Month: July 2021
6. Carl Shapiro quits the FTC case against Facebook: “…he has criticized new FTC Chair Lina Khan’s aggressive approach to antitrust enforcement, and she in turn has faulted the agency’s traditional reliance on economists’ analyses in its fights against alleged monopolists.”
That is the new forthcoming Ross Douthat book, focusing on his struggles with Lyme disease. It is very much a memoir, starting with talk of Connecticut, deer, and his family’s dream house, all leading to an unfortunate bite from a tick. Visits to many doctors ensue, motivated by chronic pain and weakness.
Overall this is a book about the medical establishment, the psychological path of coming to terms with one’s own illness (a kind of Krankheitsbildungsroman), how bureaucracy shapes science, and a plea that a lot of people really are chronically sick rather than psychosomatic or malingerers. It is Ross’s best-written book, and it has echoes of Susan Sontag and also Robert Burton.
If I understand Ross correctly, he is pro-antibiotic use under these circumstances, at least for his individual case. I do not myself have any opinion about the various medical views expressed in this work. Even prior to reading this book, my intuition was to believe that chronic Lyme disease is very much real, but that is not based upon aggregating a great deal of information. In any case, Covid and the response of the public health establishment have made the relevance of this book much clearer. The discussion here doesn’t give you much reason to trust them more.
I believe we are entering a new era where public intellectuals have an increasing degree of “medical sway.”
This is also a tale, under the surface, of how “the privileged” interact with the medical establishment in a fundamentally different way (I don’t mean that as snark or whining).
How should you react if electromagnetic stimulation appears to improve your symptoms?
NB: I don’t like walking in the woods.
I will be doing a Conversation with her, so what should I ask?
Here is part of her Wikipedia page, which perhaps ought to have emphasized economic history more?:
Claudia Goldin…is the Henry Lee Professor of Economics at Harvard University and director of the Development of the American Economy program at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Goldin was the president of the American Economic Association in the 2013–14 academic year. In 1990, she became the first woman to be tenured at the Harvard economics department. Her research includes topics such as female labor force, income inequality, education, and the economic gender gap.
Here are her pieces on scholar.google.com. And I will take this chance to plug her new, forthcoming book Career and Family: Women’s Century-Long Journey Toward Equity.
That is the new Amartya Sen autobiography, and it is well…a biography. You learn that he loves Sichuan duck and “hilsha fish” (if done properly with the mustard), his thoughts of enduring military service, Sen’s study of Sanskrit, his self-description as a hypochondriac, his bout with mouth cancer at a young age, and that Calcutta (!) is a great walking city, at least when Sen lived there in the 1950s, among other matters. The readers definitely gets his or her “biography money’s worth.”
But should you care?
The name “Tagore” appears so many times in the text that it takes up 3/4 of a page in the index. This is very much a Bengali memoir.
I learned that Sen’s family lived for a few years with him in Burma, he is sympathetic to Buddhism, he was ten at the time of the Great Famine and it had a major impact on his thinking, and that Sen was greatly influenced by Maurice Dobb and thought Marx was unjustly excluded from the economics curriculum. Piero Sraffa was his Director of Studies at Cambridge, and introduced Sen to the wonders of ristretto. Sen also stresses the import of Sraffa for converting the early Wittgenstein into the later Wittgenstein. He has great praise for P.T. Bauer, both as a thinker and as an instructor. He describes Buchanan as a “…very agreeable but rather conservative economist” who got him thinking about whether the notion of collective preference made sense at all.
This doesn’t have enough coherence to be a great book, but there is enough in here of interest to satisfy anyone curious about Sen.
The U.S. agency leading the fight against Covid-19 gave up a crucial surveillance tool tracking the effectiveness of vaccines just as a troublesome new variant of the virus was emerging.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stopped comprehensively tracking what are known as vaccine breakthrough cases in May, the consequences of that choice are only now beginning to show.
Here is more from Bloomberg, tragic and stupid throughout.
Australia has deployed hundreds of soldiers to Sydney to help enforce a Covid lockdown.
A Delta outbreak which began in June has produced nearly 3,000 infections and led to nine deaths.
Australian Defence Force soldiers will undergo training on the weekend before beginning unarmed patrols on Monday.
But many have questioned whether the military intervention is necessary, calling it heavy-handed.
The lockdown – in place until at least 28 August – bars people from leaving their home except for essential exercise, shopping, caregiving and other reasons.
Despite five weeks of lockdown, infections in the nation’s largest city continue to spread. Officials recorded 170 new cases on Friday.
