Readings: Cancer, statins, and CFOs

“Once for all, he accepts the stock of commonplaces, prejudices, fag-ends of ideas or simply empty words which chance has piled up within his mind, and with a boldness only explicable by his ingenuousness, is prepared to impose them everywhere”
― José Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses

We live in strange times. As I write this, the UK is debating yet another Brexit-related motion, meanwhile, in a kind of streaming seppuku, one of its own members crosses the floor and makes the current UK government largely a non-government. All the while, UK politicians continue to genuflect in the general direction of The Voter, promising that they are doing  what The Voter wants, but no-one has any idea what The Voter wants, unless it’s what said politician thought in the first place.  Sometimes we hear about Ordinary Constituents who send Letters too, but it’s not clear whether Ordinary Constituents and The Voter are fungible on a 1:1 basis. It is a remarkable moment, combining sophistry, arrogance, confusion, and populism.

Of course, it’s not just Brexit. There is a sense of fragility in much of current events, from politics, to economics, to the environment. Society feels as if it’s going through a Galloping Gertie phase, where under the pressure of sustained pressure systems are finding harmonics they didn’t previously realize existed, and oscillating in increasingly destructive amplitudes. 

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A few papers and articles worth reading: 

Variations in common diseases, hospital admissions, and deaths in middle-aged adults in 21 countries from five continents (PURE): a prospective cohort study

While cardiovascular disease retains its top spot worldwide with respect to killing humans, it is important to note (as the above study does) that cancer is no longer the top cause of human death in higher-income countries. No, that position has been taken by cancer, which recently passed cardiovascular disease in those countries. This is an artifact of an aging society as much as anything else, but it is noteworthy.

Seeing is believing? Executives’ facial trustworthiness, auditor tenure, and audit fees

Some truly fascinating and bizarre research is coming out of the financial community lately as it exploits new sources of data. This is that, as researchers show that the firms of CFOs with more “trustworthy” faces — as judged by a machine learning algorithm — are charged 5.6% lower audit fees. Perhaps unsurprisingly, facial trustworthiness is shown to have no association with either financial reporting quality or litigation risk.

Cross-national evidence of a negativity bias in psychophysiological reactions to news

I am generally of the view that you should ignore news, perhaps checking in once a year or so, and even then maybe only quickly scan news from twelve months before that. Too much recent news is irrelevant, inflammatory, unimportant, etc. This new study reminds us of that, showing how skewed it is to negative news — despite there being a large and mostly untapped audience for positive news.

Do statins really work? Who benefits? Who has the power to cover up the side effects?

There is a punchy and spot-on critique of statins, their role in health, and their unanticipated consequences. It seems increasingly clear that such drugs are overprescribed, and that our cholesterol-lowering fixation is killing people, whether directly or indirectly.

Fully automated snow depth measurements from time-lapse images applying a convolutional neural network

I’ve long thought that computer vision is a much more important technology than it’s usually given credit for being. It is an example of a general-purpose technology, one that can absorb many other modes via which we learn about and understand the world in which we live. Combine computer vision, machine learning and, okay. snow, and you’ve really got my attention.