Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Pharmaceutical Price Rise Scam

MartinShkreliPRphoto
The internet has gone berserk hating this man for a particularly dickish move he pulled, getting Turing Pharmaceuticals, the start-up he runs, to buy the rights to a drug and then increase its price 5555%, from $13.50 to $750 per pill. This is a terribly sad indictment on America’s health care system and on its economic system, and the New York Times has a great article on how this is merely a particularly egregious example of something that companies are beginning to do a lot.

However, it’s also a sad indictment on most of the media, and on most of the people complaining about this on social media who have only got their information from a meme. The drug, Daraprim, is described as an AIDS drug, but it’s really an anti-parasitic that’s used mainly to fight malaria and toxoplasmosis. Most people think toxoplasmosis doesn’t do anything unless the carrier is immuno-compromised, and this appears to be what was used to change the drug from generic to controlled distribution – which means you can’t get it from a general drugstore, only from certain places. This is significant, because “controlled distribution was a strategy Mr. Shkreli talked about at his previous company as a way to thwart generics” according to NYT.

This is what no-one is bringing up: Daraprim is a trade name, not the name of the drug. Shkreli, through Turing Pharmaceuticals, has purchased the right to distribute Daraprim but anybody can distribute the drug under its generic name, pyrimethamine. There are barriers, such as getting the manufacturing system set up, and apparently controlled distribution makes it “harder for generic companies to get the samples they need for the required testing”. Legally, however, there’s nothing to stop anyone from selling the generic drug. There’s nothing to stop the government from offering incentives for companies that produce generic drugs to manufacture those that are out of patent, and have encountered sudden immense price rises by the pharmaceutical companies (except pharmaceutical industry lobbyists, of course).

Get angry about this, the system doesn’t have to work this way!

In India pyrimethamine is apparently 5-10c a pill, so if you need the drug it’s probably cheaper to take a holiday to India to get it than to buy Daraprim in the United States.

This Time For Sure!

Almost two weeks ago I celebrated a return to the internet and blogging and general communications with the post And Now I’m Back. This turned out to be premature, Telmex was an even worse ISP than I thought. They sent a repairman, but didn’t tell us and he showed up while we were taking the kids to school. But he came back a week or so later and said our modem needed replacing.
dontcaregarland

By this stage we didn’t really care because we’d already booked to switch to a different ISP, this one with fibre optic cable rather than DSL, but for some reason cheaper. He replaced the modem, checked it worked and took off. Except he only checked the Telmex site and Google, and I found I couldn’t access anything else. We could only access sites located within Mexico – and for some reason Google.
But…
Judy Garland Really Doesn't Care

Now we have fibre optic, not just higher speeds but more constant, and it probably won’t go down in a storm. This means I can write, I can research, I can communicate, I can relax… I surprised at how much it impacted my writing. Technically I could write just fine on my computer, but every time I went near it I remembered how crap Telmex is and just got too annoyed to do anything productive.

Freaky Data Mining

I’ve long known of the data mining performed by companies in a bid to get to know us better and then sell that knowledge to advertisers and other dubious entities, and I haven’t been too worried about it…I have my general internet usage of things that are in the public domain and that I don’t care too much about, and anything I don’t want the companies to know I do on a different browser that is far more locked down, privacy-wise.

But something freaky just happened.

I logged onto my LinkIn account after quite a long time away, and had several requests to “connect”, most of which I accepted as I knew them and that’s kind of the point of the site. Then I went to “People You May Know” and scrolled down. It was the usual conglomeration of people I had worked with, or were connected to on social media (or more likely the e-mail account I used to sign up, since I don’t recall connecting any other social media to LinkedIn), and friends-of-friends and such like, with a smattering of people I didn’t know.

And there, at the very bottom, was the name of the girl I had a crush on in Year 7. The girl I’ve had absolutely zero contact with since she changed schools more than a quarter of a decade ago…for those of you keeping score, that was before the World Wide Web. Before Netscape. But there was her name, same birth city as mine, same skin tone and hair colour of the girl I vaguely remember, right at the bottom of the list of people I might know…despite the fact I’ve had no contact with her since before the internet escaped from research centres.

