Empirically Informed Regulation

Paper by Cass Sunstein: “In recent years, social scientists have been incorporating empirical findings about human behavior into economic models. These findings offer important insights for thinking about regulation and its likely consequences. They also offer some suggestions about the appropriate design of effective, low-cost, choice-preserving approaches to regulatory problems, including disclosure requirements, default rules, and simplification. A general lesson is that small, inexpensive policy initiatives can have large and highly beneficial effects. In the United States, a large number of recent practices and reforms reflect an appreciation of this lesson. They also reflect an understanding of the need to ensure that regulations have strong empirical foundations, both through careful analysis of costs and benefits in advance and through retrospective review of what works and what does not.”

A Videogame That Recruits Players to Map the Brain

Wired: “I’m no neuroscientist, and yet, here I am at my computer attempting to reconstruct a neural circuit of a mouse’s retina. It’s not quite as difficult and definitely not as boring as it sounds. In fact, it’s actually pretty fun, which is a good thing considering I’m playing a videogame.
Called EyeWire, the browser-based game asks players to map the connections between retinal neurons by coloring in 3-D slices of the brain. Much like any other game out there, being good at EyeWire earns you points, but the difference is that the data you produce during gameplay doesn’t just get you on a leader board—it’s actually used by scientists to build a better picture of the human brain.
Created by neuroscientist Sebastian Seung’s lab at MIT, EyeWire basically gamifies the professional research Seung and his collaborators do on a daily basis. Seung is studying the connectome, the hyper-complex tangle of connections among neurons in the brain.”

The Shame Game: U.S. Department of Labor Smartphone App Will Allow Public to Effortlessly Scrutinize Business Employment Practices

Charles B. Palmer in National Law Review: “The United States Department of Labor (DOL) recently launched a contest to find a new smartphone app that will allow the general public to effortlessly search for and scrutinize businesses and employers that have faced DOL citations. Dubbed the DOL Fair Labor Data Challenge, the contest seeks app entries that integrate information from consumer ratings websites, location tracking services, DOL Wage & Hour Division (WHD) citation data, and Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) citation data, into one software platform. In addition, the contest also encourages app developers to include other features in their respective app entries, such as information from state health boards and various licensing agencies.
The DOL Fair Labor Data Challenge is part of the DOL’s plan to amplify its enforcement efforts through increased public awareness and ease of access to citation data. Consumers and job applicants will soon be able to search for and publicly shame employers that hold one or more citations in the DOL database, all by just using their smartphones.”

For OpenBlock, Big Improvements From Small Newsrooms

at Ideas Lab: “A little more than five months after NBC News shut down its hyperlocal product, EveryBlock.com, the original open-source application has been resurrected in Columbia, Mo. But although both products were born of the same Django codebase and Knight Foundation funding, visitors to The Columbia Daily Tribune’s new Neighborhoods site will see a different emphasis and a new hope for a project that has slowed under the weight of government disability and technical complexity….The user interface is clean and smart, and the government data — which is the most difficult of any kind of data to mine — appears to be more current and complete than any OpenBlock installation has seen since the very early days before its code was made public.
That kind of commitment is needed for OpenBlock to succeed, because pulling digital records out of all but the very most efficient and transparent government agencies is a tremendous drag on the expense side of the news business. That difficulty, though, can also create an opportunity for outsized revenue.
Chris Gubbels, the Web developer who’s been overseeing the project for The Tribune, said that unlike many jurisdictions, Columbia’s police and fire data were “pretty simple” to pull into OpenBlock. The police even provided The Tribune with an RSS feed of geocoded 911 response calls.”

Big data, crowdsourcing and machine learning tackle Parkinson’s

Successful Workingplace: “Parkinson’s is a very tough disease to fight. People suffering from the disease often have significant tremors that keep them from being able to create accurate records of their daily challenges. Without this information, doctors are unable to fine tune drug dosages and other treatment regimens that can significantly improve the lives of sufferers.
It was a perfect catch-22 situation until recently, when the Michael J. Fox Foundation announced that LIONsolver, a company specializing in machine learning software, was able to differentiate Parkinson’s patients from healthy individuals and to also show the trend in symptoms of the disease over time.
To set up the competition, the Foundation worked with Kaggle, an organization that specializes in crowdsourced big data analysis competitions. The use of crowdsourcing as a way to get to the heart of very difficult Big Data problems works by allowing people the world over from a myriad of backgrounds and with diverse experiences to devote time on personally chosen challenges where they can bring the most value. It’s a genius idea for bringing some of the scarcest resources together with the most intractable problems.”

