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One Mile per Hour

by geezer in Paris Tue May 1st, 2007 at 05:23:16 AM EST

Science fairs. Thousands of them, all over the country.  Troops of bored judges from the stuffmakers and slaughter industries, sorting through the adolescent masses for talent. The search for the wunderkind.And they were there to be found.

For the select, supervised visits to the design facility at Battelle Memorial Institute would follow, carefully shepherded cruises past the atlas nose cone facility, the B-70 landing gear test stand, then through the computer room, security badges dangling, young eyes round with wonder. Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and the officer's club, and a magic summer of instruction with an instructor in Cessna's sweet but noisy little trainer jet, known as "Tweety Bird"--Irresistible.

From the diaries - afew


I was the "experimentalist"--I could build things, and make them work. My friend was really the one Battelle wanted- he was the real brains behind our experiment in  anomalous genetic variability. He was also pretty. I eventually was diplomatically eased out to Wright Pat, and Richard went to a 12-guage research lab at Dayton with a couple somewhat gay PhDs  to be a very bright research assistant and boytoy.

Dan, however, was a supergenius --whatever that is- and they REALLY wanted him. Honeywell did the same brain massage on him that Battelle tried on us, and it worked. At the age of 20 he had his own lab and staff, his own account on the supercomputer that Honeywell made available to NO ONE BUT THE BEST, don't you know- and lots of money. Whatever other bait they used I never asked, and Dan never told me, but it worked.

Honeywell and the rest carefully nurtured the notion that ethics were superfluous and grossly inconvenient--a notion that's an easy sell with people limited in their human contact. Experience with the world of people and therefore with the structures and ideas that help create the mutually agreed-upon rules of conduct that makes human society survivable (and sometimes wonderful) is a good thing. Experience with people also helps one to hone the crap detector, thereby making their shit a lot less persuasive. However, the hugely talented, and often very lonely seem to end up with a real social experience deficit, and the unscrupulous who want to use them rarely fail to take advantage of it. Perhaps they themselves are deficient in this area. In any case, he became their dog, and they sicced him on some tough but fascinating problems. Among the first was this one:

It was the early cold war, and the missiles that were the central element of cold war strategy were almost a myth-in the sense of a fabrication that was more deception than hardware. They were right on the limits of workable. Since in intercontinental use they were really inaccurate, they had to carry huge, 100-megaton warheads to insure target destruction and you had to use a lot of them. Dr. Strangelove would have understood completely the need for a bag of lies to tell that would justify the suicidal risk entailed in any attack strategy based on such essentially useless weapons. Of course, we had a nice big bag.

Flight time was 15- 20 minutes, and each minute of flight, the weapon drifted farther off course. The landing zone was a Poisson distribution that might or might not include something with military value, or a target with primarily terror value, like Hiroshima or Nagasaki or the twin towers---or it might be an animal preserve, a city park, a dump--we needed a better guidance system in order to properly defend ourselves from "the enemy". We needed to be within, --say, at most a half mile of the target, with the warheads we had then.

A drift of-- One Mile per Hour-- would do it.

In an amazingly short time, Dan had conceived and made workable the magnetically suspended beryllium gyro, with a reliable drift of about half that. Pandora's box was wide open.

When I met Dan, he was a decade or two down the road from then, and they had discarded him. He was living alone on a huge boat that was decaying, and demanded about 12 hours a day in hard work to maintain, and Dan was decaying right along with his boat. Over the next few years, his relationship with reality (for those of us who believe in such "quaint" things) became increasingly tenuous, his already thin social world became more bizarre- it was a standing joke among those who knew him that he was prone to wander the aisles of the one restaurant he went to regularly, and ask people "You really gonna eat that?" and abscond with something. Yet through it all his brilliance remained apparent. One month he got interested in automation of material handling, and designed an idiosyncratic but wonderful system that made someone (not him) a lot of money. Next it was robotics in Thailand, where I helped him with the design drawings for a while.

Then we sailed away, and it was many years before we saw him again.

