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Friday, November 30, 2007

Overconfindence ?

Waaay back in 2006, commentators older than about 35 were confident that the Democrats were going to crush the Republicans. Relative youngsters couldn't quite believe it as they had never seen such a thing. Now a real youngster seems to me to be going too far the other way.

Ezra Klein who is old enough to drive a car, vote and even drink (although he does get carded) writes

The danger we face in trying to pressure the media to report stories like the US Attorney purge or Giuliani's criminal misuse of NYC money is that we'll only be able to change the prevailing narrative rather than actual journalistic practice. Broder is mythologically committed to his perverted "centrism" rather than ideologically committed, and the same is true for the rest of them. We can change the myth; the GOP has the route all mapped out, and that destination is easier to reach with all of the technological tools available to us now.

OK so just changing the myth isn't enough for Mr Klein. Nooooo we have to not only crush the Republicans but also reform the media and find the holy grail.

A commenter named Klein Ezra* writes: I didn't write that. Stephen did. And he's a bona fide adult, with a kid! (One might wonder if this calls into question the utility of using age as a framing device for accuracy...)

OOOOOOPs (blush) but at least he noticed me. I didn't mean young therefore inaccurate I meant young therefore with fewer emotional scars from horrible elections from 1980 on (and also to make me feel old).

correction correction: The commenter called himself "Ezra" not "Klein". I am not senile, I was always this sloppy.
This Time I agree with Krugman's criticism of Obama

Obama argues against mandating that people get health insurance. Krugman explains the logic of mandates

Krugman writes
under the Obama plan, as it now stands, healthy people could choose not to buy insurance — then sign up for it if they developed health problems later. Insurance companies couldn’t turn them away, because Mr. Obama’s plan, like those of his rivals, requires that insurers offer the same policy to everyone.

As a result, people who did the right thing and bought insurance when they were healthy would end up subsidizing those who didn’t sign up for insurance until or unless they needed medical care.

That was quick and clear (how does he do it?).

Mr. Obama claims that mandates won’t work, pointing out that many people don’t have car insurance despite state requirements that all drivers be insured. Um, is he saying that states shouldn’t require that drivers have insurance? If not, what’s his point?

Look, law enforcement is sometimes imperfect. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have laws.

Krugman refers to his earlier opposition to Obama's proposal to raise the FICA ceiling where he argued that increasing taxes paid by the richest 6% of earners is right wing (huh?). That was silly, this is not.

However, I also agree with Kevin Drum that actually explaining how a mandate would be enforced is a major political looser (especially if it is based on the IRS as Edwards' plan is).

I'm sure Krugman does too, preferring a plan which just gives people insurance and pays for it with taxes to an individual mandate, which will amount to a regressive tax even though the relatively poor will get a discount.

I have a plan. Raise taxes but introduce a deduction for people with health insurance so
1) middle class insured people will pay less
2) rich insured people will pay more
3) the uninsured get insurance which is expensive if they are rich or cheap if they are not.

I think increasing the progressivity of the tax code is an excellent policy for many many reasons and also the cure for progressives political problems.

A problem with this is that it makes the 1040EZ more complicated, and people have to demonstrate coverage which would be a hassle.

A worse problem is that Republicans will lie calling a tax increase for the rich combined with a tax cut for the non rich a tax increase. The worst problem is that that journalists will mostly aid the Republicans.

I wish I had an explanation other than the theory that pundits and top journalists are rich and willing to lie to protect their after tax income, but no one has told me of any.
Fanntastic ! Neil the Ethical Werewolf adds an extra n to Paul Waldman's name over at Ezra Kleinn's place. Obviously people often make the opposite mistake with my nname.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Lufthanza out of touch

Turkey was served on November 26th on Lufthanza flight 415 from Washington to Munich.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Atrios writes

As Predicted

Awesome that Social Security is now a central campaign theme. Given that Obama's now ruling out benefit cuts or the raising of the retirement age that leaves... a tax increase.

-Atrios 16:35

I comment.

Obama ruled out benefit cuts or raising the retirement age in the advertisement with which he first raised the issue (in text which flashed on the screen). Your use of "now" suggests that you weren't paying attention.

So yes that leaves a tax increase as oritinally proposed by Obama and as is supported by a majority of Americans according to every poll of the issue.

So what we have is Obama proposed increasing taxes on the richest 6% or earners and roughly 60% of Americans agree with him. What a disaster.

I don't always agree with Black but this is the first time I have been irritated by his willful ignorance.
Howard's End

Mini poodle told to take a walk.

Now I think this is the end of his career, but I do recall the one thing he ever said which I liked. Some time ago John Howard lost a general election then lost a leadership contest, then said "Lazarus with a triple bypass couldn't come back from a defeat like this." But he did.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Jonathan FBD Weisman demonstrates his profound understanding of recent political events

In a online chat with congressional reporter Jonathan Weisman in May, a questioner asked “why Congress didn’t jump on Monica Goodling’s testimony about caging.” Weisman’s response: “So what is this caging thing?”

via think progress
Standing up for the downtrodden who only make $160,000/year

Matt Stoller objects to a silly New York Times article. He particularly objects to this passage

But while some of these benefits take the form of highly practical solutions - like on-site child care - others raise questions whether law firms are subsidizing a cushy lifestyle.

"As if a $160,000 starting salary wasn't enough for associates" fresh out of law school, "yes, there's more," said Peter Johnson of Law Practice Consultants in Boston.

As Atrios notes, employers providing pay and benefits to employees are not subsidizing, whether or not there are contracts requiring them to provide such benefits.

However, Stoller has a very odd interpretation of the ideology behind the article
asking "Why Does the New York Times Hate Wage Earners?" in the title of the post and concluding

It's the pain caucus, always, brought to you by the DC Villagers, and it's a subtle propagandizing force that says there are billionaires, power players, and celebrities, and then there is the vast useless consumer horde that should just take what they get and like it.

Stoller presents no evidence supporting his conclusion that NY Times reporter LYNNLEY BROWNING thinks that law associates' excessively cushy lifestyle is being financed at the expense of the legitimate rights of the partners who decided to finance it. I would tend rather to suspect that Browning thinks the lifestyle is unfairly cushy compared to Browning's life style.

The article provides no hint whatsoever of concern for the poor partners. To a considerable extent it seems to me to be celebrating the new perks as a sign that young "top-notch" lawyers want a life and not just a lot of money. The complaints seem to me to be of the form of people saying that young hot shot lawyers are too privileged compared to normal people.

The article strikes me as being populist, noting the extreme advantages some people get from the normal operation of the market system. It makes me think that maybe these high income people can afford to pay more in taxes. Of course everything makes me think that.

The truly strange thing is that Stoller contrasts wage earners (meaning salary earners too) and the power elite. Uh Matt, CEOs have salaries too. So do pundits.

Matt Stoller, why don't you check out Emanuel Saez's home page, click on (TABLES AND FIGURES UPDATED TO 2005 in Excel format, October 2007) (4 lines under the heading "income and wealth inequality") and look at figure 4.

You will find the estimate that about 37% of the income of the richest 0.01 % in 2005 is "wage income" (Picketty and Saez's term). Entrepreneurial income (like partners' shares) is about 37% and capital income 27%. In 2000 the 60% of the income of the richest 0.01% was "wage income". The share of "wage income" is, of course, higher for the suffering masses who are in the top top 0.1% but not the top 0.01 %.

Stoller seems to be imagining things are as they were in 1929 when the vast majority of the income of the super rich was capital income.

The set of "wage earners" is no longer a subset of "non obscenely wealthy people."
The poor 25 year old associates trying to repay student loans and survive on $ 160,000 a year are not super rich, but thinking something should be done to help others share their good fortune is populism not anti-populism as Stoller imagines.
Sebastian Holsclaw writes in a comment on Brad DeLong's blog "Since he shows that university based drug development rarely can get past the target pointing phase, this statement suggests that you (Robert Waldmann) aren't being "fact based" in your conclusion-reaching."

Azoulay, Michigan and Sampat present a figure in the New England Journal of Medicine vol 357 no 20 p 2053 which shows that, in the most recent ten years for which data are available, roughly 20% of biomedical patents were awarded to academic institutions. The discussion is clearly ambivalent as the authors note the view that this demonstrates greed and restricts research as well as the view that this shows that the academy is doing useful applied research and development. Obviously pharmaceutical companies are not affected by such ambivalence, so one would expect the ratio of patents to useful inventions to be higher in industry than the academy.

I note that the source cited by Sebastian Holsclaw is a blog and that the archive category which I read from beginning to end on Holsclaw's recomendation contained no quantitative data on drug development (it did contain quantitative data on clinical trials which, if it were relevant, would not support Holsclaws claim).

