Latest Blog Posts & Articles

Tobacco is Taking Over the World!

We’ve done a lot of things in the United States over the last few decades to curb tobacco consumption. We’ve warned people cigarettes will kill them, created persuasive ad campaigns to scare people away from cigarettes, and added a hefty tax to the product. As a result, cigarette use in United States is lower than it has been in decades. Which means one thing – to maintain profits, tobacco companies need to get people smoking elsewhere in the world. And their efforts seem to be coming to fruition, based on this picture from the Wall Street Journal, which I learned of through Conrad Hackett, twitter handle @conradhackett, from Pew research.

Tobacco WorldTobacco companies have a legal right to promote and sell their products in most countries. It’s just unfortunate their promotion and sales efforts are so successful.

Posted in Behavioral Economics and Public Policy, Ethics, Health & Well-being, Uncategorized | Tagged ,

Heart-Wrenching Words from Beethoven on Deafness

Beethoven DeafIt is an awful irony that Ludwig van Beethoven, who I consider the greatest composer in the history of the world, experienced deafness from an early age, a disability that did not seem to interfere with his musical productivity one whit. But it certainly cost him a great deal of suffering, as is quite apparent in this quote:

O you men who think or say that I am malevolent, stubborn or misanthropic, how greatly do you wrong me. You do not know the secret cause which makes me seem that way to you…. For 6 [sic] years now I have been hopelessly afflicted, made worse by senseless physicians, from year to year deceived with hopes of improvement, finally compelled to face the prospect of a lasting malady (whose cure will take years or perhaps be impossible). Though born with a fiery, active temperament, even susceptible to the diversions of society, I was soon compelled to withdraw myself, to live life alone…. It was impossible for me to say to people, “Speak louder, shout, for I am deaf.” Ah, how could I possibly admit an infirmity in the one sense which ought to be more perfect in me than in others, a sense which I once possessed in the highest perfection…. For me there can be no relaxation with my fellow-men, no refined conversations, no mutual exchange of ideas. I must live almost alone like one who has been banished.

Painful to read. A man who already had difficulty interacting with other humans, to be further isolated by deafness, an isolation increased by his embarrassment that his affliction involved the main sense relevant to his art and his livelihood.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , ,

Designing a Better Restaurant Menu

My friend and colleague Brian Wansink, from Cornell University, worked with some colleagues to design a preliminary restaurant menu, that maximizes the odds the people will order healthy foods. Trick number one: don’t call them “healthy” foods.

Here is an image of that menu, reproduced in the Atlantic.

Slim By Design Diner

This is a great example of how to use behavioral science to improve the well-being of the general public. Hurrah!

Posted in Behavioral Economics and Public Policy | Tagged ,

What’s Really Scary about Obamacare

This cartoon made the rounds of twitter a few weeks ago, and was first brought to my attention by Timothy McBride (@mcbridetd). But it is such an entertaining cartoon, I thought I would circulate it again:

Scary About OBAMAcareFor all its flaws, Obamacare has done more to increase access to health insurance than any government program since Medicare.

Posted in Health Policy | Tagged , ,

When It Comes to Sex, We Are All Animals

Baboon Swollen BumIt doesn’t pay for animals to miss out on reproductive opportunities. That’s why when a female baboon is at the peak of her fertility cycle, her buttocks get red and swollen, thereby alerting males to their reproductive opportunity. Cattle, too, try to take advantage of fertility, with females getting quite frisky when they are in heat. In fact, the word estrus, which scientists use to denote the fertile part of a female’s cycle, is derived from the Greek word “oistros,” which means gadfly. The word captures the frenzied behavior of cattle being pestered by insects.

Baboon buttocks. Cow hyperactivity. That’s how animals behave. Clearly we humans have evolved beyond such primitive behavior!

Well, yes and no. (

Posted in Behavioral Economics and Public Policy

Healthcare Versus Other Social Spending

Here is another great picture from the people at Vox. It shows the United States in the middle of OECD countries, when it comes to spending on social services, like healthcare, unemployment, and the like. Despite being in the middle, however, the US is better understood as an outlier, on two extremes of this spectrum. We very much outspend everybody on social spending for health care, while spending far less than other countries on other social services.

Healthcare vs Other Social SpendingI would like to see us focus less of our social spending on healthcare services, for which we do not receive an adequate return on investment compared to other countries. But that’s just one man’s opinion.

Posted in Health Policy | Tagged , ,

Clever Graphic to Stop Public Urination – Yes, Urination

Let’s face it – us men are disgusting. So public policy experts are left to figure out how to keep us from behaving in our normally disgusting manner. Here’s one approach (thanks to Geoff Riley for bringing it to my attention):

public urination

Think it will work?

Posted in Uncategorized

Are Some Life Saving Treatments Overkill?

Hypothermia 1Thanks to the popularity of medical television shows, most people have witnessed hundreds of fictional cardiac arrests in their lifetime. In most of these scenes, the patient loses consciousness, and the medical team rushes to the bedside:

“He’s in V-fib.”

“Get me the paddles.”

The team performs urgent chest compressions for a few seconds.  Then they place the metal paddles on the victim’s chest:

“Clear!”  Kathump.

The patient’s heart is back to normal again, tragedy avoided.

On television, the outcomes of in-hospital resuscitations are commonly miraculous.  According to a New England Journal study from 1996, over 75% of “patients” who received CPR on popular television shows were brought back to life by the treatment with good outcomes — brains intact; ready to go.  In real hospitals around that same time, only 15% of patients experienced such good outcomes. The vast majority of patients who experienced cardiac arrests in the hospital back then didn’t survive resuscitation efforts, and many of the ones who did survive, whose hearts were successfully restarted, still ended up either dying before leaving the hospital, or sustaining major brain damage.

That was then, though, and now hospital code teams have a new weapon in their resuscitory arsenal.  That weapon is known as therapeutic hypothermia. (Read more and view comments at Forbes.)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged ,

Health Insurance Prices Declining under Obamacare

One year does not a trend make, but it does look like prices for health insurance under Obamacare next year will decline, on average. Ezra Klein, over at, produced a nice picture of these prices:

Benchmark plan percentage change 2014-2015
Who knows: in the long run, maybe the name of this law – The Affordable Care Act – will be deserved.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , ,

Power of Analogy

dog pulls leashFrom time to time in this blog, I take a moment to celebrate fine writing. Here is an example I came across in an article in Smithsonian magazine from May 2014.

The author, Corey Powell , was trying to explain how astronomers use gravitational “tug” to indirectly reveal the existence of planets. In other words, they can’t see the planets, but they know that they are there. But how do they know it? Here is his analogy:

Picture a black dog at nighttime, yanking on its owner’s leash. The only way you can tell the dog is there is by the owners herky-jerky movements.

What a brilliant way to illustrate this important scientific concept.

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