Monday, July 27, 2009

The staggering costs of clinical trials

From a Wired article about a novel medical use for FD&C blue dye no. 1:

Nedergaard agrees that more research is necessary, and her group hopes to pursue a phase I clinical trial as soon they can get funding. Unfortunately, because blue food dye is so cheap, they’re not likely to find a drug company to sponsor the trials. “There’s no commercial interest because you can buy it by the pound,” Nedergaard said. “We’re planning a clinical trial here in Rochester, but we’ll have to wait for funding from the government.”

They're talking about common blue food dye – which cannot be brought to the medical market without these trials. They are mandated by the government, and drug companies routinely pay tens and hundreds of millions of dollars to put their drugs through them. I can't find a good source on this (other than an episode of EconTalk, where I heard it), but I remember hearing someone say that 80% of the cost of bringing new drugs to market is in the clinical trials.

There's been a lot of debate about healthcare recently, with Obama's reform package getting a lot of criticism, but I haven't yet heard someone mention the high cost of mandatory clinical trials as an area to look into.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A teachable moment

You may have seen this story about a black professor of African-American history at Harvard who was arrested while he was trying to break into his own house, but I'll bet you didn't read this far down:

Professor Gates said Tuesday that he did bring up race during the confrontation but that he was not disorderly. He also said he wanted to make a movie about what had occurred and take other steps to keep it from happening to someone else.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

DRM is dead, says RIAA

The RIAA, America's recording industry lobby, has apparently acknowledged that DRM is dead, according to TorrentFreak:

Jonathan Lamy, chief spokesperson for the RIAA declared DRM dead, when he was asked about the RIAA’s view on DRM for an upcoming SCMagazine article. “DRM is dead, isn’t it?” Lamy said, referring to the DRM-less iTunes store and other online outfits that now offer music without restrictions.

DRM is the technology that limits people's listening of an MP3 – you can't just copy it ad infinitum and do whatever you want with it if it's got DRM in it. I believe within the last few months the iTunes Store has either mostly or totally taken DRM off of the songs that they sell.

Also of note: TorrentFreak is probably the best resource on the internet I can think of when it comes to online copyright and filesharing news. Those sound like geeky and esoteric topics, but I think they'll be key to the future of all serious and popular music and video.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Telegraph spouts the Chinese government line on Urumqi Uyghurs

To provide a counterpoint to what I wrote earlier today, Peter Foster at the Telegraph is reporting from Urumqi that the Chinese government's story checks out:

There was a presumption among the foreign media - made from afar as correspondents scrambled to get to Urumqi - that most of the 156 victims of Sunday’s riot were Uighurs. The implication being that they had been killed by security forces - another Tiananmen, if you will.

This never quite stacked up, as very few witnesses reported that the police had opened fire. In fact most reported the use of batons, electric prods and tear gas and other non-lethal methods to disperse the riot.

And why, if security forces had been responsible for the bulk of the deaths, would China be facilitating such unprecedented access to hospitals, holding press conferences (planned for later today) and allowing reporters to tour the city.

There are a couple problems I have with what he is saying. First of all, earlier in the piece he talks about how the Chinese government has "corralled the large international media presence in a single hotel," but that doesn't appear to him to be a sign that the government has something to hide.

But more importantly, where is he getting his information? He repeats some Chinese government numbers – "of 274 patients being treated in the People’s hospital 233 were Han" – but he admits that he got them straight from the government and that he hasn't been able to find any "firm details." Could it be – just maybe – that the "unprecedented access to hospitals" is actually the government trying to...I dunno...hide something?!

And why is there no mention of the president of the World Uyghur Congress' accusation that there are over 500 deaths, mostly Uyghurs? Surely Rebiya Kadeer is not a totally unbiased source, but then again, neither is the Chinese government.

Given that the Christian Science Monitor did a whole story on how difficult sources were to find in Urumqi and how residents and scholars absolutely refused to speak to the foreign press, I'd be curious to know what Peter Foster's secret is to reporting on what the CSM believes is unknowable to Westerners at the moment.

Urumqi death toll may be as high as 500, mostly Uyghurs?

Exiled Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer, accused by Beijing of orchestrating this weekend's violence, says she believes the true death toll is more than 500:

Chinese authorities have accused Kadeer of inciting violence between Muslim Uighurs and ethnic Han Chinese, in which at least 156 people have been killed. The riots broke out Sunday in China's Xinjiang region.

Kadeer disputes the number of fatalities, saying she believes at least 500 people have been killed in the riots.

Interestingly, the AP in this article doesn't mention that the 156 figure comes from the Chinese government, despite mentioning Kadeer's opinion of the purported death toll.

Previous Urumqi riots coverage here, here, and here.

