Spreadsheets and Committees Are Enemies of Innovation

(p. B4) “As we became more sophisticated in quantifying things we became less and less willing to take risks,” says Horace Dediu, a technology analyst and fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, a think tank. “The spreadsheet is the weapon of mass destruction against creative power.”
The same could be said of university research, says Dr. Prabhakar. Research priorities are often decided by peer review, that is, a committee.
“It drives research to more incrementalism,” she says. “Committees are a great way to reduce risk, but not to take risk.”

For the full commentary, see:
CHRISTOPHER MIMS. “KEYWORDS; Engine of Innovation Loses Some Spark.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Nov. 21, 2016): B1 & B4.
(Note: the online version of the article has the date Nov. 20, 2016, and has the title “KEYWORDS; Is Engine of Innovation in Danger of Stalling?”)

Studying Cancer in Dogs Can Help Humans and Dogs

(p. D4) Dogs are a better natural model for some human diseases than mice or even primates because they live with people, Dr. Karlsson says. “Compared to lab mice, with dogs they’re getting diseases within their natural life span, they’re exposed to the same pollutants in the environment” as humans, she says.
Previous canine studies conducted by other scientists have shed light on human diseases like osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer, as well as the sleep disorder narcolepsy and a neurological condition, epilepsy.
With osteosarcoma, the most common type of bone cancer in children and one that frequently strikes certain dog breeds, researchers have discovered that tumors in dogs and children are virtually indistinguishable. The tumors share similarities in their location, development of chemotherapy-resistant growths and altered functioning of certain proteins, making dogs a good animal model of the disease. Collecting more specimens from dogs could lead to progress in identifying tumor targets and new cancer drugs in dogs as well as in children, some scientists say.

For the full story, see:
SHIRLEY S. WANG. “IN THE LAB; How Dogs’ Genes Can Help Humans.” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Dec. 3, 2015): D4.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 2, 2015, and has the title “IN THE LAB; Why Dogs Are Some Scientists’ New Best Friends.”)

A paper showing how cancer research on dogs can help humans, is:
Fenger, Joelle M., Cheryl A. London, and William C. Kisseberth. “Canine Osteosarcoma: A Naturally Occurring Disease to Inform Pediatric Oncology.” ILAR Journal 55, no. 1 (2014): 69-85.

Coastal Damage Caused by Storm Surges at High Tide, Not by Tiny Rise in Sea Levels

(p. A11) When Teddy Roosevelt built his Sagamore Hill on Long Island, he did so a quarter mile from shore at an elevation of 115 feet not because he disdained proximity to the beach or was precociously worried about climate change. The federal government did not stand ready with taxpayer money to defray his risk.
Estimates vary, but sea levels may have risen two millimeters a year over the past century. Meanwhile, tidal cycles along the U.S. east coast range from 11 feet every day (in Boston) to two feet (parts of Florida).
On top of this, a “notable surge event” can produce a storm surge of seven to 23 feet, according to a federal list of 10 hurricanes over the past 70 years.
We should not exaggerate the degree to which homeowners are being asked to shoulder their own risks. Washington is doling out five-figure checks to Jersey homeowners to raise houses on pilings to reduce the federal government’s future rebuilding costs. But, to state the obvious, normal tidal variation plus storm surge is the danger to coastal property. Background sea-level rise is a non-factor. A FEMA study from several years ago found that fully a quarter of coastal dwellings are liable to be destroyed over a 50-year period.
Though it pleased New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to pretend Superstorm Sandy in 2012 was caused by global warming, the storm wasn’t even a hurricane by the time it hit shore–it just happened to hit at peak tide. Sure, certain people in Florida and elsewhere like to conflate the two. It’s in their interests to do so.

For the full commentary, see:
HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR. “Shoreline Gentry Are Fake Climate Victims.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Nov. 26, 2016): A11.