It is certainly true that pharmaceutical patents are a subset of biomedical patents, but, since Holsclaw was commenting on a post which discussed the development of a device not a pharmaceutical, the appropriate figue to assess his view that my conclusion-reaching is not "fact based" are the ones which show that Holsclaw's criticism is not fact based.
What is to be done ?

Reform corporate governance or executive compensation ?

Paul Krugman explains the problem

“What were they smoking?” asks the cover of the current issue of Fortune magazine. Underneath the headline are photos of recently deposed Wall Street titans, captioned with the staggering sums they managed to lose.

The answer, of course, is that they were high on the usual drug — greed. And they were encouraged to make socially destructive decisions by a system of executive compensation that should have been reformed after the Enron and WorldCom scandals, but wasn’t.


another part of the answer lies in what hasn’t happened to the men on that Fortune cover — namely, they haven’t been forced to give back any of the huge paychecks they received before the folly of their decisions became apparent.


The point is that the subprime crisis and the credit crunch are, in an important sense, the result of our failure to effectively reform corporate governance after the last set of scandals.

Note that he shifts from a criticism of current executive compensation systems to a proposal to reform corporate governance. The idea is that, since executive compensation is both directly costly and promotes reckless decisions and fraud, shareholders would reform it in their own interests if they controlled corporations in practice as they do in theory.

It is inconsistent with free market principles for the government to regulate executive compensation directly.

The problem is that it is very hard to reform corporate governance. The current problem is due to the fact that shareholders rationally diversify so they are rationally poor citizens of each shareholder's assembly. The only shareholders with clout are institutional investors run by managers who are compensated based on the illusion of success. That is, who will watch the watchers ?

I think that we will be able to inscribe "corporations must maximize shareholder value" on our banners about two weeks before we inscribe "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs"

so What is to be done ? Hmmm how about raising taxes on high income individuals. Yes I know that this is my solution to everything, but this time I have an argument.

High tax rates on huge incomes can have exceptions for socially desirable forms of executive compensation. That is the state can perfectly well say "do it this way or give me 60% of the money" without offending against the constitution or anything.

So the idea is we decide how we want executives to be compensated and oblige them to compensate themselves that way or pay huge amounts of taxes.

The problem, as Krugman notes, is that executives can cash in before the crash and shareholders can't get the money back. This would not be true if compensation was in the form of stock or stock options which could not legally be sold, that is which are a non transferable claim on a stream of dividends. A bit extreme perhaps as it would clearly distort dividend payout policy.

A less extreme version would be a restriction on assets that executives could own other than own firm shares. That is ban cashing in by requiring executives to commit to not owning cash in order to not pay huge taxes. They would be allowed to sell shares of their own firm to consume the proceeds.

It would be necessary to restrict their giving too, so they don't give the shares to family and friends in exchange for secret informal claims on the proceeds of sales.

This proposal would absolutely prevent the housing crisis from causing a recession in the near future, as the way to invest while calling it consumption is to buy houses. The executives evading my scheme would suddenly claim that they want hundreds of houses to live in. Executive compensation laundering through investment in housing would get us over the current bursting of the bubble.

When the CEO's die their heirs would dump the houses on the market. Apres moi le liquidation.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


The dread IQ debate is back due to the arrogant ignorance of William Salaten.

One of many excellent debunkings is was written by Daniel Koffler at Jewcy.

Key points is that the time trend of measured IQ is huge and positive (on the order of 3 points per decade) demonstrating the importance of environmental factors and that, according to (different) scientific racists, the brain size of Asians used to be lower than that of Whites and is now larger. You know all that economic success gave them swollen heads.

I disagree with one claim made by Koffler. It is very commonly made by critics of the genes to IQ to everything crowd. It is also clearly false.

It concerns g

g, the general intelligence factor, which in its initial formulation by Spearman is the quality that all tests of mental ability measure in addition to any specific qualities, and is still supposed today to be responsible for a significant proportion of observable correlations in performance among standardized tests, and between tests and academic performance. If g does not exist, then there is no one quality that even a perfectly designed intelligence test would measure,

Koffler argues

Cosma Shalizi, a statistician at Carnegie Mellon, offers an exhaustive exploration of the mythical existence of g, the bottom line of which is that factor analysis, without which we would have no concept of g, while useful for descriptive statistics, is virtually useless for doing explanatory statistics. That is, if you already know that some given abilities are interdependent, a factor-analytic examination of them could greatly simplify the explanatory picture. If, on the other hand, you are seeking to explain correlations among variables, all that factor analysis can do is confirm your pre-theoretical biases. In other words, when Spearman, or Rushton and Jensen, or Herrnstein and Murray, or Saletan look at IQ test data and infer a general factor behind the results, they are doing nothing but gazing in the mirror.

Hmmm what is Shalizi saying ? Is he* saying that the statistical analysis that yields g has no empirical content, because estimation of principle components analysis must yield a principle factor ? This is certainly not what he means as he is a statistician and knows better. If you have multiple variables, you can find a principle component which is correlated with each of them. However, nothing implies that such correlations are positive. It is an empirical fact that the scores on many different tests of cognitive ability are positively correlated. It is thus an empirical fact that when one calculated principle components, the first component is positively correlated with scores on tests of verbal, spatial and mathematical ability.

This doesn't mean that all mental abilities are positively correlated with verbal, spatial and mathematical ability. It has nothing to do with the question of heritability as far as I can tell. It is an empirical observation. It is not the necessary result of applying the statistical technique.

* I'm not sexist I checked that he is a he and discovered he looks even more like Trotsky than I do.

update: That is actually a photograph of Trotsky. I hope people believe that gullibility is not negatively correlated with g.

update: from comments Cosma Shalizi himself writes

I uses that picture of Trotsky because I do, in fact, look him; people have recognized me at conferences from it...

The empirical fact is simply that the test scores are positively correlated with each other. Given that, factor analysis (which is not quite the same thing as principal component analysis) is guaranteed to find a common factor on to which the observables load positively. (This follows from the Frobenius-Perron theorem on the leading eigenvectors of positive matrices.) Moreover, the fraction of variance "explained" by the leading factor will typically be quite sizeable, even when the correlation matrix is basically random.

All-positive correlations can arise in many ways, including (but not limited to) ones in which the actual abilities are completely uncorrelated, but all your observables are very crude measurements which sum many abilities. So discovering that factor analysis gives us positively-loaded a common factor in no way explains the positive correlations; if anything the explanation runs the other way. Hence factor analysis is (in this way, at least) unable to tell us about the causal structure. For that matter, such artifacts of bad measurement procedures can have arbitrarily high heritabilities.

I should note that Cosma Shalizi's web page clearly states that the photo was chosen to make him look "older and more important" than he is. I think I look slightly like Trotsky, although it might be mainly just grooming. Face recognition is a particular mental ability and I am bad at it. It develops extraordinarily late. Kids are fooled by fake beards and such. I can remember when I was about 10 watching some dumb cop show on TV when the police note that a photograph of a man with long hair glasses and a beard is of a bald suspect wearing a wig and non-prescription glasses. I did not recognize the face although it was obvious to my father.

Tell me if my belief that I look sortof like Trotsky demonstrates lack of face recognition ability (comments on my nose will not be appreciated)

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

As Cosma Shalizi notes a one dimensional common factor from principle components analysis does not at all imply that causal common factors are one dimensional. To interpret the analysis that way is, indeed, the mistake of mistaking a choice of technique for a discovery. For example I would have a very low score on all parts of a written IQ test used in Japan, because I don't understand the questions.

Now I speculated that there are forms of cognitive ability which are not correlated with verbal, mathematical or spatial ability. I don't know what I am talking about, but I think that one might be "social intelligence" as in getting hints and not irritating people. A huge fraction of our mental effort is devoted to winning friends and influencing people. Everyone seems to think that social intelligence is negatively correlated with the sort of cognitive abilities measured by IQ tests and, in particular, mathematical ability. I'm sure serious research has been done on the topic.
Big Brother is helping you get clean.

I just read some of a pdf article by Mark Kleiman on what to do with drug addicts (via Yglesias). He is very convincing as usual. He argues for something in between locking addicts up and treating them as free responsible adults, basically testing them for drug use frequently with quick certain but not ruthless sanctions for failing or missing drug tests. Clearly the legal basis for this is a conviction and sentence to a kind of parole.

I had a (dumb) thought.

It is possible to enforce parole with bracelets which report the location of the parolee. I don't think this is done as much as it should be. It is possible to detect drug use with methods which aren't too invasive by measuring pulse and or skin conductivity. I wish there were bracelets which report where people are and whether they have recently used day cocaine and/or methamphetamine, that is if they are sweaty with racing hearts.

Hmm what about athletic ex addicts. Well it is easy for a non invasive big brother bracelet (bbb) to see if people are performing sports as people tend to bounce around when doing it.

