We are all scientists
The best tool to improve and keep track of your health may be in your pocket, says Dr. Eric Topol, a pioneering figure in “wireless medicine” — the practice of using apps and devices in health care. An article from NBC News describes how new apps for iPhone and other devices can measure vital signs and even detect whether someone is having a heart attack. “These days, I’m prescribing a lot more apps than I am medications,” says Dr. Topol. “The smartphone will be the hub of the future of medicine.”
The linked article shows the powerful use of technology to deal with a health emergency. Thanks to the smartphone, people have the equivalent of a supercomputer in their hands, capable of doing amazing things.
At the moment, the health arena is focussed on making sick people healthy. That has been incredibly helpful over the years but is beginning to reach its terminal end. It is simply becoming more and more expensive to gain even small increases in quality of life.
But, in a few short years, each of us will be able to collect huge amounts of data on our own personal health. Medicine will become personal.
Lee Hood – whom I have known since my days at CalTech when he taught me immunology – has been describing his vision of “P4 medicine” for years – predictive, preventative, personalized and participatory.
What happens when everyone has access to their own genetic information? What happens when each of us is wearing a wireless patch, one that constantly records thousands of data points on our personal metabolism and downloads that our computers? What happens when we can measure our own personal prescription drug levels daily, knowing exactly how long a therapeutic dose lasts for multiple drugs rather than rely on the probabilistic information for a single drug we deal with today?
How much cheaper will it be to catch health problems early? How much cheaper will it be to deal with people whose systems are just beginning to develop problems instead of seeing them long after they are sick?
We now have evidence that we can detect diseases such as the flu days before the symptoms become apparent. What happens when we become able to detect cancer years before symptoms?
The rapidly decreasing price of goods and services seen in the exponential economy will hit current medical practices hard. People will find ways to get the data that they want.
Right now I have a Fitbit to measure my activities and a balance to measure my weight/body fat percentage. Both dump the information to my computer wirelessly. I am creating a database. Throw in a daily log of my exercise/food and I can now track my weight lose/gain based on several measures. All this data is available to me via any digital device I have. I can easily track how my weight and body fat changes based on what I eat and do, not based on what research shows works for a general population.
Things how this will change medicine, especially when people have access to much more information. What this will also mean is that people will need better/different filters to explain and mine the data for them. I expect that we will see the growth of a huge industry to service this data for people.
Current medicine really only deals with biological systems after they begin failing. It can cost a lot to get the systems back in working order. Fixing them before the really become a problem will be the goal of 21st cebtury medicine.
HP’s sudden departure from a business model that has sustained the company since inception is symptomatic of the passing of an era. Yesterday HP announced that it would exit the PC and tablet computer business, focusing on higher-margin “strategic priorities of cloud, solutions and software with an emphasis on enterprise, commercial and government markets.” In other words, HP is fleeing upmarket, away from a core that it will abandon to device makers.
HP management conceded that the disruptive impact of the iPad forced their hand but that hand was already quite weak from a decade of over-serving the market. The last decade offered plenty of opportunities for incumbent PC companies to adjust to the realities of mobility. However only one computer maker made the transition.
Why is that?
Consider how HP and Apple faced the changes in the PC market almost exactly a decade ago.
The rest, as they say, is history.
In his classic 1996 paper, Increasing Returns and the New World of Business, – published the same year Apple bought NeXt and started its drive to success – Arthur discussed the difference between decreasing returns seen in 20th Century companies and the increasing returns seen for the newer companies. I’ll talk more about this paper later but here we have a perfect example of a company living by diminishing returns and one living by increasing returns.
He ends the paper with a series of questions for managers. Think about how Apple answered these questions versus how HP answered them and you will get an idea of why Apple succeeded and HP failed based on where they were 10 years ago.
Do I understand the feedbacks in my market? Which ecologies am I in? Do I have the resources to play? What games are coming next?
HP failed at properly answering each of these questions, believing it was operating as a 20th Century company in a 21st century Market. HP never really presented a compelling case for why its technology was better than a competitor’s. They provided commodities for people to buy.
Apple created the iMac, an all-in-one computer like no others that provided integration of new technologies like no other – it got rid of the floopy drive and added USB, something HP, or any other PC maker, would not do for years.
