experts and specialized knowledge, blue door, trust and loving the same things

green cathedral

If I wanted to know more about pharmaceuticals, among the experts I might get around to might be an economist. Though I certainly would not go to an economist that did not specialize in the specifics of pharmaceuticals and even then the specialist would not be at the top of the list. Its cart in front of the pony thing, only much worse. In Defense of Experts

On Monday, I published an interview with Dr. Jerry Avorn, author of the excellent book “Powerful Medicines”, and a noted expert on pharmaceuticals and the pharmaceutical industry. His argument was fairly simple: There’s little reason to believe that the pharmaceutical industry is our most efficient engine for innovation……….”If we want innovation and scientific discovery we should fund innovation and scientific discovery,” he said, “not go after it bass-ackwards by paying too much for overpriced drugs and hoping that some of the excess profit will trickle down into innovative research.”

Conservative blogger Megan McArdle reads this and snarks out loud about Ezra’s obsession with consulting experts about complicated issues that require special knowledge. Skip specialized knowledge and go straight to the bean counters.

So does Tabarrok — or McArdle — know as much as Avorn does about the pharmaceutical industry? Of course not. Neither of them is a health economist. Neither of them, to my knowledge, has worked at a pharmaceutical company. Neither of them has had sustained contact with the drug industry. Nor is medical innovation a subject that’s dominated by economists. It’s something that requires some knowledge of, you know, medicine, and the interactions between public and private research divisions, and the FDA process, and all the rest of it. Economics is a useful discipline. But it’s not a decoder ring.

Pharmaceutical companies are not much of a cipher. They spend relatively little on original research. The other day I posted about the blue dye in M&M and how that might lead to a breakthrough in treating human spinal injuries. That was university research. Sure some day a pharmaceutical company may buy the rights to manufacture it, but that is where the economics comes in. How much money can we make from selling this medicine developed by government funding at a university. So public health-care in the form of Medicare or the chance to buy portable basic coverage through an insurance exchange has nothing to do with hindering corporate research. Big drug companies are well aware of the prohibitive costs of takng over any and all basic research to create a drug from scratch. That’s why they do so little. The movie Duplicity was right, drug company excecutives dream of curing baldness, not spinal cord damage. This is not to say that drug companies are evil and never do anything that is altruistic, only that they’re largely guided by quarterly profit reports.

In reply, she(Finkelstein) pointed me to the work of Harvard’s Michael Kremer (another expert, sadly). “The two main things that people talk about,” she said, “are funding a lot of basic research — push strategies — and then pull strategies, where governments get together and define a prize for innovation on a particular disease.” In other words, funding innovation and scientific discovery in a direct and targeted fashion.

Economics is just a tool and I don’t mean that in a snarky way. Its not a house of worship that Megan and her cohorts seem to think requires blind allegiance.

blue door

Something for the sentimentalists to toy with, The power of love — When it comes to taste, we value similarities more than differences

Whose tastes do you trust more? The person who loves the same things you love? Or the person who hates the same things you hate? Turns out, when we’re looking for advice, positivity reigns. A new study reveals that we trust those who love the same things we love more than those who hate the same things we hate. As the researchers explain in the March issue of the Journal of Consumer Research, “There are few ways that products are loved, but many ways that they are hated.”

This was done as part of a consumer research study ( by another damn university). Two people can agree to strongly dislike something, but often times disagree on specifics. So disliking something together tends not to be a strong motivation for trust. Though depending on the sports bar and the city, hating the same player might get you a high five.