Saturday assorted links


1. A continuation of the earlier post on novel ideas vs. immediate use. It's not expressly stated, but the generalist and the specialist present the same choice. This is a very interesting series of posts. I am not a scientist, I am a lawyer, and the relative merits of the generalist vs. the specialist in my profession has long been a debate among lawyers. While I have an advanced (specialist) law degree, I side with the generalist.

The article appears to examine the issue only in the context of research scientists. It is impossible to tell if it applies more broadly.

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#6 Click bait for Thiago.

It is sad how the foreign press seized an inocous incidente to bash Brasil and slander Brazilians while it praises Red China, Índia, Japan and North Korea. It is as if hating the West and murdering young Westerners were the secret to good publicity. American support to Hussein is also thrown at the memory hole.

#6 reminds me of the 'absent minded' but loveable super GM Vassily Ivanchuk, who won a tournament in Brazil, was awarded the prize money, a sizeable sum as I recall, had it stolen by armed robbery when he was leaving the playing hall, and when asked what his thoughts were, said he really enjoyed the tournament because he played well! LOL. He's not an idiot savant or autistic like GM David Navara is, but he's more of a space cadet obsessed with chess. Well maybe he's borderline autistic.

Bonus trivia: compare the 'human calculator' George Parker Bidder (1806-1878), ranked #2, to the #1 human calculator Jacques Inaudi. The former ended up becoming an accomplished engineer who used his phenomenal math skills to astonish people when giving expert testimony, while that latter was more or less a circus freak. Kind of like but different than the #1 thread, specialists vs generalists.

Exactly. He misplaced his briefcase. How is Brazil responsible for that? And how is America getting away?

Your definition of a misplaced briefcase is certainly amusing. Next you would say that the 12% unemployment in Brazil is basically a way to spur innovation.

It is a market correction, very common in capitalist countries. Also, Brazil is very innovative and productive, so we do more with fewer people. People leave the fields, where the Agriculture is very efficiente, and go to big cities, where the industry does not need them either. Brazil has, however, the biggest social programs in the world, so I am not concerned. It is not like America, where the poor are left to starve.

Which is it braZil or braSil. You use them both.

The former isEnglish, the latter is Portuguese.

Which explains why Thiago uses them both, because he isn't Brazilian.

Yes, I am Brazilian, but I am writing for an American illiterate public.

Sadly Brazil is also the country where the original World Cup trophy was stolen.

That was many decades ago.

A nation still grieves.

5. Rather than another study on whether we are "winning" the War on Cancer (this study suggests sort of), I'd like to see a study on whether cancer is a net plus or a net minus to economic output: on the one hand, cancer removes productive participants in the economy, but on the other hand, the cancer "industry" (prevention, detection, treatment, etc.) contributes an enormous amount to GDP. Complicating this is the opportunity cost of the cancer "industry".

Yes, the opportunity cost. If not cancer, though, would we devote comparable resources to another broken window? Again, this post by Cowen is in line with his other posts today on research etc. for short term benefits or research with little or no consideration of the short term benefits. It's an interesting line of inquiry and, as indicated in my prior allusion, relates to Cowen's concern with complacency.

Good point. We have shifted our resources from fighting the plague and polio to fightinf cancer and other more difficult challenges, and humanity is no better off.

I am glad that Professor Cowen allows us to have high-quality discussions with seasoned economic thinkers.

#5: Did he mention progress on childhood cancers? That's gone well, I am told. The war on cigarettes has also gone well. Otherwise progress has been feeble.

A question: the enormous decline in deaths of middle-aged men by heart attacks might mean that on average a different sort of man is now surviving to the ages where vulnerability to cancer is much greater. How could one allow for this in a statistical analysis? Many fewer women used to die of heart attacks in middle age: could they provide some sort of control group?

In these circumstances I always recall some words of my friend The Retired Epidemiologist. Doctors are very reliable at diagnosing death. After that they are much less reliable. Cause of death? Iffy. Cause of cause of death? Poor.

P.S. When did the War on Comments take a backward step?

6. More Disorder and Regression Below the Mean. Brazil is one big favela competing with Venezuela to be the worst sh*thole of S. America.

It is a lie! Brazil has welcome thousands of Venezuelans, who are being housed, fed and healed at Brazil's expense. Brasil is the most stable country in South America.

And how does it feel to win an ugly baby contest?

It is not an ugly baby contest. Brazil is one of the biggest economies in History, is bigger than the Roman Empire at its height, it has many contributions to his credit.

"Congratulations, O Brazilians,
Already, with virile garb
From the Universe among Nations
Shines brightly that of Brazil.
From the Universe among Nations
From the Universe among Nations
Shines brightly that of Brazil."

1: So if you work with computers be a specialist - got it.

