Feynman on Viking Evidence of No Life on Mars

 

Based on the Viking tests, astronomers concluded that there probably was no life on Mars.  Begley (2006) documents the recent research showing that applying the Viking tests to earth, results in the conclusion that there is no life on earth, either.  Once again, Feynman was way ahead of his time:

  

(p. 204)  We like to sit down and talk about how different things could be from what we expected; take the Viking landers on Mars, for example, we were trying to think how many ways there could be life that they couldn’t find with that equipment. 

 

Source: 

Feynman, Richard P. The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman. New York: Perseus Books, 1999.

(Note:  italics in original.)

 

The reference on the Begley article:

Begley, Sharon. "Science Journal; Scientists Revisit Data on Mars with Minds More Open to ‘Life’." The Wall Street Journal  (Fri., October 27, 2006):  B1.

 

“The Blogger as DJ”

 

(p. 220)  Increasingly, the winning strategy is to separate content into its component parts ("microchunks"), so that people can consume it the way they want, as well as remix it with other content to create something new.  Newspapers are microchunked into individual articles, which are in turn linked to by more specialist sites that create a different, often more focused, product out of the content form multiple sources—the blogger as DJ, remixing the news, to create something new.

 

Source: 

Anderson, Chris. The Long Tail. New York: Hyperion, 2006.

 

Intellectual Property Rights in Toilet

 

CHICAGO (AP) — The gun­man who fatally shot three peo­ple in a law firm’s high-rise office before he was killed by police felt cheated over an invention, au­thorities said Saturday.

  Joe Jackson forced a security guard at gunpoint to take him up to the 38th floor offices of Wood, Phillips, Katz, Clark & Mortimer, which specialized in intellectual property and patents.  He carried the revolver, a knife and a ham­mer in a large manila envelope and chained the office doors be­hind him, police said.

  Jackson, 59, told witnesses be­fore he was shot that he had been cheated over a toilet he had in­vented for use in trucks, Police Superintendent Phil Cline said.

 

For the full story, see:

"Shooter felt cheated over toilet, police say."  Omaha World-Herald  (Sun., 12/10/2006):   4A.

 

The Mere Threat of “Hillary-Care” Reduced Investment in Drug R&D


TaurelSidneyCEOEliLilly.jpg   CEO of drug company Eli Lilly.  Source of image:  online version of WSJ artcle cited below.

 

NEW YORK — Is the future of your health riding on what happens in Washington?  Sidney Taurel thinks it might be.  The Eli Lilly CEO ticks off a list of former "death sentences" being cured or turned into chronic conditions — "AIDS, leukemia, Hodgkins, hopefully solid tumors within the next few years.  The potential for medical research is unlimited.  We just need to make sure we don’t interdict it by the wrong policies."

And what might those "wrong policies" be?  Anything, it would appear, that reduces the financial incentives for drug companies to invest in research and development.  Mr. Taurel points without hesitation to the mere threat of HillaryCare in the early 1990s as an episode that reduced investment in R&D, as drug makers, including his own, redirected money toward the purchase of pharmacy benefit management companies.  As another example, he offers the anti-drug industry crusade of Sen. Estes Kefauver in the late 1950s and early ’60s:

"At that point companies started to diversify.  We bought Elizabeth Arden, we went into animal health and agricultural chemical products, later on in medical instruments and so forth.  All other companies did similar things.  And for a while after that we saw fewer new products.  When this threat subsided the companies focused again on R&D and we saw a golden era in the ’80s and ’90s with a lot of new products and breakthroughs."

 

For the full interview, see:

ROBERT L. POLLOCK.  "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW with Sidney Taurel; Of Politics and Pills."  The Wall Street Journal  (Sat., December 2, 2006):  A8. 


Hugely Wasteful Health-Care Spending

CureBK.jpg   Source of book image:  http://www.encounterbooks.com/books/cure/

 

Milton Friedman is gone now, but the new book reviewed below, includes a forward written by him.  Friedman can be praised for many reasons; a minor one is that he was tireless and generous in offering praise and support for others who were seeking to better understand free markets. 

 

About 10 years ago, I broke my leg playing basketball.  After I came out of surgery, with a cast stretching from my ankle to the top of my leg, an orderly asked me whether I had ever used crutches before.  I hadn’t, so he showed me what to do, swinging through them from one end of the room to the other.  The whole lesson lasted about 90 seconds.  When I got my hospital bill, I saw that I had been charged $150 for "gait training on crutches."  I did what all insured Americans do:  I forwarded the bill to my insurance company.  Why should I care?  I wasn’t paying for it.