Rebiya Kadeer has a pretty interesting story herself, summarized in this Times of India article:

Kadeer has emerged as a somewhat unlikely foe of China's government. In the 1980s and '90s, she became a symbol of the prosperity that China's newly launched market reforms were creating after decades of Communist poverty. The entrepreneurial mother of 11 built up a successful trading company and was named to a prestigious government advisory body. Government officials often took visitors to the department store she founded in Urumqi to show that Uighurs were also getting rich.

Also, in following with my investigation of who exactly has been the victim of the violence (the Chinese government claims it's mostly innocent Han Chinese, the Uyghurs claim it's their people), that same Times of India article gives Kadeer's opinion:

She said she and her organizations mourn the loss of life of both Uighurs and Han Chinese, but she estimated that more than 90 percent of those killed have been Uighurs.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Anti-Uyghur propaganda from Xinhua

Xinhua, the official Chinese press agency, has a hilarious piece of propaganda up today. In response to the demonstration by Uyghurs in Urumqi that allegedly turned lethal (which I've covered in two posts), Xinhua has some statements supposedly by Uyghurs involved in the violent brawl between Uyghurs and Han Chinese that sparked the protests this weekend in Urumqi. The whole article is pretty funny, but here are some highlights:

"The rioters used our injuries as an excuse for their violence," said Atigul Turdi, 24, who was injured when she was running out of the scene of the fight on June 26 in Xuri toy factory in Shaoguan City, Guangdong. "I firmly opposed the violence in the name of taking revenge for us." [...]

"I believe the government will handle the brawl appropriately," Turdi said. "Why did the rioters destroy our beautiful and peaceful Xinjiang region in such cruel manners?" [...]

Turdi said she would stay in Guangdong to work after recovery. As one of the first workers to arrive at Xuri factory from Shufu County of Xinjiang on May 1 [a big Chinese holiday], she missed the happy days to work with her colleagues harmoniously. [...]

"They have damaged my health and ruined my prospect to find a good job. I have no idea why the rioters claim to be pursuing happiness for us."

This part, though, is the scariest. The Chinese have worked very hard in cultivating the image of Uyghurs as Islamic terrorists, in an attempt to get the US to buy into their oppression of this Muslim people. It's not unlike what Putin did with the Chechens and the Uzbeks did with the Adijan massacre – both quite successfully.

Xinjiang Communist Party of China (CPC) chief Wang Lequan said Monday the riot in Urumqi revealed the violent and terrorist nature of the separatist World Uyghur Congress leader Rebiya Kadeer.

"The riot has destroyed the spiritual support with which the terrorist, separatist and extremist forces cheated the people to participate in the so-called 'Jihad'," Wang said. "The incident also revealed Rebiya's nature of fake human rights, fake democracy, true violence and true terrorism."

Fortunately for the Uyghurs, the West does not appear to be inclined to believe China's accusations of homegrown terrorism among its ethnic minorities (at least not any more). When you accuse the Dalai Lama of suicide bombings, you kind of lose your credibility.

Urumqi update – death toll and media reporting

Yesterday (and throughout the day today) I posted about the unrest in Urumqi, the capital of the Uyghur region of China known as Xinjiang. Since then I've been very interested in the death toll, and the Western media's reporting of it. The Chinese state media continues to claim that over 100 have been killed (156 is the latest figure), although it hasn't specified how many of those were rioters, how many were the victims of rioters, and how many were police. The NYT article says that an American living in Urumqi saw the violence but saw no signs of deaths, and it does seem a bit odd that a protest involving only about 1000 protesters would result in over 100 deaths.

Despite these incongruities, the Western media has generally reported the figure without much qualification, and it figures prominently in headlines and subheads about the event. The Times article does a passable job, reporting the number along with its source (the Chinese government), but doesn't directly address the fact that there isn't much evidence that that many people actually died, and doesn't really discuss who died. The Guardian is completely uncritical, and reports the number as straight fact without even mentioning the source, nevermind that the source has obvious prejudices. The BBC is a little better, reporting the figure uncritically but at least mentioning that it's unclear who died.

The Christian Science Monitor gets the award for most candid coverage, admitting the difficulty in reporting facts right in the headline: "Sources in Urumqi? They’re (very) hard to come by." They also accurately portray the difficulty in teasing out who were the victims and who were the aggressors:

The key question is: Who died? Muslim Uighur demonstrators, cut down by the police, as Uighur exile groups claim? Or innocent Han Chinese bystanders, butchered by a mob of Uighurs, as the government-owned media are making out?

