Grünberg Found Useful Effect That Went Against Then-Dominant Theory

(p. A25) Peter Grünberg, a Nobel-Prize-winning physicist who discovered how to store vast amounts of data by manipulating the magnetic and electrical fields of thin layers of atoms, making possible devices like the iPad and the smartphone, has died at 78.
. . .
Since the British physicist Lord Kelvin first wrote about the subject in 1857, it had long been known that magnetic fields could affect the electrical resistance of magnetic materials like iron. Current flowed more easily along the field lines than across them.
While this effect on electrical resistance was useful for sensing magnetic fields and, in electronic heads, reading magnetic disks, it amounted to only a small change in the resistance, and physicists did not think there were many prospects for improvement.
So it was a surprise in 1988 when groups led by Dr. Fert at the Laboratoire de Physique des Solides in Paris and by Dr. Grünberg found that super-slim sandwiches of iron and chromium that they had assembled showed large sensitivity to magnetic fields — or “giant magnetoresistance,” as Dr. Fert called it. The name stuck.
The reason for the effect has to do with what physicists call the spin of electrons — their somewhat mysterious ability to have an orientation in space. When the magnetic layers of the sandwich have both their fields pointing in the same direction, electrons whose spin points along that direction can migrate freely through the sandwich. Electrons that point in another direction, however, are scattered.
If, however, one of the magnetic layers is perturbed by, say, reading a small signal, it can flip its direction so that its field runs opposite to the other one; this dramatically increases the electrical resistance of the sandwich.
As Philip Schewe, of the American Institute of Physics, explained, “You’ve leveraged a weak bit of magnetism into a robust bit of electricity.”
Experts said the discovery was one of the first triumphs of the new field of nanotechnology, the ability to build and manipulate assemblies of atoms only a nanometer (a billionth of a meter) in size.

For the full obituary, see:
DENNIS OVERBYE. “Peter Grünberg, 78, Dies; Heart of Modern Gadgets Is Based on His Research.” The New York Times (Friday, April 13, 2018): A25.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date APRIL 12, 2018, and has the title “Peter Grünberg, 78, Winner of an ‘iPod Nobel,’ Is Dead.”)

Happiness “Emerges from the Pursuit of Purpose”

(p. C7) The modern positive-psychology movement– . . .–is a blend of wise goals, good studies, surprising discoveries, old truths and overblown promises. Daniel Horowitz’s history deftly reveals the eternal lessons that underlie all its incarnations: Money can’t buy happiness; human beings need social bonds, satisfying work and strong communities; a life based entirely on the pursuit of pleasure ultimately becomes pleasureless. As Viktor Frankl told us, “Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to ‘be happy.’ ” That reason, he said, emerges from the pursuit of purpose.

For the full review, see:
Carol Tavris. “”How Smiles Were Packaged and Sold.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, March 31, 2018): C5 & C7.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 29, 2018, and has the title “”Happier?’ and ‘The Hope Circuit’ Reviews: How Smiles Were Packaged and Sold.”)

The book under review, is:
Horowitz, Daniel. Happier?: The History of a Cultural Movement That Aspired to Transform America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

Retail Clinics Grow as Office Visits to Physicians Decline

(p. 1) Is the doctor in?
In this new medical age of urgent care centers and retail clinics, that’s not a simple question. Nor does it have a simple answer, as primary care doctors become increasingly scarce.
“You call the doctor’s office to book an appointment,” said Matt Feit, a 45-year-old screenwriter in Los Angeles who visited an urgent care center eight times last year. “They’re only open Monday through Friday from these hours to those hours, and, generally, they’re not the hours I’m free or I have to take time off from my job.
“I can go just about anytime to urgent care,” he continued, “and my co-pay is exactly the same as if I went to my primary doctor.”
That’s one reason big players like CVS Health, the drugstore chain, and most recently Walmart, the giant retailer, are eyeing deals with Aetna and Humana, respectively, to use their stores to deliver medical care.
People are flocking to retail clinics and urgent care centers in strip malls or shopping centers, where simple health needs can usually be tended to by health professionals like nurse practitioners or physician assistants much more cheaply than in a doctor’s office. Some 12,000 are already scattered across the country, according to Merchant Medicine, a consulting firm.
On the other side, office visits to primary care doctors declined 18 percent from 2012 to 2016, even as visits to specialists increased, insurance data analyzed by the Health Care Cost Institute shows.

For the full story, see:
REED ABELSON and JULIE CRESWELL. “Merger Medicine and the Disappearing Doctor.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sunday, April 8, 2018): 1 & 7.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 7, 2018, and has the title “The Disappearing Doctor: How Mega-Mergers Are Changing the Business of Medical Care.”)

