Peter Thiel on medicine and longevity

Or is it that there’s something wrong with culture, with the funding?  Almost no grants go to younger scientists.  When it’s scientists under age 40 that make […] of the most big discoveries, 2% of NIH grants go to scientists under age 40.  That seems a little bit off.  You have a peer-review process where anything heterodox can’t get funded.  You have sort of a publish or perish dynamic where you have to do small, incremental things to publish lots of articles that don’t add up to anything ever…

And again, my sort of libertarian cut on what happened would be the history of was that we had a healthy, scientific world that was non-governmental.  It was decentralized.  It was idiosyncratic.  Different people were doing different kinds of things.  And in the 1930s, 1940s, it got centralized accelerated.  The Manhattan Project…there was actually a way you could accelerate science temporarily by adding tons of money and centralizing…

So the centralization worked.  But to use an ecological metaphor, it worked by creating a monoculture.  And we’re now two generations in to where that monoculture has been just catastrophic.

That is from this taped dialogue between Peter and Bill Hurlbut, previously linked on MR.


No one is forcing pharmaceutical companies to wait for our publicly-funded university system to get money from publicly-funded grants to create innovations.

PS. Not a word about patents?

McMike! We are in violent agreement. If you support me on patents, I'll support you on NIMBY in NYC, lol.

References;–Dole_Act ("Following the passage of the act, the number of patents granted to universities increased exponentially. Figure 1 shows the percentage of all domestic patents granted assigned to United States research universities. It is clear that since Bayh-Dole the number of research related patents has dramatically increased. There was an increase in the rate of patenting as far back as 1975 as indicated in Figure 1, but it is clear that there was a turning point in 1980. There are arguments that the Bayh-Dole Act did not begin, but merely helped along a period of change in the number of university patents ([3] 15). Regardless, it is clear that after the act was passed into law, universities gained a much larger share of total patents granted. ") (March 2019 publication: "Hailed as “possibly the most inspired piece of legislation to be enacted in America over the past half-century,” the Bayh-Dole Act plays a critical role in spurring commercialization of basic life-sciences research from U.S. universities into life-saving medicines. Yet, in an attempt to control drug prices, some have called for the federal government to inappropriately exercise controversial provisions in the law that allow it to “march in” and grant licenses for patents that resulted from publicly funded R&D")

Sorry, the patent landscape has changed to allow almost any obvious concept to be patented. The old concept of "obvious to a practitioner of the Art" where real experts were considered the practitioners of the Art, we now have some bureaucrat as the standard.

Something that falls out of the laws of thermodynamics and is a direct adaptation of the same concept in a highly related field (power generation) can now be patented and protected.

Patents have become just legal tools and don't measure innovation.

Its called rent seeking.

Only by preventing capital formation can capital prices be inflated to many times the labor cost of building capital.

The ONLY way to build capital is by paying workers to build it.

Land is scarce. Useful land far far far scarcer.

Land that is useful to both workers and consumers requires significant capital investment which requires government to somehow get workers paid to build.

Perhaps free markets can build capital to make land useful to capitalists, but I know of no examples in history.

When have entrepreneurs build capital to unlock the potential of land to capitalists?

Where have entrepreneurs built the highways, hupigh speed transport, the water and sewer, the schools, and all the other things to make, for instance, old West Virginia or Ohio abandoned coal mines highly desirable to Trump, Toll Brothers, and others building real estate to sell at high profit to rich people working in finance and tech?

Why no tech built to make abandoned coal fields as highly desired as the land Robert Moses did to land in Manhattan wastelands by use of authoritarian application of his acquired political power?

The land around Central Park is valuable because of public capital Robert Moses got built, at substantial cost of paying workers, not because of "free markets".

Treatment for diabetes is largely public capital built by authoritarians who gained political power to get workers paid to experiment on small scale, and then large scale, until by the 80s, industry was supplying animal pancreas in huge volumes at labor costs to be processed at labor cost on such a large scale that the extraction purity of insulin reached extremely high level, and then the insulin was sold at labor costs. Political power ensured most people in need got insulin even if they had no income to pay for it.

It was political power that created the "moral philosophy" of not profiting from the people who suffered from diabetes.

Note, profit here is scarcity profit, not business profit. Eli Lilly was an authoritarian once the research authoritarians put patents into the an authoritarian public domain, the patents were used to distate the no profit business model, and Lilly built the largest scale production in the US capping prices for high quality insulin.

Then Lilly invested the most to perfect non farm animal derived insulin.