He was a mess. He was very ill, and was living on canned beans and tomato soup in a darkened boat with one light bulb dangling from a rotting ceiling. He spoke to no one and, having alienated all his friends, was dying, utterly alone.
Joyce dragged him home, fed him and nursed him back to life.

Today, Dan the wunderkind, the sought-after prize, has an array of somatic illnesses, among them an unnecessary colostomy complete with bag, which he loves, and a psychiatrist would be fascinated with his delusions.
One cannot but wonder if Dan's central role in making nuclear war so much more easily done has something to do with all this. But if you dare to try to find out, you will discover that his bag of convenient self-deceptions is still with him. He told me (on one of those rare days when he would talk) that at least the warheads are now smaller, hence less deaths, and will disremember that there are ten times as many of them, and that the strategic and tactical scenarios in which we plan to use them multiplied in number because of his work. He will assume his guilt-free façade.
And then he will be seized with an agonizing attack of mock diverticulitis, in a colon no longer present within his poor body. His façade conceals little from his own subconscious, and reveals that, dear Dan, in growing up, and in being discarded, it seems you have acquired a conscience. Shame it did not happen a bit sooner.

He has retired. To his private, self-made hell.

I never speak of any of it to him anymore. I'm just glad I never made the last cut.

Wunderkind.

Display:
And we are led to believe that the Iranians could:

 (a) replicate Dan's beryllium giro's;

 (b) install them in intercontinental missiles that could travel 5,000 miles and arrive within plus or minus 100 miles of anywhere.

all within a few years.

With the combination of cosmic managerial vacuum and pretty effective sanctions regime in respect of technology, Iran could not deliver accurate nuclear-armed missiles within 50 years, if ever.

The US excuse for installing missiles in Eastern Europe is a sham.

Their Cold warriors have simply never given up, and are simply pursuing their goal of achieving "Full Spectrum Dominance".

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Sat Apr 28th, 2007 at 04:11:43 AM EST
Technology marches on. Tolerances that were "barely makable" 40 years ago can now be routinely manufactured using standard industrial equipment - and not even the latest models. Similarly, I'm sure the beryllium gyro has long been hopelessly obsolete, and the principles are probably in some college engineering textbook somewhere (likely along with some better solutions as well). Granted, Iran would have to build up a sufficient engineering and machinist skills base, but there is nothing inherently insuperable in any of this, sanctions or no - as the North Koreans proved (that is, if they don't mind bankrupting themselves as the North Koreans also proved).

Of course, then the question becomes, can Iran produce enough weapons to become a credible threat - i.e. enter the MAD club.

Actually, IMO the greatest sham of all are the ABMs themselves, because they just don't work. Not even in a rigged test. More and more, I suspect that when the history of our times is written, we will find that this policy move is down to bakshish for somebody's campaign donor.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt ät gmail dotcom) on Sat Apr 28th, 2007 at 06:28:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If I were living in Israel I wouldn't care about MAD. Knowing Israel can nuke Iran 200 times means little if I there is a chance I'll be hit by one of Iran's few nukes.

But if you're a national government, the calculus changes.

Not that I think Iran actually intends to strike first, but that retaliatory capability, however limited, would act as a deterrent against attacks on it. Or so they think. At some level, the intent to acquire it seems to be atttracting more agreesive attitudes from rivals.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Apr 28th, 2007 at 06:58:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Nowhere have I seen anything that backs up a thesis that Iran are more likely to use nukes than (say) Pakistan or India.

In fact, my personal experience of Iran is that they are no more "revolutionary" than the USSR was in 1985, and probably a lot less.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Sat Apr 28th, 2007 at 08:14:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Or maybe less so: Pakistan scares the crap out of me, moreso than Iran.

Interesting comparison of Iran, though. Do you think they're heading in the same direction?

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt ät gmail dotcom) on Sat Apr 28th, 2007 at 09:43:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Unless the US attacks Iran, or by some miracle President Ahmadinejad is able to both take away control of the oil wealth from the elite AND put it to productive use, then within the next generation power will slip away from those who currently hold it.

I do not foresee a violent revolution: more a "revulsion".

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Sat Apr 28th, 2007 at 11:49:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The one thing that is absolutely sure is that Iranian intentions have nothing in common with US media reports on the subject.  