So is there any way in which the bbb would amount to the worst possible invasion of privacy, any false alarm based on an activity which people generally want to keep private ? You know more than any other activity.

A yes. blush.
back to the drawing board.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Washington Post Haters Vindicated ?

What are the limits of he said/she said ? Is a universal consensus among independent scientists concerning a matter of natural science enough ? Not if a policy debate is involved. has this headline
"Stem Cell Foes Vindicated?"

which links to

"A Scientific Advance, a Political Question Mark

By Michael Abramowitz and Rick Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, November 21, 2007; Page A04 "

The article reports debate about recent scientific articles on adult stem cells which discuss possible approaches to stem cell research which are not blocked by Bush's ban on the use of human blastocysts.

The article does not discuss the ethical debate about the use of blastocysts which must be protected from scientists so they can be routinely disposed of by fertility clinics. Thus it should be an article about science and whether the critics of stem cell research have been vindicated by the new research. Let's check the view of the single solitary person quoted in the article as someone who actually contributed to the new research and is an expert

One of the researchers involved in yesterday's reports said the Bush restrictions may have slowed discovery of the new method, since scientists first had to study embryonic cells to find out how to accomplish the same thing without embryos.

"My feeling is that the political controversy set the field back four or five years," said James Thomson, who led a team at the University of Wisconsin and who discovered human embryonic stem cells in 1998.

Hmm is that a vindication ? Doesn't sound that way to me. And this is one of the people whose contributions are flagged as a possible vindication of Bush in the headline.

On the other side Abramowitz and Weiss have a lawyer (Carter Snead, former general counsel for the President's Council on Bioethics, now on the faculty at the University of Notre Dame Law School) and the former editor of American enterprise, Karl Zinsmeister. Ah yes lawyers' expertise in developmental biology is well known.
Wikipedia on Zinsmeister's expertise in biology "Zinsmeister is a graduate of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut and has also studied history as a special student at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland."

I stress that this is an article about the science of stem cells. It does not claim that there are new insights into ethical or legal issues. Yet there is not one single solitary scientist quoted in the article who is willing to answer the headline's question in the affirmative.

James Thomson isn't the only scientist quoted in the article.

"While this is exciting basic research, it could still take years to get this to work in humans in a way that could be used clinically," said Robert Lanza, chief scientific officer of Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Mass. "I cannot overstate that this is early-stage research and that we should not abandon other areas of stem cell research."

Lanza is quite right. He can not possibly stress it enough to convince the Washington Post to place the opinions on science of scientists on the same level as those of lawyers and former special students of history. He shouldn't feel bad. I don't think it is possible to stress anything that much.

Update: I decided it would be bad for my health to read Ruth Marcus's column "Krugman vs Krugman." Fortunately Mark Thoma read it so I don't have to. He claims that Marcus asserts that Krugman contradicted himself, because he asserts that the social security trust fund exists. Amazing if true. Just to check his claim, I'm going to read it after all.

The first is to deny that Social Security faces a daunting financing problem

[snip] Krugman wrote last week. "In fact, the whole Beltway obsession with the fiscal burden of an aging population is misguided."

Somebody should introduce Paul Krugman to . . . Paul Krugman.

"[A] decade from now the population served by those programs [Social Security and Medicare] will explode. . . . Because of those facts, merely balancing the federal budget would be a deeply irresponsible policy -- because that would leave us unprepared for the demographic deluge, with no alternative once it arrives except to raise taxes and slash benefits." (July 11, 2001)

"Broadly speaking, the next administration . . . will face two big economic tests. One . . . is whether it can stick to a fiscal policy, including a policy toward Social Security, that prepares this country for the demographic deluge." (Nov. 12, 2000)

OK so far Ruth Marcus has twice claimed that noting the existence of the trust fund is contradicting oneself. Krugman's current claim is that it is very possible that social security old age and disability pensions can be paid at scheduled levels forever with revenue from scheduled payroll taxes *and* the assets in the trust fund. What he claimed before was that a fiscal policy in which the unified budget deficit was zero was unsustainable. That is he was in favor of a lock box -- a commitment to balancing the general fund, that is balancing the budget not counting the social security administration surplus.

To aknowledge that in the future payments to baby boomers will be greater than payroll tax revenues was not to admit there there is a crisis, because the system was designed that way. Marcus is conveniently forgetting about trillions of dollars both those currently in the trust fund and those that will be added before the SSA begins to accept repayment of its generous loans to the general fund.

Clearly Marcus is economically illiterate or totally dishonest or most likely both.

However, that doesn't mean that Krugman hasn't changed his mind since 2001. She has 2 more quotes.

"The reason Social Security is in trouble is that the system has a large 'hole' -- basically a hidden debt -- because previous generations of retirees were paid benefits out of the contributions of younger workers . . . a multitrillion-dollar debt that somebody has to pay." (Oct. 1, 2000)

This is simple history not debatable at all except for the clause "social Security is in trouble". Not saying there is a crisis, but not what Krugman now believes exactly. The trouble is not specified. It might be that social security is in trouble because it is at the mercy of the wardens of its trust fund who are not to be trusted.

"[B]ecause the baby boomers' contributions were used to provide generous benefits to earlier generations, there isn't enough money in the system to pay the benefits promised to the boomers themselves." (June 21, 2000)

The interpretation of this depends on what you mean by "in the system". Does that mean "currently in the trust fund" or "in the trust fund plus future predicted surpluses so long as they last". I think the only interpretation consistent with ordinary English is the first. In other words, Krugman seems to have been saying that the social security administration needs not only the wealth it has but also the additional wealth that it will acquire. Therefore that additional wealth, the current and near futures surpluses, must be considered to be balanced by liabilities and not treated as free revenue for responsible current spending.

Krugman has been very consistent in arguing that the SSA old age and disability pension program is in OK shape so long as those entrusted with the trust fund are trust worthy. He does not now claim there is no problem and he never claimed there was a crisis. He has never, of course, been optimistic.

How can he be when our public policy debate is lead by lying idiots ?

Saturday, November 17, 2007


Below I get some actual traffic for a post in which I defend Barack Obama from complaints that he is falsely claiming that social security is in crisis. I definitely agree that there is no social security crisis. I didn't discuss whether Obama claimed there was one. IIRC he didn't say anything which I consider false.

My point (if any) was that his proposed remedy is good policy. He proposes raising (eliminating ?) the cap on earnings subject to payroll taxes. I also think this is good politics. This tax increase will hit people who are considered middle class by themselves and the opinion elite. I think it will be very very pleasant to be able to debate progressivity with Republicans after getting the overall unified budget into something close to balance. Using the social security age and disability pension surplus to balance other deficits is fine by me so long as the President is named Obama. That is the case in which it really matters what Obama says now.

The alternative is to declare oneself to be totally out of touch with almost all of America as Hillary Clinton just did. She argued that people with income over the FICA cap ($97,500) aren't all particularly rich. They are the top 6% of earners according to Garance Franke-Ruta who explains.

Hillary Clinton's opposition, during last night's debate, to raising the Social Security payroll tax cap was taken to task by Iowa Independent's Doug Burns as being a pander to people in the wrong state. Clinton said of the proposed tax increase on those who earn over $97,500:

It is absolutely the case that there are people who would find that burdensome. I represent firefighters. I represent school supervisors. I'm not talking -- and, you know, it's different parts of the country. So you have to look at this across the board and the numbers are staggering.

To which [the Iowa Independent's Doug] Burns replied:

Is $97,000 a lot of money? In most of Obama's Illinois and just about all of Iowa, the answer to that is "yes," which makes Obama's position on the question of whether to raise or lift the cap on Social Security taxes more reasonable to Hawkeye State voters than the New York shape-shifting of Clinton.

She suggested that popping the cap would hurt middle-class Americans and argued that in some parts of the nation (namely high-priced New York City which she represents) $97,500 isn't a lot of money. It would be interesting to hear her make that argument in Audubon County, Iowa, where the average home is worth half that much: $49,000.

OK this is what Democratic candidates must *not* do. Hillary Clinton said "forget about Iowa I want to talk about New York City". Also she tried to convince voters that people who personally earn over $97,500 really need the money. This will not win her the votes of people who earn *much* less than that, that is almost all voters in America.

If Hillary Clinton really thinks that an individual labor income of over $97,500 is perfectly normal, she has to hide that fact to win elections.

Look Barack Obama said he wanted to raise taxes paid by high income Americans. When polled a solid majority of Americans support his proposal (60%) but for some reason the blogging left is upset with him. What kind of left is that ?

Friday, November 16, 2007

I agree with Ed Kilgore and disagree with Paul Krugman and Duncan Black

I think it is good politics and good policy for Barack Obama to claim there is a social security crisis and propose to raise the FICA ceiling.

This is seriously alarming. I actually agree with everything Kilgore wrote, so I don't have much to add.

