Forge Friday Roundup - June 21, 2019

June 21, 2019

In today’s Roundup: Prohibition's effects reconsidered; “lasting trauma” among kids detained at the border; grounding AI ethics in human rights; Census history and public health; new opioid evaluation framework at FDA; the importance of GWAS diversity; post-hoc power gets the statistical side-eye; global attitudes toward health & science; lessons from Germany in holding down medication prices; applying AI to climate change; much more:

AI, Statistics & Data Science
  • “Goel dislikes COMPAS’s opacity. But he’s a cautious advocate for algorithms in the legal system, more broadly. ‘Everything that happens in the criminal-justice system involves a human in some way, and every time a human is involved, there’s always this potential for bias,’ he told me. ‘We already have black boxes making decisions for us all the time, but they just happen to be sitting in black robes.’” A new edition of The Atlantic’s Crazy/Genius podcast looks at both the up- and downsides of algorithmic justice (text transcript available at link).
  • A preprint by Qiu and colleagues available from arXiv describes the success of an adversarial approach rooted in a “semantic manipulation” applied against face verification technologies – in essence, applying lipstick to an image (or making other subtle alterations) was sufficient to exploit systemic vulnerabilities (H/T @arXiv_Daily and @skywalkeryxc).
  • A new study with a fantastic title by Palanica and colleagues published in NPJ Digital Medicine assesses the performance of voice recognition by Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple’s Siri when tasked with identifying 50 commonly-used generic medications (H/T@ChrissyFarr).
  • Karen Hao of MIT Technology Review explores 10 different ways artificial intelligence could be used in the fight against climate change.
  • “A foundational commitment to human rights should lead to better ethical decisions about A.I.-based systems. As a start, it puts companies on notice. They shouldn’t be in the business of lethal autonomous weapons, government scoring systems, and government facial recognition systems if they can’t make a robust case for how these endeavors can coexist with human rights protections.” A post by Evan Selinger at Medium’s OneZero makes a case for framing AI ethics in terms of basic human rights.
  • Retraction Watch documents an ongoing dispute between the authors of a recent article on statistics in surgical research and a group of biostatisticians who insist that the paper’s use of post-hoc (or observed) power amounts to a “nonsense statistic.”
  • “’I think of machine learning kind of as asbestos,’ he said. ‘It turns out that it’s all over the place, even though at no point did you explicitly install it, and it has possibly some latent bad effects that you might regret later, after it’s already too hard to get it all out.’” STAT News’ Casey Ross quotes Harvard Law’s Jonathan Zittrain in an article that summarizes the pitfalls of a rush to embrace AI and machine learning in the healthcare setting.
  • MIT Technology Review reports on Adobe’s AI tool for spotting photo manipulation of images of faces, which appears to substantially outperform humans in detecting doctored images. The only hitch: it only works for images that have been manipulated using a particular tool within the Photoshop application.
  • “Today’s internet is a playground for hackers. From insecure communication links to inadequately guarded data in the cloud, vulnerabilities are everywhere. But if quantum physicists have their way, such weaknesses will soon go the way of the dodo.” Scientific American’s Anil Ananthaswamy describes nascent attempts to build a “quantum internet.”

