Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Sperm banks may need some regulation

The NY Times has the story: Sperm Banks Accused of Losing Samples and Lying About Donors

Some of the problems reported in the story are of the banking sort: when depositors sought to withdraw the sperm they had deposited (e.g. before undergoing chemo for testicular cancer) they found the bank no longer had it.  Others problems have had to do with incorrect information about donors...

"Frozen sperm has become a major industry, dominated by a few large sperm banks, but with smaller stocks of sperm maintained at hundreds of assisted-reproduction centers nationwide. The Food and Drug Administration requires that donor sperm be tested for infectious diseases. Beyond that, sperm banks are lightly regulated. Several states require health department licensing of the labs, but only New York conducts routine inspections.

"Some of the new cases accuse sperm banks of careless record-keeping, or mishandling or misappropriation of sperm banked for a client’s personal use. Others say the banks use hyped, misleading descriptions to market their donors.

"Several cases accuse a Georgia facility of marketing sperm as belonging to a neuroscientist with a genius-level I.Q. who turned out to be a schizophrenic felon, and who has fathered at least 36 children.
"Sperm banks are not required to verify the information provided by donors, and lawyers familiar with the industry say many do not. They set their own limits on how many children a donor can sire, but unless the mothers voluntarily report the births, they may not know how many half-siblings are out there. Some, including the two largest, California Cryobank in Los Angeles and Fairfax Cryobank, headquartered in Virginia, test for many genetic conditions, while others test for very few.

"So it is buyer-beware — for people banking their own sperm for personal use after cancer treatment, and for those relying on a sperm bank’s description of an anonymous donor.

"Sean Tipton, a spokesman for the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, said his group does not see a need for further regulation and believes that the industry is generally reliable.

“All indications are that sperm donation has been a terrific way to help people start a family even if, as with anything that involves humans, there are mistakes and some less-than-perfect actors,” he said."

Monday, July 25, 2016

Trust and crime: Reputation in the (illegal) market for sex

Quartz has an article on how sex workers can vet new customers, in the age of the internet: Sex workers have created the perfect method for keeping people honest online. (I like the url better than the headline: http://qz.com/621994/trust-and-crime/

"If you work at Goldman Sachs in New York City and you want to tie up a woman and then have sex with her, there’s a good chance you’ll first have to speak to Rita.
She’ll insist on calling your office, speaking to the switchboard operator, and being patched through to your desk. Then she will want to check out your profile on the company website and LinkedIn. She’ll demand you send her message from your work email, and require a scan of either your passport or driver’s license.
"Mid-range prostitution is a relatively new market, enabled by technology. Before the internet, it was hard for escorts to find customers: They had to either walk the streets searching for customers (the lower end of the market), rely on word-of-mouth, or work with agencies. Walking the streets was dangerous, while agencies ate up a large share of workers’ profit and autonomy, and created a bottleneck to entering the market. The internet changed all that.

“Before the internet, agencies provided the steady flow of clients and screening, but their capacity was capped,” Baylor University economist Scott Cunningham said. Soon after Craigslist launched in 1995, US escorts quickly started marketing directly to customers online. This newfound ability to advertise on the internet grew the market, said Cunningham, because more women and men could work independently
"Even criminals need someone they can trust

"If you’re selling something illegal, you can’t rely on the law to make sure the buyer upholds their end of the deal. Once the bill comes, clients might turn violent, or turn out to be cops. That means trust commands a large premium and that’s the centerpiece of Rita’s business model: watertight background checks on would-be johns.

"Rita represents sex workers who offer BDSM in addition to sex. When rough play is on the list of services you offer, a high level of trust is essential; hence, Rita’s elaborate screening process, which can take days. “I am looking to weed out police and crazies,” she said. She estimates that only one in four potential customers ultimately passes. Those who do win some time with a professional escort/dominatrix, but it comes at a hefty price: Each hour can cost up to $800, and Rita’s cut is 30%."

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Repugnance watch: Pokemon in Saudi Arabia

Reuters has the story:
Top Saudi clerical body renews fatwa against Pokemon

"The General Secretariat of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars said it had revived a 2001 decree against a Pokemon card game in response to queries from believers.

The Council argued that the mutations of the creatures in the game, who are given specific powers, amounted to blasphemy by promoting the theory of natural evolution.

"It is shocking that the word 'evolution' has been much on the tongues of children," the fatwa read.

It also said the game contained other elements prohibited by Islamic law, including "polytheism against God by multiplying the number of deities, and gambling, which God has forbidden in the Quran and likened to wine and idols".

The fatwa added that symbols used in the game promoted Japan's Shinto religion, Christianity, Freemasonry and "global Zionism".

In conservative Saudi Arabia, home to Islam's two holiest sites, cinemas are banned and women's sports are discouraged as promoting sin."