Krugman doesn't even get around to mentioning Obama's proposal. He argues, convincingly, that Obama's framing of the issue is not completely honest proving that not everything politicians say is the unvarnished truth. Knowck me down with a wrecking ball.

He then asserts "And on Social Security, as on many other issues, what Washington means by bipartisanship is mainly that everyone should come together to give conservatives what they want." OK Paul if you have evidence that conservatives want the FICA ceiling raised, put it on your blog, I'm all eyes.

Fortunately, I mostly agree with Kevin Drum except for the minor bit about what is to be done. For some reason, which I'm sure he has explained but I missed it, Drum is opposed to raising the ceiling.

On that question, I guess the view is that a middle class tax increase will free up funds which will be used for tax cuts for the rich (at least compared to what they would otherwise pay). To me this is a starve the beast argument that the worse things are the better they are and should appeal to those who admire both David Stockman and Vladimir Lenin.

The assumption appears to be that the Republicans will be in charge so any spare money will be given to the rich. Quite frankly, I don't see how anyone with that assumption hasn't given up on the whole opinion leading business. There is no way that progressives can obtain a decent outcome if the Republicans are in charge.

However, it is possible that they will be in opposition for a long time. The Democrats will not be allowed by filibustering Republicans, pundits and the gullible public to expand programs while there is a huge deficit (starve the government spending beast worked fine when Clinton was President).

It will be relatively easy to increase taxes paid by the super rich. Once that debate is in the open, the Republicans can't win it no matter how much money they get from rich pundits.

It is very hard to increase taxes on the middle class, yet, I think that will be necessary to fund medicare let alone universal health insurance. Calling it a Social Security crisis when it is a medicare crisis is a small price to pay for convincing people to pay what they have to pay to live in a decent society.

Paris is worth a mass and medicare is worth a fake social security crisis.

update: Welcome economist's viewers
I have more as a comment there. I will put it here too.

What "bipartisanship" means depends on which party controls the White House and the majority in congress. It always means reaching agreement and, in 1995, that clearly meant Democrats signing on to a Republican initiative. Things said by a presidential candidate are mostly important if that candidate becomes president. I think it is fairly clear that the main problem for president Obama or president Clinton will be the filibuster (it was the only thing that saved us from Bush to the very limited extent we were saved). A filibuster is definitely not bipartisan.

Obama is using the word now, because he thinks it will be useful to him if he is elected. Planning on Republicans always having the initiative makes no sense. Assuming that "bipartisanship" will continue to mean giving in to conservatives is assuming that the way Washington works can't be changed. If one assumes that, why would one bother to run for President ?

Some above thinks Krugman writes hastily. I think he writes brilliantly. My problem (if any) is that he is being honest. He wrote a column about whether there is a social security crisis, not about whether it will be useful to Democrats to pretend that there is. If Obama were as frank as Krugman, he would say that there is a medicare crisis and it can't be solved just by taxing the super rich so upper middle class people who want to be guaranteed health insurance when they are old better be willing to pay more in taxes, oh and by the way, while we're at it it will be no big deal to provide health insurance to all (which for all we know will save money in the long run as fewer people reach 65 after decades of untreated high blood pressure and diabetes (treated before age 65 but after years or decades of damaging kidneys and eyes and stuff)).

OK so you people who think Krugman writes sloppily, how about the sentence above (the one with nested parentheses (one pair inside the other)). Now *that* is writing sloppily.

Obama is a politician, Krugman is a commentator. Obama is using claims which poll well, Krugman is calling them like he sees them. Neither one is making a mistake. They are each playing different socially necessary roles brilliantly.

update II:

I agree with everything Krugman says here. In fact I agree with everything he wrote about Obama except for who is playing whom for a fool. I think Obama is outsmarting the villagers.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

I wants one too

Update: I receive an email from Allan Falk, attorney for the United States Bridge Federation: "This blogs sounds like it was written by a Ted Kaczynski or some other complete nut job. Allan Falk. Attorney at Law."

I loves me attorneys at law who writes like that.
Wow Peter Berkowitz got attention from Glenn Greenwald and Matthew Yglesias on the same day.

I am so envious I think I'll sue him.
I wish I had said that

A lot of this stuff has a "because command-and-control athletic shoe design failed so miserably in the Soviet Union we shouldn't try to stop Nike from using child labor in its factories" quality about it.

Matthew Yglesias


I wish I had said this too

one could, in principle, be both a member of the Republican Party and also be a politician whose career would benefit from participating in a serious discussion of important issues,

Matthew Yglesias
The Marshall Plan

Having devastated the Bush-Gonzales justice department, the TPMuckrakers appear to be moving on to State. Can they re-establish honest government one department at a time ? It seems unlikely, but how likely did it seem in 1945 that France and Germany would be rich democratic friends ?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Young Ezra Klein is Youthfully Optimistic because Ron Wyden's health care reform bill has " has 11 Senate cosponsors, including six Republicans." If the Democrats are disciplined it needs only 3 more to get over 60. He says this is exactly what didn't happen in 1993.


I have now lexis/nexised for the first time and I find that my memories of 1993 were not quite precise, but my main recollection -- never make a senator wait -- holds up.

The state of play on June 28 1993 was

MOST LIKELY ALTERNATIVE: Chafee "gave the most detailed
outline to date" 6/25 on what is likely to be the GOP's "most
prominent legislative counter-proposal to Clinton's plan," WASH.
POST reports. The bill, which is being developed by 23 senators
including Sen. Min. Ldr. Bob Dole (R-KS), "is similar to one
favored by conservative Democrats and includes many elements of
President Clinton's plan." Common features include: purchasing
pools; a standard benefits package; information to help people
choose a health plan; and a prohibition against denying coverage
because of health condition, sex or occupation. But the Chafee
plan "parts company" with the admin. over the gov't role "in
guaranteeing universal coverage and controlling health care
costs." It doesn't include an employer mandate and gov't
subsidies would be provided only "as savings from initial reform
are realized."


President Clinton's fuzzy timing for unveiling health reforms leaves Republicans waiting for a casting call in Washington's next big drama.

Sen. John Chafee, R-R.I., scrapped plans to announce a comprehensive health reform proposal drafted by moderate Republican senators when Clinton backed away from a firm announcement date.


Like Clinton, many moderate GOP senators favor sweeping overhaul of the health-care system.

"That's the thing Bob Dole really cares about. Bob Packwood cares about. John Chafee, Dave Durenberger, along with Sen. (Jay) Rockefeller, Sen. (Don) Riegle on our side," says Senate Finance Committee Chairman Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

But moderate Republicans worry that to get too far ahead of the White House is to become a political decoy, drawing criticism away from Clinton.

Chafee's office says he's drafting a bill that would include a minimum benefits package, require insurers to cover everyone, reform malpractice laws and subsidize coverage for the poor. Chafee has ruled out payroll taxes but not other levies.

Because GOP senators have 44 votes and ideological kinship with some conservative Democrats wary of Clinton's tax-and-regulate approach, Republicans may be in a position to stamp their ideas onto any health reforms that pass the Senate.


While waiting, those in Chafee's group are trying to coax a majority of their Republican colleagues into joining them. But Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas and a handful of other conservatives say any proposal they support must include a tax-deductible medical savings account - like an individual retirement account - and require individuals to buy their own insurance.

There was a filibuster proof majority for fundamental health care reform in June 1993.
Ah yes the data.

Below I note that the best available dataset, suggests that the NIH alone is running more phase III clinical trials than is "industry".

I learned this reading Derek Lowe's blog

Lowe quote "Encephalon" (and links to a dead URL)

It is a myth, and I would argue a more prevalent one than the myth that Big Pharma simply leaches off government-funded research, that the NIH does little to bring scientific breakthroughs to the bedside (once they have made them at the bench). . .Using arguably one of the best (databases) we've got (the NIH's**) we get the following figures: of the 15,466 trials currently in the database, 8008 are registered as sponsored by NIH, 380 by 'other federal agency', 4656 by 'University/Organization', and 2422 by Industry. While I am suspicious that the designation 'university/organization' is not wholly accurate, and may represent funding from diverse sources, and while the clinical trials in the registry are by no stretch of the imagination only pharmaceutical studies, the 8388 recent trials sponsored by Federal agencies are no negligeable matter. I think Dr. Lowe will agree."

A reader e-mails in a breakdown by phase. Phase I trials are uncontrolled trials testing for toxicity and pharmokinetics and stuff. Phase II trials are small double blind controlled studies, Phase III trials are large and may be followed by FDA approval if the results are good.

Regarding the numbers, by my reckoning the 8000 NIH studies and the 2400 'industry' studies probably represent about the same investment in *therapeutic* clinical trials. If you break down the NIH trials, about 1800 (22%) are Phase I, 3000 (37%) are Phase II, 1100 (14%) are Phase III, and the rest (2150, 27%) are observational and other. (If you want to check, I did a search within the results for the appropriate phrases and subtracted from the total for the remainder). Figures for industry are 460 (19%) Phase I, 1060 (44%) Phase II, 770 (32%) Phase III, and 133 (5%) other.

