Econstudentlog

Wikipedia articles of interest

1. War of the Triple Alliance. A war taking place from 1864 to 1870 between Paraguay and the countries of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay.

“One estimate places total Paraguayan losses — through both war and disease — as high as 1.2 million people, or 90% of its pre-war population.[2][3] A different estimate places Paraguayan deaths at approximately 300,000 people out of its 500,000 to 525,000 prewar inhabitants.”

Yeah, you guessed right, Paraguay lost the war. Naturally: “The specific numbers of casualties are hotly disputed”. Most people didn’t die in battle: “The high rates of mortality, however, were not the result of the armed conflict in itself. Bad food and very poor hygiene caused most of the deaths, many of which were due to cholera. Among the Brazilians, two-thirds of the war dead died either in hospital or on march to face the enemy.”

A bit more:

“Although the Paraguayan army had somewhere between 70,000 and 100,000 men at the beginning of the conflict, they were badly equipped. Most of the infantry armament consisted of inaccurate smooth-bore muskets and carbines, slow to reload and with short range. The same applied to the artillery. The officers had no training or experience and there was no command system, as all decisions were made by López. Food, ammunition and armament were scarce and logistics and hospital care were deficient, if existent at all.[21]

The armies of Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay were a fraction of the total size of the Paraguayan army. Argentina had approximately 8,500 regular troops and a naval squadron of four vapores and one goleta. Uruguay entered the war with fewer than 2,000 men and no navy. Many of Brazil’s 16,000 troops were initially located in its southern garrisons.[22] The Brazilian advantage, though, was in its navy: 42 ships with 239 cannons and about 4,000 well-trained crew. A great part of the squadron had already met in the Río de la Plata basin, where it had acted, under the Marquis of Tamandaré, in the intervention against Aguirre.

Brazil, however, was unprepared to fight a war. Its army was unorganized. The troops used in the interventions in Uruguay were composed merely of the armed contingents of gaucho politicians and some National Guard staff. The Brazilian infantry who fought in the War of the Triple Alliance were not professional soldiers but volunteers, the so-called Voluntários da Pátria. The army was heavily recruited from the landless, largely black, underclass.” The article also mentions “8,570 [Brazilian] ex-slaves who had been freed to be sent to war” – ‘had been freed to be sent to war’. One wonders if they got a say in the matter.

2. Oliver Cromwell.

3. Mantis. I’d prefer to be a female:

“Sexual cannibalism is common among mantises in captivity, and under some circumstances may also be observed in the field. The female may start feeding by biting off the male’s head (as they do with regular prey), and if mating had begun, the male’s movements may become even more vigorous in its delivery of sperm.” […]

“The reason for sexual cannibalism has been debated, with some considering submissive males to be achieving a selective advantage in their ability to produce offspring. This theory is supported by a quantifiable increase in the duration of copulation among males who are cannibalized, in some cases doubling both the duration and the chance of fertilization. This is further supported in a study where males were seen to approach hungry females with more caution, and were shown to remain mounted on hungry females for a longer time, indicating that males actively avoiding cannibalism may mate with multiple females. The act of dismounting is one of the most dangerous times for males during copulation, for it is at this time that females most frequently cannibalize their mates. This increase in mounting duration was thought to indicate that males would be more prone to wait for an opportune time to dismount from a hungry female rather than from a satiated female that would be less likely to cannibalize her mate. Some consider this to be an indication that male submissiveness does not inherently increase male reproductive success, rather that more fit males are likely to approach a female with caution and escape.”

Anyway, if you’re a male mantis, you run a significant risk that your girlfriend will bite your head off while you’re having sex. Literally.

4. Slime mold. Related comic.

5. Clovis culture.

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March 28, 2011 Posted by | Archaeology, Biology, History, Wikipedia, Zoology | Leave a comment

To always live in constant fear of at some point having to have this conversation…

Don’t most people do this, to some degree? In the very same episode, touching upon the same theme the Janitor says to Carla: “You know what? You hide it well, but you’re a very strange person”.

