Monday, October 19, 2020

Censoring repugnant words by algorithm

 Some people like to say things that other people think they shouldn't say.  In the age of the internet, politeness can be (somewhat) automated, by banning certain words.  But of course, words have contexts. Here's a funny story from the Guardian:

Overzealous profanity filter bans paleontologists from talking about bones--A virtual conference was thrown into confusion when the platform hosting the event came with a pre-packaged ‘naughty word’ censor by Poppy Noor.

"Participants in a virtual paleontology session found themselves caught between a rock and a hard place last week, when a profanity filter prevented them from using certain words – such as bone, pubic, stream and, er, beaver – during an online conference.

"The US-based Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) held its annual meeting virtually this year due to the pandemic, but soon found its audience stifled when they tried to use particular words.

"Convey Services, which was was handling the conference, used a “naughty-word filter,” for the conference, outlawing a pre-selected list of words.

"“Words like ‘bone’, ‘pubic’, and ‘stream’ are frankly ridiculous to ban in a field where we regularly find pubic bones in streams,” said Brigid Christison, a master’s student in biology attending the event


"Some discovered bias in the algorithm, too. Jack Tseng, a vertebrate paleontologist from the University of Berkley pointed out that the filter had banned the common surname Wang but not Johnson – even though both are frequently used as slang words to describe a man’s genitals."


Here's Dr. Tseng's tweet:

Z. Jack Tseng, @Tseng_ZJ

"Wang" is banned but not "Johnson" (both used as slangs). This western-centric filter erasing the surname of 90+ million Chinese but not <2 million people of European descent is unexpectedly on brand for 2020,  ! My PhD advisor is X. **** by the way. "


Previous related posts:

HT: Muriel Niederle

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Breast milk and the marketing of breast milk substitutes during the pandemic


Here's an article in the Lancet:

Marketing of breastmilk substitutes during the COVID-19 pandemic by Christoffer van Tulleken, Charlotte Wright, Amy Brown, David McCoy, and Anthony Costello, October 08, 2020DOI:

"It is of concern that the US$70 billion infant formula industry has been actively exploiting concerns about COVID-19 to increase sales, in violation of the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes (the Code)1 and national law in many countries.

"Globally, infants who are not exclusively breastfed are 14 times more likely to die than infants who are exclusively breastfed.2 Lockdown measures have diminished household income, and the UN World Food Programme estimates that by the end of 2020, 265 million people may be facing food insecurity,3,  4 making breastfeeding even more important. Public bodies that are independent of industry influence, including WHO5,  6 and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health,7 have unanimously asserted that no evidence exists to suggest breastfeeding increases the risk of infants contracting COVID-19, and that skin-to-skin contact remains essential for newborn health and maternal health.

"By contrast, large manufacturers of breastmilk substitutes have inappropriately positioned themselves as sources of public health expertise, and suggested various unnecessary hygiene measures, the use of expressed breastmilk, and the separation of mothers from their babies. Such recommendations undermine breastfeeding and thus increase the risk of infant death. Baby Milk Action and the International Baby Food Action Network8 have documented numerous infringements of both the Code and laws associated with COVID-19."

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Broad public support for challenge trials for Covid-19 vaccines

 A broad based survey suggests that challenge trials are not generally regarded as repugnant.

Broad Cross-National Public Support for AcceleratedCOVID-19 Vaccine Trial Designs

by David Broockman, Joshua Kallay, Alexander Guerrero, Mark Budolfson, Nir Eyal, Nicholas P. Jewell , Monica Magalhaes,  Jasjeet S. Sekhony

Abstract: A vaccine for COVID-19 is urgently needed. Several vaccine trial designs may significantly accelerate vaccine testing and approval, but also increase risks to human subjects. Concerns about whether the public would see such designs as ethically acceptable represent an important roadblock to their implementation, and the World Health Organization has called for consulting the public regarding them. Here we present results from a pre-registered cross-national survey (n = 5,920) of individuals in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, New Zealand, South Africa, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The survey asked respondents whether they would prefer scientists to conduct traditional trials or one of two accelerated designs: a challenge trial or a trial integrating a Phase II safety and immunogenicity trial into a larger Phase III efficacy trial. We find broad majorities prefer for scientists to conduct challenge trials (75%, 95% CI: 73-76%) and integrated trials (63%, 95% CI: 61-65%) over standard trials. Even as respondents acknowledged the risks, they perceived both accelerated trials as similarly ethical to standard trial designs, and large majorities characterized them as "probably" or "definitely ethical" (72%, 95% CI: 70-73% for challenge trials; 77%, 95% CI 75-78% for integrated trials). This high support is consistent across every geography and demographic subgroup we examined, including people of diverging political orientations and vulnerable populations such as the elderly, essential workers, and racial and ethnic minorities. These findings bolster the case for these accelerated designs and can help assuage concerns that they would undermine public trust in vaccines.

