Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Classified ads as a marketplace for sex

Here's a story about a classified ad sex site whose publishers were recently arrested, in a case that pits freedom of the press against accusations of making a market for illegal prostitution, and very illegal trafficking in children. The case may extend the criminal definition of illegal pimping to the owners of a newspaper that no one seems to dispute is used to advertise prostitution, among consenting adults and possibly also by nonconsenting adults and children.

Digital Pimps or Fearless Publishers?
The owners of Village Voice Media gamed the online classified business with Backpage.com and made millions. But when it became a breeding ground for child rape, the publishers became something else: defendants.  by Kate Knibbs

"Backpage is the most prominent online destination for on-demand paid sex in the United States, and according to the arrest warrant for Ferrer and others, it made nearly 99 percent of its over $50 million revenue in California from January 2013 to March 2015 from charging for erotic classified ads. It is, in essence, an escort advertising network nestled in a Craigslist knockoff.
"“Backpage and its executives purposefully and unlawfully designed Backpage to be the world’s top online brothel,” California Attorney General Kamala Harris said in a statement in October. Her office had brought the charges against the men in the middle of what would turn out to be her successful campaign for U.S. Senate.
"Backpage general counsel Liz McDougall called the arrests an “election year stunt.”
"Whether or not it was designed to be a brothel, and whether its owners are neutral web hosts attacked for political gain or nefarious pimps adept at skating the law, is what the court must decide.
"The executives at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) were also gratified.
The nonprofit views Backpage as so tightly tied to the sale of children for rape that the website is now the first place it searches for children reported missing. In a 2016 amicus brief, the organization outlined the ways in which it believes that Backpage has been deliberately optimized to keep the child trafficking industry going, including having relaxed posting rules for escort ads while requiring other sellers to provide valid telephone numbers. It also describes a case in which one child was “sold for sex more than 50 times on backpage.com beginning when she was 12 years old.” The organization has worked on more than 420 cases in which children were trafficked through Backpage.
“I don’t know that anyone really believes that there’s a way, with a website offering those services, to completely eliminate [the sex trade],” Staca Shehan, the executive director of the NCMEC’s Case Analysis Division, told me. “But there’s a lot to be done to reduce the likelihood, to reduce this website as a target to buy and sell children for sex.”
The relationship between Backpage and NCMEC was originally cooperative, but Shehan says it soured in 2013, when the center decided the site’s crackdown attempts were theater. She said that Backpage would voluntarily report that it took down one advertisement for a minor, but that her researchers would discover the same image of the child in many other posts that remained online and untouched. This infuriates Shehan. “Why would you report one, and not all the other ones that your website is hosting? Why wouldn’t you remove that ad if you suspect that a child is being sold for sex and block the individual user?” she said.
In March, the Senate voted unanimously to hold Ferrer in contempt for failing to comply with a subpoena for a separate investigation into Backpage’s activities — the first contempt authorization in more than 20 years. This investigation paints Backpage as a deliberately sinister operation, claiming that the company edits advertisements to make them look less like sex trafficking. “Our investigation showed that Backpage ‘edits’ advertisements before posting them, by removing certain words, phrases, or images. For instance, they might remove a word or image that makes clear that sexual services are being offered for money. And then they would post this ‘sanitized’ version of the ad,” Senator Rob Portman said in a statement. “In other words, Backpage’s editing procedures, far from being an effective anti-trafficking measure, only served to sanitize the ads of illegal content to an outside viewer.”
While lawmakers like Portman see Backpage as a demonic helpmate for rapists and abusive pimps, the website has a reputation as a valuable safety tool within some sex worker communities.
Consenting, adult sex workers often praise Backpage for helping minimize the risks of their job. Sex worker advocacy groups have condemned the prosecution of Ferrer, Lacey, and Larkin. In San Francisco, sex workers and supporters gathered to protest the Backpage arrests. “This culmination of a three-year investigation by the California government is a shocking waste of resources for a political stunt that leaves sex workers and trafficking victims stigmatized, isolated, and more vulnerable to violence,” the Urban Justice Center’s Sex Workers Project said in a statement condemning Ferrer’s arrest.
The phantoms of other shuttered and beleaguered sex ad sites worry sex workers who view digital classifieds as instrumental to their safety. RedBook, a long-running Bay Area hub for sex work ads, was shut down after an investigation by the IRS and FBI in 2014. “Authorities say the San Francisco–based website, which primarily served California and Nevada, facilitated prostitution and had to fall. Sex workers say the site provided a meager safeguard against predators, pimps, and cops,” the Sacramento News & Review wrote. “When it disappeared, the most at-risk workers — those of limited means and greatest need — were displaced to the streets.”
"While lurid and sad, the arrest report for Ferrer, Lacey, and Larkin has another striking feature: None of the incidents recounted involved the men arranging for or paying for sex, nor did they involve the participation of the men authorities describe as “pimps.” There is no mention of “pimping” in the traditional sense, the act of controlling sex workers, or arranging meet-ups, or taking a cut of their income. The men were arrested as pimps simply by dint of owning and operating a website where other people pimped, even though Backpage’s disclaimer instructs users to report underage trafficking and illegal activity.
The arrest warrant describes how a California Department of Justice agent personally called Ferrer to alert him of an illegal ad. Upending expectations, the warrant notes that the CEO promised to promptly remove this ad — and then kept his word and promptly removed it. So it isn’t that the website lacks moderation; the allegation is that Backpage’s moderation isn’t sufficient enough, and that insufficiency is tantamount to the act of pimping.
It is an unusual stretch of the definition of a very old crime. By arresting Backpage’s current and former executives, Harris was sending a message: If the definition of pimping hadn’t yet changed, she was trying to change it."