“We Shall Increasingly Have the Power to Make Life Good”

(p. B13) Derek Parfit, a British philosopher whose writing on personal identity, the nature of reasons and the objectivity of morality re-established ethics as a central concern for contemporary thinkers and set the terms for philosophic inquiry, died on Monday at his home in London.
. . .
The two volumes of “On What Matters,” published in 2011, dealt with the theory of reasons and morality, arguing for the existence of objective truth in ethics.
. . .
“With no other philosopher have I had such a clear sense of someone who had already thought of every objection I could make, of the best replies to them, of further objections that I might then make, and of replies to them too,” the philosopher Peter Singer wrote recently on the philosophy website Daily Nous.
. . .
In February [2017], Oxford University Press plans to publish a third volume of “On What Matters.” It consists in part of responses to criticism of his work by leading philosophers, which will appear in a companion volume, edited by Mr. Singer, titled “Does Anything Really Matter?”
. . .
On Daily Nous, Mr. Singer offered a snippet from Mr. Parfit’s new work:
“Life can be wonderful as well as terrible, and we shall increasingly have the power to make life good. Since human history may be only just beginning, we can expect that future humans, or supra-humans, may achieve some great goods that we cannot now even imagine.
“In Nietzsche’s words, there has never been such a new dawn and clear horizon, and such an open sea.”

For the full obituary, see:
WILLIAM GRIMES. “Derek Parfit, 74, Philosopher Who Explored Identity.” The New York Times (Thurs., JAN. 5, 2017): B13.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date JAN. 4, 2017, and has the title “Derek Parfit, Philosopher Who Explored Identity and Moral Choice, Dies at 74.”)

The book by Parfit quoted above, is:
Parfit, Derek. On What Matters: Volume Three. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2017.

Brexit “as a Cry for Liberty” from EU “Edicts and Regulations”

(p. C1) The Brexit campaign started as a cry for liberty, perhaps articulated most clearly by Michael Gove, the British justice secretary (and, on this issue, the most prominent dissenter in Mr. Cameron’s cabinet). Mr. Gove offered practical examples of the problems of EU membership. As a minister, he said, he deals constantly with edicts and regulations framed at the European level–rules that he doesn’t want and can’t change. These were rules that no one in Britain asked for, rules promulgated by officials whose names Brits don’t know, people whom they never elected and cannot remove from office. Yet they become the law of the land. Much of what we think of as British democracy, Mr. Gove argued, is now no such thing.
Instead of grumbling about the things we can’t change, Mr. Gove said, it was time to follow “the Americans who declared their independence and never looked back” and “become an exemplar of what an inclusive, open and innovative democracy can achieve.” Many of the Brexiteers think that Britain voted this week to follow a template set in 1776 on the other side of the Atlantic.
. . .
(p. C2) Mr. Gove has taken to borrowing the 18th-century politician William Pitt’s dictum about how England can “save herself by her exertions and Europe by her example.” After Mr. Cameron departs and new British leadership arrives, it will be keen to strike new alliances based on the principles of democracy, sovereignty and freedom. You never know: That might just catch on.

For the full commentary, see:
FRASER NELSON. “A Very British Revolution; The vote to leave the EU began as a cry for liberty and ended as a rebuke to the establishment.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., June 24, 2016): C1-C2.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 24, 2016, and has the title “Brexit: A Very British Revolution; The vote to leave the EU began as a cry for liberty and ended as a rebuke to the establishment.”)

Decrease in Number of Tech Startups Results in Less Job Creation

(p. A10) Since 2002, the number of technology startups has slowed, hurting job creation. In a 2014 study, economists Javier Miranda, John Haltiwanger and Ian Hathaway said the growth of tech startups accelerated to 113,000 in 2001 from 64,000 in 1992.
That number slumped to 79,000 in 2011 and hasn’t recovered, according to the economists’ calculations using updated data. The causes include global competition and increased domestic regulation, says Mr. Haltiwanger, an economics professor at the University of Maryland.

For the full story, see:
Jon Hilsenrath and Bob Davis. “‘America’s Dazzling Tech Boom Has a Downside: Not Enough Jobs.” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Oct. 13, 2016): A1 & A10.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 12, 2016, and has the title “‘America’s Dazzling Tech Boom Has a Downside: Not Enough Jobs.”)

The Haltiwanger paper mentioned above, is:
Haltiwanger, John, Ian Hathaway, and Javier Miranda. “Declining Business Dynamism in the U.S. High-Technology Sector.” Feb. 2014.