I should mention that the Christian Science Monitor ceased publication of its print edition a couple of months ago, and is now a web-only publication (with the exception of a weekend magazine, I believe). Just keep that in mind when someone tries to tell you that the death of the printed newspaper will spell the end of foreign reporting.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Uyghur riots in Urumqi

There's been unrest among the Uyghurs in Urumqi, China over the weekend. Urumqi is the capital of the Xinjiang, a massive province in the west of China, and home to the Uyghur people, a non-Han minority which has accused China of trying to Hanify its homeland:

Uighurs are the largest ethnic group in Xinjiang but are a minority in Urumqi, where Han Chinese make up more than 70 percent of the population of two million or so. The Chinese government has encouraged Han migration to the city and other parts of Xinjiang, fueling resentment among the Uighurs. Urumqi is a deeply segregated city, with Han Chinese there rarely venturing into the Uighur quarter.

Xinjiang is an absolutely enormous province – it takes up one-sixth the size of China and is larger than the entire nation of Mongolia – and the Chinese government is scrambling to turn it majority Han, so that if one day they lose their iron grip on the country, they'll have one more excuse not to let the Uyghurs, who are more closely related to the Turkic Central Asian peoples than to the Han Chinese who rule the prosperous coastal regions in the east, secede.

Update: I wouldn't take this at face value, but Reuters is reporting that the Chinese state news agency is reporting some deaths caused by Uyghur rioters. First they claimed "three ordinary people of the Han ethnic group" were killed, but later amended that to one police oficer and "a number of innocent members of the public." I suspect what probably happened is that the Chinese propagandists realized that they'd gone too far in stoking ethnic tension by accusing the Uyghur rioters of killing Han, so they backtracked. I'd be surprised if any police officers or innocent Han civilians were killed.

Update II: The NYT is now reporting that Chinese officials are putting the death toll at over 100 (!!), however neutral observers say they haven't seen any bodies in the streets (which would be expected if that many people died). Also puzzling is the fact that news agencies put the number of protesters at about 1,000, which would mean that one in ten protesters was killed...which doesn't seem likely.

Update III: The aforelinked NYT article says that Xinhua has upped the death toll to 156, and that the Chinese have learned their lesson from recent events in Iran and have disabled Twitter (along with the rest of the internet):

Local Internet service was largely disabled, and online bulletin boards and search engines across China were purged of references to the violence. The social networking service Twitter, which effectively rallied demonstrators in Iran last month, was also disabled. China Mobile, the nation’s largest cellphone provider, curtailed service in Urumqi, and cellphone calls from some Beijing numbers to the area were blocked. But Chinese television carried images showing some of the violence.

Update IV: Enough of this. I made a new post that concentrates on the death toll and the Western media's coverage of the protests.

50 reasons why Waxman-Markey is a bad, bad, bad idea

I can't recommend this article enough for those looking for all the arguments against the Waxman-Markey climate change bill.

Bottom line: the law may very well do nothing to reduce carbon emissions, and even make the problem worse, all while adding tons of cruft and handouts to an already-byzantine system of energy/agriculture regulation.

There are literally 50 reasons on that list why Waxman-Markey is a bad idea, and it's really hard to pick just a few to excerpt, but seeing as how I've been working at a lobbying firm this summer and so that's what's on my mind, let's do this one:

3. With its rich menu of corporate subsidies and special set-asides for politically connected industries, Waxman-Markey has inspired a new corporate interest group, USCAP, the United States Climate Action Partnership — the group largely responsible for the fact that carbon permits are being given away like candy at Christmas rather than auctioned. And who is lined up to receive a piece of the massive wealth transfer that Waxman-Markey will mandate? Canada Free Press lists:

Alcoa, American International Group (AIG) which withdrew after accepting government bailout money, Boston Scientific Corporation, BP America Inc., Caterpillar Inc., Chrysler LLC (which continues to lobby with taxpayer dollars), ConocoPhillips, Deere & Company, The Dow Chemical Company, Duke Energy, DuPont, Environmental Defense, Exelon Corporation, Ford Motor Company, FPL Group, Inc., General Electric, General Motors Corp. (now owned by the Obama administration), Johnson & Johnson, Marsh, Inc., National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Nature Conservancy, NRG Energy, Inc., Pepsico, Pew Center on Global Climate Change, PG&E Corporation, PNM Resources, Rio Tinto, Shell, Siemens Corporation, World Resources Institute, Xerox Corporation.

Pew, NRDC, and the Environmental Defense Fund are what stood out to me. I guess you can cross those off your list of organizations you can trust on environmental and energy issues.

One thing that I would like to have seen in that article, though, are some more links. For example, can anyone at the National Review explain to me the lack of citation here (number 11 on the list)?

Two peer-reviewed scientific papers suggest that no-till either does nothing to decrease carbon dioxide or actually increases the level of greenhouse-gas emissions by upping emissions of nitrous oxide — a much more powerful greenhouse gas.

