September, 2009

The Limitations & Dangers of Incentives

If you liked this, check out these posts:

The Link Between Food & Healthcare Reform

Also must-read this Sunday is Michael Pollan’s NY Times Op-Ed piece from Wednesday.  Nice cap to my week of ranting on the dismantling of rationality when it comes to lifestyle choices that directly impact one’s health, here and here.…

“Bad people do bad things”

In listening to this account of Hemant Lakhani, convicted in 2005 of illegal arms dealing, I was reminded of another This American Life episode about Brandon Darby.  Underlying both stories are accounts of seemingly incompetent, misguided, would-be bad guys who were actualized on a path of evildoing by law-enforcement agents during sting operations.

What I found most interesting was the quote in the title of this post, said by the prosecutor in the Lakhani case.  This was his justification for why it was okay to have the U.S. military supply Lakhani the weapon that he was convicted of illegally dealing.  (If you listen to the story you will learn that Lakhani had been making promises to the informant of being able to procure weapons for a long time and he’d been unsuccessful on his own).

While it seems on the surface that “bad people do bad things” — i.e. that’s how bad things get done, they require a bad person to do them — …

Rafe Issues Challenge to Statin Industry

I have been trying to get the straight scoop on whether statins actually decrease mortality and morbidity in a significant way and I haven’t been able to find any real evidence that they do.

If you ask a cardiologist it’s clear that they believe unequivocally that statins work, mostly because they see what statins to do blood cholesterol levels.  But remember, cholesterol numbers in and of themselves do not matter.  They are a proxy variable for cardiovascular health.  Plaque buildup matters.  At one time blood cholesterol numbers were the only non-invasive indicator we had of plaque buildup, but that’s not true anymore.  However, drug companies are highly incentivized to prove that statins improve health.  So they fund lots of studies.

Notwithstanding the systemic bias when there are profit motives and publication motives, we can turn to these studies and see if statins actually work.  The best way to remove bias is to look at large-scale meta-analyses, like this one.  If you simply read the …

The Problem With Processed Foods

By design, most processing concentrates certain nutrients and biochemicals while removing others.  This skews the natural ratios that we have evolved to eat.   This leads to two phenomena which, over many years, seems like a bad idea to subject one’s body to:

  1. Over-concentration: Just because a little bit of something is harmless or even healthy for you, doesn’t mean that large quantities are better.  Often times it’s worse for you, and even toxic.  While supplements are an extreme example of this — consider Vitamin D toxicity, which is something that only happens if you get it in supplement form — processed foods in general can take a food which is a net positive and turn it into a net negative.  So, whereas whole oranges you can eat quite a bit of and improve your health, drinking lots of orange juice is bad for you (the sugar content badness outweighs the micronutrient goodness).
  2. The missing 99.99%: There are tens of thousands of phytochemicals and other micronutrients

Welcome, Alex Golubev

We have a new blog author on Emergent Fool that regular readers will recognize from his many insightful comments.  We look forward to his posts!…

If You Had A Billion Dollars…

If you had a billion dollars to make the world a better place, how would you spend it?…