Nov 25 2011

Links of the Day

Category: Links of the dayJames @ 10:14 pm

1. Oppulent homes of the 99. Some of those OWS protesters seem to be pretty well off for people who claim to be protesting against the wealth of the people at the top.

2. The EU has prohibited the use of airport body scanners that use x-rays. In related news, the Transportation Security Administration in the United States has failed to follow through on its promise conduct safety studies on the x-ray machines currently being used in many US airports (not all body scanners use x-rays, and the ones that use x-rays use fairly low amounts of x-rays, but unlike x-ray machines at the doctor’s office, the x-rays used by the body scanners are mostly absorbed by the skin, thus concentrating the energy received into a relatively small part of the body; the safety of this practice has not been studied).

3. End bonuses for bankers.

4. Huge pools of liquid water lie beneath the surface of Europa, the icy moon of Juipter. Arthur C. Clarke may have been right after all!

5. Orbiting solar power plants may be possible within a decade.

Nov 03 2011

Links of the day

Category: Links of the dayJames @ 10:14 pm

1. The hundred year starship project. A new DARPA initiative to explore what it would take to develop interstellar travel over the next hundred years.

2. The genetics of happiness. Recent research suggests that about one-third of the variation in people’s happiness levels is accounted for by heritable. The gene which seems to account for increased happiness was found least often among those of Asian ancestry and most often among those of African ancestry, with Europeans falling in the middle.

3. More jobs for machines, not people. Machines are predicted to take over more and more of the things that people have usually done. This sounds like good news to me — automation has always increased productivity in the past, leading to higher incomes and greater economic development. But it would be wise to focus on developing skills not easily replaced by a machine!

4. Aged Wisdom.

You might look inside yourself and think you know yourself, but over many decades you can change in ways you won’t see ahead of time. Don’t assume you know who you will become. This applies all the more to folks around you. You may know who they are now, but not who they will become.

5. How Brazil Is Sending 75,000 Students to the World’s Best Colleges.

“Brazilians have gotten used to going abroad for tourism, business, shopping and diplomacy. Now their students are finally getting an incentive to see the world, thanks to a major government program that aims to award 75,000 scholarships to attend the world’s top universities. Available only to Brazilians studying subjects of strategic national importance, like engineering, they reflect “an effort by the government to take a quantum leap in the formation of a scientific and technological elite,” says Aloizio Mercadante, Brazil’s Science and Technology Minister.”

A great idea! The United States government would be well-served by doing something to incentivize more people to study STEM fields — perhaps better student loan terms for STEM majors, and making the amount of student loan money available for non-STEM majors proportional to the average salaries for people with that major.

Sep 22 2011

Links of the day

Category: Links of the dayJames @ 5:30 pm

1. Are Twin Studies “Pretty Much Useless”? A defense of the value of using twin studies to scientifically examine the effects of heredity and environment. Here is another good defense of twin studies.

2. Limits to growth. We have grown used to continuous economic growth. But such growth cannot continue forever. No matter how much we innovate, the physical laws of the universe impose limits on how much the economy can grow.

3. Juno looks back, photographs earth-moon system A photograph of the earth and the moon taken from 6 million miles away by the Juno spacecraft. It shows how small our planet really is. Here is a similar image from the Mar Express probe from 2003.

Jul 15 2011

Links of the day

Category: Links of the dayJames @ 6:21 pm

1. Gobar gas. Using relatively cheap materials, it is possible to build a “digester” that turns dung into natural gas. Gobar gas has had a lot of success in the Indian subcontinent. It seems like this could be an excellent way to provide safer cooking fuels for rural people in developing countries (as opposed to using wood for cooking fuel, which produces indoor smoke which is often a health hazard and which uses up the trees in forests).

2 Computer learns language by playing games. A computer was able to learn to read a the text of a computer game manual (without having any prior English language knowledge programmed into it) and learn how to improve its gameplay strategy (in the game Civilization 2). My favorite Skynet-related comment left by a reader: “I’m curious about which victory conditions the AI tended towards. I’m hoping it was space colonization and not world domination.” As it turns out, the computer’s strategy was world domination (winning the game by conquering all other civilizations through warfare).

3. A chart showing the different ways the Bible defines marriage.

4. Driven off the Road by M.B.A.s. “Lutz’s main argument is that companies, shareholders and consumers are best served by product-driven executives. . . . The auto industry is actually a terrific proxy for a trend toward short-term, myopically balance-sheet-driven management that has infected American business.”

