To End Inflation, Fed Should Commit “To Good Policy Rules,” and Not Stray to Increase Jobs

(p. A9) Growing up in Glens Falls, N.Y., Edward C. Prescott got an insider’s view of business from chats with his father, an engineer and later comptroller for a global supplier of pigments. Those insights made the economics courses he took in college seem less theoretical and more relevant than they might have seemed to other students.

. . .

With Dr. Kydland, he published an influential 1977 paper called “Rules Rather Than Discretion: The Inconsistency of Optimal Plans,” concluding that policy makers could err by straying from long-term goals to address short-run problems. For instance, central bankers might be tempted to ease up on their commitments to contain inflation in the short run as a way to boost employment. If so, the professors argued, people might start assuming that prices were out of control, creating a psychology that led to faster inflation for long periods.

Sticking to a sound policy was far more effective than jolting the economy with frequent adjustments, they argued. “You should not think in terms of controlling the economy,” Dr. Prescott said. “That leads to bad outcomes. You should think in terms of committing to good policy rules.”

. . .

Though revered by many of his students and colleagues, Dr. Prescott sometimes baffled them. The problem, he once explained, was that he thought much faster than he could talk. He sometimes jumped from one topic to another with no transition.

“His brain did not work like other people’s,” said Timothy Kehoe, an economics professor at the University of Minnesota who worked with Dr. Prescott for four decades, “and in some ways that was a tremendous advantage.”

For the full obituary, see:

James R. Hagerty. “Economist’s Policy Advice: Stick to Long-Term Plan.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, November 12, 2022): A9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated Nov. 8, 2022, and has the title “Nobel-Winning Economist Edward C. Prescott Dies at 81.”)

Geophysical Science Is Not Settled

(p. D2) Last year, one of the most dangerous volcanoes in Africa erupted without warning.

. . .

Now, in a new study published this Wednesday [Aug. 31, 2022] in Nature, Delphine Smittarello, a geophysicist at the European Center for Geodynamics and Seismology in Walferdange, Luxembourg, and her colleagues articulated how the eruption managed to ambush everyone.

. . .

This sort of unannounced eruption offers scientists a harsh lesson: For every paradigm-shifting secret they extract from their mountainous subjects, “there are always things that we don’t understand,” said Emily Montgomery-Brown, a geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Cascades Volcano Observatory who was not involved in the study. “It’s a good reminder not to get cocky.”

. . .

. . . it’s possible that we will never become perfect prophets of our volcanic futures. “There may be things we will never be able to forecast,” Dr. Montgomery-Brown said.

For the full story, see:

Robin George Andrews. “An Eruption That Forecasters Couldn’t Foresee.” The New York Times (Tuesday, September 6, 2022): D2.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version has the date Sept. 2, 2022, and has the title “A Volcano Erupted Without Warning. Now, Scientists Know Why.”)

The article in Nature mentioned above is:

Smittarello, D., B. Smets, J. Barrière, C. Michellier, A. Oth, T. Shreve, R. Grandin, N. Theys, H. Brenot, V. Cayol, P. Allard, C. Caudron, O. Chevrel, F. Darchambeau, P. de Buyl, L. Delhaye, D. Derauw, G. Ganci, H. Geirsson, E. Kamate Kaleghetso, J. Kambale Makundi, I. Kambale Nguomoja, C. Kasereka Mahinda, M. Kervyn, C. Kimanuka Ruriho, H. Le Mével, S. Molendijk, O. Namur, S. Poppe, M. Schmid, J. Subira, C. Wauthier, M. Yalire, N. d’Oreye, F. Kervyn, and A. Syavulisembo Muhindo. “Precursor-Free Eruption Triggered by Edifice Rupture at Nyiragongo Volcano.” Nature 609, no. 7925 (Sept. 1, 2022): 83-88.

(Note: the Sept. 1 issue of Nature was “published” on Aug. 31.)

Shy and “Docile” Raccoons May Be “More Likely to Learn”

(p. D3) Despite their reputation, little is known about why raccoons are so good at urban living.

