Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Naomi Oreskes: Why we should trust scientists

This blog is about knowledge, and its application for development. In my posts I have from time to time suggested that knowledge attested to by the scientific community is worthy of your credence, that it is more likely to be true than knowledge from many other sources. In this brief video talk, Naomi Oreskes explains why that is true.

The Worst Ebola Virus Outbreak in Humans Yet.

I quote from an article in the Washington Post:
The worst Ebola outbreak in history has put a number of countries in West Africa in lockdown, led to the deaths of nearly 700 people since February......Ebola viral disease is a highly infectious illness with fatality rates up to 90 percent, according to the U.N. World Health Organization. Symptoms initially include a sudden fever as well as joint and muscle aches and then typically progress to vomiting, diarrhea and, in some cases, internal and external bleeding........There is no known vaccine or cure for the disease, but if caught early, it can be battled like other viruses such as influenza.........Ebola is alarmingly contagious; there have been incidents in which the disease has spread at funerals for victims. Public health officials deem an outbreak to be over only after 42 days have elapsed without any new confirmed cases.
Currently the virus spreads through contact with bodily fluids of someone who is infected. However, there are six known varieties of the virus, suggesting that it may mutate or that other varieties may exist but not have been studied. The virus apparently has reservoirs in primate populations in Africa. When a virus spreads from another animal to man, its properties may change. I worry especially were we to encounter a variety of Ebola that was as lethal as the current one, but that spread through the air as the flu virus does.

The lesson here is that we need a good global system for detecting epidemics of contagious diseases, including emerging diseases. (How many millions of cases and deaths might have been avoided if HIV/AIDS had been detected and its spread limited early after its emergence in human populations?) This is an activity that the World Health Organization must coordinate, and one that the United States and other rich countries should help finance.

A new polling technique on the horizon.

There is a good piece from the Pew Research Center discussing the decision by the New York Times and CBS News to engage a polling organization to create a panel for election coverage.
The New York Times and CBS News made big news in the polling world this weekend when they announced that they will begin using online survey panels from YouGov as part of their election coverage. YouGov, a U.K.-based research firm founded in 2000, uses such panels rather than traditional telephone surveys; the panel the Times and CBS are using has more than 100,000 members. The Times, citing concerns about the dearth of high-quality, non-partisan survey data, particularly at the state level, says it plans to include YouGov results as part of “a diverse suite of surveys employing diverse methodologies.”
One of the concerns is that the YouGov panel will use the Internet rather than traditional telephone surveys. The site indicates that 89% of Americans now use the Internet. (I wonder how many Americans don't have telephones, or have phones but refuse to answer calls from polling organizations.)

I have a concern that samples should be constructed according to what you want to learn. Thus, election polling often is more interested in learning what likely voters think than what people who are not registered voters think. A random sample of the population will include both groups. A sample of Internet users will tell you something about Internet users that would be harder and less accurate to infer from a telephone survey.

Would it not be nice to have a sample of opinion leaders polled in early 2015 about the November 2016 presidential elections? How would you construct such a sample.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Negative correlation between religiosity and technological innovation.

Thanks to my friend Guy for identifying "Forbidden Fruits: The Political Economy of Science, Religion, and Growth" by Roland Benabou, Davide Ticchi and Andrea Vindigni. I quote from the astract in which the authors cite "a new fact":
in both international and cross-state U.S. data, there is a significant negative relationship between religiosity and innovativeness (patents per capita), even after controlling for the standard empirical determinants of the latter.
Perhaps there is a deeper cultural variable. I would suppose that the more deeply conservative a culture, the more it might be marked by religiosity and the slower it would be to adopt new technologies. Correlation is not causation! Still the figures shown in the paper are worth thinking about.

Highly Educated People are Becoming More Concentrated in Big Cities

I quote from an article by Ugne Saltenyte in Euromonitor International:
With governments recognising the link between education and economic competitiveness, education standards are rising globally. Increased prioritisation of primary and secondary education is translating into rising uptake of tertiary education in many economies. The number of people with higher education globally rose from 518 million in 2005 to 704 million in 2013, with 24% of the latter amount being concentrated in the top 100 largest metropolises worldwide. To put this into perspective, these metropolises accounted for just 11% of the global population in 2013.
In the early stages of economic development, people living in rural areas move to urban areas in large numbers. They do so because they can earn more and live better by doing so, but that in turn depends on their producing more in the city on average than they could in the countryside. Thus the rural-urban migration -- done in the early stages of economic development by people who have relatively little formal education and who will work in relatively unskilled jobs in the towns and cities -- has led to an period of relatively rapid increase in GDP. This motor for economic growth clearly only functions for a while, since eventually the rural-urban migration diminishes for lack of rural population to migrate.

I would guess that it is in the largest cities that the most educated people can find the best jobs and most improve their lives, because it is there that they can be most productive. Thus the increase in education and the increasing concentration of the highly educated in centers of productivity in "the new knowledge society" should also yield increases in GDP growth rates -- at least for a while.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Congratulations! Inoculations!

The Economist provides an article this week on advances in child survival in China.


This stunning view of Earth from space is an incredible time lapse sequence of photographs taken on board the International Space Station as it orbited above places such as the US, the Sahara desert, and Australia. It’s accompanied by a beautiful minimal electronic soundtrack.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Presenting medical information in an way it can be understood.

Drs. Lisa Schwartz and Steven Woloshin designed this "fact box" as a prototype
to show how package inserts for medicines could be more helpful.
This example is from a story done by NPR on current efforts to make medical information more available to patients. A lot of the discussion I see about the presentation of information emphasizes the graphical presentation,  and for that matter I have been very impressed by video and interactive presentations. But often a good table is what you need, as suggested by the one illustrated above.

My nephew recently wrote an article on the importance of changing medical practice to more fully involve patients in decision making with regard to their own care. He knows more about that than I ever will, but that seems like a very good idea to me. If nothing else, that would be more likely to encourage compliance with selected treatments. But to involve patients meaningfully in the selection of their medications, one needs to present the information about the drugs in a form that the patient can understand. (For that matter, I wonder how many doctors work their way through the information presented by the companies for the drugs that might be prescribed for the patients that they treat.)