Divulging some types of information tends to change everything when it comes to how another person thinks of you, and often the change can never be undone. This is both a scary insight and a completely normal and integrated part of ‘standard social interaction’ with others.

Here’s a somewhat related comic – sometimes the gradual information supply approach is ‘optimal’ given the incentives we face, but that doesn’t make it any less dishonest.

March 24, 2011 Posted by | Random stuff | Leave a comment

Arguments

Smbc.

March 23, 2011 Posted by | comics, disagreement | Leave a comment

Fermat’s Last Theorem

I read the first 150 pages of it yesterday, I’ll complete it today – it’s a real pageturner. Even though it’s a book about mathematics (and mathematicians) I’ve yet to stumble upon anything which is harder to deal with than the stuff I encounter in my textbooks on a daily basis – it’s a very accessible book so far. Some quotes:

1. “Archimedes will be remembered when Aeschylus is forgotten, because languages die and mathematical ideas do not. ‘Immortality’ may be a silly word, but probably a mathematician has the best chance of whatever it may mean.” An introductionary quote by G. H. Hardy. I thought I’d post it also because of the recency of this discussion on this blog.

2. “It is true that I had hit the date of the displacement of the judges of Castres to Toulouse, where he [Fermat] is the Supreme Judge to the Sovereign Court of Parliament; and since then he has been occupied with capital cases of great importance, in which he has finished by imposing a sentence that has made a great stir; it concerned the condemnation of a priest, who had abused his functions, to be burned at the stake. This affair has just finished and the execution has followed.”

From a letter by the mathematician Sir Kenelm Digby to his collegue John Wallis. On the next page Singh drily remarks: “he devoted all his spare energy to mathematics and, when not sentencing priests to be burned at the stake, Fermat dedicated himself to his hobby.”

Another quote touching upon the same theme: “One story claims that a young student by the name of Hippasus was idly toying with the number √2, attempting to find the equivalent fraction. Eventually he came to realise that no such fraction existed, i.e. that √2 is an irrational number. […] Pythagoras had defined the universe in terms of rational numbers, and the existence of irrational numbers brought his ideal into question. […] To his eternal shame he sentenced Hippasus to death by drowning.”

The above quotes are also relevant to the previous discussion – the point being of course that it’s not just ‘the dietary habits of Cleopatra’ that is forgotten over time. Aristotle at one point argued that the number zero should be outlawed. And these are only the things that we haven’t forgotten yet.

3. “The fame of Fermat’s Last Theorem comes solely from the sheer difficulty of proving it.”

4. The book explains a lot of mathematical concepts and deals with many interesting examples of stuff mathematicians have been working on during the ongoing development of (in particular) number theory. Some stuff I didn’t know, or didn’t know that I knew, or had forgotten:

“Friendly numbers are pairs of numbers such that each number is the sum of the divisors of the other number.” […] “During the twentieth century mathematicians have extended the idea further and have searched for so-called ‘sociable’ numbers, three or more numbers which form a closed loop. For example, in the loop of 5 numbers (12,496; 14,288; 15,472; 14,536;14264) the divisors of the first number add up to the second, the divisors of the second add to the third, the divisors of the third add up to the fourth, the divisors of the fourth add up to the fifth, and the divisors of the fifth add up to the first.”

“Prime numbers are the numerical building blocks because all other numbers can be created by multiplying combinations of the prime numbers.” – I knew this at one point, but I’d forgotten. Basically, there are primes and then there’s everything else. At least as long as you only deal with natural numbers. It was somewhat important when it came to the proof because: “If one can prove Fermat’s Last Theorem for just the prime values of n, then the theorem is proved for all values of n.”

“All prime numbers (except 2) can be put into two categories; those which equal 4 n + 1 and those which equal 4 n – 1″

“26 is indeed the only number between a square and a cube.”

