetes of hypertension, meaning more people take them than needed. Fewer studies have shown that statins reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases in healthy people with high cholesterol.
    ...
    Among the 10,000 patients, the researchers found the drug would cause five cases of myopathy, as well as five to 10 hemorrhagic strokes -- caused by weak blood vessels bursting -- 50 to 100 new cases of diabetes, and up to 100 cases of symptomatic adverse events, such as muscle pain.

  • High US health care spending is quite well explained by its high material standard of living

    These plots and the arguments that usually go with them give the strong impression that US spends about twice as much as it should. However, these are misleading for several reasons, namely:

    1. GDP is a substantially weaker proxy for "wealth" and a substantially weaker predictor of health care expenditures than other available measures.
    2. The US is much wealthier than other countries in these plots in reality.
    3. The arbitrary selection of a handful of countries tends to hide the problems with GDP in this context and, oddly enough, simultaneously downplay the strength of the relationship between wealth and health care spending
    4. Comparing these two quantities with a linear scale tends to substantially overstate the apparent magnitude of the residuals from trend amongst the richer economies when what we're implicitly concerned with is the percentage spent on healthcare.

  • All Prostate Cancer Treatments About Equally Effective, Study Finds

    The first controlled study comparing three different approaches to prostate cancer -- radiation versus surgery versus "watchful waiting" -- shows there is no truly bad choice for most men, experts said Wednesday.

  • Myths and realities about America's infrastructure spending

    America needs an infrastructure renaissance, but we won't get it by the federal government simply writing big checks. A far better model would be for infrastructure to be managed by independent but focused local public and private entities and funded primarily by user fees, not federal tax dollars.
    ...
    Infrastructure spending is a form of investment: just as building a new factory can boost productivity, laying down a new highway or opening a new airport runway can, at least in principle, generate future economic returns. But the relevant question is: How do those future returns compare with the costs? Just because infrastructure is a form of capital doesn't mean that spending a lot on it is always smart.

  • Why the gender wage gap explodes when women hit their 30s

    In other words: The wage gap is largest during the years when men and women start families and raise children. And it shrinks about 18 years later -- right around when adult children are likely moving out of their parents' house.
    ...
    As I've written about previously, there is ample evidence that women are still responsible for the majority of child rearing and housework, even in households where both parents hold full-time jobs. That additional burden can become a significant obstacle to career advancement and higher salaries.

  • The International Association for Computing and Philosophy (IACAP)

    The International Association for Computing and Philosophy exists to promote scholarly dialogue and research on all aspects of the computational and informational turn, and on the use of information and communication technologies in the service of philosophy.

    Also see a view from Don Berkich:
    Should computer scientists and philosophers bother with one another?

  • Unpatent

    On a quest against patent trolls.
    Unpatent is a crowdfunding platform to invalidate bad patents.

    Unpatent was born with the mission of fixing the innovation framework.

    Under the premise that the patent system is utterly outdated and is not serving the people who push humankind forward, we are building tools to empower them again.

    The first glich in the system that we are fixing are patent trolls - who are usually law firms that extort people and companies over totally stupid, obvious patents.

  • Can Money Buy You Happiness?

    It's True to Some Extent. But Chances Are You're not Getting the Most Bang for Your Buck.

    In short, this latest research suggests, wealth alone doesn't provide any guarantee of a good life. What matters a lot more than a big income is how people spend it. For instance, giving money away makes people a lot happier than lavishing it on themselves. And when they do spend money on themselves, people are a lot happier when they use it for experiences like travel than for material goods.


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Wed Sep 21 23:29:51 EDT 2016

Health Matters

Various web links related to health issues.

  • A Medical Mystery of the Best Kind: Major Diseases Are in Decline
    Gina Kolata in The New York Times The Upshot

    Something strange is going on in medicine. Major diseases, like colon cancer, dementia and heart disease, are waning in wealthy countries, and improved diagnosis and treatment cannot fully explain it.
    ...
    Perhaps, he said, all these degenerative diseases share something in common, something inside aging cells themselves. The cellular process of aging may be changing, in humans' favor. For too long, he said, researchers have looked under the lamppost at things they can measure. Perhaps, he said, all these degenerative diseases share something in common, something inside aging cells themselves. The cellular process of aging may be changing, in humans' favor. For too long, he said, researchers have looked under the lamppost at things they can measure.

  • You Can't Trust What You Read About Nutrition
    by Christie Aschwanden in fivethirtyeight.com

    Spurious Correlation: We found a link between cabbage and innie bellybuttons, but that doesn't mean it's real.

    When it comes to nutrition, everyone has an opinion. What no one has is an airtight case.
    ...
    Our foray into nutrition science demonstrated that studies examining how foods influence health are inherently fraught. To show you why, we're going to take you behind the scenes to see how these studies are done. The first thing you need to know is that nutrition researchers are studying an incredibly difficult problem, because, short of locking people in a room and carefully measuring out all their meals, it's hard to know exactly what people eat. So nearly all nutrition studies rely on measures of food consumption that require people to remember and report what they ate.
    ...
    Nearly every nutrient you can think of has been linked to some health outcome in the peer-reviewed scientific literature using tools like the FFQ, said John Ioannidis, an expert on the reliability of research findings at the Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford. In a 2013 analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Ioannidis and a colleague selected 50 common ingredients at random from a cookbook and looked for studies evaluating each food's association to cancer risk. It turned out that studies had found a link between 80 percent of the ingredients -- including salt, eggs, butter, lemon, bread and carrots -- and cancer. Some of those studies pointed to an increased risk of cancer, others suggested a decreased risk, but the size of the reported effects were "implausibly large," Ioannidis said, while the evidence was weak.

