January 13, 2018

The common factor of the Net Neutrality fight and the EpiPen price gouging scandal

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Economics, Government, Health, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Lili Carneglia explains what these two examples of “capitalist excess” are actually the result of regulatory failures:

Without net neutrality, regulations that prevent internet service providers (ISPs) from charging more for priority speeds and higher bandwidth-use sites would disappear. Most Americans are pretty confused by the revised rules but highly skeptical that this action could have any benefits. Many people, especially those living in the rural south where choices are limited, feel like these companies have been taking advantage of their customers for years, and loosening regulatory constraints on these companies seems like a terrible idea.

Net neutrality was a regulatory policy set under the Obama administration in 2015 that mandated ISPs to treat the internet like other utilities, such as highways and railroads, under laws established before most people had TVs. Under these rules, companies must act as neutral gateways to the internet without controlling the content or the speed of the content that passes through that gateway. Supporters of the rule argue that these regulations ensure the free flow of information, while those against the policy see net neutrality as a misapplication that stifles an industry that is more dynamic than other public utilities.


Yes, a handful of industry giants can and have abused their market power. Most consumers have limited ISPs to choose from in a given area, and options are more limited outside of big cities, where “three-quarters of American homes have no competitive choice for the essential infrastructure for 21st-century economics and democracy,” according to the former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler. It is important to consider how these circumstances came about before deciding that federal regulation might help consumers.

Governments, by and large, prefer to have fewer players in a given market as it makes that market easier to regulate, and the easiest market to regulate is a monopoly. When cable networks were beginning to spread across North America, many local governments were persuaded that a single cable provider would be the best option for their jurisdiction and the broadband internet market that came later was heavily shaped by the already carved-up markets for cable TV. For many, there were no competitive options because the local government had precluded the chance of competition for their already entrenched cable monopoly (or, in a few cases, tight oligopoly).

Competition is the best answer to monopolistic abuse of customers … if you get shitty service from the Blue Cable Company, you’ll be more likely to switch to the Red Cable Company. If you only have Red and Blue to choose from, your leverage is small, but if you have a full rainbow of competing options, Red and Blue are forced to make their services at least comparable to what Orange and Pink and Magenta are offering, or they lose too many customers. If there’s no threat of a competitor scooping up unhappy customers, there’s no incentive for the existing company to do more than the absolute minimum to keep customer complaints down to a dull roar. The customer’s only recourse — other than giving up the service or moving to a different jurisdiction — is to complain to the regulator.

The base problem with Mylan’s EpiPen price gouging is the same: an effective monopoly supported by the government:

The arguments against net neutrality repeals center around fears about what producers will do without regulation since they have significant market power and the ability to raise prices to levels that would not be sustainable under more competitive conditions. The concern about increased internet prices is similar to what happened in 2016 when a pharmaceutical company with market power, Mylan, increased the price of life-saving EpiPens by about 400 percent.

The “greedy” pharmaceutical companies were hung out to dry as Congress berated Mylan representatives in hearing after hearing. There were similar cries of outrage and demands that the federal government do something to prevent such selfish price-gouging, similar to what many consumers fear ISPs will do absent regulations.

Even (supposed) free-market advocates started supporting further regulation during the EpiPen debate. Most notably, then fiscal hawk representative and now Trump budget director Mick Mulvaney, defended further market intervention on the condition that, “If you want to come to the state capitols and lobby us to make us buy your stuff, this is what you get. You get a level of scrutiny and a level of treatment that would ordinarily curl my hair.”

However, in all of those hearings, almost no one bothered to unearth the problem that Mulvaney hinted at: Why was Mylan able to increase that price in the first place? Government intervention. Burdensome FDA regulations and other laws pressuring public schools to buy the drug essentially granted Mylan a monopoly. It was as misguided then as it is now to think that these same institutions can be trusted to clean up the mess they created.

Mylan had no effective competition, so there was nothing to stop the price gouging until it got so bad that even the regulator had to pay attention. If there were other pharmaceutical companies allowed to compete, do you think Mylan would have risked jacking up the price only to watch their competitors gaining market share?

Scott Alexander explained the Mylan monopoly quite expansively in 2016.

