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December 11, 2017

Price "Gouging" Encourages Demanders to Conserve and Suppliers to Supply




(p. A17) . . . price hikes are a response to scarcity, and signals that reveal the true severity of scarcity are critical during storms and other crises. Price hikes let consumers know that fuel is scarcer than it was. Price hikes prompt consumers to use fuel more judiciously, buying less gasoline than they would at a lower price. They take fewer unnecessary trips, diminishing pressure on supplies. Price hikes also create a financial incentive for suppliers from outside the area to move their product into high-demand zones. As supplies return to normal, so do prices.


. . .


Year's revelers in New York City welcomed 2015, Uber's surge-pricing algorithm stopped working for nearly 30 minutes. Without the guarantee of extra pay, drivers had little incentive to brave New Year's traffic. Requests spiked 300%, wait times doubled, and the rate of completed trips fell 80%. People who really needed Ubers--and would have been willing to pay surge pricing--couldn't get a ride.


. . .


Price increases are an important means of encouraging as many people as possible to cope as well and as creatively as possible with natural disasters. True, the rising price of goods like gasoline can create problems for consumers, particularly the poor. But these drawbacks are negligible compared to the life-threatening shortages that can result when ill-informed public outrage keeps prices artificially low. Even a poor person is better off being able to buy a bottle of water for $10 when the alternative is to have $10 and go thirsty.



For the full commentary, see:

Donald J. Boudreaux. "'Price Gouging' After a Disaster Is Good for the Public; If government prohibits suppliers from charging more, consumers hoard, exacerbating shortages." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., OCT. 4, 2017): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCT. 3, 2017.)






December 10, 2017

Socialized Medicine "Mummifies Its Doctors in Spools of Red Tape"




(p. A17) One of the reasons patients find condescension from doctors especially loathsome is that it diminishes them -- if you're gravely ill, the last thing you need is further diminishment. But the desires of patients, Marsh notes, are often paradoxical. They also pine for supreme confidence in their physicians, surgeons especially, because they've left their futures -- the very possibility of one at all, in some cases -- in their doctors' custody. "So we quickly learn to deceive," Marsh writes, "to pretend to a greater level of competence and knowledge than we know to be the case, and try to shield our patients a little from the frightening reality they often face."

Over time, Marsh writes, many doctors start to internalize the stories they tell themselves about their superior judgment and skill. But the best, he adds, unlearn their self-deceptions, and come to accept their fallibility and learn from their mistakes. "We always learn more from failure than from success," he writes. "Success teaches us nothing."

This was a prominent theme in Marsh's last book, and readers may have a sense of déjà vu while reading this one. Like "Do No Harm," "Admissions" is wandering and ruminative, an overland trek through the doctor's anxieties and private shames. Once again, he recounts his miscalculations and surgical catastrophes, citing the French doctor René Leriche's observation that all surgeons carry cemeteries within themselves of the patients whose lives they've lost. Once again, he rails against the constraints of an increasingly depersonalized British health care system, which mummifies its doctors in spools of red tape. Once again, he describes his operating theater in all of its Grand Guignol splendor, with brains swelling beyond their skulls and suction devices "slurping obscenely" as tumors evade his reach.



For the full review, see:

JENNIFER SENIOR. "Books of The Times; Surgical Catastrophes, Private Shames." The New York Times (Sat., Oct. 7, 2017): A17.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 5, 2017, and has the title "Books of The Times; A Surgeon Not Afraid to Face His Mistakes, In and Out of the Operating Room.)


The book under review, is:

Marsh, Henry. Admissions: Life as a Brain Surgeon. New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, 2017.






December 9, 2017

NIH and FDA Should Allow Gene Editors to Cure Diseases




(p. A15) Should Americans be allowed to edit their DNA to prevent genetic diseases in their children? That question, which once might have sounded like science fiction, is stirring debate as breakthroughs bring the idea closer to reality. Bioethicists and activists, worried about falling down the slippery slope to genetically modified Olympic athletes, are calling for more regulation.

The bigger concern is exactly the opposite--that this kind of excessive introspection will cause patients to suffer and even die needlessly. Anachronistic restrictions at the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health effectively ban gene-editing research in human embryos that would lead to implantation and births. These prohibitions are inhibiting critical clinical research and should be lifted immediately.


. . .


