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Comment Re:Book misses major points (Score 1) 109

I agree that the total cost from MAW is relatively small. I'm not sure your metric is necessarily the bestf one looks not at all cancer funding but cancer research in children, one gets a much larger fraction. About 5% of all funding is for children's cancer ( says 4%) so this would be about 20% of funding for children's cancer. That may not be the best metric, because much cancer research applies to cancers at a broad age range, so I think I'd agree that the total amount is relatively small. According to Makke a Wish's own description they make one wish on average every 37 minutes which means they are making wishes for about 20,000 kids a year. In contrast, as the above link to St. Baldrick's notes, even for just St. B they came up about 8 million dollars short of funding all of the grant proposals that got considered to be outstanding. And they are very much not the only example of this sort of thing.

On the other hand, there's a serious problem in at least allied fields where people claim that their basic research is cancer related so they can more easily get grant money. In my own field, math, one has people doing all sorts of abstract stats or imaging work or differential equation modeling which people claim is cancer related, and it generally is related in the sense that one specific application might be some sort of cancer research. So that suggests that in some respects funding is actually over-saturated in which case Make A Wish isn't doing that much direct harm.

Comment Book misses major points (Score 5, Insightful) 109

One of the big apparent complaints is Gates focus on infectious rather than chronic diseases. From the article:

The same is true when it comes to the foundation’s work in public health. As McGoey briefly acknowledges, the foundation’s investment of more than $15 billion in this field “has done considerable good.” That seems an understatement. Thanks in part to the Gateses’ strong investment in vaccines for infectious diseases, deaths from measles in Africa have dropped by 90 percent since 2000. Over the last quarter century, tuberculosis mortality worldwide has fallen by 45 percent, while over the last dozen years the number of new malaria cases has dropped by 30 percent. And polio, which in 1988 was endemic in 125 countries, is today endemic in only two. The foundation has also played an important part in fighting the spread of HIV and helping those infected with the virus to lead productive lives. For this, Bill and Melinda Gates deserve much credit.

So far so good.

The question is, has this been the best use of their money? As McGoey notes, chronic diseases, as opposed to communicable ones, exact a staggering toll worldwide, yet the foundation has invested less than 4 percent of its funding in research on them, and the global health community has largely followed suit. “The failure to combat obesity, cancer and heart disease epidemics in poor nations,” she observes, “has been one of the most glaring mistakes of global development efforts in recent years.” An equally serious shortcoming has been the neglect of primary-care facilities in the developing world. The initial problems that the nations of West Africa faced in combating the Ebola outbreak stemmed in part from the weaknesses in their overall health systems. Interestingly, in late September, the Gates Foundation, together with WHO and the World Bank, announced a joint partnership aimed at improving access to primary care in poor and middle-income countries — a dramatic (if tacit) acknowledgement that the emphasis on fighting individual diseases has been too narrow.

The primary reason it makes sense to focus on infectious diseases is that once they are gone, they are completely gone. Obesity and other problems don't go away permanently. In contrast if we wipe out malaria or polio, we won't have to deal with it again.

Note also that every single one of the other major criticisms acknowledges that it is something that the Gates have changed already. For example, the article discusses how a number of the Foundation's early attempts at education reform didn't work well. But they changed what they were doing. So they are already using effective evaluations and metrics to decide things.

I find it deeply unfortunate that someone spent an entire book criticizing the Gates Foundation when there are far more clear cut wastes of money out there. The Make a Wish Foundation is an example. They spent 58 million dollars last year and millions more came from businesses in parts of wishes to help a tiny number of dying children, whereas if that money was spent effectively on cancer research, there would be fewer children dying. Instead we have an entire book focusing on one of the most effective and efficient charities in on the planet which complains that they aren't efficient enough.

Comment The takeaway is that Tesla is right (Score 4, Insightful) 457

The takeway I get is that Tesla's attempts to sell directly and avoid dealers makes complete sense because dealers have a clear conflict of interest here. Heck, it makes it seem like we should get rid of dealers altogether since they won't in general want to sell any cars that are very novel or that require substantially less maintenance.

