Friday Links

1. Medical rituals

If it were discovered tomorrow that potatoes cured cancer, then people wouldn’t “suppress” this “natural” remedy. Two years from now there would be an ultrapurified potato extract called POTAXOR™®© that was, on closer examination, physically and chemically identical to mashed potatoes. But these mashed potatoes would be mashed in a giant centrifuge by scientists with five Ph. Ds each. Any time someone got cancer, their doctor would prescribe POTAXOR™®© and charge $6,000 per dose, and the patient would get better, and the thought of just going out and eating a potato would never occur to anybody. Not to the doctor, who doesn’t want to sound like the idiot who tells her cancer patients to eat potatoes. Not to the FDA, who doesn’t know whether potatoes might be contaminated with lead or potato fungus or ketchup or God-knows-what. And certainly not to the patient. They would have to pay 60 cents for a potato at the supermarket, but if they have a good enough insurance the POTAXOR™®© is free!

I remember a speaker from a pharmaceutical company once saying:

We do not charge for the pills. With a few exceptions, pills go for a few cents each. However, the little foldable paper insert with small print listing all the side-effects and some other information? That cost a billion dollars or more. We charge for that.

2. More Slate Start Codex, from a completely unrelated post about people behaving like caricatures, we have this gem:

why don’t whales get cancer more often?

I mean, think about it. Cancer results from a series of mutations occurring by chance in a single cell. So over a given time period, the cancer rate of an organism should be proportional to the number of cells in that organism. If a whale is a thousand times bigger than a person, it should have a thousand times more cells and therefore get cancer a thousand times more often. […]

I don’t know which of the various proposed solutions to this puzzle is true but the most hilarious is no doubt Nagy, Victor and Cropper (2007). […] [T]he theory is that whales survive because they are so big that their cancers get cancer and die.

  1. Congratulations to the scikit-image team for the publication of their software paper

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