Big Pharma Is Mellow about FDA Obstacles to Innovation

It sometimes appears that big pharma is comfortable with the hugely expensive FDA drug approval process. Perhaps big pharma firms have learned how to navigate the process and have the resources to do so. And perhaps the process discourages disruptive innovations from small medical startups that have not learned how to navigate the process, and do not have the resources to do so. If so, then the puzzling indifference of big pharma indicated in the passages quoted below, becomes easier to understand.
(There’s a wonderful recent TV ad from big pharma supporting innovation by quoting the Dylan Thomas poem saying we should “rage, rage against the dying of the light.” If only they really meant it.)

(p. A13) In recent years, the arrival of breakthrough drugs for everything from cancer to rare diseases has led to a surge in the number of patients wanting early access to treatments. The pleas — sometimes driven by viral social media campaigns — have proved vexing for companies that have invested millions to get a drug to market and are wary of doing anything to jeopardize their chances.

Today, companies’ policies on granting early access to drugs are a confusing patchwork that tends to favor affluent and well-connected patients at leading medical centers, who have the resources and know-how to navigate the system.
“You have to be pretty sophisticated,” said Dr. Arthur L. Caplan, a bioethicist at New York University who has been working with companies, including Johnson & Johnson, to develop better early-access programs. But the bill passed this week, he said, “does somewhere between nothing and absolutely nothing to help you.”
The bill’s passage represented a victory for proponents of “right to try,” a campaign championed by Vice President Mike Pence and initiated by the Goldwater Institute, a libertarian think tank that favors limiting the scope of the F.D.A. At least 38 states have passed local versions of right-to-try laws, which allow patients to sidestep F.D.A. approval once they have received permission from a company.
The right-to-try measures are opposed by a broad coalition of groups, which contend the bill will not help patients and will undermine the authority of the primary regulatory agency, the F.D.A. Four former F.D.A. commissioners, including two each from Democratic and Republican administrations, oppose the bills, as do dozens of patient groups, including the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and the American Lung Association.
The pharmaceutical industry, while not taking a position on the issue, has been circumspect. A spokesman for its main lobbying group, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said on Friday, “We believe any legislation must truly benefit and protect patients and not disrupt the future of clinical trials, U.S. Food and Drug Administration oversight and the research and approval of new medicines.”
. . .
The F.D.A. already approves 99 percent of such applications, and the agency has streamlined the approval process. Drug companies also have many other reasons to bar access — often, companies do not have enough extra product to give to patients, or they worry that the logistical work of granting access could slow efforts to get the drug approved, when it would become available to any patient who needed it.
There is also the possibility that the drug does not work — many experimental products fail in late-stage trials.
. . .
“In our view, the F.D.A. plays a really important role,” Dr. Joanne Waldstreicher, the chief medical officer of Johnson & Johnson, said in an interview Thursday. Johnson & Johnson initiated a program in 2015 that delegates decisions about early access to a program set up by Dr. Caplan. The F.D.A., Dr. Waldstreicher said, has “information that we don’t have necessarily; they see safety and efficacy information on products that may be similar.”

For the full story, see:
KATIE THOMAS. “For Terminally Ill People, a Convoluted Procedure Just to Give Drugs a Try.” The New York Times (Saturday, March 24, 2018): A13.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 23, 2018, and has the title “Why Can’t Dying Patients Get the Drugs They Want?”)

“A Litigious, Protective Culture Has Gone Too Far”

(p. A1) SHOEBURYNESS, England — Educators in Britain, after decades spent in a collective effort to minimize risk, are now, cautiously, getting into the business of providing it.
. . .
Limited risks are increasingly cast by experts as an experience essential to childhood development, useful in building resilience and grit.
Outside the Princess Diana Playground in Kensington Gardens in London, which attracts more than a million visitors a year, a placard informs parents that risks have been “intentionally provided, so that your child can develop an appreciation of risk in a controlled play environment rather than taking similar risks in an uncontrolled and unregulated wider world.”
This view is tinged with nostalgia for an earlier Britain, in which children were tougher and more self-reliant. It resonates both with right-wing tabloids, which see it as a corrective to the cosseting of a liberal nanny state; and with progressives, drawn to a freer and more natural childhood.
. . .
(p. A12) Britain is one of a number of countries where educators and regulators say a litigious, protective culture has gone too far, leaching healthy risks out of childhood. Guidelines on play from the government agency that oversees health and safety issues in Britain state that “the goal is not to eliminate risk.”

