Thursday, February 25, 2016

Caring for humanity

An ambitious agenda for humanity
One Humanity: a shared responsibility

The World Humanitarian summit will take place next May in Istambul. The Lancet  alerts its readers this week:
Worldwide, 60 million people have been forced from their homes by conflict and violence. Additionally, 218 million people are affected by disasters every year. What can be done to prevent and ameliorate this large-scale human suffering and improve our global response?
The UN report sets out five core responsibilities for the international community: political leadership to prevent and end conflicts; strengthen compliance to international law; ensure no one is left behind; move from aid delivery to ending need; and political, institutional, and financial investment into this agenda.
My personal impression is that more should be done, but unfortunately my hope over the impact of UN conferences is really very negligible.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Genome editing: a potential weapon of mass destruction

The Patent Dispute Over Gene Editing Technologies: The Broad Institute, Inc. vs. The Regents of the University of California

Nobody could imagine two decades ago that a small part of wide range of bacteria's immune system could represent so much for genome editing. Known as CRISPR, clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, such mechanism can recognise and defend against viruses. The other part of the defense mechanism is a set of enzymes called Cas that can cut DNA and avoid the invasion of viruses. Mostly, these research was originated in Les Salines d'Alacant by Francisco Mojica a microbiologist.
As far as this is a natural process Dr. Mojica didn't show interest in patenting it. Now the row over patents is hot between UC Berkeley and the Broad Institute. I will skip details, you may find it in The Economist.
It seems that the fight is only to determine who was the first, and the Court will have to decide on March 9th. However, my question is: why is it still possible to file a patent over human nature?.
Meanwhile the public debate may be moved towards the use of such CRISPR technology for genome editing, and Science was publishing an article about the threat that misuse represents for human beings. Are we facing a new weapon of mass destruction?
Both issues, patents and bioethical implications are crucial at the moment. Former examples provide clear guidance of outcomes that should be avoided. Unfortunately, the race for the biggest size of the pie (billions of $) seems to be a priority over health and humanity.



Friday, February 12, 2016

The failure of replication in economics (and health economics)

Is Economics Research Replicable? Sixty Published Papers from Thirteen Journals Say “Usually Not”

One of the main principles of scientific method is reproducibility. Wikipedia says:
Reproducibility is the ability of an entire experiment or study to be duplicated, either by the same researcher or by someone else working independently. Reproducing an experiment is called replicating it.
The values obtained from distinct experimental trials are said to be commensurate if they are obtained according to the same reproducible experimental description and procedure. The basic idea can be seen in Aristotle's dictum that there is no scientific knowledge of the individual, where the word used for individual in Greek had the connotation of the idiosyncratic, or wholly isolated occurrence. Thus all knowledge, all science, necessarily involves the formation of general concepts and the invocation of their corresponding symbols in language (cf. Turner). Aristotle′s conception about the knowledge of the individual being considered unscientific is due to lack of the field of statistics in his time, so he could not appeal to statistical averaging by the individual.
A particular experimentally obtained value is said to be reproducible if there is a high degree of agreement between measurements or observations conducted on replicate specimens in different locations by different people—that is, if the experimental value is found to have a high precision
If this is so, then somebody could test any specific article and its results. That's precisely what two researchers have done with sixty published papers. The conclusion is specially annoying:
We successfully replicate the key qualitative result of 22 of 67 papers (33%) without contacting the authors. Excluding the 6 papers that use confidential data and the 2 papers that use software we do not possess, we replicate 29 of 59 papers (49%) with assistance from the authors. Because we are able to replicate less than half of the papers in our sample even with help from the authors, we assert that economics research is usually not replicable.
If economics research is usually not replicable, then what about health economics?

PS. Somebody should change immediately the peer review process or othewise close the journal.

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