Is the FDA Too Conservative or Too Aggressive?

I have long argued that the FDA has an incentive to delay the introduction of new drugs because approving a bad drug (Type I error) has more severe consequences for the FDA than does failing to approve a good drug (Type II […]

Source: Is the FDA Too Conservative or Too Aggressive?

My take: this paper by  Vahid Montazerhodjat and Andrew Lo is interesting, but it only looks at one issue, and there are many other problems that make overapproval more likely. There are many  biases in the drug pipeline and FDA approval process, most of which are heavily in favor of approving drugs that do nothing (and yet, still have side effects). To mention one of many, the population used to test drugs is younger, healthier, more homogeneous, and more compliant than the population that ends up actually taking the drug. A second bias is that the testing process screens out people who have major side effects – they stop taking the drug, and are dropped from the sample (and from the statistical analysis at the end). So we only see the people with moderate or no side effects. Both of these problems lead to biases, which better statistical methods cannot remove.

The paper is interesting, but it is working from an idealized model of the drug research process, and I would not take its quantitative results seriously. The basic logic seems sound, though: there should be different approval standards for different diseases.

First FAA-Approved Drone Delivery Is a Success, but Does It Matter? – IEEE Spectrum

First FAA-Approved Drone Delivery Is a Success, but Does It Matter? 

I’ve been tracking the potential for drone (Autonomous vehicle) delivery of packages since before Amazon proposed it. I’m generally very skeptical that it can play a major role in delivering routine packages. And I certainly thought Amazon’s claimed timetable was blowing smoke. (As it turned out to be.)

Basic issues include safety, landing somewhere in urban areas, weather (except where I live) and payload/range/weight. Longer range or bigger payload require a larger vehicle, which is more of a  potential safety hazard. Micro navigation (phone poles) might also be a problem, as stated in this IEEE article, but I can envision technical solutions to that issue.

Here is a 2013 IEEE article that makes the basic anti-Amazon case.  Amazon was talking about being ready in 2015!

Yet over a longer period, say before 2020, there are niche applications that will be feasible. Whether they will be economically sensible remains to be seen. Rather clearly, deliveries will start with small, high-value, urgent packages.  Here’s a  video about a rural demonstration of delivering meds.

Here is my comment to someone who said drone delivery was impossible because of theft and safety.

Theft is an issue, but there are many potential partial solutions. For example, once stolen the drone would not function. (It could still be stripped for parts, but that has possible solutions as well.) So it becomes an arms race/incentive system, just like stealing packages from your front door.

   Safety is an issue in cities, but suppose the drones become as safe as a delivery truck driving through your neighborhood. A six rotor drone is pretty robust. Safety is less of an issue in some regions. And there may even be ways to “crash safe,” including airbags, parachutes, etc.

Regulatory fear is likely to continue to be a big issue in the USA. In my opinion, that is a shame, and will destroy the US lead in the technology (for which there are many good applications – just probably not package delivery). So I’m glad to see Amazon is taking a role in proposing sensible regulation. 

First FAA-Approved Drone Delivery Is a Success, but Does It Matter? - IEEE Spectrum

General drone technology clearly has a productive future. But my guess is that the US will be pushed aside by other countries that are less hung up about regulating every possible problem. (E.g. Australia?)

Tesla is tiny – so why is it worth $35 billion?

It’s still hard for me to understand Tesla’s market cap, currently $35B ($35,000,000,000). Sales of 11K units/quarter are still smaller than tiny (for an auto company). Of course if it achieves a 50% annual growth trajectory for 5 years, that would justify a huge value – but I have not read anything saying that they are able to scale manucturing at that rate. (Admission: I used to consistently say that Apple was over-valued. And I was consistently wrong.)

“Tesla said in a filing Thursday that it delivered 11,507 vehicles during the April-through-June period, a 52 percent increase compared with the same quarter a year ago.”

I also did not realize that Musk was not a founder of the company.  (1) Breakthrough Strategy and Innovation.

Using data mining to ban trolls on League of Legends

Something I just found for my Big Data class.

Riot rolls out automated, instant bans for League of Legends trolls

Machine learning system aims to remove problem players “within 15 minutes.”