I remember when Lilly was considered to have wasted billions of dollars to build capital that produced insulin at labor costs substantially in excess of market price with virtually no benefit.

However the political power shifted moral philosophy to view the people with diabetes and maby other conditions as the means to extract high rents.

In fact, economists, rejecting Adam Smith's moral philosophy, argued for restricting capital so sick people become subject to rents equal to one dollar less than the medical cost of withholding the $1 cost treatment. If withholding the $1 cost treatment results in $5000 in hospital costs, then the $1 cost drug should be priced at $4999.

Milton Friedman's moral philosophy has replaced that of Adam Smith's, which was basically a systematic analysis of morality evolved over time, codified largely by religion, but also common law.

Milton Friedman argued that the public welfare was not the priority for business, contrary to Adam Smith's view, but mereky profit froom maximizing rents, monopoly pricing.

Adam Smith argued greed existed, but the public would not allow it to act against public interest in rent extraction, monopoly profit, scarcity profit.

Friedman argued government should protect the rent seekers and monopolists because its their duty to shareholders to create scarcity, and thus high profits.

Blocking increassed funding to researchers is required to preserve rent seeking.

Blocking the Robert Moses and Eisenhower hiking taxes to build capital enabling lots more land be accessed by workers is a high priority. Look at the wealth destroyed by highways that allowed people to flee big lot size, well served, Detroit housing! Similar wealth destruction occurred in all the cities due to government construction of highways to farm land, plus water and sewer, and schools, especially schools, for those building houses on former farm land.

Even prevailing definitions of "diversity" and "multiculturalism" hew to the epistemic standards of "monoculturalism": Holy Science MUST be privileged above all.

--and our prevailing monocultural standards? Courtesy of the cosmopolitan provincials and cultural hegemons of our DC-to-Boston Corridor and the tech tyrants of our Left Coast.

I suspect that very few in medical research would agree with Thiel that it has been "catastrophic". However, he is likely correct that "centralization" has promoted a culture of pursuing the most good for the most people, which may only incidentally help Thiel. One might question the amount of money invested in research to cure cancer or heart disease or diabetes since many cancers and heart ailments and cases of diabetes result from lifestyle. Should we invest in medical research that would help the exceptional, people like Thiel, or the ordinary, the millions who are diagnosed each year with cancer, heart disease, or diabetes? One might also question why we spend so much each year in an effort to educate the uneducable: wouldn't the money be better spent on the few, exceptional students? To Thiel these my not be difficult questions, but for society they are. Of course, "centralization" often produces answers to these questions that Thiel finds objectionable.

One might have noticed the contrast between this blog post and the preceding one: in this post, Cowen is citing Thiel for the benefits of disruption at the NIH and in medical research generally, while in the preceding post Cowen suggests the Fed needs a team player, a consensus builder, one who builds bridges rather than destroying them, not someone who will create disruption. An aside, I find the ad hominem personal attacks against Thiel both offensive and vacuous - please remove them.

>> please remove them.
No need. Thiel will just sue them in court like he's done before. For a "libertarian" he sure has a trigger finger for silencing free speech he doesn't like.

Thank you! Oh by the way we started a new site and we just put up a video of you boning your mistress. It's public interest because she was on season 8 of Big Brother UK.

"result from lifestyle"

Do you have the research to establish 99% agreement for a duration of 50 years the lifestyle that eliminates heart attacks, stroke, cancer, diabetes, etc with 98% certainty?

And what is this lifestyle exactly that ensures you will not suffer any health problems? Where is its rules written down?

Even if the cost is too high, I want to know what these lifestyle rules are to eliminate all medical risk costs. Not just for me, but for the kid born black in places like Chicago.

My guess is the first rule is "be born white to upper middle class educated liberals, or at least upper class educated blacks". Or maybe the first rule is "be born to striving Asian immigrants". Immigrants have the best health, their children suffer minimal loss of health, and Asians are at the top of the health ranking, while suffering the least risk from being immigrant or children of immigrant by being white enough.

Lifestyle is a choice only if fetuses chose their parents, eg genetics and nurture.

I feel like you've just defined choice out of existence, which isn't very helpful. Of course the choices one makes are ultimately contingent, but they are still choices, if that word is to have meaning at all...

Only the good die young.

I'm not sure I agree with "just catastrophic." Cancer survival rates are improving. Heart problems are better identified and treated. Sure, there's room for improvement.

Affecting worsened longevity stats, that plus the opioid crisis, alcohol abuse, suicides in general, massive child abuse, the obesity crisis, legalized weed, open borders, the jihad, and white nationalists. There. Somebody had to say it.

