September 24, 2017

Amateur Inventors Are Crowdsourced to Solve Scientific Problems



(p. A3) At his laboratory console, Rhiju Das is making a game of a pressing public-health problem. He is recruiting thousands of videogamers to develop a better test for tuberculosis, which infects about one-third of the world's population.

All they have to do is design a single molecule that can diagnose the disease in a patient's bloodstream quickly, easily and cheaply--a task that so far has eluded public-health experts. To muster a crowd of amateurs to attempt it, Dr. Das, a biochemist at the Stanford University School of Medicine, and his colleagues this week launched the OpenTB challenge on a Web-based videogame called Eterna.

"The players themselves are going to be the inventors," said Dr. Das. "Any molecule that a top player can make in the game, we will test it in the laboratory."


. . .


In a game called Phylo, developed at McGill University, 300,000 players have been cross-indexing disease-related DNA sequences from dozens of species. And in Quantum Moves, conceived at Aarhus University in Denmark, 10,000 players are applying the bizarre laws of quantum mechanics to improve computer design.

"The number of projects has exploded," said McGill computer scientist Jerome Waldispuhl, who co-founded the Phylo project.

Despite initial misgivings about the accuracy of crowdsourced research, players have produced reliable results and a dozen or so peer-reviewed research papers.

Typically, the players drawn to the science games have no special scientific expertise. They usually are intrigued by the chance to make a useful contribution to research in their spare time.


. . .


By harnessing human intuition and visual perception, these crowdsourcing games highlight differences between human and machine intelligence, several game designers said. "All of these citizen-science projects are like a snapshot of what is uniquely human at the moment," said physicist Jacob Sherson at Aarhus University who helped to design Quantum Moves.



For the full story, see:

Robert Lee Hotz. "Videogamers Wanted: to Fight TB." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., May 4, 2016): A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 3, 2016, and has the title "Videogamers Are Recruited to Fight Tuberculosis and Other Ills." The sentence quoting Jerome Waldispuhl, appeared in the online, but not the print, version of the article.)






September 23, 2017

Regulatory "Pain in Spain"



(p. A1) Gerard Vidal formed a data-encryption firm, Enigmedia, when he couldn't find an employer looking for a Ph.D. in physics. But even a physicist was perplexed by the paperwork involved in starting a company in Spain, and the launch was delayed months by a process he calls "illogical, inefficient and totally frustrating."

For many in the eurozone, where government budget cuts and corporate layoffs have left more than 18 million people out of work, the only way to find work is to create their own jobs. But these inexperienced entrepreneurs are flying into harsh headwinds.

Scarce capital, dense bureaucracy, a culture deeply averse to risk and a cratered consumer market all suppress startups in Europe.


. . .


(p. A12) In 2013, the OECD ranked Spain second worst in a survey on barriers to entrepreneurship in 29 nations. Spanish entrepreneurs have found that one of their big business challenges is simply getting incorporated. In the six months that Diana and Arantxa Fernández needed to obtain the multitude of permits required to open up a nursery school last year, the sisters burned through most of the capital they had husbanded from taking lump-sum unemployment. Now they are on the financial ropes.


. . .


When David Fito tried to open a gluten-free bakery after getting laid off by a bank a few years ago, he said 30 banks refused to lend him the €100,000 he needed. He got the credit only after his parents pledged their apartment as collateral and seven other wage earners agreed to co-sign. He said his business is now growing.


. . .


In Spain, young people with an entrepreneurial DNA long felt like fish out of water. María Alegre started selling homemade jewelry in Barcelona at age 13 and still remembers her profit--13,000 pesetas, worth about $90 at the time. But she said she never heard the word "entrepreneurship" until her fifth year at a Spanish business school and didn't get encouragement until she was studying at the University of Michigan. Today, the 29-year old Ms. Alegre is CEO and co-founder of Chartboost Inc., a 130-employee San Francisco company that helps mobile-game developers find new users and monetize games. Ms. Alegre bemoans what she calls a Spanish "culture of being against risk and not dreaming big enough."



For the full story, see:


Matt Moffett. "New Entrepreneurs Find Pain in Spain." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Nov. 28, 2014): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 27, 2014.")






September 22, 2017

47% Believe College Degree Will NOT Lead to Good Job



(p. A3) Americans are losing faith in the value of a college degree, with majorities of young adults, men and rural residents saying college isn't worth the cost, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey shows.

The findings reflect an increase in public skepticism of higher education from just four years ago and highlight a growing divide in opinion falling along gender, educational, regional and partisan lines.


. . .


Overall, a slim plurality of Americans, 49%, believes earning a four-year degree will lead to a good job and higher lifetime earnings, compared with 47% who don't, according to the poll of 1,200 people taken Aug. 5-9. That two-point margin narrowed from 13 points when the same question was asked four years earlier.

