The fundamental tension of burying the lede
Thomas Bollyky at The Atlantic tackles the fundamental tension of curing cancer in India while generating profits for pharmaceutical companies:
The fight over cancer drugs in India exposes a fundamental tension in the way we fund pharmaceutical R&D. Patents allow pharmaceutical firms to charge high prices for drugs for a limited period of time to recoup their investment in R&D. This results in more of the drugs that we need, but makes them less accessible to those who need them.
If we do not give big pharma their pound of flesh, how will they ever be able to continue their service to humankind? Where will they find the monies to fund the noble research which is their prime function? Perhaps here:
A … study by two York University researchers estimates the U.S. pharmaceutical industry spends almost twice as much on promotion as it does on research and development, contrary to the industry’s claim.
The researchers’ estimate is based on the systematic collection of data directly from the industry and doctors during 2004, which shows the U.S. pharmaceutical industry spent 24.4% of the sales dollar on promotion, versus 13.4% for research and development, as a percentage of US domestic sales of US$235.4 billion.
As well, note the authors, the number of meetings for promotional purposes has dramatically increased in the U.S. pharmaceutical industry, jumping from 120,000 in 1998 to 371,000 in 2004, further supporting their findings that the U.S. pharmaceutical industry is marketing-driven.
Thus, the study’s findings supports the position that the U.S. pharmaceutical industry is marketing-driven and challenges the perception of a research-driven, life-saving, pharmaceutical industry, while arguing in favour of a change in the industry’s priorities in the direction of less promotion, according to Gagnon and Lexchin.
Gagnon and Lexchin’s subscription to The Atlantic must have run out.
Source: The Atlantic
In his New York Times Op-Ed piece, economist Paul Krugman’s addresses the question of what will change, if at all, in response to the collapse of the intellectual (i.e., scientific) basis of austerity:
On the first question: the dominance of austerians in influential circles should disturb anyone who likes to believe that policy is based on, or even strongly influenced by, actual evidence. After all, the two main studies providing the alleged intellectual justification for austerity — Alberto Alesina and Silvia Ardagna on “expansionary austerity” and Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff on the dangerous debt “threshold” at 90 percent of G.D.P. — faced withering criticism almost as soon as they came out.
And the studies did not hold up under scrutiny. By late 2010, the International Monetary Fund had reworked Alesina-Ardagna with better data and reversed their findings, while many economists raised fundamental questions about Reinhart-Rogoff long before we knew about the famous Excel error. Meanwhile, real-world events — stagnation in Ireland, the original poster child for austerity, falling interest rates in the United States, which was supposed to be facing an imminent fiscal crisis — quickly made nonsense of austerian predictions.
Yet austerity maintained and even strengthened its grip on elite opinion. Why? Part of the answer surely lies in the widespread desire to see economics as a morality play, to make it a tale of excess and its consequences.
Which explains the utter shut-out of the Left (across the spectrum) in public political considerations, since the Left is ideologically committed to playing without morality.
For a while, I’ve been thinking about writing a piece on how NPR is more toxic than Fox News. Fox preaches to the choir. NPR, though, confuses and misinforms people who might otherwise know better. Its “liberal” reputation makes palatable a deeply orthodox message for a demographic that could be open to a more critical message.
This viewpoint is a dangerous luxury. A 2009 Pew Research Center survey shows a favourability rating for Fox New among Democrats to be at 43%. Let me repeat: 43% of Democrats have a favourable view of Fox News (and it would not be a stretch to suggest that the 13% of Republicans who find FoxNews unfavourable do so because it is not destructive enough). If that is the size of the choir is it any surprise that all other outlets, including NPR, moderate their message?
On the other end, nearly one out of every two Americans does not even know of NPR or finds it worth rating on favourability. Also worth noting is that the favourability gap for NPR between Democrats (at 50%) and Republicans (at 39%) is but 11%.
Leaving alone the fact that NPR would lose sponsors and members (and draw the ire of Congress), and cease to exist if it swung harder left in such a right-leaning nation, the truth is that the NPR audience (and I suspect the producers and personalities) is a small group of upper-middle class educated elites (and elite-wannabes) - median income of $93,000 (US: $53,000) and 69% college graduate (US: 25%).
This is, in my opinion, a crowd deeply vested in (and consequently insecure about criticism of) stories that validate it’s own meritorious rise and sense of charity. It is therefore a segment that is “liberal” on issues that do not threaten its own merit and survival while showcasing its liberal generosity (gay marriage is a poster issue, as are any that can find libertarian justification, whereas the mere accusation of sexism in the high-tech world sparked rape/death threats towards, and firing of, a female IT worker last month).
Orthodoxies vary and the one that a college-educated person from the upper/middle-class received is, I submit, built on the vestiges of academic social justice commitments (which themselves arose as criticism of biologism and so on). In other words, members of the group are, if anything, more receptive to criticisms that upturn their received liberalism in favour of a tougher sounding (and always grudging) return to earlier orthodoxies. Examples are many: Larry Summers, Clinton appointee and Obama whisperer, and his views on women in higher mathematics and science. Or Richard Dawkins, New Atheism frontman, and proponent of “selfish” gene theories (despite the utter inapplicability of the qualifier to the qualified). Or the current crop of liberal marauders taking the public education system apart (witness the reception of Waiting for Superman among liberals). The popularity of the showboating mayor of Newark, Corey Booker. I could go on.