One of the problems with American health care, as David Gratzer notes in "The Cure," is precisely a payment system that takes the patient out of the equation.  In the early 1960s, the average American paid out of pocket one of every two dollars that he spent on health care; today the figure is one dollar in seven.  The inevitable effect is hugely wasteful spending (and inflated hospital bills like mine).  In fact, per-patient costs have gone up almost exactly in inverse proportion to the share of spending borne by the consumer.

Dr. Gratzer cites a remarkable Rand Corp. study that tracked health-care spending by 2,000 families over eight years.  The families who got free health care spent 40% more than the families with cost-sharing arrangements.  And yet the health outcomes for the two groups were the same.  The lesson:  Market-based health insurance systems, such as health savings accounts, cut out inefficiencies and lower costs without compromising quality.

. . .

. . . :   America is clearly at a crossroads in medical care.  Within the next decade we will get either some version of Hillary-care or more free-market medicine, starting with universally available health savings accounts.  Let’s hope that our nation’s policy makers read "The Cure" before they decide.  They will learn that the government route flattens costs only by holding back the pace of technology, artificially controlling its price and rationing its use.  That is not a prescription for better health.

 

For the full review, see: 

STEPHEN MOORE.  "BOOKS; The Market and Its Medicine."  The Wall Street Journal  (Tues.,  By  December 5, 2006; Page D6. 

 

The reference to the book under review, is: 

Dr. David Gratzer.  The Cure: How Capitalism Can Save American Health Care.  Encounter Books, 2006.  (233 pages, $25.94)

 

“Drawing the Best Minds into a Whirlpool of Mathematical Solipsism”

TroubleWithPhysicsBK.gif   Source of book image:  http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/catalog/titledetail.cfm?titleNumber=689539

 

Physicists rightly feel uneasy about descriptions of the physical world that divide it into discrete clusters of equations and axioms, each cluster explaining one part of existence but not another.  Better would be finding a Theory of Everything capable of conjoining, in a few equations, planet-pulling gravitation and the microcosmic weirdness that goes on in the quantum world of atoms and particles.  Physicists would like to stitch time and space together as well.

Einstein tried and failed.  In recent years, "string theory" has been the favored means of attempting to tie everything together, but it has unraveled into mathematical frippery, positing ever more intricate elaborations extending into anywhere from 10 to 26 dimensions, some arising from themselves, some hidden in ways so baroquely scrolled that you can get a migraine just thinking about thinking about them.  Little wonder that, as an experimental science, string theory seems to have nowhere to go.

That is the problem that Lee Smolin identifies in "The Trouble With Physics."  He laments a kind of sociological imperative drawing the best minds into a whirlpool of mathematical solipsism.

 

For the full review, see:

RUSSELL SEITZ.  "BOOKS; Untangling the Knots in String Theory."  The Wall Street Journal  (Sat., December 2, 2006):  P9.

 

The reference to the book under review, is: 

Lee Smolin.  The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next.  Houghton Mifflin, 2006.  (392 pages, $26)

 

Gates Foundation Will Not “Rule With a Dead Hand”

MelindaAndBillGates.gif  Source of image:  online version of WSJ article cited below. 

 

When he was discussing with Pierre Goodrich the rules for Goodrich’s Liberty Fund, my late-lamented mentor Ben Rogge tried to convince Goodrich to set some date by which the foundation would be required to spend all of its funds.  Rogge would quote Smith against the practice sometimes called ‘ruling with a dead hand’ by which the dead try to put restrictions on the living.  Rogge thought the dead had a right to restrict the future use of their money; its just that he thought it would become increasingly hard for them to do so effectively, the further out into the future you go.

There were at least a couple of reasons.  One of them was that as you go out into the future, it is increasingly hard to make sure that those supervising the money will remain true to the donor’s intent.  Another reason was that as you go further out, and conditions change, it becomes increasingly hard to know what the donor would have wanted done.  (Rogge used to jest that probably, evenually Liberty Fund would end up spending libertarian Goodrich’s money on making films promoting the beliefs of communist Anna Rosenberg.)

On this issue, it appears that Bill and Melinda find Adam Smith more persuasive, than did Pierre:

 

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said it will spend all its assets within 50 years of the death of its last trustee, a decisive move in a continuing debate in philanthropy about whether such groups should live on forever.

. . .

The decision is expected to influence other charities to consider following suit.  . . .

. . .

The Gates decision will add fuel to a debate about whether foundations should live in perpetuity, a longtime model used by the Ford and Rockefeller foundations and Carnegie Corp.

 

For the full story, see: 

SALLY BEATTY.  "Gates Foundation Sets Its Lifespan; All Assets Are to Be Spent Within 50 Years of Death of the Remaining Trustee."  Wall Street Journal  (Fri., December 1, 2006):  A10.