What's holding researchers back, at least in America, is outmoded regulations. The FDA is blocked by law from accepting applications for research involving gene editing of the human germ line--meaning eggs, sperm and embryos. The NIH, whose approval also would be needed, is similarly barred from even considering applications to conduct such experiments in humans. These rules date as far back as the 1970s, when the technology was in its infancy. It's easy to invoke hypothetical fears when actual lifesaving interventions are decades away.

Today they aren't--and desperate patients deserve access to whatever cures this technology may be able to provide. The public thinks so, too. A survey this summer found that nearly two-thirds of Americans support therapeutic gene editing--in somatic and germ-line cells alike. Popular opinion is in tune with scientific reality. Legislators and regulators need to catch up.



For the full commentary, see:

Henry I. Miller. "Gene Editing Is Here, and Desperate Patients Want It; Two-thirds of Americans support therapeutic use, but regulators are still stuck in the 1970s." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., OCT. 13, 2017): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCT. 12, 2017.)






December 8, 2017

After 30 Years, Medical Entrepreneur Rosenberg's Slow Hunch Pays Off




(p. B3) In the another significant development, the cancer institute's prominent cancer researcher and chief of surgery, Steven A. Rosenberg, detailed for the first time an immunotherapy success against metastatic breast cancer, in a talk earlier this month.

In the lecture at a Boston meeting of the American Association of Cancer Research, Dr. Rosenberg reported on the first patient with metastatic breast cancer who is disease-free nearly two years after her first immunotherapy treatment. In the therapy, a person's own cells are multiplied billions of times and reinfused into the patient. Dr. Rosenberg's lab has already reported successes in treatment of melanoma, lymphoma, colorectal cancer and bile-duct cancer.

That patient is Judy Perkins, a 51-year-old structural engineer from Port St. Lucie, Fla. She was diagnosed with metastatic cancer--cancer that spread beyond the original location--in 2013.


. . .


Ms. Perkins is only one case. But the fact that she had metastatic breast cancer that is no longer detectable makes it very consequential. It follows reports from the Rosenberg lab about other internal-organ cancers, specifically colorectal and bile-duct.


. . .


Dr. Rosenberg's interest in immunotherapy was piqued three decades ago, when he was struck by a chance encounter with a stomach-cancer patient who improbably recovered despite no treatment. This became a lifelong quest to discover how that patient had in effect cured himself. Scores of recoveries at the cancer institute of melanoma and lymphoma patients followed after immunotherapy treatment from his lab.

Now, his lab is exploring the promise of treating and accomplishing tumor regressions in far-more-common solid-tumor cancers of internal organs, including the breast, colon and bile-duct.



For the full story, see:

Thomas M. Burton. "Immunotherapy Treatments for Cancer Gain Momentum." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Oct. 13, 2017): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 12, 2017.)






December 7, 2017

University of Chicago Seeks Discourse, Not Deference




(p. A21) Several years ago Robert Zimmer was asked by an audience in China why the University of Chicago was associated with so many winners of the Nobel Prize -- 90 in all, counting this month's win by the behavioral economist Richard Thaler. Zimmer, the university's president since 2006, answered that the key was a campus culture committed to "discourse, argument and lack of deference."


. . .


The University of Chicago has always been usefully out of step with its peers in higher education -- it dropped out of the Big Ten Conference and takes perverse pride in its reputation as the place where fun goes to die. It was out of step again last year when Jay Ellison, the dean of students, sent a letter to incoming freshmen to let them know where the college stood in respect to the campus culture wars.

"Our commitment to academic freedom," he wrote, "means that we do not support so-called 'trigger warnings,' we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual 'safe spaces' where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own."

The letter attracted national attention, with cheering from the right and caviling on the left. But its intellectual foundation had been laid earlier, with a 2015 report from a faculty committee, convened by Zimmer, on free expression. Central to the committee's findings: the aim of education is to make people think, not spare them from discomfort.



For the full commentary, see:

Stephens, Bret. "Our Best University President." The New York Times (Sat., OCT. 21, 2017): A21.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCT. 20, 2017, and has the title "America's Best University President.")






December 6, 2017

Reinvesting Profits Enables the Scaling Up of Success




(p. A17) Muhammad Yunus has big goals: zero world poverty, zero unemployment and zero net carbon emissions.


. . .


Mr. Yunus has long been a hero of mine for his innovative faith in the resourcefulness of low-income people.


. . .