  • How exercise is "rebranded" as complementary and alternative medicine
    Respectful Insolence in ScienceBlogs

    "Complementary and alternative medicine" (CAM), now more frequently referred to as "integrative medicine" by its proponents, consists of a hodge-podge of largely unrelated treatments that range from seemingly reasonable (e.g., diet and exercise) to pure quackery (e.g., acupuncture, reiki and other "energy medicine") that CAM proponents are trying furiously to "integrate" as coequals into science-based medicine. They do this because they have fallen under the sway of an ideology that posits a false dichotomy: To practice true "holistic" and "preventative" medicine, physicians and other health care professionals must embrace the pre-scientific, pseudoscientific, or anti-scientific ideas about medicine that underlie much of the "alternative medicine" being "integrated."

  • Medical errors may be third leading cause of death in the U.S.

    In fact, the study, from doctors at Johns Hopkins, suggests medical errors may kill more people than lower respiratory diseases like emphysema and bronchitis do. That would make these medical mistakes the third leading cause of death in the United States. That would place medical errors right behind heart disease and cancer.
    ...
    One reason there's such a wide range of numbers is because accurate data on these kinds of deaths is surprisingly sparse. That's in part because death certificates don't ask for enough data, Makary said. Currently the cause of death listed on the certificate has to line up with an insurance billing code. Those codes do not adequately capture human error or system factors.

  • A Cavity-Fighting Liquid Lets Kids Avoid Dentists' Drills

    The Food and Drug Administration cleared silver diamine fluoride for use as a tooth desensitizer for adults 21 and older. But studies show it can halt the progression of cavities and prevent them, and dentists are increasingly using it off-label for those purposes.
    ...
    The main downside is aesthetic: Silver diamine fluoride blackens the brownish decay on a tooth.

  • Seriously, stop with the irresponsible reporting on cellphones and cancer

    This is just one study (we shouldn't dismiss it, but it's possible the results were simply due to chance). The effects were only found in rats (and may not translate at all to humans). And this needs to be weighed against other evidence that cellphones aren't a big risk for people (we've been using phones for decades now with no uptick in brain cancer). This is an important bit of research and deserves careful scrutiny and follow-up. But it's not an occasion for fear-mongering.


Posted by mjm | Permanent link | Comments

Wed Aug 31 16:19:49 EDT 2016

Items of Interest

Various web links I found to be of interest recently.

  • Bernie Sanders's post-campaign political revolution is off to a rocky start

    Not only have Sanders-backed candidates generally struggled to knock off opponents backed by the Democratic establishment, but the national organizations created to help them have already become mired in petty infighting and legal difficulties.

  • "I don't like the idea of capitalism": Charles Koch, unfiltered

    Billionaire businessman, philanthropist and political donor Charles Koch grabbed headlines this weekend for focusing a semiannual gathering of wealthy conservatives on a surprising topic: income inequality. It is a topic that has loomed increasingly large in Koch's mind recently and one that he expounded on in the spring in an interview with The Washington Post's Jim Tankersley.

    If they make it through by rigging the system, then that's horrible, and that's a good part of the disparity we have. Whereas the median income -- which I think is a much better metric on well-being than GDP, hasn't gone up in the last decade -- and productivity has barely moved. And I think it is because of this corporate welfare and the Fed. So what we see happening is that because of that combination -- free money to big companies like ours or established companies and the difficulties in getting permits to do something new with all of the handicaps on innovation -- that rather than going in and investing in increasing productivity, it is investing in buying other companies.

    To my surprise there's more I agree with than disagree with.

  • Washington's Sunni Myth and the Civil Wars in Syria and Iraq

    In the first of two articles, a Westerner with extensive on-the-ground experience in Syria and Iraq explains how the West's understanding of sectarian identity in the Middle East is fatally flawed.

    Similarly, these same voices describe the Syrian government as an "Alawite regime" that rules and oppresses Sunnis. However, Sunnis are heavily represented at all levels of leadership in Assad's government. The territory it controls at this point in the war and at all points past is majority Sunni. And the Syrian armed forces are still majority Sunni. Alawites may be overrepresented in the security forces, but all that means is that they get to die more than others. It if it is an "Alawite regime," isn't it odd that includes and benefits so many non-Alawites?

    Sunnis not only have political power in Syria, but they also have social power, more opportunities, and a greater range of choices in life compared to other states in the region ruled by Sunni heads of state. At the heart of this negligent misapprehension of what is actually happening in the Middle East is an acceptance and mainstreaming of notions of Sunni identity propagated by the most extreme voices in the Sunni world: Saudi Arabia, al Qaeda, and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

  • Part 2: http://warontherocks.com/2016/08/washingtons-sunni-myth-and-the-middle-east-undone/

  • The truth about the gender wage gap

    Instead, the workforce disadvantages women in subtler ways -- ways that ultimately show up in their paycheck but don't always begin there. The highest-paying jobs disproportionately reward those who can work the longest, least flexible hours.