5. On discovering you’re an android. “The idea that the self, or the conscious mind, emerges from the workings of the physical structures of the brain – with no need to invoke any supernatural spirit, essence or soul – is so fundamental to modern neuroscience that it almost goes unmentioned.”

6. Power powers promiscuity, new study finds. “With power comes confidence, and for both men and women, such confidence often results in marital infidelity, a new study finds. The study, to be published in an upcoming Psychological Science, found that among 1,275 Dutch professionals, those with the higher-paying, higher-ranked positions were more likely to have thought about or actually engaged in extra-marital entanglements, thanks to boosted levels of confidence. . . . The powerful see the world, themselves, and other people in a different manner and they act in a different manner than do those who lack power.”

7. 6 premature predictions of tech failure. A list of 6 technologies / products that industry leaders wrongly predicted would fail.

8. The Brain on Trial.

When your biology changes, so can your decision-making and your desires. The drives you take for granted (“I’m a heterosexual/homosexual,” “I’m attracted to children/adults,” “I’m aggressive/not aggressive,” and so on) depend on the intricate details of your neural machinery. Although acting on such drives is popularly thought to be a free choice, the most cursory examination of the evidence demonstrates the limits of that assumption. . . .

[W]e are not the ones steering the boat of our behavior, at least not nearly as much as we believe. Who we are runs well below the surface of our conscious access, and the details reach back in time to before our birth, when the meeting of a sperm and an egg granted us certain attributes and not others. Who we can be starts with our molecular blueprints—a series of alien codes written in invisibly small strings of acids—well before we have anything to do with it. Each of us is, in part, a product of our inaccessible, microscopic history. . . .

When it comes to nature and nurture, the important point is that we choose neither one. We are each constructed from a genetic blueprint, and then born into a world of circumstances that we cannot control in our most-formative years. The complex interactions of genes and environment mean that all citizens—equal before the law—possess different perspectives, dissimilar personalities, and varied capacities for decision-making. The unique patterns of neurobiology inside each of our heads cannot qualify as choices; these are the cards we’re dealt. . . .

The legal system rests on the assumption that we are “practical reasoners,” a term of art that presumes, at bottom, the existence of free will. The idea is that we use conscious deliberation when deciding how to act—that is, in the absence of external duress, we make free decisions. This concept of the practical reasoner is intuitive but problematic. . . .

After all, there is no spot in the brain that is not densely interconnected with—and driven by—other brain parts. And that suggests that no part is independent and therefore “free.” In modern science, it is difficult to find the gap into which to slip free will . . . because there seems to be no part of the machinery that does not follow in a causal relationship from the other parts.

Free will may exist (it may simply be beyond our current science), but one thing seems clear: if free will does exist, it has little room in which to operate. It can at best be a small factor riding on top of vast neural networks shaped by genes and environment. In fact, free will may end up being so small that we eventually think about bad decision-making in the same way we think about any physical process, such as diabetes or lung disease. . . .

While our current style of punishment rests on a bedrock of personal volition and blame, our modern understanding of the brain suggests a different approach. Blameworthiness should be removed from the legal argot. It is a backward-looking concept that demands the impossible task of untangling the hopelessly complex web of genetics and environment that constructs the trajectory of a human life.

Instead of debating culpability, we should focus on what to do, moving forward, with an accused lawbreaker. I suggest that the legal system has to become forward-looking, primarily because it can no longer hope to do otherwise. As science complicates the question of culpability, our legal and social policy will need to shift toward a different set of questions: How is a person likely to behave in the future? Are criminal actions likely to be repeated? Can this person be helped toward pro-social behavior? How can incentives be realistically structured to deter crime? . . .

We will never know with certainty what someone will do upon release from prison, because real life is complicated. But greater predictive power is hidden in the numbers than people generally expect. Statistically based sentencing is imperfect, but it nonetheless allows evidence to trump folk intuition, and it offers customization in place of the blunt guidelines that the legal system typically employs. The current actuarial approaches do not require a deep understanding of genes or brain chemistry, but as we introduce more science into these measures—for example, with neuroimaging studies—the predictive power will only improve. (To make such a system immune to government abuse, the data and equations that compose the sentencing guidelines must be transparent and available online for anyone to verify.)

