Archive for August, 2012


Posted by on Tuesday, 28 August, 2012



We have moved on from the last recession best we could. Companies are profitable. Stocks are back. even the housing market seems to be steadying.

But jobs? Peh!

Why is that?

In a word? Robots.

Nobody – not even a glib politician – is going to add jobs faster than the “robot revolution” scrapes them away. Cut taxes all you like. Stimulate till the top blows off. The fact is, technology’s outgunning us and we will keep losing jobs till we cry uncle.

Why WOULDN’T a company use the best available tools? Isn’t that what it is supposed to do? What’s wrong with that? Of course companies will buy “intelligent machines” to reduce labor costs. And why worry? Aren’t new jobs being created to replace the ones that were lost?

I have talked about this before. I’m still talking about it. Technology is zooming. Faster and faster. And jobs are being eaten alive.

Let’s look at how we shop. Consuming is a lonely chore now.  We cavort with machines at the store instead of clerks. No friendly smiles. Not even a nasty scowl.

And work? Well that’s been you and your best buddy,  the machine,  for a long time, right? Only now it’s more so. Flesh-and-blood workers aren’t valuable enough to waste a wall on. Just a cubicle. Soon humans will be so rare in the workplace, the computers will gawk when they see one. Wherever there are human workers, their computerish adversaries are crowding in.

Isn’t it time to examine our basic assumptions about why jobs aren’t rebounding along with the rest of the economy? The recovery has been slow. But that’s really not the whole story. There’s something else going on. The very technology that has the potential to free us from muckery is tossing us about like a rubber ducky in a hurricane. Unless we pay attention, there will be less rubber duckies.


This last economic bubble was real estate. At least, that’s how it began. The next economic bubble is inflating under our noses – an unemployment crisis that is being confused with a slow economic recovery.

Here’s the thing. It used to be  that automation, though disruptive , was something we could adjust to.  Jobs got eclipsed but others took their place. And because we seemed to adjust, we came to assume that we always would. No matter how powerful our computers, no matter how capable  our robots, no matter how fast the rate of innovation, we would adjust. Jobs would show up when others were destroyed. How did we know we could adjust? It’s simple. We always do.


Till it isn’t.

Look around you kids. The high unemployment is only being MASKED by the “recession” which, by the way, has been over since June of 2009. Those high unemployment numbers are your beloved technological revolution peeping at you over the walls of your complacency. While you were focused on the last set of problems, there’s a whole new set arising.

That’s bad, right?

No. It shouldn’t be.

MISTER ScienceAintSoBad is just a science guy. He shouldn’t write tirades like this. It’s not his cup. Not his tea.  Techies like me? We’re THRILLED when our intelligent machines work right. Rare as it is. We shouldn’t be the ones to worry about the social implications. That’s the other guy.  Advanced robotics and computing is good stuff. It should be helping us, not hurting. It shouldn’t be ME who points out that science has consequences. That’s for the philosophers and the social engineers and the political types. Who are slouched around the TV, watching each other making speeches.

Guys! Wake up! Too many people. Too few jobs.

Get it?

What are the options? Okay, I can help  you with that.

Option A: We could make more stuff.  Create jobs that way. With all of our great technology, we could use it to increase the benefits for all. We haven’t run out of needs. Our knees and backs still hurt. More medical stuff please. The air’s too hot. Global warming solutions please. And I guess we can all agree we need lots more ringtones for our friggin’ smartphones.

There’s lots to do. It’s just a matter of finding the right way to encourage a bit more risk – taking by entrepreneurs. Maybe we need more government. Maybe we need less government. Maybe we need more leadership. Maybe we need more patent law suits.


Amping up sales could  increase employment. Can’t argue with that, right? However, maybe  things can only be pushed so fast. Maybe the public isn’t up for more innovation right now. Maybe there’s a limit too how much new stuff can be absorbed at any one time.

And that’s okay by me.

Option B: But if we can’t incentivize, brutalize, or hypnotize society into upping the need for stuff (and hence jobs) we may need to approach this differently. Maybe we need to find a better way to share out the existing jobs or, at least, the benefits of those jobs.

More, I will not say. There’s a limit to how far a technical guy is willing to debase himself. But you  – YOU know who I’m talkin’ to – you love this crap, right? You, who can’t wait till the next copy of The Journal Of Politics And Society shows up, you’re a social engineer, a political mover/shaker, one who dreams of changing the world, one dreary meeting at a time. Maybe you didn’t notice that there’s a burgeoning unemployment bubble that’s independent of the economic recovery until I said so. I helped you out, didn’t I? Now you know.

Get busy.


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Credits for the animation: to Heather’s Animations. Please note that donations are gratefully accepted in return for which (or even without a contribution) you can utilize the work you find there in your emails, articles, and what not. 

Pancreatic Cancer Isn’t Aggressive

Posted by on Saturday, 18 August, 2012
A new doctor

Let's have a look at that pancreas


Five percent.

That’s the survival rate. By the time pancreatic cancer is found it’s been there for years. 11.7 years on average. You’re not gonna have much luck with a cancer that’s had 11.7 years to  spread.

