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cure for the common cold

2006-12-26 17:49:25.632074+00 by Dan Lyke 7 comments

Must read: Bill Walker: Why There's No Cure for the Common Cold. (via crasch)

OK, seriously: If the computer industry were running under the same conditions as biotech, this is how it would work:

[ related topics: Politics Libertarian Health ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2006-12-27 15:35:13.804959+00 by: meuon

I think he's an optimist. Thankfully, humans self-repair fairly well.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-12-27 17:01:51.347992+00 by: other_todd

Boy, I could not possibly disagree with that article more. It's taking the few vestiges of good sense I have not to write Bill Walker a nastygram.

Computers, when they go bad, do not kill or poison people. Computers, when they go bad, do not have the potential to create repercussions in the human genepool which we could still be trying to shake off several generations later. There is no equivalent of thalidomide in the computer industry. There is no equivalent of bad-batch Tylenol or unexpectedly hazardous contact-lens solution or Rely tampons in the computer industry.

When computers are built by corporate corner-cutters who value profit above safety concerns - which is all of them - worst case scenario is that your battery melts and your laptop catches fire. When food/drug/cosmetic products are built under similarly shoddy conditions, people die or get very sick for years.

I get very nervous when anyone talks as casually about "improving" DNA as Walker does at the end of the article. Like Meuon said, that's optimism at its worst; and I don't think Walker's a bad guy, but I think his vision is clouded by good cheer. We don't yet have a predictive model that can adequately say how DNA changes interconnect, and this is not just a short-term issue; we could develop something that increases our resistance to rhinoviruses and then find out two generations from now that we have increased our children's propensity for catastrophic heart failure in the process. I don't like rolling those dice.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-12-27 17:07:39.96878+00 by: other_todd

Ah, it's an unregulated-market libertarianism site. I should have known. Those guys piss me off; they are simply too trusting that market forces will eventually make corporations behave, or that we can weather the consequences and become stronger for it when they don't. I am no nanny-state advocate, but (to take the immediate example) have any of these clowns ever learned about the snake-oil era and the horrific conditions that led to the establishment of the FDA in the first place?

#Comment Re: made: 2006-12-27 18:45:47.60748+00 by: Dan Lyke

Actually, I think there are similar situations in computer programming. Remember the X-ray machine that was overdosing patients? Or think about the issues of anti-lock brakes, or aircraft avionics and control systems?

I too am not convinced that a completely unregulated market is a good idea, but when you look at some of the snake-oil being sold today, and the mechanisms by which it's being pushed on the market (SSRIs? Or just general doctor's visits?), the economic cost of at least the AMA far exceeds their benefits. And we can see this with the out-of-control health care costs, not only is there no price competition, regulation has reduced health care to a commodity in which there's no way to differentiate yourself based on quality.

And much like buying dildos in Texas, to get effective healthcare for all but catastrophic illnesses we're reduced to talking in vague terms and euphemisms to bypass the protectionist guilds.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-12-27 19:09:34.994289+00 by: other_todd

The point about computer systems failures is well made. I was focusing too much on the personal computer market (as did Walker's analogy).

I agree with the parts about the Byzantine nature of the health care mess - especially speaking as someone who is currently without health insurance - but to me that's a separate issue from how closely food/drug/cosmetic industries are regulated. That has to do with regulation of the INSURANCE industry, which is a separate topic.

Actually, no, I revise that. Insurers will say that the cost of their insurance is so high partially because drugs cost so damned much. And drug companies claim their drugs cost so much because of the high cost of all this regulatory overhead. I happen to believe that both insurers and drug companies are at least fifty percent lying about that, and that both industries are mighty happy with the profits they are making because of this situation.

As for the AMA, I agree that in the past they have been as much enemy as friend, but these days they seem to have a political agenda I mostly agree with. Strangely, despite my position above, I believe in reducing personal liability for doctors in certain situations - because the legal threat seems to have gotten out of hand. There are now whole states in which no one wants to practice obstetrics because they are too scared of crippling lawsuits.

I guess what it comes down to is that I want to find the line of Just Enough Regulation: Enough that doctors aren't tempted to just run amuck, but not so much they are scared to practice. Enough that drug companies aren't likely to cut corners on their testing, but not so much that their overhead is crushing. Et cetera. Unfortunately not only is that line hard to find, but it seems like a lot of people don't WANT to find it - they always want all or nothing, in terms of regulations.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-12-27 19:28:16.337441+00 by: Dan Lyke

For now, I'm happy to try to drag the morass in the direction of less regulation, and if that means allying myself with the no regulation camp, so be it. When we get to the other side we can start to build structures which work from there, and those structures might just be a better product liability law structure.

Here's a little commentary on the retirement of Pfizer Inc.'s former chief executive, Henry A. McKinnell and his $180 million severance package:

It is amusing that a CEO who made $140 billion worth of stock value evaporate during his tenure would be regarded as worthy of a performance bonus. But the sweetest little sugar plums in the stocking are the $576,573 worth of medical and dental coverage (so Hank doesn't have to wait in some emergency room with a bunch of illegal Mexican sheet-rockers), and finally the $305,644 that McKinnell will get for paid vacation days he didn't take.

Given the political power shown by the legislation that the drug companies have gotten passed (Medicare Part D, anyone?), I have trouble believing that they're not quite happy with the status quo.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-12-27 20:55:46.215705+00 by: crasch


Historically, certain books have also caused a great deal of harm--the Koran, The Communist Manifesto, and the Bible, to take a few examples. Therefore, many governments regulate which books, movies, and magazines are published, in order to protect their citizens from pernicious ideologies, religious cults, and pornography. How much regulation of speech do you think is "just enough"?