“The most significant and rarest of numbers are those whose divisors add up exactly to the number itself and these are the perfect numbers. The number 6 has the divisors 1, 2 and 3, and consequently it is a perfect number because 1 + 2 + 3 = 6. The next perfect number is 28″ […] “Euclid discovered that perfect numbers are always the multiple of two numbers, one of which is a power of 2 and the other being the next power of 2 minus 1.”

“If you take any number and multiply it by 2, then the new number must be even. This is virtually the definition of an even number.” – you kinda knew this, and then again maybe you didn’t really. Also, “If you know that the square of a number is even, then the number itself must also be even.”

“The network formula shows an eternal relationsship between the three properties which describe any network:

V + R – L = 1,

where

V = the number of vertices (intersections) in the network,
L = the number of lines in the network,
R = the number of regions (enclosed areas) in the network.” (the book also contains the proof of this formula, created by Leonhard Euler.)

5. “Dear …………………,

Thank you for your manuscript on the proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem.
The first mistake is on :
Page ……… Line ………..
This invalidates the proof.

Professor E. M. Landau”

Landau was head of the mathematics department in Göttingen from 1909 and 1934, and it was his job to examine the entries submitted for the Wolfskehl Prize, a big prize offered by the estate of Paul Wolfskehl to anyone who proved Fermat’s Last Theorem. He printed out cards like the one above and gave them to his students to let them fill in the blanks. Because of the substantial amount of money on the line, there were a lot of faulty attemps submitted.

Maybe I’ll write another post on this book, maybe I won’t, but I have no problem recommending it. You can order the book here.

March 19, 2011 Posted by | Books, Mathematics | 2 Comments

Wikipedia articles of interest

1. Goiânia accident. This is just a horrible story.

2. Inverse-square law. That law is like, really important, in so many areas (not just thinking about Japan right now, although..).

3. Myco-heterotrophy.

“Myco-heterotrophy is a symbiotic relationship between certain kinds of plants and fungi, in which the plant gets all or part of its food from parasitism upon fungi rather than from photosynthesis. A myco-heterotroph is the parasitic plant partner in this relationship. Myco-heterotrophy is considered a kind of cheating relationship and myco-heterotrophs are sometimes informally referred to as “mycorrhizal cheaters”.”

4. Fermat’s Last Theorem. Right now I’m reading Simon Singh’s book, it seemed natural to add this link to this post.

5. Seahorse.

Fashinating creatures, here’s the part about reproduction:

“The male seahorse is equipped with a brood pouch on the ventral, or front-facing, side. When mating, the female seahorse deposits up to 1,500 eggs in the male’s pouch. The male carries the eggs for anywhere from 9 to 45 days until they emerge, expelling fully-developed, miniature seahorses in the water. Once the seahorse babies are released into the water, the male’s role is done and he offers no further care.”

[…]

“The number of young released by the male seahorse averages 100–200 for most species, but may be as low as 5 for the smaller species, or as high as 1,500. When the fry are ready to be born, the male expels them with muscular contractions. He typically gives birth at night and is ready for the next batch of eggs by morning when his mate returns.”

Yes, you got that right: When seahorses mate, it’s the male that’s pregnant.

6. Victoria Cross:

“The Victoria Cross (VC) is the highest military decoration which is, or has been, awarded for valour “in the face of the enemy” to members of the armed forces of various Commonwealth countries, and previous British Empire territories.

It takes precedence over all other orders, decorations and medals. It may be awarded to a person of any rank in any service and to civilians under military command.”

[…]

“The VC was introduced on 29 January 1856 by Queen Victoria to honour acts of valour during the Crimean War. Since then, the medal has been awarded 1,356 times to 1,353 individual recipients. Only 13 medals, nine to members of the British Army, and four to the Australian Army, have been awarded since the Second World War.”

