Eric’s Enlightenment for Tuesday, May 19, 2015

  1. Melanie Bailey leads a team of scientists in developing a fingerprint test for cocaine use.  It “is based on surface mass spectrometry.  It desorbs molecules from fingerprints and detects not only cocaine but also its two metabolites, benzoylecgonine and methylecgonine, showing that the drug has been ingested, rather than only touched”.
  2. 7 non-anglophone countries where anglophone university students can earn post-secondary degrees in English for free.
  3. Paul Romer criticizes economic growth theorists for committing “mathiness” – the use of words and symbols that “leaves ample room for slippage between statements in natural versus formal language and between statements with theoretical as opposed to empirical content”.  He supplements this paper with a nice blog post, and he responds to Noah Smith and Brad DeLong in a follow-up blog post.
  4. A randomized trial (n = 2538) of 4 different programs concludes that reward-based financial incentives work well in motivating smokers to quit smoking.  (Paying people to stop smoking works!)  Hat Tip: Alex Tabarrok.

Eric’s Enlightenment for Wednesday, May 13, 2015

  1. James Trussel et al. used a Markov model to estimate the relative cost effectiveness of contraceptives in the United States from a payer’s perspective.  Did you know that 49% of the 6.4 million pregnancies each year in the United States are unintended?
  2. Jason Furman (Barack Obama’s Chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers) cites empirical research to find social programs that have produced measurable long-term benefits for children in the USA.  (My question for economists: How do you establish causality in such studies?)
  3. Alex Tabarrok blogs on the growing movement to give money directly to poor people in developing countries, especially in using mobile phones to do so.  He also talks about the use of analytics to evaluate charities.
  4. The organic chemistry and biochemistry of allergies (Hat Tip: Lauren Wolf).

Eric’s Enlightenment for Friday, May 1, 2015

  1. PROC GLIMMIX Contrasted with Other SAS Statistical Procedures for Regression (including GENMOD, MIXED, NLMIXED, LOGISTIC and CATMOD).
  2. Lee-Ping Wang et al. recently developed the nanoreactor, “a computer model that can not only determine all the possible products of the Urey-Miller experiment, but also detail all the possible chemical reactions that lead to their formation”.  What an exciting development!  It “incorporates physics and machine learning to discover all the possible ways that your chemicals might react, and that might include reactions or mechanisms we’ve never seen before”.  Here is the original paper.
  3. A Quora thread on the best examples of the Law of Unintended Consequences
  4. In a 2-minute video, Alex Tabarrok argues why software patents should be eliminated.

Eric’s Enlightenment for Tuesday, April 28, 2015

  1. On a yearly basis, the production of almonds in California uses more water than businesses and residences in San Francisco and Los Angeles combined.  Alex Tabarrok explains why.
  2. How patient well-being and patient satisfaction become conflicting objectives in hospitals – a case study of a well-intended policy with deadly consequences.  (HT: Frances Woolley – with a thought about academia.)
  3. Contrary to a long-held presumption about the stability of DNA in mature cells, Huimei Yu et al. show that neurons use DNA methylation to rewrite their DNA throughout each day.  This is done to adjust the brain to different activity levels as its function changes over time.
  4. Alex Yakubovitch provides a tutorial on regular expressions (patterns that define sets of strings) and how to use them in R.