Jul 11 2011

Links of the day

Category: Links of the dayJames @ 6:08 pm

1. Somatic mutations make twins’ brain less similar. A new study indicates that one of the reasons that even identical twins differ in their development and how they turn out is maybe because of post-conception mutations in their somatic cells. Random mutations happen when your cells divide. A study comparing mutations in identical twins found about 1,000 point mutations (a change in one letter of the DNA code) in one twin not present in the other and two to three copy number variants (mutations that delete or duplicate larger chunks of the chromosome) present only in one twin. Anytime a cell acquires a mutation, all of its daughter cells will then have the same mutation. This could explain why diseases which are highly heritable, such as schizophrenia, do not always manifest in both twins — the explanation could be that one twin acquired a mutation for schizophrenia after conception.

2. RIAA Accounting: How To Sell 1 Million Albums And Still Owe $500,000. In case you didn’t already know, the music industry is run by immoral thiefs who get rich by exploiting artists.

3. The Backfire Effect. When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger. (As an aside, the linked article is from a blog that always has interesting articles summarizing the science about all the many ways we humans delude ourselves and think irrationally — I highly recommend it!)

4. The first non-human meat farmers. Preliminary observations may indicate the first discovery of a non-human animal that has domesticated another species, herds that animal, and uses it for meat!

Jun 30 2011

Links of the Day

Category: Links of the dayJames @ 8:38 pm

1. Celts to Anglo-Saxons, in light of updated assumptions. Interesting discussion about the two ways people living in a certain place transform into a new ethnicity — whether by replacement of the population, or through assimilation.

2 The first advertising campaign for non-human primates . Researchers are seeing if using sex in advertising targeted tochimpanzees can get them to start eating a flavor of jello that they otherwise don’t like.

3. Could Legally Getting High Reduce the Deficit?. “Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) and Barney Frank (D-MA) plan to introduce a bill on Thursday that would end the federal prohibition on marijuana. . . . Miron estimates that the US would be around $88 billion a year better off if drugs were legalized, with $41.3 billion saved on enforcement of drug-related laws and $46.7 billion garnered in tax revenues.”

4. Homemade ‘Mars in a Bottle’ Tortures Bacteria. Scientists have built small habitats designed to mimic Martian surface conditions to see how bacteria cope with such conditions and to discover which species of bacteria could survive on Mars. This will give us a better idea of what to look for when searching for life with future probes sent to Mars.

5. Contradictions in the Bible. There are a lot more even than I expected!

6. The Rewards of Revenge.

The most striking finding, however, was limited to the minds of men. According to the data, when men (but not women) watched a defector get punished, they showed additional activation in reward related areas of the brain, such as the ventral striatum and nucleus accumbens. These are essential elements of the dopamine reward pathway, that same highway of nerves that also gets titillated by sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. Apparently, we are engineered to get pleasure from punishing those who deserve to be punished. As the scientists note:

“The findings of enhanced activation in ventral striatum to a signal indicating that a defector is receiving pain are in agreement with the hypothesis that humans derive satisfaction simply from seeing justice administered, even if the instrument of punishment is out of their control.”

7. Who Needs a Moon? “The number of Earth-like extrasolar planets suitable for harboring advanced life could be 10 times higher than has been assumed until now, according to a new modeling study. The finding contradicts the prevailing notion that a terrestrial planet needs a large moon to stabilize the orientation of its axis and, hence, its climate.”

8. Trust and education. People’s levels of trust in others is positively correlated with level of education and with IQ.

9. Easily distracted people may have too much brain . Researchers “found larger than average volumes of grey matter in certain brain regions in those whose attention is readily diverted.”

Jun 21 2011

Links of the Day

Category: Links of the dayJames @ 8:58 pm

1. Pigs could grow human organs in stem cell breakthrough. Scientists have been able to use stem cells created from adult rats and then make mouse embryos grow organs that would be compatible with that adult rat. It is hoped that this accomplishment is the first step to being able to grow new human organs in pigs, so that there would never be organ shortages again.

2. The heritability of feminism. New research indicates that political beliefs are heritable — some of the variation between people’s political beliefs (an average of 32%), appears to be caused by genetic factors. Does this mean that political beliefs which tend to reduce fertility will decrease over time in a population?

3. How Power Corrupts. “The very traits that helped leaders accumulate control in the first place all but disappear once they rise to power. Instead of being polite, honest and outgoing, they become impulsive, reckless and rude. According to psychologists, one of the main problems with authority is that it makes us less sympathetic to the concerns and emotions of others. For instance, several studies have found that people in positions of authority are more likely to rely on stereotypes and generalizations when judging other people. They also spend much less time making eye contact, at least when a person without power is talking.”