January 10, 2018

Tipping toward a new Ice Age

Filed under: Environment, History, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Matt Ridley on the possibility that our current interglacial period — the time period during which all of human history has played out from before the start of agricultural civilization down to today — may be coming to an end:

In 1976 Nicholas Shackleton, a Cambridge physicist, and his colleagues published evidence from deep-sea cores of cycles in the warming and cooling of the Earth over the past half million years which fitted Milankovich’s orbital wobbles. Precession, which decides whether the Earth is closer to the sun in July or in January, is on a 23,000-year cycle; obliquity, which decides how tilted the axis of the Earth is and therefore how warm the summer is, is on a 41,000-year cycle; and eccentricity, which decides how rounded or elongated the Earth’s orbit is and therefore how close to the sun the planet gets, is on a 100,000-year cycle. When these combine to make a “great summer” in the north, the ice caps shrink.

Game, set and match to Milankovich? Not quite. The Antarctic ice cores, going back 800,000 years, then revealed that there were some great summers when the Milankovich wobbles should have produced an interglacial warming, but did not. To explain these “missing interglacials”, a recent paper in Geoscience Frontiers by Ralph Ellis and Michael Palmer argues we need carbon dioxide back on the stage, not as a greenhouse gas but as plant food.

The argument goes like this. Colder oceans evaporate less moisture and rainfall decreases. At the depth of the last ice age, Africa suffered long mega-droughts; only small pockets of rainforest remained. Crucially, the longer an ice age lasts, the more carbon dioxide is dissolved in the cold oceans. When the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere drops below 200 parts per million (0.02 per cent), plants struggle to grow at all, especially at high altitudes. Deserts expand. Dust storms grow more frequent and larger. In the Antarctic ice cores, dust increased markedly whenever carbon dioxide levels got below 200 ppm. The dust would have begun to accumulate on the ice caps, especially those of Eurasia and North America, which were close to deserts. Next time a Milankovich great summer came along, and the ice caps began to melt, the ice would have grown dirtier and dirtier, years of deposited dust coming together as the ice shrank. The darker ice would have absorbed more heat from the sun and a runaway process of collapsing ice caps would have begun.

All of human civilisation happened in an interglacial period, with a relatively stable climate, plentiful rainfall and high enough levels of carbon dioxide to allow the vigorous growth of plants. Agriculture was probably impossible before then, and without its hugely expanded energy supply, none of the subsequent flowering of human culture would have happened.

That interglacial will end. Today the northern summer sunshine is again slightly weaker than the southern. In a few tens of thousands of years, our descendants will probably be struggling with volatile weather, dust storms and air that cannot support many crops. But that is a very long way off, and by then technology should be more advanced, unless we prevent it developing. The key will be energy. With plentiful and cheap energy our successors could thrive even in a future ice age, growing crops, watering deserts, maintaining rainforests and even melting ice caps.

January 8, 2018

Forests in the olden days

Filed under: Britain, Environment, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 20 Apr 2016

Forests and woodland in the ancient and medieval worlds didn’t look the way they show in the movies.
Support me on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/Lindybeige

More archaeology videos here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list…

I visited a local wildlife sanctuary based in a wood. In order to attract birds, they left the woods unmanaged, so that the undergrowth and rotting falling trees afforded good habitat for insects and ground-nesting birds. I talk about a few things, including climax vegetation, the burning of woods by hunter-gatherers, the medieval practices of coppicing and pollarding, and the way a modern managed woodland (the sort that you almost always see in the movies) looks neither like a heavily-managed medieval wood nor a wilderness unmanaged wood.

Lindybeige: a channel of archaeology, ancient and medieval warfare, rants, swing dance, travelogues, evolution, and whatever else occurs to me to make.

Sex is a Basic Instinct – Sigmund Freud l HISTORY OF SEX

Filed under: Health, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 30 Sep 2015

The psychologist Sigmund Freud spent much of his life trying to understand how the human psyche functions. Famously sorting the human consciousness into the it, the ego and the superego. He was particularly interested in the instinct for sex and satisfaction of lust, a phenomenon he called the libido. Many of his theories were highly disputable, such as his theory on infantile sexuality and the societal influence on sexuality. Learn all about the father of psychoanalysis on ITS HISTORY!

January 7, 2018

Now we know how to get more women in the STEM fields

Filed under: Education, Science, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Toni Airaksinen reviews the findings of Professors Parson and Ozaki, who believe they’ve identified the key factors holding back young women from studying STEM subjects:

Two professors believe that “masculine STEM ideals”—like “asking good questions” and “putting school first” — are to blame for the lack of women in math and science courses.

