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Archive for December 27th, 2019

Best Healthcare System in the World™: You get less than what you pay for

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The headline: “In the U.S., an Angioplasty Costs $32,000. Elsewhere? Maybe $6,400.

Margot Sanger-Katz reports in the NY Times:

Why does health care cost so much more in the United States than in other countries? As health economists love to say: “It’s the prices, stupid.”

As politicians continue to lament the system’s expense, and more Americans struggle to pay the high and often unpredictable bills that can accompany their health problems, it’s worth looking at just how weird our prices really are relative to the rest of the world.

The International Federation of Health Plans, a group representing the C.E.O.s of health insurers worldwide, publishes a guide every few years on the international cost for common medical services. Its newest report, on 2017 prices, came out this month. Every time, the upshot is vivid and similar: For almost everything on the list, there is a large divergence between the United States and everyone else.

Patients and insurance companies in the United States pay higher prices for medications, imaging tests, basic health visits and common operations. Those high prices make health care in the U.S. extremely expensive, and they also finance a robust and politically powerful health care industry, which means lowering prices will always be hard.

For a typical angioplasty, a procedure that opens a blocked blood vessel to the heart, the average U.S. price is $32,200, compared with $6,400 in the Netherlands, or $7,400 in Switzerland, the survey finds. A typical M.R.I. scan costs $1,420 in the United States, but around $450 in Britain. An injection of Herceptin, an important breast cancer treatment, costs $211 in the United States, compared with $44 in South Africa. These examples aren’t outliers.

There are so few cases where the United States price isn’t the highest that they jump out. Cataract surgery costs more in New Zealand; Kalydeco, a new drug for cystic fibrosis, costs more in the United Arab Emirates. But for most of the studied cases, prices for services and drugs in other developed countries are less than half of those in the United States.

“It is staggering how much the United States is more expensive,” said John Hargraves, the director of data strategy at the Health Care Cost Institute, a group that aggregates claims data from several large American insurance companies and provided the U.S. data to the study. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it shows how very, very bad the US healthcare system is.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 December 2019 at 6:16 pm

How Disinformation Hacks Your Brain

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Brett Beasley writes in the Scientific American:

Three years ago, Edgar Welch sent a text message to a friend announcing he was “Raiding a pedo ring, possibly sacraficing [sic] the lives of a few for the lives of many.” Two days later, he drove 350 miles to a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor called Comet Ping Pong and entered with a .38 revolver and an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle. He fired shots inside in an attempt to investigate what he believed was a child sex ring with ties to top Democratic Party leaders and sent restaurant patrons and staff fleeing in fear. The sex ring was fake news. The consequences, however, were real. Welch left the premises under arrest and later pled guilty to local and federal weapons charges.

At the time of Welch’s disinformation-driven rampage, “post-truth” had just recently entered the public imagination. A few weeks before Welch’s arrest, Oxford Dictionaries declared it the word of the year. Many people still struggled to understand how a polite, soft-spoken person like Welch could be led so far from reality. But as the disinformation age has continued to develop over the past three years, science has not stood still. It has given us a more detailed picture than ever of the ways that disinformation hacks our truth judgments.

If the picture is detailed, it is also disconcerting. It suggests that you and I are probably not so different from Edgar Welch as we might like to think. Take for example, what happens when we are subjected to repeated false claims. In a recent study, a research team led by Jonas De keersmaecker found that even those of us who are intelligent, analytical and comfortable with ambiguity find statements more believable simply because we have heard them repeated.

This phenomenon, known as the “illusory truth effect,” was first documented in the 1970s, but it is more relevant than ever in the era of fake news. One might immediately think of Donald Trump, who is a prolific peddler of this type of untruth. The Washington Post recently reported that there are “more than 350 instances in which [Trump] has repeated a variation of the same claim at least three times.” In fact, Trump has repeated some false claims more than 200 times—for example, his claim that his border wall is being built. Of course, there’s nothing new about this type of huckster’s grift. But online environments supercharge it. They give repeated false claims instant global distribution. More importantly, they allow the person making false claims to go on doing so while dodging the pressure (and potential legal repercussions) that accompany similar claims in public or in traditional news sources.