Apple created the iPod, an MP3 player like no others that provided integration of new technologies like no other – it created an ecosystem of a computer and Apple’s iTunes, something HP, or any other high tech company, have been able to recreate.
Apple created the iPhone, a smartphone like no others that provided integration of new technologies like no other – it created an ecosystem of a computer, Apple’s iTunes and the App store, something HP, or any other high tech company, have been able to recreate.
Apple created the iPad, a tablet like no others that provided integration of new technologies like no other – it created an ecosystem of a computer, Apple’s iTunes and the App store combined with a novel used design, something HP, or any other high tech company, have been able to recreate.
Apple took 5 years before the first real product of its strategy arrived. HP canned its ‘strategy’ after a year.
Apple works to provide the best experience for its customers and will take years to really get it right. Everyone else just seems to push out stuff and hope. Thus why HP is throwing in the towel and Samsung is seeing its products given away.
Microsoft and Google both look for hardware makers to create their own ecosystems of mobile devices and software.
See a pattern here. Apple deeply understood the feedbacks; it not only knew which ecology it was in, it went so far as to create new ones; it hoarded its resources until it had enough strength to play; and it has been on top of what is coming next, riding the bleeding edge of high tech as it focusses on what the market wants.
The rest of each industry – HP, Samsung, Google, Microsoft, HTC, etc. – have been reacting to Apple. They have not been driving their own vision of the future. They have failed to answer the critical questions.
They do not understand how much things have changed. The asteroid has his the planet but the dinosaurs do not realize yet that they are doomed.
We had a wonderful group of people meeting for the first BioScience on the Brink meeting at the Eastlake Bar and Grill.
About 25 people attended, enjoying the hamburgers, potato skins, beer and the SUN! Yep, that big yellow ball came out and actually warmed us all up.
Yet Chris Fox’s presentation on adjuvant research at the Infectious Disease Research Institute was able to pull almost everyone inside to listen.
We had some wonderful conversations, with a pretty overwhelming desire to continue these events. I am already working on the next one to be held in around September.
Below are some pictures from the meeting. Hope to see you there next time.
Some quick photos before the event got started.
Chris Fox and adjuvants
And his rapt audience
In 2007, the “Facebook Class” at Stanford created free apps for millions of users. But it also fired up the careers of many students and pioneered a new model of entrepreneurship.
I was at a meeting in 2008 where this class was first described. It was so fascinating I took no notes. Here is what I wrote afterwards:
I just listened to most of this (no notetaking) because it was just an incredible story. some good lessons. Many crummy trials better than deep thinking. Students that shared the most were also at top of lists of apps.
Generated close to $1 million in revenue, several companies started, etc.
Novelty is not best approach. Sometimes best to copy what is out there. Today’s metrics are not the best.
You can LEARN to create a winning app. many stanford’s teams were successful.
Used chaos cycle – trials, evaluate, assets, inspire, trials. Faster could run cycle, faster reached peak. like evolution.
Mass interpersonal persuasion now possible. Created $10 million in value in 10 weeks.
Better to have a rapid development cycle than think things fully through. The ones who shared the most made the most.
Rapid development cycles. Thse that share the most made the most. Learn what works instead of just decide before. Use chaos to your advantage.
What these students found in 2007 is now a part of the economy. Just look at the App Store. This approach to business will expand to many other areas.
Rapid cycles of learning and knowledge will produce better decisions.