HT: Scott Cunningham

Monday, January 9, 2017

AEA Annual Meeting Webcasts

2017 AEA Annual Meeting Webcasts of Selected Sessions

View Webcasts of selected sessions from the Annual Meeting in Chicago on January 6-8, 2017! (compliments of the AEA):

January 6, 2017

Brexit: Six Months Later (Panel Discussion)
Presiding: Olivier BlanchardJonathan Portes
Andrew Lilico
Karl Whelan
View Webcast
Nobels on Where is the World Economy Headed?
Presiding: Dominick Salvatore
Where in the World Is the World Headed? Angus DeatonSeeking Political Keys for Economic Growth Roger MyersonHow the Left and Right Are Failing the West Edmund PhelpsEconomic Risks Associated with Deep Change in Technology Robert J. ShillerNew Divisions in the World Economy Joseph E. StiglitzView Webcast
AEA/AFA Joint Luncheon - Will the Market Fix the Market?Eric Budish, introduced by Alvin E. RothView Webcast
Gender AgendaPresiding: Muriel Niederle
Quantifying the Disincentive Effects of Joint Taxation on Married Women's Labor Supply Alexander Bick and Nicola Fuchs-Schuendeln
Long Hours and Women's Job Choices: Cross Country and Within United States Evidence Patricia Cortes and Jessica Pan
The Expanding Gender Earnings Gap: Evidence from the LEHD-Census Claudia Goldin, Sari Pekkala Kerr, Claudia Olivetti, and Erling Barth
Competitiveness and Education Choices Muriel Niederle
Discussants: Erik HurstView Webcast
AEA Richard T. Ely Lecture: The Economist as Plumber: Large Scale Experiments to Inform the Details of Policy MakingEsther Duflo, introduced by Alvin E. RothView Webcast

January 7, 2017

Economists as Engineers (Panel Discussion)
Presiding: Alvin E. Roth
Paul Milgrom
Atila AbdulkadirogluView Webcast
Economic Issues Facing the New President (Panel Discussion)
Presiding: Greg Mankiw
Jason Furman
Glenn Hubbard
Alan Krueger
John TaylorView Webcast
AEA Nobel Laureate Luncheon Honoring Angus Deaton from Princeton University
Presiding: Alvin E. Roth
James Heckman
David Laibson
Christina Paxson

View Webcast
Publishing and Promotion in Economics: The Curse of the Top Five (Panel Discussion)
Presiding: James J. Heckman
George Akerlof
Angus Deaton
Drew Fudenberg
Lars Hansen
View Webcast
AEA Awards Ceremony
Presiding: Alvin E. Roth
View Webcast
AEA Presidential Address - Narrative Economics
Robert J. Shiller, introduced by Alvin E. Roth
View Webcast

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Pictures from ASSA 2017

I saw, listened to and even introduced some famous economists at the ASSA meetings. Here are a few;  see who you recognize...