Internet Innovations Only Arose After Entrepreneurs Created PCs

(p. B15) Leo L. Beranek, an engineer whose company designed the acoustics for the United Nations and concert halls at Lincoln Center and Tanglewood, then built the direct precursor to the internet under contract to the Defense Department, died on Oct. 10 [2016] at his home in Westwood, Mass.
. . .
After the war, Dr. Beranek was recruited to teach at M.I.T., where he was named technical director of the engineering department’s acoustics laboratory. The administrative director of that lab was Richard Bolt, who later founded Bolt, Beranek & Newman with Dr. Beranek and Robert Newman, a former student of Dr. Bolt’s.
The company was conceived as a center for leading-edge acoustic research. But Dr. Beranek changed its direction in the 1950s to include a focus on the nascent computer age.
“As president, I decided to take B.B.N. into the field of man-machine systems because I felt acoustics was a limited field and no one seemed to be offering consulting services in that area,” Dr. Beranek said in a 2012 interview for this obituary.
He hired J.C.R. Licklider, a pioneering computer scientist from M.I.T., to lead the effort, and it was Dr. Licklider who persuaded him that the company needed to get involved in computers.
Under Dr. Licklider, the company developed one of the best software research groups in the country and won many critical projects with the Department of Defense, NASA, the National Institutes of Health and other government agencies. Though Dr. Licklider left in 1962, the company became a favored destination for a new generation of software developers and was often referred to as the third university in Cambridge.
“We bought our first digital computer from Digital Equipment Corporation, and with it we were able to attract some of the best minds from M.I.T. and Harvard, and this led to the ARPA contract to build the Arpanet,” Dr. Beranek said.
“I never dreamed the internet would come into such widespread use, because the first users of the Arpanet were large mainframe computer owners,” he said. “This all changed when the personal computer became available. With the PC, I could see that computers were fun, and that is the real reason why all innovations come into widespread use.”

For the full obituary, see:

GLENN RIFKIN. “Leo Beranek, 102, Who Pivoted From Acoustics to Computers, Dies.” The New York Times (Tues, OCT. 18, 2016): B15.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date OCT. 17, 2016, and has the title “Leo Beranek, Acoustics Designer and Internet Pioneer, Dies at 102.” )

Automation Raises Productivity, Consumer Spending, and Creates New Jobs

(p. B1) Since the 1970s, when automated teller machines arrived, the number of bank tellers in America has more than doubled. James Bessen, an economist who teaches at Boston University School of Law, points to that seeming paradox amid new concerns that automation is “stealing” human jobs. To the contrary, he says, jobs and automation often grow hand in hand.
Sometimes, of course, machines really do replace humans, as in agriculture and manufacturing, says Massachusetts Institute of Technology labor economist David Autor in a succinct and illuminating TED talk, which could have served as the headline for this column. Across an entire economy, however, Dr. Autor says that’s never happened.
. . .
(p. B4) . . . a long trail of empirical evidence shows that the increased productivity brought about by automation and invention ultimately leads to more wealth, cheaper goods, increased consumer spending power and ultimately, more jobs.
In the case of bank tellers, the spread of ATMs meant bank branches could be smaller, and therefore, cheaper. Banks opened more branches, and in total employed more tellers, Mr. Bessen says.

For the full commentary, see:
CHRISTOPHER MIMS. “KEYWORDS; Automation Actually Can Lead to More Job Creation.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Dec. 12, 2016): B1 & B4.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 11, 2016, and has the title “KEYWORDS; Automation Can Actually Create More Jobs.”)

Bessen more fully presents his ATM example in his book:
Bessen, James. Learning by Doing: The Real Connection between Innovation, Wages, and Wealth. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015.

Flaws in Early Tech, Solved by Later and Better Tech

(p. A2) Mr. Mokyr says innovators gravitate to society’s greatest needs. In previous eras, it was cheap and rapid transport, reliable energy, and basic health care. Today, seven of the top 10 problems he says are most in need of innovative solutions are instances of bite-back. They include global warming, antibiotic resistance, obesity and information overload. Fixing these problems may weigh heavily on growth. Yet Mr. Mokyr argues past productivity was overstated because it didn’t include those costs.
Nonetheless, he’s an optimist. For every unintended consequence one innovation brings, another innovation will find the answer. Fluoridation cured tooth decay, and automotive engineers found alternatives to leaded gasoline. And distracted driving? Driverless cars may take care of that plague before long.

