Monthly Archives: July 2009

Brothel Bundles

A new trend in Germany [where brothels are legal] — flat-rate brothels that offer unlimited sex and food for a fixed sum — has provoked mounting criticism from politicians, local residents and women’s rights groups in recent months and led to police raids on such establishments in four cities on Sunday. …  The brothels … advertise with the slogan: “Sex with every woman, as long as you want, as often as you want and how you want.”

The Justice Minister …: “If one takes their advert seriously, it indicates a breach of the right to human dignity of the prostitutes who work there.” He said the woman’s right to self-determination had been hurt, which gave authorities the right to take action.

Hat tip to Tyler.  More:

Other imaginative offers include rebates for pensioners and people on benefits, 10 per cent discounts for men who arrive by bicycle or public transport, and free shoe-polishing for customers who stay overnight.  But it is the flat-rate deals – which are priced as low as £60 (€70) – that have attracted particular controversy.

I’ll admit to being a bit tone deaf on what offends most people.  But these seem fascinating clues about the urge to ban sex sales.  So help me out – assuming prostitution were legal, which of these possible prostitution promotions seem more or less offensive or ban-worthy?  And why?

  1. Gift certificates.
  2. Buy nine, get one free.
  3. Coupons in the newspaper.
  4. Discounts for attractive customers.
  5. Brothel vouchers as prizes in contests or charity events.
  6. Workers who play act as if kids, or elderly, or rape victims.
  7. Sell certifications that clients have specific sex skills.
  8. Including free condoms, lotions, porn.
  9. Including free alibi saying where else you were.
  10. Requirement for job interview, e.g., casting couch.
  11. Requirement for receiving charity medical care.
  12. Bundled with cleaning, e.g., your maids are available.
  13. Bundled with psychotherapy, e.g., sex therapist.
  14. Bundled with education, e.g., full service teacher.
  15. Bundled with religious service, e.g., sex priestess.
  16. Sex job offer counts regarding unemployment benefits.

Other suggestions?

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Meds To Cut

The most respected standard source on the effectiveness of medical treatments is the British Medical Journal‘s Clinical Evidence.  This summarizes 2500 treatments studied:

BMJ Clinical Evidence Pie Chart
(Here is a summary of older reviews. Hat tip to Harold Lehmann.)

I’ve said we should cut medicine in half, and have so far proposed two methods:

  • Raise the price of medicine, first by reducing subsidizes then by increasing patient cost-sharing or by adding taxes.
  • Bring in docs from places where spending is low to impose their style of practice on places where spending is high.

Let me add a third proposal:

  • Cut insurance coverage for treatments using BMJ ratings: first cut those likely to harm and unlikely to benefit, then cut those with benefit harm tradeoffs and those of unknown effectiveness.

Since randomized experiments and cross regional regressions usually find zero correlation between health and medical spending, we should presume that treatments of unknown effectiveness are on average ineffective.

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Fat Policy Is Not About Health

Megan McArdle interviews Paul Campos, author of The Obesity Myth:

Paul: I know for a fact (because they’ve told me) that some public health officials engage in what they think of as a noble lie about the effects of physical activity on weight, because they know people won’t become more active just to be healthier.

Megan: Is there any evidence this works? Don’t people just stop going to the gym when they notice they haven’t lost any weight? Continue reading "Fat Policy Is Not About Health" »

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Clinical Trial Sloppiness

The medical treatments with the best empirical support are based on randomized clinical trials, but even those have reliability problems, in addition to publication selection biases and leaky placebo effects.  New Scientist:

Oliver* is a professional guinea pig or “healthy volunteer”. When we speak, he’s in Austin, Texas, taking two different HIV drugs in combination over 20 days. At the end he’ll receive $5000. … In total last year, he earned $34,000 as a therapeutic guinea pig. … Most trials, for example, insist on a 30-day minimum drug-free period before the study begins, but since there is no system in place to check this, and plenty of financial reasons to ignore it, some volunteers may show up at the next trial before this 30-day “wash-out period” is up. … Continue reading "Clinical Trial Sloppiness" »

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Are Juries About Guilt?