Friday, October 16, 2020

NRMP conference on Transition into Residency: Oct 16-17

My title will be "The Match as part of the larger system of transition to residency."

One of the topics I expect to discuss is the proliferation of applications and interviews, in the NRMP and also in many of the fellowship matches.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Frequent flier programs during the pandemic slowdown in air travel

 It turns out that frequent flier programs get a lot of their income from credit cards that reward purchases with miles. So they are one of airlines' big profit centers, that hasn't suffered so much from the slowdown in air travel.

Here's a NY Times story:

Airline Miles Programs Sure Are Profitable. Are You the Loser? United and Delta have been boasting to lenders about fat margins in frequent-flier mile programs. Time for customers to pay a bit more attention.  By Ron Lieber

"Even as the coronavirus pandemic has sapped the ability and desire to travel, miles programs are a winner for the airlines. In the first half of 2020, Delta’s passenger revenue fell 60 percent, but the cash the airline got from American Express’s purchases of miles for its customers fell less than 5 percent. ...

"United puts a different but no less illuminating set of words and numbers to our mile lust. It goes into granular detail in its pitch about its ability to “nimbly” control its mile redemption costs on “peak days.” That explains why it’s so hard to use your miles to get a great deal during school vacations, Mardi Gras or other occasions."


Here's Market Watch:

Airlines are using frequent flyer programs to sell debt. Here’s how it works  By Sunny Oh

"In essence, miles are sold to credit card companies who offer them as part of their reward programs to their customers. The revenues earned from selling the miles are much higher than the cost of any flight travel redeemed by passengers,


"In a June filing, United Airlines valued their MileagePlus loyalty program at $21.9 billion which is around double the total market capitalization of the company itself."

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Some links following the Nobel Prize to Milgrom and Wilson

 In my limited experience (but not just limited to my own experience) Nobel prizewinners are often asked about how they were notified of the fact that they won the prize, and by whom. Paul Milgrom and Bob Wilson certainly have one of the best stories to answer that question, and millions of people have already viewed the video from the Milgroms' Nest doorbell camera, as Bob tried to arouse Paul and give him the news.

Here's how USA Today covered that story:

Doorbell camera captures moment Nobel Prize winner is told by fellow recipient he's won

Paul Milgrom discovered via a Nest camera that he'd won the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences.<>

The Nest doorbell broadcast also to Paul's wife Eva, who was visiting family in Stockholm, and who was alerted at the same time he was. Here's the view from the Swedish press (including a video of the video playing on her laptop...):

Här väcks pristagaren av sin kollega: ”Du har vunnit Nobelpriset” 
(Google translate: Here the laureate is awakened by his colleague: "You have won the Nobel Prize")

That before-dawn encounter was recounted in this early interview:
"AS: We just spoke with Paul Milgrom and he said that he heard the news by you walking across the street and ringing his doorbell.

RW: Well that’s right because he had turned his phone off for the … to get a good night’s sleep, and so somebody had to wake him, and he lives across the street so I just walked over and knocked on the door. I roused him.

AS: I think … I think this must be a first in the history of the Nobel Prize.

RW: Yes, how many times does … first to have a knock on the door, which sounds like something from the 19th century, and secondly that in fact the two of us live only, what, 40 m apart."

It turns out that Bob Wilson went to Lincoln High School in Nebraska (and that you can never escape your high school):

MARGARET REIST, Lincoln Journal Star Oct 13, 2020 
"The Lincoln High School wall of distinguished alumni — the one with photos lining the school's main hallway — will need to make room for another photo.

"Robert Wilson, who graduated from Lincoln High in 1955, left for Harvard on a prestigious scholarship and ultimately landed at Stanford, won the Nobel Prize in economics Monday."