Update: and here are some photos by a professional photographer:  https://www.aeaweb.org/conference/2017-photos

Saturday, January 7, 2017

AEA Poster session: The Ongoing Design of Kidney Exchange

This year we've organized an expanded set of posters at the AEA meetings in Chicago, and mine is  on The Ongoing Design of Kidney Exchange: Recent and Prospective Developments. Below is a picture of the poster taken by Craig Huey (but it is probably easier to read at the link above:).

Kidney exchange has become an increasingly standard and important part of kidney transplantation in the U.S.. But in some ways how it has developed is very different than my experience in other areas of market design. One way to see the difference is that in some other markets on which I've worked, like labor markets for doctors and other healthcare professionals, and school choice, the initial designs that were proposed, adapted, adopted and implemented are still in use today, using variants of the deferred acceptance algorithm in more or less the original form in which they were implemented in each labor market and school district. Not so for kidney exchange, which has to constantly adapt to the ways that transplant centers themselves adapt to kidney exchange, and to each other and the several multi-hospital kidney exchange networks.

Here are the papers of mine that I chose to reflect this evolution on the poster, in chronological order. (Of course there's lots of related work in which I'm not a coauthor, but posters have their limits.) Another difference from some of my previous market design experience is that a lot of the discussion of practical design issues goes on in medical journals...

1.Roth, Alvin E., Tayfun Sönmez and M. Utku Ünver, "Kidney Exchange," Quarterly Journal of Economics, 119, 2, May, 2004, 457-488.
2.Roth, Alvin E., Tayfun Sönmez, M. Utku Ünver, Francis L. Delmonico, and Susan L. Saidman, “Utilizing List Exchange and Undirected Good Samaritan Donation through “Chain” Paired Kidney Donations,” American Journal of Transplantation, 6, 11, November 2006, 2694-2705.
3.Rees, Michael A., Jonathan E. Kopke, Ronald P. Pelletier, Dorry L. Segev, Matthew E. Rutter, Alfredo J. Fabrega, Jeffrey Rogers, Oleh G. Pankewycz, Janet Hiller, Alvin E. Roth, Tuomas Sandholm, Utku Ünver, and Robert A. Montgomery, “A Non-Simultaneous Extended Altruistic Donor Chain,” New England Journal of Medicine, 360;11, March 12, 2009, 1096-1101.
4.Ashlagi, Itai, Duncan S. Gilchrist, Alvin E. Roth, and Michael A. Rees, “Nonsimultaneous Chains and Dominos in Kidney Paired Donation – Revisited,” American Journal of Transplantation, 11, 5, May 2011, 984-994  
5. Ashlagi, Itai, Duncan S. Gilchrist, Alvin E. Roth, and Michael A. Rees, “NEAD Chains in Transplantation,” American Journal of Transplantation, December 2011; 11: 2780–2781.
6. Rees, Michael A.,  Mark A. Schnitzler, Edward Zavala, James A. Cutler,  Alvin E. Roth, F. Dennis Irwin, Stephen W. Crawford,and Alan B.  Leichtman, “Call to Develop a Standard Acquisition Charge Model for Kidney Paired Donation,” American Journal of Transplantation, 2012, 12, 6 (June), 1392-1397. (published online 9 April 2012
7.Ashlagi, Itai, and Alvin E. Roth, "Free Riding and Participation in Large Scale, Multi-hospital Kidney Exchange,” Theoretical Economics 9 (2014), 817–863.
8.Anderson, Ross, Itai Ashlagi, David Gamarnik and Alvin E. Roth, “Finding long chains in kidney exchange using the traveling salesmen problem,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), January 20, 2015 | vol. 112 | no. 3 | 663–668
9. Fumo, D.E., V. Kapoor, L.J. Reece, S.M. Stepkowski,J.E. Kopke, S.E. Rees, C. Smith, A.E. Roth, A.B. Leichtman, M.A. Rees, “Improving matching strategies in kidney paired donation: the 7-year evolution of a web based virtual matching system,” American Journal of Transplantation, October 2015, 15(10), 2646-2654
10.Melcher, Marc L., John P. Roberts, Alan B. Leichtman, Alvin E. Roth, and Michael A. Rees, “Utilization of Deceased Donor Kidneys to Initiate Living Donor Chains,” American Journal of Transplantation, 16, 5, May 2016, 1367–1370.
11.Michael A. Rees, Ty B. Dunn, Christian S. Kuhr, Christopher L. Marsh, Jeffrey Rogers, Susan E. Rees, Alejandra Cicero, Laurie J. Reece, Alvin E. Roth, Obi Ekwenna, David E. Fumo, Kimberly D. Krawiec, Jonathan E. Kopke, Samay Jain, Miguel Tan and Siegfredo R. Paloyo, “Kidney Exchange to Overcome Financial Barriers to Kidney Transplantation,” American Journal of Transplantation, forthcoming  
12.Nikzad, Afshin, Mohammad Akbarpour, Michael Rees, and Alvin E. Roth, “Financing Transplant Costs of the Poor: A Dynamic Model of Global Kidney Exchange,”  2016