Over the past few years, researchers have taken to the streets of Laramie, Wyo., to uncover the raccoons’ secrets, adapting a cognitive test designed for captive animals so that it can be deployed in the wild.

Preliminary findings suggest that the most docile animals learned to use the testing devices more easily than bolder, more aggressive ones did, a result that has implications for our relationship with urban wildlife. The study was published on Thursday [Sept. 22, 2022] in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

. . .

Dr. Stanton’s team . . . wanted to know if certain characteristics made a raccoon more likely to excel on the test. They noted each animal’s behavior throughout the trapping and tagging process and found that individual raccoons reacted differently to the stress of being captured: Some were aggressive, hissing at the researchers, whereas others were quiet in their traps.

The scientists had expected that bolder raccoons would be more likely to interact with the testing devices. “But this isn’t what we found,” Dr. Stanton said.

Instead, the docile raccoons were more likely to learn how the devices work. The surprising discovery has implications for how cities deal with raccoons.

Urban wildlife management tends to focus on aggressive animals that may be confronting people and their pets, noted Sarah Benson-Amram, a behavioral ecologist at the University of British Columbia and a co-author of the study. By neglecting the docile animals, we may be increasing the proportion of problem-solving raccoons living in cities.

“Maybe they’re the ones who are learning how to open up the chicken coops and steal your chickens or break into your attic,” Dr. Benson-Amram said.

The results of the study add to a growing body of research suggesting animals that aren’t as aggressive or stressed by the presence of people may also have cognitive skills that help them thrive in urban areas.

“This is perhaps the first step towards domestication,” said Benjamin Geffroy, a biologist at the University of Montpellier in France. “Now we need to know more about what comes first, docility or cognitive abilities.”

. . .

Working with captive raccoons has convinced Dr. Benson-Amram that they actually enjoy cognitive challenges. “We give them problems, and even when there’s no reward, they just keep going for it,” she said.

Raccoons in urban environments can also be remarkably persistent, said Suzanne MacDonald, an animal behavior scientist at York University in Toronto. For one study, she put an open can of cat food in a trash bin, secured the lid with a bungee cord and deployed it in backyards to see how raccoons would react.

“I had one female spend like eight hours trying to get in,” Dr. MacDonald said. “And she did.”

For the full story, see:

Betsy Mason. “Shy Raccoons May Have an Edge in Learning.” The New York Times (Tuesday, September 27, 2022): D3.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version has the date Sept. 22, 2022, and has the title “Shy Raccoons Are Better Learners Than Bold Ones, Study Finds.”)

The article in the Journal of Experimental Biology mentioned above is:

Stanton, Lauren A., Eli S. Bridge, Joost Huizinga, and Sarah Benson-Amram. “Environmental, Individual and Social Traits of Free-Ranging Raccoons Influence Performance in Cognitive Testing.” Journal of Experimental Biology 225, no. 18 (2022) DOI: 10.1242/jeb.243726.

Nobody Wanted to Buy Tony Fadell’s Early Inventions

(p. C7) Tony Fadell began his Silicon Valley career in 1991 at General Magic, which he calls “the most influential startup nobody has ever heard of.” He sketches his early persona as the all-too-typical engineering nerd dutifully donning an interview suit only to be told to ditch the jacket and tie before the meeting begins. He started at the bottom, building tools to check the work of others, many of whom just happened to be established legends from the original Apple Macintosh team.

General Magic failed at its ambitious goal: to create demand for its ingenious hand-held computer at a time when most people didn’t know they needed a computer at all. In other words, though the company had a great product, the product didn’t solve a pressing problem for consumers. Mr. Fadell offers candid reasons why such a smart group of people could have overlooked this basic market reality. Relaying the “gut punch of our failure,” he describes what it’s like “when you think you know everything (p. C8) then suddenly realize you have no idea what you’re doing.”

