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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Tue Jun 30 18:24:37 EDT 2015

Items of Interest

Various web links I found to be of interest recently:

  • Scientific method: Defend the integrity of physics

    Attempts to exempt speculative theories of the Universe from experimental verification undermine science, argue George Ellis and Joe Silk.

    This year, debates in physics circles took a worrying turn. Faced with difficulties in applying fundamental theories to the observed Universe, some researchers called for a change in how theoretical physics is done. They began to argue -- explicitly -- that if a theory is sufficiently elegant and explanatory, it need not be tested experimentally, breaking with centuries of philosophical tradition of defining scientific knowledge as empirical. We disagree. As the philosopher of science Karl Popper argued: a theory must be falsifiable to be scientific.
    ... This battle for the heart and soul of physics is opening up at a time when scientific results -- in topics from climate change to the theory of evolution -- are being questioned by some politicians and religious fundamentalists. Potential damage to public confidence in science and to the nature of fundamental physics needs to be contained by deeper dialogue between scientists and philosophers.

    There is also a related New York Times opinion piece A Crisis at the Edge of Physics
  • Are We Seeing the End of Homeopathy?

    Several years ago, during a lecture on Science-Based Medicine, I noted that if there were one medical pseudoscience that was vulnerable to extinction it was homeopathy. Homeopathy is perhaps the most obviously absurd medical pseudoscience. It is also widely studied, and has been clearly shown to not work. Further, there is a huge gap in the public understanding of what homeopathy is; it therefore seems plausible that the popularity of homeopathy can take a huge hit just by telling the public what it actually is.

  • Glen Greenwald: Don't Trust Anonymous Anti-Snowden Claims

    Western journalists claim that the big lesson they learned from their key role in selling the Iraq War to the public is that it's hideous, corrupt and often dangerous journalism to give anonymity to government officials to let them propagandize the public, then uncritically accept those anonymously voiced claims as Truth. But they've learned no such lesson. That tactic continues to be the staple of how major U.S. and British media outlets "report," especially in the national security area. And journalists who read such reports continue to treat self-serving decrees by unnamed, unseen officials -- laundered through their media -- as gospel, no matter how dubious are the claims or factually false is the reporting.

    And according to security expert Bruce Schneier

    Do countries like China and Russia have copies of the Snowden documents?
    I believe the answer is certainly yes, but that it's almost certainly not Snowden's fault.
    I believe that both China and Russia had access to all the files that Snowden took well before Snowden took them because they've penetrated the NSA networks where those files reside.

  • Here's the CIA's Just-Released Top Secret File on Saudi Ties to 9/11

    Why in the documents related to the September 11 attacks are 29 out of 30 pages about Issues Relating to Saudi Arabia redacted?

  • The Education Myth

    A country's income is the sum of the output produced by each worker. To increase income, we need to increase worker productivity. Evidently, "something in the water," other than education, makes people much more productive in some places than in others. A successful growth strategy needs to figure out what this is.

  • Doing good isn't being good

    Most of us like to be associated with "idealistic" groups that claim that they are doing good, i.e., making the world better. However, this is usually not our strongest motive in choosing to associate with such groups. Instead, we more strongly want to make ourselves look good, and gain good-looking associations. Most idealistic groups quickly learn to cater to this demand

    There is a related Julia Galef Rationally Speaking podcast with Robin Hanson discussing his signaling theory.

  • Mental Illness and Creativity: Two New Swedish Studies

    Psychotherapists, in an understandable desire to help their suffering patients, could quite naturally be led to over-interpret what is rather weak evidence.

