Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Mark Braverman wins Abacus Medal (formerly Nevanlinna Prize)

 Mark Braverman, a computer scientist whose work touches on mechanism design, has won the Abacus Medal of the International Mathematical Union.

Here are some links: citationvideowrite-upCV/publicationsproceedingsinterviewPlus magazine! article

Readers of this blog may be interested in these papers:

Optimization-friendly generic mechanisms without money

"The goal of this paper is to develop a generic framework for converting modern optimization algorithms into mechanisms where inputs come from self-interested agents. We focus on aggregating preferences from n players in a context without money. Special cases of this setting include voting, allocation of items by lottery, and matching. Our key technical contribution is a new meta-algorithm we call \apex (Adaptive Pricing Equalizing Externalities). The framework is sufficiently general to be combined with any optimization algorithm that is based on local search. We outline an agenda for studying the algorithm's properties and its applications. As a special case of applying the framework to the problem of one-sided assignment with lotteries, we obtain a strengthening of the 1979 result by Hylland and Zeckhauser on allocation via a competitive equilibrium from equal incomes (CEEI). The [HZ79] result posits that there is a (fractional) allocation and a set of item prices such that the allocation is a competitive equilibrium given prices. We further show that there is always a reweighing of the players' utility values such that running unit-demand VCG with reweighed utilities leads to a HZ-equilibrium prices. Interestingly, not all HZ competitive equilibria come from VCG prices. As part of our proof, we re-prove the [HZ79] result using only Brouwer's fixed point theorem (and not the more general Kakutani's theorem). This may be of independent interest."


Clearing Matching Markets Efficiently: Informative Signals and Match Recommendations by Itai Ashlagi , Mark Braverman, Yash Kanoria , Peng Shi , Management Science, 2020, 66(5), pp.2163-2193.

Abstract: "We study how to reduce congestion in two-sided matching markets with private preferences. We measure congestion by the number of bits of information that agents must (i) learn about their own preferences, and (ii) communicate with others before obtaining their final match. Previous results suggest that a high level of congestion is inevitable under arbitrary preferences before the market can clear with a stable matching. We show that when the unobservable component of agent preferences satisfies certain natural assumptions, it is possible to recommend potential matches and encourage informative signals such that the market reaches a stable matching with a low level of congestion. Moreover, under our proposed approach, agents have negligible incentive to leave the marketplace or to look beyond the set of recommended partners. The intuitive idea is to only recommend partners with whom there is a nonnegligible chance that the agent will both like them and be liked by them. The recommendations are based on both the observable component of preferences and signals sent by agents on the other side that indicate interest."


Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Cops and comedy: repugnant speech

 The Guardian has a story about comedians who have been accused or charged with violating laws because of their acts. Recent cases involve jokes that are adjacent to pornography or hate speech, but the article reminds us that comedy and free speech have sometimes come into conflict for a long time.

Arrest that joke! A history of gags so offensive that punters called the cops  by Brian Logan

"Comedy’s defining brushes with the law, in the 1960s and 70s, also concerned indecency. Standup’s self-image has deep roots in the prosecutions of the American comics Lenny Bruce and George Carlin. Fifties hepcat and standup trailblazer Bruce was repeatedly arrested and tried for obscenity – or, in the words of his prosecutor during a 1964 trial, for his “nauseating word pictures interspersed with all the three- and four-letter words and more acrid 10- and 12-letter ones, spewed directly at the audience”. Bruce was found guilty and died – of a drugs overdose – while on parole pending his appeal.

"Carlin’s later Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television riff led to a legal fight between the Federal Communications Commission and a radio broadcaster that aired the routine – a case that went to the Supreme Court. “FCC v Pacifica,” wrote Carlin in his autobiography, “became a standard case to teach in communications classes and law schools. I take perverse pride in that. I’m actually a footnote to the judicial history of America.” The court ruled he was being indecent, but not obscene."

Monday, July 4, 2022

American data privacy, post Roe

 As we plunge ahead into the post-Roe era, American laws about abortion are going to be very divided. Some states will seek to criminalize not only surgical abortions, but the use of pharmaceuticals as well (and, if Justice Thomas gets his wish, perhaps contraceptives of all sorts, as well as day-after pills).*

Some states may seek to prosecute their residents who seek treatment out of state, or who order mail order pharmaceuticals. Doing so will leave a data trail, in searches on the web, emails, and geo-location data.  How private will those data be?

