Complicity in the Oxycodone Epidemic

Purdue Pharma, maker of Oxycontin, was complicit in the Oxy epidemic.

For Purdue Pharma, at least, that blame has been costly. In 2007, the company settled with U.S. federal agencies in a criminal court, paying $634 million and pleading guilty to misleading the public about OxyContin’s potential for addiction.

Source: How Do You Make A Painkiller Addiction-Proof? | Popular Science


The Hirschsprung Family

Numerous people have tweeted and blogged this 1881 family portrait as “People Ignoring People Before Cell Phones”. It was rather difficult to track down details on it, so we capture them here.


It was painted by Peder Severin Kroyer, a famous Dane known for painting scenes of 19th century Danish life.

It was commissioned by Heinrich Hirschsprung, a tobacco manufacturer and patron of the arts at that time. He became good friends with Kroyer, and Kroger would have known all of these family members he painted quite well. The painting was meant to show a happy engaged family for which he had a deep affection. (wikipedia)


Idea for future page: It strikes me right now that the big sin that people are reacting to with cell phones is not engagement with something else among others, but engaging with distant others, over the people in front of you. This violates the “natural order of things”, in a way that interacting with knitting, newspapers the view do not.

Analytics of Empathy

Can data science be used to encourage better user behavior? A number of experiments with League of Legends show perhaps it can:

But Beck and Merrill decided that simply banning toxic players wasn’t an acceptable solution for their game. Riot Games began experimenting with more constructive modes of player management through a formal player behavior initiative that actually conducts controlled experiments on its player base to see what helps reduce bad behavior. The results of that initiative have been shared at a lecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and on panels at the Penny Arcade Expo East and the Game Developers Conference. (post)


The first change they made was to turn off cross-team chat as a default. This dramatically reduced negative chat while keeping use of cross-team chat stable.

The second thing they did was to compile dictionaries of words the negative players would use that were not used by positive players. “It turns out that if you use the dictionaries, you can predict if a player will show bad behavior with up to 80 percent accuracy from just one game’s chat log,” Lin said.

The third thing they did was make the banning process more informational, showing banned members precisely what they were banned for, and what level of agreement was show on the ban.



Napoleon’s Shock

When Napoleon conquered Egypt, he visited the Great pyramid and asked to be left alone in the King’s Chamber while his soldiers waited outside. When he emerged from the pyramid, all of the color had drained from his face. He was ashen and looked absolutely shaken. People asked what happened, but he refused to talk about it and ordered that he never be asked again. On his deathbed someone remembered this incident and said to him,

“Do you remember the time you spent in the King’s Chamber and wouldn’t speak of it? What happened?”

Even on his deathbed, Napoleon refused to discuss the matter.

Source: Inside the Great Pyramid

New and News

Alan Kay draws a distinction between “new” and “news”. News feels like new information, but it is set up to require very little new processing. It has to be understandable in a minute or two, because it plugs into our existing categories.

Things which are truly “new” to you don’t work like news.

You can’t teach a person calculus as “news”. It wouldn’t make any sense. You can have that person go away and learn calculus and come back in a year or two, and now you can have a conversation about it. *Then* you can do news.

It doesn’t have to be a two-year project like learning calculus. There are moments where we shift perspective and suddenly truly get something new. I (Mike Caulfield) had read Vannevar Bush’s “As We May Think” half a dozen times, but did not see (and could not see) the core difference from the web we have. I read it as news, without understanding it was new, and so I didn’t see it. And then one day I did.

The tragedy, says Kay, is we consume all this news but we don’t really get anywhere new. As creatures we’re much better at coping than learning, so we constantly choose “coping + pain” over learning something new.

Rise of Heroin Addiction in U. S.

Deaths from overdose by heroin have more than doubled in America since 2005.

After a decline in the 1990s, heroin has come roaring back. The dishing-out of prescription painkillers earlier this century got millions in the West hooked on opioids; a tightening-up of the rules then sent them looking for substitutes. The heroin dealers were waiting. In America, where this trend is most acute, the number of annual users has almost doubled in the six years to 2013; overdoses have risen faster still (see article). (html)

This graphic only shows whole population statistics (any age, any race, any socio-economic status). A graph separated out for middle aged, lower class whites would be even more pronounced.


There is a hidden drug crisis in America of astounding proportions. See Opioids, Alcohol, Suicide

No Care Left Behind

Students at Sal Khan’s new school combine a progressive sense of care with a Silicon Valley focus on data-mining consumer behavior.

The students of Khan Lab School are back from lunch, standing in a circle, trading public accolades. “I have a shout-out for Mary, because when no one would take me to the bathroom, Mary did,” one student announces. “It showed conscientiousness and social intelligence.” Another student adds, “I have a shout-out for Mishal for being a really good sport about going inside and about not eating with everyone else. It showed social intelligence, self-regulation, self-awareness, and conscientiousness.” After each compliment, the entire student body waves their fingers and chants “faaaantastic!”

It’s the kind of Kumbaya moment that could easily occur in squishy-minded, confidence-boosting schoolrooms across the country, with one difference: Orly Friedman, the school’s director, asks the students to add every remark to a Google form that tracks who delivered the praise, who received it, and which specific traits they called out. Over time, she says, she will have a detailed analysis of her students’ character development. (html)

There are a couple routes into this, but the most interesting one is to ask what this record adds to the students education. And perhaps the most honest answer is we don’t know yet — it could be a very profitable activity if certain actionable patterns are discovered. And of course, this is a lab school, and labs must keep good records.

Another way to look at it, however, is that they are trying to find a formula of sorts for care, one that could be applied in classrooms with less skilled teachers. Whatever the first results of this experiment will be, Goodhart’s Law will prevail: the minute that metrics of care are made a quantifiable target students, teachers, and administrators will manipulate the record to goose the scores.

A third way might be to see the data collection as a religious rite of Silicon Valley, a way to signal the importance of a thing. Viewed this way, we might be excited: it’s a school that signals the importance of caring in the best way it knows how: by logging it. This is not a bad thing at all.

A final concern might be the trust in a spreadsheet of care over the intuitions of a teacher. There are many places metrics give us a clearer picture, but do we honestly believe that care is one of them?


Bibliometrics provides a good example of Goodhart’s Law. It also shows how a biased environment uses metrics to reinforce privilege. See Impressions of Objectivity

Bad Adsorption Activity shows how rigidity in delivery method can be counterproductive.

The model of the lab school is a good one, and we should celebrate et tech’s embrace of it. See The End of Open-Endedness