>Affecting worsened longevity stats... There. Somebody had to say it.

All true, but the problem is that they are not being overwhelmed by technical progress.

One challenge I'll sometimes ask my friends is to name a couple significant advance that have occurred in the last 25 years. It's surprisingly hard to come up with *any* The most common nomination is 'smart phones,' but even there ... the basic product form-factor crystallized in the late 90's, which implies the underlying tech advances are now about 25 years old. Yes, the screens are bigger, in color, etc. But that's just incremental innovation, imho.

Why does it matter? The optimistic views of history all assume exponential rate of technical advances. The pessimistic views all assume flat/decreasing rates.

It's usually easy to back a long way to find an underlying technology. For example, the first email was sent in 1971. Airbags were invented in the 1950s, mandated in 1998, but weren't in most cars until the mid 2000s.

* The cancer mortality rate has fallen from 210 in 100,000 in 1994 to 150 in 100,000 today, a 30 percent decline and half of that is better treatments and detection.

* The stroke mortality rate was 27 in 100,000 in 1994 and 11 in 100,000 today.

* The age-adjusted cardiovascular mortality rate was 300 out of 100,000 in 1994 and is 165 out of 100,000 today, a 45 percent decline.
is 196 out of 100,000 today.

* viagra

* very few used cell phones in 1994 and 80 percent of Americans have a smart phone today.

* broadband and wireless internet not available in 1994.

* machine translation

* the mighty Segway

I would first and foremost note the massive improvement in welfare since 1990 from stuff like Facebook, Netflix, online gaming and other forms of internet-based entertainment: I now buy stuff on Amazon that I would not even conceive without access to the information provided by the internet.

>online gaming and other forms of internet-based entertainment:

We were doing multiplayer online games in the late 80's e.g., Netrek. Probably ~decade earlier if you'll count things like MUDs.

Well, Peter, you got the bucks, so put your money where your mouth is.

After all, lucky meetings with an inventor at Stanford, and the ability to raise bucks from your relatives and friends, is all you need to be successful.

See what a philosophy degree can get you with the right connections.

Being a speech writer for William Bennet doesn't hurt either.

Yes, good point Bill. You or I could have easily founded PayPal, too, if only we'd been in the right place at the right time.

That's the way he has described it in his own words, as I recall.

By the way, he didn't invent anything; he listened to a computer science graduate students idea for a product and got funding from rich people.

That makes him an inventor or scientist, in your mind, not mine.

It sounds like all his money is completely ill-begotten then. Let's steal it, Bill. You and me.

'It sounds like all his money is completely ill-begotten then. '

In your mind, not mine. Someone with a winning lottery ticket was in the right place at the right time, but that does not give you - or anyone else for that matter - the right to steal their winnings.

Did you not read Bill's great comment? Thiel is obviously a grifter, what with his having raised money from friends and family and used it to create a successful company.

Not what he's saying!

Hes saying, and I agree, Thiel is a whiner, angry hes not in control of how other people's money is spent, while being opposed to the taxes that have been limited and thus cutting the NIH funding per capita, with reseacher numbers growing with population while other people's money hasn't.

The reason the other people's money has not increased is that Theil is supposed to keep the money he gets to spend it more wisely than government.

But tis was the policy ever since the "crushing income taxes and death taxes" were invented. All those foundations were created to dodge the crushing taxes, because funding private public works escape taxes.

Every time I see HHMI flash by as a sponsor, I see how dodging taxes plus Theil's longevity quest resulted in Howard Hughes putting all his assets in a charitable foundation with the purpose of keeping him alive forever.

'Did you not read Bill's great comment? '

Yes, and Thiel has apparently said he was at the right place at the right time.

'Thiel is obviously a grifter'

Only in your mind, apparently. Many of us think, as Thiel apparently does, that fortune favored his endeavours, most certainly including raising money from friends and family and using it to create a successful company. Why would such a normal thing be considered 'grifting,' except in your imagination?

Fortune favors anyone who wins a lottery - winning a lottery is not grifting either.

clockwork, mulp & bill are jealous guys.

So what? The comment from Bill seems factual, and based on what Thiel himself has said. You are welcome to actually demonstrate that presented information concerning the founding of/Thiel's role in Confinity/Paypal is incorrect, of course.

Why are we taking seriously what a guy who licks men's asses and sticks his tongue up their assholes has to say? About matters of health, no less. If you saw a guy eating paint chips, you would steer clear of him and you certainly wouldn't pay attention to anything he had to say about health. So why are we paying attention to the guy who literally eats shit?