Derek Lowe asserts that many industry trials are not in the database.

I agree that NIH has a real role in clinical trials, but I don't think it's a large as these figures would make you think., since it's an NIH initiative, is sure to include everything with NIH funding, but there are many industry studies that have never shown up there. (And I share the scepticism about the "University" designation.) When the Grand Clinical Trial Registry finally gets going, in whatever form it takes, we can get a better idea of what's going on.

Lowe can be skeptical of the 'university/organization' category, but he should not ignore it completely in a blog archive on industry vs academia. I don't understand his distinction between and the "Grand Clinical Trial Registry ". is a mandatory clinical trial registry. I don't see how it can get any grander. I guess that Lowe criticized the data set on a web page without clicking the links explaining what it is.

He presents 0 evidence and 0 examples.

He works for Merk, so I am surprised that he claims that US pharmaceutical companies often flaut the law. Registration is obligatory

F. Which trials are provided to the public through the Clinical Trials Data Bank?

Section 113 of the Modernization [1997] Act requires sponsors to submit information about clinical trials of experimental treatments for serious diseases and conditions when conducted under the IND regulations. 42 U.S.C. 282(j)(3)(A). Such information can be submitted at any time with the consent of the protocol sponsor, and must be submitted within 21 days after a trial to test effectiveness begins. In addition, section 113 of the Modernization Act states that information on all treatment IND protocols and all Group C protocols must be included in the Clinical
Trials Data Bank

Group C protocols are specific to drugs which have shown progress against specific tumour types.

An IND must be granted by the FDA before phase I (that means before the drug is given to people). INDs are required for new uses of old drugs if, among other things, the study is intended to "support a significant change in the advertising for the product"

If the pharmaceutical industry is conducting clinical trials without informing the FDA, they are either breaking the law or spending money in a way which can't possibly help their shareholders.

I don't think that big pharma is a collection of saints, but I am sure they are very very careful not to piss off the FDA, so I find the claim that there are many recent clinical trials not included in absolutely incredible.

For trials before 1997, the data base would have to be filled in by someone at the *.gov using FDA data on INDs. I don't see why this is more obscure than NIH data on funding. The FDA data are, by law, comprehensive. It would be insane not to start the register with them.

So it seems that industry is doing well less than half of phase III trials.

I am shocked. I have a fairly high opinion of big pharma R&D but Lowe is convincing me that I may have grossly overestimated industry's contribution.
I debate Sebastian Holsclaw

I fear I am boring people over at Brad's blog so I am taking the debate here and to the post below which is long and almost irrelevant.

Sebastian writes

"As for the idea that NIH funds 'most' of the research, I strongly suggest that you look around Derek Lowe's blog at

He has a number of good posts on the subject. I would look on the right hand side under "Categories" and consider:
"Me Too" Drugs
Academia (vs. Industry)
Drug Development
Drug Industry History
Patents and IP

(though if you want an overview, the first 2 categories are probably enough)."

His overall point is that the contributions of the NIH aren't the 'near-none' that some hyper-market advocates may say, but they aren't anywhere near as important in drug development as people like Waldmann or Angell seem to think.

I am working through the category "Acadamia (vs. Industry)". I find the blog very interesting and my angry co-author is going to be even angrier tomorrow.

I have read back to September 2004 and I finally get to some data on quantity of research. More recent posts (discussed at great length below) note that some academics don't do drug development and that academics tend to make exaggerated claims that their research will be useful for drug development.

Lowe writes

OK, I couldn't resist. Let me reiterate that I completely admire the NIH's commitment to basic research; it's one of the real drivers of science in this country. But they're not a huge factor in clinical trials. Academia does more basic research than pharma; pharma does more clinical work than academia. Here are some statistics from a reader e-mail:

Now we get to the data. He quotes an e-mail

Regarding the numbers, by my reckoning the 8000 NIH studies and the 2400 'industry' studies probably represent about the same investment in *therapeutic* clinical trials. If you break down the NIH trials, about 1800 (22%) are Phase I, 3000 (37%) are Phase II, 1100 (14%) are Phase III, and the rest (2150, 27%) are observational and other. (If you want to check, I did a search within the results for the appropriate phrases and subtracted from the total for the remainder). Figures for industry are 460 (19%) Phase I, 1060 (44%) Phase II, 770 (32%) Phase III, and 133 (5%) other.

In my experience each phase of clinical trials multiplies costs by about 10 times (e.g., Phase I = X; Phase II = 10X, Phase III = 100X), so the figures imply that the costs of Phase I, II, and III trials funded by industry are over 80% of those funded by NIH (costs are overwhelmingly driven by Phase III trials). And this is despite the close to 100% capture of NIH trials versus the unknown percentage capture of industry trials that you noted in your post."

OK so the evidence that "pharma does more clinical work than academia." is a study in which there are 8000 NIH studies and 2400 pharma studies. All the studies are clinical with human patients. Back at Brad's blog, I suggested that pharma has a massive lead in Phase III trials. The data show 1100 NIH funded phase III trials and
770 industry funded phase III trials.

The conclusion is based on the argument that "the close to 100% capture of NIH trials versus the unknown percentage capture of industry trials that you noted in your post." That is, the data suggest that the NIH does more clinical research than , but we assume the data are biased so we conclude that industry does more clinical research than academia. Note not all academic research is NIH funded.

When an actual statistic enters Lowe's blog, he concludes that it is misleading because ... well I will read his argument.

Next post shows that Lowe's identification of NIH funded with academia is not sloppy. It is grossly dishonest. He quotes Encephalon.

"Using arguably one of the best (databases) we've got (the NIH's**) we get the following figures: of the 15,466 trials currently in the database, 8008 are registered as sponsored by NIH, 380 by 'other federal agency', 4656 by 'University/Organization', and 2422 by Industry."

Lowe says he is suspicious of the data base and, in particular, the "University/Organization" classification. That is he rejects the evidence, although he presents none of his own.

"I agree that NIH has a real role in clinical trials, but I don't think it's a large as these figures would make you think., since it's an NIH initiative, is sure to include everything with NIH funding, but there are many industry studies that have never shown up there. (And I share the scepticism about the "University" designation.)"

OK if they are many, name one.

My understanding is that clinical trials require pre-approval by the FDA -- an IND for "investigative new drug." I see no reason why the FDA would miss many clinical trials and no basis for Lowe's apparent beleif that the NIH didn't get information from the FDA.

Lowe is a scientist. I don't see how he can assert that there are "many" of something without a shred of evidence.

A post on oral anti diabetic drugs and ppars. Does show that some things started at a Japanese pharmaceutical company and Glaxo made an important basic science type contribution.

Next post is on "does pharma do basic research" so the example above would be an important case of "yes". It means the post I discuss just above was written to prove that pharma does some basic research.
Also Lowe notes his own contribution to synthetic organic chemistry building on work by Bristol-Meyers Squibb.

A very long post on the "doo-dah kinase" a made up enzyme. In Lowe's story academics do not work on a drug which inhibits the doo-dah kinase. Roughly academics are biologists and chemists are in industry. This is a useful way for him to present his claim, but it has nothing to do with evidence.

A post on patents and should Universities apply for them (or refrain for the public good)

A post on how most people in the academy are graduate students and younger than people in industry (roughly).

A post on how Stuart Schreiber thinks that academics shouldn't try to develop drugs. Note Stuart Schreiber is criticizing an NIH initiative. The argument basically is that pharma does this.

Two more posts on what it is like to get a PhD in chemistry vs working in industry.

The first post in the archive

Greg Hlatky over at A Dog's Lifeis right on target in his post of Tuesday the 24th. And that's not just because he said that my posts always make him think - of course, he could always be thinking "What's with this maniac, anyway?"

No, he's completely correct about the uses of time and money in academia versus industry. He points out that:

Industry and academia each have major constraints. At colleges and universities, it's money. Money is always in short supply and grants have to be used to cover the administration's greed in charging overhead, tuition and stipend for the students, purchase of laboratory chemicals and equipment, and so on. The money never seems enough and professors are always rattling their begging cups with funding agencies to continue their research.

Does sound like moving some money from industry to the academy would be a good idea no ? But Holsclaw sent me here to convince me of the opposite didn't he ?

following Holsclaw's link, I discover that I have massively overestimated industries role in phase III trials, an important kind of clinical research.

Someone clearly chosen as a critic of the "NIH does the real research" view is of the opinion that money is wasted in industry and in short supply in the academy. That the transfer of projects from the academy (research) to industry (development) is inefficient because academics are totally out of touch with development and that, therefore, academics should not develop expertise in drug development (huy?).

