Saturday Links

  • Indispensable post from Ezra Klein on guns and mass shootings in the United States. There’s a lot to say about gun control and violence in the United States, but I don’t know that I’m qualified enough to say it.
  • If you pay much attention to American health care costs and policy, it’s not difficult to conclude that one route to reducing costs is to pay physicians less – they’re paid twice the OECD median, after all. As the author notes, this is far easier said than done, thanks (in part) to the lobbying muscle of the American Medical Association. One solution – which the author touches on but doesn’t dive into – is to allow Nurse Practitioners and Physician’s Assistants to practice independent of MDs (kind of a pet cause of mine). As you can imagine, the AMA fights this, too, but over time it’ll happen – the set of issues a MD can do that an NP or PA can’t is getting smaller each year
  • A great Foreign Affairs primer on inequality of opportunity in the United States, with a discussion of causes and potential solutions. You’ll notice that a lot of his solutions require significant funding – which is, of course, why they’re not currently in practice. Most are relatively uncontroversial, though – they only need advocacy and political will
  • Inequality of opportunity, writ small – fantastic piece on one girl trying to find her way out of poverty and make a better life than what she started with
  • Continuing today’s American labor policy focus, a great piece on technological change and “creative destructive” often leave many worse off; this issue doesn’t lend itself to simple solutions, but understanding it is the first step towards figuring out the right questions to ask
  • As you decide what organizations to donate to this holiday season, this is the best place to start – it’ll help you think through who you’re giving to and why. It highlights GiveWell, Charity Navigator, and other organizations designed to evaluate “effectiveness,” (one of GiveWell’s favorites this year is GiveDirectly – an unconditional cash transfer program for poor Kenyans via M-PESA… it’ll be interesting to see if this type of giving catches on in America)

Sunday Links

  • Reengineering a patient’s T-cells to fight off cancer- using HIV. If it works for leukemia, it could potentially work for many other types of cancer (including some breast cancers)
  • I’ve seen most of Bill Gates’s top TED Talks playlist – highly recommend the talks by Hans Rosling, Melinda Gates, Atul Gawande, Salman Khan, and Susan Cain
  • No Christmas season is complete without sitting around a fire and listening to A Krampus Carol. All I want for Christmas is a niceKrampuskarten

Friday Links

  • Live in the future, then build what’s missing” is a fantastic way to think about innovation/entrepreneurship, as Paul Graham notes. It’s also a pretty cool way to think about the life one wants to lead (like in the Avvett Brothers song, “Decide what to be, and go be it.”) If you click on just one of these links, make it this one
  • Do you want to learn about zombie-making organisms? Of course you do! If you aren’t kept awake at night by the knowledge that a wasp can cause a spider to build a “radically-different [nest], a home not for the spider but for a parasitic wasp that has been living inside it,” you don’t have an expansive-enough imagination (as an aside, Carl Zimmer – the author of this article – is a fantastic raconteur: listen to a heart-wrenching story of his – from Radiolab, naturally – here)
  • A sort-of silly article on computer-aided diagnosis (partially through the lens of Watson, the program that famously kicked Ken Jennings’s ass in Jeopardy) and a real-life Doctor House from UCSF Medical Center (Dr. Gurpreet Dhaliwal). Look: Watson is neat, and however society can use technology to aid diagnosis and allow physicians to focus on other items (like patient care) is wonderful… but physician diagnosis isn’t likely to completely disappear. There will always be a Dr. Dhaliwal – he or she will probably just consult Watson the same way he/she uses Epocrates (an app encyclopedia of pharmaceuticals) or Shots (similar to Epocrates but for injections) today: as an assistant
  • Connecting back to my post on Chapter Seven of The White Man’s Burden, the new PEPFAR plan explicitly disallows funding for family planning.   This is… unfortunate – family planning has been shown to be integral to reducing the fertility rate of a country (see: Bangladesh), which leads to higher economic growth, which is a good thing (something which – ostensibly – is part of the purpose of aid). Frustrating
  • Interesting emerging theory on dopamine’s role in the brain: it has more to do with motivation than pleasure. Whenever I hear about dopamine I think back to a great Radiolab segment on “Seeking Pleasure” and the micro-level workings of dopamine as an “expectations engine.” Fascinating stuff