If you want to motivate support for social enterprise, a utopian promise of "A World of Three Zeros" makes for a better book title than "Helping 60 Albanian Farmers Grow Herbs." And Mr. Yunus's paean to entrepreneurship does indeed deliver inspiration about the power of human creativity. But problematic arguments remain, especially his imprecise criticisms of the current economic system and the implausibility of replacing the whole system with social entrepreneurship.

A major problem is one of scale. Mr. Yunus's many social-enterprise examples are all on the same micro level as the 60 Albanian herb farmers. And while there's nothing wrong with making a large number of small-scale efforts to help a great many people, it doesn't qualify as a whole new system for the $76 trillion global economy. Mr. Yunus doesn't confront the scaling problem. He could have noted, for instance, that successful social entrepreneurs, unlike successful private entrepreneurs, by definition don't get the high profits to reinvest in scaling up successes.



For the full review, see:

William Easterly. "BOOKSHELF; How to Solve Global Poverty." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 3, 2017): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 2, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Yunus, Muhammad. A World of Three Zeros: The New Economics of Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment, and Zero Net Carbon Emissions. New York: PublicAffairs, 2017.






December 5, 2017

Firms Compete in Product Market and Cooperate in Parts Market




(p. B1) When the iPhone X goes on sale next month, Apple Inc.'s rival, Samsung Electronics Co., has good reason to hope it is a roaring success.

The South Korean company's giant components division stands to make $110 from for each top-of-the-line, $1,000 iPhone X that Apple sells.

The fact reflects a love-hate dynamic between the phone makers that is one of the more unusual relationships in business. While each company vies to get consumers to buy its gadgets, Samsung's parts operation stands to make billions of dollars supplying screens and memory chips for the new iPhone--parts that Apple relies on for its most important product.



For the full story, see:

Timothy W. Martin and Tripp Mickle. "Samsung To Benefit If iPhone X Is a Success." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Oct. 3, 2017): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 2, 2017, and has the title "Why Apple Rival Samsung Also Wins If iPhone X Is a Hit.")






December 4, 2017

"Not Prepared to Compromise, in Ill-Considered Conversation, the Greater Truths"




(p. B15) Mr. Pomerance was a somewhat out-of-the-mainstream playwright living in London in 1977 when Foco Novo, a theater company he had founded with Roland Rees and David Aukin, began thinking about staging "The Elephant Man," based on the true story of Joseph Merrick, a man with severe physical deformities who became a celebrity in Victorian England in the 1880s.


. . .


The resulting play invited theatergoers to contemplate, among many other themes, what is normal and what isn't.


. . .


Mr. Pomerance was not a talkative sort. "The final impression he gives," a Times reporter wrote in 1979, "is of a man of considerable intellectual integrity who is not prepared to compromise, in ill-considered conversation, the greater truths he seeks to express on stage."



For the full obituary, see:

NEIL GENZLINGER. "Bernard Pomerance, 76; Wrote 'Elephant Man'." The New York Times (Weds., AUG. 30, 2017): B15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date AUG. 29, 2017, and has the title "Bernard Pomerance, Who Wrote 'The Elephant Man,' Dies at 76.")






December 3, 2017

Some Bacteria May Promote Cancer




(p. A15) A mysterious bacterium found in up to half of all colon tumors also travels with the cancer as it spreads, researchers reported on Thursday [Nov. 23, 2017].

Whether the bacterium, called Fusobacterium nucleatum, actually plays a role in causing or spurring the growth of cancer is not known. But the new study, published in the journal Science, also shows that an antibiotic that squelches this organism slows the growth of cancer cells in mice.

Scientists are increasingly suspicious that there may be a link: another type of bacteria has been discovered in pancreatic cancer cells. In both types of cancer, most tumors host bacteria; however, only a small proportion of the cells in any single tumor are infected.

"The whole idea of bacteria in tumors is fascinating and unexpected," said Dr. Bert Vogelstein, a colon cancer researcher at Johns Hopkins.

The colon cancer story began in 2011, when Dr. Matthew Meyerson of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Dr. Robert A. Holt of Simon Fraser University in British Columbia independently reported finding Fusobacteria, which normally inhabit the mouth, in human colon cancers.

That instigated a rush to confirm. Researchers around the world reported finding Fusobacteria in colon cancers, but their work only raised more questions. The new paper, by Dr. Meyerson and his colleagues, provides some answers.


. . .


Dr. Vogelstein suggests that instead of directly causing cancer, Fusobacteria might be altering patients' immune response -- and perhaps their response to treatments that use the immune system to destroy cancers.