This is NPR’s core constituency. That NPR manages to upset the mental complacency of this group and occasionally put the likes of Noam Chomsky on the air is the real cause for surprise.
In the meantime FoxNews continues to successfully buttress and afford respectability to de facto (center-right) ideas and attitudes (held in private) to a massive audience and the social network that that audience reaches.
NPR is insufferable for the affectations of its hosts and the pretensions of its content, but otherwise mostly harmless.
Edward Jay Epstein recounts a college experience:
Unfortunately, distracted by the gorges, lakes, movie houses, corridor dates, and other more local enchantments of Ithaca, I did not get around to reading any of Anna Karenina before Nabokov sprang a pop quiz. It consisted of an essay question: “Describe the train station in which Anna first met Vronsky.”
Initially, I was stymied by this question because, having not yet read the book, I did not know how Tolstoy had portrayed the station. But I did recall the station shown in the 1948 movie starring Vivien Leigh. Having something of an eidetic memory, I was able to visualize a vulnerable-looking Leigh in her black dress wandering through the station, and, to fill the exam book, I described in great detail everything shown in the movie, from a bearded vendor hawking tea in a potbellied copper samovar to two white doves practically nesting overhead. Only after the exam did I learn that many of the details I described from the movie were not in the book.
The episode has a happy ending, if not the writer’s longer relationship with Nabokov.
Apropos my previous post about Adria Richards and the general problems for women in tech, this is from Matt Shipman (SciLogs):
Among other findings, an Ohio State University study found that graduate students rated research abstracts as having greater “scientific quality” when they thought the abstracts were written by men.
Andrew Curry expands on the “hygeine hypothesis” in the Smithsonian magazine:
Petrozavodsk, only about 175 miles from the Finland border, may be the perfect place to investigate the question: The rate of childhood Type 1 diabetes in Russian Karelia is one-sixth that of Finland. That stark difference intrigues Knip and others because the two populations for the most part are genetically similar, even sharing risk factors for Type 1 diabetes. They also live in the same subarctic environment of pine forests and pristine lakes, dark, bitter winters and long summer days. Still, the 500-mile boundary between Finland and this Russian republic marks one of the steepest standard-of-living gradients in the world: Finns are seven times richer than their neighbors across the border. “The difference is even greater than between Mexico and the U.S.,” Knip tells me.
The PyCon Affair: who caused what?
For background: Adria Richards was a tech evangelist at SendGrid who was at PyCon this past week, found a couple of men seated behind her making tasteless “dongle” jokes, and tweeted about it with a photograph of them, pointing out that such jokes have no place in a technical conference. The employer of the two men, PlayHaven, fired one of them, and in retaliation the Internet DDoS’ed SendGrid, Adria’s employer, until the CEO of this great venture crawled out from under some rock and heroically fired her, claiming that just at the moment he was facing a DDoS attack it miraculously came to him that her action was counter to his company’s interests and her role within.
If you need an analysis of the affair, I suggest reading Melissa McEwan on Shakesville:
If you filter through all the rape, murder, “feminazi”, and other muck responses to Adria on Twitter and elsewhere, a few passable arguments remain, and I feel it is worth recording the obvious error in at least one of them: the idea that Richards “got the man fired”.
This is expressed in multiple ways: Adria’s tweet “led” to the firing of the PlayHaven developer. She “got the man fired”. Etc. None of this is defensible.
The man (who, by the way, has written a better response on the matter than any of his professed supporters) made some of the alleged jokes by his own admission. Either these jokes are cause for dismissal, in which case PlayHaven made the right decision (and Adria is no more to blame than a bystander who photographs a crime in progress). Or the jokes are not cause for dismissal (the common sense view) and PlayHaven made the wrong decision.
Notice what is constant in both cases: PlayHaven. The only entity that caused (and could cause) the termination of the developer’s job.
Also keep in mind that PlayHaven, unlike the weak-kneed SendGrid, was not even under a denial of service attack when they took this action. In other words, they were not even compelled or coerced by a mob into performing this action.
And yet, such is the acceptance of corporate power and independence from social norms that self-appointed experts materialised all over the Interwebs to explain to us what “at will” employment means, even as the personal attacks on Richards escalated.
One of the most popular analyses of the affair led with the line that “we all lost” as a result of this series of events. It’s unclear what the various ways are in which everyone lost something (those involved in the DDoS attack seem to have gained their chosen result), but it is concrete and true that two people lost their jobs. And the blame for that lies fair and square with the two employers, PlayHaven and SendGrid. Yet, they are the parties, in the discussion today, who are the least held to task.
Scientific surprise! Poorly defined quality turns out not to match poorly defined quantity:
Looking at all eight children together, the researchers found some striking patterns. The first thing they noticed is the wide spread of IQ scores- ranging from 108 to 147. Consistent with the work of Feldman and Morelock, it appears that a high IQ is not necessary to be a prodigy. More telling, however, were the subtest scores. All of the prodigies showed uneven cognitive profiles. In fact, one prodigy obtained a total IQ score of 108 and a visual spatial IQ score of 71, which is worse than 97 percent of the general population.