Four years later, Mr. Fadell landed as chief technology officer at Philips, the 300,000-employee Dutch electronics company, where he had a big title, a new team, a budget and a mission: The company was going to make a hand-held computer for now-seasoned desktop users who were beginning to see the need for a mobile device. Using Microsoft Windows CE as the operating system, it launched the Philips Velo in 1997. This was a $599.99 “personal digital assistant”—keyboard, email, docs, calendar, the works—in a friendly 14-ounce package. All the pieces were there, the author writes, except “a real sales and retail partnership.” No one—not Best Buy, not Circuit City, not Philips itself—knew how to sell the product, or whom to sell it to. So here was another “lesson learned via gut punch”: There is a lot more to a successful product than a good gadget, even an excellent one.

. . .

He uses his problem-solution-failure style to share stories about how he built the Nest thermostat and the Nest Labs company—from fundraising, building a retail channel and navigating patent litigation to marketing, packaging and customer support.

The best moments in this section, and perhaps the most difficult for Mr. Fadell to write, are about the acquisition of Nest by Google. He pulls no punches in describing what an outsider might call a botched venture integration. Google paid $3.2 billion for Nest in 2014 but within two years began to consider selling. “In utter frustration,” Mr. Fadell walked away. The lessons in these pages are as much for big companies acquiring startups as they are for the startups being acquired.

For the full review, see:

Steven Sinofsky. “Running The Tortuous ‘Idea Maze’.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 18, 2022): C7-C8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 17, 2022, and has the title “‘Build’ Review: Failure Is the Mother of Invention.”)

The book under review is:

Fadell, Tony. Build: An Unorthodox Guide to Making Things Worth Making. New York: Harper Business, 2022. Is Partly a Shared Digital Commonplace Book

In describing the purpose of this blog, I have sometimes called it a digital shared commonplace book, focusing especially on the topics that I focus most of my research on: entrepreneurship and innovation.

(p. B5) Creating a commonplace book is somewhat like marking your favorite lines in a novel with the Amazon Kindle highlights feature — except your personal one-stop knowledge repository can also include song lyrics, movie dialogue, poems, recipes, podcast transcripts, and any inspiring bits you find in your reading and listening. The commonplace book is not a new concept: Copying down your favorite lines from other people’s works into your own annotated notebook was a standard exercise in Renaissance Europe, and the idea can be traced to the Roman era.

. . .

If you’ve never made a commonplace book before, first learn how others have used them. Academic libraries, along with museums, are home to many commonplace books, and you can see them without leaving the couch. John Milton’s commonplace book is on the British Library site, and the personal notebooks of other writers and thinkers pop up easily with a web search.

The Yale University Library has scanned pages of historical commonplace books in its holdings, and the Harvard Library has a few in its own online collection, as well as images of a version of John Locke’s 17th-century guide to making commonplace books, which was originally published in French. And the Internet Archive has hundreds of digitized commonplace books for browsing or borrowing, including one from Sir Alec Guinness.

For the full commentary see:

J. D. Biersdorfer. “PERSONAL TECH; A Line Moves You? Put Down the Highlighter.” The New York Times (Thursday, February 11, 2021): B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 10, 2021, and has the title “PERSONAL TECH; Create a Digital Commonplace Book.”)

CDC’s “Rigid Checklist” Leads Doctors to Misdiagnose Atypical Cases

(p. A17) In his “memoir of illness and discovery,” Mr. Douthat tells us of his descent into a netherworld of consternation, paranoia and despair after contracting a chronic form of Lyme disease six years ago. Although he experienced physical pain that was often unbearable, he was stonewalled and scoffed at by skeptical doctors who refused to accept the existence of a long-lingering form of Lyme.

. . .

Lyme—a debilitating bacterial disease acquired from deer-tick bites—was ruled out because many of his symptoms didn’t match a rigid checklist drawn up for the ailment by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This “diagnostic standardization,” Mr. Douthat writes, was “supposed to establish a consistent baseline for national case reporting, not rule out the possibility of atypical cases or constrain doctors from diagnosing them.” As a result of such inflexibility, he tells us, doctors miss “anywhere from a third to half of early Lyme cases.”