International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance

Final version, 10 July 2013:  “As technologies that facilitate State surveillance of communications advance, States are failing to ensure that laws and regulations related to communications surveillance adhere to international human rights and adequately protect the rights to privacy and freedom of expression. This document attempts to explain how international human rights law applies in the current digital environment, particularly in light of the increase in and changes to communications surveillance technologies and techniques. These principles can provide civil society groups, industry, States and others with a framework to evaluate whether current or proposed surveillance laws and practices are consistent with human rights.
These principles are the outcome of a global consultation with civil society groups, industry and international experts in communications surveillance law, policy and technology.”

Can We Build A Kickstarter For Cancer?

Paul Howard in Forbes: “tarting you own band, writing your first novel, or re-publishing your favorite ‘80s tabletop RPG are all cool goals. You can do them all on Kickstarter. What would be cooler?
How about funding a virtual biotech company with one goal: Saving or extending the life of a cancer patient who doesn’t respond to “standard of care” treatments….
The Cancer Commons approach – a distributed framework for empowering patients and learning from every patient/treatment combination – breaks down traditional distinctions between clinical trials and patient treatment in the “real world.” Instead of developing treatments in a lab and then testing them on randomized patients in clinical trials (designed to benefit future patients), researchers would apply the latest scientific knowledge and tools to help each patient achieve the best possible outcome today based on what we know – or think we can predict – about a molecular subtype of cancer….
We’ll need more than money to power a Kickstarter-for-cancer movement. We’ll need to encourage companies – from Big Pharma to “small” biotechs – to participate in distributed, Bayesian trials where new biomarkers or combinations of biomarkers are tested in patients with particular molecular profiles. And the FDA is going to have to be convinced that the system is going to generate high quality data that benefits patients, not sell them snake-oil cures.
In return for companies making their compound libraries and experimental drugs available for the “virtual biotechs” launched by cancer patients and their families, there should be a regulatory path established to take the most promising drugs and drug combinations to market.”

New Report Finds Cost-Benefit Analyses Improve Budget Choices & Taxpayer Results

Press Release: “A new report shows cost-benefit analyses have helped states make better investments of public dollars by identifying programs and policies that deliver high returns. However, the majority of states are not yet consistently using this approach when making critical decisions. This 50-state look at cost-benefit analysis, a method that compares the expense of public programs to the returns they deliver, was released today by the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative, a project of The Pew Charitable Trusts and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

The study, “States’ Use of Cost-benefit Analysis: Improving Results for Taxpayers”, comes at a time when states are under continuing pressure to direct limited dollars toward the most cost-effective programs and policies while curbing spending on those that do not deliver. The report is the first comprehensive study of how all 50 states and the District of Columbia analyze the costs and benefits of programs and policies, report findings, and incorporate the assessments into decision-making. It identifies key challenges states face in conducting and using the analyses and offers strategies to overcome those obstacles. The study includes a review of state statutes, a search for cost benefit analyses released between 2008 and 2011, and interviews with legislators, legislative and program evaluation staff, executive officials, report authors, and agency officials.”

How to do scientific research without even trying (much)

Ars Technica: “To some extent, scientific research requires expensive or specialized equipment—some work just requires a particle accelerator or a virus containment facility. But plenty of other research has very simple requirements: a decent camera, a bit of patience, or being in the right place at the right time. Since that sort of work is open to anyone, getting the public involved can be a huge win for scientists, who can then obtain much more information than they could have gathered on their own.
A group of Spanish researchers has now written an article that is a mixture of praise for this sort of citizen science, a resource list for people hoping to get involved, and a how-to guide for anyone inspired to join in. The researchers focus on their own area of interest—insects, specifically the hemiptera or “true bugs”—but a lot of what they say applies to other areas of research.

The paper also lists a variety of regional-specific sites that focus on insect identification and tracking, such as ones for the UK, Belgium, and Slovenia. But a dedicated system isn’t required for this sort of resource. In the researchers’ home base on the Iberian Peninsula, insects are tracked via a Flickr group. (If you’re interested in insect research and based in the US, you can also find dozens of projects at the SciStarter site.) We’ve uploaded some of the most amazing images into a gallery that accompanies this article.
ZooKeys, 2013. DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.319.4342


Launch of new site Peers.org: “In many cities around the world, people whose lives have been enriched by the sharing economy were getting together to work out how to find new opportunities to share or overcome barriers. We realized that, with the right tools and support, we could achieve more by working together, across communities, cities, counties and the globe.
We started meeting with small groups of people who share their cars, homes, skills and time to build a grassroots organization, from the ground up. Within a few months, we had meetups and house parties happening in cities across the globe, from Boston to Barcelona and San Francisco to Seoul.
In summer 2013 we launched Peers to provide support and tools for people who want to see the sharing economy thrive. We support the movement in three ways:

  • Mainstream the sharing economy By raising the profile and visibility of sharing
  • Protect the sharing economy Through policy campaigns for smart regulation
  • Grow the sharing economy By discovering, joining and using new peer and sharing services”