Friday, July 22, 2016

Bride Price and Female Education by Ashraf, Bau, Nunn and Voena

A new NBER working paper suggests that the institution of bride price, often regarded as a repugnant transaction, may provide incentives to educate girls, which increases their price.

Bride Price and Female Education

Nava AshrafNatalie BauNathan NunnAlessandra Voena

NBER Working Paper No. 22417
Issued in July 2016
Traditional cultural practices can play an important role in development, but can also inspire condemnation. The custom of bride price, prevalent throughout sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia as a payment by the groom to the family of the bride, is one example. In this paper, we show a perhaps surprising economic consequence of this practice. We revisit one of the best-studied historical development projects, the INPRES school construction program in Indonesia, and show that previously found small effects on female enrollment mask heterogeneity by bride price tradition. Ethnic groups that traditionally engage in bride price payments at marriage increased female enrollment in response to the program. Within these ethnic groups, higher female education at marriage is associated with a higher bride price payment received, providing a greater incentive for parents to invest in girls' education and take advantage of the increased supply of schools. However, we see no increase in education following school construction for girls from ethnicities without a bride price tradition. We replicate these findings in Zambia, where we exploit a similar school expansion program that took place in the early 2000s. While there may be significant downsides to a bride price tradition, our results suggest that any change to this cultural custom should likely be considered alongside additional policies to promote female education.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Matching Markets and Market Design: Theory and Application at the NBER on Tuesday July 26

Here's the email from the NBER

"As a reminder, on Tuesday afternoon, July 26, Alvin Roth, Parag Pathak, Atila Abdulkadiroglu, Nikhil Agarwal and Itai Ashlag will be delivering a set of lectures on "Theory and Applications of Market Design" at the NBER Summer Institute.  An outline for the lectures can be found at:

The lectures will be presented in Ballroom A, West Tower, second floor, at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge, MA beginning at 1:15 pm.  The lectures will also be recorded and posted on the NBER's website.  To assist us with our space planning, we ask that everyone who is planning to attend register by July 22 through the Conference Department's web reply form at https://www.nber.org/ll?u=alvin_roth&p=yTvD&url=/conf/reply/SI16ML  ."

A reading list is here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Update on compensation for bone marrow donors

Frank McCormick emails about a new movie concerning the 9th Circuit court case which ruled that it might be legal to compensate certain kind of bone marrow/blood stem-cell donors, and the subsequent administrative battle to prevent that: Film inspired by Lewiston mom premieres

"A mission to help her three young daughters — Jordan, Julia and Jorja Flynn — stay healthy despite their Fanconi anemia, a rare genetic blood disorder that destroyed their bone marrow and made them extremely susceptible to cancer.
She's fighting to increase America's pool of bone-marrow donors by getting the federal government to allow some donors to be paid — a significant change she believed would help both donors and those in need, like her daughters.
Four years later, the Lewiston mom is still fighting, both for her daughters' health and against the federal government. But she's getting attention for it in a new way.
Today, a short film inspired by her battles will premiere at the Maine International Film Festival in Waterville.
"Hoping to help donors ease the financial burden of donation and give them an incentive to see the process through, Gummoe became lead plaintiff in a lawsuit spearheaded by the Institute for Justice.
For years, federal law has prohibited bone-marrow donors — and organ donors — from being compensated. The suit argued that advances in medicine made bone-marrow donation more like plasma donation, which can be compensated under the law, than to kidney donation, which cannot.
In traditional bone-marrow harvesting, doctors stick a needle through a hip bone and remove bone marrow. The alternative method, peripheral blood stem cell donation, is now used most of the time. In stem cell donation, donors receive injections to increase the production of blood-forming stem cells that are then siphoned out of their blood in a process similar to dialysis.
The lawsuit was successful: The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the new form of bone-marrow donation did not fall under the category of organ donation as the law was written and could be compensated. At least one nonprofit was planning a pilot program to see how compensation — a $3,000 housing allowance, scholarship or charity donation — might boost bone-marrow donation.
But in 2013, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services proposed a new rule that would explicitly include peripheral blood stem cell donation in the definition of organ donation. With that looming for nearly three years, no group has felt comfortable moving forward with a pilot program to compensate donors.
"If they were to raise money and start pursuing this research and then the department issued its rule and blocked it, it would be a waste of their time and resources, which are precious," Kramer said. "In good faith, they couldn't move forward."
The department has until the end of this year to either move forward to prohibit bone-marrow donors from being compensated or drop the issue. A Health and Human Services spokesman said Wednesday that the department was "working toward being responsive to this deadline."
The department has said a ban on compensation would help ensure that, among other things, donors aren't coerced or exploited.
Gummoe and the Institute for Justice believe a ban only ensures that there aren't enough people willing to donate.  "