Laura Parson, a professor at Auburn University, and Casey Ozaki, who teaches education at the University of North Dakota, advanced the notion in an article published in the latest issue of the NASPA Journal About Women in Higher Education, noting that women are not only “less likely to major in STEM fields” than are men, but those who do study science, technology, engineering, and math are less likely to graduate than their male classmates.

Together, Parson and Ozaki interviewed eight female students majoring in math or physics to learn more about why women struggle in STEM. From their interviews, the professors learned that many women feel pressure to conform to so-called “masculine” norms.

According to the professors, these masculine norms include “asking good questions,” “capacity for abstract thought and rational thought processes,” “motivation,” the expectation that students would be “independent” thinkers, and a relatively low fear of failure.

“This requirement that the average student asks questions and speaks in class is based on the typical undergraduate man,” they contend.

Unfortunately for the female students, many of them indicated difficulty embodying these traits, reporting that they tend to ask fewer questions in class than do their male peers, and have noticed that other women in their classes share the same inclination.

So what’s to be done? How can we ensure that female students significantly outnumber men in the STEM departments as they now do in most other university departments?

Parson and Ozaki spell out a few recommendations for STEM programs, saying for instance that academic departments should “redefine success by changing expectations,” such as letting women write down questions instead of asking them out-loud. They also recommended that more women are hired, but notably did not mention any concerns over merit.

They also declare that “an important aspect of changing the masculine nature of STEM is diversifying STEM fields,” and suggest that hiring more female faculty members could lead to increased enrollment of female students because “women faculty have been found to increase participation, feelings of inclusion and belonging, and women’s perceptions of identity compatibility.”

Achieving “a critical mass of women” in STEM, the professors predict, would serve to weaken “the masculine STEM discourses of individualism and competition” while promoting “connectivity and relatedness,” which they believe will help to create the sense of “community” desired by the students they interviewed.

“Improving the chilly climate in STEM fields requires revising the STEM institution from one that is masculine to one that is inclusive for non-men, non-White students,” they conclude.

I mean, it’s obvious now that they’ve spelled it out for us, isn’t it?

Give your butt a wake-up call with the latest from “Gwyneth Paltrow’s life-threatening, wallet-flensing empire of woo”

Filed under: Business, Health, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Cory Doctorow views with alarm yet another potentially dangerous product from Goop:

Goop is Gwyneth Paltrow’s life-threatening, wallet-flensing empire of woo, home to smoothie dust, vulva steaming, rocks you keep in your vagina, and a raft of rebadged products that are literally identical to the garbage Alex Jones sells to low-information preppers.

Both Goop and Alex Jones are big on “detoxing,” an imaginary remedy that poses a very real health-risk, especially when it involves filling your asshole with coffee.

Coffee enemas are, of course, bullshit, whose history and present are rife with hucksters whose smooth patter is only matched by their depraved indifference for human life.

But as stupid as coffee enemas are, they’re even stupider when accomplished by means of Goop’s, $135 “Implant O’Rama,” manufactured by Implant O’Rama LLC. It’s a $135 glass jar with a couple silicon hoses attached to it.

Carbon Fiber – The Material Of The Future?

Filed under: Space, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Real Engineering
Published on 27 Feb 2017

January 3, 2018

BAHFest London 2017 – Louie Terrill: Why the Kessler Syndrome is key to humanity’s future

Filed under: Humour, Space — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on Dec 11, 2017

Watch Louie Terrill at BAHFest London 2017 present his theory, “Making sure we’re all in this together: Why the Kessler Syndrome is key to humanity’s future.”

BAHFest is the Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses, a celebration of well-researched, logically explained, and clearly wrong scientific theory. Additional information is available at http://bahfest.com/

December 27, 2017

QotD: Psychology

Filed under: Health, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Psychology is nothing at all like a science and those who practice it are nothing at all like scientists. Mostly they’re liberals. No two shrinks ever agree on a diagnosis, and official definitions of various mental illnesses are a grammatical and logical laugh riot. The great truth of life is that understanding character is an art, best left to master novelists and story-tellers.

L. Neil Smith, “Why the Left-Wing Seems Insane (Mostly Because They Are)”, Libertarian Enterprise, 2016-05-08.

December 21, 2017

UFOs? Again?