Alternately, perhaps the bacteria are acting more directly by secreting chemicals that spur growth in nearby cancer cells, Dr. Relman said.

"It is not unreasonable to say Fusobacterium is promoting or contributing to colon cancer," he said.

Are Fusobacteria guilty of causing cancer? If this were a criminal case, where the jury had to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt, Dr. Meyerson said he would have to acquit.

But if it were a civil case, judged on the preponderance of the evidence, his vote would be different: Fusobacteria are guilty.



For the full story, see:

GINA KOLATA. "Study Suggests Bacteria Have Key Role in Cancer." The New York Times (Sat., NOV. 25, 2017): A15.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 23, 2017, and has the title "Why Is This Bacterium Hiding in Human Tumors?")


The Science article, discussed in the passages quoted above, is:

Bullman, Susan, Chandra S. Pedamallu, Ewa Sicinska, Thomas E. Clancy, Xiaoyang Zhang, Diana Cai, Donna Neuberg, Katherine Huang, Fatima Guevara, Timothy Nelson, Otari Chipashvili, Timothy Hagan, Mark Walker, Aruna Ramachandran, Begoña Diosdado, Garazi Serna, Nuria Mulet, Stefania Landolfi, Santiago Ramon y Cajal, Roberta Fasani, Andrew J. Aguirre, Kimmie Ng, Elena Élez, Shuji Ogino, Josep Tabernero, Charles S. Fuchs, William C. Hahn, Paolo Nuciforo, and Matthew Meyerson. "Analysis of Fusobacterium Persistence and Antibiotic Response in Colorectal Cancer." Science (posted online (ahead of publication) on Nov. 23, 2017).






December 2, 2017

FCC Spectrum Regulations Drive Innovators to Bankruptcy




(p. A17) In 2004 the FCC moved to relax L-Band rules, permitting deployment of a terrestrial mobile network. Satellite calls would continue, but few were being made, and sharing frequencies with cellular devices made eminent sense. By 2010, L-Band licensee LightSquared was ready to build a state-of-the-art 4G network, and the FCC announced that the 40 MHz bandwidth would become available. LightSquared quickly spent about $4 billion of its planned $14 billion infrastructure rollout. Americans would soon enjoy a fifth nationwide wireless choice.

But in 2012 the FCC yanked LightSquared's licenses. Various interests, from commercial airlines to the Pentagon, complained that freeing up the L Band could cause interference with Global Positioning System devices, since they are tuned to adjacent frequencies. Yet cheap remedies--such as a gradual roll-out of new services while existing networks improved reception with better radio chips--were available. In reality, the costliest spectrum conflicts emanate from overprotecting old services at the expense of the new. With its licenses snatched away, LightSquared instantly plunged into bankruptcy.


. . .


. . . regulatory impediments continue to block progress. Years after the L-Band spectrum was slated for productive use in 4G, it lies fallow--now delaying upgrades to 5G.



For the full commentary, see:

Thomas W. Hazlett. "How Politics Stalls Wireless Innovation; The FCC unveiled its National Broadband Plan in 2010--but couldn't stick to it." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Oct. 2, 2017): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 1, 2017.)


The commentary, quoted above, is related to the author's book:

Hazlett, Thomas W. The Political Spectrum: The Tumultuous Liberation of Wireless Technology, from Herbert Hoover to the Smartphone. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017.






December 1, 2017

Musk Fires Under-Performing Workers to Speed Output of Mass-Market Electric Sedans




(p. B4) DETROIT -- The electric-car maker Tesla fired hundreds of workers this week after a series of performance reviews conducted during the biggest expansion in the company's history.

Tesla said Friday [Oct. 13, 2017] that the dismissals were not out of the ordinary, even though they came as the automaker tries to increase the production of its first mass-market vehicle, the Model 3 sedan.

The company has been criticized for the slow pace of its early production of the new model, which has generated hundreds of thousands of deposits from prospective buyers.

Tesla built about 25,000 vehicles in the three months that ended Sept. 30, but only 260 of those were Model 3s -- considerably fewer than the 1,500 it had projected. The automaker has attributed the low production rate of the new car to unexpected bottlenecks in its manufacturing system.



For the full story, see:

BILL VLASIC. "Tesla Fires Hundreds of Workers." The New York Times (Sat., OCT. 14, 2017): B4.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 13, 2017, and has the title "Tesla Fires Hundreds as It Tries to Speed Production of an Electric Sedan.")






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