For the full review, see:

Tunku Varadarajan. “BOOKSHELF; Patient, Heal Thyself.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Oct. 14, 2021): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date October 13, 2021, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘The Deep Places’ Review: Patient, Heal Thyself.”)

The book under review is:

Douthat, Ross. The Deep Places: A Memoir of Illness and Discovery. New York: Convergent Books, 2021.

Dreaming Often Is Nonlinear Problem-Solving

(p. A15) Antonio Zadra and Robert Stickgold, two of the world’s leading researchers in the science of sleep and dreams, have written a remarkable account of what we know and don’t know about this mysterious thing that happens during the night.

. . .

To many, dreams are prophecies, implanted in our brains by God or angels; to others, they exist to encode our memories of the previous day, to others they are simply random neural firings.

. . .

The weight of the evidence supports a more elaborate, nuanced and wondrous version of the memory-encoding hypothesis. Messrs. Zadra and Stickgold have designed a conceptual model they call Nextup (“Network Exploration to Understand Possibilities”), using it to describe the progression of dreams throughout the four sleep stages and their different functions. They debunk the common myth that we only dream during REM sleep and show that, in fact, we are typically dreaming throughout the night and in nonREM sleep states. They tie all of this into the brain’s “default mode network,” in which our minds are wandering and, often, problem-solving. When we’re awake, our brains are so busy attending to the environment that we tend to favor linear connections and thinking; when we allow ourselves to daydream, we solve problems that have distant, novel or nonlinear solutions.

For the full review, see:

Daniel J. Levitin. “Destination Anywhere.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, March 6, 2021): C7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated March 5, 2021, and has the title “‘When Brains Dream’ Review: Night Shift.”)

The book under review is:

Zadra, Antonio, and Robert Stickgold. When Brains Dream: Exploring the Science and Mystery of Sleep. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2021.

“Seems Ethernet Does Not Work in Theory, Only in Practice”

(p. A21) David Boggs, an electrical engineer and computer scientist who helped create Ethernet, the computer networking technology that connects PCs to printers, other devices and the internet in offices and homes, died on Feb. 19 [2022] in Palo Alto, Calif.

. . .

In the spring of 1973, just after enrolling as a graduate student at Stanford University, Mr. Boggs began an internship at Xerox PARC, a Silicon Valley research lab that was developing a new kind of personal computer. One afternoon, in the basement of the lab, he noticed another researcher tinkering with a long strand of cable.

The researcher, another new hire named Bob Metcalfe, was exploring ways of sending information to and from the lab’s new computer, the Alto. Mr. Metcalfe was trying to send electrical pulses down the cable, and he was struggling to make it work. So Mr. Boggs offered to help.

Over the next two years, they designed the first version of Ethernet.

“He was the perfect partner for me,” Mr. Metcalfe said in an interview. “I was more of a concept artist, and he was a build-the-hardware-in-the-back-room engineer.”

. . .

Before becoming the dominant networking protocol, Ethernet was challenged by several other technologies. In the early 1980s, Mr. Metcalfe said, when Mr. Boggs took the stage at a California computing conference, at the San Jose Convention Center, to discuss the future of networking, a rival technologist questioned the mathematical theory behind Ethernet, telling Mr. Boggs that it would never work with large numbers of machines.

His response was unequivocal. “Seems Ethernet does not work in theory,” he said, “only in practice.”

For the full obituary, see:

Cade Metz. “David Boggs, Co-Inventor of Ethernet, Dies at 71.” The New York Times (Tuesday, March 1, 2022): A21.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Feb. 28, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)

John List Shows Limitations of Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs)

(p. A15) John List’s “The Voltage Effect” is marketed as a generic business title on how and whether to scale up an idea or product. Mr. List, an economics professor at the University of Chicago, explores why some ideas attain “voltage” and catch fire while others die out. This angle suggests that it will be another book about how to turn that great invention in your garage into the next Hewlett-Packard. But Mr. List is far too thoughtful to write something gimmicky or simple.