[…]

“Due to its rarity, the VC is highly prized and the medal has fetched over £400,000 at auction.”

[sorry about the infrequent updates lately, I’ll try to be more active here the next couple of weeks]

March 18, 2011 Posted by | Biology, Botany, History, Mathematics, Physics, Wikipedia, Zoology | 2 Comments

Quotes

1. “Natural ability without education has more often attained to glory and virtue than education without natural ability.” (Cicero)

2. “In religion and politics, people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue, but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing.” (Mark Twain)

3. “You’ll worry less about what people think about you when you realize how seldom they do.” (David Foster Wallace)

4. “Whenever I hear that someone is pragmatic (in a political context), odds are good that he/she is pretending not to have an ideology.” (Rich Berger, here)

5. “Homer: Why’d they build this ghost town so far away?
Lisa: Because they discovered gold right over there!
Homer: It’s because they’re stupid, that’s why. That’s why everybody does everything.” (The Simpsons – found here. Me: The big problem with that hypothesis is that a theory that explains everything explains nothing)

6. “Life is not fair and people are not equal.” (“Words to Live By: Hiroo Onoda”, Judit Kawaguchi)

7. “The years are too short, the days are too long.” (Joseph Heller)

8. “To my embarrassment I was born in bed with a lady.” (Wilson Mizner – if I’m asked that question, from now on I’ll answer: ‘Yes, I have been to bed with a woman.’ That’s how I prefer to lie. By omission.)

March 13, 2011 Posted by | politics, Quotes/aphorisms, Religion | 1 Comment

Talk

March 9, 2011 Posted by | Random stuff | Leave a comment

Jingo

Pratchett’s 21st book in the Discworld series. Great book, just like the rest of them. Some quotes:

1. “‘We all know why people don’t trust an army,’ said Lord Downey. ‘A lot of armed men, standing around with nothing to do … they start to get ideas …'” […] “Ankh-Morpork no longer had a fire brigade. The citizens had a rather disturbingly direct way of thinking at times, and it did not take long for people to see the rather obvious flaw in paying a group of people by the number of fires they put out.”

2. “‘The problem with mercenaries,’ said the Patrician, ‘is that they need to be paid to start fighting. And, unless you’re very lucky, you end up paying them even more to stop —‘ (Machiavelli not surprisingly made the same point – I find it very unlikely that Pratchett has not to a significant degree been inspired by Machiavelli when considering the actions and thoughts of Havelock Vetinari)

3. “After all, when you seek advice from someone it’s certainly not because you want them to give it. You just want them to be there while you talk to yourself.”

4. “‘Is he good with a bow?’ said Angua.
‘Very good. He’s good at killing people he never met, too.’
‘He’s an assasin, is he?’
‘Oh, no. He just kills people for money. No style. Snowy can’t read and write.'”

5. “‘We saw the fire —‘ Carrot began, running up. ‘Is it all over?’
‘Mr Vimes saved the day!’ said Sergeant Colon excitedly. ‘Just went straight in and saved everyone, in the finest tradition of the Watch!’
‘Fred?’ said Vimes, wearily.
‘Yessir?’
‘Fred, the finest tradition of the Watch is having a quiet smoke somewhere out of the wind at 3 a.m. Let’s not get carried away, eh?’

6. “‘Wazir comes from Smale, you see,’ said Carrot. ‘And Mr Goriff comes from Elharib, and the two countries only stopped fighting ten years ago. Religious differences.’
‘Run out of weapons?’ said Vimes.
‘Ran out of rocks, sir. They ran out of weapons last century.’