Polynesians and space colonies: David feckling is not saying anything that Freeman Dyson did not say in the September 1979 issue of L-5 Society magazine. Dyson also was not convinced that there was any economic activity in space that could be done that would generate a return on investment (to the Earth) that could pay for such an enterprise. Thus, he argued (which I agreed with at the time and today) that space colonization will not take off until the cost of doing it drops low enough that it can be self-financed by those doing it. This requires not only lower launch costs (which SpaceX seems to doing a good job on) but developments in everything from materials processing 3-D printing, automation and robotics, and what not such that the cost of fabricating the actual colonies themselves become cheap enough that those doing it can pay for it themselves. We're a good 30-50 years away from this being the case.

Space colonization will be a late 21st century endeavour.

You beat me to it. I don't think we'll see space colonization take off until we've got robotic so capable that they can essentially do all the work necessary to set up and maintain the colony in space for us (either remotely controlled by humans on Earth, or using AI with a mission). That's one big advantage we have over the Polynesian colonists, who had to be physically present in order to set up colonies.

Of course, you could argue that such robotics are so good that there never will be an economic reason to have humans in space, other than "I want to live there and can pay for it" (early colonists), "there are people there already" (later colonists), or population growth (which is going to be a very long term prospect depending on whether human population growth rates keep falling).

If that nickel deposit had been on a coast with the possibility of a simple harbor it might have been developed. Once you get up the gravity well transport cost of non time sensitive material is going to be incredibly cheap going back down, and exploration is much easier. Also there are a lot of metals up there more valuable than nickel.

Also being higher up in a gravity well gives immense military advantage, so being able to climb out will remain a priority.

It's true that remote robotic mining costs would have to drop enormously. Same with launch costs. Probably developing a self-replicating mining robot would help, launch one of those and let it reproduce for awhile before sending anything back home.

The problem still is that the cost of setting that up on Earth is likely to still be lower than existing Earth-bound mining operations. Although we already have to dig much more deeply and innovatively than would be necessary on an asteroid it still costs less.

Statistics regard cancer survival rates are based on 5 year survival. I this a flawed criterion. If a cancer is truly cured, then the person's life expectancy should not be significantly different than the mean life expectancy for such people. If the person's cancer comes back, or gets another cancer, even after the 5 year time period, then that cancer was never really cured and, thus, cannot be considered a success.

It is this kind of flawed statistical analysis that makes me skeptical about much of the health care industry.

Five years is at least a beginning of quantification. Compare with the heart people, who simply boast that they save lives.

Transplant success data older than ten years is not systematically collected in the US, and entirely ignored by UNOS, they really don’t want to know.

Other metrics such as mortality are also looked at

Chemotherapy isn't good for your life expectancy, aside from the "fixing cancer" part

The health care industry is focused on cures after the disease has occurred. Given that the standard American diet (SAD) is easily the most unhealthy on the planet, the health care industry is much like a tired doctor mopping up a floor, but forgetting to turn off the faucet. I think most people in that industry are hard-working and well-meaning, but their paychecks keep them incentivized to keep mopping the floor. There's no one paid to turn off the faucet. Turning off the faucet is left to those willing to change their lifestyle from eating the SAD to mostly whole plant foods. But don't ask most of your doctors because they are not trained or incentivized to suggest that change for you.

"Given that the standard American diet (SAD) is easily the most unhealthy on the planet,. .."

Except for Australia, Canada, Britain, Russia, central and Eatern Europe.

"... space colonization will not take off until the cost of doing it drops low enough that it can be self-financed by those doing it."

Sure about that? Happy with that conclusion? It strikes me, when space colonization becomes simple enough and cheap enough that average Americans (or average American corporations) can think about moving from Earth to the Moon or Mars, it'll also be simple enough and cheap enough for average Danes and average Chinese and average Indians and average Argentinians and average Nigerians and so on. Maybe you've got some fantasy image in your head of rockets from Harriman Industries ferrying half a dozen settlers from Cape Kennedy to a crystal-domed "Luna City" with a couple hundred residents. But when that happens there'll already be a thousand people in Mao Zedung City and another thousand in New Nehru Land or whatever.

Americans are less than 5% of the world's population. They aren't going to be a bigger fraction in the Solar System of 2070 or so, by your reasoning. They aren't going to make the rules. They aren't going to decide which parts of Mars get water and which don't. They aren't going to decide who mines which clouds of Venus, or who gets picked for the crews of the first interstellar vessels. They aren't going to furnish the cops if fractious Danes start decompressing Polish mining settlements on Mercury.

And you'll be so happy. Because nothing matters in outer space but pure economics. Right.

"there'll already be a thousand people in Mao Zedung City and another thousand in New Nehru Land or whatever."
I would rather them all than allow that to pass.


I never said anything about the origin country of the self-financing space colonist. I only said that if space colonization is to happen, that it will have to self-financed. They could be from anywhere on Earth as far as I know.