Unlicensed and unregulated private schools in the Third World

In the City Journal (one of today's most underappreciated publications, in my opinion), Liam Julian has a quick book review of The Beautiful Tree, a book by James Tooley (published by Cato) about unlicensed, unrecognized, and unregulated private schooling among the world's poorest children. Here's an excerpt from the book that stood out to the reviewer, where the book's authors did a study to determine how well these private schools actually taught:

The results from Delhi were typical. In mathematics, mean scores of children in government schools were 24.5 percent, whereas they were 42.1 percent in private unrecognized schools and 43.9 percent in private recognized. That is, children in unrecognized private schools scored nearly 18 percentage points more in math than children in government schools (a 72 percent advantage!), while children in recognized private schools scored over 19 percentage points more than children in government schools (a 79 percent advantage).

And it's not just those without access to free public schooling who are taking advantage of the private schools – even many of those entitled to free public schools don't trust them. It sure makes you wonder about the UN (and pretty much everyone else in the development community) putting so much emphasis on free, universal primary and secondary schooling.

Like most book reviews, this one is little more than a summary, but here's an interesting bit of criticism from reviewer D. W. MacKenzie:

The one nit I have to pick with the Cato crowd is on vouchers. Entitlements to education, like vouchers, can produce the same results that the author of this book decries- corruption and waste. But this disagreement does not detract from the general value of this book. Read it and learn more about learning.

I'd like to see some figures on the breakdown of where the world's poorest parents choose to send their children to school, and how many of those sending them to private schools have access to public schools.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Joe Biden says the US won't try to stop secession in Iraq?

Quoteth the New York Times:

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. told Iraqi leaders on Friday that he and President Obama were committed to helping them resolve their political differences, but he warned that the United States would be unlikely to remain engaged in Iraq if the country reverted to sectarian violence, American officials said.

First of all, I doubt this is true. Even if the American public would not tolerate another over internvetion in the case of possible secession, I have no doubt that the Obama administration would pick sides and try to throw money and guns at whoever is promising to keep Iraq whole.

But besides that – what kind of message does Joe Biden think he's sending, exactly? I assume he intended it towards Malaki and his parochial interests, but it sounds like something that would please the Sunnis and Kurds (and even Malaki's rivals among the Shiites, like Ayad Alawai).

The reason I think that Joe Biden's promise of nonintervention is hollow is that the secession of the Kurds – who would likely be the first to split if the US declared a hands-off approach – would greatly offend US ally Turkey, which is doing everything it can to keep hold on to its own restive Kurdish region. The US would lose a rare friend in the Middle East, and Europe might lose the opportunity to break Russia's monopoly on transiting natural gas from the Caspian Sea with the Nabucco pipeline (though admittedly the Russians have already all but killed the deal).

I imagine that the inspiration for Joe Biden's remarks are his own personal convictions – back in 2006, when he was on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, his play for Iraq was to split it up into three autonomous regions loosely bound into one nation. That was probably the most intelligent thing I'd ever heard Biden say, though I wish he'd gone further and called for three totally independent states, Turkey be damned.

The Seattle PI doesn't seem that dead to me

My work this summer involves an hour or two of scouring the internet for energy-related news articles, and once or twice a week I ask myself the question: was it the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that ceased print publication in March? I had the feeling that it was, but it seemed odd that I was still finding so much news from them – certainly more so than still-printing big city secondary papers papers like the New York Post and the Daily News, and even more than the papers of record in large cities in, say, Texas. I understand that a lot of people lost their jobs and local coverage may have suffered, but at least they cover national news well enough for me to decide that an article or two each week covered whatever energy topic better than any others.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

White firefighters case may have implications for college enrollment and affordability

In January, I blogged about a paper that argued that the rise in college graduates was due to a specific Supreme Court case, Griggs v. Duke Power, decided in 1971. The ruling implied that that any test given by employers to prospective employees was liable to be found illegal under anti-discrimination laws, unless the results were proportional to the racial makeup of the candidate pool. Without tests to determine the caliber of applicants, the study's authors suggest that employers began using college degrees to determine whether or not to hire an employee, which caused the the college boom – both in enrollment and cost – in the late '70s, which has continued up until today.

The Supreme Court, however, has just recently overturned Griggs v. Duke Power, in the controversial "white firefighters case," Ricci v. DeStefano. The media has been up in arms about it mostly because Obama's Supreme Court pick, Sonia Sotomayor, was part of the lower court which dismissed the case out of hand, finding for the city and against the white (plus one Hispanic) firefighters. But after the nomination battle is over, I'll be very interested to see if there's an uptick in aptitude testing on the part of employers, and if that results in a decline in college enrollment...and if so, if anybody even realizes why it happened.