[Crossposted at A Man with A PhD]
How is this for timing? Just as my Mother Jones piece on motivated reasoning came out, the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences devoted an entire issue to the case for an “argumentative theory” of reason, advanced by Hugo Mercier of the University of Pennsylvania and Dan Sperber of the Jean Nicod Institute in Paris. You can’t get the article over there without a subscription, but it’s also available at SSRN, and here is the abstract:
Reasoning is generally seen as a means to improve knowledge and make better decisions. However, much evidence shows that reasoning often leads to epistemic distortions and poor decisions. This suggests that the function of reasoning should be rethought. Our hypothesis is that the function of reasoning is argumentative. It is to devise and evaluate arguments intended to persuade. Reasoning so conceived is adaptive given the exceptional dependence of humans on communication and their vulnerability to misinformation. A wide range of evidence in the psychology of reasoning and decision making can be reinterpreted and better explained in the light of this hypothesis. Poor performance in standard reasoning tasks is explained by the lack of argumentative context. When the same problems are placed in a proper argumentative setting, people turn out to be skilled arguers. Skilled arguers, however, are not after the truth but after arguments supporting their views. This explains the notorious conﬁrmation bias. This bias is apparent not only when people are actually arguing, but also when they are reasoning proactively from the perspective of having to defend their opinions. Reasoning so motivated can distort evaluations and attitudes and allow erroneous beliefs to persist. Proactively used reasoning also favors decisions that are easy to justify but not necessarily better. In all these instances traditionally described as failures or ﬂaws, reasoning does exactly what can be expected of an argumentative device: Look for arguments that support a given conclusion, and, ceteris paribus, favor conclusions for which arguments can be found.
Behavioral and Brain Sciences contains not only the paper by Mercier and Sperber, but also a flurry of expert responses and then a response from the authors. SSRN does too, and there is a site devoted to this idea as well.
Anyone who has seen a debate between a scientist and a creationist knows of this dynamic. Most creationist’s arguments take the form of legal rhetorical debates while scientists argue from a very different perspective. They usually present information and try to enhance the knowledge of the those around so they can make their own decision. Creationists argue to support their views using the same sorts of techniques used to validate a guilty verdict. The goal is not to impart information but to drive a decision using the best argumentative tools.
Science does not work that way. At least it tries not to. Thus is often loses in these reasoning sessions.
I would argue that the idea of reasoning used in this report is a very different one than a scientist would use when saying reasoning. Not that I disagree with its point and the idea that these sorts of reasoning arguments in a social setting could be very important for human survival.
But science – our tool for understanding the world around us – has spent the last 400 years moving away from these sorts of arguments and approach to reasoning. Science is not decided by who has the best argumentative personality or knows the best tricks of rhetoric. It is decided by facts that represent the natural world, not just our logical arguments.
But these great debates are only remembered because the science was right, not that the argument was.
A large part of the modern scientific enterprise is to reduce this sort of reasoning to a minimum. Not that it is gone in the least. Scientists often use every single aspect of reasoning when discussing their work. But there have to be facts and a real connection to reality.
No matter how forcefully Pons and Fleischmann ‘reasoned’ about cold fusion, it did not make it real. That is why virtually every scientist will lose in a reasoned debate with a lawyer on a topic. We recognize that no matter how strong our arguments are, nor as data-filled, they will always be provisional at same level. That weakens them in a debate with someone having a hardened argument
There will always be a segment of grey, no matter how well defined the rest is. Reasoning from that viewpoint will almost always lose in a debate with someone who can argue from only a single shade.
When framed as a black and white debate, having shades of gray make you look weak along with your argument.
To win such a reasoning argument, a researcher often has to take a rhetorical position that is somewhat anathema to their viewpoint.
They have to remove the shades of grey that all researchers know exist. They must argue from a black and white view. But this often alienates other researchers while not really providing a satisfying argument.
I think this is why so many scientists are poor communicators – not when it comes to talking about the science but when it comes to arguing about decisions.
Science takes data and creates information. Transformation of information by the sorts of reasoning mentioned above results in knowledge. Knowledge allows us to make decisions. Wisdom is about making the right decision. Science can helps us with knowledge by providing information but it cannot always prevail in a purely rhetorical setting. It is good at creating information but not well prepared for the transformation of information into the knowledge needed to make a decision.
Perhaps what researchers need is not better communication skills but better training in how to present their scientific arguments in this sort of arena of reasoning – helping transfer the information they create into the knowledge needed to make the decisions in society.
I think this is where Mooney and Nisbet’s ideas of framing come from. Not to deny the science or to ignore the facts. But to find a way to permit scientific arguments to get a fair hearing in these sorts of argumentative settings that determine just what decisions get made.
We are working on getting researchers to be better presenters and speakers of their science. We need to actually be training them how to enter these reasoning arguments in a way that can benefit us all. Because their attempts at the moment are ham-handed and not helping move us forward.
They need to be given a rhetorical arsenal that allows them to enter these reasoning sessions that will be crticial for our survival.