Basic Science, Clinical Research & Public Health
  • “A 2-year-old boy locked in detention wants to be held all the time. A few girls, ages 10 to 15, say they’ve been doing their best to feed and soothe the clingy toddler who was handed to them by a guard days ago. Lawyers warn that kids are taking care of kids, and there’s inadequate food, water and sanitation for the 250 infants, children and teens...” The Associated Press reports on worsening conditions and the potential for “lasting trauma” for children held at a Texas Border Patrol station.
  • “Contrary to the conventional wisdom, the evidence also suggests Prohibition really did reduce drinking. Despite all the other problems associated with Prohibition, newer research even indicates banning the sale of alcohol may not have, on balance, led to an increase in violence and crime.” An interesting historical perspective by German Lopez at Vox revisits Prohibition, and finds that the full story of the much-maligned policy may be much more complex than has been commonly portrayed – and so too were the immediate and long-term effects of banning alcohol, even when the ban proved short-lived.
  • Kaiser Health News’ Melissa Bailey explores the complexities of ECMO, a near-miraculous lifesaving technology, but one whose use can also raise fraught questions for patients, families, and physicians.
  • A Nature editorial highlights a recent push by microbiologists to raise awareness about the pivotal influence microbes are likely to have for the planet amid the warming climate of the Anthropocene.
  • Hot Carbon offers a timely perspective on how mind-bogglingly connected our planet is — and how 14C will continue to be important in helping us to understand what lies ahead.” Nature’s Chris Turney reviews Hot Carbon: Carbon-14 and a Revolution in Science, a book by oceanographer John F. Marra, which, according to Turney, explores “not just the science, but why we should care about it.”
  • A research letter by Wojcik and colleagues published in Nature addresses the importance of including diverse populations in genome-wide association studies.
  • “Many patients go home with a summary of their office visit. That recap often includes a list of medications or reminders to schedule a follow-up. The full doctor’s note has many more details —all the stuff the physician types into the computer during and after your medical appointment.” Kaiser Health News’ Victoria Knight shines a light on the potential benefits for patients gaining access to their doctor’s notes – if they can.
  • Amazon’s purchase of PillPack a few years back was widely seen as a signal that the online retail giant was preparing to move into the retail healthcare space. Now, CNBC’s Christina Farr reports that ongoing legal maneuvering may indicate that Amazon is preparing to do an end-run around pharmacy benefits managers. STAT News’ Casey Ross also covers this story [log-in required].
  • Bloomberg’s Craig Giammona reports that Mile High Labs has purchased a previously shuttered Novartis AG factor and will dedicate it to churning out CBD products.
  • A retrospective cohort study by Cooper and colleagues published in JAMA Surgery found that surgeons who had accumulated a “high” number of complaints from coworkers about abrasive and unprofessional behavior were also at greater risk for surgical or medical complications. NPR Shots blog’s Susie Nelson explains the research.
  • A cohort study by Banerjee and colleagues published in JAMA Oncology evaluates the longer-term neurocognitive effects of repeated exposure to general anesthesia in children undergoing treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
  • A case-control study by Stukas and colleagues published in Lancet Child and Adolescent Health explores the use of serum measurements of tau protein as a possible biomarker for traumatic brain injury.
  • A wrenching story by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Dan Hopey and David Templeton describes the more than 100 organizations and 800 individuals who plan to ask Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf to investigate the health impacts of fracking in the state, citing "up to 67 cases of childhood and young adult cancers in Washington, Greene, Fayette and Westmoreland counties where shale gas operations are active... [and] 27 cases of Ewing sarcoma, a rare bone cancer."
  • The Atlantic’s Olga Khazan explores the evolutionary origins of autoimmune diseases – and the possible reasons that women suffer from them in disproportionate numbers.
  • This week saw the publication of the Wellcome Global Monitor 2018, which surveyed global perceptions and attitudes about health science, including vaccination, for the preceding year. At Vox, Julia Belluz digs down into the report and finds that the influence of religion has been a major driver of attitudes about vaccination, particularly in North America: “North America was the only high-income region where people who follow a religion were much more likely to say they side with that belief system over science whenever disagreements arise. That finding was driven primarily by the US, where measles has been spreading among religious communities in states that have allowed religious vaccine exemptions.” (H/T @PeterHotez)
  • “If Regenexx treatments worked as well as the company claims, insurance companies would rush to cover them, Turner says. But the notion that Regenexx will save employers money hasn’t been proven, and is ‘a boastful claim with no clinical merit,’ says Henry Garlich, director of health care value solutions and enhanced clinical programs at Blue Shield of California, who has reviewed Regenexx’s publications.” At Time, Liz Szabo reports on the phenomenon of employers nudging workers toward unproven stem-cell therapies as a cost-savings measure.