    These types of job penalize workers who have caregiving responsibilities outside the workplace. Those workers tend to be women.

    ... The data tells us that this can't be the entire story. It can't explain why the wage gap is so much bigger for those with kids than those without. One 2015 study found that childless, unmarried women earn 96 cents for every dollar a man earns. Remember that study we started with, the one about the MBA graduates? It showed that women with kids had a wage gap twice as large as women without.

  • Are Replicas Changing the Way We Experience Art?

    Precise Digital Reproductions Allow More People to Own and View Masterpieces, Minus the Work's Soul

    One might pay a fortune to get a work entirely painted by Rembrandt, or a more modest sum for a work designed by Rembrandt but largely painted by his staff. This did not mean that the less expensive option was poorly made, and technically, it could even still be called a "Rembrandt." This process was an entirely legal, artist-sanctioned form of forgery.
    ...
    Experts and art lovers can tell the simulacrum from the authentic work. The rest of the world could, likewise, if they tried, but they may not care to. Perhaps they are just as happy with a Relievo Collection van Gogh on their walls? A danger arises when amateurs and bogus experts aren't able to tell the difference between what's real and what's reproduced. Worse, they might see the digital copy and decide that it is not worth the effort to see the original. They might not think that the work is better, but it is unarguably more convenient to access.

    Has there been a scientifically controlled study that proves experts and art lovers can actually tell the difference just by looking?

  • The Most Intolerant Wins: The Dictatorship of the Small Minority

    It suffices for an intransigent minority --a certain type of intransigent minorities --to reach a minutely small level, say three or four percent of the total population, for the entire population to have to submit to their preferences. Further, an optical illusion comes with the dominance of the minority: a naive observer would be under the impression that the choices and preferences are those of the majority. If it seems absurd, it is because our scientific intuitions aren't calibrated for that (fughedabout scientific and academic intuitions and snap judgments; they don't work and your standard intellectualization fails with complex systems, though not your grandmothers' wisdom).
    ...
    A Kosher (or halal) eater will never eat nonkosher (or nonhalal) food, but a nonkosher eater isn't banned from eating kosher.

  • Scientists propose why we cannot find life in space

    The reason we cannot find other life outside of Planet Earth is because we may be ahead of the curve, according to scientists from the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
    ...
    Life first became possible 30m years after the Big Bang, when stars first provided the universe with enough carbon and oxygen. Life is predicted to end in 10 trillion years when all the stars in the universe have faded and died. Loeb and a team of researchers considered the likelihood of life between those two parameters.

  • Spiritual emergency

    After decades of practising as a psychotherapist, I am convinced that our treatment of psychosis is thoroughly wrong-headed

    Most of modern psychiatry dismisses the idea that psychotic experience is a meaningful response to the condition of one's life in favour of the view that the voices, the visions, come from meaningless disease. By contrast I've learned to distinguish between the ravages of chronic psychotic disorder in the long and persistently afflicted, and the kind of acute aberrations experienced by Martha, which can usually be better understood as a 'spiritual emergency' instead of an impersonal state of disease.
    ...
    Among the many fascinating facts that Whitaker has gathered is that if you suffer a psychotic breakdown, your odds of complete, treatment-free recovery are much, much better if you are treated in a third-world country that cannot afford psychotropic medication. In poor countries they treat psychotic breaks with various forms of social support, and largely leave the brain alone and unaltered.

  • 'Googlement' Pushes Aside 'Government Sachs'

    Google/Alphabet's annual spending on lobbying, for example, went from less than $1 million a decade ago to $16.7 million in 2015, putting it behind only Boeing and General Electric among American corporations.
    ...
    Since Obama took office in January 2009, at least 250 people have left Google and related companies for jobs in the administration or vice versa. Oh, and in 2012 Schmidt actually helped recruit the Obama campaign technology team and spent election night in the campaign "boiler room" in Chicago.

  • The big puzzle in economics today: why is the economy growing so slowly?

    1. Theory 1: We're running out of innovations
    2. Theory 2: There's too little spending`
    3. Theory 3: Bad corporate governance is causing companies to under-invest
    4. Theory 4: The economy is weighed down with debt
    5. Theory 5: Excessive regulation is holding back growth
    6. Theory 6: There's too much housing regulation in big cities
    7. Theory 7: The economy is becoming dominated by big, incumbent companies
    8. Theory 8: A slow-growing, aging population is hurting growth
  • The Effect of Population Aging on Economic Growth, the Labor Force and Productivity

    Population aging is widely assumed to have detrimental effects on economic growth yet there is little empirical evidence about the magnitude of its effects. This paper starts from the observation that many U.S. states have already experienced substantial growth in the size of their older population and much of this growth was predetermined by historical trends in fertility. We use predicted variation in the rate of population aging across U.S. states over the period 1980-2010 to estimate the economic impact of aging on state output per capita. We find that a 10% increase in the fraction of the population ages 60+ decreases the growth rate of GDP per capita by 5.5%. Two-thirds of the reduction is due to slower growth in the labor productivity of workers across the age distribution, while one-third arises from slower labor force growth. Our results imply annual GDP growth will slow by 1.2 percentage points this decade and 0.6 percentage points next decade due to population aging.