It all sounds like an overwhelming case for bargaining down prices of pharmaceuticals to provide enough money so that academic chemists can work with academic biologists and physicians doing what pharma does at a much much much lower cost.

Now I remain convinced (as I wrote in comments upstream from Holsclaw's in Brad's blog) that the pharmaceutical industry plays a crucial role in drug development (the R in R&D will not get us to an Rx without interacting with the D). There is, however, no systematic evidence for this claim in the blog archive category industry vs academia.

I can't believe that any claim could be so weak that someone would link to a mass of opinion in which the only solid facts point strongly against that claim (the known fact, as always, is that the numbers are in the database, not that they are exact).

I haven't read the first category "copy cat drugs" and I don't plan too. I have spent much time tonight exploring the question of whether it is wise to pay any attention to Sebastian Holsclaw, and I have reached a very firm conclusion.
I debate Sebastian Holsclaw

I fear I am boring people over at Brad's blog so I am taking the debate here.

Sebastian writes (asterixes mine)

*"The reason of course is that healthcare innovations can be offered for sale in any country, not just the country in which they were developed. Global private investment in healthcare R&D is driven by the expected return on that investment, which is a function of the global profit pool. The fact that country A spends a ton of money on exotic care should drive investment in R&D not only in country A but in country B, which does not spend a ton of money on exotic care. So long as patents are protected we would expect to see private R&D investment across countries roughly proportional to the population of trained research scientists in those countries. If Merck can make money on a drug in the US it is agnostic as to whether it places its development labs in the US or in another country.

Robert writes
"sd, indeed you are right, and therefore the high rate of medical innovation performed in the USA is not evidence on the effect of US health care financing on innovation."

Your 'therefore' is not correct because there isn't a random distribution of profit-making across countries by pharmaceuticals such that you can substitute "the US" with "Holland" or "France" in the statement. If the largest portion of profits are made in the US (and they are), the US is driving innovation such that innovations in other countries are still incentivized by US profit.*

As for the idea that NIH funds 'most' of the research, I strongly suggest that you look around Derek Lowe's blog at

He has a number of good posts on the subject. I would look on the right hand side under "Categories" and consider:
"Me Too" Drugs
Academia (vs. Industry)
Drug Development
Drug Industry History
Patents and IP

(though if you want an overview, the first 2 categories are probably enough).

His overall point is that the contributions of the NIH aren't the 'near-none' that some hyper-market advocates may say, but they aren't anywhere near as important in drug development as people like Waldmann or Angell seem to think.

I can make no sense at all of the argument Holsclaw makes between the asterixes.

Mainly he directs me to Derek Lowe. I am working through topic II Academia (vs. Industry). I come to this argument

"This would make particularly interesting reading for the NIH-funding-discovers-all-the-new-drugs crowd. [snip]Even now, when I tell co-workers in the industry that there are people who believe that pretty much all drugs come right out of from publicly funded research, the usual result is an incredulous stare and a burst of laughter. That’s often followed by a question like “So what is it that I’m doing all day, then?”"

That is, Lowe sets up a straw man with "all" and "pretty much all" and knocks it down. I am not aware of anyone who believes that "pretty much all drugs come right out of from publicly funded research." I am certainly not such a person (as Holsclaw would have known if he had read my comments on the post before writing his own). Lowe then argues that a group of people makes an important contribution by quoting them as authorities. This is a non starter.

There are more substantive arguments in that post and in the post above it but both amount to proving that some academic research does not constitute drug development. One could prove this by discussing work in number theory and philosophy as well.

It is certainly true that some academics identify targets for drugs and others develop chemicals which work in a test tube but are toxic or insoluble or unabsorbable. This does not address the question of whether academics develop useful drugs (some do of course) or the question of the relative importance of the academy and pharmaceutical corporations in drug development.

The measurement of such relative importance requires quantitative data on drugs developed. I will now see if there is any in Lowe's category archive on academia_vs_industry.

One post on how people who shouldn't have PhDs have them.

One post on a result in chemistry made at a non profit research institute which could be useful in increasing productivity in pharmaceutical companies.

Another begins "So, as reader CalProf asked in a comment the other day, what should academic scientists who want to help discover drugs be doing?". So it discusses what Lowe thinks academics should do and not what they, in fact, do. No evidence is presented in support of the views. Lowe's argument, in its entirity, is that drug development requires collaboration between people in different specialties (undoubtably true) and then he writes "It's a lot easier to organize this as a company where everyone is hired to do their specialty, rather than try to run it with whatever post-docs and grad students you have handy."

He thus demonstrates that he has no idea how the academy actual works. He assumes that the academy means one professor and one lab. A post above demonstrates that he reads "Nature". He might have noticed that the affiliations of different authors are often different. It is simply not true that academic research is done with "whatever post-docs and grad students you have handy." When necessary academics in different labs work together, so research teams include more than one professor (you don't say?). It is possible, in the academy, for people of different specialties to work together. Is it common ? I have no more information on that than when I started reading the blog. Lowe does not useful things which academics can do which are not drug development. This is not relevant to Holsclaw's claim.

A post on why he finds his work as exciting as academic work.

A post on Merck's head of research, Peter Kim. Lowe criticizes Kim and notes that he is a transplant from academia. There doesn't seem to me that there is any link between the criticisms and the academic background. Also note that Lowe's views on the academy do not appear to be shared by top management at Merk.

A post which criticizes and article in "ChemBioChem (6, 1749)" which is not, as far as I know, a top journal. Lowe concludes that this article shows what's wrong with academics. Again the fact that some academics do something which is not useful is used to argue that academics don't do things which are useful.

The argument that the results may lead to further research which will yield a useful drug is standard wishful thinking. The publication of the article in "ChemBioChem" does not mean that anyone is convinced.

A post which begins "Adrian Ivinson, a former editor of Nature Medicine and now head of a new research center at Harvard Medical School, writes that the section:

". . .did not recognize an increasingly relevant but underappreciated and underutilized role for academic research in drug discovery." Lowe disagrees, but neither he nor Ivinson presents any evidence.

Another post begins

"A reader at a large research university sends this along for comment:

"My advisor is a staunch skeptic of the value of "big pharma". He recently made a comment in a group meeting that "Merck has not discovered anything in 25 years. They don't do research, they acquire it. In fact, I don't know why they even have chemists and biologists, maybe they feel they have to..."

Well. I realize that there's a lot of good-natured sniping between industry and academia, but that kind of crosses the line, doesn't it?"

Indeed it does. The un-named advisor is making a very extreme claim. He is prof. Strawman in person. I never made (or hinted at) any such belief. The prof. is a jerk but irrelevant to my debate with Holsclaw.

A post on mutual suspicions between academics and industry scientists. No evidence is presented, but I am going to copy and comment

I'm not saying these are all true, or true all the time. But here are three things that industrial pharma researchers tend to believe about academic ones:

1. They talk too darn much. Don't even think about sharing any proprietary material with them, because it'll show up in a PowerPoint show at their next Gordon conference. How'd that get in there?

2. They wouldn't know a real deadline if it crawled up their trouser legs. Just a few weeks, just a few months, just a couple of years more and they'll have it all figured out. Trust 'em.

3. They have no idea of how hard it is to develop a new compound. First compound they make that's under a micromolar IC50, and they think they've just discovered Wonder Drug.

The third point is very damaging to Holsclaw. It suggests that, to the extent it exists, the division: proof of principle in academia and drug development in industry is costly. Above Lowe argues for more academic drug development and notes an academic article which claims the results are useful for drug development when they aren't. So far, his blog suggests that merging pharmaceutical companies and public research institutions would have benefits. Also note first point about secrecy. This is, to society, a disadvantage of commercial research.

And (fair's fair), here are three things that academic researchers tend to believe about industrial ones:

1. They have so much money that they don't know what to do with it. They waste it in every direction, because they've never had to fight for funding. If they had to write grant applications, they'd faint.

2. They wouldn't know basic research if it bonked them on the head. They think everything has to have a payoff in (at most) six months, so they only discover things that are in front of their noses.

3. They're obsessed with secrecy, which is a convenient way to avoid ever having to write up anything for publication. They seem to think patent applications count for something, when any fool can send one in. Try telling Nature that you're sending in a "provisional publication", details to come later, and see how far that gets you.

I'm not sure if Lowe agrees with the academics (if he disagrees he might have said so). The complaints would be pretty devastating to Holsclaw's argument if they were true. I mean wasting money while only discovering things in front of ones nose is not ideal.

Now I don't think that Lowe thinks that the NIH should take over big pharma. Clearly there are excellent arguments against such a move. However, so far, the blog has presented only arguments in favor.

This is astonishing as I was sent here by someone arguing against me for merely noting that some medical advances are developed in the academy (and damn that was a device not a drug so why the hell am I reading about chemistry ?)