This is going to be an issue for tech companies, prosecutors, and legislators at both state and federal levels.  E.g. can prosecutors access and use your geo-location data to determine if you visited a clinic?  Your web searches to see if you looked for one? Your emails or pharmacy data to see if you ordered drugs?  Your medical data of other sorts?

*Here is the Supreme Court Opinion, written by Justice Alito followed by the other opinions. Justice Thomas' concurring opinion begins on p. 117 of the pdf, after Appendix A to the majority opinion which ends on numbered page 108 (but the numbering restarts at 1 for Justice Thomas' opinion).  DOBBS, STATE HEALTH OFFICER OF THE MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH, ET AL. v. JACKSON WOMEN’S HEALTH ORGANIZATION ET AL. 

Here are some thoughts on various aspects of the emerging situation.

From STAT:

HIPAA won’t protect you if prosecutors want your reproductive health records  by By Eric Boodman , Tara Bannow , Bob Herman  and Casey Ross

"With Roe v. Wade now overturned, patients are wondering whether federal laws will shield their reproductive health data from state law enforcement, or legal action more broadly. The answer, currently, is no.

"If there’s a warrant, court order, or subpoena for the release of those medical records, then a clinic is required to hand them over. 


"As far as health records go, the most salient law is HIPAA — the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. It’s possible that federal officials could try to tweak it, so records of reproductive care or abortion receive extra protection, but legal experts say that’s unlikely to stand up in the courts in a time when many judges tend to be unfriendly to executive action.


"In states that ban abortion, simply the suspicion that a patient had an abortion would be enough to allow law enforcement to poke around in their medical records under the guise of identifying or locating a suspect, said Isabelle Bibet-Kalinyak, a member of Brach Eichler’s health care law practice. “They would still need to have probable cause,” she said."


Health tech companies are scrambling to close data privacy gaps after abortion ruling By Katie Palmer  and Casey Ross July 2

"STAT reached out to two dozen companies that interact with user data about menstrual cycles, fertility, pregnancy, and abortion, asking about their current data practices and plans to adapt. The picture that emerged is one of companies scrambling to transform — building out legal teams, racing to design new privacy-protecting products, and aiming to communicate more clearly about how they handle data and provide care in the face of swirling distrust of digital health tools.

"Period-tracking apps have been the target of some of the loudest calls for privacy protections, and the most visible corporate response. At least two period-tracking apps are now developing anonymous versions: Natural Cycles, whose product is cleared by the Food and Drug Administration as a form of birth control, said it’s had calls to trade insights with Flo, which is also building an anonymous version of its app."


From the Guardian:

Tech firms under pressure to safeguard user data as abortion prosecutions loom. Private information collected and retained by companies could be weaponized to prosecute abortion seekers and providers by Kari Paul

"Such data has already been used to prosecute people for miscarriages and pregnancy termination in states with strict abortion laws, including one case in which a woman’s online search for abortion pills was brought against her in court. 


"Smaller companies are also being targeted with questions over their data practices, as frantic calls to delete period tracking apps went viral following the supreme court decision. Some of those companies, unlike the tech giants, have taken public stands.

“At this fraught moment, we hear the anger and the anxiety coming from our US community,” period tracking app Clue said in a statement. “We remain committed to protecting your reproductive health data.”

"Digital rights advocacy group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has advised companies in the tech world to pre-emptively prepare for a future in which they are served with subpoenas and warrants seeking user data to prosecute abortion seekers and providers.

"It recommends companies allow pseudonymous or anonymous access, stop behavioral tracking, and retain as little data as possible. It also advocated for end-to-end encryption by default and refrain from collecting any location information."


From the NYT:

When Brazil Banned Abortion Pills, Women Turned to Drug Traffickers. With Roe v. Wade overturned, states banning abortion are looking to prevent the distribution of abortion medication. Brazil shows the possible consequences.  By Stephanie Nolen

"The trajectory of access to abortion pills in Brazil may offer insight into how medication abortion can become out of reach and what can happen when it does.

"While surgical abortion was the original target of Brazil’s abortion ban, the proscription expanded after medication abortion became more common, leading to the situation today where drug traffickers control most access to the pills. Women who procure them have no guarantee of the safety or authenticity of what they are taking, and if they have complications, they fear seeking help.