7. “He rummaged in a pocket and produced a very small book, which he held up for inspection.
‘This belonged to my great-grandad,’ he said. ‘He was in the scrap we had against Pseudopolis and my great-gran gave him this book of prayers for soldiers, ‘cos you need all the prayers you can get, believe you me, and he stuck it in the top pocket of his jerkin, ‘cos he couldn’t afford armour, and next day in battle – whoosh, this arrow came out of nowhere, wham, straight into this book and it went all the way through to the last page before stopping, look. You can see the hole.’
‘Pretty miraculous,’ Carrot agreed.
‘Yeah, it was, I s’pose,’ said the sergeant. He looked ruefully at the battered volume. ‘Shame about the other seventeen arrows, really.’

8. “‘Very good, sir,’ said Leiutenant Hornett, ‘but … you don’t think the enemy might be expecting us there? It being such an obvious landing site?’
‘Not obvious at all to the trained military thinker, sir! They won’t be expecting us there precisely because it’s so obvious, d’y’see?’
‘You mean … they’ll think only a complete idiot would land there, sir?’
‘Correct! And they know we’re not complete idiots, sir, and therefore that will be the last place they will be expecting us, d’y’see?'”

[the enemy’s lair, a little later:]

“‘Where will they attack?’
‘Gebra, sire. I’m sure of it.’
‘Our most heavily fortified city?’ Surely not. Only an idiot would do that.’
‘I have studied Lord Rust in some depth, sire.'”

9. “Making history, it turned out, was quite easy. It was what got written down. It was as simple as that.”

March 9, 2011 Posted by | Books, Terry Pratchett | Leave a comment

The US primary education system

Of course it doesn’t tell the whole story, but the story Steven Brill tells in this article is so insane anyway that you probably don’t need to be reminded of that.

No excerpt does justice to the piece, read all of it – and yes, I know I’m late to the party, it’s an old article and perhaps some of you already have. Megan McArdle has more/new related stuff here, there’s also quite a bit of comments to read through if you have the time – apparently the ‘rubber rooms’ are no more, but as to the other stuff I don’t know how much has happened… A few bits from Brill’s article:

“Brandi Scheiner says that her case is likely to be heard next year. By then, she will have twenty-four years’ seniority, which entitles her to a pension of nearly half her salary—that is, her salary at the time of retirement—for life, even if she is found incompetent and dismissed. Because two per cent of her salary is added to her pension for each year of seniority, a three-year stay in the Rubber Room will cost not only three hundred thousand dollars in salary [she currently earns more than a hundred thousand dollars a year] but at least six thousand dollars a year in additional lifetime pension benefits.” […]

“Scheiner refused to allow me access to the complete file related to her incompetence proceeding, which would detail the charges against her and any responses she might have filed, saying only that “they charged me with incompetence—boilerplate stuff.” (Nor could Felder comment, because Scheiner had insisted that her file be kept sealed.) But Scheiner did say that she and several of her colleagues in the Rubber Room had brought a “really interesting” class-action suit against the city for violations of their due-process and First Amendment rights as whistle-blowers. She said that the suit was pending, and that she would be vindicated. Actually, she filed three suits, two of which had long since been dismissed. And, a month and a day before she mentioned it to me, the magistrate handling the third case—in a move typically reserved for the most frivolous litigation—had ordered Scheiner and her co-plaintiffs to pay ten thousand dollars to the city in court costs, because that filing was so much like the second case. This third case is pending, though it no longer has a lawyer, because the one who brought these cases has since been disbarred, for allegedly lying to a court and allegedly stealing from Holocaust-survivor clients in unrelated cases.

It takes between two and five years for cases to be heard by an arbitrator”

“Mohammed’s case was the first to reach arbitration since the introduction of an initiative called Peer Intervention Program (P.I.P.) Plus, which was created to address the problem of tenured teachers who are suspected of incompetence, not those accused of a crime or other misconduct. […] The deal seemed good for both sides: a teacher accused of incompetence would first be assigned a “peer”—a retired teacher or principal—from a neutral consulting company agreed upon by the union and the city. The peer would observe the teacher for up to a year and provide counselling. If the observer determined that the teacher was indeed incompetent and was unlikely to improve, the observer would write a detailed report saying so. The report could then be used as evidence in a removal hearing conducted by an arbitrator agreed upon by the union and the city. […] Under the union contract, hearings on each case are held five days a month during the school year and two days a month during the summer. Mohammed’s case is likely to take between forty and forty-five hearing days—eight times as long as the average criminal trial in the United States. […] When the bill for the arbitrator is added to the cost of the city’s lawyers and court reporters and the time spent in court by the principal and the assistant principal, Mohammed’s case will probably have cost the city and the state (which pays the arbitrator) about four hundred thousand dollars.

