Friday, February 05, 2010

Avogadro's Number And Other Stories

Not stories, really. Links. Hmph.


Homeopathy has been in the news lately. Last Saturday, at 10:23 a.m. local time, people all across the United Kingdom stood outside Boots pharmacies and ODed on homeopathic "medicines". 45 died after hours of agony, while over 230 had to be hospitalized.


The whole shebang was organized by I suppose the standard homeopath defense of this whole thing will be on the lines of, "Oh, but that's not how the medicine is supposed to be taken." and "Ah, but the precise reason why nothing happened to them was that the dosage was too high."

Whaddeva. Make up your own minds.

Other related items. The House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology had what they call an Evidence Check. The uncorrected transcript is here. One of the people who gave evidence was Paul Bennett, described as Professional Standards Director and Superintendent Pharmacist, Boots. The following curious exchange happened at the beginning of the hearing.

Q1 Chairman: ...You actually manufacture and sell homeopathic remedies. Do they work beyond the placebo effect, very briefly?

Mr Bennett: First, I need to correct you actually, I am afraid. We do not manufacture products.

Q2 Chairman: You sell them though?

Mr Bennett: We do sell them.

Q3 Chairman: So you sell them?

Mr Bennett: We do indeed sell them and there is certainly a consumer demand for those products.

Q4 Chairman: I did not ask you that question. I said do they work beyond the placebo effect?

Mr Bennett: I have no evidence before me to suggest that they are efficacious, and we look very much for the evidence to support that, and so I am unable to give you a yes or no answer to that question.

Q5 Chairman: You sell them but you do not believe they are efficacious?

Mr Bennett: It is about consumer choice for us. A large number of our consumers actually do believe they are efficacious, but they are licensed medicinal products and, therefore, we believe it is right to make them available.

Q6 Chairman: But as a company you do not believe that they necessarily are?

Mr Bennett: We do not disbelieve either. It is an evidence issue.

So basically they sell it because people will buy it. Makes perfect business sense. Which brings us to the whole, "the homeo people are small time, innocent, peaceful, Luke Skywalker types against whom the baleful forces of the Evil Pharmaceutical Empire are arrayed" type melodrama. Boots is the equivalent of the Death Star as far as pharma companies goes. They're selling homeo pills. The last thing you can accuse big business is about being nitpicky about ideology. If it sells, they'll sell it, whether it's vaccines or $8 a pop sugar pills.

Apparently the report of the Select Committee will be published next week. Watch this and other spaces.

Sam Bowles

Not many people have heard about this gentleman. Indeed, I wouldn't have, had it not been for That Man Keynes And His Homosexual Intrigues. Bowles and TMKAHHI have collaborated academically, and TMKAHHI is in awe of Sam.

The Santa Fe Reporter has a piece on Bowles (who looks uncannily like an oldish Gregory Peck) and his work. It's titled "BORN POOR? SANTA FE ECONOMIST SAMUEL BOWLES SAYS YOU BETTER GET USED TO IT" and is an absorbing read. Most absorbing is the fact that Bowles' collaboration with TMKAHHI is mentioned ;) I'm tho totally absorbed only re baba.

Among the more interesting things he's looked at, are measures of inequalities in society.
The Gini is an expression economists use to measure equality or inequality in a society.

Zero describes the ultimate level playing field, a nonexistent land in which everyone has all the same stuff. A completely unequal society, in which one person has sole control of literally everything, would have a Gini of 100. New Mexico’s Gini score (45.7) reveals this state is more unequal than most. Utah is the most egalitarian state (with a 41.3 Gini), while the District of Columbia (53.7) is the most economically polarized, according to the most recent Census report, from 2006.

The second figure, 23, is the Gini for Sweden, the world’s most egalitarian country. Whereas most of Europe, Canada and Australia have Ginis in the low 30s, the US has over the past several decades developed inequalities usually found only in poor countries with autocratic governments.

So what? Isn’t inequality merely the price of America being No. 1?

“That’s almost certainly false,” Bowles tells SFR. “Prior to about 20 years ago, most economists thought that inequality just greased the wheels of progress. Overwhelmingly now, people who study it empirically think that it’s sand in the wheels.”
Again with the numbers:



The first number is the likelihood, expressed as a percentage, that a child born to parents whose incomes fall within the top 10 percent of Americans will grow up to be at least as wealthy.

The second is the percentage likelihood that a person born into the bottom 10 percent of society will stay at the bottom.

Just to drive the point home, here’s a third number: 1.3

That’s the percentage likelihood that a bottom 10 percenter will ever make it to the top 10 percent. For 99 out of 100 people, rags never lead to riches.
So much for trickle down.

Bowles' father was Chester Bowles, US Ambassador to India for Truman and Kennedy. Sam spent part of his childhood in Delhi, and a few slices from those days can be found in Chester's book about his days as ambassador in Delhi (can't recall the name of said book, although crumbling copy belonging to Dad is lying at home somewhere). Sam apparently saw Bhakra-Nangal and told Chester he wanted to be a Civil Engineer :P The kids went to some Indian school in Delhi, unlike the children of other diplomats who went to international schools, and TMKAHHI tells me that his formative years in India influenced the directions of departure of Sam's later work.

On a personal note, TMKAHHI + wife and I have spent more than one evening at Sam's lovely book filled house in a lonely-ish corner of Montague, MA. The snow outside, music inside, and the "gurgle" of books, is what one chiefly remembers.

How To Fall 35,000 Feet And Survive

Truly amazing article from Popular Mechanics. Sample this:
You have a late night and an early flight. Not long after takeoff, you drift to sleep. Suddenly, you’re wide awake. There’s cold air rushing everywhere, and sound. Intense, horrible sound. Where am I?, you think. Where’s the plane?

You’re 6 miles up. You’re alone. You’re falling.

Things are bad. But now’s the time to focus on the good news. (Yes, it goes beyond surviving the destruction of your aircraft.)
By now, you’ve descended into breathable air. You sputter into consciousness. At this altitude, you’ve got roughly 2 minutes until impact. Your plan is simple. You will enter a Zen state and decide to live. You will understand, as Hamilton notes, "that it isn’t the fall that kills you—it's the landing."

Keeping your wits about you, you take aim.
Outstanding stuff. Take a bow, Popular Mechanics and Dan Koeppel.

How Vasili Alexandrovich Arkipov Saved The World (And Shame Shame Puppy Shame You Didn't Even Know His Name Till Now)

Via Wikipedia:
On October 27, 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, a group of eleven United States Navy destroyers and the aircraft carrier USS Randolph trapped a nuclear-armed Soviet Foxtrot class submarine B-59 near Cuba and started dropping practice depth charges, explosives intended to force the submarine to come to the surface for identification. Allegedly, the captain of the submarine, Valentin Grigorievitch Savitsky, believing that a war might already have started, prepared to launch a retaliatory nuclear-tipped torpedo.

Three officers on board the submarine — Savitsky, the Political Officer Ivan Semonovich Maslennikov, and the Second in command Arkhipov — were authorized to launch the torpedo if they agreed unanimously in favour of doing so. An argument broke out among the three, in which only Arkhipov was against the launch, eventually persuading Savitsky to surface the submarine and await orders from Moscow. The nuclear warfare which presumably would have ensued was thus averted.
Reads suspiciously like the plot of Crimson Tide, if you axe me.

Even if you don't axe me, actually.

Actually, I don't think your hacking away at me with a metallic cutting implement will change anything one way or the other.

So don't.

Axe me.