    I empathize with these patients, and with their therapists, but I feel obliged to report the consensus that has emerged from decades of scientific studies: There is no link between creativity and mental illness. There may be a link between an undiagnosed tendency toward mental illness and elevated creativity; but we don't really know, because that's almost impossible to study (how do you study an undiagnosed tendency?). The jury is still out on that issue, and the Kyaga studies represent a contribution to that continuing debate. I'm impressed by the massive volume of data used in the Kyaga studies, and the patterns revealed are interesting, and worthy of further exploration. -- Keith Sawyer

  • Is Creativity Research Elitist?
    • Stage actors: compared with children's party clowns
    • Musicians: compared to vintage motorcycle mechanics.
    • Writers of novels and short stories: Compared to ministers who write Sunday sermons.

  • The Real Lesson of the Stanford Prison Experiment

    While it's true that some guards and prisoners behaved in alarming ways, it's also the case that their environment was designed to encourage--and, in some cases, to require--those behaviors.
    The lesson of Stanford isn't that any random human being is capable of descending into sadism and tyranny. It's that certain institutions and environments demand those behaviors--and, perhaps, can change them.

  • Fat, sugar cause bacterial changes that may relate to loss of cognitive function

    Notice the may.

    A study at Oregon State University indicates that both a high-fat and a high-sugar diet, compared to a normal diet, cause changes in gut bacteria that appear related to a significant loss of "cognitive flexibility," or the power to adapt and adjust to changing situations.
    This effect was most serious on the high-sugar diet, which also showed an impairment of early learning for both long-term and short-term memory.

    I'd bet this is a publicity seeking news release and the results will not hold up (even though I do think gut bacteria are important).

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Thu Jun 18 23:16:20 EDT 2015

Diet, vitamins, health

  • I Fooled Millions Into Thinking Chocolate Helps Weight Loss. Here's How.

    We ran an actual clinical trial, with subjects randomly assigned to different diet regimes. And the statistically significant benefits of chocolate that we reported are based on the actual data. It was, in fact, a fairly typical study for the field of diet research. Which is to say: It was terrible science. The results are meaningless, and the health claims that the media blasted out to millions of people around the world are utterly unfounded.
    ... Here’s a dirty little science secret: If you measure a large number of things about a small number of people, you are almost guaranteed to get a “statistically significant” result. Our study included 18 different measurements—weight, cholesterol, sodium, blood protein levels, sleep quality, well-being, etc.—from 15 people. (One subject was dropped.) That study design is a recipe for false positives.
    Think of the measurements as lottery tickets. Each one has a small chance of paying off in the form of a “significant” result that we can spin a story around and sell to the media. The more tickets you buy, the more likely you are to win. We didn’t know exactly what would pan out—the headline could have been that chocolate improves sleep or lowers blood pressure—but we knew our chances of getting at least one “statistically significant” result were pretty good.

  • Being overweight 'reduces dementia risk'

    Being overweight cuts the risk of dementia, according to the largest and most precise investigation into the relationship.

    Their most conservative analysis showed underweight people had a 39% greater risk of dementia compared with being a healthy weight.
    ... Any explanation for the protective effect is distinctly lacking. There are some ideas that vitamin D and E deficiencies contribute to dementia and they may be less common in those eating more.
    But the research leaves many questions unanswered. Is fat actually protective or is something else going on that could be harnessed as a treatment? Can other research groups produce the same findings?
    ... "The report by Qizilbash and colleagues is not the final word on this controversial topic." Dr Qizilbash said: "We would agree with that entirely."

  • The Big Fat Surprise

    Why Butter, Meat & Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet. A Conversation with Nina Teicholz

    Nina: I was a faithful follower of the low-fat, near-vegetarian diet, but when I started writing a restaurant review column, I found myself eating things that had hardly ever before passed my lips: rich meals of pâté, beef, cream sauces and foie gras. To my surprise, I lost the 10 pounds that I hadn't been able to shake for years, and to boot, my cholesterol levels improved. To understand how this could be possible, I embarked upon what became a decade of research, reexamining nearly every single nutrition study and interviewing most of our top nutrition experts. What I was shocked to find were egregious flaws in the science that has served as the foundation of our national nutrition policy, which for more than 50 years has all but forbidden these delicious and healthy foods.