From the Guardian

Google will delete location history data for abortion clinic visitsThe company said that sensitive places including fertility centers, clinics and addiction treatment facilities will be erased

"Alphabet will delete location data showing when users visit an abortion clinic, the online search company said on Friday, after concern that a digital trail could inform law enforcement if an individual terminates a pregnancy illegally.


"Effective in the coming weeks, for those who do use location history, entries showing sensitive places including fertility centers, abortion clinics and addiction treatment facilities will be deleted soon after a visit."


And while we await further developments here, the Times has an article about growing surveillance in China:

‘An Invisible Cage’: How China Is Policing the Future By Paul Mozur, Muyi Xiao and John Liu, June 25, 2022

It begins "The more than 1.4 billion people living in China are constantly watched. They are recorded by police cameras that are everywhere, on street corners and subway ceilings, in hotel lobbies and apartment buildings. Their phones are tracked, their purchases are monitored, and their online chats are censored..."

Sunday, July 3, 2022

Pregnancy in Poland, a database and anti-abortion laws

 The Lancet recently reported on new pregnancy data being collected in Poland, and controversy on whether and how it might be used in enforcing Poland's very stringent anti-abortion laws.

Poland to introduce controversial pregnancy register, by Ed Holt, Lancet,  VOLUME 399, ISSUE 10343, P2256, JUNE 18, 2022  DOI:

"A new legal provision in Poland requiring doctors to collect records on all pregnancies has been condemned by critics who fear it could create a pregnancy register to monitor whether women give birth, or track those who go abroad for abortions.

Poland has some of Europe's strictest abortion laws, with terminations allowed in only two instances—if the woman's health or life is at risk and if the pregnancy is the result of either rape or incest. Until last year, abortions had also been allowed when the fetus had congenital defects. Most legal terminations in Poland were carried out under this exemption. But this provision was removed by a constitutional court ruling following a challenge by members of the ruling right-wing Law and Justice party, which some rights activists accuse of systematic suppression of women's rights.

Rights groups and opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) say that, in light of the tightened abortion legislation, they worry that the collected pregnancy data could be used by police and prosecutors in an unprecedented state surveillance campaign against women. “A pregnancy register in a country with an almost complete ban on abortion is terrifying”, Agnieszka Dziemianowicz-BĄk, an MP for the New Left party, said. 


Here's a recent NY Times story on the implementation of Polish anti-abortion law:

Poland Shows the Risks for Women When Abortion Is Banned. Poland’s abortion ban has had many unintended consequences. One is that doctors are sometimes afraid to remove fetuses or administer cancer treatment to save women’s lives.  By Katrin Bennhold and Monika Pronczuk, Updated June 16, 2022

"Today, Poland and Malta, both staunchly Catholic, are the only European Union countries where abortions are effectively outlawed.

"The consequences in Poland have been far-reaching: Abortion-rights activists have been threatened with prison for handing out abortion pills. The number of Polish women traveling abroad to get abortions, already in the thousands, has swelled further. A black market of abortion pills — some fake and many overpriced — is thriving.

"Technically, the law still allows abortions if there is a serious risk to a woman’s health and life. But critics say it fails to provide necessary clarity, paralyzing doctors."

Saturday, July 2, 2022

SCOTUS on dialysis and DaVita

 The Supreme Court delivered a number of decisions recently, and the news coverage has rightly focused on the decisions that will increase guns and decrease abortions.  

But another decision has implications for how dialysis is financed for patients with kidney failure. It's going to take some time for all the adjustments that will now start to be made to determine what this means for the financing of kidney care.

Briefly, all kidney failure patients are eligible for Medicare coverage for dialysis, but private insurers covered the first 30 months (and pay much more than Medicare rates).  The case concerns a health insurance program that sought not to pay those rates, and in the case of MARIETTA MEMORIAL HOSPITAL EMPLOYEE HEALTH BENEFIT PLAN ET AL. v. DAVITA INC. ET AL.  the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the health plan.

Here's the story from Reuters:

U.S. Supreme Court rules against DaVita over dialysis coverage  By Nate Raymon

"June 21 (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected dialysis provider DaVita Inc's (DVA.N) claims that an Ohio hospital's employee health plan discriminates against patients with end-stage kidney disease by reimbursing them at low rates in hopes they would switch to Medicare.