4. The Brazil-Bolivia border:

Agricultural geneticists have long argued that the area around the railroad route — the Brazil-Bolivia border — was the development ground for peanuts, Brazilian broad beans…, and two species of chili pepper… But in recent years evidence has accumulated that the area was also the domestication site for tobacco, chocolate, peach palm (Bactris gasipaes, a major Amazonian tree crop), and most important, the worldwide staple manioc (Manihot esculenta, also known as cassava or yuca).

5. The OECD Better Life Index. Trying to figure out which OECD country is right for you? Use this handy tool to rank the importance and relative weight of different characteristics and see which country would be the best match for you.

6. Where to live to avoid a natural disaster. Looks like the Pacific Northwest is the place to be.

7. The “law school scam” media bubble. A summary of some of the recent stories in the press about how law school game the rankings and do other underhanded things to attract students.

Jun 14 2011

Links of the Day

Category: Links of the dayJames @ 5:11 pm

1. Let Them In: How Brazilians Could Help the U.S. Economy. The United States is losing a lot of tourist money because visa requirements to come here are so onerous. International tourist travel from places like Chile and Brazil is going up astronomically as those countries experience sustained economic growth. But because they are not part of the United States’s “Visa Waiver” program which allows citizens of certain countries to travel to the United States without a visa, citizens of places like Chile and Brazil must go through a long and rigorous visa application process (the article gives an example of a family from Porto Alegre, Brazil having to schedule visa interviews, which have an average wait time of 141 days and which cost $140 for each family member, after which the family would then need to spend hundreds of dollars on plane tickets and hotels to fly to São Paulo to do the interview). The article quotes numbers from the U.S. Travel Association which indicate that if the United States hadn’t restricted visas after 9/11, the extra tourism would have generated $606 billion for the U.S. economy and 467,000 more jobs.

2. Q&A: Who is H. sapiens really, and how do we know?. Interesting FAQ explaining the latest state of scientific knowledge about human origins and our ancestors’ admixture with archaic human species such as Neanderthals and Denisovans.

3. The Revolutionary New Birth Control Method for Men. No surgery (just an injection into the vas deferens), and it seems to be reversible. More here at Wikipedia. There was only one unplanned pregnancy out of the 250 men in the trial (because of an improperly administered injection). There is some concern, though, that it could cause kidney damage.

4. ‘Whites suffer more racism than blacks’: Study shows white American people believe they are more discriminated against.”The results showed that while both blacks and whites saw anti-black racism decreasing over the decades, whites saw race relations as a ‘zero sum game’ where they were losing out as blacks ‘gained’ the advantage.”

5. Divorce Rate: It’s Not as High as You Think. This is from 2005, but still interesting.

[S]ince 1980, the two groups [college graduates and non-graduates] have taken diverging paths. Women without undergraduate degrees have remained at about the same rate, their risk of divorce or separation within the first 10 years of marriage hovering at around 35 percent. But for college graduates, the divorce rate in the first 10 years of marriage has plummeted to just over 16 percent of those married between 1990 and 1994 from 27 percent of those married between 1975 and 1979.

About 60 percent of all marriages that eventually end in divorce do so within the first 10 years, researchers say. If that continues to hold true, the divorce rate for college graduates who married between 1990 and 1994 would end up at only about 25 percent, compared to well over 50 percent for those without a four-year college degree.

6. Historic Pairing: Shuttle Docked to the ISS. Amazing pictures of the shuttle docked to the International Space Station (here is a picture of the shuttle docked to the Mir Space Station to give some perspective on the stations’ relative sizes).

7. Evolutionary psychology and the left. “[O]pponents of evolution, who were generally older and more conservative, were more likely to endorse” the evolutionary psychology implications about evolution’s effect on human mating behavior (such as that “men are more interested than women in one night stands, men are more interested in attractiveness, and women value good financial prospects in a mate more than men do”). “Interestingly, when half of the survey respondents in the second survey were explicitly told that the evolutionary psychology questions were ‘based on the THEORY OF EVOLUTION, as applied to the fields of psychology and biology’ (actual text from survey), it reduced the level of support from evolution opponents but made no difference to the response of evolution supporters.”

I find it interesting that people who don’t believe in evolution more readily accepted the evolutionary psychologists’ conclusions about evolution’s impact on human behavior than the more liberal believers in evolution. All of us are subject to the problems of confirmation bias — we should all be careful about rejecting ideas just because they disagree with our preconceived notions. In this study, the believers in evolution (the ones who are supposed to be more rational and educated) rejected very reasonable conclusions (which are backed up by evidence), likely because it contradicted their political / moral belief that average differences in men’s and women’s preferences and behavior is a product of culture and not biology.

