Archive for the ‘Monday miscellany’Category

Monday miscellany

I’m outsourcing this week’s link round-up to KirstyEvidence, a blog on research and international development I only recently discovered. Her Twelve Days of Evidence post starts with 12 non-fiction books worth buying, 11 tweeps to follow, and so forth. It’s good stuff, so click through and enjoy some light holiday reading.

(Plus, it gets me in more of a holiday mood than the Michael Bolton Christmas album playing in the Addis hotel lobby where I started writing this post. Ugh.)

 

17

12 2012

Monday miscellany

  • First, a request: I remember recently reading the first report of sexual transmission of malaria, a case where someone acquired malaria from a well-traveled partner despite never traveling to malarial areas themselves. I thought maybe it was in MMWR but have scanned that and other publications and done a few searches and cannot locate this article. It’s possible this was an elaborate dream — epidemiologists think and write about weird things, so why not dream them too? But if anyone else remembers reading this or can find the article, please let me know! [Update: see comments]
  • A new paper:  “The Mean Lifetime of Famous People from Hammurabi to Einstein.” (h/t to Economic Logic)
  •  I just revisited a blog post by World Bank health economist Adam Wagstaff: “How can health systems “systematic reviews” actually become systematic?” The post and the comments are a great conversation and reveal some of the differences that are revealed when working across disciplines. Also, I think you should be reading Wagstaff’s posts (at the WB Let’s Talk Development blog) because he’s one of the fathers of health inequity research and I ended up citing him a bunch in my (in progress) Masters thesis, especially this World Bank report (PDF) on analyzing health equity using household survey data. Also, the companion page for that report has Stata .do files for each chapter, amongst other resources.
  • Also from Wagstaff: “Shocking facts about primary health care in India, and their implications.” See also Amanda Glassman’s take on the same paper.
  • Tyler Cowen reviews Ben Goldacre’s new book Bad Pharma (which I blogged before). And then Goldacre showed up to argue in the comments about whether his policy suggestions would increase the cost of drug R&D.
  • One of my photos of Somaliland is featured in this article on investment in the country.
  • The NYT Opinionator blog highlights GiveWell‘s work in “Putting Charities to the Test.”
  • Finally, the blog WanderLust has an interesting summary of 9 events that shaped the humanitarian industry.

10

12 2012

Monday miscellany

  • “Have India’s poor become human guinea pigs?” — a disturbing BBC report by Sue Lloyd-Roberts on lack of informed consent in drug trials in India. Powerful and necessary reporting, especially if the allegations are borne out, but one quibble: reporting on the absolute number of deaths of people in drug trials is not very informative; it’s really more a measure of how many people are enrolled in trials (and what type of trials). Lots of people die during clinical trials — and in fact for trial where mortality is at outcome they must die in the trial if we are ever to measure mortality effects! If you’re enrolling people with heart disease or cancer or other serious diseases in a clinical trial, you might have a lot of deaths in both the treatment and control arms — and the total number would still be large even if the trials are going well and showing huge benefits from new drugs, so just reporting that there were 438 deaths in clinical trials in 2011 is not very informative! The questions are whether a) people are dying at a higher rate than they would have without the trial, and b) regardless of deaths, whether they consented to be in the trial in the first place. The article seems to be mostly (and rightly) questioning the latter, but uses the death counts in an potentially alarmist way.
  • “The sea has neither sense nor pity: the earliest known cases of AIDS in the pre-AIDS era.” This is a fascinating read from the blog Body Horrors, recounting the story of a Norwegian sailor who acquired HIV in the 1960s, and subsequently died from AIDS (along with his wife and daughter) before knew what AIDS was. One thing the piece doesn’t point out is that while this is the earliest known case of AIDS, the earliest known case of HIV is from an (anonymous) blood sample from the Congo in 1959 — background on that case in Nature here.
  • The British Medical Journal will require all clinical trials to share their data, starting in January. Hopefully other journals will follow their lead. This is big — more soon.

05

11 2012

Monday miscellany

01

10 2012

Monday miscellany

03

09 2012

Monday miscellany

  • Edward Carr writes on “monitoring, evaluation, and conflicts of interest,” examining the tension between the advantages of having evaluations done by the implementing organization, vs. the disadvantages of some perverse incentives along the way. Highly recommended, as is the follow-up post on making sure we can learn from M&E.
  • Tara Smith of the blog Aetiology reviews Spillover, a new book on zoonotic diseases, that just moved to the top tier of my reading list; I’ve long been fascinated by zoonotic diseases and even wrote my senior biology thesis on the (much-debated) origins of Ebola outbreaks.
  • Oops — we don’t really know whether sunscreen (or at least the types most people have been using) protect against skin cancer.
  • Aaron Carroll on the real (though often denied) American physician shortage.
  • 3iE, i.e., the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation, which advocates for and funds randomized trials and other rigorous study designs, just published the results of a randomized trial on the effectiveness of policy briefs.
  • A Q&A on trying to raise bonobos in a human language environment for multiple generations.
  • Writing at The Economist, Matt Steinglass argues that the U.S. is unlikely to implement policies that would have any great impact on obesity.
  • Finally, here’s a report of a new, AIDS-like disease (though not thought to be contagious) in Thailand and Taiwan. via @EpiDoctor

27

08 2012

Monday miscellany

In general, we think the strongest cases use multiple forms of evidence, some addressing the weaknesses of others. For example, immunization campaigns are associated with both strong “micro” evidence (which shows that intensive, well-executed immunization programs can save lives) and “macro” evidence (which shows, less rigorously, that real-world immunization programs have led to drops in infant mortality and the elimination of various diseases).