Soldiers will join police in virus hotspots to ensure people are following the rules, which include a 10km (6.2 miles) travel limit.
State Police Minister David Elliott said it would help because a small minority of Sydneysiders thought “the rules didn’t apply to them”.
Here is the full story — never wish I had moved there for pandemic!
3. “…compartmentalizing is a fantastic tool when you’re an athlete, just blocking everything out that isn’t in line with one goal. But it’s terrible for other aspects of your life; it’s terrible for relationships.”
5. The details of how the delta variant works, better than I was expecting.
7. Sriram Krishnan profile and Clubhouse (NYT).
Ashish Jha, dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University, has had it with the FDA:
Nearly all public-health authorities in the country are urging people to get vaccines. We see the incredible results that the vaccines have had and how many lives they’re saving, and still the F.D.A. has not offered full, permanent approval of the vaccine. President Biden suggested it might take several more months. How do you understand that, or how can that be defended, if it can be?
I find it incredibly puzzling what exactly the F.D.A. is doing. The F.D.A. says that it typically takes them six months or sometimes as much as a year to fully approve a new product. And, generally, we appreciate that. There are two components to that. One is that they want to see a large amount of data, and they want to go through that carefully, and I think that’s essential. Then the second is that there’s a process, which can take a while. This is a global emergency, and while all of us want to make sure that the F.D.A. does its job, most of us also feel that just operating on standard procedures may not be the right thing to do here, and that there are things that can be sped up. Just as with the development of vaccines, we didn’t cut any corners. We did all the steps, but we did it much, much faster. The F.D.A. has to go much, much faster.
The other thing about the data—the amount of data that the vaccines have generated, the number of people who’ve been vaccinated, and the scrutiny that the data has received. I mean, my goodness, this data has been scrutinized and looked over more than—
I’d imagine it’s more than any data in modern history, right?
Any therapy, any vaccine ever. These are the most highly scrutinized medical products we have ever had, and I don’t understand what the F.D.A. is doing.
I’m pleased that Jha and others like Eric Topol are becoming frustrated with FDA delay. But take it from an OG, the FDA is doing what it has always done. What has changed isn’t the FDA but that more people are paying attention now that they have something personal at stake.
I am reminded of this story from 2016:
Mary Pazdur had exhausted the usual drugs for ovarian cancer, and with her tumors growing and her condition deteriorating, her last hope seemed to be an experimental compound that had yet to be approved by federal regulators.
So she appealed to the Food and Drug Administration, whose oncology chief for the last 16 years, Dr. Richard Pazdur, has been a man denounced by many cancer patient advocates as a slow, obstructionist bureaucrat.
He was also Mary’s husband.
…When asked specifically how his wife’s illness had changed his work at the F.D.A., Dr. Pazdur said he was intent on making decisions more quickly.
“I have a much greater sense of urgency these days,” Dr. Pazdur, 63, said in an interview. “I have been on a jihad to streamline the review process and get things out the door faster. I have evolved from regulator to regulator-advocate.”
I do hope that when the pandemic is over we don’t forget that for patients with life-threatening diseases it’s always been an emergency.
Hat tip: John Chilton.
There are other complications too; some people are just low IQ, and maybe their dumb beliefs aren’t their fault. But if you believe in personal responsibility at all as a guide to policy, for reasons of utilitarianism or justice, you have to assess blame at some point. Incentivizing people to get free vaccinations is not the same as incentivizing those with IQs of 100 to be astrophysicists, or poor people to buy Teslas; this is clearly in the realm of possible, and mostly involves overcoming motivated reasoning and laziness. COVID-19 rates of infection vary across time, likely because people change their behavior depending on how much spread there is in their community, and there is nothing to indicate that the unvaccinated are incapable of considering costs and benefits at all when it comes to the decision over whether to get vaccinated. This means that private sector mandates are therefore an unalloyed good, as I’ve pointed out before, and Republicans should be ashamed of themselves for standing in their way, as they have in certain states.
…Unfortunately, we live under a government, and particularly a public health community, that can’t do cost-benefit analysis, and doesn’t have the stomach for personal responsibility either. So we’re going to have an entire generation robbed of a normal childhood, and perhaps other restrictions too that will remain permanent. The question is how we will deal with COVID-19 now that we know it will never go away
Here is his Substack link, recommended.
When the French government launched a smartphone app that gives 300 euros to every 18-year-old in the country for cultural purchases like books and music, or exhibition and performance tickets, most young people’s impulse wasn’t to buy Proust’s greatest works or to line up and see Molière.
Instead, France’s teenagers flocked to manga.