It's bizarre. Here we have a guy who can't adhere to the most basic of instincts to preserve and promote health, pontificating on health issues. And we're all supposed to take him seriously. We're beyond the stage of the emperor having no clothes. The emperor has no diapers.

Here's as good of a heuristic as you're ever going to get: Don't listen to the guy who eats paint chips. Also don't listen to the guy who eats shit.

Just as bacteria that causes gingivitis is believed to be implicated in Alzheimer's and dementia, the myriad bacteria in fecal matter that's ingested likely crosses the blood-brain barrier and affects cognitive functioning in a negative way.

Because he's richer than you and your descendants will ever be, until the end of time.

So he's basically a rich dung beetle.

Imagine how you would feel if this were the most you could contribute to a conversation about a serious topic.

I got a good laugh. That's worth something. Thiel gets boring and predictable when he spins yet another rehash of "flying cars but we got 140 characters". It's 2019, he's not that fresh or insightful when he makes yet another Girardean reference to be edgy.

You sure know a lot about supposed homosexual sexual behaviors, don't you, Bob? (Of course, you also completely ignore that heterosexual couples also engage in anal sex.)

For a million dollars I will share how to inoculate a whole country against AIDS with a combination of fresh fruits and not-doing-needles-or-having-anal-sex.

It's clearly destroying him. Pretty soon he will look as bad as Tom Ford.

I would also conjecture that the shift from an European-led world order to an American-led world order has something to do with the decline of radical research. Before 1940 there were many great powers and inside each of these great powers there were different academic cultures which allowed for different kinds of traditions to emerge and survive.

Now everything has been centralized into a US-led academic monoculture: for example, economics has a clear global pecking order with Harvard and MIT at the top. That implies that in this monoculture research that attempts at radical innovation is harder to survive and instead research is mostly done on incremental fashion on top of the existing orthodox theory. I think this is the main reason why empirical research has assumed such level of predominance in modern economics.

That's a great point. Consider all the great scientists who left Europe for the USA before and after WWII. Manhattan project? Rockets? Physics? Yes, and economics too.

I listened again to the medical part, and Theil isn't at all aware of what has been occurring just as he has incredibly claimed there has been no progress in energy over the past 40 years.

At around 1:29:00, Theil repeats that we were promised (by a politician) to have cancer cured by 1976, yet he doesn't say a word about the American and Japanese cancer researchers who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology or the optimistic statements the American, Jim Allison, has said about immunotherapy likely working on solid tumors as well expanding the number who can benefit if they have a blood cancer in the 2020s. Theil doesn't read the NY Times or listen to NPR?

Another example is stem cell research. His own alma matter, Stanford, published the results of a groundbreaking stem cell trial in 2016 where a small group of stroke victims could move their limbs much better and in one woman notably improved her speech. A larger similar trial with over a hundred stroke patients will begin at Stanford this year.

Hurlbut, who is a doctor, not a scientist, claims scientists promised stem cell cures for 140 million people 15 years ago. I remember 2004 and from what I recall, journalists were the ones who were promising cures by 2014.

Neither Theil nor Hurlbut said a word about the stem cell breakthroughs that have occurred at the U of Washington where stem cells have restored monkey's weakened hearts after a heart attack by over 90 percent and human trials will begin next year. If a million people have watched lead researcher Chuck Murry explain this on a TED talk, why doesn't Theil, who is supposedly an expert on bio research, know this? Murry thinks the trial will be successful and that eventually a million heart failure patients will be treated a year by this technique.

Theil also said nothing about inexpensive NAD+ boosters (NR/NMN) that in a recent trial slightly reversed symptoms in a small ALS trial, whereas the most advanced drug that costs $170,000 a year only slows the worsening by 30%. (Thirty more NR human trials are being conducted with at least six results expected to be published within a year.)

There are the NAD+ boosters and the AMPK activators. There are a myriad number of other compounds (some of which I am using) that have life extension effect. The real developments will be effective methods of mtDNA repair or replacement and invivo cellular reporgramming. Both of these are being developed by various university and private research groups. Cellular reprogramming (invivo) is a VERY BIG deal. The best way to do stem cell regeneration is to eliminate the need for (externally applied) stem cells, and invivo cellular reprogramming is the way to do this. Not only will this eliminate aging, but will allow for regeneration of lost body parts and tissues. Because no externally applied stem cells of any kind are used in this, there are absolutely zero ethical problems with the development of this technology.