Psychologists say that what makes repeated claims seem truer is their “fluency.” Fluency means the cognitive ease with which we process a claim. Repeated claims are easier to represent and comprehend. For that reason, they just feel good. Our minds take this feeling as a cue that the claim is true.

In a recent review of the research, Nadia M. Brashier and Elizabeth J. Marsh identify two additional ways disinformation hacks our truth judgments. One that is closely related to fluency and the good feelings it generates is memory. The information and experiences stored in our memory are powerful weapons in the fight for truth. But, as with fluency, we take our memories as cues, not as the raw materials for forming well-considered judgments. We tend, in other words, to go with “good enough.” We often accept claims as true when they only partially fit with what we know or remember.

Additionally, we can fall prey to the “illusion of explanatory depth,” a tendency to overestimate our knowledge and understanding of the issues we care about. Research shows that when we do, we are more likely to hold extreme beliefs and to accept fake news as true.

Unfortunately, digital tools may be making our memories even weaker and less effective for judging truth. As Brashier and Marsh point out, “search algorithms return content based on keywords, not truth. If you search ‘flat Earth,’ for example, Google dutifully returns photoshopped pictures for a 150-ft. wall of ice that keeps us from slipping off the planet.” For this reason, relying on the internet as truth-on-demand rather than looking to our memories and acquired knowledge can backfire in serious ways.

Brashier and Marsh also point out a more basic mismatch between our brains and the digital environment: We tend to  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 December 2019 at 5:01 pm

Finland is winning the war on fake news. What it’s learned may be crucial to Western democracy

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Eliza Macintosh reports at CNN:

On a recent afternoon in Helsinki, a group of students gathered to hear a lecture on a subject that is far from a staple in most community college curriculums.

Standing in front of the classroom at Espoo Adult Education Centre, Jussi Toivanen worked his way through his PowerPoint presentation. A slide titled “Have you been hit by the Russian troll army?” included a checklist of methods used to deceive readers on social media: image and video manipulations, half-truths, intimidation and false profiles.

Another slide, featuring a diagram of a Twitter profile page, explained how to identify bots: look for stock photos, assess the volume of posts per day, check for inconsistent translations and a lack of personal information.

The lesson wrapped with a popular “deepfake” — highly realistic manipulated video or audio — of Barack Obama to highlight the challenges of the information war ahead.

The course is part of an anti-fake news initiative launched by Finland’s government in 2014 – two years before Russia meddled in the US elections – aimed at teaching residents, students, journalists and politicians how to counter false information designed to sow division.

The initiative is just one layer of a multi-pronged, cross-sector approach the country is taking to prepare citizens of all ages for the complex digital landscape of today – and tomorrow. The Nordic country, which shares an 832-mile border with Russia, is acutely aware of what’s at stake if it doesn’t.

Finland has faced down Kremlin-backed propaganda campaigns ever since it declared independence from Russia 101 years ago. But in 2014, after Moscow annexed Crimea and backed rebels in eastern Ukraine, it became obvious that the battlefield had shifted: information warfare was moving online.

Toivanen, the chief communications specialist for the prime minister’s office, said it is difficult to pinpoint the exact number of misinformation operations to have targeted the country in recent years, but most play on issues like immigration, the European Union, or whether Finland should become a full member of NATO (Russia is not a fan).

As the trolling ramped up in 2015, President Sauli Niinisto called on every Finn to take responsibility for the fight against false information. A year later, Finland brought in American experts to advise officials on how to recognize fake news, understand why it goes viral and develop strategies to fight it. The education system was also reformed to emphasize critical thinking.

Although it’s difficult to measure the results in real-time, the approach appears to be working, and now other countries are looking to Finland as an example of how to win the war on misinformation.

“It’s not just a government problem, the whole society has been targeted. We are doing our part, but it’s everyone’s task to protect the Finnish democracy,” Toivanen said, before adding: “The first line of defense is the kindergarten teacher.”

Sorting fact from fiction

At the French-Finnish School of Helsinki, a bilingual state-run K-12 institution, that ethos is taken seriously.

In Valentina Uitto’s social studies class, a group of 10th-graders were locked in debate over what the key issues will be in next week’s EU elections. Brexit, immigration, security and the economy were mentioned with a flurry of raised hands before the students were asked to choose a theme to analyze.