  • Here’s an interview with the author of a book arguing that the Obama administration’s stimulus was a huge success. Includes this quote:

Unemployment actually topped 8 percent the month the stimulus passed, which obviously wasn’t the fault of the stimulus. Recoveries after financial cataclysms are always ugly. But when you spend $800 billion on an economic recovery package, and the recovery stinks, people don’t tend to look past that…. That said, the national media should have tried to look past that, but it didn’t, because the national media sucks at covering public policy.

Think of a good experimental design: randomised control variables, holding everything else constant, etc. Now think of the worst possible experimental design. Imagine something that engineers or psychologists might dream up over beers for a laugh, or to illustrate what not to do. That’s what economists face. It’s as if our lab assistants (the fiscal and monetary authorities) were deliberately trying to make our (economists’) lives as hard as possible. They do this, of course, not to spite us, but to try to make everyone else’s lives as easy as possible. To get a good experimental design for economists, both the fiscal and monetary authorities would need to be malevolent.

20

08 2012

Monday miscellany

  • This week’s must-read article is Atul Gawande on “Big Medicine,” comparing it to, of all things, the Cheesecake Factory. The sections on quality control and efficiency at the restaurant chain are incredible, and the description of the ICU command center will make you think it’s science fiction (though of course it’s not). For some follow-up, here are responses by Karen GrepinAustin Frakt, and more Austin Frakt. (Update: here’s an interesting, critical take on the subject.)
  • Practice Fusion has taken a a big (HIPAA-friendly) dataset from their work with health insurance records and claims in the US and made it available for a data analysis contest: Analyze This! Also, here’s an interesting post from them on syndromic surveillance.
  • Mainly Macro on how a memo by Greg Mankiw and John Taylor for the Romney campaign is giving economics a bad name.
  • Indolaysia on “Policy analysis without causal identification: gun ownership and state terror” in two parts: part 1 and part 2. Includes .do file to replicate his analysis.
  • Worth re-reading given recent events: Ryan Lizza’s profile of Paul Ryan.
  • Simply Statistics wonders what your CV would look like if you included all the things you failed to do.
  • And a bit off topic but still fun: the history of rock & roll, the world’s biggest wave, and Where the Hell is Matt (2012).

13

08 2012

Monday miscellany

  • Three-Toed Sloth discusses what makes a statistician vs. a data scientist, a debate you’re likely to encounter if your work intersects with quantitative work in any way.
  • Eight (relatively) young economists on the future of their field, via pretty much everyone. I’d love to see what similarly junior economists in the 1970s would have guessed would befall economics over the last 40 years; I could see at least some of them getting the broad sweep right, but I’d also bet they would overestimate how much progress a couple academic generations can make. Call me a pessimist.
  • This post by Lee Crawfurd points to Esther Duflo’s Tanner lecture on paternalism in development economics, which restates some of the themes from Poor Economics. I highly recommend the lecture based on what I’ve read; though my read was quick I found it both fascinating and dense (in the sense that it is idea- and information-rich, not dull) and realized I will need to revisit it, maybe more than once. I also liked this quote from Lee’s post:

Back in England, I can’t imagine anything worse than having to meet all of my neighbours after work to figure out how we are going to run the rubbish collection or fix the potholes in the road. That stuff just gets done. Services get delivered without me having to think about it at all. All I need is a mechanism to complain if things don’t work, but don’t ask me to help you plan how to fix it.

  • A dose of pop culture remix: what would 2001 have looked like had it been made in 2012? This trailer answers that question (which I’m sure you’ve wondered, right?).
  • This looks interesting: the “Public Health Twitter Journal Club” is currently picking its next article for discussion from a selection of smoking-related papers.
  • Finally, a non-link observation: watching the Olympics abroad (specifically, on ArabSat) makes me realize how much the coverage I’ve watched during previous Olympiads is shaped by being in the US. Not only has (for better or worse) the coverage focused on the actual events, rather than endless interviews and inspirational backstories, I’ve been impressed by the difference in the quantity of Americans on display. While the US does have one of the largest Olympic teams, many events I’ve watched haven’t had American competitors at all, or only had one who didn’t medal, whereas coverage in the US is always biased towards events in which Americans are traditionally strong. I guess it’s blindingly obvious in a sense, but a good reminder: often you only see what you’re looking for.

06

08 2012

Monday Miscellany

02

07 2012