Check out the news section of the registration page to see why the Early Bird tickets are $3 off for a limited time.
What happens when the brightest researchers in Seattle get together to talk, eat, drink and listen to each other?
Join us May 24 for the organizational meeting of BioScience on the Brink. Science exchange overlooking Lake Union.
Seattle has a tremendous number of researchers working on a wide variety of projects covering biosciences. Meet some of them.
In both for-profit and non-profit research settings they are exploring problems in global health, biotechnology, bioinformatics and much more. Discuss their work.
Science on the Brink will be an informal space for them to talk with peers and to hear presentations from this vast array of scientists. Exchange knowledge.
Science on the Brink will provide a place where young researchers, working hard at the bench, can connect with other scientists who are perhaps developing novel drugs, designing clinical trials or perhaps even selling pharmaceuticals.They will be working at non-profit institutions or for-profit corporations. There might even be some interested laypeople in the mix.
The plan is to have an opportunity for networking with some good food and drink, along with a couple of short (20 minute) presentations by working researchers. This will generally not be a place for CEOs and department heads to present. They have many opportunities to do that. These presentations will be for the younger scientists – the scientific leaders of tomorrow.
This organizational meeting is to gauge the enthusiasm for such an event and to discuss future ideas. We are asking for a nominal fee in order to cover some of the costs for food and for the venue. However, the ticket price will be discounted – and SpreadingScience will pay all service fees – until May 10.
The Eastlake Bar and Grill is centrally located to the greatest concentration of researchers. It has a great deck overlooking Lake Union which should be fabulous in May.
This should be an invigorating meeting in a wonderful location. If you would like to have some critical input into the future of these meetings, be sure to attend.
Hurry. Space is limited.
Mac OS X celebrates its tenth birthday today. The groundbreaking operating system was introduced to the public on March 24, 2001. Mac OS X helped reverse Apple’s fortunes in the desktop PC market, and has underpinned a lot of Apple’s subsequent success. Most importantly, it spawned iOS, which runs today’s iPads and iPhones.
Below is the story of how OS X’s game-changing interface came about. The story gives some insight into corporate creativity at Apple. OS X’s interface started as a side project. But as soon as Steve Jobs got wind of it, it was fast-tracked. Jobs became intimately involved in its development — a scary prospect for the programmers working on it.
There are some great insights throughout the article. One is his abrasive manner, something like a drill sergeant. It seems that he is interested in how people respond to really withering criticism. In one, the interface designer had provided some mockups for a new Mac interface at a retreat where he was pretty much laughed at because the work would be too hard.
Two weeks later [after a presentation on some of his interface ideas] Ratzlaff got a call from Steve Jobs’s assistant. Jobs hadn’t seen the mockups at the off-site—he hadn’t attended—but now he wanted a peek. At the time, Jobs was still conducting his survey of all the product groups. Ratzlaff and his designers were sitting in a conference room waiting for Jobs, when he walked in and immediately called them “a bunch of amateurs.”
“You’re the guys who designed Mac OS, right?” he asked them. They sheepishly nodded yes. “Well, you’re a bunch of idiots.”
Think about that. The head of the company calls a meeting with your group, walks in and calls you names. How would you you respond?
Jobs reeled off all the things he did not like in the about the interface, mostly things that he did not like about Ratzlaff’s area. But Ratzlaff had a key insight: “I figure he’s not going to fire us, because that would’ve happened already,.”
They picked themselves up and began to figure out how to succeed. They stood their ground and fought for their ideas. Jobs had seen the mockups so he knew that these guys could come up with interesting ideas. But he had to know if they would be capable of actually implementing them. How hard would they fight for them, especially if he provided his support? If he gave them a lead, would they fight to get these ideas implemented – which would take a huge amount of work – or fall back into the safety of committees, as so often happens. That is what this meeting was about.
And Jobs was satisfied. For the moment. All the guys knew that they now needed to implement these ideas. They worked for three weeks, at all hours, to make mockups of what they could do. When Jobs looked at the work, he gave them the whole afternoon with him. That is simply a huge amount of time for a head of a company to give to a project that was so young. Jobs’ insight was to realize the huge importance for the company if they got the interface right. This is what people would actually see, not all the great stuff under the hood. Instead of grafting on the old interface – which is what Apple had been doing – he wanted a whole new one.
After an afternoon, he knew it could be done. During this meeting, he told Ratzlaff, “This is the first evidence of three-digit intelligence at Apple I’ve seen yet.”
From idiots to geniuses in 3 short weeks. That is how you respond to the demands of a leader like Jobs.
Not all leadership styles could be the same as Jobs’, nor should they be. But the underlying point for really creative people is this: Nothing less than the very best should be acceptable. How you motivated creative talent to do that may differ but that motivation needs to be there.
I wrote about this when I discussed Edward Tufte. He was talking about the Macintosh and Windows interfaces. He revealed why the design of the Mac was so much better than Windows. I wrote:
Tufte was discussing the different interfaces between the Mac OS and Windows. After going through a lot of the pluses he saw in the Mac and a lot of the minuses in Windows, he stated that the Mac looked like it had been created by one or a small group of people with a single purpose, a single view of how the information should be presented, while Windows looked like it had been done by a committee.
He then said that all the best presentations were this way – a single point of view forcefully pushed onto everyone. Someone in the audience then asked but what happens if your single point of view turns out to be wrong, to not work.
Tufte replied, simply, “You should be fired.” You could almost audibly hear the intake of everyone’s breath. That is exactly what they feared and why they would always want to retreat into committee decisions – they can’t be fired if the committee made the decision.
The creative, the innovative do not really fear failure, often because they are adaptable enough to ‘route around the damage’ quickly enough. They do not usually doubt the mission they are on and are certainly not uncertain about the effects. Read about the development of the Mac. They were going to change the world, no doubt about it. While you can see that there really was a focus of vision, there are also lots of ‘failures’ that had to be fixed. The key was to fail quickly, leaving time to find success.
And permitting committed individuals to find their own way to success rather than rely on committees to fix them.
Jobs’ methods may be abrasive but there is a point. The types of individuals that Jobs is looking for – those who can creatively connected to the single vision needed for success and who are adaptable enough to make that vision a reality – do not respond to his manner by trying to hide in committees. They stand right up, against all outside pressure, and try to find a solution.
And that is why they succeed.
One reason we created the New Energy Cities program at Climate Solutions was to elevate the conversation and focus on a small number of city and utility partnerships that are serious about the degree of innovation needed to create a clean, efficient energy system at the local level.
Early adopters are a small portion of any community – the ones most in tune with new ideas and processes. The majority of people do not want new ideas or processes – they just want to continue using what they have because they know that these will work.
These doers really only change, only adopt innovative processes, when either of two things happen: 1) the people they know all change; or, 2) a thought leader they respect tells them to.
These thought leaders often act as mediators between the doers and the early adopters, two populations that often do not communicate well. The early adopters are always coming up with new things that just distract the doers.
Most communities do not have enough of these mediators and do not effectively leverage those they do have. People seldom get kudos for acting to facilitate change like this.
To create a community of change, one needs to identify and leverage these thought leaders who can effectively mediate between the early adopters and the doers. The more efficient this can be done, the more rapidly the entire community can adapt to change.
The mainstream media likes to suggest, with a nudge and a wink and abuse of the word “cyber,” that Wikileaks represents a radical ideological position. But if there’s a moral crusade to be found, maybe it’s rooted in a tradition closer to home: classical Western liberal-democratic principles.
In The New Republic, Noam Scheiber takes for granted that Wikileaks is here to stay, with relentless pressure on big business and big government that permanently hampers their ability to prevent leaks. This will result in smaller, more humane organizations.
I have no idea what size organization is optimal for preventing leaks, but, presumably, it should be small enough to avoid wide-scale alienation, which clearly excludes big bureaucracies. Ideally, you’d want to stay small enough to preserve a sense of community, so that people’s ties to one another and the leadership act as a powerful check against leaking.
To make this point, Scheiber reminds us that Wikileaks’ stated aim–making organizations operate more ethically–is a mainstream one: “It’s easier for honest CEOs to run an honest business, if the dishonest businesses are more affected negatively by leaks than honest businesses,” he quotes Julian Assange.
Scheiber’s argument seems to be that Wikileaks’ disclosures could have more subtle and far-reaching effects on organizations than it expects.