8. Better brain wiring linked to family genes. “How well our brain functions is largely based on our family’s genetic makeup, according to a University of Melbourne led study. . . . ”

“We found that people differed greatly in terms of how cost-efficient the functioning of their brain networks were, and that over half of these differences could be explained by genes,” said Dr. Fornito.

Across the entire brain, more than half (60%) of the differences between people could be explained by genes. Some of the strongest effects were observed for regions of the prefrontal cortex which play a vital role in planning, strategic thinking, decision-making and memory.

Previous work has shown that people with more efficient brain connections score higher on tests of intelligence, and that brain network cost-efficiency is reduced in people with schizophrenia, particularly in the prefrontal cortex.

Jun 03 2011

Links of the Day

Category: Links of the dayJames @ 7:19 pm

1. Ancient Female Ancestors Roamed Far and Wide for Mates. Analysis of the 2 million year old bones of human ancestors indicates that males stayed close to their birth place for their entire lives, whereas females who reached maturity would leave their birth area and join a new group to find a mate.

2. Nerds and the supernatural. Radio preacher Harold Camping recently incorrectly predicted that the rapture and the end of the world would happen on May 21, 2011. How could he have believed the Bible could be used to make such predictions? I like Razib Khan’s exaplanation:

“Harold Camping is a nerd. He has a degree in civil engineering from Berkeley. . . . I have tried to imagine myself, a nerd with a quantitative and analytic bent, existing in a world where the Bible was the Word of God. I can immediately intuit how someone like Harold Camping could arrive at his absurd conclusions! To the nerdy crazy fundamentalism seems eminently reasonable once one accedes to the peculiar propositions of faith. Give a nerd an absurd axiom, and he will infer absurd entailments! Camping did as a nerd is wont to do. Most normal humans don’t have this nerdish momania to create integrated rational wholes, and then project inferences from the system which they’ve constructed. It seems silly and a waste of time. This is why so many conservative Christians easily spouted sage skepticism worthy of James Randi all this week.”

I think he hit it right on. It took me many years of my life to figure out that I shouldn’t expect that “integrated rational wholes” can be derived from metaphysical and religious texts. Just because a religious book makes you feel good, it does not mean that the book is a reliable guide to understanding the objective reality of our world, to understanding cosmology, or to predicting the future.

3. What happens when you let your children have it all their own way? A mother tries an experiment of saying yes to everything her children want for a week. She learns some interesting lessons: that saying “yes” a little more often created some great family moments of fun and bonding, but that it was still necessary to impose some boundaries.

4. Are Associations Between Parental Divorce and Children’s Adjustment Genetically Mediated? An Adoption Study. This is an old study (from 2000), but I thought it was interesting. It is well-known that children with parents who are divorced fare worse in many measures of life outcome than children of intact families. It is a matter of debate, however, whether those poor outcomes are because of genetic or environmental factors. Twin adoption studies have shown that a significant determinant of a person’s probability of getting divorced is genetic (possibly, for example, because of factors such as genes that influence behavior in a negative way), so it is possible that the same genetic factors leading to an increased probability of divorce would be inherited by the couple’s children and lead to other negative life outcomes for the children. It is thus possible that there is no causation between correlation of having parents who divorce and poor life outcomes.

This study compares almost 400 adopted and biological families to try and figure out whether the children in divorced families are negatively impacted by the divorce itself, or by the genes. The authors conclude that “[i]n biological families, children who experienced their parents’ separation by the age of 12 years exhibited higher rates of behavioral problems and substance use, and lower levels of achievement and social adjustment, compared with children whose parents’ marriages remained intact. Similarly, adopted children who experienced their (adoptive) parents’ divorces exhibited elevated levels of behavioral problems and substance use compared with adoptees whose parents did not separate, but there were no differences on achievement and social competence.” It thus appears that the increased rates of behavioral and substance abuse problems among children of divorced parents are caused by environmental factors and not genetics. On the other hand, it looks like the decreased achievement and social competence in children of divorced parents is caused at least in part by genetics, and not only as a result of the divorce.

5. Beware Cancer Med. Increased non-drug spending on cancer treatment actually seems to increase cancer deaths. “The apparent lesson: avoid cancer docs, and especially their non-drug cancer treatments. . . . . That fits with cancer patients living longer when they go to hospice and get no cancer treatment and with randomized trials of cancer screening consistently showing no effect on total mortality.”