Friday Links

  • One of the coolest – and most important – innovations I’ve seen this year. The device itself – called Twine – isn’t necessarily revolutionary, but it brings the “Internet of Things” to the masses in a way that is visually appealing and simple to use. This is only the start though – when my age group is in our 30s, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that all of our major appliances will be connected to the cloud, ranging from the relatively mundane but cool (“control your coffee maker from your iPhone!”) to the just-plain-cool (syncing your refrigerator to an online grocery store and automate your basic purchases whenever something is running out/spoiling)
  • Speaking of cool technology: how will driverless cars respond to ethical dilemmas such as: “Your car is speeding along a bridge at fifty miles per hour when errant school bus carrying forty innocent children crosses its path. Should your car swerve, possibly risking the life of its owner (you), in order to save the children, or keep going, putting all forty kids at risk?” I’ve actually read a (uncomfortable-to-admit) fair amount about driverless cars, but this is one question I hadn’t considered or read much about previously
  • Another excellent (but simplified) overview of the Democratic Republic of Congo, M23, and the shadow players of Rwanda and Uganda. It seems like this situation is going to get a lot worse before it gets better
  • Interesting article on calculating GDP and why it’s hard to take GDP numbers in data-poor locales (like Ghana). These figures have a huge effect on aid, bond markets, etc., so there can be a huge effect if the data is off
  • If you’re up for a long article on C-sections, this is the article for you – it’s a pretty decent encapsulation of the way “technology” (be it basic surgery or the latest, greatest MRI machine) is extremely enticing in healthcare, even if it isn’t (strictly-speaking) “necessary.” For whatever reason, I’ve read a good amount lately on bacteria and the way our bodies pick it up – and co-exist – with it, so it was interesting to read (not for the first time) about how researchers are beginning to link C-sections with an increased risk of obesity and asthma. One possible root cause may be related to the way our bodies pick up microbes in a natural birth vs. the relative paucity of what’s picked up through a C-section
  • It seems like the eight-day Gaza fight is now being used as justification for continuing Israeli settlements in now-Palestinian land. Bad news for the prospect of a two-state solution, which seems to be less and less likely. Incidentally, when I was in Israel I took a wrong turn and almost ended up in Maale Adumim on the way back to Jerusalem from the Dead Sea…
  • Speaking of Israel: Foreign Policy is pretty bullish on Netanyahu winning in the January elections. It kind of sounds like Ehud Olmert’s only chance (if he decides to take it and run) would be to unite centrist parties with a few far-right ones, which seems both difficult to control and remarkably unlikely, but we’ll see

Tuesday Links

  • A good overview of the Democrat Republic of Congo’s recent history, as a rebel group known as M23 threatens Goma. I don’t know near enough about any of this, but the book King Leopold’s Ghost comes as highly-recommended background reading on the history of the area (which used to be called Zaire)
  • Innovators in health care delivery at Stanford are profiled; as the article notes, reducing the cost of a given intervention (say, breast cancer) necessarily reduces the income of someone (at least in the current payment models), which makes it awfully difficult to enact change
  • Corruption issues writ small: as The Economist puts it, “entrenched elites, bribery and fraud are as much of a problem in village life as they are in big emerging-market bureaucracies.” Bad news for advocates of decentralized aid delivery in the African continent and elsewhere
  • A smart take on the new readmissions penalty for hospitals in America; it seems fair to say that a) it can unduly penalize hospitals that care for a disproportionately large “worst off” population; b) it likely will take brainpower away from other, possibly more important initiatives (reducing medical errors, say); c) it’s still better than the status quo. This follow-up from Ashish Jha is good, too (though the patient example isn’t representative of how the “typical” readmissions risk is treated)

Wednesday Links

  • Things are getting worse in Israel/Gaza before they get better – which means these graphs from the Economist are out-of-date. Let’s all hope Egypt and the United States can help broker the cease-fire soon
  • Haitians are struggling to recover from Hurricane Sandy. While in some ways it’s completely understandable that the lens of American news coverage was focused within, it’s a pretty nauseous fact
  • After seeing that 70% of US food aid to Cambodia was spent on freight and logistics, I have to agree with the author when he notes, “how dare we lecture developing countries about wasteful procurement, corruption, and inefficient public expenditure?”
  • This post from Sarah Kliff on Medicaid access is pretty surprising: there isn’t a difference in access to medical care between Medicaid and private beneficiaries (except for in dental). The report doesn’t go into detail on quality, though

Tuesday Links

  • What would it be like to live without physical pain? Pretty awful, actually, if this profile is any indication; my favorite line: “Pain is a gift, and she doesn’t have it.” Interestingly, the article also highlights the concern that if a person feels no physical pain, they’ll be emotionally painless too. It doesn’t seem like this happened with Ashlyn, but would be a really, really interesting research topic given what is known about the link between physical sensations and emotions (in one sentence: research seems to indicate that specific emotions – anger, happiness, pleasure – come after the physical sensation of those emotions; that is to say, emotions seem to be our way of deciphering specific signals from our body)
  • This scathing review – framed as an open letter full of questions — of Guy Fieri’s new, 500-seat restaurant in Times Square is amazing. When I had cable, I could get sucked into Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives just as much as the next person, but that was in spite of Fieri, not because of him
  • Your daily dose of inspring: A 15-year old engineering prodigy from Sierra Leone who taught himself how to make batteries and an FM radio