    Also see, NYC Junto Podcast -- Debate: Nina Teicholz & John Mackey 2015

    "An animal foods/low-carb centered diet is unhealthy compared with a 90+% plant-based diet that excludes sugar and refined grain products."

    Teicholz takes the negative and Mackey (founder and CEO of Whole Foods) takes the affirmative.

    And Cholesterol & heart disease -- there is a relationship, but it's not what you think.

  • Nutrition: Vitamins on trial

    After decades of study, researchers still can't agree on whether nutritional supplements actually improve health.

    An editorial published in the Annals of Internal Medicine last year offers a striking case in point. In it, researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, and other institutions proclaimed with certainty that the US public should "stop wasting money" on vitamin supplements.
    ... Another important factor is genetic variability. "Every person has about 50,000 variations in their genes," says Steven Zeisel, director of the University of North Carolina Nutrition Research Institute in Chapel Hill. Any number of them could be important in metabolism. Yet "very few geneticists are collecting diet information, and very few diet people collect genetic information". Zeisel's work has uncovered, for example, that 44% of women have gene variants that significantly increase their dietary requirements for the nutrient choline. It is perhaps no wonder that trial results have been inconsistent - and that reviews often report null findings (see `Data deficiencies'). Plus, the effects of nutrition interventions are probably subtle: whereas drug trials compare exposure with no exposure, nutrition trials compare higher and lower exposures, because everyone eats and consumes some nutrients. Subtle differences may be hard to detect and have long latency periods. These limitations and considerations add up "in a way that causes trials to be heavily stacked against showing any benefit", says biochemist Balz Frei, director of the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University in Corvallis.

    Also see, Rebuttal to Vitamins Are Bad Editorial by Rhonda Patrick, Ph.D.

  • Brittle Bones and Broken Hips: Drugs Aren't the Answer, Study Finds

    Osteoporosis drug sales have reaped billions. Is it a classic case of disease-mongering?

    Medications for osteoporosis, which makes bones more fragile and susceptible to breaking, do little to prevent hip fractures, the most devastating consequence of the disease, the authors conclude. And they can sidetrack patients who should instead be exercising, eating right, and quitting smoking.
    ... To prevent a single hip fracture, 175 women need to be treated with medication for three years, the paper says. In other words, a woman with osteoporosis would need to take medicine for three years to have a 1-in-175 chance that it would help them avoid a broken hip.

  • U.S. government poised to withdraw longstanding warnings about cholesterol

    The nation's top nutrition advisory panel has decided to drop its caution about eating cholesterol-laden food, a move that could undo almost 40 years of government warnings about its consumption.
    The group's finding that cholesterol in the diet need no longer be considered a "nutrient of concern" stands in contrast to the committee's findings five years ago, the last time it convened. During those proceedings, as in previous years, the panel deemed the issue of excess cholesterol in the American diet a public health concern.

  • Alcohol's evaporating health benefits

    Industry lobbying and promotion are rife and unchecked by governments

    Given the harms attributed to alcohol use, it is not surprising that reports1 2 showing possible mortality benefits for low level users attracted enthusiasm among consumers, the media, and the alcohol industry, along with those who welcomed this as a positive response to accusations that calls for action were based on moral fervour. These apparent benefits are now evaporating, helped along by an important contribution in this week's issue (doi:10.1136/bmj.h384).3 Through analyses based on the Health Survey for England, particularly designed to identify whether any reductions in mortality risk were greatest in older populations, Knott and colleagues show that if there is any beneficial dose-response relation, it is limited to women aged 65 or more--and even that association is at best modest and likely to be explained by selection bias.

  • Redefining chronic fatigue with better diagnosis, new name

    ... And the IOM's choice of a new name -- Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease, or SEID -- reflects a core symptom, that exertion can wipe patients out.
    "This is not a figment of their imagination," said Dr. Ellen Wright Clayton of Vanderbilt University's Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society, who chaired the IOM panel. "These patients have real symptoms. They deserve real care."