6. Why Almost Everything You Hear About Medicine Is Wrong. “[T]he very framework of medical investigation may be off-kilter, leading time and again to findings that are at best unproved and at worst dangerously wrong. The result is a system that leads patients and physicians astray—spurring often costly regimens that won’t help and may even harm you. . . . ‘Positive’ drug trials, which find that a treatment is effective, and ‘negative’ trials, in which a drug fails, take the same amount of time to conduct. ‘But negative trials took an extra two to four years to be published,’ he noticed. ‘Negative results sit in a file drawer, or the trial keeps going in hopes the results turn positive.’ With billions of dollars on the line, companies are loath to declare a new drug ineffective. As a result of the lag in publishing negative studies, patients receive a treatment that is actually ineffective.”

7. Harvard Law School exams from 1871 to 1998.

8. Mars’ Frozen Ocean of Carbon Dioxide. The northern Martian ice cap has 30 times more carbon dioxide than previously thought, enough to double the atmosphere’s density when the planet’s periodic change in tilt (every 100,000 years or so) makes it warm enough in the summer to evaporate the frozen CO2 into a gas. The extra CO2 would be enough to warm the planet up to make it possible for liquid water to exist on the surface of Mars at low elevations (enough for creeks and ponds).

May 23 2011

Links of the Day

Category: Links of the dayJames @ 8:00 am

1. Getting Smart on Aid. Exciting developments in empirical research about how to improve the lives of the poor in developing countries:

Now we reach a central question for our age: How can we most effectively break cycles of poverty? For decades, we had answers that were mostly anecdotal or hot air. But, increasingly, we are now seeing economists provide answers that are rigorously field-tested, akin to the way drugs are tested in randomized controlled trials, yielding results that are particularly credible and persuasive. . . .

In much of the developing world, most kids have intestinal worms, leaving them sick, anemic and more likely to miss school. Deworming is very cheap (a pill costing a few pennies), and, in the experiment he did with Edward Miguel, it resulted in 25 percent less absenteeism [from school]. Even years later, the kids who had been randomly chosen to be dewormed were earning more money than other kids.

Kremer estimates that the cost of keeping a kid in school for an additional year by building schools or by subsidizing school uniforms is more than $100, while by deworming kids, the cost drops to $3.50. (In a pinch, kids can usually go to “school” in a church or mosque without a uniform.) . . .

For those who want to be sure that to get the most bang for your buck, there is also a “proven impact fund” ( It supports interventions like deworming or microsavings that have proved to be cost-effective in rigorous trials.

2. Amazing Color Photos of the Great Depression. These have been posted online before, but I just saw them posted again somewhere  else, and are too amazing to not share.

3. “How social influence can undermine the wisdom of crowd effect” and “Sharing Information Corrupts Wisdom of Crowds.” “In a new study of crowd wisdom — the statistical phenomenon by which individual biases cancel each other out, distilling hundreds or thousands of individual guesses into uncannily accurate average answers — researchers told test participants about their peers’ guesses. As a result, their group insight went awry.”

4. Cut medicine in half.

Car inspections and repairs take a small fraction of our total spending on cars, gas, roads, and parking. But imagine that we were so terrified of accidents due to faulty cars that we spent most of our automotive budget having our cars inspected and adjusted every week by Ph.D. car experts. Obsessed by the fear of not finding a defect that might cause an accident, imagine we made sure inspections were heavily regulated and subsidized by government. To feed this obsession, imagine we skimped on spending to make safer roads, cars, and driving patterns, and our constant disassembling and reassembling of cars introduced nearly as many defects as it eliminated. This is something like our relation to medicine today. . . .

Our main problem in health policy is a huge overemphasis on medicine. The U.S. spends one sixth of national income on medicine, more than on all manufacturing. But health policy experts know that we see at best only weak aggregate relations between health and medicine, in contrast to apparently strong aggregate relations between health and many other factors, such as exercise, diet, sleep, smoking, pollution, climate, and social status. Cutting half of medical spending would seem to cost little in health, and yet would free up vast resources for other health and utility gains. . . .

5. A satellite photo of the United States at night. I thought it was a very interesting visual illustration of population densities in the United States (in Utah, Colorado, and Nebraska, you can clearly see lines of lights from towns which must have grown larger because they’re situated along the major interstate highway that crosses the state). Satellite photo of the United States at night.

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