Kevin O’Rourke on the new Dependentistas

by Henry Farrell on May 4, 2009

[Stolen wholesale from “The Irish Economy”:, a very interesting blog, which I recommend to you all].

The last time the world experienced an economic catastrophe on the present scale, governments in Latin America and elsewhere drew the conclusion that reliance on fickle overseas markets was a dangerous thing. World War II only served to reinforce this conclusion.

Similar lessons are being drawn “today”:, with one crucial difference. Back then, the decision was made to artificially decouple national economies from the international economy by developing protected industries that would service the home market. Now, the focus is on lessening export dependence by boosting local demand, which will involve temporary stimulus measures in the short run, but more structural measures in the longer term, for example promoting “social safety nets to give Asian consumers, especially the poor, the confidence to spend”. Moving towards higher wages, a more equal income distribution, and lower savings rates in countries like China, so that more of what is produced there is consumed there, would seem to be among the more benign adjustment scenarios available to the world economy today.

Kevin Drum gives The Black Swan a fairly thumbs-downish review. I had a slightly more favorable reaction myself when I read it recently. I’ll add a comment and a question. Drum is right about the crankishness of the book’s tone. It’s impressive, isn’t it? How well ivory towers work as insanity field-generators? Everyone knows they make their inhabitants go crazy. But it’s also true that they drive everyone outside insane, who comes anywhere near.Those the gods would destroy, they first make really, really annoyed. To live just outside an ivory tower without going all cranky. That’s the trick.

Now, a question. Taleb claims in passing at various points that the modern world is Extremistan, and getting more so all the time. By constrast, our primitive ancestors lived in Mediocristan. As Drum summarizes: “[Taleb] writes about how humans are hardwired to be bad at estimating risks in the modern world.” Extremistan breeds more ‘black swans’: events that are, if I remember rightly, highly unpredictable; highly consequential; retroactively explicable. But it strikes me that animals – our ancestors in particular – probably never lived in Mediocristan. The Pleistocene wasn’t Mediocristan. Our ancestors were just as bad at estimating risks in their environments as we are in ours. Their black swans, the stuff that gave them fairly short lives, were just different. Mediocristan isn’t a time or a place, or a primitive development stage, it’s a projection of a confused form of cognition. It’s a place everyone acts as if they live in, but no one has lived there. Mediocristan is only a state of mind. This is the important thing, for Taleb, so I expect he would respond by saying – yeah, whatever. I didn’t write a history of the Pleistocene. But he does repeatedly imply that it’s a state of mind because, once upon a time, we really lived there. He talks as though it’s an adaptive trait that has become mal-adaptive. But that’s wrong, right?

Astroturf journals

by Henry Farrell on May 4, 2009

Elsevier already has an awesomely wonderful reputation as an academic publisher, but even by their standards, “this”: (free reg. required) is pretty extraordinary.

Merck paid an undisclosed sum to Elsevier to produce several volumes of a publication that had the look of a peer-reviewed medical journal, but contained only reprinted or summarized articles–most of which presented data favorable to Merck products–that appeared to act solely as marketing tools with no disclosure of company sponsorship.

…The _Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine,_ which was published by Exerpta [HF-sic] Medica, a division of scientific publishing juggernaut Elsevier, is not indexed in the MEDLINE database, and has no website (not even a defunct one).

… In testimony provided at the trial last week, which was obtained by The Scientist, George Jelinek, an Australian physician and long-time member of the World Association of Medical Editors, reviewed four issues of the journal that were published from 2003-2004. An “average reader” (presumably a doctor) could easily mistake the publication for a “genuine” peer reviewed medical journal, he said in his testimony. “Only close inspection of the journals, along with knowledge of medical journals and publishing conventions, enabled me to determine that the Journal was not, in fact, a peer reviewed medical journal, but instead a marketing publication for MSD[A].”

He also stated that four of the 21 articles featured in the first issue he reviewed referred to Fosamax. In the second issue, nine of the 29 articles related to Vioxx, and another 12 to Fosamax. All of these articles presented positive conclusions regarding the MSDA drugs. “I can understand why a pharmaceutical company would collect a number of research papers with results favourable to their products and make these available to doctors,” Jelinek said at the trial. “This is straightforward marketing.”

… Lurie, in examining two of the issues for _The Scientist,_ agreed that one particularly strange element of the _Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine_ is that it contains “review” articles that cite just one or two references. “I’ve never seen anything quite like this,” he said. “Reviews are usually swimming in references.”

Elsevier acknowledged that Merck had sponsored the publication, but did not disclose the amount the drug company paid. In a statement emailed to The Scientist, Elsevier said that the company “does not today consider a compilation of reprinted articles a ‘Journal’.”

“Elsevier acknowledges the concern that the journals in question didn’t have the appropriate disclosures,” the statement continued. “It is worth noting that project in question was produced 6 years ago and disclosure protocols have evolved since 2003. Elsevier’s current disclosure policies meet the rigor and requirements of the current publishing environment.”

“Via Summer Johnson”: