Wed Jan 31 12:27:35 EST 2018

Items of Interest

Various web links I found to be of interest recently.

  • The Six Stages of a Failed Psychological Theory

    There's a good reason for this: psychology, as a discipline, is a house made of sand, based on analyzing inherently fickle human behavior, held together with poorly-defined concepts, and explored with often scant methodological rigor. Indeed, there's a strong case to be made that psychology is barely a science.

    • Stage 1: The Flashy Finding.
    • Stage 2: The Fawning Replications.
    • Stage 3: A Consensus Forms.
    • Stage 4: The Rebuttal.
    • Stage 5: Proper Replications Pour In.
    • Stage 6: The Theory Lives On as a Zombie.
    For an example see, LOL Something Matters.

  • Richard Rorty's prescient warnings for the American left

    This liberal philosopher predicted Trump's rise in 1998 - and he has another warning for the left.

    He sees the American left as split into two camps: the reformist left and the cultural left. The reformist left dominates from 1900 until it is supplanted by the cultural left in the mid-1960s. The division has more to do with tactics than it does principles, but those tactical differences, for Rorty at least, carried enormous consequences.
    Rorty admired the reformist left both because they were effective and because they understood that the key dividing line between the left the right in this country was about whether the state has a responsibility to ensure a moral and socially desirable distribution of wealth. The right rejected this proposition, the left embraced it.
    The focus of leftist politics changed in the 1960s. For Rorty, the left ceased to be political and instead became a cultural movement. The prevailing view was that it was no longer possible to promote equality and social justice within the system.

  • Why Did Catherine Deneuve and Other Prominent French Women Denounce #MeToo?

    Despite the impulse to view the statement by the actress Catherine Deneuve and others as some innately French point of view, this isn't a straightforward case of cultural difference.

    There are reasonable criticisms to be made of the reckoning, as it's come to be called, but Deneuve and Millet and their co-signers distort them. Bothering women in an unwanted way isn't an expression of artistic temperament, without which the world would lose its magic. It's often a by-product of a man's (possibly very good) work making him think that he is invincible and owed. The hundred women's admiration for a certain kind of man inhibits their empathy for his victims. Their stance is all the sadder in that it reveals a diminution of the same human quality that kindles the sexual energy they're so keen not to see snuffed out. The failure to grasp that a woman-another woman with a different history, different values, a different set of likes and dislikes, attractions and repulsions-could grieve a trespass upon her body is really a failure of the imagination.

  • Proof that Americans are lying about their sexual desires

    What Google searches for porn tell us about ourselves.

    Among other things, Stephens-Davidowitz's data suggests that there are more gay men in the closet than we think; that many men prefer overweight women to skinny women but are afraid to act on it; that married women are disproportionately worried their husband is gay; that a lot of straight women watch lesbian porn; and that porn featuring violence against women is more popular among women than men.

  • Radio artist Joe Frank dies at 79

    Joe Frank, known for his unique and innovative radio monologues and stories, died Monday (01/15/2018). He was 79. Joe Frank – Tributes List.

Posted by mjm | Permanent link | Comments

Thu Jan 25 19:03:45 EST 2018

Sugar (and salt)

Some links related to dietary consumption of sugar and salt.

  • Sugar, explained

    Sugar is the dietary villain of our day. But the science is complicated.

    1. We're so hooked on sweetness, it's now in three-quarters of our packaged food
    2. There's no argument about sugar's link to obesity, Type 2 diabetes, tooth decay, and heart disease
    3. But researchers don't agree about whether we can blame sugar alone for the rise in obesity
    4. There are at least 60 euphemisms for added sugar
    5. There's one big reason researchers think cutting sugar from your diet is the best way to lose weight. And it's contentious.
    6. Fructose is metabolized differently than other sugars, but it's not clear whether that matters for obesity
    7. The sugar industry has shaped science
    8. A big backlash against sugar is underway
    9. You'll soon be able to tell how much sugar is hidden in your food
    10. Artificial sweeteners may trigger the body's responses to real sugar
    11. To cut back, make sure your breakfast isn't dessert and stop drinking sugary drinks
  • Sugar Industry Long Downplayed Potential Harms

    The sugar industry funded animal research in the 1960s that looked into the effects of sugar consumption on cardiovascular health - and then buried the data when it suggested that sugar could be harmful, according to newly released historical documents.

    Details at, Sugar industry sponsorship of germ-free rodent studies linking sucrose to hyperlipidemia and cancer: An historical analysis of internal documents.

  • Higher brain glucose levels may mean more severe Alzheimer's

    NIH study shows connections between glucose metabolism, Alzheimer's pathology, symptoms

    For the first time, scientists have found a connection between abnormalities in how the brain breaks down glucose and the severity of the signature amyloid plaques and tangles in the brain, as well as the onset of eventual outward symptoms, of Alzheimer's disease.

  • Clearing Up the Confusion About Salt

    So why, you may wonder, is there any controversy? Shabby science, resulting in claims that is it unsafe to reduce sodium intake below 1,500 milligrams a day, is one reason, according to Bonnie Liebman, director of nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a health advocacy organization in Washington, D.C.

    "Very few people consume so little sodium, and most of those who do are sick to begin with, so they eat less and consume less sodium," she explained. "It's a phony issue."

    But when a study is published that runs counter to prevailing beliefs, it tends to get undue media coverage. "The media like 'man bites dog' stories, and studies with surprising results make headlines," Ms. Liebman said.

Posted by mjm | Permanent link | Comments

Fri Dec 29 21:52:36 EST 2017

Items of Interest

Various web links I found to be of interest recently.

  • Jim Simons, the Numbers King

    Algorithms made him a Wall Street billionaire. His new research center helps scientists mine data for the common good.

    One thing that Simons did not predict is that Mercer would become one of the most divisive figures in American politics. During the 2016 election cycle, Mercer, a far-right conservative, spent more than twenty million dollars, eventually throwing his weight behind the candidacy of Donald Trump. He is likely the single biggest donor to the alt-right, supplying millions of dollars to Breitbart, the incendiary Web site run by Steve Bannon. Simons described Mercer's current politics as a transformation that has surprised him. "I've talked to him a few times, but he is just very different from me, and I can't change him," Simons said. He added, "I like him."

    Comment: Since the Simons Foundation sponsors research for brains disorders like autism and Alzheimer's, I wish they would try to figure out what are the differences in the brains of Jim Simons and Robert Mercer that can explain their friendship, productive working relationship, and very different political leanings and how they choose to spend their vast wealth.

  • The Numbers Game

    Russ Roberts' animated series discussing the challenges of accurately measuring and understanding the economy and economic policy.

    We often hear that the middle class is stagnating and making no economic progress over the last four decades. Those making this claim use statistics to back up this pessimistic conclusion. Yet it is easy to find other statistics that lead to a different conclusion and that show that the middle class's standard of living has in fact been growing. This series explores how different assumptions can easily change our perception of how the economy treats the middle class. The bottom line is that data questions like these are often more complicated than they appear to be.

  • Trump won because of racial resentment

    Another study produces the same findings we've seen over and over again.

    Even when controlling for partisanship, ideology, region and a host of other factors, white millennials fit Michael Tesler's analysis, explored here. As he put it, economic anxiety isn't driving racial resentment; rather, racial resentment is driving economic anxiety. We found, as he has in a larger population, that racial resentment is the biggest predictor of white vulnerability among white millennials. Economic variables like education, income and employment made a negligible difference.
    To this end, the research also shows it's possible to reach out to Trump voters - even those who are racist today - in an empathetic way without condoning their prejudice. The evidence suggests, in fact, that the best way to weaken people's racial or other biases is through frank, empathetic dialogue. (Much more on that in my in-depth piece on the research) Given that, the strongest approach to really combating racism and racial resentment may be empathy.

    Research says there are ways to reduce racial bias. Calling people racist isn't one of them.

  • Is 'White Resentment' a Scapegoat for Democrats' Decline?

    Let's set aside the fact that many of the white voters who proved most decisive for Trump's election actually voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012. It turns out that Trump did not mobilize or energize whites towards the ballot box either: their participation rate was roughly equivalent to 2012 (and lower than in 2008). In fact, whites actually made up a smaller share of the electorate than they did in previous cycles, while Hispanics, Asians and racial "others" comprised larger shares than they had in 2012 or 2008.

    This wouldn't, in itself, be devastating for the "white supremacy" hypothesis had Trump won some kind of unprecedented share of the whites who did turn out to vote. He did not. Trump didn't even exceed Romney's 2012 numbers with whites overall. However, he did outperform his predecessor with blacks and Hispanics.

    These are very inconvenient truths: If Trump was the white supremacy candidate, why was such a pivotal component of his base drawn from those who previously voted for Obama (often twice)? Why didn't far greater numbers of whites turn out for Trump than Romney? Why did fewer whites vote for the Republican in this cycle than they did in the last? Conversely, why did Trump win a larger share of blacks than any Republican since 2004? Why did he outperform Romney among Asians and Hispanics as well?

  • The real reason American health care is so expensive

    Hint: single-payer won't automatically fix it.

    Americans don't consume more health care than the Germans or the Japanese. We actually go to the doctor less often.

    The real reason American health care is so expensive compared to other countries is that the prices are higher. We pay more for everything from angioplasties to C-sections, from hip replacements to opioids.

    For example, Emergency rooms are monopolies. Patients pay the price.

    We found that the price of these fees rose 89 percent between 2009 and 2015 -- rising twice as fast as the price of outpatient health care, and four times as fast as overall health care spending.

    Overall spending on emergency room fees rose by more than $3 billion between 2009 and 2015, despite the fact the HCCI database shows a slight (2 percent) decline in the number of emergency room fees billed in the same time period.

    For another example see: Why American doctors keep doing expensive procedures that don’t work

    The proportion of medical procedures unsupported by evidence may be nearly half.

    The stunning news about stents came in a landmark study published in November, in The Lancet. It found that patients who got stents to treat nonemergency chest pain improved no more in their treadmill stress tests (which measure how long exercise can be tolerated) than did patients who received a “sham” procedure that mimicked the real operation but actually involved no insertion of a stent.

    In 2002, The New England Journal of Medicine published a study demonstrating that a common knee operation, performed on millions of Americans who have osteoarthritis — an operation in which the surgeon removes damaged cartilage or bone (“arthroscopic debridement”) and then washes out any debris (“arthroscopic lavage”) — worked no better at relieving pain or improving function than a sham procedure. Those operations can go for $5,000 a shot.

  • How the baby boomers - not millennials - screwed America

    The boomers inherited a rich, dynamic country and have gradually bankrupted it.

    That's the argument Bruce Gibney makes in his book A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America. The boomers, according to Gibney, have committed generational plunder," pillaging the nation's economy, repeatedly cutting their own taxes, financing two wars with deficits, ignoring climate change, presiding over the death of America's manufacturing core, and leaving future generations to clean up the mess they created.

  • The World Might Be Better Off Without College for Everyone

    The labor market doesn't pay you for the useless subjects you master; it pays you for the preexisting traits you signal by mastering them. This is not a fringe idea. Michael Spence, Kenneth Arrow, and Joseph Stiglitz-all Nobel laureates in economics-made seminal contributions to the theory of educational signaling. Every college student who does the least work required to get good grades silently endorses the theory. But signaling plays almost no role in public discourse or policy making. As a society, we continue to push ever larger numbers of students into ever higher levels of education. The main effect is not better jobs or greater skill levels, but a credentialist arms race.

  • How Email Open Tracking Quietly Took Over the Web

    Tracking clients embed a line of code in the body of an email-usually in a 1x1 pixel image, so tiny it's invisible, but also in elements like hyperlinks and custom fonts. When a recipient opens the email, the tracking client recognizes that pixel has been downloaded, as well as where and on what device. Newsletter services, marketers, and advertisers have used the technique for years, to collect data about their open rates; major tech companies like Facebook and Twitter followed suit in their ongoing quest to profile and predict our behavior online.

    But lately, a surprising-and growing-number of tracked emails are being sent not from corporations, but acquaintances. "We have been in touch with users that were tracked by their spouses, business partners, competitors," says Florian Seroussi, the founder of OMC. "It's the wild, wild west out there."

    Comment: Stop sending (and reading) unnecessary HTML email.

  • Superhuman AI for heads-up no-limit poker: Libratus beats top professionals

    We present Libratus, an AI that, in a 120,000-hand competition, defeated four top human specialist professionals in heads-up no-limit Texas hold'em, the leading benchmark and long-standing challenge problem in imperfect-information game solving. Our game-theoretic approach features application-independent techniques: an algorithm for computing a blueprint for the overall strategy, an algorithm that fleshes out the details of the strategy for subgames that are reached during play, and a self-improver algorithm that fixes potential weaknesses that opponents have identified in the blueprint strategy.

  • DeepMind's AI became a superhuman chess player in a few hours

    In the paper, DeepMind describes how a descendant of the AI program that first conquered the board game Go has taught itself to play a number of other games at a superhuman level. After eight hours of self-play, the program bested the AI that first beat the human world Go champion; and after four hours of training, it beat the current world champion chess-playing program, Stockfish. Then for a victory lap, it trained for just two hours and polished off one of the world's best shogi-playing programs named Elmo (shogi being a Japanese version of chess that's played on a bigger board).

    One of the key advances here is that the new AI program, named AlphaZero, wasn't specifically designed to play any of these games. In each case, it was given some basic rules (like how knights move in chess, and so on) but was programmed with no other strategies or tactics. It simply got better by playing itself over and over again at an accelerated pace - a method of training AI known as "reinforcement learning."

  • Thoughts on "Net Neutrality"

    by Maria Schneider, composer/bandleader

    What's worse, Google is really just the pot calling the kettle black. Google is desperate to have Verizon declared as a "common carrier" so that Verizon is legally required to provide this open set of highways to all, at NO COST to Google. Google does so by scaring us ordinary folks, saying Verizon could somehow set up fast lanes, or other prioritizations, if they aren't called "common carriers." But the irony of this - and the hidden truth - is that Google does just that by building what are called "content delivery networks" or CDNs, that enable them to deliver content, at lightning speeds in collaboration with the ISPs. Talk about "fast lanes" - that is like Google having its own private HOV lanes on the open highway system for its own Ferraris. How ironic it is that by 2011, Google was carrying 6.4% of ALL worldwide internet traffic on and through its own CDNs. That's just astounding. Google is actually acting more like an ISP than the ISPs. Google is the behemoth data lord that owns us all. But somehow, we're willing to vilify the cable company instead, and give Google a free pass. It's like punishing the shipbuilders who build the pirate ships, while idolizing the pirates themselves. It's ludicrous.
    Let's not forget what this is all about. Google isn't here for the altruistic ideal of helping ordinary people. Google's number one goal with "net neutrality" is to guarantee robust "pipes" are in place, so that we, the billions of YouTube and Google search users, can send all of our "user data" back to Google. It's fair to say that they need the ISP pipes maybe more than we do. Companies like Google, Amazon, and Facebook, are only rich and powerful because we, collectively and stupidly, have agreed to send them (via the ISPs) all of our valuable data (our constant GPS locations, our buying and listening habits, our everyday needs and whims, our opinions, our political leanings, our personal information, medical information, our search history) - all of it and more, for free. Each of us has become a data-transmitting drone for Google and the like. And all of that data travels through Verizon's (or the ISPs') pipes.

Posted by mjm | Permanent link | Comments

Thu Dec 14 18:40:30 EST 2017

Tax Cuts / Inequality

Some links related to the effectiveness of tax cuts and income inequality.

  • Taxes and growth - a cautionary graph

    The basic point: There have been huge changes in taxes throughout US history with virtually no observable shift in growth rates.

    Details at, Effects of Income Tax Changes on Economic Growth.

  • Not Much Evidence That a Corporate Tax Cut Boosts Wages

    First, corporations have reported record profits. The lack of investment is not due to the lack of funds.
    Second, businesses have been saying to whoever will listen that it does not plan to invest a windfall from lower taxes.
    There may be other reasons that some may support the corporate tax cuts, but spurring investment and wage growth are not compelling or convincing arguments. The kind of investment that may be more necessary, and can boost wages and productivity is public investment, but the tax reform proposals will leave little room for an infrastructure initiative.

  • Watch CEOs admit they won't actually invest more if tax reform passes

    John Bussey, an associate editor with the Journal, asks the CEOs in the room, "If the tax reform bill goes through, do you plan to increase investment - your companies' investment - capital investment," and requests a show of hands. Only a few hands go up, leaving Cohn to ask sheepishly, "Why aren't the other hands up?"

    Out of 42 top economists, only 1 believes the GOP tax bills would help the economy The first question was straightforward. Would they agree that if the US passed a tax bill "similar to those currently moving through the House and Senate," GDP would be "substantially higher a decade from now"? Of the 42 economists polled, only one thought the Republican bill would boost the economy. The plurality said it wouldn't, and the remainder were uncertain or didn't answer.

  • The theory behind Trump's tax cuts is exactly what gave us the failed Bush economy

    An influx of foreign hot money isn't what we need.

    The theory was that by making it more lucrative to invest in American businesses, they would boost business investment in the United States -- making our country home to more factories and offices, driving job creation, and pushing up wages.

    What happened instead was a weak, highly inegalitarian period of economic growth that was associated with the drift of America's manufacturing base overseas and an unsustainable debt-financed boom in house building.

  • It's not just the 1%. The upper middle class is oppressing everyone else, too

    The top 20% have set things up to guarantee virtually all of those spoils go to their descendants. Where does that leave the rest of us?

    The author, economics professor and Brookings Institution fellow Richard Reeves, notes that while the US has always had a class system, the upper middle class -- which he defines as those earning $120,000 a year or more -- is not only widening the gap between itself and everyone else, but also hoarding opportunities in a way that makes it difficult for any outsiders to climb up to it. (The 1% is getting richer even more quickly, of course, but there aren't enough of them to hoard opportunities on a mass scale.)
    Rampant inequality is not the fault of a class of people doing exactly what anyone would do in their position, but a political and economic system that incentivizes and enables them to do so. (Don't hate the player, hate the game.) It follows that the solution is not individual and moralistic, but collective and political.

  • Myths of the 1 Percent: What Puts People at the Top

    Dispelling misconceptions about what's driving income inequality in the U.S.

    Almost all of the growth in top American earners has come from just three economic sectors: professional services, finance and insurance, and health care, groups that tend to benefit from regulatory barriers that shelter them from competition.

    The groups that have contributed the most people to the 1 percent since 1980 are: physicians; executives, managers, sales supervisors, and analysts working in the financial sectors; and professional and legal service industry executives, managers, lawyers, consultants and sales representatives.

    Without changes in these largely domestic services industries -- finance, health care, the law -- the United States would look like Canada or Germany in terms of its top income shares.

Posted by mjm | Permanent link | Comments

Thu Nov 30 13:52:53 EST 2017

Items of Interest

Various web links I found to be of interest recently.

  • Change My View (CMV)

    Reddit moderated sub-community with strict rules, where participants discuss various topics for the purpose of understanding opposing viewpoints.

    A discussion on the You Are Not So Smart podcast explains what kind of arguments are most likely to change people's minds, and what kinds of minds are most likely to be changed.

  • Why incompetent people often think they're actually the best

    There's a psychological phenomenon behind it: the Dunning-Kruger effect.

    "When psychologists Dunning and [Justin] Kruger first described the effect in 1999, they argued that people lacking knowledge and skill in particular areas suffer a double curse. First, they make mistakes and reach poor decisions. But second, those same knowledge gaps also prevent them from catching their errors. In other words, poor performers lack the very expertise needed to recognize how badly they're doing."

    Also see, what the Dunning-Kruger effect is and isn't:

    So the bias is definitively not that incompetent people think they're better than competent people. Rather, it's that incompetent people think they're much better than they actually are. But they typically still don't think they're quite as good as people who, you know, actually are good.

  • Why we pretend to know things, explained by a cognitive scientist

    New research explains why we pretend to know more than we do.

    We are not great reasoners. Most people don't like to think at all, or like to think as little as possible. And by most, I mean roughly 70 percent of the population. Even the rest seem to devote a lot of their resources to justifying beliefs that they want to hold, as opposed to forming credible beliefs based only on fact.
    But some people do try to rise above the crowd: to verify claims independently, to give fair hearing to others' claims, and to follow the data where it actually leads. In fact, many people are trained to do that: scientists, judges, forensic investigators, physicians, etc. That doesn't mean they always do (and they don't always), just that they're supposed to try.

  • 'Break up Google and Facebook if you ever want innovation again'

    Antitrust was necessary "not because they're too big, but because there's no market solution" to Google and Facebook. The barriers to entry are now so high nobody is going bust open the ad duopoly. This is the point made by Oracle in its European complaint. Effective behavioural advertising requires hods of data, and nobody can gather sufficient data enough to compete against Google's "superprofiles", or Facebook's Graph in behavioural advertising.

  • Why Beauty Is Not Universal

    When it comes to judging visual beauty, there are no hard-and-fast biological rules.
        cross-cultural studies revealed something surprising: perception of the (Müller-Lyer) illusion varies widely-and Westerners are outliers. When scientists measured how different the segments appeared to different groups of people, they found that Westerners saw the greatest distortion. The Zulu, Fang, and Ijaw people of Africa observed half as much. The San foragers of the Kalahari didn't perceive the illusion at all: they recognized right away that a and b were the same length. People raised in Western countries literally don't see things the same way as the foragers of the Kalahari. Your experience of the world changes what you take to be true, and vision is no exception.

  • Never Do That Again

    by Morgan Housel

    Some things are timeless. Bubbles will always occur. A handful of companies will dominate industries. Things won't be fair. Patience will be rewarded, stubbornness will be penalized, and we'll never be able to tell which is which.

    But I'm not optimistic on learning specific lessons from individual events. We are not the NTSB. There's a limited amount we can learn from one event that makes us better prepared to handle the next event.

    I think it's rare that we can say, "Always do this." Or even, "Never do that again." Unless it's flagrantly obvious or reckless, "I have an evidence-based strategy but I am perpetually open to amending those views as our ever-evolving world adapts, and I know I'll occasionally be wrong even when I technically should have been right" should be your position on almost every business, investing, and economic topic.

  • Have You Ever Seen Donald Trump Laugh?

    One possible reason why Trump won't laugh: The less honest you are with yourself, the less likely you are to laugh.
    Another cost to distorting the truth is that you're less likely to even get why something is funny, much less laugh at it.

  • Scientists Have Mathematical Proof That It's Impossible to Stop Ageing

    "If you get rid of those poorly functioning, sluggish cells, then that allows cancer cells to proliferate," says lead researcher Paul Nelson.

    "And if you get rid of, or slow down, those cancer cells, then that allows sluggish cells to accumulate."

  • Startup will train crows to pick up cigarette butts in return for peanuts

    Thanks to their understanding of causality, crows can conceptualize, create, and use tools. They play, learn from each other, and can manipulate humans into helping them out. Some types of crows can even count.

  • The long goodbye to C

    Eric Raymond on computer languages

    I was thinking a couple of days ago about the new wave of systems languages now challenging C for its place at the top of the systems-programming heap -- Go and Rust, in particular.
    So Go is designed for the C-like jobs Python can't handle.

Posted by mjm | Permanent link | Comments

Thu Nov 16 14:14:45 EST 2017

Health Matters

Some links about the health care system and being healthy.

  • The problem is the prices (for health care)

    Opaque and sky high bills are breaking Americans -- and our health care system.

    The health care prices in the United States are, in a word, outlandish. On average, an MRI in the United States costs $1,119. That same scan costs $503 in Switzerland and $215 in Australia.
    High prices are hurting American families. Most Americans who get insurance at work now have a deductible over $1,000. High prices are why medical debt remains a leading cause of bankruptcy in the United States, and nowhere else.
    We rarely know what our bill will be when we enter a doctor's office, or even when we leave. The prices aren't listed on the wall or a website as they would be in most other places where consumers spend money.
    The real culprit in the United States is not that we go to the doctor too much. The culprit is that whenever we do go to the doctor, we pay an extraordinary amount.
    Our health care legislation in the United States focuses on the question of who pays for health care. In order to have real progress, however, we're going to tackle a new question: How much do we pay? Until we do, we're likely to continue living in a world of $25,000 MRIs and $629 Band-Aids that families struggle to pay for.

    To help improve things see, Hospitals keep ER fees secret. Share your bill to help change that.

  • Depression: How effective are antidepressants?

    The various antidepressants have been compared in many studies. Overall, the commonly used tricyclic antidepressants SSRIs and SSNRIs performed equally well. Studies of adults with moderate or severe depression showed:

    • Without antidepressants: About 20 to 40 out of 100 people who took a placebo noticed an improvement in their symptoms within six to eight weeks.
    • With antidepressants: About 40 to 60 out of 100 people who took an antidepressant noticed an improvement in their symptoms within six to eight weeks.
    In other words, antidepressants improved symptoms in about 20 more people out of 100.

  • Exercise and the Prevention of Depression: Results of the HUNT Cohort Study

    The American Journal of Psychiatry

    Regular leisure-time exercise of any intensity provides protection against future depression but not anxiety. Relatively modest changes in population levels of exercise may have important public mental health benefits and prevent a substantial number of new cases of depression.

  • Exercise interventions for cognitive function in adults older than 50: a systematic review with meta-analysis

    British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM)

    Physical exercise improved cognitive function in the over 50s, regardless of the cognitive status of participants. To improve cognitive function, this meta-analysis provides clinicians with evidence to recommend that patients obtain both aerobic and resistance exercise of at least moderate intensity on as many days of the week as feasible, in line with current exercise guidelines.

Posted by mjm | Permanent link | Comments

Tue Oct 31 20:11:15 EDT 2017

Items of Interest

Various web links I found to be of interest recently.

  • We Libertarians Were Really Wrong About School Vouchers

    Some studies suggest that voucher programs do modest good; others suggest that they do very little; and a few suggest that the impacts are actually negative. My overall takeaway from the literature is that voucher programs probably do a little bit of good. But the emphasis is on the word "little"; they are not a cure-all, or even much of a cure for anything. It was reasonable to think, in 1997, that voucher programs could change the world. Now we have two decades of evidence.
    But the quality of the pedagogy isn't the only thing that shapes student outcomes in schools. The peer group matters a great deal; families with higher socioeconomic status are better able to navigate the educational system, and they value education very highly, traits they pass on to their children. Those parents also work hard to improve the quality of the schools their children attend.

    The socioeconomic status of the students in a school is somewhat easier for parents to observe than the quality of the pedagogy. It's not then, all that surprising that when researchers sat down to analyze parental decision-making in New York City public school, peer group seemed to be what parents were looking at. And peer group matters a great deal.

  • DeepMind's Go-playing AI doesn't need human help to beat us anymore

    The company's latest AlphaGo AI learned superhuman skills by playing itself over and over

    The original AlphaGo demonstrated superhuman Go-playing ability, but needed the expertise of human players to get there. Namely, it used a dataset of more than 100,000 Go games as a starting point for its own knowledge. AlphaGo Zero, by comparison, has only been programmed with the basic rules of Go. Everything else it learned from scratch. As described in a paper published in Nature today, Zero developed its Go skills by competing against itself. It started with random moves on the board, but every time it won, Zero updated its own system, and played itself again. And again. Millions of times over.
    After three days of self-play, Zero was strong enough to defeat the version of itself that beat 18-time world champion Lee Se-dol, winning handily -- 100 games to nil. After 40 days, it had a 90 percent win rate against the most advanced version of the original AlphaGo software. DeepMind says this makes it arguably the strongest Go player in history.

  • This year's economics Nobel winner invented a tool that's both brilliant and undemocratic

    "Nudges" aren't good for democracy.

    The problem -- as Carnegie Mellon's Cosma Shalizi and I have discussed elsewhere -- is that government-by-nudging amounts to a kind of technocracy, which assumes that experts will know which choices are in the interests of ordinary people better than those people know themselves. This may be true under some circumstances, but it will not be true all of the time, or even most of the time, if there are no good opportunities for those ordinary people to voice their preferences.

  • The New York Times: Promoting False Hope as Journalism

    Criticism of book The Other Side of Impossible promoting alternative medicine.

    We have already explored at length the problems with anecdotal evidence. Meadows' casual dismissal of these problems by stating that "an example of one" has meaning in terms of giving hope is itself a harmful deception. You could probably write a book filled with stories of people who played the lottery as the solution to their financial situation and won. You could cherry pick the winners, and then explore what they did to choose their winning numbers. a statistically negligible hope. Focus on the hope and the winners.
    Of course, only the most dramatic examples are going to make it into such a book. They are by definition not representative. There are also all the other problems with anecdotal evidence. We don't really know if the original diagnosis was accurate. We don't know which of the many treatments used were actually effective. We don't know that the outcome wasn't just the natural course of the illness or a spontaneous remission. There is also a lot of subjective judgement involved.

    The original New York Time article by Jane E. Brody is,
    Hitting a Medical Wall, and Turning to Unproven Treatments

    Also see this criticism of the original article from Respectful Insolence in Science Blogs,
    The New York Times publishes fake news false hope in the form of a credulous account of dubious alternative medicine testimonials

  • Researchers have ditched the autism-vaccine hypothesis. Here's what they think actually causes it.

    Genes and the microbiome are some of the most promising leads.

    Of all the issues doctors have explored in children's health, none has been more exhaustively researched than the question of whether vaccines are linked to autism. After hundreds and hundreds of studies in thousands of children, "We can say with almost as much certainty than anybody could ever say that vaccines don't cause autism," Mayo Clinic autism researcher Dr. Sunil Mehta told me.
    "The bottom line is that when you add up all of the genetic risks, it looks like genetics can account for 50 percent of the risk for autism, which is very high," said David Amaral, an autism specialist at the UC Davis MIND Institute. To put that into context, compared to other common health problems -- like heart attacks, or cancer -- autism is much more genetic, with well over 100 genes now implicated.
    Exposure to infections and certain medicines during pregnancy may be linked to autism.
    The disorder seems to affect boys about four times more than girls.

  • Meet the nocebo effect, the placebo effect's evil twin that makes you feel pain

    A fascinating new study finds patients report worse side effects when a drug costs more money.

    Doctors even see a placebo response in patients who are told they are on a placebo. And the more invasive, expensive, and drastic the placebo intervention, the greater the healing effect. Fake surgeries -- where doctors make some incisions but don't actually change anything -- make people feel better than placebo pills alone.
    But the placebo effect has an evil twin: the nocebo. It can kick in when negative expectations steer our experience of symptoms and create side effects where none should occur.

    This means, incredibly, that you can get side effects from a sugar pill. And sometimes these side effects are so severe that patients drop out of clinical trials, as a 2013 paper in Nature Reviews explains. A review of fibromyalgia drug trials revealed that 72 percent of people who left the trial did so because they felt severe side effects while on placebo.
    When patients are led to believe one drug is less expensive than another they're also less likely to report painful side effects.

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Wed Oct 25 00:00:00 EDT 2017

Health Matters

Some links about the health care system and being healthy.

  • Is Health Care a Right?

    Atul Gawande in The New Yorker

    It's a question that divides Americans, including those from my home town. But it's possible to find common ground.

    A right doesn't distinguish between the deserving and the undeserving, and, for many in my Ohio home town, that rankled.

    As he saw it, government existed to provide basic services like trash pickup, a sewer system, roadways, police and fire protection, schools, and health care. Do people have a right to trash pickup? It seemed odd to say so, and largely irrelevant. The key point was that these necessities can be provided only through collective effort and shared costs. When people get very different deals on these things, the pact breaks down. And that's what has happened with American health care.

    The reason goes back to a seemingly innocuous decision made during the Second World War, when a huge part of the workforce was sent off to fight. To keep labor costs from skyrocketing, the Roosevelt Administration imposed a wage freeze. Employers and unions wanted some flexibility, in order to attract desired employees, so the Administration permitted increases in health-insurance benefits, and made them tax-exempt. It didn't seem a big thing. But, ever since, we've been trying to figure out how to cover the vast portion of the country that doesn't have employer-provided health insurance: low-wage workers, children, retirees, the unemployed, small-business owners, the self-employed, the disabled. We've had to stitch together different rules and systems for each of these categories, and the result is an unholy, expensive mess that leaves millions unprotected.

  • Single-payer isn't the only progressive option on health care

    There are several routes to universal coverage -- some more politically feasible than others.

    As we consider the most effective strategy for achieving universal coverage, progressives should keep two admonitions in mind. First, we must not conflate our foremost health care goal (universal coverage) with competing pathways toward achieving that goal
    America's unique history and politics make the successful promotion of a single-payer system an unlikely pathway to universal health coverage. There are three reasons. The first involves the inevitable strong and well-funded opposition of special-interest groups.
    The second political impediment is the potential backlash to the cost of single-payer, and how it will be financed.
    Finally, as both Democrats and Republicans have now learned, once people have health care coverage, they are sensitive about efforts that might take it away or potentially diminish its quality. Today, approximately half of the US population receives health coverage through the workplace. If that coverage is replaced with a single-payer system, workers will be vigilant about making sure the new coverage is at least as good as what they had before.

    Over time, there's no reason incrementalism can't get us all the way to 100 percent coverage. Single-payer isn't the only route to that goal. In the foreseeable future, the step-by-step approach is the strategy progressives should pursue.

    • Expanding Medicaid in 19 states
    • Providing coverage for immigrants
    • Fixing the so-called "family glitch"
    • Extending CHIP
    • Paying for quality, rather than quantity, of health care
    • Reducing prescription drug prices
    • Remedying anti-competitive health system market domination
    • Promoting a "public option"

  • What Makes Singapore's Health Care So Cheap?

    And it spends far, far less than the United States does. Yet it achieves some outcomes Americans would find remarkable. Life expectancy at birth is two to three years longer than in Britain or the United States. Its infant mortality rate is among the lowest in the world, about half that of the United States, and just over half that of Britain, Australia, Canada and France. General mortality rates are impressive compared with pretty much all other countries as well.
    Americans tend to think that they have a highly privatized health system, but Singapore is arguably much more so. There, about two-thirds of health care spending is private, and about one-third is public. It's just about the opposite in the United States.
    In other words, Singapore discovered that, as we've seen many times before, the market sometimes fails in health care. When that happened in Singapore, government officials got more involved. They established the proportion of each type of ward hospitals had to provide, they kept them from focusing too much on profits, and they required approval to buy new, expensive technology.

  • One-Fifth of Medical Care Is Unnecessary, Doctors Say

    Americans spend at least $3.2 trillion on health care each year. That's well beyond any other country in total and per capita. A great many factors feed the glut, but a primary contributor is overtreatment. Unnecessary tests and procedures account for at least $200 billion in spending every year.
    The most cited reason for overtreatment was "fear of malpractice." An astounding 84.7% of the responding physicians feared a lawsuit if they didn't exercise every treatment precaution. "Patient pressure/request" and "difficulty accessing prior medical records" were the next most common reasons, at 59% and 38.2% respectively.
    "Only 2-3% of patients harmed by negligence pursue litigation, of whom about half receive compensation. Paid claims have declined by nearly 50% in the last decade..." they wrote.

    Also see How drug companies make you buy more medicine than you need.

  • Poor diet is a factor in one in five deaths, global disease study reveals

    Study compiling data from every country finds people are living longer but millions are eating wrong foods for their health.

    Diet is the second highest risk factor for early death after smoking. Other high risks are high blood glucose which can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, high body mass index (BMI) which is a measure of obesity, and high total cholesterol. All of these can be related to eating the wrong foods, although there are also other causes.

  • New Study Offers Support for Prostate Testing

    For men who are weighing the pros and cons of prostate cancer screening, a new study strengthens the evidence that testing can reduce deaths from this cancer, something two earlier large landmark clinical trials appeared to reach different conclusions about.
    "I personally believe that results from models are less convincing than data from actual clinical trials, so I doubt there's anything here that would move the needle on PSA screening," said Dr. Kenneth Lin, an associate professor of family medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center.

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Sat Sep 30 12:36:04 EDT 2017

Items of Interest

Various web links I found to be of interest recently.

  • The Incredible Shrinking Corporate Tax Bill

    Corporations are paying a lot less in taxes than they used to. Let's figure out why.

    Pre-tax profits aren't anywhere near a record, are about as high as they were for most of the 1940s and 1950s, and are not far above the highs of the 1960s and 1970s. After-tax profits, on the other hand, have for most of the past decade-plus been markedly higher than at any time since 1929, when the top corporate income tax rate was just 11 percent.
    But the biggest reason seems to be the explosion in corporation-like entities that are not, for tax purposes, corporations.

  • America's Superstar Companies Are a Drag on Growth

    Lack of competition lets them gouge consumers, underpay workers and invest too little.

    Since the 1980s, antitrust enforcement has gotten weaker. As a result, a few big companies have managed to capture a much bigger share of the market in various industries. Technology may have helped too, by letting big companies spread their geographic reach, and by creating network effects that keep customers locked in to platforms like Facebook. Anyway, as a result of this increased market power, the big superstar companies have been raising their prices and cutting their wages. This has lifted profits and boosted the stock market, but it has also held down real wages, diverted more of the nation’s income to business owners, and increased inequality. It has also held back productivity, since raising prices restricts economic output.

  • The only safe email is text-only email

    Simply put, safe email is plain-text email -- showing only the plain words of the message exactly as they arrived, without embedded links or images. Webmail is convenient for advertisers (and lets you write good-looking emails with images and nice fonts), but carries with it unnecessary -- and serious -- danger, because a webpage (or an email) can easily show one thing but do another.

    I convert my html email to text with the html to ascii converter vilistextum and 99% of the time there is no loss of important information.

  • Cities are not the future

    When the creative people move out of a city due to high rents, all that is left are aging landowners, overstretched professionals, and urban slums. It’s no longer a pleasant place to live. Suburbs look a lot better than cities, and given the powerful psychological effect of nature, it’s worth taking that seriously.

  • Calling Bullshit

    Data Reasoning for the Digital Age`

    Our aim in this course is to teach you how to think critically about the data and models that constitute evidence in the social and natural sciences.

  • The World Turned Upside Down (and what to do about it)

    Russ Roberts thoughts about the current political climate.

    So we manage to convince ourselves that the evidence speaks so loudly, so emphatically, that we have no choice but to declare our allegiance to a particular tribe as a result of that evidence. The red tribe. Or the blue one. Or the white one. Or the black one. It rarely crosses our minds to notice that causation is probably going the opposite direction--the tribe we are in determines the evidence we notice and accept.
    I would summarize these suggestions as saying--when the world is increasingly uncivilized, take a step toward civility.

    1. Don’t be part of the positive feedback problem.
    2. Be humble.
    3. Imagine the possibility not just that you are wrong, but that the person you disagree with could be right.

Posted by mjm | Permanent link | Comments

Thu Aug 31 18:06:04 EDT 2017

Items of Interest

Various web links I found to be of interest recently.

