False Research Studies

Research study

We were with some friends the other night, and one of the topics of discussion was about food. My friend said a particular food was good for you, but everyone did not agree. Then he said, “a study showed” his claim to be true. We all read about studies. They are in the news every day. A study shows this, a study shows that. The question we should be asking is whether the conclusion of any particular study is actually true. A recent study of studies found most published research findings are in fact false.

Richard Harris, a longtime science correspondent at NPR News, published an excellent article in the Wall Street Journal on this topic titled The Breakdown in Biomedical Research. The article was based on his new book, Rigor Mortis: How Sloppy Science Creates Worthless Cures, Crushes Hope and Wastes Billions

Mr. Harris cited numerous reasons why most studies are flawed. In cancer research, cells of a particular type of caner are used to study the effect of various drugs. Frequently, the cancer cells used are contaminated. In a large study of breast cancer with widely published results, researchers later found the cells used in the research were actually from melanoma, not breast cancer. Some research turns out to be fraudulent, but in most cases researchers are honest and work very diligently. However, government and academia apply a lot of pressure to achieve research results which can make headlines. Getting research studies published often leads to competitive positions in academia or government, and money is often involved one way or another.

An additional factor which can lead to false results is the N, which means the number of samples or participants are in the study. For studies to be statistically valid, they must have an adequate sample size. For numerous reasons, getting an adequate number of samples or research participants can be difficult. In addition to the N, the samples must be randomly chosen so no bias is introduced in the study. A group of studies on promising drugs found the research often used fewer than a dozen mice per experiment. Compounding the inadequate N, the studies did not properly  avoid significant sources of bias, such as genetic variability in the mice. An independent research institute redid the studies properly and found “none of the dozen or so drugs, despite the initial findings, showed any real promise”.

Mr. Harris believes real change in professional habits and culture in biomedical research is underway. He believes the result will be accelerated progress toward new drugs and improved treatments. I hope he is right. He also believes, “It’s still smart to cast a wary eye on sensational results from the latest study.”

Posted in Cancer, Healthcare, Medical Research Tagged with: ,

Penetanguishene Internet Voting

I cannot pronounce it, but Penetanguishene is a town in Simcoe County, Ontario, Canada. It is one of many which has decided to go with Internet voting at the municipally level in 2018. The Town Council voted in favor of Internet and telephone voting exclusively for the 2018 Municipal Election. In 2014, the town had used both paper and digital balloting methods. The town staff reported 62 percent of those who voted used either telephone or the Internet. In 2018, citizens will also have a choice to use electronic voting stations set up at various locations on the day of the election.

There are about 3,700 municipal governments in Canada. Some are opting for the status quo — paper ballots only. Others are offering paper ballots or Internet or telephone voting. Some are offering only Internet and telephone voting. The good thing is Canadian municipalities are having the debates. In Election Attitude – How Internet Voting Leads to a Stronger Democracy, I argued it will be a grass roots movement which will lead us to Internet voting. Unfortunately, I do not hear the debate in the United States. The anti-Internet voting activists have scared political leaders and election officials about security. Many of us know the security and privacy issues can be resolved if we decide to do so.

The tragic truth is 100 million people in 2012 and 2016 could have voted, but did not. The reasons were many, but the number one reason was inability to get to the polling place. There were many reasons: sick, disabled, overseas, last minute business trips out of town, employers who did not give time off, need to care for children or parents, and general inconvenience. Voting from a smartphone, with the secure and private support of blockchain technology, could enable a convenient and verifiable election. We can do this.

Posted in Election attitude, Internet voting, Voting Tagged with: , , ,

30/30 Entrepreneurship

wifigen

In early summer 2014, I was having a technical problem with my website. I visited some of the online freelancer sites to find someone who could solve the problem. Within minutes, after posting a paragraph describing the problem, I received a flood of proposals from people all over the world. Hourly rates ranged as low as $7 per hour. This is typical for freelancer sites. I reviewed the backgrounds, references, and descriptions of work the freelancers had performed. The common characteristic which stood out was poor English. One exception was a young man named Bilal Athar in Lahore, Pakistan.

Bilal was just 25 years old when I first knew him. His communications skills were excellent and he was highly competent technically. He solved my problem quickly, and then asked if I would take a look at a business idea he had been thinking about. I looked at a few slides, and was quite impressed. I offered some feedback and encouraged Bilal to pursue his vision. He, in turn, asked if I would be his mentor. I said yes. Subsequently, he asked if I would invest in his company. An unintended pattern was developing. Bilal continued to develop his idea, and I continued to invest. In the summer of 2016, Bilal was selected as one of ten Pakistani entrepreneurs to attend a three week technology conference in Austin, Texas. This was Bilal’s first visit to the U.S., and he was able to spend a few days at our home, meet family members, and visit New York City. My respect for him continued to increase.

This week was a special one for Bilal as he was selected, at age 27, by Forbes as a member of the 30 Under 30 Asia list – Class of 2017. The list includes the top 30 entrepreneurs under the age of 30. This is quite an honor for Bilal, and well deserved. Forbes sifted through thousands of nominations, and then convened what they described as, “the best panel of judges ever”. The Asian list (official hashtag #ForbesU30Asia) is a continuation of the global expansion of the Forbes 30 Under 30 franchise, a franchise that includes amazing alumni such as Palmer Luckey from Oculus, Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy from Snapchat, basketball superstar LeBron James, and K-pop star G-Dragon.

It is likely the selection of Bilal to the 30/30 list will bring new investors to wifigen, the company Bilal founded back in 2014. Wifigen is an AI based customer retention platform which helps brick & mortar retailers retain customers using their WiFi network. Everyday, thousands of people are taking advantage of wifigen’s free WiFi service, and the providers of the WiFi are gaining new information about consumer habits. Wifigen’s solution is a win-win for the business and the consumer.