The day of the prize, the NY Times story by Jeanna Smialek got this fairly coherent quote from me before dawn:

“They haven’t just profoundly changed the way we understand auctions — they have changed how things are auctioned,” said Alvin E. Roth, a Nobel laureate himself who was one of Mr. Wilson’s doctoral students. 
Joshua Gans, one of Paul's students, republished the remarks he had made on the occasion of Paul's 65th birthday (long ago...)
"There are so many things one could say about Paul but it turned out that I said what I wanted to say back in 2013 at a conference in his honor to celebrate his 65th Birthday."
Bob's longtime colleague (and my one time housemate when we were grad students) David Kreps has a lovely essay, which includes this quote from Hugo Sonnenschein: 
"Great economists write great papers. But the greatest economists are those who found new schools of thought." 
He writes that Bob's 
" impact on the discipline of economics, in my opinion, puts him in the company of giants such as Ken Arrow and Paul Samuelson: Bob is, as much as anyone, the founder of the “School of Economic Theory as Engineering.” Both in his own work, but even more through his influence on his students and colleagues, Bob has brought economic theory to the real world, both as a mechanism for understanding “how things work” and then in the design of better institutions. The Nobel Prize announced today is for his and Paul’s work on the design of complex auctions, such as the spectrum auctions, which is a prime example of economic theory as engineering. But, in addition:
  • Bob himself has taken the theory of nonlinear pricing to practical applications in electricity markets.
  • His student, Nobel Laureate Al Roth, brought matching-markets theory to the design of assignment algorithms, assigning MDs to internships, and to kidney exchange “markets.”
  • His student, Nobel Laureate Bengt Holmstrom, brought incentive theory to practical considerations in the design of pay-for-performance systems (some in collaboration with Milgrom) and, more recently, to issues in financial institutions.
  • His student and co-Nobel Laureate Paul Milgrom, besides his work on auction design, and in collaboration with our colleague John Roberts, brought economic theory to bear on the design and management of complex organizations (which, for my money, is even more important than his pathbreaking work on auctions; Paul could have been given the Nobel for any of several different topics, and his work on “the modern corporation” happens to be my personal favorite).
  • And it continues: A third generation — students of Paul, Bengt, and Al, as well as others who have embraced this style of work and so became “adopted” members of Bob’s tribe — are building an intellectual edifice that mixes superb theory with real-world insight and applicability."
Did you know that Paul has a company?  Here's the tribute on the Auctionomics website: 

And amidst all the toasts, I had occasion to recall that the first footnote of my 2002 paper "The Economist as Engineer..." said 
"This paper is dedicated to Bob Wilson, the Dean of Design."

Earlier post: 

Monday, October 12, 2020

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Drug delivery: antibiotics and vaccines

 Two recent papers discuss different issues concerning drug delivery to those in need, where the obstacles may be individual reluctance to take the drug (antibiotics) or lack of social support for the drug program (for vaccines):

Predicting and improving patient-level antibiotic adherence

Isabelle Rao, Adir Shaham, Amir Yavneh, Dor Kahana, Itai Ashlagi, Margaret L. Brandeau & Dan Yamin, Health Care Management Science (2020), 05 October 2020

Abstract: Low adherence to prescribed medications causes substantial health and economic burden. We analyzed primary data from electronic medical records of 250,000 random patients from Israel’s Maccabi Healthcare services from 2007 to 2017 to predict whether a patient will purchase a prescribed antibiotic. We developed a decision model to evaluate whether an intervention to improve purchasing adherence is warranted for the patient, considering the cost of the intervention and the cost of non-adherence. The best performing prediction model achieved an average area under the receiver operating characteristic curve (AUC) of 0.684, with 82% accuracy in detecting individuals who had less than 50% chance of purchasing a prescribed drug. Using the decision model, an adherence intervention targeted to patients whose predicted purchasing probability is below a specified threshold can increase the number of prescriptions filled while generating significant savings compared to no intervention – on the order of 6.4% savings and 4.0% more prescriptions filled for our dataset. We conclude that analysis of large-scale patient data from electronic medical records can help predict the probability that a patient will purchase a prescribed antibiotic and can provide real-time predictions to physicians, who can then counsel the patient about medication importance. More broadly, in-depth analysis of patient-level data can help shape the next generation of personalized interventions.


Covid-19: how to prioritize worse-off populations in allocating safe and effective vaccines

Harald Schmidt, Parag Pathak, Tayfun Sönmez, and M Utku Ünver, BMJ 2020; 371 doi: (Published 05 October 2020)

"When compared with previous pandemics covid-19 is unique, not only in its substantial economic impact but in exposing the consequences of historical and ongoing structural disadvantages among minority groups,123 particularly in the US. Minorities have experienced far higher rates of unemployment, infections, hospital admissions, and deaths.23456 So, as safe and effective vaccines become likely but in limited supply, should policy makers prioritize worse-off minorities in their allocation of stocks?

"Traditional allocation focuses on maximizing overall benefits, with less regard to how these benefits are distributed among different population groups. Giving more vaccines to disadvantaged groups who are expected to live less long would generally be deemed undesirable. However, the current debate around covid-19 vaccines indicates a profound reorientation in what worse-off population groups are owed."