  • The Curse of Middle-Aged Capitalism for Trump, Rest of Us

    A similar story applies to corporate investment in buildings and machinery (computers, vehicles). From 1975 to 2015, this capital investment has dropped from 8% of corporate assets to 4%. Interestingly, this decline in investment was mostly offset by increases in corporate research and development (R&D) -- reflecting the need to develop new digital products and programs, say Kahle and Stulz. But the R&D spending was heavily skewed toward bigger firms. Half of publicly traded firms showed no R&D.
    But what if the weaknesses go deeper? For example: It's hard to argue that cuts in corporate taxes will accelerate economic growth if many companies are already suffering losses -- and don't benefit from tax cuts. Similarly, large, very profitable firms, with huge piles of cash but few appealing investment projects, won't suddenly find new projects if their taxes are cut.

  • How your mind protects you against hallucinations

    These examples suggest hallucinations arise when the brain gives more weight to its expectations and beliefs about the world than to the sensory evidence it receives, says study author and Yale psychiatrist Philip Corlett.
    The team hypothesized that people who hear voices would be more likely to "believe" in auditory hallucinations. That's precisely what they found: Both the schizophrenics and self-described psychics were nearly five times more likely to say they heard the nonexistent tone than healthy controls. They were also about 28% more confident that they had heard the tone when none was there, the researchers report today in Science.

  • How To Know You're In a Mass Hysteria Bubble

    Scott Adams (Dilbert)

    The most visible Mass Hysteria of the moment involves the idea that the United States intentionally elected a racist President. If that statement just triggered you, it might mean you are in the Mass Hysteria bubble. The cool part is that you can't fact-check my claim you are hallucinating if you are actually hallucinating. But you can read my description of the signs of mass hysteria and see if you check off the boxes.

    If you're in the mass hysteria, recognizing you have all the symptoms of hysteria won't help you be aware you are in it. That's not how hallucinations work. Instead, your hallucination will automatically rewrite itself to expel any new data that conflicts with its illusions.
    On November 8th of 2016, half the country learned that everything they believed to be both true and obvious turned out to be wrong. The people who thought Trump had no chance of winning were under the impression they were smart people who understood their country, and politics, and how things work in general. When Trump won, they learned they were wrong. They were so very wrong that they reflexively (because this is how all brains work) rewrote the scripts they were seeing in their minds until it all made sense again. The wrong-about-everything crowd decided that the only way their world made sense, with their egos intact, is that either the Russians helped Trump win or there are far more racists in the country than they imagined, and he is their king. Those were the seeds of the two mass hysterias we witness today.

  • How to Stop Gentrification

    Individuals moving to newly-hip neighborhoods admit they are part of the problem. What can they do?

    Drawing on earlier urban scholars, Moskowitz breaks the process down into four basic steps. First, individuals seeking cheap rents begin moving to a disinvested neighborhood, sometimes forming their own sub-communities: artists, radicals, and so on. Before long, more middle-class people follow, and real-estate interests catch on. Soon enough, the new middle-class residents take their place in the neighborhood"s institutions and begin reshaping power dynamics, attracting more amenities (and, notably, police), as well as bigger-money developers. By the time "managerial-class professionals" find their way to the neighborhood, the original gentrifiers can no longer afford it and get pushed out, starting the process over again in another neighborhood.

  • How "Despacito" became the biggest song of 2017

    An anatomy of what made "Despacito" the most popular song of the year.

    Also related How Did Pop Music Get So Slow.

  • Prediction Markets & Crowdsourced Forecasting


    The Hybrid Forecasting Competition (HFC) is a government-sponsored research program designed to test the limits of geopolitical forecasting. By combining the ingenuity of human analysts with cutting edge machine systems (including statistical models and algorithms), HFC will develop novel capabilities to help the U.S. Intelligence Community improve their forecasts in an increasingly uncertain world.

  • An Introduction to Emergent Order in Our Daily Lives

    Russ Roberts

    There is order sprinkled liberally throughout the chaotic nature of nature. The planets orbit the sun. Birds of a feather flock together. Fish make schools of fish. Ants create colonies. No ant is in charge of the ant colony, yet an order emerges from the actions of the individual ants that no one of them intends. The colony and the bee hive seems to have a mind of their own that can respond to challenges and change, independent of any of its members.
    We humans create emergent order as well--order that is the product of human action but not human design. It looks like someone is in charge yet no one and no group intends these outcomes we observe and experience. These parts of our lives are incredibly orderly and reliable. They look as if someone or a group of people have convened to take action together. It looks like someone is steering the system to achieve certain goals. But no single human being is in charge or intending what actually occurs.

  • What Meditation Can Do for Us, and What It Can't

    Examining the science and supernaturalism of Buddhism.

    Wright sets out to provide an unabashedly American answer to all these questions. He thinks that Buddhism is true in the immediate sense that it is helpful and therapeutic, and, by offering insights into our habitual thoughts and cravings, shows us how to fix them. Being Buddhist-that is, simply practicing Vipassana, or "insight" meditation-will make you feel better about being alive, he believes, and he shows how you can and why it does.
    What Wright correctly sees as the heart of meditation practice-the draining away of the stories we tell compulsively about each moment in favor of simply having the moment-is antithetical to the kind of evidentiary argument he admires. Science is competitive storytelling. If a Buddhist Newton had been sitting under that tree, he would have seen the apple falling and, reaching for Enlightenment, experienced each moment of its descent as a thing pure in itself. Only a restless Western Newton would say, "Now, what story can tell us best what connects those apple-moments from branch to ground?
    Science is putting names on things and telling stories about them, the very habits that Buddhists urge us to transcend.

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