Filed under: Media, Space — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

I must admit I share Colby Cosh’s just disproven belief that we were done with the UFO craze:

Yeah, I know: wrong UFO

There can no longer be any doubt: every fashion phenomenon does come back. I, for one, really thought we had seen the last of UFO-mania. When I was a boy, the idea of stealthy extraterrestrial visitors zooming around in miraculous aircraft was everywhere in the nerdier corners of popular culture. If you liked comic books or paperback science fiction or Omni magazine — and especially if those things were among the staples of your imaginative diet — there was no getting away from it.

Anyone remember the NBC series Project U.F.O. (1978-79), inspired by the USAF’s real Project Blue Book program? As the anthology show’s Wikipedia page observes, most episodes had the plot of a Scooby-Doo cartoon, only backwards: they would end with the investigating protagonists discovering that UFOs remained impenetrably Unidentifiable, but must be “real” craft capable of physically improbable manoeuvres. (I know citing Wikipedia will savour of pumpkin-spice holiday laziness on my part, but the Scooby thing is a truly perceptive point by some anonymous Wiki-genius.)

Then, at the end of the show, a disclaimer would appear on-screen: “The U.S. Air Force stopped investigating UFOs in 1969. After 22 years, they found no evidence of extra-terrestrial landings and no threat to national security.”


There are very good reasons for a superpower’s military apparatus to devote a little money to following up UFO sightings. “Threat Identification”? Sure, whatever. Plenty of U.S. military flyers have seen UFOs, and these people ought to be comfortable reporting odd occurrences without ridicule. But if I were American, I would definitely want most of that budget to go to Scully rather than Mulder. Don’t throw cash at someone who really, really wants to believe.

What I find vexing is that most of the response to the Times story has been in the spirit of “Whoa, aliens!” rather than “Taxpayers got robbed.” Young people may know on some level that ubiquitous good-quality cameras have all but eliminated civilian UFO sightings. But they lack the personal memory of a live, thriving UFO fad, one that bred quasi-scholarly international UFO-study associations along with a whole publishing industry devoted to UFO tales. I wonder if the Times’ piece on UFO research, by the very virtue of its flat-voiced Grey Lady objectivity, is having the same weird effect as that disclaimer they showed at the end of Project U.F.O.

December 17, 2017

QotD: Modern eco-paganism

Filed under: Environment, Quotations, Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… consider the emergence of a Nature-worshipping environmentalism that would have been viewed as a crazy luxury in the hardscrabble times of 1800 or even of 1933. The economist and student of theology Robert Nelson calls environmentalism the new religion of the West (a West that nonetheless, outside of places like Poland or the United States, imagines itself to be irreligious) […] The economist and think-tank maven Fred L. Smith, Jr. speaks of “eco-paganism”: “Most environmentalists do not, of course, see themselves as pagans,” he writes. “Yet many do espouse a watered-down form of pantheism which elevates nature to near the status of a deity.” By now the good people of rich and secular places such as Sweden, though contemptuous of the childish absurdity (as most Swedes believe it to be) of their ancestors’ worship of a Lutheran God, have found their transcendent in the worship of Nature, and spend their Sunday mornings devoutly gathering mushrooms and lingonberries in Nature’s forest.

Deirdre McCloskey, Bourgeois Equality, 2016.

December 13, 2017

Why do we have Pubic Hair? – BRITLAB

Filed under: Health — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

BBC Earth Lab
Published on 18 Dec 2014

Contains adult themes. Greg Foot looks at why humans have pubic hair – investigating the hormones that cause growth, and the benefits of shaving vs letting it grow.

December 10, 2017

QotD: Failures of scientific consensus

Filed under: Health, History, Quotations, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

In past centuries, the greatest killer of women was fever following childbirth. One woman in six died of this fever. In 1795, Alexander Gordon of Aberdeen suggested that the fevers were infectious processes, and he was able to cure them. The consensus said no. In 1843, Oliver Wendell Holmes claimed puerperal fever was contagious, and presented compelling evidence. The consensus said no. In 1849, Semmelweiss demonstrated that sanitary techniques virtually eliminated puerperal fever in hospitals under his management. The consensus said he was a Jew, ignored him, and dismissed him from his post. There was in fact no agreement on puerperal fever until the start of the twentieth century. Thus the consensus took one hundred and twenty five years to arrive at the right conclusion despite the efforts of the prominent “skeptics” around the world, skeptics who were demeaned and ignored. And despite the constant ongoing deaths of women.