Nor is it by any means certain that, as a result of that investment, New York taxpayers will have to stop paying Mohammed’s salary, eighty-five thousand dollars a year. Arbitrators have so far proved reluctant to dismiss teachers for incompetence. […] in the past two years arbitrators have terminated only two teachers for incompetence alone, and only six others in cases where, according to the Department of Education, the main charge was incompetence.”

“[a study] examined teacher rating processes, and found that in districts that have a binary, satisfactory-unsatisfactory system, ninety-nine per cent of teachers receive a satisfactory rating, and that even in the few school districts that attempt a broader range of rating options ninety-four per cent get one of the top two ratings.”

March 8, 2011 Posted by | education | 2 Comments

More details on who visits this blog

Below are some domain names of some of the visitors coming by this blog since Thursday(? yes, I think it was Thursday I started looking at this, though maybe it was Friday), provided by Sitemeter:

http://www.wvu.edu/ (West Virginia University)
http://nih.gov/ (National Institute of Health)
http://www.justice.gov/ (The United States Department of Justice)
aau.dk (Aalborg University)
http://www.ucn.dk/ (University College Nordjylland)
http://www.cornell.edu/ (Cornell University)
http://ifl.net/ (“RM Internet For Learning is the specialist Internet Service provider (ISP) to UK education establishments.”)
au.dk (University of Aarhus)
hhknet.dk (Danish Network for Research and Education)
http://www.uni-hamburg.de/ (Universitaet Hamburg campus net)
http://wiu.edu/ (Western Illinois University – if I were to consider ever applying to an American university, that front page would have me running for the hills. Don’t really know why.)

Most of the people who’ve visited the site via those domains are one-time visitors who do not return. I have got visits more than once from only a few of these domains. They don’t make up a lot of the total traffic (close to(?) none during the weekend where people are far more likely to be using their private internet services), but they still make up quite a bit more of the total traffic than I’d assumed. Just like all other one-time visitor group members though, most of these visitors don’t give the site 10 seconds before moving on.

March 8, 2011 Posted by | blogging, Random stuff | Leave a comment

Defeating overconfidence

I tweetet this as well, but I think it deserves a blogpost.

Could you point out Stavropol on a world map without text? Without national borders? How far off would you be? How about Samarkand? Las Vegas? Al Qatif, Saudi Arabia? Nouakchott, Mauritania? What about Luanda? Niamey, Niger? Chicago? Winnipeg? Tianjin? Mar del Plata? Oulu?

This is a great tool for kids, but I think a lot of adults can benefit from it as well. I’m generally in favor of anything that makes learning new stuff be more fun; learning stuff should be fun, dammit! Try it out. If you don’t like the music and the applauses you get for getting very close to the mark and/or you have some difficulty concentrating because of those things, you can just turn off the speakers.

March 5, 2011 Posted by | Random stuff | 2 Comments

A useful study

“Neuroticism is a fundamental personality trait in the study of psychology. It is an enduring tendency to experience negative emotional states. Individuals who score high on neuroticism are more likely than the average to experience such feelings as anxiety, anger, guilt, and depressed mood.[1] They respond more poorly to environmental stress, and are more likely to interpret ordinary situations as threatening, and minor frustrations as hopelessly difficult. They are often self-conscious and shy, and they may have trouble controlling urges and delaying gratification. Neuroticism is associated with low emotional intelligence, which involves emotional regulation, motivation, and interpersonal skills.”