12 Angry Men is a classic movie that for many presents the ideal of a jury system of law.   An excellent Russian remake, 12, also seems to many re-affirm this idea.  The New York Post says “This is the rare remake that does honor to the spirit of the original” while the Austin Chronicle says:

12 is very bit as much of a moral powerhouse as its predecessors but with the added bonus of being simultaneously intellectually riveting and, at times, almost indescribably poetic.

It is indeed a good movie, and even reasonably true to human nature.  But if it presents an ideal jury, then it suggests juries are not about guilt.  To explain, I’ll need spoilers, which are below the fold. Continue reading "Are Juries About Guilt?" »

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Exposing Scientist Liberality

A recent survey shows that the US public incorrectly assumes scientists are like them politically:

Public Not Know Scientists Liberal

If the public knew the truth, I expect two effects:

  1. The public would consider scientists to be less authoritative as a neutral source on policy questions, and
  2. Since scientists are respected, the public would become less conservative and more liberal.

Which of these effects would dominate?  Well since scientists tend to endorse liberal policies, the first effect should reduce support for liberal policies while the second should increase it.   So who seems more eager to inform the public about scientist liberality?  If liberals, that suggests the second effect is expected to dominate.  If conservatives, the first effect dominates.   My casual observation is that conservatives are more eager to speak up on this, suggesting the first effect dominates.   So over time I expect the truth will get out, science will lose authority, and scientist support will help liberals less.

Some other results from the survey: Continue reading "Exposing Scientist Liberality" »

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Affirmative Action Isn’t About Uplift

In the spirit of politics isn’t about policy, Shelby Steele:

The original goal of affirmative action was to achieve two redemptions simultaneously. As society gave a preference to its former victims in employment and education, it hoped to redeem both those victims and itself. When America — the world’s oldest and most unequivocal democracy — finally acknowledged in the 1960s its heartless betrayal of democracy where blacks were concerned, the loss of moral authority was profound. …

Affirmative action has always been more about the restoration of legitimacy to American institutions than the uplift of blacks and other minorities. For 30 years after its inception, no one even bothered to measure its effectiveness in minority progress. … Research … has completely failed to show that affirmative action ever closes the academic gap between minorities and whites. … Continue reading "Affirmative Action Isn’t About Uplift" »

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Who Will Fight Group Think?

At TierneyLab, Nickolas Wade complains about groupthink:

Conformity and group-think are attitudes of particular danger in science, an endeavor that is inherently revolutionary because progress often depends on overturning established wisdom. … If the brightest minds on Wall Street got suckered by group-think into believing house prices would never fall, what other policies founded on consensus wisdom could be waiting to come unraveled? Global warming, you say? You mean it might be harder to model climate change 20 years ahead than house prices 5 years ahead? Surely not – how could so many climatologists be wrong?

Wade cites Shiller on group think at the Fed:

Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman, acknowledged in a Congressional hearing last month that he had made an “error” … Mr. Greenspan’s comments may have left the impression that no one in the world could have predicted the crisis. Yet … lots of people were worried about the housing boom and its potential for creating economic disaster. It’s just that the Fed did not take them very seriously.  … Continue reading "Who Will Fight Group Think?" »

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Social Collapse Vid

A talk I gave a year ago at Oxford on “Catastrophe, Social Collapse and Human Extinction” is now available as an online vid here.  Slides here, related paper here.  The talk went beyond the paper to introduce the idea of refuge markets, which I blogged here.

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Popular Fields Less Accurate

From a recent PLOS:

It has been suggested that the reliability of findings published in the scientific literature decreases with the popularity of a research field. Here we provide empirical support for this prediction. We evaluate published statements on protein interactions with data from high-throughput experiments. We find evidence for two distinctive effects. First, with increasing popularity of the interaction partners, individual statements in the literature become more erroneous. Second, the overall evidence on an interaction becomes increasingly distorted by multiple independent testing.

This is an important point: typical academic processes tend to produce more reliable results when no one cares or pays much attention; do not assume they give the same reliability to high profile topics.  I’ve seen this trend clearly in economics.

This trend cuts both ways.  Just because you are part of a field that seems to produce reliable results off in your largely unnoticed corner, don’t assume the high profile bigshots in your field that get more outside attention are as reliable.  And just because the public bigshots in another field that you notice seem to you sloppy and sleezy, don’t assume that those laboring in the shadows of that field know nothing.

This phenomena helps explain why we need prediction markets for academic topics, and why most academics may not preceive that need.

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