A post on team work in pharmaceutical companies. He contrasts it with being a chemistry doctoral student. Again noting some academics are not doing drug development which is no surprise.

A post on respecting secrecy. For society this is a disadvantage of commercial research. Academics compete too and race each other. Such secrecy is not needed for people to be motivated.

A post on how to do a job presentation.

A post on undergraduate teaching.

A post on Larry Summers and graduate teaching.

Here Lowe is very very naive about the particular institution he is discussing, because he uses the phrase "tenure track job". Summers was president of Harvard. There is no such thing there. If one is hired as an assistant professor, the probability of getting tenure is roughly 10%. It is not time to slow down and have a baby. In economics (where there a no post doctoral fellowships) Harvard grants tenure to people who are at the very very top of their sub fields (top 1 in principle maybe top 2, 5th best in the world isn't good enough) at age 32 and up (allll the way up). There are very few mothers in that group. I think no economist who is also a mother has ever been tenured at Harvard.

I mean it's way waaaaay worse than Lowe suggests at Harvard (which is an extraordinarily evil place even by the standards of US academia).

A post on understanding science including "Chad Orzel, being a physicist, instantly translates "doesn't understand science" to "doesn't understand math","

I really really hate the way that physicists treat "science" and "physics" as synonyms.

Another post which includes
"That's when it hit me: the article that Carroll's referring to isn't warning people away from becoming scientists. It's warning them away from becoming physics professors. Very different!"

I really really hate the way that physicists treat "science" and "physics" as synonyms.

A post on what he doesn't miss in chemistry grad school.

Still no sign that he knows anything about the academy outside of a chemistry department.

A post begins "The October 29th issue of Science has an interesting article from a team at Stanford on a possible approach for Alzheimer's therapy. "

Lowe concludes that it probably will not work because the reagent in question will not cross the blood brain barrier. Again an example of academics who may not have discovered a drug. Doesn't show that there aren't academics who have discovered drugs.

The compound hasn't been tested in animals. If it doesn't work, the idea, which is original, might be useful in developing a compound that does.

OK some data I will post above.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007 meets The Washington Post Fact Check and Michael Dobbs of the Washington Post are criticized separately below, now they meet. acknowledges that they were wrong and Hillary Clinton was right about her husband and archival records of their communications while he was President (they do claim they know that "we" must refer to the health care task force and not the health care working group so something she said was false)

They note (my emphasis)

Bruce Lindsey, who is Bill Clinton’s designated representative for dealing with the National Archives, issued a statement that said, in part, “Contrary to recent reports, Bill Clinton has not asked that records related to communications with Senator Clinton be withheld.” It also said that “Currently, none of the FOIA requests [the Archives] has processed and provided for my review involve Senator Clinton.

Ah so those 26,000 pages have nothing to do with Hillary Clinton

Now let's go back to the Washington Post Fact Checker Michael Dobbs who argues

But the Clintons are themselves taking advantage of a clause in a November 2001 Bush presidential order that permits former presidents to take all the time they need to review FOIA requests.

According to National Archives officials, 26,000 pages of Clinton presidential records are being held for release to researchers after being submitted to Clinton lawyer Bruce Lindsey for review. The records have been screened and processed by Archives officials under the Freedom of Information Act, but cannot be released to the public until Lindsey signs off on them as President Clinton's designated representative.

Lindsey did not respond to telephone calls. An associate, who asked not to be named, said Lindsey processed 4,000 out of the outstanding pages last week. The associate said Lindsey was going through the documents himself one by one at the presidential library in Little Rock, Arkansas, but he is "just one person" and can not delegate the work to other people. He blamed any delays on the new bureaucratic procedures ordered by Bush under Executive Order 13233.

A Clinton campaign spokesman, Jay Carson, said the former president had "consistently been an advocate for releasing his presidential records as quickly as possible" and had opposed the Bush administration order that placed new restrictions on their release.

There is, however, nothing in Executive Order 13233 that obliges a former president, or his representative, to go through the records one by one. If former President Clinton is so opposed to the Bush administration order, he could simply instruct Lindsey to approve the documents wholesale.

So both Clintons are taking advantage of something which does not "involve" Senator Clinton according to the person who actually knows the facts. A huge discussion follows about something which is not the topic addressed by Clinton.

The relevant transcript from

Russert: [W]ould you allow the National Archives to release the documents about your communications with the president, the advice you gave, because, as you well know, President Clinton has asked the National Archives not to do anything until 2012?
Clinton: Well, actually, Tim, the Archives is moving as rapidly as the Archives moves. There's about 20 million pieces of paper there and they are moving, and they are releasing as they do their process. And I am fully in favor of that……
Russert: But there was a letter written by President Clinton specifically asking that any communication between you and the president not be made available to the public until 2012. Would you lift that ban?
Clinton: Well, that's not my decision to make. And I don't believe that any president or first lady has. But certainly we'll move as quickly as our circumstances and the processes of the National Archives permits.

Dobbs's extract

"Well actually, Tim, the Archives is moving as rapidly as the Archives moves. There's about 20 million pieces of paper there...I think that, you know, the Archives will continue to move as rapidly as its circumstances and processes demand."

--Hillary Clinton, Democratic debate, October 30, 2007, in response to a question from Tim Russert on delays in the release of Clinton presidential papers.

The 26,000 pages have nothing to do with Hillary Clinton's communications with Bill Clinton and have nothing to do with the question Clinton answered. Dobbs didn't know this for sure, but he did know that all he had against Clinton was a fact related to Clinton administration records and not specifically her communications with Bill. He chose to suppress the fact that the question concerned exactly that in his summary of the question, thus making it appear that possibly irrelevant information (which is in fact irrelevant) proved Clinton to be dishonest.

He has proven that Dobbs is dishonest. The assumption that in 26,000 pages there must be a pony, is just reckless, the effort to make it appear that Russert's question must have been related to those 26,000 pages earns at least 3 Pinocchios.

And this is supposed to be a fact checker !
Fact Check Check

Michael Dobbs notes that Richardson exaggerates his rivals commitment to staying in Iraq.

"Senator Clinton, Obama and Edwards are saying we need to keep troops until 2013, as many as 75,000. I say get 'em all out as soon as possible."

--Bill Richardson, on the Stephanie Miller radio show, November 7, 2007.

Dobbs notes that the number 75,000 does not come from Clinton Obama *or* Edwards and is certainly not a point of perfect agreement stated by all three of them as claimed by Richardson

The other campaigns are also contesting the part about keeping "as many as 75,000" troops in Iraq. According to [Richardson spokesperson Katie] Roberts, this estimate comes from a March 15, 2007 New York Times article. That article quoted a former Pentagon official, Dov S. Zakheim, as saying that the repositioning of U.S. forces to discourage foreign meddling in Iraq and stop the Kurds in the North from declaring independence would require "no more than 75,000 troops." But none of Richardson's rivals has ever mentioned the 75,000 estimate in their speeches.

So far solid fact checking. But Dobbs goes on to challenge another claim

"George Bush's "surge" has failed: this summer was the bloodiest yet, and there's no end in sight."

--Statement on Richardson campaign Web site.

Dobbs claims that this summer was not the bloodiest yet and doing so demonstrates that the concept of "summer" is too subtle for him.

On a different but related subject, the New Mexico governor is entitled to his opinion that George Bush's "surge" has failed miserably. But he is not accurate when he claims that the last summer was "the bloodiest yet" in Iraq. As I argued in a previous post, violence does seem to have been coming down in Iraq since a high of late last year. It is true that more U.S. servicemen were killed in Iraq in the summer of 2007 than the summer of 2006, but the number of U.S. casualties has been falling significantly since August, according to official Pentagon figures.

OK Mr Dobbs let me try to explain things slowly. "Late last year" was not summer. The summer is in the middle of the year. The months at the end are fall and winter.
The period "since August" is not summer. You are looking at data at a monthly freequency. When classifying months we consider June July and August to be summer (if you have trouble remembering note that they are the months without r's).

A claim about "last summer" can not be proven false by events "since August."

I note that, according to the site chosen by Dobbs, there were more US casualties in August 2007 than in July 2007 and that Dobbs linked to a page on Iraqi civilian casualties although he wrote "U.S. Casualties" (hint if the URL includes "IraqiDeathsByYear.aspx" it probably doesn't link to data on US servicemen).

Summer 2007 was, according to MNF-I the bloodiest summer so far, exactly as Richardson claimed. Dobbs argues that this assertion is false by pretending that November 2006, December 2006 and September 2007 came in the summer. This is not exactly true.

I award Dobbs 4 Pinocchios fact checks

The October 31 article contains a remarkable claim

Throughout the debate Clinton resolutely avoided saying specifically what, if anything, she would do to shore up the finances of the Social Security system. She repeatedly called for "fiscal responsibility" and said she would appoint a bipartisan commission to study the system. And she made clear she was in no hurry to act:

Clinton: I think for us to act like Social Security is in crisis is a Republican trap.