Comment Re:There's an old curse (Score 1) 583

Oil and coal were not from dinosaurs but rather from well before then. It isn't at all obvious that that sort of resource would exist a second time around, and especially given that it is unlikely that even in a snowball situation that all sea life will go away. Incidentally, I find it fascinating that people who would be horrified by a few hundred or a few thousand deaths somehow react with things like "Meh" when talking about every single life on the planet which should be far worse.

Comment Spielman is hardly ab outsider (Score 4, Informative) 92

Kalai and Spielman are both very talented and have done a lot of work in many different branches of mathematics. Moreover, in this particular context they proved an equivalent version of the conjecture that was much closer to their own sort of work. The problem in question has many different equivalent formulations such as that described here is essentially a statement about vector spaces that anyone with some basic linear algebra background could understand. This is a very common tactic in mathematics if one has a tough problem: try to find equivalent problems that are in other subfields of math where their might be techniques to handle them.

Comment Re:There's an old curse (Score 1) 583

Not really. Africa and South America both have very little in the way of high tech manufacturing and even if not many directly died there there would be substantial economic collapses. One could easily see the tech level going back much further to early 1800s or even earlier. The timespan that's a direct concern is getting technology from about 1850 levels to 1970s or so which is where we had all the bootstrapping of using fossil fuels and the like. There will be some advantages the second time around, such as the fact that many metals will have been minded and extracted and thus will be ready for reuse (e.g. a lot of aluminum and some titanium) so it isn't completely clear what would happen. The exact details might make a big difference.

Comment Re:There's an old curse (Score 1) 583

Sure, we could be deeply wrong about things. In this case though, the primary issue is whether we are correct about basic thermodynamics. It is possible that we're wrong, but it isn't that likely. And yes, of course it isn't definitive: we've barely started looking into these things. But it should be deeply concerning.

Comment Re:There's an old curse (Score 1) 583

Please read the article I linked to. One can detect a K3 civilization not just from the total power output but from the fact that the spectrum will look different. In particular, there will be a lot more infrared radiation from waste heat than there will be in a regular galaxy so the proportion of light at different wavelengths gives one good data. There are also other ways to detect aspects of K1 and K2 civilizations such as looking for megastructures.

Comment There's an old curse (Score 4, Interesting) 583

There's an old curse that seems relevant: "May you live in interesting times." Times are certainly interesting. At this point, it seems like some sort of full-scale war between NATO and Russia is more likely now than it has been any time since the 1980s (granted then it would have been NATO against the USSR but the basic point is the same). Worse, at least historically the military and diplomats spent much of their time making sure that things didn't spiral out of control. Without the Cold War feeling, people may feel less of a need to guard against such issues. Worse, Russian military doctrine currently describes a limited nuclear strike on conventional military targets as a de-escalation . While in official documents they reserve that terminology for using nuclear weapons to handle direct conventional military attacks on Russia itself, one finds very worrying the level of doublethink where one describes being the first to use nukes as de-escalating a situation.

During the Cold War, one popular explanation for the Fermi paradox, the apparent lack of highly advanced civilizations in the universe, was that species end up blowing themselves up. For most of my life, this belief looked almost quaint but it is not looking disturbingly likely. At this point, the evidence for some sort of serious barrier to civilizations emerging substantially is much stronger than it was a few decades ago. The apparent lack of K3 or K2.5 civilizations is at this point substantially robust with around 100,000 galaxies searched and almost no sign of any civilization using a substantial fraction of its galactic energy output With this return to Cold War norms, it looks like we need to not only take seriously that there's a Great Filter, but that the Filter might be nuclear war. That's especially the case because a nuclear war does not need to kill every member of the civilization to completely destroy any hope of a technologically advanced civilization. If not enough natural resources have been consumed by the civilization (e.g. the easily accessible coal and oil) then even if the species survives it may not have the ability to reboot itself to a high tech level since getting to a high tech level may actually require access to these resources (in which case one gets essentially one chance to get to be a high tech civilization).

"Necessity is the mother of invention" is a silly proverb. "Necessity is the mother of futile dodges" is much nearer the truth. -- Alfred North Whitehead