Apple demonstrates today the sort of company Scheiber discusses. Maybe it is because Jobs hates leaks.
Scheiber’s article is one that should be read by everyone. It is a very important one in its implications. Wikileaks, and the ideas behind it, may alter how businesses work and adapt. It touches on some of the ideas of David Brin in The Transparent Society – the same technologies that permit the powerful to spy on us can, and should, be used to spy on the powerful.
Scheiber postulates, and I agree, that the inability of large companies to stem leaks may result in the greater proliferation of corporate ‘cells – it is easier to control the flow in smaller groups without stemming the tide totally. Inefficiencies in small groups can be overcome when needed. In larger groups, it can be deadly.
Luckily, we also have the ability today for smaller organizations to leverage the abilities of others to succeed. The small biotech company I was VP, Research at had perhaps 3 of us who were working in the lab. But we did not need more because we could have other companies do the sequencing for us – no need for a core facility with tens of people. We could have other companies synthesize DNA for us – no need for a core facility with tens of people. We were able to accomplish great work with a company with 10-20 fold fewer people than it would have taken just 10 years earlier.
So, there will be business pressures to become smaller and more adaptive as well as information pressures.
That is why I think Apple is the first of its kind – a truly large company that has somehow maintained the abilty for small company adaptability. It acts small, has research abilities that are far beyond the modest number of people it has doing R&D. It is able to run rings consistently around other companies. It is one of the largest companies by capital value on the planet yet it acts like a startup.
I don’t know all the details of why but we all know that Jobs is the reason. But I think part of the way this new sort of company came about was because of Jobs’ reaction to leaks.
Apple used to leak like a sieve with whole websites devoted to writing about them. Jobs pretty much stopped that, so much so that a lost iPhone became a cause celebré.
One would have expected this sort of iron control on information leaks would have harmed Apple. Most organizations respond to by clamping down on information flow but, and this is especially true of large ones, this is like giving themselves a lobotomy. Information flow slows, making it very hard to make good decisions and adapt properly to changing conditions.
That is what Assange claims he wants to do with Wikileaks – cause the old dinosaurs to react in ways that result in their own downfall.
Well, Apple shut down leaks and actually became a better and stronger company. I’d love to know the details but I expect that Jobs actually implemented some of what Scheiber discusses. Break the groups down into more manageable units and use pressures to make leaking a violation of social mores.
Of course, this is a two way street and these same social mores can push back on the company to be more ethical, etc. Even the smallest group is open to leaks when some feel the company is acting unethically. It all becomes a system of controls and feedbacks that does not harm the information flow needed to adapt.
I believe that when it is all said and done, we will discover that the same things that ended most of Apple’s leaks also led to a large amount of their success. That somehow Jobs’ response actually did not stifle creativity but enhanced it.
If we can replicate this elsewhere, then things like Wikileaks would not need to be feared by most organizations. In fact, Wikileaks would become irrelevant for the vast majority of us.
When we come down with flu, we do everything we can to get rid of the virus and get better. But when we come down with mind viruses—or ideas that harm us rather than help us—we often just accept them as “how things are,” doing nothing to counter their damaging effects.
There’s one mind virus, particularly acute these days, we should all pay attention to:
Science is a real struggle. It is a dog eat dog endeavor, and if you aren’t hyper competitive, super smart, and working 80 hours a week, you won’t succeed.
This mind virus was highlighted by the recent case of the postdoc poisoning his colleague’s cell cultures, because he was afraid she might be getting ahead. Not only was the act itself borne of this mind virus, but so were many of the comments following it. “That’s just the way it is in science these days,” was a common refrain in the blogosphere.
Such ultracompetitiveness often does more harm in science than good. Pushing yourself may help sometimes but viewing everything as a zero-sum game where the only way to move yourself forward is to harm others is not a long-term successful strategy.
Because science is a small world and it gets around when you abuse others. Your brilliance may be enough to overcome the distaste of others but you can find yourself quite alone when you need help the most.
Here are the 5 things Morgan suggests that can help:
Not only will your life improve, but very likely you will be more productive and a lot happier. Work towards win-win and things will be much better. There can be more than one blackjack at the table.