Aubrey de Grey has a good interview in Wired. I want to object to one claim:
You want prizes to be ways to attract people who get scared when you talk about science for more than ten seconds. So the language has to be very glitzy and superficial and populist. Whereas, a foundation that’s trying to get money to put toward research, you want to look really knowledgeable and responsible and low-key.
A ten second soundbite may be very important for the prize to get a widespread reputation, but there’s more to attracting large donors than that.
Aubrey later says a major hurdle to getting large donations for his research is
3) You’ve got to believe the organization you’re thinking of giving the money to actually has the ability to execute [a promising plan]
Anyone familiar with the difficulty of funding technology startups can see that even people who enjoy talking about science usually fail to predict how well an organization will implement a plan. This is exactly why wise people who understand Aubrey’s vision will mostly prefer to donate to prizes rather than his research. The knowledge required to predict whether the Methuselah Foundation will reward progress at slowing senescence is much less than the knowledge required to evaluate a research project. The prize should at least partly transfer the responsibility for spending the money wisely to the researchers who are most informed about their projects.
Book review: Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, by Chip and Dan Heath.
This book uses an understanding of the limits to human rationality to explain how it’s sometimes possible to make valuable behavioral changes, mostly in large institutions, with relatively little effort.
The book presents many anecdotes about people making valuable changes, often demonstrating unusually creative thought. The theories about why the changes worked are not very original, but are presented better than in most other books.
Some of the successes are sufficiently impressive that I wonder whether they cherry-picked too much and made it look too easy. One interesting example that is a partial exception to this pattern is a comparison of two hospitals that tried to implement the same change, with one succeeding and the other failing. Even with a good understanding of the book’s ideas, few people looking at the differences between the hospitals would notice the importance of whether small teams met for afternoon rounds at patients’ bedsides or in a lounge where other doctors overheard the discussions.
They aren’t very thoughtful about whether the goals are wise. This mostly doesn’t matter, although it is strange to read on page 55 about a company that succeeded by focusing on short-term benefits to the exclusion of long-term benefits, and then on page 83 to read about a plan to get businesses to adopt a longer term focus.
Despite strong opposition, a little progress is being made at informing consumers about medical quality and prices.
Healthcare Blue Book has some info about normal prices for standard procedures.
Healthgrades has some information about which hospitals produce the best outcomes (although more of the site seems devoted to patient ratings of doctors, which probably don’t make much distinction between rudeness and killing the patient).
Insurers are trying to create rating systems, but reports are vague about what they’re rating.
One objection to ratings is that
such measures can be wrong more than 25 percent of the time
A 25 percent error rate sounds like a valuable improvement over the current near-blind guesses that consumers currently make. Does anyone think that info such as years of experience, university attended, or ability to make reassuring rhetoric produces an error rate in as low as 25 percent? Do medical malpractice suits catch the majority of poor doctors without targeting many good ones? (There are some complications due to some insurers wanting to combine quality of outcome ratings with cost ratings – those ought to be available separately). Are there better ways of evaluating which doctors produce healthy results that haven’t been publicized?
More likely, doctors want us to believe that we should just trust them rather than try to evaluate their quality. I might consider that if I could see that the profession was aggressively expelling those who make simple, deadly mistakes such as failing to wash their hands between touching patients.
Book review: Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To, by Sian Beilock.
This book provides some clues about why pressure causes some people to perform less well than they otherwise would, and gives simple (but not always easy) ways to reduce that effect. There’s a good deal of overlap between this book’s advice and other self-improvement advice. The book modestly enhances how I think about the techniques and how motivated I am to use them.
The main surprise about the causes is that people with large working memories are more likely to choke because they’re more likely to over-analyze a problem, presumably because they’re better at analyzing problems. They’re also less creative. There are also interesting comments about the role of small working memories in ADHD.
The book includes some interesting comments on how SAT tests provide misleading evidence of sexual differences in ability, and how social influences can affect sexual differences in ability (for example, having a more feminine name makes a girl less likely to learn math).
The book’s style is unusually pleasant.