“It’s a really good initiative,” said Juliette Sega, who lives in a small town in southeastern France and has used €40 (about $47) to buy Japanese comic books and “The Maze Runner,” a dystopian novel. “I’m a steady consumer of novels and manga, and it helps pay for them.”
As of this month, books represented over 75 percent of all purchases made through the app since it was introduced nationwide in May — and roughly two-thirds of those books were manga, according to the organization that runs the app, called the Culture Pass.
Here is more from the NYT.
Conditional cash lotteries (CCLs) provide people with opportunities to win monetary prizes only if they make specific behavioral changes. We conduct a case study of Ohio’s Vax-A-Million initiative, the first CCL targeting COVID-19 vaccinations. Forming a synthetic control from other states, we find that Ohio’s incentive scheme increases the vaccinated share of state population by 1.5 percent (0.7 pp), costing sixty-eight dollars per person persuaded to vaccinate. We show this causes significant reductions in COVID-19, preventing at least one infection for every six vaccinations that the lottery had successfully encouraged. These findings are promising for similar CCL public health initiatives.
That is from a new paper by Andrew Barber and Jeremy West.
1. Against CBDC.
2. Confirmation of radar data on Tic Tac. And the Navy filmer, now a commander, claims he received “jamming cues” on his data stream. Lots of additional detail in the chat.
6. Buy property in El Salvador? (NYT)
From Google’s Deep Mind:
In recent years, artificial intelligence agents have succeeded in a range of complex game environments. For instance, AlphaZero beat world-champion programs in chess, shogi, and Go after starting out with knowing no more than the basic rules of how to play. Through reinforcement learning (RL), this single system learnt by playing round after round of games through a repetitive process of trial and error. But AlphaZero still trained separately on each game — unable to simply learn another game or task without repeating the RL process from scratch.
…Today, we published “Open-Ended Learning Leads to Generally Capable Agents,” a preprint detailing our first steps to train an agent capable of playing many different games without needing human interaction data. We created a vast game environment we call XLand, which includes many multiplayer games within consistent, human-relatable 3D worlds. This environment makes it possible to formulate new learning algorithms, which dynamically control how an agent trains and the games on which it trains. The agent’s capabilities improve iteratively as a response to the challenges that arise in training, with the learning process continually refining the training tasks so the agent never stops learning. The result is an agent with the ability to succeed at a wide spectrum of tasks — from simple object-finding problems to complex games like hide and seek and capture the flag, which were not encountered during training. We find the agent exhibits general, heuristic behaviours such as experimentation, behaviours that are widely applicable to many tasks rather than specialised to an individual task. This new approach marks an important step toward creating more general agents with the flexibility to adapt rapidly within constantly changing environments. (Bold added, AT).
In other news, South Africa awarded the first ever patent to an AI.
Most individual life insurance policies lapse, with lapsers cross-subsidizing non-lapsers. We show that policies and lapse patterns predicted by standard rational expectations models are the opposite of those observed empirically. We propose two behavioral models consistent with the evidence: (i) consumers forget to pay premiums and (ii) consumers understate future liquidity needs. We conduct two surveys with a large insurer. New buyers believe that their own lapse probabilities are small compared to the insurer’s actual experience. For recent lapsers, forgetfulness accounts for 37.8 percent of lapses while unexpected liquidity accounts for 15.4 percent.
That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, or use this link https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2021-07-27/america-s-covid-policies-are-a-contradictory-mess, some of it you already have heard here from me and from Alex. Excerpt:
The delta variant is sweeping the U.S., and it is significantly more infectious, yet the Centers for Disease Control doesn’t have the data tools to know whether this is an early, middle or late stage of an outbreak. This is after a year and a half of a pandemic that has killed more than 600,000 Americans.
Have you ever wondered whether the U.S. will do better “next time”? Well, the next time is now — and the country is still flailing across some significant dimensions. The inability to do the simple “right thing” is troubling for a number of reasons.
First, when it comes to vaccines, these are bad decisions in their own right — and they are costing human lives, jobs, and economic output.
But the problems run even deeper. In some ways the U.S. is like a basketball player who cannot make a shot from 10 feet. That is almost always a sign that more complex plays are also going awry, even if this can’t always be spotted by outsiders.
Perhaps most important, there is a cascading effect: If you can’t get the simple things right, your capabilities are likely to deteriorate even further. The smartest people in the government lose their morale and move on. For those who remain, self-fulfilling feelings of defeat set in. The U.S. government also loses credibility abroad, in this case most notably with European governments that are (with possible restrictions) letting U.S. citizens into their countries.