  • Research suggests being lazy is a sign of high intelligence

    Results of the study revealed the thinking group were far less active than the non-thinkers

    Findings from a US-based study seem to support the idea that people with a high IQ get bored less easily, leading them to spend more time engaged in thought.

    And active people may be more physical as they need to stimulate their minds with external activities, either to escape their thoughts or because they get bored quickly.

    But note it ends with,

    Despite highlighting an unusual trend, generalising the findings should be done with caution due to the small sample of participants, it added.

    Sounds bogus to me.
  • Tyler Cowen's three laws
    1. Cowen's First Law: There is something wrong with everything (by which I mean there are few decisive or knockdown articles or arguments, and furthermore until you have found the major flaws in an argument, you do not understand it).
    2. Cowen's Second Law: There is a literature on everything.
    3. Cowen's Third Law: All propositions about real interest rates are wrong.

    There is of course a common thread to all three laws, namely you should not have too much confidence in your own judgment.

  • What Happened to WikiLeaks?

    WikiLeaks has hit rock bottom. Once dedicated to careful vetting and redaction--sometimes too much redaction--the "whistleblower site" is now gleefully basking in its dump of thousands of emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee--most of which are full of personal, non-newsworthy information--published with the express intent of harming Hillary Clinton's political campaign. In this latest release, there is no brave whistleblower in sight, just an anonymous hacker believed by the FBI and U.S. intelligence community to be a front for Russian intelligence services. The WikiLeaks project has fallen far from the lofty heights of its founding a decade ago, when Julian Assange promised to "facilitate safety in the ethical leaking movement."

  • Browserprint.info

    Does your web browser have a unique fingerprint? If so your web browser could be tracked across websites without techniques such as tracking cookies. Additionally the anonymisation aspects of services such as Tor or VPNs could be negated if websites you visit track you using your browser fingerprint. This service is designed to test how unique your web browser's fingerprint is, and hence how identifiable your browser is.

  • Dark Patterns are designed to trick you

    User Interfaces Designed to Trick People

    It happens to the best of us. After looking closely at a bank statement or cable bill, suddenly a small, unrecognizable charge appears. Fine print sleuthing soon provides the answer--somehow, you accidentally signed up for a service. Whether it was an unnoticed pre-marked checkbox or an offhanded verbal agreement at the end of a long phone call, now a charge arrives each month because naturally the promotion has ended. If the possibility of a refund exists, it'll be found at the end of 45 minutes of holding music or a week's worth of angry e-mails.

    Everyone has been there. So in 2010, London-based UX designer Harry Brignull decided he'd document it. Brignull's website, darkpatterns.org, offers plenty of examples of deliberately confusing or deceptive user interfaces. These dark patterns trick unsuspecting users into a gamut of actions: setting up recurring payments, purchasing items surreptitiously added to a shopping cart, or spamming all contacts through prechecked forms on Facebook games.

  • Russia Without BS

    Welcome dear reader, to Russia Without BS, the foreigner-in-Russia blog that strives to give all those interested in Russia an insight into life in the capital from the perspective of an ordinary working American. If you're interested in Russian life and politics without the bias and sensationalism of Western journalism or the farcical Russophilia of the Putin fan club, you've come to the right blog. If you're interested in living and working in Russia and you're skeptical of the expat literature that's full of embellished, exaggerated, and occasionally fabricated tales of nightly debauchery or James Bond fantasies, read on.


Posted by mjm | Permanent link | Comments

Fri Aug 12 12:23:56 EDT 2016

Problems with Science

More on a topic I've blogged about before here and before that here.

  • The 7 biggest problems facing science, according to 270 scientists

    1. Academia has a huge money problem
    2. Too many studies are poorly designed
    3. Replicating results is crucial -- and rare
    4. Peer review is broken
    5. Too much science is locked behind paywalls
    6. Science is poorly communicated
    7. Life as a young academic is incredibly stressful
    Conclusion: Science is not doomed

    "I think the one thing that would have the biggest impact is removing publication bias: judging papers by the quality of questions, quality of method, and soundness of analyses, but not on the results themselves," writes Michael Inzlicht, a University of Toronto psychology and neuroscience professor.

    Some journals are already embracing this sort of research. PLOS One, for example, makes a point of accepting negative studies (in which a scientist conducts a careful experiment and finds nothing) for publication, as does the aptly named Journal of Negative Results in Biomedicine.

  • A Rant on Peer Review

    George J. Borjas

    I have a few pet peeves. One of them is how "peer review" is perceived by far too many people as the gold standard certification of scientific authority. Any academic who's been through the peer review process many times (as I have) knows that the process is full of potholes and is sometimes subverted by unethical behavior on the part of editors and reviewers.
    ...
    The point is that many human emotions, including nepotism, professional jealousies, methodological disagreements, and ideological biases go into the peer review process. It would be refreshing if we interpreted the "peer-reviewed" sign of approval as the flawed signal that it is, particularly in areas where there seems to be a larger narrative that must be served. The peer-review process may well be the worst way of advancing scientific knowledge--except for all the others.