. . .

“The Voltage Effect” is a fine business book, though in many ways it works better as a meditation on the shortcomings of our increasingly data-driven world. The business community and academia have been taken over by data science. Mr. List seemingly argues that good and helpful data analysis may not scale well. It takes tremendous skill and talent to distinguish a scalable idea from one that is doomed to flop when you are working with a limited set of data and have an incentive to overhype your results. Data is the new currency; companies are presumed to have an unfair advantage if they have access to more of it. What gets less attention is the shortage of people who know how to make sense of statistical experiments and generalize them to a larger population.

The fields of business, policy and economics have all become enthralled with Randomized Control Trials. These are statistical experiments in which researchers take two populations: a “treatment” group that may be given cash or some other incentive and a “control” group that is not given anything. Researchers then observe any difference in outcomes from the experiment to make policy recommendations. RCTs can be a useful tool. But taking Mr. List’s lessons to heart, you see how limited they are.

Even the best-designed experiment may not give you insights that scale. For example, studies have found that it is more effective to give people cash in Kenya than to distribute aid through arcane development programs. The mantra in the development community has become “just give people money.” But just because cash is better than aid in Kenya, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a Universal Basic Income will work well in California.

For the full review, see:

Allison Schrager. “BOOKSHELF; Do We Have a Winner?” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, March 28, 2022): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 27, 2022, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘The Voltage Effect’ Review: Do We Have a Winner?”)

The book under review is:

List, John A. The Voltage Effect: How to Make Good Ideas Great and Great Ideas Scale. New York: Currency, 2022.

CAR T Therapy Is a Durable “Cure” for Some Leukemia Cancers

(p. A17) Doug Olson was feeling kind of tired in 1996. When a doctor examined him she frowned. “I don’t like the feel of those lymph nodes,” she said, poking his neck. She ordered a biopsy. The result was terrifying. He had chronic lymphocytic leukemia, a blood cancer that mostly strikes older people and accounts for about a quarter of new cases of leukemia.

“Oh Lordy,” Mr. Olson said. “I thought I was done for.” He was only 49 and, he said, had always been healthy.

Six years went by without the cancer progressing. Then it started to grow. He had four rounds of chemotherapy but the cancer kept coming back. He had reached pretty much the end of the line when his oncologist, Dr. David Porter at the University of Pennsylvania, offered him a chance to be among the very first patients to try something unprecedented, known as CAR T cell therapy.

In 2010, he became the second of three patients to get the new treatment.

At the time, the idea for this sort of therapy “was way out there,” said Dr. Carl June, the principal investigator for the trial at Penn, and he had tempered his own expectations that the cells he was providing to Mr. Olson as therapy would survive.

“We thought they would be gone in a month or two,” Dr. June said.

Now, a decade later, he reports that his expectations were completely confounded. In a paper published Wednesday in Nature, Dr. June and his colleagues, Dr. J. Joseph Melenhorst and Dr. Porter, report that the CAR T treatment made the cancer vanish in two out of the three patients in that early trial. All had chronic lymphocytic leukemia. The big surprise, though, was that even though the cancer seemed to be long gone, the CAR T cells remained in the patients’ bloodstreams, circulating as sentinels.

“Now we can finally say the word ‘cure’ with CAR T cells,” Dr. June said.

Although most patients will not do as well, the results hold out hope that, for some, their cancer will be vanquished.

For the full story, see:

Gina Kolata. “Potential Leukemia Cure Leads to New Mysteries.” The New York Times (Thursday, February 3, 2022): A17.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 2, 2022, and has the title “A Cancer Treatment Makes Leukemia Vanish, but Creates More Mysteries.”)

Modern Medical Consensus Supports Thousands of Years of Indian Ayurvedic Tradition of Nasal Rinsing

(p. D6) To the uninitiated, the neti pot may seem like yet another wellness trend. After all, the teapot-like vessel was popularized in the United States by the celebrity surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz, who called it a “nose bidet” on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and has been criticized for promoting unproven supplements and health products.