Posted in Artificial Intelligence, Internet Technology, People, Social Media, Travels, WiFi Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Signs of Intelligent Life in the Senate

Telehealth for Medicare

Medicare has reimbursed for telehealth for some years, but only for remote areas of the country. The theory was telehealth was only good for people who are many miles from the nearest healthcare provider. As I discussed in Health Attitude: Unraveling and Solving the Complexities of Healthcare, telehealth is a good tool for anyone who is chronically ill and needs regular checkups. It doesn’t matter if there is a doctor down the street, the benefits of telehealth are significant. The Senate has finally wakened up to this reality.

The Creating High-Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic Care Act of 2017 will allow Medicare to cover a broad array of services for treating chronically ill patients, including telehealth delivered at home. In a somewhat unprecedented move, a bill was introduced by the Senate Finance Committee to add more funding behind Medicare telemedicine. Closer following of chronically ill patients can reduce costly and inconvenient hospital readmissions. Telemedicine can also reduce the stress and strain often endured by family members to get loved ones to and from healthcare providers.

Read the full story about Senate bill would expand telemedicine coverage for Medicare patientsRead more about telehealth and chronic illness in Health Attitude: Unraveling and Solving the Complexities of Healthcare.


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Posted in Health Attitude, Healthcare, Healthcare cost, Healthcare Devices, Healthcare Policy, Telehealth Tagged with: , ,

Incompetence

Incompetence

Incompetence is a strong word. It means the lack of the ability to do something well. I do not know if Russia was incompetent with regard to the chemical weapons in Syria, but I do know Deutsche Bank is incompetent in handling certain basic information processing tasks for me. I can’t deny this is a rant, but the situation I will describe is so outrageous I cannot remain silent. My experience with Deutsche Bank goes back four years when a company in New York, where I was an investor and director, was sold to another company. The disbursements of the proceeds of the sale were handled by Deutsche Bank. Their processes were slow and inefficient. Everything was handled by mailing of paper documents. The IRS filings they made were incorrect causing all the investors to have to re-file tax returns. But their latest set of actions takes the cake.

As is typical after the sale of a company, portions of the proceeds are held in escrow for periods of time. In the case at hand, the final escrow release was to take place this past December. I got a phone call in December from Deutsche Bank asking me to send them a new W-9 tax form. The W-9 is a simple form which provides taxpayer identification and certification. I said they have a W-9 on file for me, which was used several times. They agreed but said they wanted a new one. Since my address had changed, I saw it as a good idea. I filled out and signed the W-9 and emailed it to them. They replied saying the document was blank. I took a look and the PDF was not blank. They insisted they could not read it. I took a picture of the PDF with my iPhone and sent to them. They were happy. Not being able to read a PDF document is pretty basic these days, but it turned out to be the least of the incompetence to follow.

As I was completing my tax return on April 10, I realized I had not received a 1099 from Deutsche Bank to confirm the proceeds I had received. I needed the 1099 because it must match what the IRS sees from their copy of it. I sent an email asking them to send me a PDF of the 1099 so I could complete my tax return. They said they had mailed the 1099 and gave me the address where it was sent. It was an old address. I reminded them they had called me in December for a new W-9. I had sent it, it had my new address, and my signature. DB said they cannot update their address records from a W-9. They must receive confirmation of my new address from a person in Boston who was involved in the sale of the company. The signed W-9 was not sufficient, they must have confirmation from somebody who does not know my address. They asked me to send the person in Boston an email with my new address and then he would have to send an email to DB confirming my address. Go figure.

Once again, I asked them to please send me a PDF of the 1099. They said “Unfortunately, the vendor that we use to send these tax forms out will not budge on sending any tax forms via email or fax in an effort to avoid any possible liability of the forms ending up in the wrong hands.” In other words, you can’t trust email or fax, but you can trust the USPS. Yes, they said. I asked them how they know for sure the envelope gets to the right person and how do they know who actually opens the envelope. They stood firm. They will mail me a 1099, which I would receive after the deadline for filing my tax return. I knew the amount of the proceeds, so I looked at a prior year’s 1099 and did my best to enter the information for 2016. The alternative was to file late or request an extension due to Deutsche Bank’s incompetence. An assistant vice president of the bank told me this is how they do things.

The U.S. banking industry had a record profit in 2016 of $171.3 billion dollars. Deutsche Bank, a German company but doing significant business in the U.S., had revenue for 2016 of 31.9 billion dollars. The bank’s loss was 1.4 billion dollars. It is obvious their problems are much bigger than the incompetence in handling simple disbursements. Deutsche Bank has frequently been involved in controversies and allegations of deceitful behavior or illegal transactions. As of 2016, the bank was involved in 7,800 legal disputes and reserved 5.7 billion dollars for legal settlements. Six former employees were found guilty of major tax fraud. In May 2009, Deutsche Bank announced the top executives were aware of possible violations of rules related to internal procedures and legal requirements.  In April 2015, Deutsche Bank agreed to $2.5 billion in fines by American regulators for its involvement in an interest rate scandal uncovered in June 2012. The company also admitted wire fraud, acknowledging more than 25 employees had engaged in illegal activity. In the current year, the bank was fined $425 million by the New York State Department of Financial Services for accusations of money laundering $10 billion out of Russia. The list is longer, and that is a sample of the bank’s problems. I wonder how many pieces of paper will be handled (or mishandled) for the 7,800 legal disputes.

Posted in Go Figure, Net Attitude, On Demand, Public Policy Tagged with: , , ,
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