All from the Economist...
- Experimental medicine: a year after the big launch, is Obamacare working? This is a very basic article about the reforms brought about by the Affordable Care Act, and in no way does it begin to answer whether the ACA is working or not. But if you haven't followed a thing about the ACA implementation, the article will give you good hints as to why the system evolved to be the way it is.
- The problem-solvers: Hints of how to provide better health care for less money. This short insert describes a clinic north of Miami called ChenMed, which focuses on poor elderly people with many chronic conditions. The article explains: "Medicare, the public health programme for the elderly, has a growing share of patients who use government money to buy private insurance. ChenMed contracts with those insurers, most of which pay a capped rate for each patient, and then plies patients with primary care to keep them out of hospital." It also transports patients to appointments, has implemented a simple check-in process where patients only need to wave a card, and offers a mobile app that doctors can use to easily "see their patients' medical records and refer to clinical protocols."
- (Schumpeter column) The China wave: Chinese management ideas are beginning to get the attention they deserve. The column was motivated by an issue of MIT Sloan Management Review examining innovation and management lessons from China. It also mentions the Harvard Business Review article "A Chinese Approach to Management". A key concept is accelerated innovation, using "mass-production techniques to speed up not just the manufacture but also the development of products", launching beta versions "straight into the market" instead of to "a select group of guinea-pigs" as in the West. The speed of innovation also requires significant delegation. Excerpt: "They are developing management techniques that help them create things faster, and they are proving adept at reacting quickly in rapidly changing markets."
- Grand openings: Changes that will bring scientific discovery more freely into the public domain are happening, about time too. About open-access publishing. However, I doubt that, given (1) how often researchers put working-paper versions of their work online, (2) most top research universities have extensive library access to those journals and (3) universities that don't have access to the journal you need to access a paper have well-coordinated inter-library services, the issue of hefty subscription bundle fees will be solved by well-intentioned open-access. What universities really should do would be to publish at least internally to their own intranet the price they pay for those journals, with access and usage data. With tight funding, who is the researcher eager to spend more money on open-access fees when he can publish for free and use the money for something else? The problem of academic journals as money machines for their publishers rather than their authors won't get solved until researchers feel personally gouged by the prices charged to their libraries. But it may open a can of worms because a university may be better known in one discipline than the other, justifying a stronger focus on the better-known discipline, and no one (in the other department) wants to be told "sorry we're going to have a lot more journals in, say, materials engineering than astrophysics because our materials engineering department is Top 10 and the astrophysics department isn't even in the Top 100, and the work that you people in the astrophysics department have been doing just isn't worth the hefty journal fees that will be better used elsewhere, although we understand you like to fancy yourselves as first-rate scholars in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Tough luck!" At the very least, people in the same discipline should talk with their libraries to discuss which journals are more important to keep, disregarding the pressure of professional organizations that insist you lobby your libraries to add all of their journals to the roster (when the researchers aren't the people who are paying).
- Why textbooks cost so much (key bits: "the nominal price of textbooks has risen more than fifteenfold since 1970, three times the rate of inflation", "in 2013 the Supreme Court ruled that Americans have the right to buy and resell copyrighted material obtained legally", the article also comments that foreign editions are often cheaper and sometimes by up to 90%.)
- Secularists at bay (on Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan): I follow closely what is happening in Turkey since some of my former PhD students are from there, so it has been interesting to listen to their perspective and then read about the events in the news, especially over a long enough period of time. I can't really recommend one article that would give a good picture of what is going on but if you are interested you should also read the comments (The Economist has the only website I can think of where you can also learn something from the most-recommended comments) and all the Economist articles from as far back as you can.
- (Bello column) Memory is not history: "Dirty war" memorials should not be used to rewrite the past. Disclaimer: The fact that I link to this column and say it is "worth reading" is not an endorsement. In fact, I find many things wrong with it and I strongly agree with the critical comments to the column that you can read here on the Economist website. I believe it is worth reading because it is ironically a good example of what the columnist is supposedly taking issue with. The article points out that "the historical truth silenced by 'memory' is that the cold war in Latin America was fought by two equally authoritarian sides" and goes on to giving examples in Argentina and Chile. But in Chile, for instance, Allende's government was democratically elected. My understanding is that he also didn't torture and "disappear" opponents. He did implement hard-left policies and the author may be trying to suggest that Allende's policies may have contributed to the economic crisis that made the generals decide he had to be stopped through a military coup (something I read in A Nation of Enemies). The author also takes pains to downplay the number of victims of the Argentine junta. In the end I am surprised that the Economist published this. The first commenter on the Economist page put it best when he/she wrote: "It's these kinds of articles, where suddenly both sides have somehow committed equal atrocities, that try to rewrite history." You think you should only worry about the objectivity of well-known biased media outlets, but in fact "rewriting history" can creep in the most respectable news magazines too.
- Electric conductor: A new musical director picks up the baton. Andris Nelsons has just become the new music director at the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which spent years with a music director suffering from significant health problems, and whose allegiance may have resided with the Metropolitan Opera and New York City all along. In addition to Nelsons being a phenomenal conductor, his vitality (ebullience, the article says) at 35 is well-aligned with Boston's positioning as innovation hub, with an emphasis on creativity and new ideas that extend from performing arts to technology. It also goes well with the very active Boston performing-arts scene, including fringe theater (the performing-arts equivalent of tiny startups, one might argue, in the stage of idea development, whether for a play or for a product). Quotes: the presence of Mr Nelsons "seemed to signal the start of a new, more vigorous era at the BSO where musty halls would open up to let in sunshine and a boisterous crowd." and "This new raft of [young] conductors [in Philadelphia, Los Angeles and now Boston] also reflects a wider desire to rebrand an art form that has come to be seen as the exclusive property of the grey-haired and well-heeled." You can read the New York Times review of Nelsons's first BSO concert here.