Friday, January 6, 2017

Some special sessions at the ASSA meetings

It was my responsibility to organize the AEA portion of the ASSA meetings this year (which I did with the help of a distinguished and hard working program committee). My only academic presentation here this year will be at our newly expanded poster session. But I'll be presiding over a number of special events.

If you would like to hear exciting economists giving special talks, I'll be introducing some of them at these sessions (two today and three tomorrow):

AEA/AFA Joint Luncheon
 Friday, Jan. 6, 2017    12:30 PM – 2:15 PM
 Hyatt Regency Chicago, Grand Ballroom F
Presiding: Alvin E. Roth, Stanford University
Speaker: Eric Budish, University of Chicago - Will the Market Fix the Market?

AEA Richard T. Ely Lecture
 Friday, Jan. 6, 2017    4:45 PM – 5:45 PM
 Hyatt Regency Chicago, Grand Ballroom F
Presiding: Alvin E. Roth, Stanford University
Speaker: Esther Duflo, Massachusetts Institute of Technology--The Economist as Plumber: Large Scale Experiments to Inform the Details of Policy Making

Economists as Engineers
 Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017    8:00 AM – 10:00 AM
 Hyatt Regency Chicago, Grand Ballroom AB
Chair:  Alvin Roth, Stanford University
 Paul Milgrom , Stanford University
Topic: Using Auctions for Complex Resource Allocations
Atila Abdulkadiroglu , Duke University 
Topic: School Choice: Using Matching Theory to Allocate Seats in Schools

AEA Nobel Laureate Luncheon - in honor of Angus Deaton
 Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017    12:30 PM – 2:15 PM
 Hyatt Regency Chicago, Grand Ballroom F
Presiding: Alvin E. Roth, Stanford University
James Heckman, University of Chicago
David Laibson, Harvard University
Christina Paxson, Brown University

AEA Awards Ceremony and Presidential Address
 Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017    4:40 PM – 5:45 PM
 Hyatt Regency Chicago, Grand Ballroom F
Presiding: Alvin E. Roth, Stanford University
Speaker: Robert Shiller, Yale University, "Narrative Economics"

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Richard Ely and the founding of the American Economic Association

Some history of the AEA, and Richard Ely.

First, from the Democracy Journal, published before last year's AEA meetings in SF, but just as interesting this year...

Economists of the World, Unite!