  • Why Most Clinical Research Is Not Useful

    John P. A. Ioannidis

    • Blue-sky research cannot be easily judged on the basis of practical impact, but clinical research is different and should be useful. It should make a difference for health and disease outcomes or should be undertaken with that as a realistic prospect.
    • Many of the features that make clinical research useful can be identified, including those relating to problem base, context placement, information gain, pragmatism, patient centeredness, value for money, feasibility, and transparency.
    • Many studies, even in the major general medical journals, do not satisfy these features, and very few studies satisfy most or all of them. Most clinical research therefore fails to be useful not because of its findings but because of its design.
    • The forces driving the production and dissemination of nonuseful clinical research are largely identifiable and modifiable.
    • Reform is needed. Altering our approach could easily produce more clinical research that is useful, at the same or even at a massively reduced cost.

  • A Crisis at the Edge of Physics

    DO physicists need empirical evidence to confirm their theories?

    A few months ago in the journal Nature, two leading researchers, George Ellis and Joseph Silk, published a controversial piece called "Scientific Method: Defend the Integrity of Physics." They criticized a newfound willingness among some scientists to explicitly set aside the need for experimental confirmation of today's most ambitious cosmic theories -- so long as those theories are "sufficiently elegant and explanatory." Despite working at the cutting edge of knowledge, such scientists are, for Professors Ellis and Silk, "breaking with centuries of philosophical tradition of defining scientific knowledge as empirical."


Posted by mjm | Permanent link | Comments

Fri Jul 29 12:16:26 EDT 2016

Items of Interest

Various web links I found to be of interest recently.

  • fMRI bugs could upend years of research

    This is what your brain looks like on bad data.

    The problem is simple: to get from a high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging scan of the brain to a scientific conclusion, the brain is divided into tiny "voxels". Software, rather than humans, then scans the voxels looking for clusters.

    When you see a claim that "scientists know when you're about to move an arm: these images prove it", they're interpreting what they're told by the statistical software.

    Now, boffins from Sweden and the UK have cast doubt on the quality of the science, because of problems with the statistical software: it produces way too many false positives.

    In this paper at PNAS, they write: "the most common software packages for fMRI analysis (SPM, FSL, AFNI) can result in false-positive rates of up to 70%. These results question the validity of some 40,000 fMRI studies and may have a large impact on the interpretation of neuroimaging results."

  • One striking chart shows why pharma companies are fighting legal marijuana

    They found that, in the 17 states with a medical-marijuana law in place by 2013, prescriptions for painkillers and other classes of drugs fell sharply compared with states that did not have a medical-marijuana law. The drops were quite significant: In medical-marijuana states, the average doctor prescribed 265 fewer doses of antidepressants each year, 486 fewer doses of seizure medication, 541 fewer anti-nausea doses and 562 fewer doses of anti-anxiety medication.
    ...
    The tanking numbers for painkiller prescriptions in medical marijuana states are likely to cause some concern among pharmaceutical companies. These companies have long been at the forefront of opposition to marijuana reform, funding research by anti-pot academics and funneling dollars to groups, such as the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, that oppose marijuana legalization.

  • In clinical trials, for-profit review boards are taking over for hospitals. Should they?

    Institutional review boards -- which review all research that involves human participants -- have undergone a quiet revolution in recent years, with many drug companies strongly encouraging researchers to use commercial boards, considered by many more efficient than their nonprofit counterparts.
    ...
    "IRBs are hired by the sponsor," Schreiner said. "They are paid by them. And so if they turn down the study, then I think they're unlikely to get repeat business."

  • Highest-paid CEOs run worst-performing companies, research finds

    Research firm finds businesses led by lower-paid CEOs earn greater shareholder return.

    In fact, even after adjusting for company size and sector, companies with lower total summary CEO pay levels more consistently displayed higher long-term investment returns.

  • Why the D.N.C. E-Mails Aren’t Scandalous

    Do these e-mails strike anyone as appalling and outrageous? Not me. They strike me as . . . e-mails. The idea that people might speak casually or caustically via e-mail has been portrayed as a shocking breach of civilized discourse. Imagine! People bullshitting on e-mail!

    Here are the latest, most damaging things in the DNC’s leaked emails.

  • Donald Trump"s Ghostwriter Tells All

    "The Art of the Deal" made America see Trump as a charmer with an unfailing knack for business. Tony Schwartz helped create that myth--and regrets it.

    People are dispensable and disposable in Trump's world." If Trump is elected President, he warned, "the millions of people who voted for him and believe that he represents their interests will learn what anyone who deals closely with him already knows--that he couldn't care less about them."

  • Transgender people: 10 common myths

    1. Myth #1: Transgender people are confused or tricking others
    2. Myth #2: Sexual orientation is linked to gender identity
    3. Myth #3: Letting trans people use the bathroom or locker room matching their gender identity is dangerous
    4. Myth #4: Transitioning is as simple as one surgery
    5. Myth #5: All trans people medically transition
    6. Myth #6: Transgender-inclusive health care is expensive
    7. Myth #7: Children aren't old enough to know their gender identity
    8. Myth #8: Transgender people are mentally ill
    9. Myth #9: Transgender people make up a third gender
    10. Myth #10: Drag queens and kings are transgender

  • 'Healing' detected in Antarctic ozone hole

    Researchers say they have found the first clear evidence that the thinning in the ozone layer above Antarctica is starting to heal.

    The gains have been credited to the long term phasing out of ozone-destroying chemicals.


Posted by mjm | Permanent link | Comments

Tue Jul 19 00:00:00 EDT 2016

Problems with Science

More on a topic I've blogged about before, Problems with Science.

