Web Highlights - Week 09, 2017

When Evidence Says No, but Doctors Say Yes

Medicine is quick to adopt practices based on shaky evidence but slow to drop them once they’ve been blown up by solid proof.

It’s just that the human body is a little more Book of Job and a little less household plumbing: Humans didn’t invent it, it’s really complicated, and people often have remarkably little insight into cause and effect.

Once doctors get out of training, “it’s a job, and they’re trying to earn money, and they don’t necessarily keep up. So really major changes have to be generational.”

According to interviews with surgeons, many patients they see want, or even demand, to be operated upon and will simply shop around until they find a willing doctor.

In 2012, he coauthored a paper showing that pretty much everything in your fridge has been found to both cause and prevent cancer — except bacon, which apparently only causes cancer.

Medicine can be like wine: Expense is sometimes a false signal of quality.

“The public grossly overestimates how much of our increased life expectancy should be attributed to medical care,” they wrote, “and is largely unaware of the critical role played by public health and improved social conditions determinants.” This perception, they continued, might hinder funding for public health, and it “may also contribute to overfunding the medical sector of the economy and impede efforts to contain health care costs.”

Medical research is, by nature, an incremental quest for knowledge; initially exploring avenues that quickly become dead ends are a feature, not a bug, in the process. Hopefully the new law will in fact help speed into existence cures that are effective and long-lived. But one lesson of modern medicine should by now be clear: Ineffective cures can be long-lived, too.

04/03/2017, 4:50 PM


Above Avalon: The New Leader in Wearables

The significant change found at the top of the wearables market with Apple overtaking Fitbit in terms of unit sales signals a broader shift within the industry. Consumers are gravitating toward greater utility on the wrist. Dedicated health & fitness trackers are displaying many of the same characteristics shown by cheap MP3 players at the beginning of the iPod era. Consumers are beginning to bypass cheap alternatives with limited functionality and reliability and instead value additional functionality.

Apple’s primary wearables competitor isn’t Fitbit, Garmin, Fossil, or Samsung. Instead, Apple is competing for the same wrist real estate as legacy watch and jewelry companies. Even bare wrists represent prime competition for Apple Watch. Going forward, this battle for real estate is only going to intensify and expand to the ears.

Instead of looking at bare wrists and non-wearables as the competition, which would have led Fitbit to push much further and faster up market in terms of capability and functionality, Fitbit assumed its only competition was multi-purpose smartwatches retailing for four or five times the price of Fitbit. Management assumed the dedicated health & fitness tracker and smartwatch segments were distinct enough to coexist and appeal to different target markets. In reality, the pricing gap between the two categories had been rapidly shrinking, and the two product categories were increasingly chasing after the same group of people, which only made matters worse for Fitbit.

03/03/2017, 8:57 AM


Snapchat Faces the Public | Time.com

Snap’s valuation could have been even higher, but Spiegel created a rule that is so unfriendly to investors that no other U.S. public company has ever dared to try it: none of the firm’s public shares will come with voting rights. Spiegel’s and Murphy’s shares, however, will continue to have voting power for nine months after they die; investors cannot even pry the company from their cold, dead hands.

The technology successes of the Internet age have been about making information free and easy. But Snapchat is a tech reactionary, offering an escape from the gameified popularity contest measured in friends, followers, likes and comments. Snapchat is built by and for a generation that wants to use technology to improve its antisocial social life.

Heroes are supposed to be ordinary outsiders who encounter tribulations, learn humility and make great sacrifices. Spiegel has done none of that. And that could be exactly why he might help rescue the online world from the trolls, fake news, hacking and narcissism that are eroding our culture.

“Snapchat reflects Evan’s ethos. It’s all about privacy and using technology to live the way you’ve always been.”

It’s O.K. to be me even though I’m not on a fancy vacation and great-looking all the time. People are shifting from the self-promotional view of the world to one that is more self-aware.

Snapchat accomplishes privacy not just through disappearing messages, which other companies had provided before, but by fully divorcing from the Internet.

Advertisers have to park money at Snapchat. If they don’t, they are subject to the duopoly.

And it provides the necessary function teens once got from a landline: a way to spend time with their friends when they’re stuck in the house with their families. The main thing that’s communicated on Snapchat is “here I am.” “It’s a stream of consciousness,” says Sundararajan. “It’s what people thought Twitter would be when it first came out.”

In a 1953 TIME cover story on the growth of amateur photography, fashion photographer Irving Penn said, “The photographer belongs to the age of the subway, high-speed cars and tall buildings. His picture is made to be seen amid the haste of contemporary life.” In other words, in a snap.

03/03/2017, 8:42 AM


Trump, Putin, and the New Cold War

The U.S. officials who administer the system that Putin sees as such an existential danger to his own reject his rhetoric as “whataboutism,” a strategy of false moral equivalences.