"In a 7-2 decision authored by conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the court ruled that Marietta Memorial Hospital's employee health plan did not violate federal law by limiting benefits for outpatient dialysis because it did so without regard to whether patients had end-stage renal disease. A lower court had ruled in favor of Denver-based DaVita.Following the ruling, shares of DaVita, one of the nation's two largest dialysis providers, closed 15% lower. Shares of German rival Fresenius Medical Care (FMEG.DE) dropped 9%."


Here's a blog from the law firm that won the case, Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP :

6/21/22 Vorys Wins 7-2 at U.S. Supreme Court in Marietta Memorial Hospital Employee Health Benefit Plan v. DaVita Inc 

"On June 21, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court released its decision in Marietta Memorial Hospital Employee Health Benefit Plan v. DaVita Inc. siding with petitioners (our side) and our client Marietta Memorial Hospital, its employee group health plan and health plan third-party administrator, for which Vorys argued the case.  The Court found that the group health plan does not impermissibly “‘differentiate in the benefits it provides’ to individuals with end-stage renal disease or ‘take into account’ whether an individual is entitled to or eligible for Medicare.”  The Supreme Court decision overturned a split decision by the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.


"The case began on December 19, 2018, when DaVita, a commercial dialysis provider, sued Marietta Memorial Hospital, a small community hospital located in Marietta, Ohio; the Hospital’s medical plan, the Marietta Memorial Hospital Employee Health Benefit Plan; and the Hospital’s third-party administrator, Medical Benefits Mutual Life Insurance Company, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.  DaVita, a large, for-profit dialysis provider, alleged violations of the Medicare Secondary Payer Act (MSPA) and Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).  The Defendants, represented by Vorys, filed a motion to dismiss, which the District Court granted. 

"DaVita appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which disagreed with the District Court decision.  Marietta appealed the district court decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

"On November 5, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari, agreeing to hear the case.   In recognition of the importance of the case, the office of the Solicitor General of the United States filed an amicus brief, joined in the oral argument and urged the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in favor of the Marietta Memorial Hospital, its group health plan and the third-party administrator.  Oral arguments took place on March 1, 2022."

Friday, July 1, 2022

Scott Cunningham's Mixtape Podcast Interview with Alvin Roth

 Here's Scott Cunningham's Mixtape Podcast Interview with Alvin Roth... "We discuss Gale and Shapley, Roth and Sotomayor, game theory and more"

You can listen to our conversation at the link above.  He drew me out about some things I hadn't thought of in a while, such as my varied relationships with Gale, Shapley and Bob Wilson, and how my ideas about matching markets developed over the course of my career (which started in Operations Research and then morphed into Economics...)

He also reveals the manner in which he was the perfect reader of my 1990 book Two-Sided Matching with Marilda Sotomayor. 

His site is multi-media, if you scroll down you'll find a video (the one below in on YouTube), and if you keep scrolling down you'll find an essay he wrote called "Paying it Forward..." which recounts more about what our book meant to him and some of our subsequent interactions over the years. And below that is his Transcript of [our] podcast interview, for those who prefer to read rather than listen or watch.

I've had occasion to blog about Scott:

Friday, February 16, 2018

Sex work, Craigslist, and the law; podcast with Scott Cunningham

Here's a link to an interview with Scott Cunningham, whose work on sex work I've blogged about before. There's a surprising amount of discussion about causal inference and differences in differences. (I always suspected that econometrics was sexy, but this is the first time I’ve heard a podcast about that.)

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The accidental experiment with legal prostitution in Rhode Island

A scholarly paper and an easy to read-or-listen-to NPR report recount the period in which indoor prostitution was legal in Rhode Island.

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Same sex marriage in Colorado: then and now

In 1975, as the county clerk of Boulder County, Cela Rorex issued several marriage licenses to same sex couples, before the State Attorney General ruled against them.  When she died earlier this month, she was remembered by the current Colorado governor, and his husband.

Clela Rorex, Clerk Who Broke a Gay-Marriage Barrier, Dies at 78. In 1975 she issued a gay couple a license to marry in Colorado, becoming a hero to some and an object of hate for others.  By Neil Genzlinger

"Colorado’s governor, Jared Polis, who is gay, was among those paying tribute to Ms. Rorex.

“So many families, including First Gentleman Marlon Reis and I, are grateful for the visionary leadership of Clela Rorex,” he wrote on Facebook, calling her a woman “ahead of her time.”