One percent reduction in cancer mortality would be worth nearly $500 billion

There's some serious playing around with numbers in here:

Social value of improved health and longevity is the amount in dollars that additional life years or other health improvements are worth to people, the report said. The value of improved longevity is based on what individuals gain from the enjoyment of consumption and time during an additional year of life, rather than how much they earn.

So how, exactly, does one calculate "social value"? The obvious answer: any way one wants to, preferably using the method that will buttress whatever conclusion you're trying to reach. Note that these conclusions usually involve political policy choices (such as this one, arguing for more allocation of Federal research money towards cancer research).

While the goals may be admirable, the methods are not. These kinds of studies don't cook data, they literally fabricate it.

Even a modest one percent reduction in mortality from cancer would be worth nearly $500 billion in social value, according to a new study by economists Kevin Murphy and Robert Topel of the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. Finding a cure for cancer would be worth about $50 trillion.

(link) [EurekAlert!]

23:00 /Politics | 0 comments | permanent link

Netflix wants Blockbuster busted

And what is the patent in question?

The first patent, granted in 2003, covers the method by which Netflix customers select and receive a certain number of movies at a time, and return them for more titles.

The second patent, issued Tuesday, "covers a method for subscription-based online rental that allows subscribers to keep the DVDs they rent for as long as they wish without incurring any late fees, to obtain new DVDs without incurring additional charges and to prioritize and reprioritize their own personal dynamic queue -- of DVDs to be rented," the lawsuit said.

I'm no longer shocked to read such drivel: the patent system is broken. Seriously broken: it no longer affords any protection to the "little guy" inventor, and has become a tool used by large corporations to stifle competition and innovation. If we can't figure out how to reform it or return it to it's roots, it's gotta go entirely before it kills the whole economy.

Online DVD rental company Netflix Inc. sued rival Blockbuster Inc. for patent infringement Tuesday, asking a federal judge in Northern California to shut down Blockbuster's 18-month-old online rental service and award Netflix damages, according to a copy of the filing.

(link) []

23:00 /Copywrongs | 0 comments | permanent link

Is Insurance the Problem?

I spotted this article on the legalization of private health insurance in Quebec earlier this week, but it was the followup (as noted by James) that really got my attention: it seems as though nurses in the province are protesting this move, claiming it would drive up costs and overwhelm the public healthcare system that Canada "enjoys".

I put "enjoys" in quotes because, by all accounts, enjoyment is not an attribute of the Canadian (or British) or any other system of socialized medicine. The waits are long and tiresome, even for necessary procedures, and the cost is, well, hidden more effectively by being cloaked in government bureaucracy, but I can only assume that a goodly percentage of taxes in our northern neighbor go to pay for the system.

Not that I'm sure our system is any better. If you can afford health insurance here, it ain't too bad - for you. But the insurance companies are continually being nailed by providers with rate increases, whilst facing pressure from their consumers to keep the costs down. They're literally between the proverbial rock and the hard place: anything they do is going to be wrong by somebody.

I can give a good personal example of the above: when my eldest daughter was born in 1977 we had no insurance. My wife had exactly two prenatal visits, and no extensive testing. A mere five years later, at the birth of my last child, we had medical insurance, and my wife underwent three tests for venereal disease over the course of 9 months, each at a cost of over $200. One test I could see, but when queried, the doctors actually replied "Well, Mr. Haxton, we just need to be absolutely sure! And what's to worry - your insurance will cover it!". I complained to my insurance carrier - they were amazed to actually get a call from somebody asking them not to pay a claim, but they agreed with my assessment and denied the charges, which I also refused to pay. The doctor dropped the bill.

Another interesting side effect of our current system is that price breaks actually go to the insured, and not the uninsured. Thus, for example, as an uninsured patient I would be charged more for the same procedure than my insured neighbor, because insurance companies buy the services of providers in bulk, and get a corresponding "wholesale" price. The consequences for being uninsured are thus multiplied - if you can't afford the insurance, you probably can't afford the procedure at "retail" rates.

A second thing that few commentators note about the private health insurance system here is how much it resembles a socialized system: the consumer is completely divorced from the payment to the provider: there is little or no incentive on the part of the consumer to complain about costs, and little or no incentive on the part of the provider to control them - "... what's to worry - your insurance will cover it!"