  • John Oliver mocks misleading scientific studies with fake Ted Talks

    His solution? 'Todd Talks'

    The reason for all the confusing findings? According to Oliver, "Scientists are under constant pressure to publish, with tenure and funding on the line. And to get published, it helps to have results that seem new and striking. Scientists know nobody is publishing a study that says, 'Nothing Up With Acai Berries.' And to get those results, there are all sorts of ways that -- consciously or not -- you can tweak your study."
    ...
    Per usual, Oliver has an amusing solution to the problem: Scientists' sourcing and methodology should be explained when their results are shared everywhere from viral stories to news segments. "I know what you're thinking: `Hold on, if that happens, where where am I going to get all my interesting bulls-- from?" says Oliver. "Don't worry -- we have you covered.'"

    Video

  • Physicists Must Accept That Some Things Are Unknowable

    The next logical question about our origins, of course, then becomes that of where did inflation come from? Was it a state that was eternal to the past, meaning that it had no origin and always existed, right up until the moment it ended and created the Big Bang? Was it a state that had a beginning, where it emerged from a non-inflationary state in spacetime some finite time in the past? Or was it a cyclical state, where time looped back on itself from some far future state?

    The difficult thing here is that there's nothing we can observe, in our Universe, that allows us to tell these three possibilities apart. In all but the most contrived models of inflation (and some of those we can rule out), it's only the last 10^(-33) seconds or so of inflation that impacts our Universe. The exponential nature of inflation wipes out any information that occurred prior to that, separating it from anything we can observe by, well, inflating it beyond the portion of our Universe that we can observe.
    ...
    The total amount of information accessible to us in the Universe is finite, and hence, so is the amount of knowledge we can gain about it. There's a whole lot left to learn and a whole lot that science has yet to reveal. But some things we will likely never know. The Universe may yet be infinite, but our knowledge of it never will be.

  • Why is So Much Reported Science Wrong, and What Can Fix That?
    • 1998: Year in which the British medical journal The Lancet published a study suggesting a link between autism and vaccines.
    • 2010: Year The Lancet published a retraction of the discredited study.
    • 33: Percentage of American parents surveyed by The National Consumers League in 2014 who believe vaccines are linked to autism.
    • 10: Factor by which retraction notices in scientific journals increased between 2000 and 2010.
    • 44: Percentage of retractions attributed to "misconduct," including fabrication and plagiarism.
    • 44: Percentage of health care journalists who said, in a 2009 survey, that their organization sometimes or frequently reported stories based only on news releases.
  • How do we fix bad science?

    Independently verifying research can help science regain its credibility, argues Laurie Zoloth.

    Richard Horton, the editor of The Lancet, wrote in April: "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."

    Something needs to change. In this spirit in November 2011, a group of American scientists led by Brian Nosek, a psychologist at the University of Virginia, began The Reproducibility Project.

  • Why String Theory Is Not A Scientific Theory

    Although there was an entire conference on it earlier this month, spurred by a controversial opinion piece written a year ago by George Ellis and Joe Silk, the answer is very clear: no, string theory has not yet risen to the level of a scientific theory. The way people are trying to turn it into science is -- as Sabine Hossenfelder and Davide Castelvecchi report -- by redefining what "science" is.
    ...
    If you want to rise to the level of a scientific theory, you have to make a testable -- and hence, falsifiable or validatable -- predictions. Even a physical state that arises as a consequence of an established theory, such as the multiverse, isn't a scientific theory until we have a way to confirm or refute it; it's only a hypothesis, even if it's a good hypothesis.

And related to the problem:

  • Why Critical Thinking Is in Short Supply

    While information is cheap and getting cheaper, meaning is increasingly expensive. We are beset by confirmation bias, our tendency to look for and accept evidence that supports what we already think we know and ignore the rest. Per motivated reasoning, we tend to reject new evidence when it contradicts our established beliefs. Sadly, the smarter we are, the more likely we are to deny or oppose data that seem in conflict with ideas we deem important. Finally, bringing true believers together in a group tends only to compound the problem.

  • On skepticism, pseudo-profundity, Deepak Chopra, and bullshit

    And sometimes even bullshit is made to sound scientific.

    Of all the slick woo peddlers out there, one of the most famous (and most annoying) is Deepak Chopra.
    ...
    Although bullshit is common in everyday life and has attracted attention from philosophers, its reception (critical or ingenuous) has not, to our knowledge, been subject to empirical investigation. Here we focus on pseudo-profound bullshit, which consists of seemingly impressive assertions that are presented as true and meaningful but are actually vacuous.


Posted by mjm | Permanent link | Comments

Thu Jun 30 19:43:02 EDT 2016

Items of Interest

Various web links I found to be of interest recently.

  • The interesting thing that happened when Kansas cut taxes and California hiked them

    In 2012, voters in California approved a measure to raise taxes on millionaires, bringing their top state income tax rate to 13.3 percent, the highest in the nation. Conservative economists predicted calamity, or at least a big slowdown in growth. Also that year, the governor of Kansas signed a series of changes to the state's tax code, including reducing income and sales tax rates. Conservative economists predicted a boom.

    Neither of those predictions came true. Not right away -- California grew just fine in the year the tax hikes took effect -- and especially not in the medium term, as new economic data showed this week.