In fact, the system is headed for nearly certain collapse unless some action is taken to increase taxes or at least slow down the projected rise of future benefits. And delay will only make the eventual corrections more painful, experts say.

The system's trustees state

So it is a fact that the system is headed for nearly certain collapse ! They mean it may be necessary to cut benefits to a level higher in real terms than the current level. Some collapse. Here the conventional wisdom is being enforced by an organization which claims to be checking facts.

The "painfulness" of corrections can not be a fact. the experts in question are political appointees whose intellectual dishonesty has been demonstrated. here takes sides in an open debate which depends on forecasts. The trustees perfect record of under-estimating revenues is not held to be relevant. Also describes a 25% cut in benefits (from the higher scheduled level) as a collapse.

A hint to -- facts are described in the past tense. When one uses the future tense, one is making a prediction. One should not take the statement of a partisan body involved in a fierce debate as absolute truth.

Odd that I need to explain these things.

Amazingly I was sent to that page by digby because corrected an error of fact which they made in the same article.

But at one point it was moderator Tim Russert who misled . He asked Sen. Clinton if she would lift a “ban” on releasing her White House communications, adding that “a letter written by President Clinton specifically [asks] that any communication between you and the president not be made available to the public until 2012.” That misquotes Bill Clinton’s letter. There’s no “ban.”

Correction: Nov. 8: Our story originally stated that Sen. Clinton’s response to Russert’s question was misleading. We made the same mistake Russert did, misreading the former President’s letter to the Archives.

Of three criticisms of Clinton, one restates factual error and blames Clinton for pointing out that it is an error, one presents the Social Security Trustees claim as an uncontrovertible fact and the third notes that Clinton dodged a question.

And this is supposed to be fact checking ?
In defence of big Pharma R&D is not just R.
Before a discovery can be used to treat people extensive development is often necessary. An example would be protease inhibitors for AIDS.

Proof of principle was University based, but the molecules had to be tinkered so they would be absorbed and get to where the virus is.

Also, the private sector is needed to deal with the FDA. Strange but true, a key role of big pharma is to finance and run phase III (that is huge) trials to demonstrate safety and effectiveness. This also means that new innovative startup companies need an established partner to bring their products to market.

Clinical trials are very difficult as they must be both rigorous science and ethical patient care. Basically every eventuality has to be anticipated and written into the protocol so the trial is a controlled experiment in which doctors do what is best for patients.

At the stage of developing the product and proving it works, the big old companies have something we need and they expect to get huge profits for providing it.

Now I think this doesn't mean that health care reform is a mistake. Pharmaceutical companies get a huge return on investment. Each one can't afford to accept a normal return, similar to firms in other sectors, because they will be taken over. A stingier medicare administration would reduce profits across the industry, so no one would stand out as under performing.

update: Further discussion at Brad's blog

I attended an interesting conference where one of the high-ups in UK academic cancer research was speaking. They have enormous charitable funding to do basic research, chemists of known competence in vast abundance, and the cancer research organisation has its own hospital so can do phase-I and phase-II trials, but said they couldn't possibly take a drug all the way to market.

The issue seems to be that the cost of synthesising products in reasonable bulk is large enough that you want a partner to bear it, and the cost of phase-III trials where you're working with a fair chunk of the people with some particular cancer in the country is also enormous.

And all partners want patent-scale exclusivity, they want to have the potential of jackpot rather than simple payment for fine-chemicals work.

I didn't ask whether it was possible to get the bulk syntheses done by Dr Reddy's or another of the Indian generics magnates. It's not absolutely obvious that you can't get phase-III trials done with pure public funding; they cost as much as a small space probe or a medium physics facility, but public funding has launched a lot of small space probes in the last fifty years, and there are quite a lot of medium physics facilities around.

Posted by: Tom Womack | November 13, 2007 at 10:25 AM

"The NIH budget is similar to total R&D spending by pharmaceutical companies." -Waldman

Maybe the total budget, but Pharma spends almost twice as much as NIH on drug research. In Anderson, Shea, Hussey, Keyhani, and Zephryin (Health Affairs, July 21, 2004, Doughnut Holes and Price Controls) they report that Pharma accounted for 60% of total drug research compared to 34% from NIH and 6% private.

Posted by: Hederman | November 13, 2007 at 10:50 AM

Tom, its not true that you can't do Phase III with pure public funding. NIH is sponsoring a number of phase III trials. There have also been quite a few successful trials with public funding under the Orphan Drug act. These studies cost in the millions to 10s of millions as opposed to space probe costs. Some of these trials have been influential. Tissue plasminogen activator (TPA) for stroke was an NIH sponsored trial. To be fair, these are often trials of 'off the shelf' agents that Big Pharma has no interest in pursuing. In some areas, its impossible to get Big Pharma interested in phase III trials because the disease in question is rare to uncommon. In other cases, Big Pharma avoids appropriate phase III trials because an adverse outcome would affect profits. For example, trials comparing efficacy of different anti-psychotics and anti-depressants have been done under NIH auspices.
NIH trials are often cheaper than industry trials, partly because academics flock to these trials because the results will always be published. In addition, NIH is more likely to support innovative trial designs than industrial sponsors.

Posted by: Roger Albin | November 13, 2007 at 10:59 AM

Good points Roger, not to mention the aspirin and beta carotene experiment with a sample size of 20,000.

Tom I'm pretty sure that synthesis of enough of a synthetic organic chemical for a phase III trial is not very costly, although setting up synthesis to quality acceptable to the FDA for even phase I and II trials is costly, scaling up can't be all that costly.

Writing the protocol of a study is (and must be) a major effort (as I describe above). The patient care of a phase III study is costly to enormously costly depending (enormous for TPA). Here Roger's "academics flock to" point is key. Almost all of the cost of the TPA trial was not on the NIH budget as it was host entities paying for stroke patient care and eager to be involved.

Posted by: Robert Waldmann | November 13, 2007 at 01:02 PM
Fact Check Check

Michael Dobbs gives John Edwards 2 Pinocchios for saying

"I believe every candidate for president owes the American people a clear and specific plan for ending the Iraq War...All she [Hillary Clinton] has said is that she will meet with her generals within two months of taking office. That's not a plan. That's not even a real promise. It's the promise of a planning meeting."

Dobbs notes other things she has said, which don't amount anything like enough to reassure me but do go beyond planning to plan.

Edwards gets 2 Pinocchios, Dobbs gets 3 stars.
I hereby demonstrate my standards

I will do almost anything for a link, but not use that word.

Oh and fuck you Chomsky.

ps I also don't use that other word with 2 g's in the middle.
I hereby demonstrate my standards

I will do almost anything for a link, but not use that word.

Oh and fuck you Chomsky.
Hans Suter has a new blog
in addition to I Hans (see blogroll).

Monday, November 12, 2007

Michael Kinsley throws a hanging curve ball Jonathan Cohn puts a baseball on a tee and Jonathan Cohn hits it out of the park

The treatment Mike received is called Deep Brain Stimulation, or DBS for short. [snip] It is also very costly. Medtronic, a company that makes the electrodes, says the whole procedure costs between $50,000 and $60,000. And, because the treatment's main effect is to suppress and delay the onset of symptoms, rather than cure the disease, Mike started wondering whether a system of universal health insurance would pay for it--and, if so, in which cases.


And that prompted another thought--not from Mike but from me. All of this was assuming DBS even existed. The United States is famously the world leader in medical innovation--in part, it would seem, because we spend like a drunken sailor when it comes to medical care.

it would seem that Cohn is setting up a straw man (the kind who mixes metaphors with baseballs on tees). So it is.

DBS was discovered in the French public sector in the University of Grenoble.

More generally, while the US is the leader in medical innovation, this is largely due to the huge immense gigantic public sector effort called the NIH.

I made the same point at Brad's blog 2 years ago (and I didn't set up the straw man myself).

update: Not only is Brad DeLong a hero of intellectual honesty for his "DeLong Smackdown Watch" posts, but this post is awesome.

Brad scores a goal for universal health care (with an assist from Alex Tabbarok).

Alex Tabbarok notes

People who have the flu spread the virus so getting a flu shot not only reduces the probability that I will get the flu it reduces the probability that you will get the flu. In the language of economics the flu shot creates an external benefit, a benefit to other people not captured by the person who paid the costs of getting the shot.

Brad recalls

The person ... said that she was on Medical and didn't have to pay the $25 for the [flu] shot--and didn't have the money to pay the $25 in any case. But the Sutter Visiting Nurse Association apparently does not take Medi-Cal:


Note that people covered by Medi-Cal are NOT counted as among the 47 million uninsured.