I am becoming increasingly convinced that health insurance in any form, private or public, is the problem, and not the solution, to rising medical costs. Insurance was originally designed to spread the cost of risk among consumers - and risk implied something that might happen, not something that will happen. Thus automobile and fire, accident and homeowners insurance does not show the same degree of out of control cost spiraling that medical insurance does: not everybody's house will burn, nor will we all have an auto accident, but we will all eventually sicken and die.

Would we be better off (as a society) without any kind of health insurance? I'm starting to think maybe we would ... for starters, there would be few of us who could afford a $250,000 bypass operation, so either there'd be a massive number of unemployed cardiologists or the costs would come down. The market would have an incentive again to reduce costs: otherwise, it (the market) would cease to exist. Patients would have an incentive to question the bill carefully, and providers (mindful of being stiffed) would have a care to discuss costs and options more carefully with patients prior to procedures.

Not that I think this'll ever happen, mind you - but it is, I think, an interesting thought.

23:00 /Politics | 3 comments | permanent link

Jesus could have walked on ice, says Florida State Researcher

Trying to explain miracles by reference to natural processes is pointless. Pardon the pun, but it's mything the point of the tale entirely...

Of course, he's in good company: those who attempt to take the Bible as literal truth are in the same camp. And this, in my humble opinion, is the greatest weakness shown by modern evangelical Christianity: an insistence on literalism where analogy and metaphor (or dare I say it: mythology) would do a far better job.

Jesus did not have to literally walk across the Sea of Galilee - the point of the story was that the belief he represents would make the believer safe from the storms he will face in life. It doesn't have to be literal to be "true".

Look at our tale of the Mead of Poetry. I could write up a piece that claimed Odin, rather than changing shape into a snake, could've followed a tunnel made by a rather large one into Suttung's hall, and then could have been carried aloft by a surviving pterodactyl (as opposed to the mythinc "eagle")! Plausible? Barely. But worse, it would deprive the tale of a great deal of it's meaning, by reducing metaphor to a question of fact.

Following this path means that rather than concentrating on discerning the meaning of the myth, we'll get locked into a debate on the survival of dinosaurs... or the possibility of floating ice sheets on a lake in a desert.

Which is not, as far as I can tell, the goal of any religion.

A large, somewhat rare piece of floating ice in the Sea of Galilee may explain one of the signature events in Christian theology,...

(link) [CNET]

23:00 /Asatru | 1 comment | permanent link

City Hall evicts Easter Bunny

Methinks someone ought to remind this bureaucrat of the name of the city in which he holds his position ... I lived in the Twin Cities are for three years and, as a heathen, was deeply offended to have the capital of my adopted state named after some Christian theologian! I suggest that they change the name of the city in question to "East Minneapolis" to avoid giving further offense... (and you'd probably have to live in the cities to know how offensive natives of St. Paul would find that suggestion!).

As far as I can tell, in Christian theology it wasn't the bunny that rose from the dead in any event: bunnies are a pagan symbol of spring, just like evergreen trees are a pagan symbol of the Yuletide. I think I'm beginning to see a pattern here: it's a War on Pagans!

A toy rabbit decorating the entrance of the St. Paul City Council offices went hop-hop-hoppin' on down the bunny trail Wednesday after the city's human rights director said non-Christians might be offended by it.

(link) [St. Paul Pioneer Press]

via U.S. News & World Report
and only barely in the 'Humor' category ...

23:00 /Humor | 0 comments | permanent link

Mass. Lawmakers OK Mandatory Health Bill

Government "mandates" are never more than taxes in drag, but this program could prove to be very interesting: it could show us to what extent insurance is the problem, rather then the solution.

I've written on this topic before, and will be watching this experiment closely. My prediction: with these rules in place, health care costs in Massachusetts will rise faster and further than in the region or the nation. We'll see ...

AP - Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a bill Tuesday that would make Massachusetts the first state to require that all its citizens have some form of health insurance.

(link) [Yahoo! News: Top Stories]

23:00 /Politics | 0 comments | permanent link

Apple releases software to let Macs run Windows

Look out, Mr. Bill! Steve's sneaking up on the (Intel) inside ...

Reuters - Apple Computer Inc. on Wednesday rolled out a software patch that enables its Intel-based Macintosh computers to install and run Microsoft Corp.'s Windows XP operating system.

(link) [Yahoo! News: Top Stories]

23:00 /Technology | 1 comment | permanent link