Big shifts occurred within several groups. While women by a large margin still have faith in a four-year degree, opinion among men swung significantly. Four years ago, men by a 12-point margin saw college as worth the cost. Now, they say it is not worth it, by a 10-point margin.

Likewise, among Americans 18 to 34 years old, skeptics outnumber believers 57% to 39%, almost a mirror image from four years earlier.

Today, Democrats, urban residents and Americans who consider themselves middle- and upper-class generally believe college is worth it; Republicans, rural residents and people who identify themselves as poor or working-class Americans don't.



For the full story, see:

Josh Mitchell and Douglas Belkin. "Fewer Americans Value a College Degree, Poll Finds." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., SEPT. 8, 2017): A3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 7, 2017, and has the title "Americans Losing Faith in College Degrees, Poll Finds." The order of paragraphs was different in the online and print versions; the passages quoted above are from the online version.)






September 21, 2017

Students Learn More in Charter Schools



(p. A17) On Sept. 8, 1992, the first charter school opened, in St. Paul, Minn. Twenty-five years later, some 7,000 of these schools serve about three million students around the U.S. Their growth has become controversial among those wedded to the status quo, but charters undeniably are effective, especially in urban areas. After four years in a charter, urban students learn about 50% more a year than demographically similar students in traditional public schools, according to a 2015 report from Stanford's Center for Research on Education Outcomes.

The American cities that have most improved their schools are those that have embraced charters wholeheartedly. Their success suggests that policy makers should stop thinking of charters as an innovation around the edges of the public-school system--and realize that they simply are a better way to organize public education.

New Orleans, which will be 100% charters next year, is America's fastest-improving city when it comes to education. Test scores, graduation and dropout rates, college-going rates and independent studies all tell the same story: The city's schools have doubled or tripled their effectiveness in the decade since the state began turning them over to charter operators.


. . .


The teachers unions hate this model, because most charter schools are not unionized. But if someone discovered a vaccine to cure cancer, would anyone limit its use because hospitals and drug companies found it threatening?



For the full commentary, see:

David Osborne. "Charter Schools Are Flourishing on Their Silver Anniversary; The first one, in St. Paul, Minn., opened in 1992. Since then they've spread and proven their success." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Sept. 8, 2017): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 7, 2017.)


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

Osborne, David. Reinventing America's Schools: Creating a 21st Century Education System. New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2017.






September 20, 2017

"Make School Lunches Great Again"



(p. D1) ATLANTA -- On a sweltering morning in July, Sonny Perdue, the newly minted secretary of agriculture, strode across the stage of a convention hall here packed with 7,000 members of the School Nutrition Association, who had gathered for their annual conference.

After reminiscing about the cinnamon rolls baked by the lunchroom ladies of his youth, he delivered a rousing defense of school food-service workers who were unhappy with some of the sweeping changes made by the Obama administration. The amounts of fat, sugar and salt were drastically reduced. Portion sizes shrank. Lunch trays had to hold more fruits and vegetables. Snacks and food sold for fund-raising had to be healthier.

"Your dedication and creativity was being stifled," Mr. Perdue said. "You were forced to focus your attention on strict, inflexible rules handed down from Washington. Even worse, you experienced firsthand that the rules were failing."

Mr. Perdue then outlined how his department was loosening some of those rules. He finished with a folksy story about a child who asked whether Mr. Perdue could make school lunches great again.

Some in the audience cheered. Some walked out.



For the full story, see:


KIM SEVERSON. "Will the Trump Era Transform the School Lunch?" The New York Times (Weds., SEPT. 6, 2017): D1 & D6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 5, 2017, and has the title"Will the Trump Era Transform the School Lunch?")






September 19, 2017

Reducing Taxes and Regulations Can Boost Growth



(p. A2) The angst was on display this weekend at the annual conference of the American Economic Association, the profession's largest gathering. The conference is a showcase for agenda-setting research, a giant job fair for the nation's most promising young economists and, this year, the site of endless discussion about how to rebuild trust in the discipline.

Many academic economists have been champions of free trade and globalization, ideas under assault among rising populist movements in advanced economies around the world. The rise of President-elect Donald Trump, with his fierce rhetoric against elites, in particular, left many at this conference questioning their place in the world.

"The economic elite did many things to undermine their credibility while people's economic fortunes were taking a turn for the worse," said Steven Davis, an economist at the University of Chicago.


. . .


Stanford University's John Taylor and Columbia's Glenn Hubbard said Mr. Trump's plans to simplify the tax and regulatory codes could indeed boost the economy's growth. Both economists served in the past in the White House Council of Economic Advisers, long populated by academics who present at the AEA conference every January.

This year, academics are out in the cold. During the election The Wall Street Journal contacted every former member of the CEA, including those going back to President Richard Nixon. None had been tapped as an adviser to Mr. Trump's campaign, nor did any publicly endorse him.