According to the following article, the most common cancers only have about a 1% success rate from the use of chemo. When you consider the amount of money spent to get us there, it seems crazy we don't focus on prevention. But...there's no money in prevention, so I wouldn't count on our medical profession to suggest that as a focus. Instead, changing your lifestyle to focus on a more whole plant-based diet seems like a no-brainer if you're worried about cancer:

Does the entire vegan population of India experience no cancers?

Actually Vegans in India are not a very high percentage , but vegetarians area significant percentage. i don't have any studies to quote but its possible that they do have a lower cancer rate than the non-vegetarian population of the West.

Anonymous is correct. Many people in India consume large quantities of milk products, so heart disease a cancer are common. Cancer, heart disease and many other chronic diseases are promoted by any animal product. The populations that suffer the least cancer, though, are those which consume no or small amounts of animal products. The "Blue Zones" by Dan Buettner, which documents the longest-lived populations, is an interesting read on that relationship. Also, "The China Study", by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas Campbell documents the relationship between cancer and animal products in China back in the '80s before they made the mistake of adopting a more Western diet. Many vegans, by the way, don't eat particularly healthy diets. Though vegans as a group have significantly less cancer than the general population, they often eat large quantities of highly processed food (sugar, refined grains, oil, etc.) that can create its own issues with chronic disease. It's the whole food plant-based lifestyle, with minimal or no meat or refined food, that is healthiest. In fact, Drs. Ornish and Essestyn have proven it has the ability to reverse chronic disease (cancer and heart disease, respectively) if followed carefully.

" It's the whole food plant-based lifestyle, with minimal or no meat or refined food, that is healthiest." - Mhm, you keep believing that.

"In fact, Drs. Ornish and Essestyn have proven it has the ability to reverse chronic disease (cancer and heart disease, respectively) if followed carefully." - Reverse cancer? Wow, just wow. You are one short step away from the faith-healing crowd. Also, "proven" does not mean what you think it means.


You cannot ship 25,000 kg anywhere on earth from anywhere else for $2,000. You can ship 20,185kg (max weight for 40' container) from Taiwan to Oakland port for $1900 at this point in time.

This does not include inland trucking to or from the port. Its a 2 week voyage.

I bet a 40' container shipped from Fiji to Rapa Nui would run $10,000 or more.

His point still stands, but its interesting to see how off "experts" can be when its not their field.

6. That also reminds me of the first world cup trophy. There has been two world cup trophies, the first one was permanently given to Brazil Football Association after their glorious campaign of 1970, widely regarded as the greatest international football side of all time. So they had to make another trophy for the world cups that happened after the 1970 one. One interesting thing is that the original world cup trophy has been missing since 1983 as it was stolen from the Brazilian Football Confederation headquarters in Rio de Janeiro.

Any news on the parade of "patriot prayer" aka Putin lovers in Portland? Saw a few burning Nazi flags on social media.

> generalists’ advantage due to access to a wider set of knowledge components, others have underlined the benefits that specialists can derive from their deep expertise

The two characteristics can be proxied by ability to utilize (existing) knowledge and the ability to (new) knowledge acquisition. In the OECD PISA Creative Problem Survey CPS, various countries were survey for the 15 yo on their ability in these two respects and the results might be reflections of the countries' ability in these aspects.

There is tight relationship between the two characteristics, those above the regression line are generally more generalistic than specialistic and vice versa. If that is true then most western countries are more generalistic than specialistic whereas the East Asian countries are more specialistic, in complete contradiction on the commonly held narrative. What is more staggering is the gap between the top specialistic countries with the rest.

The survey was under the supervision of OECD, with (I think) a Belgium organization carrying out the survey.

The 15 yo were supposed to solve a series of novel, fuzzy and ill-defined problems and hints for solving them were given if they instinctly knew what new knowledge was needed and searched for them. Not something you gain from rote learning and memorization.

#4 The author relied on past events that cannot be extrapolated to current condition.

1. The example of Tikopia with small population and tough subsistence level is contrary to current over-population in Africa with poor economic productivity.

2. The non-exploitation of mines remote from Perth is more because it is in a country with medium size millitary. The mineral rich astroloids are not inhabited with no ownership and free for anyone able to exploit them. By the author's logic the South China Sea atolls would not have been occupied.

It's not true, there is less theft in Brazil than in the so-called United States. People with money gladly, willing, smilingly give it to people without. I have seen this numerous times with my own eyes. I have even contributed some spare change of my own. The proud little beggar threw it back in my face. That's the kind of country Brazil is. Amerika has much to learn from our loyal friend to the South.

Yep. I myself have given money to poor people.

Regarding the interesting link between the Fields medal winners and economics and the link to optimal transport, I note that while this is not at all widely known, especially among most economists, probably the area of economics where complex nonlinear dynamics first had serious application and in many ways much more deeply than in other parts of economics was in urban-regional-spatial-transportation economics. Much of this was applied to the Beckmann model, which is a central player in this optimal transport model that is major focus in this Fields medal stuff, but I think that even A Fine Theorem is unaware of these particular links, which are, well, complicated and deep.

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