Peter Thiel does have a valid point about the lack of technological innovation outside of semiconductors/computer technology. Fortunately, this situation is slowly improving. There are a number of both fusion as well as advanced fission (MSR, etc.) nuclear power start-ups and the bio-engineering thing is finally starting to take off (like semiconductors in the 1970's).

>lack of technological innovation outside of semiconductors/computer technology.

It's been pretty grim lately there, too. 20-30 years ago, there was a steady stream of "this changes everything" breakthroughs. Now, we're lucky to find something that makes the system run 2% faster under some conditions.

Admittedly, there are a lot incremental improvements, and they add up. But it's nothing like the old, Nobel-worthy work.

"Peter Thiel does have a valid point about the lack of technological innovation outside of semiconductors/computer technology. "

Not in energy he doesn't. It isn't just advances in nuclear fission and fusion but in solar, wind, coal oil discovery and production, etc. What about libraries? They haven't undergone technological improvement since 1973?

"advances in nuclear fission and fusion"

I laughed.

Todd, this is why people ignore boosters such as you. Everything you mention shares the fact that none of it is proven to be useful to humans. Once actual advances are made, then we can speak of progress. Curing cancer and Alzheimer’s in monkey and rat brains happens once a week in some lab around the world.

Prof. Philip Johnson of Boalt Hall (who was consulted by Peter Duesberg at one point) made this point about 15 years ago.

Ideally, federal agencies would undertake research with their own staff and facilities as a means of advancing the institutional mission of the agency. If they thought it apposite to employ university-based savants, they could offer term-limited fellowships which would include an indemnity to the professor's institution for the loss of his labor. Beyond that, federal support for research would be limited to statistical collection and crown jewels like the Smithsonian. In the interim, you might maintain federal agencies who undertake research for public dissemination, but do so with their own staff or through contracting. Grant distribution (i.e. the patronage mill) would be nil.

Tell the people jonesing for federal grants to contact their state legislature or contact private foundations.

Both the Manhattan project and the space program solved the problem by creating new organizations of young very smart people allowing several multi-billion dollar parallel approaches. Remember, the two first atomic bombs were completely different in design, fuel and how they worked with completely different technology to make the materials.

After the war, most of the young scientists left and the organization became more bureaucratic and less efficient. NASA after going to the moon, had their budget cut in half and with those young very bright people leaving bureaucratic thinkers who learned the institutional lesson and never did anything on time or budget since the moon landing.

The Louis Pasteur Institute in France must be like a haunted house to Peter Thiel: centralized and government funded =)

I still remember when HIV/AIDS occupied lots of headlines. On 2008 the scientists that discovered it won a Nobel prize. It would be more interesting to know the opinions of actual researchers instead of Mr. Thiel.


It sure seems to me that basic biology has massively advanced over the last couple decades. Progress in medicine is slower, for good and bad reasons. (Bad: lots of bureaucracy between the lab and the clinic slows things down. Good: lots of bureaucracy between the lab and the clinic removes ineffective/dangerous treatments before they get to patients.)

But it would be interesting to see a discussion by people involved in drug development.

"....You have a peer-review process where anything heterodox can’t get funded. "

A close friend who wound up tenured at a state university in the biology department shared this:

"Declining sperm counts correlate with the introduction of hormones into livestock feed. Now we have the rise of transgender-ism, which is primarily a male-to-female phenomena." I'm not saying this is because we've poisoned the food chain, but I do believe there's enough there for some serious research to take place. But who would underwrite such research? In this political climate the answer is no traditional funder. Furthermore, I doubt the IRB would approve such a clinical study, using convoluted bureaucratic language

And you can be sure no non-tenured researcher would damage their career by stepping on that third rail.

Really? Federal money flowed toward studying hormonal effects of bisphenol-A. Why this and not that?

In the US at least there's been a huge increase in FtM transgenderism.

Was the Thiel Fellowship program a few years back a success or a catastrophe? Its hard to find information about it but I imagine if it was a success we'd hear more about it. That to me is the ultimate test of whether his words carry any weight. Also he sounds remarkably ignorant about advances in the life sciences. Maybe his role in society is to be the stern, strict father of tech whose expectations can never be met. If you can shame some percentage of the population into innovation, I suppose someone must play the curmudgeon.

Is biology just not a hard problem? Biology is some ways is orders of magnitude more complicated than most physics due to the very layered and interactive structure. So we could be making great progress in understanding but have little practical results that can be used.

Another thing on innovation - where would things like say gene analysis for understanding your ancestry and the flows of ancient people's show up in Thiel's view on technological progress? I consider that recent times there has been a huge increase in our understanding on this topic. Or does Thiel only consider flying cars and nothing else as progress?

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