There is no shortage of other examples. In the 1920s in America, tens of thousands of people, mostly poor, were dying of a disease called pellagra. The consensus of scientists said it was infectious, and what was necessary was to find the “pellagra germ.” The US government asked a brilliant young investigator, Dr. Joseph Goldberger, to find the cause. Goldberger concluded that diet was the crucial factor. The consensus remained wedded to the germ theory. Goldberger demonstrated that he could induce the disease through diet. He demonstrated that the disease was not infectious by injecting the blood of a pellagra patient into himself, and his assistant. They and other volunteers swabbed their noses with swabs from pellagra patients, and swallowed capsules containing scabs from pellagra rashes in what were called “Goldberger’s filth parties.” Nobody contracted pellagra. The consensus continued to disagree with him. There was, in addition, a social factor — southern States disliked the idea of poor diet as the cause, because it meant that social reform was required. They continued to deny it until the 1920s. Result — despite a twentieth century epidemic, the consensus took years to see the light.

Probably every schoolchild notices that South America and Africa seem to fit together rather snugly, and Alfred Wegener proposed, in 1912, that the continents had in fact drifted apart. The consensus sneered at continental drift for fifty years. The theory was most vigorously denied by the great names of geology — until 1961, when it began to seem as if the sea floors were spreading. The result: it took the consensus fifty years to acknowledge what any schoolchild sees.

And shall we go on? The examples can be multiplied endlessly. Jenner and smallpox, Pasteur and germ theory. Saccharine, margarine, repressed memory, fiber and colon cancer, hormone replacement therapy. The list of consensus errors goes on and on.

Finally, I would remind you to notice where the claim of consensus is invoked. Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough. Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2. Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away. It would never occur to anyone to speak that way.

Michael Crichton, “Aliens Cause Global Warming”: the Caltech Michelin Lecture, 2003-01-17.

December 9, 2017

QotD: Staying beautiful

Filed under: Health, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

To understand what it takes to be beautiful, we need to be very clear about what being beautiful means — being sexually appealing to men. And then, instead of snarling that male sexuality is evil, we need to accept that it’s just different — far more visually-driven than female sexuality. To focus our efforts, we can turn to an increasing number of studies by evolutionary psychologists on what most men seem to want. For example, the University of Texas’ Devendra Singh discovered that men, across cultures, are drawn to a woman with an hourglass figure. Men like to see a woman’s waist — even on the larger ladies — so burn those muumuus, which only reveal your girlish figure in a Category 5 hurricane, and if you don’t have much of a waist, do your best to give yourself one with the cut of your clothes or a belt.

Too many women try to get away with a bait-and-switch approach to appearance upkeep. If you spend three hours a day in the gym while you’re dating a guy, don’t think that you can walk down the aisle and say “I do…and, guess what…now I don’t anymore!” A woman needs to come up with a workable routine for maintaining her looks throughout her lifetime and avoid rationalizing slacking off — while she’s seeking a man and after she has one. Yeah, you might have to put five or ten extra minutes into prettying up just to hang around the house. And, sure, you might be more “comfortable” in big sloppy sweats, but how “comfortable” will you be if he leaves you for a woman who cares enough to look hot for him?

Like French women, we, too, need to understand that a healthy approach to beauty is neither pretending it’s unnecessary or unimportant nor making it important beyond all else. By being honest about it, we help women make informed decisions about how much effort to put into their appearance — or accept the opportunity costs of going ungroomed. The truth is, like knowledge, beauty is power. So, ladies, read lots of books, develop your mind and your character, exercise the rights the heroes of the women’s movement fought for us to have, and strive to become somebody who makes a difference in the world. And, pssst…while you’re doing all of that, don’t forget to wear lipgloss.

Amy Alkon, “The Truth About Beauty”, Psychology Today, 2010-11-01.

December 8, 2017

QotD: Why mid-20th century Americans ate what they did – 7

Filed under: Economics, Health, History, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Entertaining was mandatory [in the 1950s]. Because people didn’t go to restaurants so much, they spent time having people over, or eating at someone else’s house. If someone had you over, you had to have them over. This meant people had to have “company dinners” they could make, or at least a stock of canapés they could throw together for a cocktail party, even if they weren’t very good at it. Cue the weird focus on prettying everything up, more than occasionally to the detriment of the food itself: if you can’t make it good, you can at least make it pretty, to show people you made an effort.

Megan McArdle, “Friday Food Post: The Economics Behind Grandma’s Tuna Casseroles”, Bloomberg View, 2015-10-30.

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