“What we have is a situation in which the strong leader of a relatively weak state is acting in opposition to weak leaders of relatively strong states,” General Sir Richard Shirreff, the former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, said. “And that strong leader is Putin. He is calling the shots at the moment.”

Putin’s resentment of the West, and his corresponding ambition to establish an anti-Western conservatism, is rooted in his experience of decline and fall — not of Communist ideology, which was never a central concern of his generation, but, rather, of Russian power and pride.

For Putin, it was a story of misplaced hopes and rejection: he became convinced that, no matter how accommodating he might try to be, Western powers — the United States, above all — had an innate disinclination to treat Russia as a full partner and a respected member of the international order.

From Putin’s perspective, this was a case study in Western intervention: stir up protests, give them rhetorical support and diplomatic cover, and, if that doesn’t work, send in the fighter jets.

Putin absorbed the death of Qaddafi as an object lesson: weakness and compromise were impermissible. “When he was a pariah, no one touched him,” Zygar wrote. “But as soon as he opened up he was not only overthrown but killed in the street like a mangy old cur.”

Manipulation of TV coverage is a crucial factor in Putin’s extraordinarily high popularity ratings, typically in excess of eighty per cent — ratings that Donald Trump both admires and envies.

The most important political space is not the grounds of the Kremlin. It is the space within the President’s skull.

“There was this period of time when the United States, in Putin’s view, was able to use international institutions to take on regimes that we found offensive, right through Libya, and Putin was determined to put a stake in the ground in Syria, to have Russia be at the table, and be able to resist the international community’s efforts to continue this pattern of conduct.”

“As long as we think we’re getting more value from this set of rules than we’re losing, then this is the set of rules we want to promote,” Knake said

In the article for Military-Industrial Courier, Gerasimov suggested that, in the future, wars will be fought with a four-to-one ratio of nonmilitary to military measures. The former, he wrote, should include efforts to shape the political and social landscape of the adversary through subversion, espionage, propaganda, and cyberattacks.

They are less a way to conjure up something out of nothing than to stir a pot that is already bubbling.

“Will Putin expose the failings of American democracy or will he inadvertently expose the strength of American democracy?”

Russian state media risked looking “overly fawning in their attitude to Trump, that all this toasting and champagne drinking made us look silly, and so let’s forget about Trump for some time, lowering expectations as necessary, and then reinvent his image according to new realities.”

Putin’s Russia has to come up with ways to make up for its economic and geopolitical weakness; its traditional levers of influence are limited, and, were it not for a formidable nuclear arsenal, it’s unclear how important a world power it would be. “So, well then, we have to create turbulence inside America itself,” Venediktov said. “A country that is beset by turbulence closes up on itself — and Russia’s hands are freed.”

02/03/2017, 3:30 PM


What Calling Congress Achieves

That being impractical, motivated constituents turned to other means. The thwarted and outraged took to Facebook or Twitter or the streets. The thwarted and determined dug up direct contact information for specific congressional staffers. The thwarted and clever remembered that it was still possible, several technological generations later, to send faxes; one Republican senator received, from a single Web-based faxing service, seven thousand two hundred and seventy-six of them in twenty-four hours. The thwarted and creative phoned up a local pizza joint, ordered a pie, and had it delivered, with a side of political opinion, to the Senate.

“We want people to know their voices are being heard,” Phil Novack, the press secretary for Ted Cruz, told me, before going on to say, essentially, that they wouldn’t be heeded: “The senator was elected based on certain values and ideals, and he’s going to keep fighting for those, even though some of his constituents might disagree.”

Why constituents succeeded in making themselves heard in these cases while failing in others is difficult to say; political causality is famously, enormously complicated.

“Protest Is the New Brunch,” a sign at a rally outside Trump Tower in February read — the point being not only that citizen engagement is something to do on a Sunday morning but that it is a new kind of socializing: a way to see old friends and meet new ones, a way to combat the political equivalent of a very rough Saturday night.

The deluge of constituent pressure, by contrast, is a viable long-term strategy, but only if it is a long-term strategy — that is, only if those doing it choose to sustain it. That would mean persevering in the face of both short-term defeats and the potentially energy-sapping influence of time itself.

So, too, with calling and e-mailing and writing and showing up in congressional offices: it would be good to know that these actions will succeed, but it suffices to know that they could.

When we get disconnected, we can try to get through. When we get no answer, we can keep trying. When we have to, for as long as we need to, we can hold the line.

Moreover, and luckily for democracy, none of us requires a guaranteed outcome in order to act.