"Indeed, the AEA was founded both to conduct scientific research and to agitate for reform, both inside academia and in the public sphere. At its start, the two missions were inextricably linked. The old economics claimed to have discovered immutable laws governing the distribution of wealth, derived from a theoretical construction of an abstract, idealized economy. The founders of the AEA, on the other hand, looked first to study economic outcomes as they found them. Treating income, wealth, work, wages, depressions, trade, and so on as contingent realities as opposed to abstract truths naturally led to the conclusion that they could be altered by policy. That implication clashed with the political bulwark against so-called “class legislation,” namely any attempt to alter the social hierarchy through collective action or public policy. At all levels, therefore, this approach defied the intellectual foundations of classical economics.

"The leader of this group of young Turks was Richard Ely, a 31-year-old professor at Johns Hopkins University. Ely was a committed evangelical and a believer in the “social gospel” movement, which preached the application of Christian ethics to the creation of a just social order. But he was also an ambitious, modernizing professional academic. This combination of traditional and modern values drove him into the area of public persuasion, where he felt called to present economics as a friend to the common man rather than an apologist for his employer."

Another window on Ely (who turns out to have had racial views on eugenics) comes from this MR post:
Richard T. Ely, Alt-Right Founder of the American Economic Association, by Alex Tabarrok

Tabarrok's post is in response to this article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed:
When Economics Was Radical  By Marshall Steinbaum and Bernard Weisberger 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

France introduces opt-out policy on organ donation

The Guardian has the story:
France introduces opt-out policy on organ donation
Change in law means consent for organs to be removed is presumed unless person joins official ‘refusal register’

"France has reversed its policy on organ donations so that all people could become donors on their death unless they join an official register to opt out.
The new law presumes consent for organs to be removed, even if it goes against the wishes of the family.
Until 1 January, when the legislation took effect, unless the person who had died had previously expressed a clear wish for or against donation, doctors were required to consult relatives who, in almost a third of cases, refused.
Those who do not want all or any of their organs to be used must now put their name on a “refusal register” – so far 150,000 people have signed up. The authorities have promised to make it easier for those who wish to refuse by allowing them to join the register online instead of by registered post.
Alternatively, those vehemently opposed to their organs being used can leave a signed document with their next-of-kin or transmit their wish orally to relatives who must make a written declaration of non-consent to doctors at the time of death. The process is explained on the agency’s Facebook page.
In November, the French Agence de la Biomédecine released a film, Déjà-vu2, aimed at encouraging 15- to 25-year-olds to agree to organ donation.
The European Union has highlighted the lack of organs for transplant and the increasing number of patients on waitings lists worldwide. Its figures claim that in 2014, 86,000 people were waiting for organ donations in EU states, Norway and Turkey, and 16 people were dying every day while waiting for a transplant.

In the UK, doctors lament one of the lowest consent rates in Europe, as well as a shortage of donors from black or Asian communities. A record number of organs were donated and transplanted in the UK in 2015-16, but the rate remains short of the target of 80% by 2020. The biggest obstacle remains relatives’ opposition, who have vetoed transplants even from registered donors.
NHSBT, which is responsible for the NHS organ donor register and for matching and allocating donor organs, said it was considering further steps it could take when approaching families to ensure more potential donors’ decisions were not vetoed.
One option would be to no longer ask the next-of-kin to confirm consent or authorisation. Their permission is not required by law if someone has registered a decision to donate on the NHS organ donor register.
Families in Scotland are already required to complete a retraction form to record why they overturned a relative’s decision to donate. NHSBT said a similar form be introduced across the UK."

HT: Frank McCormick

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Tony Atkinson (1944-2017)

Tony Atkinson died on January 1, 2017. This surely means that some working group of the Nobel committee for Economics will have to start over.

Here's the Financial Times: Sir Tony Atkinson, economist and campaigner, 1944-2017.  Labour party activist was a dominant force in the study of inequality

 A very similar obit appeared in the NY Times:
Anthony B. Atkinson, Economist Who Pioneered Study of Inequality, Dies at 72

Take a look at his website, and in particular
The 15 Proposals from Tony Atkinson’s ‘Inequality – What can be done?’

The Economist explores adultery

Hyphens are important, and the subject of this Economist essay is extra-marital sex, as opposed to extra marital sex.

Americans are increasingly intolerant of adultery, but Esther Perel believes they should take a more European attitude.