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Fri May 29 15:08:37 EDT 2015

Items of Interest

Various web links I found to be of interest recently:

  • Can States Boost Growth By Cutting Top Individual Tax Rates?

    Howard Gleckman

    A new paper by my Tax Policy Center colleagues Bill Gale, Aaron Krupkin, and Kim Rueben concludes the answer is "no" to both questions. In the cautious language of academic research: "Our results are inconsistent with the view that cuts in top state income tax rates will automatically or necessarily generate growth."
    But Bill, Aaron, and Kim also have a warning for those who assert that cutting state taxes is good for growth or raising them is bad: All taxes are not alike. It turns out that while individual income taxes don't matter much at all, and corporate taxes may actually boost growth a bit, higher property taxes do seem linked to slower growth though even that relationship seems to change over time.

  • How 'Mathiness' Made Me Jaded About Economics

    Noah Smith

    But the way math is used in macroeconomics isn't the same as in the hard sciences. This isn't something that most non-economists realize, so I think I had better explain.
    In physics, if you write down an equation, you expect the variables to correspond to real things that you can measure and predict. For example, if you write down an equation for the path of a cannonball, you would expect that equation to let you know how to aim your cannon in order to actually hit something. This close correspondence between math and reality is what allowed us to land spacecraft on the moon. It also allowed engineers to build your computer, your car and most of the things you use.
    ... But macroeconomics, which looks at the broad economy, is different. Most of the equations in the models aren't supported by evidence.

  • The Vindication of Edward Snowden

    A federal appeals court has ruled that one of the NSA programs he exposed was illegal.

    Telling the public about the phone dragnet didn't expose a legitimate state secret. It exposed a violation of the constitutional order. For many years, the executive branch carried out a hugely consequential policy change that the legislature never approved. Tens of millions of innocent U.S. citizens were thus subject to invasions of privacy that no law authorized. And the NSA's unlawful behavior would've continued, unknown to the public and unreviewed by Article III courts, but for Snowden's leak, which caused the ACLU to challenge the illegal NSA program.

  • Japanese hotel launches 'crying rooms'

    A hotel in Tokyo is offering rooms designed to allow female guests to "cry heartily" in private

    The crying rooms are the latest in a series of unusual hotels and cafes available in Japan.

  • Vin Scelsa Leaves the Airwaves May 2, 2015

    Vin Scelsa concluded nearly fifty years on New York's airwaves

    "Idiot's Delight" was a wonderful anachronism: unscripted, idiosyncratic, and unashamedly out of step with contemporary listening habits.

  • Why you should really start doing more things alone

    "The reason is we think we won't have fun because we're worried about what other people will think," said Ratner. "We end up staying at home instead of going out to do stuff because we're afraid others will think they're a loser."
    But other people, as it turns out, actually aren't thinking about us quite as judgmentally or intensely as we tend to anticipate. Not nearly, in fact. There's a long line of research that shows how consistently and regularly we overestimate others' interest in our affairs. The phenomenon is so well known that there is even a name for it in psychology: the spotlight effect. A 2000 study conducted by Thomas Gilovich found that people regularly adjust their actions to account for the perspective of others, even though their actions effectively go unnoticed. Many other researchers have since confirmed the pattern of egocentric thinking that skews how we act.

  • GMO Quarterly Letter 1Q 2015

    U.S. Secular Growth: Donkey or Racehorse? -- Jeremy Grantham

    Mainstream economics continues to represent our economic system as made up of capital, labor, and a perpetual motion machine. It apparently does not need resources, finite or otherwise. Mainstream economics is generous in its assumptions. Just as it assumes market efficiency and perpetually rational economic players, feeling no compulsion to reconcile the data of an inconvenient real world, so it also assumes away any long-term resource problems. "It's just a question of price." Yes, but one day just a price that a workable economy simply can't afford!

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