Five Things: Newsletters

Every Friday I’m going to put out a list of five things, somehow related, that are worth thinking about, getting, subscribing to, etc. It could be anything, albeit legal, with the main thing linking them — wait for it — is that there will be five of them.

I’m not the first to do this, of course. You can, among other things, think of this an homage to the excellent Five Books. Whatever, though: These are my Five Things.

This week my list is newsletters. While there are too many of them, of course, almost certainly including this one, they are still useful, filling an interstitial somewhere between tweets, blog posts, and, heaven forfend, columns. The best newsletters combine intelligence, serendipity, commentary, and regularity in the right mix.

My five-picking criteria:

  • Not just blog posts that are mailed around, which is perfectly line, but not really a newsletter.
  • Not obvious, like Matt Levine’s maddeningly excellent Money Talk. If you don’t subscribe to Matt, that’s on you, and me mentioning it here isn’t going to fix anything. (There are many others like that, like Bill Bishop’s Sinocism, of course, so my focus will be on ones that you’re probably not reading, and that are worth checking out.)
  • Not paid. This is a hard one, because I like people getting paid for things, especially me getting paid for things, but this time around I’m focused on free letters.
  • Not stocks or investing. While those can be fine, and some are sort of entertaining in small doses (like this one or this one), they are too focused for what I’m trying to do here, and that takes all the fun out of it.
  • Fairly regular, but not too regular. I hemmed and hawed on this one, in particular, because I’m hardly one to talk here, but I want newsletters that show up less frequently than Gap promotions, but more frequently than, say US elections. Sadly, that rules out a few excellent ones, like my friend Sam Arbesman’s Cabinet of Wonders, but this why I’m here: to make the tough, completely arbitrary choices.

Btw, notice how I’ve cheated here, saying that I’m going to mention just five newsletters, and I’ve already mentioned five in saying that I won’t mention them below, which means I’m ten newsletters, which is not five, no matter how you think about it. Yes, I’m prone to cheating like that — get used to it.

So, here are five newsletters worth checking out. If I did this list on a different Friday I might very well end up with a different list, but these five will do today.

1) Annie Duke

Annie, a former gambler, wrote a great book about how to think probabilistically, and now she collects her thoughts and puts them out every Friday in a letter. It is smart, informal, and entirely worth reading.

2) 5it: Alexis Madrigal

A man about intellectual town, as well as a journalist, Alexis ranges widely, but always thoughtfully. Topics touched on include the history of capitalism, docks, containers, and the meaning of work. He makes it work, no pun intended-ish.

3) Internal Exile: Rob Horning

Rob writes about consumerism and technology, but does it in a deep and nuanced way. A recent piece about the nature of textual engines and deep fakes was a good example, with it taking issue with both alarmists and scientists in equal measure.

4) Book Marks

A sort of Rotten Tomatoes of books, this is a bit of a cheat on my part, but it’s still useful and overlooked. It puts out a weekly meta-review of books, classifying the tenor of professional reviews from raves to run away, more or less. Many interesting things pop up.

5) BIOMCH-L literature update

Another pseudo-cheat, but still too wonderfully bizarre to miss. This is a regular compendium of all the latest noteworthy publications in the biomechanics literature. If you only read it for the closing “Unique Topic” and “Pick of the Week”, your applied biological work will be done for the week.

So that’s five newsletters worth checking out. All interesting in their own right, but also a nice cross-section of the sort of things worth tracking when you get outside the beaten path of WSJ/NYT/Medium letters that you don’t need to read because everyone else you know already does and can’t wait to tell you about it.

Readings 20-02-2019





Readings 19-02-2019





Medicine, Mass Interventions, and Health Outcomes

Medicine, Mass Interventions, and Outcomes

There are two interesting medical studies out today, both tied to large populations of patients being given interventions best for smaller groups.

The first is a new meta-analysis of total knee and total hip replacement (TKR/THR), showing that 58% of such implants last 25 years. That may or may not sound like a large number, but it is not markedly better than the original Charnley replacements. This is despite improvements in materials, techniques, and training since then.

There are many factors here, not least of which is a growing number of non-ideal candidates as TKR/THR is more widely done. Patients are younger, patients are often heavier, and patients are often more active, all of which lead to less ideal outcomes, whether it is through excessive wear, implant loosening, or something else. Revision is a costly and serious exercise, and should be avoided a priori, which is best done via careful implant choice, good technique, and proper patient selection.

The second study looks at the proportion of patients presenting with lower back pain (LBP) who receive imaging studies. This practice has been cautioned against repeatedly — most sudden onset lower back pain doesn’t show up on imaging, & what does appear tends to be incidental, which can lead to unrelated procedures and worse outcomes.

The study shows that a striking 25% of patients who present to primary care with LBP received imaging, as 33% who presented to an emergency department. The rate has increased over 21 years, despite the many cautions against it. If imaging is available, and a diagnosis isn’t certain, physicians will use it, especially given patients’ demands for imaging, and despite the risks associated.

Both studies point to why improving medical outcomes is not simply a question of improved access to doctors, tests, and procedures. Large numbers, mass screening, and non-ideal candidates change the risk-return tradeoff in ways that don’t always favor population health.

Readings 12-02-2019


Sports & Probability