    Now, correlation does not, as they say, equal causation, and two examples are but a small sample. But the divergent experiences of California and Kansas run counter to a popular view, particularly among conservative economists, that tax cuts tend to supercharge growth and tax increases chill it.

  • Billion-dollar brain training industry a sham--nothing but placebo, study suggests

    Sampling bias and a belief in malleable intelligence may be behind small IQ changes.

    In a study designed to assess the experimental methods of earlier brain-training studies, researchers found that sampling bias and the placebo effect explained the positive results seen in the past. "Indeed, to our knowledge, the rigor of double-blind randomized clinical trials is nonexistent in this research area," the authors report. They even suggest that the overblown claims from brain training companies may have created a positive feedback loop, convincing people that brain training works and biasing follow-up research on the topic.

    "The specter of a placebo may arise in any intervention when the desired outcome is known to the participant--an intervention like cognitive training," the authors note. Coupled with evidence that "people tend to hold strong implicit beliefs regarding whether or not intelligence is malleable" and that those beliefs may skew research findings, the authors conclude that past research is basically bunk.
    ...
    Such a placebo effect isn't worthless, the authors caution. It may be useful for future studies to assess how far the placebo effect could get brain training-believers. But to truly assess effects of the training, researchers need to turn to trials where participants don't self-select their group or know the point of the study--randomized, controlled studies. "By using such methods, we can begin to understand whether true training effects exist and are generalizable to samples (and perhaps populations) beyond those who expect to improve," the authors argue.

  • Is there a reproducibility "crisis" in biomedical research?

    The new NIH rules are a step in the right direction but clearly don't go far enough. I don't believe that reproducibility in science is in "crisis," as so many are claiming, but I do believe it's a significant problem that needs to be addressed in a thoughtful way. I also have to concede that it's scientists' fault that we're in the mess we're in and that we haven't addressed problems with reproducibility more robustly before now, given that this problem has been festering for a while. If it takes labeling the problem as a "crisis" to get some action, I suppose I can live with that.

    In considering how to encourage good science and discourage bad science, it is important to note that not all science, particularly biomedical science, should be assumed or expected to result in findings that have direct applications or to result in treatments for humans. As Ioannidis and Begley put it, an efficacy "of 100% and waste of 0% is unlikely to be achievable", even as they note that there is "probably substantial room for improvement." It is also important to note that, contrary to the way some paint this problem, the concerns about reproducibility in science don't invalidate the scientific method itself nor disprove "scientism." Science-based medicine has yielded incredible benefits to human health over the last 150 years. Indeed, the solutions to this problem being proposed are intended to enhance the rigorous application of science, not to abandon it. Finally, I can't help but note that it is scientists themselves who are being openly self-critical and debating how to fix perceived problems in science. That is a major strength, not weakness, of science.

  • The Mistrust of Science

    Atul Gawande commencement address at the California Institute of Technology

    Today, you become part of the scientific community, arguably the most powerful collective enterprise in human history. In doing so, you also inherit a role in explaining it and helping it reclaim territory of trust at a time when that territory has been shrinking. In my clinic and my work in public health, I regularly encounter people who are deeply skeptical of even the most basic knowledge established by what journalists label "mainstream" science (as if the other thing is anything like science)--whether it's facts about physiology, nutrition, disease, medicines, you name it. The doubting is usually among my most, not least, educated patients. Education may expose people to science, but it has a countervailing effect as well, leading people to be more individualistic and ideological.

    The mistake, then, is to believe that the educational credentials you get today give you any special authority on truth. What you have gained is far more important: an understanding of what real truth-seeking looks like. It is the effort not of a single person but of a group of people--the bigger the better--pursuing ideas with curiosity, inquisitiveness, openness, and discipline. As scientists, in other words.

  • Rethinking Robin Hood

    Angus Deaton

    Huge strides have undoubtedly been made in reducing global poverty, more through growth and globalization than through aid from abroad. The number of poor people has fallen in the past 40 years from more than two billion to just under one billion -- a remarkable feat, given the increase in world population and the long-term slowing of global economic growth, especially since 2008.

    While impressive and wholly welcome, poverty reduction has not come without a cost. The globalization that has rescued so many in poor countries has harmed some people in rich countries, as factories and jobs migrated to where labor is cheaper.

  • Race, Activism, and Hillary Clinton at Wellesley

    Hill and the other four African-American women who graduated from Wellesley's four-hundred-and-twenty-person class of 1969 remember Clinton, with whom many of them still communicate, fondly.
    ...
    At graduation in 1969, the entire class, many parents, and faculty members watched as Clinton rebuked a sitting Republican senator, Edward Brooke, of Massachusetts, during her now famous, largely improvised commencement speech. (Earlier this month, Wellesley posted an audio clip of the speech on YouTube.) Students stood and cheered when it was over. Faculty and parents mostly remained in their seats. It was the last time a student spoke after a visiting commencement speaker. "Did she move over the course of four years from being a Republican to a Democrat? Yes," Wilson said. "But I don't think any of us saw her as a radical. In her speech, she was provoked by Senator Brooke's endorsement of the war and the fact that he was rather patronizing."

  • Why Startups Are Struggling

    While Stern and Guzman show that high-growth firms are being formed as actively as ever, they also find that these companies are not succeeding as often as such companies once did. As the researchers put it, "Even as the number of new ideas and potential for innovation is increasing, there seems to be a reduction in the ability of companies to scale in a meaningful and systematic way." As many seeds as ever are being planted. But fewer trees are growing to the sky.