The president-elect is "not particularly interested in hearing from the academic economist club," Mr. Davis said.



For the full story, see:

Josh Zumbrun. "Economists Grapple With Public Disdain." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Jan. 9, 2017): A2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 8, 2017, and has the title "Top Economists Grapple With Public Disdain for Initiatives They Championed.")







September 18, 2017

Best Sleep When Temperature Is 64-68 Degrees Fahrenheit



(p. 2) A poor night's sleep is an all too common problem when you're staying at a hotel, says Alistair Hughes, the managing director of Savoir Beds, a London-based company that sells beds and handmade mattresses to more than 50 hotels globally.


. . .


A quiet, dark, cool room is the ideal environment for sleeping well, Mr. Hughes said. Create this ambience by having ear plugs to block noise, using the blackout blinds your room likely has and setting the temperature to between 64 and 66 degrees Fahrenheit.



For the full commentary, see:

SHIVANI VORA. "Travel Tips; How to Get a Good Night's Sleep at a Hotel." The New York Times, Travel Section (Sun., Sept. 3, 2017): 2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date AUG. 25 [sic], 2017. The first sentence quoted above is the slightly longer version that is online; not the slightly shorter version in the print edition.)






September 17, 2017

Courageous Grover Cleveland Belongs in "Entitlement Reform Hall of Fame"



(p. A11) Mr. Cogan has just written a riveting, massive book, "The High Cost of Good Intentions," on the history of entitlements in the U.S., and he describes how in 1972 the Senate "attached an across-the-board, permanent increase of 20% in Social Security benefits to a must-pass bill" on the debt ceiling. President Nixon grumbled loudly but signed it into law. In October, a month before his re-election, "Nixon reversed course and availed himself of an opportunity to take credit for the increase," Mr. Cogan says. "When checks went out to some 28 million recipients, they were accompanied by a letter that said that the increase was 'signed into law by President Richard Nixon.' "

The Nixon episode shows, says Mr. Cogan, that entitlements have been the main cause of America's rising national debt since the early 1970s. Mr. Trump's pact with the Democrats is part of a pattern: "The debt ceiling has to be raised this year because elected representatives have again failed to take action to control entitlement spending."


. . .


Mr. Cogan conceived the book about four years ago when, as part of his research into 19th-century spending patterns, he "saw this remarkable phenomenon of the growth in Civil War pensions. By the 1890s, 30 years after it had ended, pensions from the war accounted for 40% of all federal government spending." About a million people were getting Civil War pensions, he found, compared with 8,000 in 1873, eight years after the war. Mr. Cogan wondered what caused that "extraordinary growth" and whether it was unique.

When he went back to the stacks to look at pensions from the Revolutionary War, he saw "exactly the same pattern." It dawned on him, he says, that this matched "the evolutionary pattern of modern entitlements, such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps."


. . .


Who would feature in an Entitlement Reform Hall of Fame? Mr. Cogan's blue eyes shine contentedly at this question, as he utters the two words he seems to love most: Grover Cleveland. "He was the very first president to take on an entitlement. He objected to the large Civil War program and thought it needed to be reformed." Cleveland was largely unsuccessful, but was a "remarkably courageous president." In his time, Congress had started passing private relief bills, giving out individual pensions "on a grand scale. They'd take 100 or 200 of these bills on a Friday afternoon and pass them with a single vote. Incredibly, 55% of all bills introduced in the Senate in its 1885 to 1887 session were such private pension bills.".



For the full interview, see:

Tunku Varadarajan. "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW with John F. Cogan; Why Entitlements Keep Growing, and Growing, and . . .." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Sept. 9, 2017): A11.

(Note: ellipsis in title, in original; other ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date Sept. 8, 2017, and has the title "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; Why Entitlements Keep Growing, and Growing, and . . ..".)


The Cogan book, mentioned above, is:

Cogan, John F. The High Cost of Good Intentions: A History of U.S. Federal Entitlement Programs. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2017.






September 16, 2017

GDP Neglects Benefits of New Goods



(p. A13) . . . [one] source of underestimation of growth is the failure to capture the benefit of new goods and services. Here's how the current procedure works: When a new product is developed and sold to the public, its market value enters into nominal gross domestic product. But there is no attempt to take into account the full value to consumers created by the new product per se.

Think about statins, the remarkable class of drugs that lower cholesterol and reduce deaths from heart attacks. By 2003 statins were the best-selling pharmaceutical product in history. The total dollar amount of statin sales was counted in GDP, but the government's measure of real income never included anything for improvements in health that resulted from statins--such as a one-third decrease in the death rate from heart disease among those over 65 between 2000 and 2007.