"Attitudes towards sex and sexual morality have changed dramatically in the past few decades, with ever fewer Westerners clucking over such things as premarital sex or love between two men or two women, but infidelity is still seen as a nuclear no-go zone in relationships. In fact, studies show that even as we have become more permissive about most things involving either sex or marriage – ever ready to accept couples who marry late, divorce early, forgo children or choose not to marry at all – we have grown only more censorious of philanderers. In a survey of public attitudes in 40 countries from the Pew Research Centre, an American think-tank, infidelity was the issue that earned the most opprobrium around the world. A general survey of public views in America, conducted by the University of Chicago since 1972, has found that Americans are more likely to say extramarital sex is always wrong now than they were throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Younger generations can usually be relied upon to push sexual morality in a more permissive direction, but infidelity is the one area where the young and old seem to agree. In this broadly tolerant age, when so many of us have come around to accepting love in all different shapes and sizes, adultery is the one indulgence that remains out of bounds."

Here's the NORC* report, whose first figure shows that Extra-marital sex wins the race for something that is "always wrong" in public opinion, with 80% of the surveyed Americans agreeing (contrast that with 20% for sex before marriage).
Trends in Public Attitudes about Sexual Morality, APRIL 2013

*NORC at the University of Chicago = National Opinion Research Center.

To get technical, I like to think of transactions as repugnant if some people want to engage in them and others don't want them to  even though the others can’t detect that the transaction has taken place unless someone tells them. So secret adultery seems to fall into that category (if you confine your attention to adulterers who engage in safe sex and are discreet, not overcome by guilt, etc.).  

And it appears that the repugnance of adultery is in a long cycle of a sort: it's on the short list of Ten Commandments ("don't commit adultery" comes right after "don't commit murder"), it appears to have become less repugnant in Europe and perhaps at times in the U.S., but its repugnance level in the US remains high, and apparently is rising.  And of course adultery carries the risk of discovery (not least because it may be the cause of guilt, and guilty secrets), and in places where it is repugnant it therefore remains a potential home-wrecker.  

Maybe the repugnance of adultery is related to the importance of contracts--if most people believe marriage comes with a promise of fidelity, then adultery is a violation of at least an implicit promise. Or maybe it has to do with the fact that a good marriage is a repeated game based on trust, and that even a well kept secret violation of trust takes a toll on the secret-keeper (if only through Mark Twain's adage "tell the truth, then you don't have to remember anything") and hence on the marriage...

Repugnance is important--economists need to understand it better. (It's not just laws against buying kidneys for transplant...)


More on adultery, and its sometimes special place in law: Adultery, Law, and the State: A History.
NOVEMBER, 1986, 38 Hastings L.J. 195 by Jeremy D. Weinstein

Monday, January 2, 2017

Repugnance watch: Gender identity. 8-year-old transgender boy barred from Cub Scouts in NJ and NYC issues an "intersex" birth certificate,

Two (otherwise unrelated) recent news stories suggest that social attitudes towards gender identity may be tested in the new year in ways that resemble the transformation that has taken place in our collective outlook on sexual orientation.

The first story concerns the cub scouts.  It happened in Secaucus, NJ, and NorthJersey.com has a report: 8-year-old transgender boy barred from Cub Scouts

"From the moment he joined, 8-year-old Joe Maldonado eagerly looked forward to camping trips and science projects as a member of the Cub Scouts. But his expectations were dashed after his mother said she received a phone call from a Scouting official who told her that Joe would no longer be allowed to participate because he was born a girl.

"Kristie Maldonado said she was stunned because her son had been a member of Cub Scout Pack 87 in Secaucus for about a month and his transgender status had not been a secret. But some parents complained, an official from the Northern New Jersey Council of Boy Scouts told her — even though her son had been living as a boy for more than a year and was accepted as a boy at school, she said
"Joe's case could be the first time someone has been barred from participating in Scouting because of transgender identity, said members of the LGBT community. And it comes as the Boy Scouts of America appeared to be emerging from a period of turmoil involving sexual-orientation issues, reversing long-standing bans against gay Scouts and gay Scouting leaders over the past few years. Those policy changes were made amid an internal debate that saw at least one local council defy national Scouting decrees by hiring a gay camp counselor and pressure brought from corporations that withheld donations from the organization.