Wikipedia. Here’s the study (abstract only, apparently there’s no full version available online at the moment for free). The abstract:

“A robust literature indicates that neuroticism has numerous negative implications for romantic relationships. But are there factors that can protect intimates from such implications? Given that negative affect accounts for part of the association between neuroticism and relationship distress, and given that the positive affect associated with sex may negate that negative affect, the authors predicted that sexual frequency would moderate the association between neuroticism and relationship satisfaction. A total of 72 newlywed couples reported their marital satisfaction and sexual frequency up to seven times over the first 4 years of marriage. Consistent with predictions, a lagged multilevel analysis revealed that although neuroticism was negatively associated with marital satisfaction on average, it was unrelated to marital satisfaction when couples had engaged in relatively frequent sex over the past 6 months. These findings join others in highlighting the importance of attending to the broader context of the relationship to developing a complete understanding of relationships.”

I am so saving that study for when/if I find a girlfriend!

March 3, 2011 Posted by | marriage, Personal, Psychology, Studies | 1 Comment

Flogging a dead horse

I’ve written about the subject before, I’ll do it again even if it doesn’t really make any difference. Here’s a great piece Maryn McKenna (via Ed Yong). A quote from Hughes’ op-ed which she links to in her article:

“From 1983 to 1987, 16 new antibiotics were approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA); from 2003 to 2007, just 5 were approved.[5] Since 2008, only 2 have been approved”

Here’s a quote from McKenna’s piece:

“Drug resistance is a biologic inevitability — but in the 83-year history of the antibiotic miracle, starting from Fleming’s first recognition of natural penicillin, whenever resistance made one drug useless, another drug came along to save us. Those days are over.

Think for a moment like a pharma company. It’s generally accepted that it takes 10 years and about $1 billion to get a new drug from concept to marketplace. At the end of that investment of time and money, you’re left with a drug that is only taken for weeks at a time, that bacteria will develop some resistance to within a year, that doctors will cease to prescribe once approximately 20 percent of infections demonstrate resistance — and which, if it’s a very, very promising drug, doctors may not prescribe at all, because they want to preserve it for the most dire cases.

if you were a shareholder in that hypothetical company, wouldn’t you want them to make Viagra instead?”

One might ask if that hasn’t always been the case, ie. that there’s always been a trifecta of short time of treatment, risk of low sales even if drug is effective and high fixed costs related to treatment of infectious disease, and if so why did pharma-companies keep developing new drugs before? One reason things have changed is that the alternative potential profits from developing drugs treating life-style related diseases have increased dramatically. Another reason is that the development costs have increased over time, in part because the demands related to obtaining FDA-approval of a drug have increased over time. No matter why things have changed though, there’s no doubt they have; the number of new drugs which were approved in 2003-2007 was less than one third the number of drugs which were approved 20 years earlier in a similar amount of time.

Do remember that this problem is not just related to the fact that, well, bacterial infections kill people. Lots of people. Some infections don’t but that doesn’t mean they can’t be pretty damn bad anyway because of quality of life-issues; ask the deaf kid who went through an untreated ear infection causing hearing loss. But a major problem is also that a lot of medical advances made over the years depend crucially on the ability of doctor’s to deal with infections. Hughes gives the examples of “cancer treatment, surgery, transplantation, and neonatal care” in his piece; that list is not exhaustive, for instance the most common treatment of autoimmune diseases, which are caused by an overactive immune system (roughly speaking), is immunosuppression – which increases the risk of bacterial infection. And yes, there are a lot of autoimmune diseases out there.

Btw, according to McKenna antibiotics aren’t the only drugs we are running out of.

March 2, 2011 Posted by | Cancer/oncology, Economics, Health Economics, Infectious disease, Medicine, Pharmacology | 4 Comments