Posts

The Libertarian Case for Redistribution

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I'm going to take a shot at a short post today.  It's way outside my field, so it'll be short on detail and substance (and more likely to be wrong), but I'm hoping that makes it shorter.

I'm not libertarian, but I'll save my objections to the libertarian (and Libertarian) causes for another post.  However I have several close friends who are libertarian, and I'd like to make a case to them in favor of redistributing the hard-earned money from those who have more money to those who have less - by force from the government.  If you're not libertarian, or have no issue with the above-mentioned idea, you might still find this post interesting.  There are closet libertarians all over the place, and I think this is an important discussion to have - especially with libertarians.  Okay, I've reached my quota for the use of that word this post.  I'll try to avoid it from here on out.

To start with, I'd like to acknowledge some basic points that a cer…

Wild Predictions - Part 1 of ??

I've written before about how easy it is to make up a story about how something works and fool yourself into believing you've discovered something new about the way the world works.  This also applies to predictions about the future, except it's especially deceptive for predictions because of how often they're never measured later on.  If you make a wrong prediction you can just forget you made it move on, but if you make a correct prediction you'll remember that you predicted it and praise yourself for it.  This is especially true if there's no date pegged for the prediction.

It's easy to do, and it's easy to think you're good at prediction when you do it and stumble on a random prediction that comes out right.  Some people take a lesson from this and pre-register their predictions, their confidence that the prediction is true, and then go back and measure that prediction.  I think that's a great idea of limited utility.  And since it's not…

Open Questions: Creative Destruction

Notice: Today's post is about economics and political science, two subjects I have no extensive formal training in.
I read a lot of books, both fiction and non-fiction.  Although sometimes that means I read about topics that don't relate to each other at all, other times the topics relate to each other in surprising ways.  Today I want to pull some ideas from the following books, and tie them all to ideas about political economy:

Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir VenkateshThe World Until Yesterday by Jared DiamondOnce Upon a Time in Russia by Ben Mezrich
At first glance it may not seem these three books have much in common.  The plight of the inner-city poor, development of primitive human societies, and the reign of the Russian Oligarchs are pretty disparate topics.  But there's an idea running through all of them, as I read the books, that comes across clearly: societies organize themselves in response to their environment.

In the book The World Until Yesterday, I got the d…

Cancer update: precision oncology comes into its own

The first post in this series attempted to introduce the vast field of cancer, with an eye to describing what I expected would be represented in the new developments at ASCO this year.  In many respects, those expectations were realized and expanded upon.

The second post looked at combination therapies and how they're changing the cancer treatment landscape.  Now, the use of multiple drugs in combination isn't new to cancer research, so why did I devote a whole post to it?  Because the way we can use these approaches is changing in subtle but powerful ways.  In the past, we might focus on a small number of patients at research institutions whose cancer biology got additional attention.  In other words, we could look at a few 'example' patients and hope to learn information we could generalize to all cancer patients.  Of course, cancer doesn't work that way.  Each patient's cancer is different, and we've known that extrapolating out from one patient to many …

Cancer update: Opportunity costs

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This is part of a series of posts about an update on the current state of cancer research, as I see it after attending the annual meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) this year.  In doing so, I'm trying to communicate impressions from a highly technical field into a format that is useful for a more general audience.  Therefore, I'm going to take a minute to talk about survival curves and what they mean in the context of clinical oncology.
I have young children, and one concept we try to help them understand is that they only get to choose among available options, not the universe of all imaginable options. For example, I'll offer them pancakes or cereal for breakfast and one of them will state (with finality) "I'm having muffins." When I point out we don't have muffins he'll double down, "I want a blueberry muffin."  What they have not yet learned, and what we try to teach them, is that they don't get to choose f…

Cancer update: Breaking cancer cells

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I've been working on the promised updates from the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. I've also been working, so the updates aren't coming out as I'd hoped. Part of what I've struggled with is figuring it what level of detail to share. On one hand, I want this to be accessible to the audience who reads this blog, which doesn't assume a strong biology background.  On the other hand, to talk about what's new and exciting I'm the field of cancer research I have to get into the weeds a bit. Especially if I want to communicate why it's important.
This will probably take a few posts, but I want to focus on some themes to keep from getting so caught up in the weeds we miss the broader picture of what we're doing - and how we're succeeding.
In a previous post I talked about how robust biological systems tend to be. The image I used was of an engineer who is trying to bridge a river. Instead of building one sturdy bridge ac…