An interesting thread of player comments has a good discussion of potential problems with automated bans. Only time will tell how well the company develops the system to get around these issues.

This company also took an experimental approach to banning players. And hired 3 PhDs in Cognitive Science to develop it. (Just to be clear, their experiments did not appear to be automated A/B style experiments.) After the jump is a screen shot from that system.

League of Legends screen shot

But, I’m not tempted to play League of Legends to study player behavior and experiment with getting banned! (I don’t think I’ve ever tried an MMO beyond some prototypes 15 years ago.)  If any players want to post your observations here, great.

Chartjunk: Second-worst graphic of the month!

A bad graphic from a pro-solar group is perhaps not surprising. (See previous post.) Here is one from Bloomberg  that verges on incomprehensible. Bloomberg as a source is surprising.

Which way is up? (Answer: down is up)

Which way is up? (Answer: down is up)

Looking closer, it appears that Skill Desirability increase from left to right, and Skill Frequency increases from top to bottom?!  Graphs should be drawn so that UP means higher.  In any case, it should not take prolonged inspection to deduce which variable is on the X axis.

The graphic also manages to make as many schools as possible look good at something. In Financial Services, the top 3 schools for Communications skills are listed as  Tuck, McCombs, and Kellogg. But in Technology, the top 3 schools change to Fuqua, Haas, and Kellogg. And for Consulting, the top 3  are London, Harvard, and Ivey. Since “Communication Skills” are the most desired skill of all according to the graph, eight schools can say they are in the Top 3 for teaching the most sought-after skills.

Worst graphic of the month?

Distorted pictures. The water droplets are drawn with linear scaling, when they should use area scaling. 672 gallons is about 3X 198 gallons, but the picture looks 11X larger!

Selective facts. Once-through nuclear cooling is about 400 gallons/MWh. Solar thermal normally uses wet cooling, with up to 900 gallons/MWh, or “500 to 800 gal/MWh.” (US DOE) New solar thermal dry cooling tech can reduce this “90%”, but does not work well on hot days. And dry cooling is also possible for nuclear plants.


SO distorted. Both visually and in substance.

There are plenty of arguments pro and con various energy technologies, but blatant distortion does not help make good decisions!

Computers don’t belong in classrooms?!

I recently audited some lectures by friend and China expert Prof. Susan Shirk. She bans computers in her lectures. But one student sitting near me had his machine out and was “busy” with the usual distractions. (Didn’t he know the Associate Dean was a few seats away?) I asked Susan about him after class. “He told me he can’t take notes without a computer.” Obviously  the computer  is not the big issue on his note taking. Actually, it probably IS the issue – but in a negative way.

Not one computer mirrors the overheads.

James Kwak has beaten the distraction of cell phones – by removing most apps, including browsers.

I know that its enormous powers of distraction also make me lose focus on work, tune out in meetings, stay up too late at night, and, worst of all, ignore people in the same room with me. We all know this. We’re addicted to the dopamine hit we get when we look at our email and there’s actually something good in there, so we keep checking our email hoping to feel it again.

via How I Achieved Peace by Crippling My Phone — Bull Market — Medium.

Clay Shirky, an Internet sociologist, has a good discussion of why he recently banned computers  in his classrooms. Excerpt:

I came late and reluctantly to this decision — I have been teaching classes about the internet since 1998, and I’ve generally had a laissez-faire attitude towards technology use in the classroom. This was partly because the subject of my classes made technology use feel organic, …. And finally, there’s not wanting to infantilize my students, who are adults, even if young ones — time management is their job, not mine.

Despite these rationales, the practical effects of my decision to allow technology use in class grew worse over time. The level of distraction in my classes seemed to grow, even though it was the same professor and largely the same set of topics, …

Over the years, I’ve noticed that when I do have a specific reason to ask everyone to set aside their devices (‘Lids down’, in the parlance of my department), it’s as if someone has let fresh air into the room. The conversation brightens, and more recently, there is a sense of relief from many of the students. Multi-tasking is cognitively exhausting — when we do it by choice, being asked to stop can come as a welcome change.

So this year, I moved from recommending setting aside laptops and phones to requiring it, adding this to the class rules: “Stay focused. (No devices in class, unless the assignment requires it.)” …

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