01/03/2017, 11:28 AM


李斯特:创新和知识私有的冰与火之歌 ︱ 中法评 · 独家首发

科学家和工程师把他们创新的动机描述为紧迫问题的直接反应。

知识产权法不能有效地解释发明创新活动的开始,而且要不是因为律师的存在,它常常不会被创新者注意到。

创新的动机与产权关系不大,但要持续创新,创新者得有物质保障。多数受访者渴求的是可以持续创新的自治和自由。

受访者更倾向稳定、充足的而不是最大化的收入来保障其创新活动。他们更多地通过知识产权以外的途径寻求经济稳定,更愿意接受工资或按时计算的酬金而不是知识产权的收益。为市场竞争设计的知识产权并不适于保障稳定的收入。

知识私有激励创新的故事之所以深入人心,在于巧妙地利用了人的恐惧情绪,它是嵌在宏大故事母题中的一个子题,即不承认私有产权,人们的个人财产就随时会被剥夺,人们就不再有生产和创造的动力,物质和精神财富日益匮乏,生存将失去保障。然而这里有一个重要的概念偷换。人们关心的其实不是私有产权,是生产生活所必需的物质保障。

产权话语的逻辑与创新文化存在尖锐对立;良好的创新环境的营造,来自对知识私有的抵制和破坏。有对立就有斗争,创新的精神始终在进行抵抗,创新就在这一对立斗争中曲折前行。

为什么侵权者总有着比维权者更灵敏的创新嗅觉呢?因为私有产权与创新之间存在尖锐的对立。在资本的年代,产权话语背后代表的资本逻辑是利润最大化和资本再繁殖,它必须再生产出雇佣制度的生产关系亦即使创新主体成为这一关系中的雇佣劳动者;于是,它与要求自由平等、协作共享的创新精神就不可避免地对立起来。

一个追求长期创新的共同体不可能只是经济结合体;它要营造有利于创新的自由、平等、协作的团体文化,就必须在一定程度上克服包括知识产权在内的私有产权的局限性,建立起相对公平的分配制度和相对平等的伦理关系。

不是必须建立知识私有制度才能促进创新,而是在私有制的前提下创新只能依附于它才能获得一定自由,知识产权也就有了存在的必要性。

01/03/2017, 9:18 AM


Why Nothing Works Anymore

So many ordinary objects and experiences have become technologized — made dependent on computers, sensors, and other apparatuses meant to improve them — that they have also ceased to work in their usual manner.

From the vantage point of technology, if it can be said to have a vantage point, it’s evolving separately from human use.

As it has expanded, economic precarity has birthed other forms of instability and unpredictability — among them the dubious utility of ordinary objects and equipment.

The frequency with which technology works precariously has been obscured by culture’s obsession with technological progress, its religious belief in computation, and its confidence in the mastery of design. In truth, hardly anything works very well anymore.

The best defense against instability is to rationalize uncertainty as intentional — and even desirable.

The more technology multiplies, the more it amplifies instability.

They acclimate people to the idea that devices are not really there for them, but as means to accomplish those devices own, secret goals.

It won’t take a computational singularity for humans to cede their lives to the world of machines. They’ve already been doing so, for years, without even noticing.

01/03/2017, 9:03 AM


A Murder Case Tests Alexa’s Devotion to Your Privacy | WIRED

Amazon’s effort to protect the data your Echo collects by invoking the First Amendment is commendable, but the company has failed to address the real problem: Why is all that data just sitting in Amazon’s servers in the first place?

01/03/2017, 8:39 AM


Twitter, Live, and Luck

More important is the sheer shock: that can never be reproduced, and said shock — and the associated potential — is very much what drives live sports viewing.

The problem, though, was that by skipping over the wrenching process of finding a market, Twitter still has no idea what their market actually is, and how they might expand it. Twitter is the company-equivalent of a lottery winner who never actually learns how to make money, and now they are starting to pay the price.

It’s also an example of the worst sort of product thinking: simply doing what was done before, but digitally.

Moreover, all of these companies are evolving (or have evolved) their original offering in a way that takes more advantage of the Internet’s unique capabilities.

What made it special in the moment was not just seeing it happen (one can replay it forever), and not just the shock (which truly is unique to “live”), but also the incredulous reaction on Twitter (and the host of jokes that followed). That reaction, though, is completely lost to time.

That Twitter would seek to leverage its only-on-the-Internet initial product insight — the fact that anyone anywhere can read the musings of anyone else, and broadcast in turn — into an old-world business (“live” when live) is the best evidence yet that the company was the product of sheer luck, not insight.

28/02/2017, 9:27 AM


方可成:特朗普向美國媒體宣戰,他能贏嗎? | 端傳媒 Initium Media

白宫记者们依靠在发布会上被“喂料”、渴求专访机会,其实是将设置议程的权力拱手让给了政客,在一定程度上丧失了自主性。也许,特朗普对access的限制,反倒会成为记者们反思和改变的契机。

在和媒体的战争中,特朗普不需要将媒体噤声,也不需要关闭信息渠道,他只需要让媒体变得无关紧要 — — 至少对于一部分人来说无关紧要,便获得了战争胜利。因为媒体需要得到受众广泛信任,才能正常履行它的功能,所以他只需要将媒体拉到和他差不多的信任度,便可以在很大程度上避开媒体监督。

26/02/2017, 11:10 PM

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