“They’ve gathered what they think they know about the EU election … now let’s see if they can sort fact from fiction,” Uitto said with a smirk.

The students broke off into groups, grabbing laptops and cell phones to investigate their chosen topics – the idea is to inspire them to become digital detectives, like a rebooted version of Sherlock Holmes for the post-Millennial generation.

Her class is the embodiment of Finland’s critical thinking curriculum, which was revised in 2016 to prioritize the skills students need to spot the sort of disinformation that has clouded recent election campaigns in the US and across Europe.

Continue reading.

In the US, education in critical thinking skills cannot get traction because when students begin exercising those skills, their parents often become upset and pressure school boards to discontinue teaching those skills.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 December 2019 at 4:58 pm

A major funder of the anti-vaccine movement has made millions selling natural health products

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Neena Satija and Lena H. Sun report in the Washington Post:

The nation’s oldest anti-vaccine advocacy group often emphasizes that it is supported primarily by small donations and concerned parents, describing its founder as the leader of a “national, grass roots movement.”

But over the past decade a single donor has contributed more than $2.9 million to the National Vaccine Information Center, accounting for about 40 percent of the organization’s funding, according to the most recent available tax records. That donor, osteopathic physician Joseph Mercola, has amassed a fortune selling natural health products, court records show, including vitamin supplements, some of which he claims are alternatives to vaccines.

In recent years, the center has been at the forefront of a movement that has led some parents to forgo or delay immunizing their children against vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles. Health officials say falling vaccination rates contributed to the infectious virus sickening more than 1,200 people in the United States this year, the largest number in more than 25 years. Measles outbreaks are surging worldwide, including in Samoa — where nearly 80 people have died since mid-October, the great majority of them young children and infants.

The Northern Virginia-based National Vaccine Information Center lists Mercola.com as a partner on its homepage and links to the website, where readers can learn about and purchase Mercola’s merchandise.

Last month, Mercola wrote on his website that measles “continues to be a Trojan Horse for increasing vaccine mandates.” A page that was recently removed said that “vitamin C supplementation is a viable option for measles prevention.” Elsewhere on the site, a page about vitamin D includes the headline, “Avoid Flu Shots With the One Vitamin that Will Stop Flu in Its Tracks.”

Mercola, whose claims about other products have drawn warnings from regulators, has also given at least $4 million to several groups that echo the anti-vaccine message. His net worth, derived largely from his network of private companies, has grown to “in excess of $100 million,” he said in a 2017 affidavit.

Mercola said in emails to The Washington Post that he contributes to the center because he believes in its mission. He said he offers “simple, inexpensive and safe alternatives to the conventional medical system, which is contributing to the premature death of millions and is causing needless pain and suffering in great part because multinational corporations want to increase their revenues.”

He declined to be interviewed and did not respond to questions about how much profit his vitamin D and C supplements generate relative to the rest of his wide-ranging merchandise, which includes organic cotton underwear and pet food. Supplements containing those vitamins are among Mercola’s “top products,” his website says.

In a statement, his media team said the claims on Mercola’s website relate to vitamin D and vitamin C generally and “do not mention Dr. Mercola’s products whatsoever.” . . .

Continue reading.

I detect a possible source of bias….

Written by LeisureGuy

27 December 2019 at 4:48 pm

The travel shave at home

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This is the kit I took with me to Salt Spring Island and did not use because we decided to catch the early ferry. So I used it this morning, and it worked very well on a two-day stubble. Dr. Jon’s Defiance is a good enough soap, though I prefer the fragrance of Propaganda. Still the lather was quite good, thanks in part to the Kent Infinity synthetic.

And the Dorco PL602 continues to be, IMO, one of the best-performing (and most comfortable) razors available. I’m down to my last one — the one in the photo — and I really should get a couple more to have on hand since the plastic head will eventually age and break (after several years) — plus they are a good starter razor to give to someone who wants to experience an enjoyable shave.

Three passes, perfect result, and a splash of Wild Coast Perfurmery’s Eau de Lavande.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 December 2019 at 8:32 am

Posted in Shaving

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