For the full story, see:
ELLEN BARRY. “In Britain, Learning to Accept Risk, and the Occasional ‘Owie’.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, March 11, 2018): A1 & A12.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 10, 2018, and has the title “In Britain’s Playgrounds, ‘Bringing in Risk’ to Build Resilience.”)

“Puttin’ On the Ritz”

(p. C9) The Savoy, which opened in 1889, was glamorous and cosmopolitan, an antidote to Victorian stuffiness. Its owner, Richard D’Oyly Carte, the backer of Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operas, had a theater next door, and his ambition was to create a modern luxury hotel the likes of which had never been seen. To fulfill his vision, in 1890 he turned to Escoffier and the Swiss hotelier Ritz, a man known for his impeccable taste, and in short order the two men, who’d had a previous success at the Grand Hotel in Monte Carlo, made the Savoy into the most famous and profitable hotel and restaurant in the world.
“Ritz & Escoffier,” Luke Barr’s entertaining narrative history, reads like a novel (complete with cliff hangers and descriptions of the characters’ private thoughts). Both of its subjects had grown up poor, but were opposites temperamentally.
. . .
Neither man had to use the stairs at the Savoy, since the hotel had six elevators, the largest ever seen in Europe, which D’Oyly Carte called “ascending rooms.” There were 400 guestrooms and an unheard-of number of bathrooms–67 all told, many en suite and at no extra charge. (The recently opened Hotel Victoria provided just four for 500 guests.) The Savoy also had electric light that you could switch on or off in your room without getting out of bed, also at no extra charge.
. . .
. . ., D’Oyly Carte gave Escoffier and Ritz free rein from the start. The restaurant became enormously popular, a gathering place open to all who could afford it: aristocrats, the nouveau riche, royalty, Jewish bankers and fur traders (Jews weren’t freely accepted in society at the time), and stars of the theater and opera. Formal evening dress was de rigueur in the dining room and women were admitted–except those of “doubtful reputation and uncertain revenue,” who arrived unaccompanied, wearing makeup and large hats. Mr. Barr writes, “An extravagant hat worn in the evening, Ritz had discovered, was a sign of trouble.” But Ritz not only gave ladies’ banquets, he also successfully campaigned to change the laws against eating out on Sundays. Soon those formerly grim at-home evenings of “cold joint and gloom” became the most fashionable times of the week to dine at the Savoy.
. . .
Ritz had opened the hotel’s doors to anyone with money wearing the right clothes. The old social rules were broken. Mr. Barr comments, “Indeed, there was an element of decadence in the Savoy’s brand of luxury–it was this decadence that made it modern, the sense that pleasure was to be celebrated.”

For the full review, see:
Moira Hodgson. “‘Modern Hospitality.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, March 31, 2018): C9.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 30, 2018, and has the title “‘Ritz & Escoffier’ Review: Modern Hospitality.”)

The book under review, is:
Barr, Luke. Ritz and Escoffier: The Hotelier, the Chef, and the Rise of the Leisure Class. New York: Clarkson Potter, 2018.

Global Warming Most Affects Coldest Regions

(p. A11) Winters in the United States have gotten warmer in the past 30 years, and some of the coldest parts of the country have warmed up the most.
In Minnesota, winters between 1989 and 2018 were an average of 3 degrees Fahrenheit warmer, compared to a 20th century baseline, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration analyzed by The New York Times. Florida’s winters were 1.4 degrees warmer, on average, during that time.
For each 30-year period above, the maps show how much warmer or cooler winters were across the contiguous United States, compared to an average winter for that location during the 20th century. Though it might not always feel like it, warmer winters have become more common across most of the country. The most significant temperature increases can be seen in the Northern Great Plains, a region stretching from Montana to Michigan.
The Northern Great Plains have warmed up particularly quickly in part because of the dry winter conditions typical there, said Kenneth Blumenfeld, a senior climatologist at the Minnesota State Climate Office. Cold air moving into the area from Canada and the Arctic is also not as cold as it used to be, he said.
“In Minnesota, we used to get to negative 30 or negative 40 degrees with certain frequency. But no longer. Maybe we’ll now hit negative 30 with the frequency we used to hit negative 40,” Dr. Blumenfeld said. But, he added, this difference in cold extremes can be difficult for people to perceive. When it’s that cold out, after all, people tend to stay inside.
The pattern of warming shown here is largely consistent with global trends, said Jake Crouch, a scientist at NOAA’s climate monitoring branch. “In general, northern latitudes are warming faster than southern latitudes. Interior locations are warming faster than coastal locations.”

For the full story, see:
NADJA POPOVICH and BLACKI MIGLIOZZI. “Where Are America’s Winters Warming the Most? In Cold Places.” The New York Times (Saturday, MARCH 17, 2018): A11.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 16, 2018.)