How the hell did this happen?

As far as my checking found out we have no connections in common, no common workplaces, no common educational institutions. Apart from the fact that we are from the same city, the only other connection is an incredibly weak one, where a friend of mine attended the same school as her: But she was in a different year, those two are not connected, and I hadn’t connected to that friend on LinkIn when my childhood crush showed up on my list. I’m pretty certain that’s not the connection that clicked the LinkedIn algorithms to suggest we might know each other…so what the hell was?

What little bot crawling the databases of internet corporations decided we might be connected, and how?

Why write…

Sometimes everything goes wrong, all at once, and all the things you tried to do are destroyed, and you figure you may as well just give up on everything and collect cans and paper to sell to recycling centres.

Which is probably more profitable than writing, but when the way you deal with depression is to construct stories around it you may as well write the bloody things down.

Indie ReCon Starts Tomorrow

Tomorrow the Indie ReCon online convention for independent authors begins; it goes for three days and is free, which is awesome for those of us starting out. It’s based in London, which is several hours ahead, but the presentations will all be available online so it just means I’ll miss the chance to ask questions live.

I’ll be using Twitter for the first time in several years (@Peculiarist) and am planning on attending as many sessions as possible.

The Myth-takes of Easter Memes

Every Easter there’s a lot of bullshit memes going around. So to pre-empt them, some facts…

EASTER EGGS ARE CHRISTIAN

Greek Easter Eggs - Arthur Etchells, some rights reserved.

Greek Easter Eggs – Arthur Etchells, some rights reserved.

People have been dying/decorating eggs for tens of thousands of years, but the earliest known example of people exchanging coloured eggs at Easter time is that of the early Mesopotamian Christians, who exchanged eggs dyed red. The eggs represent rebirth, and the red represents the blood of Christ. The Greek Orthodox Church still does it this way. It’s nothing to do with “Ishtar” or “pagan fertility rites”.

THE TIME OF EASTER IS DICTATED BY PASSOVER

Easter moves about because it is the first Sunday on or after the first full moon after March 21. Biblically, Jesus is reported to have risen on the Sunday after Passover, and the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE decided they were more interested in keeping the Sunday rather than matching Passover. There’s a lot of symbolism linking the crucifixion of Jesus to the Passover, and that’s why early Christians associated the two so strongly.

EOSTRE PROBABLY DIDN’T EXIST

This one is a little controversial, but the only source that mentions this Germanic goddess is the English monk Bede, who mentioned her in passing in relation to the name of a Germanic month. While Bede was a smart guy and had no reason to make it up, if worship of her was as widespread as people tend to believe I think there’d be other references to her, either in word or architecture or crafts.

ISHTAR HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH EASTER

Ishtar was a goddess of fertility, love, war and sex in Mesopotamia, modern day Iraq. Contrary to any photoshopped images you may have seen around, her name is pronounced “Ishtar”, neither eggs nor rabbits were symbols associated with her, and she certainly wasn’t worshiped anywhere near Britain or Germany, which is the only place Easter is called Easter.

DON’T BE SO FRICKIN’ ANGLO-CENTRIC

So much of the bullshit is based on the English language, on the word “Easter”. But in other countries, where most of the Easter traditions started, it’s not called Easter – most commonly the word is based on “pascha”.

Is There an Evolutionary Explanation for PMS?

One of the bugbears of our times is PMS, a physical condition that’s used as everything from a punchline to an idiotic reason why women shouldn’t be in charge of something important. Why does PMS exist? Is there any advantage to PMS, one that could have been selected for over the course of our evolutionary history?

A recent paper hypothesizes that the evolutionary advantage of PMS is that it “increased the chance that infertile pair bonds would dissolve, thus improving the reproductive outcomes of women in such partnerships”. Michael Gillings bases this idea around the fact that women don’t get PMS when they’re pregnant, so PMS is a sign of an infertile pairing.