Rinsing warm saltwater through your nose — in one nostril and out the other — as an antidote for a variety of woes like sinus inflammation, congestion and allergies may seem strange and possibly scary;  . . .

But according to ear, nose and throat doctors, nasal rinsing, which traces back thousands of years to the Ayurvedic medical traditions of India, is an unusual example of a practice that is at once ancient, trendy and evidence-based. And, it’s safe and inexpensive to boot.

It has a “very, very high level of evidence, randomized controlled trial evidence, that shows that it does work and it does help,” said Dr. Zara Patel, an associate professor of otolaryngology at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Here’s what we know.

. . .

In 2021, an international team of experts published a consensus on how best to manage common sinus issues, like chronic inflammation of the nasal and sinus passages that can cause runny nose, congestion, impaired sense of smell and facial pressure or pain. They concluded, based on the best yet limited evidence, that regular rinsing with saltwater was one of the treatments most proven to be effective.

Other small studies have suggested that saltwater rinses can help with seasonal or environmental allergy symptoms like congestion, runny nose, itching and sneezing.

And there is some evidence that rinsing can help soothe symptoms of acute upper respiratory infections, like those caused by common cold or flu viruses, though there is less research on this use. One of the largest studies to date, published in 2008, was conducted on about 400 children aged 6 to 10 with colds or flus in the Czech Republic. Among the children who used saltwater rinses several times per day, their symptoms resolved more quickly and they were less likely to use fever medications, decongestants or antibiotics, or to have to miss school, than the children who didn’t rinse.

Dr. Patel, who practices in California, said that rinsing can also help clear fine particles from wildfire smoke, which can be irritating.

Though the evidence that rinsing helps with these various nasal issues is of mixed quality, experts say there are few downsides to trying it. “The risk is so low and the potential benefit so high for rinsers” that it’s worth giving it a go, said Dr. Nyssa Farrell, an assistant professor of otolaryngology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

For the full story, see:

Alice Callahan. “What to Know About Nasal Irrigation.” The New York Times (Tuesday, February 1, 2022): D6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated January 31, 2022, and has the title “Do Neti Pots Really Work?”)

The international consensus mentioned above was published as:

Orlandi RR, Kingdom TT, Smith TL, Bleier B, DeConde A, Luong AU, Poetker DM, Soler Z, Welch KC, Wise SK, Adappa N, Alt JA, Anselmo-Lima WT, Bachert C, Baroody FM, Batra PS, Bernal-Sprekelsen M, Beswick D, Bhattacharyya N, Chandra RK, Chang EH, Chiu A, Chowdhury N, Citardi MJ, Cohen NA, Conley DB, DelGaudio J, Desrosiers M, Douglas R, Eloy JA, Fokkens WJ, Gray ST, Gudis DA, Hamilos DL, Han JK, Harvey R, Hellings P, Holbrook EH, Hopkins C, Hwang P, Javer AR, Jiang RS, Kennedy D, Kern R, Laidlaw T, Lal D, Lane A, Lee HM, Lee JT, Levy JM, Lin SY, Lund V, McMains KC, Metson R, Mullol J, Naclerio R, Oakley G, Otori N, Palmer JN, Parikh SR, Passali D, Patel Z, Peters A, Philpott C, Psaltis AJ, Ramakrishnan VR, Ramanathan M Jr, Roh HJ, Rudmik L, Sacks R, Schlosser RJ, Sedaghat AR, Senior BA, Sindwani R, Smith K, Snidvongs K, Stewart M, Suh JD, Tan BK, Turner JH, van Drunen CM, Voegels R, Wang Y, Woodworth BA, Wormald PJ, Wright ED, Yan C, Zhang L, Zhou B. “International Consensus Statement on Allergy and Rhinology: Rhinosinusitis 2021.” International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology. 11, no. 3 (March 2021): 213-739. doi: 10.1002/alr.22741. PMID: 33236525.