For the full commentary, see:
GREG IP. “CAPITAL ACCOUNT; When Tech Bites Back: The Cost of Innovation.” The New York Times (Thurs., Oct. 20, 2016): A2.
(Note: the online version of the commentaty has the date Oct. 19, 2016, and has the title “CAPITAL ACCOUNT; When Tech Bites Back: Innovation’s Dark Side.”)

Venture Capitalists Expect Future Successful Entrepreneurs to Look Like Recent Successful Entrepreneurs

(p. 4) In recent months, the fund-raising atmosphere has cooled as venture capitalists react to the poor stock market performance of some public tech companies and question whether the recent fast pace of investment is sustainable. Venture capitalists are making fewer investments at lower valuations.
“There is this delusion that it’s easy to raise money in Silicon Valley,” said Sam Altman, president of Y Combinator, a mentorship and investment program for start-ups. “Raising money is incredibly hard.”
. . .
Venture capitalists, who hold the keys to success in Silicon Valley by providing start-up money, are even more likely to be white and male than tech company employees are. Theirs is an insular business. Most investors accept pitches only from entrepreneurs who come through an introduction, and they tend to finance people who have succeeded before, or who remind them of those who did.
According to a 2014 study published by the National Academy of Sciences, investors prefer pitches by men, particularly attractive men, to those by women, even when the content of the pitch is the same. In addition to studying the results of three entrepreneurial pitch competitions, the researchers conducted two experiments in which a representative sample of working adults heard identical pitches in male and female voices. Sixty-eight percent of people preferred to finance the company when it was pitched by a male voice, while 32 percent chose the female.
. . .
At the gender discrimination trial last year against Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which the venture capital firm won, female employees said they were excluded from a ski trip, denied credit for deals they brought to the firm, and told they both didn’t speak up enough and talked too much.
“I feel like it’s a lot more nuanced and sometimes it’s subconscious,” said Julia Hu, the founder and chief executive of Lark, which makes a health and weight-loss app. “V.C.s are pattern matchers, and they’re just used to seeing men like themselves.”
Many women convey confidence and leadership in a different way than men do, she said. As an Asian woman, she said, she was raised to be humble and quiet and felt uncomfortable promoting her skills. “To try to be who I thought they wanted me to be, which was another Mark Zuckerberg, was actually very difficult for me without feeling inauthentic.”

For the full story, see:
Miller, Claire Cain. “The Venture Capital Ceiling.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., FEB. 28, 2016): 1 & 4-5.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 27, 2016, and has the title “What It’s Really Like to Risk It All in Silicon Valley.”)

The National Academy of Sciences study mentioned above, is:
Wood Brooks, Alison, Laura Huang, Sarah Wood Kearney, and Fiona E. Murray. “Investors Prefer Entrepreneurial Ventures Pitched by Attractive Men.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 111, no. 12 (March 25, 2014): 4427-31.

Oil Rich Socialist Venezuela Is Importing Oil from Capitalist United States

(p. A1) EL FURRIAL, Venezuela — One oil rig was idle for weeks because a single piece of equipment was missing. Another was attacked by armed gangs who made off with all they could carry. Many oil workers say they are paid so little that they barely eat and have to keep watch over one another in case they faint while high up on the rigs.
Venezuela’s petroleum industry, whose vast revenues once fueled the country’s Socialist-inspired revolution, underwriting everything from housing to education, is spiraling into disarray.
To add insult to injury, the Venezuelan government has been forced to turn to its nemesis, the United States, for help.
“You call them the empire,” said Luis Centeno, a union leader for the oil workers, referring to what government officials call the United States, “and yet you’re buying their oil.”

For the full story, see:
NICHOLAS CASEY and CLIFFORD KRAUSSSEPT. “How Badly Is Oil-Rich Venezuela Failing? It’s Importing U.S. Oil.” The New York Times (Weds., SEPT. 21, 2016): A1 & A12.
(Note: the online version of the article has the date SEPT. 20, 2016, and has the title “How Bad Off Is Oil-Rich Venezuela? It’s Buying U.S. Oil.”)