There are three legs of his argument detailed in the paper published in Evolutionary Applications: Genetic variation affects the severity of PMS; PMS is directed preferentially at current partners; and PMS increases the likelihood of changing partners.

He cites studies that show that genetic variation affects the severity of symptoms of PMS, and that these symptoms are hereditary. This variation is normally put down to differing sensibility to the hormones, since “the absolute levels of progesterone, oestrogen and testosterone do not differ between individuals at high or low risk of PMS”. Since this genetic variation is heritable, it could be subject to natural selection.

Gillings cites a number of studies showing that severe PMS has a negative impact on marital relations, which is no surprise, but only one study which shows that it affects family life greater than social, school and occupational life. Specifically, “Functional impairment tended to be highest at home, followed by social, school, and occupational situations.” (source) This could be explained by the tolerance for functional impairment going from highest to lowest in those situations. At work you do your job, even if you’re in pain – at home you leave the dishes for later and just order pizza for dinner, because who’s going to say otherwise.

However, the crux of his argument is that PMS encourages a change of sexual partners, and for this he has little support. Most of his references in this section are of tendency towards risk, whether or not women want to have sex at this point in their cycle, and whether visible signs of menstruation would encourage other males to attempt to mate with a woman (this connection is not only a stretch, but irrelevant to PMS). This section is full of segues and studies only loosely related to what he’s trying to show.

It’s not a strong hypothesis, and ScienceNews interviewed a number of researchers who were generally unimpressed. A very strong point was made by Jane Ussher, a women’s health psychologist at the University of Western Sydney in Australia, who said: “Women are fertile before the premenstrual phase of the cycle…so any function of PMS in terms of repelling males would have no impact on fertility.” She goes on to add that PMS directed at partners is probably a symptom of other issues the woman is unhappy about.

For me, the most compelling argument was made by Mark Elgar, who studies evolutionary biology at the University of Melbourne in Australia. He pointed out that there’s no association between PMS symptoms and how many children a woman has. “In other words,” he explains, “there doesn’t seem to be a very compelling reason to construct an evolutionary explanation of PMS in the first place.”

PregnancyBar

Speculative hypotheses are integral to the advancement of scientific knowledge, but this seems to go off on an unnecessary side tangent. Hormones and their receptors play important roles in a variety of traits that are under selective pressure, while menstruation is a vitally important aspect of human reproduction. Menstruation can be painful, and pain makes people irritable; menstruation also requires a change in the levels of hormones, which naturally changes their other functions. PMS is just a byproduct of these biological aspects. Gillings – who lectures on human biology and the science of sex – seems to be seeking an evolutionary explanation for a trait where none is required. There is an unfortunately common idea that every single trait must have an evolutionary explanation, and must have conferred some sort of benefit that was selected for. In 1979 Stephen J Gould and Richard Lewontin published a paper (pdf) arguing against this position (which I’ve remembered because it has the fantastic title of: The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm). They made the point that many traits are simply byproducts of other things that have been selected for, and convey no inherent advantage themselves. This is probably what PMS, since it doesn’t seem to affect the reproductive capabilities of women.

Also (getting input from someone who actually menstruates), my wife told me that PMS is a largely modern and western phenomenon, and is made worse by low levels of exercise and the use of hygienic products made from synthetic materials.

To Change The World

What is most original in man’s nature is often that which is most desperate. Thus new systems are forced on the world by men who simply cannot bear the pain of living with what is. Creators care nothing for their systems except that they be unique. If Hitler had been born in Nazi Germany he wouldn’t have been content to enjoy the atmosphere. If an unpublished poet discovers one of his own images in the work of another writer it gives him no comfort, for his allegiance is not to the image or its progress in the public domain, his allegiance is to the notion that he is not bound to the world as given, that he can escape from the painful arrangement of things as they are.

–Leonard Cohen  Beautiful Losers