"The Boy Scouts did not address the transgender issue at the time, LGBT advocates said, perhaps because the organization had no written policy related to gender identity. Transgender rights only recently emerged as a national issue, often focusing on the use of restrooms based on gender identity. Dozens of North Jersey school districts, including Secaucus, have granted that right, among others, to transgender students.
"Effie Delimarkos, the communications director for the Boy Scouts of America, said in a statement that the organization’s Cub Scouts programs are for boys age 7 to 10 and that "the classification on the participant’s birth certificate” would be used to “confirm legal status.”
"Delimarkos said in her statement that the Boy Scouts consider membership for transgender children to be a separate issue from that of gay children.

“No youth may be removed from any of our programs on the basis of his or her sexual orientation,” she said, but added: “Gender identity isn’t related to sexual orientation.”

The second story concerns a newly reissued birth certificate issued by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH):
Nation's First Known Intersex Birth Certificate Issued in NYC

"On Tuesday, 55-year-old Sara Kelly Keenan received something in the mail she's been waiting for her entire life: an accurate birth certificate.

Keenan was born intersex, with male genes, female genitalia and mixed internal reproductive organs. Now, Keenan, who uses female pronouns, is making history. Hers is believed to be the first birth certificate ever issued in the United States that reads "intersex" in the gender field, instead of "male" or "female."

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Matchmaker Exchange: Matching genes and symptoms for patients with very rare diseases ("lonesome exomes")

There's a lot of genetic matchmaking going on in the world. In kidney transplantation we worry about HLA matching, which is even more important in bone marrow matching. Both of those matching processes mostly involve common gene sequences--if you have very rare HLA's, you will have less luck at finding a bone marrow match.

But as more patients with very rare disease have their exome sequenced, there are patients with particular phenotypes and symptoms and "lonesome exomes," which have a suspect gene that may be responsible for their disease, which will remain only a suspect until more patients with that disease and that gene variant can be identified. These data are mostly in separate databases at different clinical research institutions.

That's where Matchmaker exchange comes in--it's a protocol for looking for patients with the same gene variants and the same diseases, so that matches can be made and the genes responsible for rare diseases can be identified.

Here's the paper:
Philippakis AA, Azzariti DR, Beltran S, Brookes AJ, Brownstein CA, Brudno M, Brunner HG, Buske OJ, Carey K, Doll C, Dumitriu S, Dyke SOM, den Dunnen JT, Firth HV, Gibbs RA, Girdea M, Gonzalez M, Haendel MA, Hamosh A, Holm IA, Huang L, Hurles ME, Hutton B, Krier JB, Misyura A, Mungall CJ, Paschall J, Paten B, Robinson PN, Schiettecatte F, Sobreira NL, Swaminathan GJ, Taschner PE, Terry SF, Washington NL, Züchner S, Boycott KM, Rehm HL. 2015. The Matchmaker Exchange: A Platform for Rare Disease Gene DiscoveryHuman Mutation36: 915–921. doi:10.1002/humu.22858 

ABSTRACT: There are few better examples of the need for data sharing than in the rare disease community, where patients, physicians, and researchers must search for “the needle in a haystack” to uncover rare, novel causes of disease within the genome. Impeding the pace of discovery has been the existence of many small siloed datasets within individual research or clinical laboratory databases and/or disease-specific organizations, hoping for serendipitous occasions when two distant investigators happen to learn they have a rare phenotype in common and can “match” these cases to build evidence for causality. However, serendipity has never proven to be a reliable or scalable approach in science. As such, the Matchmaker Exchange (MME) was launched to provide a robust and systematic approach to rare disease gene discovery through the creation of a federated network connecting databases of genotypes and rare phenotypes using a common application programming interface (API). The core building blocks of the MME have been defined and assembled. Three MME services have now been connected through the API and are available for community use. Additional databases that support internal matching are anticipated to join the MME network as it continues to grow.

Here's a video presentation by Dr Kym Boycott, one of the authors.