Or consider consumer electronics. New York University economist William Easterly recently tweeted an image of a 1991 RadioShack newspaper ad and noted that all the functions of the devices on sale--clock radio, calculator, cellphone, tape-recorder, compact-disk player, camcorder, desktop computer--are "now available on a $200 smartphone." The benefits to consumers from these advances don't show up in GDP.



For the full commentary, see:


Martin Feldstein. "We're Richer Than We Realize; The official economic statistics fail to account for quality improvements and new products." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 9, 2017): A13.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 8, 2017.)






September 15, 2017

When 4% Economic Growth Was Routine



(p. R3) Starting in 1983, when Ronald Reagan was in the middle of his first presidential term, the American economy reeled off three straight years of 4% growth. The economy went on to hit that politically important target in nine of the next 17 years. In fact, even as Mr. Bush ran for re-election, the economy actually was revving up after a two-year lull, though the surge came too late for voters to realize it.

Then, at the turn into a new millennium, that streak stopped. In the last 15 years, the American economy hasn't grown at a 4% annual rate even once.

But it isn't just the U.S. In the last 15 years, according to International Monetary Fund data, exactly one of the traditional seven major industrialized nations achieved annual economic growth of 4%, one time: Japan in 2010.

In sum, the kind of economic growth that used to be relatively routine in the industrialized world has become virtually extinct.

This low-growth era leaves political leaders facing two unsavory tasks. The first is to explain to unhappy voters why growth is so anemic, and the second is to convince them that they know what to do about it.



For the full commentary, see:

Gerald F. Seib. "Politicians Pine for Elusive Solution to Voters' Discontent: 4% Growth." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Jan. 17, 2017): R3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 16, 2017.)










Eight Most Recent Comments:



PaulS said:

Another case in point: between them, Google, Tesla, and others have spent countless billions on mapping the USA, enough for at least $1000/mile including every last obscure Forest Service track. That should be more than enough to catalog everything down to the embossing style on every manhole cover. And yet a person can find their way to Grandma's new house with vague turn-by-turn directions or a vague line-sketch that shows no details whatsoever about the road surface or the sidewalks or the crosswalks. And a person will manage the task without needing, in advance, a finely detailed map of the current construction projects, including lane changes etc. But that severe incompleteness won't stop morally-posturing politicians from forcing autonomous cars onto the populace years or even decades before they are actually ready for unsupervised consumer use. That is the essentially only kind of use they will get in the real world. After all, politicians love to posture, they love to toady up to rent-seeking billionaires, and they love photo-ops of themselves gawking at shiny new tech gadgets. Note that when signals were first installed on the Chicago El, the accident rate went up for a time, as trained motormen became careless about watching where they were going. Not-so-trained consumers will be far too busy fiddling with their phones to be ready to take over on a split-second's notice.



PaulS said:

And there will be unicorns. So we'll have some remote working, but we'll be jailing ever more techies in a few obscenely overcrowded, otherworldly-expensive megacities. Just as Microsofties once told us wasting two days on the now-infamously godawful airlines just to physically attend an hour meeting was going away, but both the meetings and the airlines only got worse and worse.

So not really a big deal, just another stylistic business fad. Those come and go like mayflies - while being crammed, confined, and nailed down, remains eternally.



rjs said:

there's a lot GDP doesnt capture, but i'm not sure where Feldstein is coming from about statins...the consumption of drugs is included in the non-durable goods component of PCE, consumption of health care services by themselves account for 12% of GDP, and R & D would be included in investment in intellectual property products.. the problem is that everyone is trying to make GDP into something it's not...it's a measure of goods and services produced by the economy, full stop. it's not intended to measure increases in life expectancy or well being, or any other intangibles..



rjs said:

actually, if every adult spent the $10,000 that was given to them, it would add about 13% to GDP (less any inflation adjustment) furthermore, as the US is the creator of its own currency, there would be no need to "pay for" such a citizen bonus...we certainly managed to conjure up trillions of dollars to bail out the banks a few years back without "paying for it"; we could just as easily do the same for this case..



Aaron said:

An appropriately sweet topic this Valentine's day, though this may make you this holiday's Scrooge.



Ed Rector said:

There are more than 2000 colleges in the USA offering tens of thousands of degrees/majors. Oh yes, there are also a few thousand JC's, trade schools and apprentice programs that train welders. Who should decide what any individual student wants to study?? Senator Rubio, the Mercatus Center or the individual student?? And you call yourselves 'freedom-loving Libertarians' !!



Aaron said:

You need a "like" button. Here's to enjoying bacon and eggs on an unusually warm fall day and doing so guilt free.



Aaron said:

I'd also suggest that work is just part of who some people are and a reason they got rich. A friend's dad comes to mind; he's a millionaire and in his 60s and a couple years ago I saw him cleaning one of his rental houses and wondered why he didn't pay someone to do it, but he's just one of those guys who'd rather work than golf or relax.





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