11.7 years? You thought this was an aggressive cancer, right? Boom! And you’re a goner?

Nay, nay!  Pancreatic cancer is slow it seems. But it grows in a dark and dingy place. There’s plenty of time after the train leaves the station. But it’ll circle the world a million times before you notice something’s wrong. (Enough with the railroad metaphors?)


Here’s the good news. Dr. Mike Wallace,  a “gut guy” at the Mayo Clinic, discovered a way to use an endoscope (camera on a stalk)  to look at cells in the small intestine. These cells change their appearance if there’s cancer down in the pancreas. I know this sounds cheesy. Why would you look in the intestine? It surprised the Docs too. But it certainly seems to work (though they’re trying to reduce the number of “false positives”.)  The Mayo clinic is in charge of a great big trial to see if his Polarization Gating Spectroscopy technique won’t save lives. Perhaps a lot of them.

And that’s not all.

There’s a new drug, rigosertib, that is now in phase II/III clinical trials (published in Clinical Cancer Research)  and sounds very promising. It interferes with the peculiar timing of cancer cells so that they “get stuck” before completing their reproduction cycle and die out.

Pancreatic cancer’s one of the bad ones. Maybe, with some luck, that will change.

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Image credits: Thank you me.


Should Too Get A PSA Test!

Posted by on Sunday, 12 August, 2012
Looking for the prostate gland



If you’ve been reading the newspaper lately, you probably know to skip the PSA test. Pretty much a scam, right? You risk impotence and incontinence. And for what? You die when you die and your tombstone won’t say “Saved by PSA”.

As usual. There are two (or more) sides to the story.

Dr. Edward Messing (University Of Rochester Medical Center) took a look at the country’s largest cancer registry and he compared data for the period before PSA testing was introduced and after it was introduced. The work was published in Cell.  What did he find out? Surprise! He found that the amount of “advanced” cases  – metastatic cancers that were going to spread –  would have tripled had it not been for PSA testing.

So getting your PSA tested is a good thing, right?

Maybe. But this isn’t a very accurate test. What if it leads you to get an unecessary needle biopsy and the biopsy, itself, makes you sick? What if you wind up with urinary incontinence or impotence from the biopsy? Or what if the biopsy is positive and you get surgery and you swoon in the operating amphitheater years before the cancer would have nipped you?

Well, well, well. This is so complicated you probably wonder what MISTER Scienceaintsobad thinks. I ain’t givin’ no medical advice, but I will tell you what I would do if my own PSA score were to jump.

I would be very calm.

Why? Because, as I say, the tests are usually wrong. And, also, as I said, this cancer is a tortoise. At least, it usually is. So I would probably figure on being around to blog another day.

Your blog’s so b-o-r-i-n-g, most of us readers’ll go out and celebrate when you bloody slip the mortal coil, MISTER ScienceIsSoPredictable! – ReaderOfYourBlog993. 

Hey WATCH it, ReaderOfYourBlog993!

Well what to do with the knowledge from the test? If you’re just going to ignore it, why waste time and money? Why do the test in the first place?

Precisely the argument of the US Preventative Services Task Force.

Here’s the thing. (Gotta stop saying that.) Why not act intelligently on this information? Instead of calling  up the biopsy guy, why not look at  other noninvasive tests that could be used to narrow down the possibilites? Here’s one worth considering. Here’s another.   And, yes, this test not only gives accurate information about the presence of prostate cancer, it also gives an indication of how advanced it is which, after all, is the key. With that information, you know when to act and when to roll the dice on outliving the cancer.

Just one thing. None of these tests is available. They are still “raw science”. They might not make it to the clinic. Ever.

Am just playing with you? Would MISTER ScienceAintSoBad do that? Course not. I do have something with a bit more immediacy here. This study, using currently available drugs,  takes the sloppy PSA test and sharpens it up. It’s the brainchild of  Dr. Steven A. Kaplan and his colleagues at  the NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center  (published in the Journal of Urology) . They looked at men who keep getting abnormal PSA tests followed by normal biopsies. For these patients, this would happen over and over. Frustrating!

Since the standard PSA test has trouble telling the difference between an inflamed prostate (which is benign if you don’t mind peeing constantly) and cancer,  they tried using certain drugs – drugs that are currently available –  to  shrink the prostate. THEN they did the PSA test.

Good idea.

After shrinking the prostate, the tests were , in fact,  more accurate. Fewer patients had to undergo a needle biopsy with its risks and more advanced cancers were identified. No. This “drug plus PSA test” approach isn’t standard follow-up to a positive PSA test. Not yet.  More thought has to go into how it might be applied to the general population. And, of course, cost/benefit considerations are important when you make a simple test more complex. But all these tests show that we don’t have to be trapped by our current thinking on the PSA test.

The Task Force raised good questions but the panel members need to get out more. Science can offer a broader range of options than just the plain vanilla PSA test.

Science. It ain’t so bad. Right?

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Image credits: That’s actually Margaret Field in The Man From Planet X which you may have caught back in 1951. He isn’t really checking for a prostate, even though it sure looks that way. The alien is trying to kidnap her and take her back to X where they have a huge shortage of librarians.  Creative Commons License
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