Communications & Digital Society
  • A 2018 study that suggested, on the basis of a review of x-rays, that habitual cell phone use by younger people might be causing an enlargement in a bony process at the base of the skull has drawn extensive and skeptical scrutiny from various scientific experts in the wake of recent sensationalized press coverage that described “horns” growing on the skulls of young people. This Forbes article by bioarchaeologist Kristina Killgrove summarizes some of the criticisms of both the paper and the surrounding media reporting.
  • “Vaping is hot. A clever analysis of Twitter posts reveals one possible reason: automated accounts, or bots, may be convincing people that electronic cigarettes are beneficial.” At Scientific American, Mark Fischetti describes the telltale characteristics that mark the myriad automated accounts that tout vaping, e-cigarettes, and related products.
  • “How the Selzes came to support anti-vaccine ideas is unknown, but their financial impact has been enormous. Their money has gone to a handful of determined individuals who have played an outsize role in spreading doubt and misinformation about vaccines and the diseases they prevent. The groups’ false claims linking vaccines to autism and other ailments, while downplaying the risks of measles, have led growing numbers of parents to shun the shots. As a result, health officials have said, the potentially deadly disease has surged to at least 1,044 cases this year, the highest number in nearly three decades.” At the Washington Post, Lena Sun and Amy Brittain profile Bernard and Lisa Selz, New York philanthropists whose money has been bankrolling prominent figures in the antivaccination movement (H/T @HelenBranswell).
  • “…opening up data underlying the reviewing process will not fix peer review entirely, and there may be instances in which there are valid reasons to keep the content of peer reviews hidden and the identity of the referees confidential. But the norm should shift from opacity in all cases to opacity only when necessary.” In an essay at Undark, science journalist Dalmeet Singh Chawla advocates for greater transparency around the process of scientific peer review.
  • TechCrunch reports that British regulators are giving signals that they may be about to lower the boom on behavioral internet ad targeting, which the Information Commissioner’s Office appears to construe as being in violation of UK and European Union law.
  • A preprint article by Manolis Antonoyiannakis available at arXiv probes the influence that a single article can have on a journal’s Impact Factor (the latest versions of which were, incidentally, released this week).

  • “US Census approaches to categorizing and enumerating people and places have profound implications for every branch and level of government and the resources and representation accorded across and within US states.” In a review article published by the American Journal of Public Health, Nancy Krieger offers a historical perspective on the public-health stakes of decisions affecting the US Census.
  • STAT News’ Andrew Joseph reports on the US Food and Drug Administration’s new framework for evaluating opioid drugs in the wake of criticisms that the agency’s past approaches have been too easygoing on manufacturers. Meanwhile, Kaiser Health News’ report on an analysis co-conducted with Johns Hopkins that shows physicians’ prescribing habits may have also been a driver of the opioid crisis, as prescriptions for postoperative pain control frequently exceeded guideline recommendations.
  • A blog post at the Georgetown Center for Children and Families highlights a new report from Georgetown’s Center for the Study of Social Policy that articulates how Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) can be leveraged to better support the well-being of children.
  • A case and commentary by Cory Mitchell published in the AMA Journal of Ethics wrestles with the difficult dilemma of clinicians should be respond when patients express bias and hostility toward them.
  • “Germany’s ability to provide citizens access to the latest drugs while keeping patients’ costs so low is made possible by a novel strategy launched in 2011 to rein in exploding prices that were threatening to bankrupt the nation’s healthcare system.” An LA Times article by Noam Levey describes how Germany has forged a system of affordable drug pricing within a larger private framework of healthcare and insurance.
  • “Grey says their findings provide evidence to support a growing view in the academic community: that university investigations into research misconduct are often inadequate, opaque and poorly conducted. They challenge the idea that institutions can police themselves on research integrity and propose that there should be independent organizations to evaluate allegations of research fraud should.” In article at Nature, Holly Else describes the work of a team of researchers who are convinced that the investigation of research misconduct should not be left in the hands of institutions that, they say, are not doing an adequate job of providing thorough and transparent responses to potential fraud.