    Stern and Guzman are agnostic about why this is happening. But one obvious answer suggests itself: the increased power of established incumbents. We may think that we have been living in a business world in which incumbents are always on the verge of being toppled and competitive advantage is more fragile than ever. And clearly there are industries in which that has been the case--think of how Amazon transformed book retailing, or how digital downloads and streaming disrupted the music business. But as Hathaway and Litan document, American industry has grown more concentrated over the last 30 years, and incumbents have become more powerful in almost every business sector. As they put it, "it has become increasingly advantageous to be an incumbent, and less advantageous to be a new entrant." Even in tech, the contrast is striking between the ferment of the late 1990s, when many sectors had myriad players struggling for share, and the seeming stability of today's Google/Amazon/Facebook-dominated world.

  • Google's Remarkably Close Relationship With the Obama White House

    Over the past seven years, Google has created a remarkable partnership with the Obama White House, providing expertise, services, advice, and personnel for vital government projects.
    ...
    As the interactive charts accompanying this article show, Google representatives attended White House meetings more than once a week, on average, from the beginning of Obama's presidency through October 2015. Nearly 250 people have shuttled from government service to Google employment or vice versa over the course of his administration.

    A chart of lobbyists' White House visits reveals its close ties with Google

  • The Future of Podcasting

    Podcasting is giving me a case of déjà vu… The variety and quality of work being done is thrilling; outside attention is growing; new formats are evolving. We're seeing the same unlocking of creative potential we saw with blogging, and there's far more good work being produced than anyone has time to take in. The question now is whether podcasting's future will play out as the last decade of blogging has.
    ...
    A major challenge in podcast monetization is the complete lack of data: listeners still download MP3s and that's the end of it; podcasters can measure downloads, but have no idea if the episode is actually listened to, for how long, or whether or not the ads are skipped. In a complete reversal from the online world of text, the measurement system is a big step backwards from what came before: both radio and TV have an established measurement system for what shows are watched, and the scale of advertising is such that surveys can measure advertising effectiveness. Thus the direct marketing advertisers: they can simply do the measurement themselves through coupon codes or special URLs that measure how many people responded to a podcast ad. It's not totally efficient -- some number of conversions forget the code or URL -- but it's something.

  • RentAFriend

    RentAFriend.com has Friends from around the world available for hire. Rent a Friend to attend a social event, wedding, or party with you. Hire someone to introduce you to new people, or someone to go to a movie or a restaurant with. Hire a Friend to show you around a new town, teach you a new skill/hobby, or just someone for companionship.

  • Nordic countries: Highest in gender equality and intimate partner violence against women

    Insights into the phenomenon dubbed the 'Nordic paradox'

    The Nordic countries are the most gender equal nations in the world, but at the same time, they also have a disproportionately high rate of intimate partner violence against women. This is perplexing because logically violence against women would be expected to drop as women gained equal status in a society. A new study explores this contradictory situation, which has been labeled the 'Nordic paradox.'

  • Why I "Need" an AR-15

    The AR-15 is less a model of rifle than it is an open-source, modular weapons platform that can be customized for a whole range of applications, from small pest control to taking out 500-pound feral hogs to urban combat. Everything about an individual AR-15 can be changed with aftermarket parts -- the caliber of ammunition, recoil, range, weight, length, hold and grip, and on and on.
    ...
    For what it's worth, I do actually believe the fact that this violent nutjob who had been interviewed by the FBI three times was able to get a gun is so obviously messed up that it's foolish to suggest otherwise. In an even slightly less crazy world, this guy would never have had a weapon -- not even a Cricket children's rifle.

  • Psychiatrists Can't Tell Us What They Think About Trump

    Because 1,189 told us what they thought about Goldwater.

    In the aftermath, Goldwater sued Fact (and won), Fact went defunct, and the American Psychiatric Association tried to make sure that none of this would ever happen again. The result was Section 7.3 of the APA's Principles of Medical Ethics

  • The Spectacle of the Spectacles

    A recent little sensation at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art delights and bemuses. Two teen-age boys from San Jose were perusing, with perplexity, the museum's exhibits of contemporary art when they had a notion. One of them, Kevin Nguyen, sixteen, set his opened eyeglasses on the floor, neatly perpendicular to a nearby wall. He and T. J. Khayatan, seventeen, then stood back to watch what ensued: viewers observing the glasses with the curiosity and respect befitting a work of art--which, under the circumstances, they were.
    ...
    But consider: an object manufactured to enhance seeing, presented as something to see. By being underfoot, the glasses were divorced from their function and protected only by the don't-touch protocol of museums. They might have seemed, to a suggestible audience, to be about being-in-a-museum--and that audience could have included me. Suggestibility, undaunted by fear of proving foolish, is essential to art love.

  • Brutalist websites

    In April, the internet seemed to abruptly discover a trend that had been lurking in its midst for years: Brutalism, an aesthetic borrowed from architecture and applied to minimally designed, bare-knuckle websites.
    ...
    As a descriptor, "Brutalist" seems to imply that the sites are somehow ugly or offensive to the viewer, but this isn't always the case. Often, it just means a website is constructed from essential coding elements and very little else -- no frills, redundant images, or advertising.


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