  1.  Israel has gone nuts.  Literally.  They have nothing much to fear from a nuclear-armed STATE, because MAD applies.  If they want to fear nukes, they should be fearing Pakistans free-proliferation policy:  It is nuclear weapons in non-state hands that makes the for the greatest risk.  Of course Pakistan is a good and favored (and untouchable) US ally  (so far).  Even that is not the greatest risk.  The greatest risk--because it is inevitable--is that when US support fades, as it must for technical not political reasons, then they will have to face payment on the blood crimes they have run up.  How they will do that is unclear.  My friendly advice (as friendly as it gets) is that they study how the Afrikaaners deferred payement on THEIR blood crimes:  Perhaps the miracle can be worked again on another continent.  

  2.  Iran is doing NOTHING overtly that is part of a bomb project.  You DON'T enrich uranium to build bombs:  It is far too expensive, and far too SLOW.  Sure, maybe they have a secret plutonium project tucked away somewhere.  But if they do, it really IS secret.  Nothing that the IAEA is arguing about has to do with bomb-building.  

  3.  You guys really are back in the Cold War.  Ballistic missiles are nice, if you can afford them, but they really are expensive, and a practical second-rate power has to be thinking about other ways.  They exist.  A second-rate power will use them.  Another lie swallowed:  Missiles were never about defense.  The necessity of missiles is the desire for First Strike.  That's why the US built them:  To try to realize that desire.  

  4.  No matter how crazy the Iranian President talks, the Iranian policy remains careful, cautious, and clever.  The Easter release of the British sailors should have given a hint of that.  


The Fates are kind.
by Gaianne on Tue May 1st, 2007 at 01:04:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And you, of course, are always 100% right.

It seems pretty clear, on the best assessment of the available facts that we could make, that the Iranian nuclear programme is at the very least designed to keep the option of military use available. Which is an eminently sensible approach for the Iranians to take given the current doctrine of the US and Israel. Clearly the Iranians are not especially nasty players of the current game but let's not pretend they're somehow angelic.

Ballistic missiles are part of a prestige game. Politicians like that sort of thing, so they will build them.You think expense matters that much to them?

The Iranian policy is defined largely by the necessities of internal politics, much like that of any country. When are the next set of Iranian elections anyway?

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue May 1st, 2007 at 04:08:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Iran is doing NOTHING overtly that is part of a bomb project.

Building nukes makes strategic sense - if you have them, an invasion of your country by convention means gets taken right off the table. Iran would be dumb to NOT pursue them.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Wed May 2nd, 2007 at 01:38:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, IMO the greatest sham of all are the ABMs themselves, because they just don't work. Not even in a rigged test. More and more, I suspect that when the history of our times is written, we will find that this policy move is down to bakshish for somebody's campaign donor.

Are ICBM's any less of a sham? If you go and look at the Failure rate of Sattelite launches, Basically a high tech package instead of a warhead sitting at the pointy end of an ICBM. These individual rockets are specially prepared, with technicians running all over them to make sure they get off the launch pad and head in the right direction. The time spent setting these up can run into weeks before hand. Still we get a large quantity of individual launch failures.

With a military version, you're talkind a missile that has sat basically untouched, in a damp concrete tube fo several months. and what care and maintenance has been performed by your on site  troops, Hardly the sort of thing to fill you with confidence. Somewhere I have a book that discusses missile testing,  and one thing it says is that generally Mass firings of missiles onto test ranges (with dummy Warheads) generally dosnt happen because there is generally such a high Failure rate for the missiles to function and get off of the ground, (In the region of 50%) and this is with prepared missiles for test firings. If you look further. at the test firing figures for the last ten years, one in six individually fired MX test launches has failed.

Added to this you are then looking at a minimum of 10% failure to explode at the far end (teh general rule of thumb figure used by Bomb disposal officers), possibly higher due to the extra number of safety circuits that are there to prevent the device from going off by accident, and may fail to deactivate, if you judge by all other explosive weapons

All in all apart from its difficulty to intercept, ICBM's look a distinctly dubious way to deliver Neuclear death.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Tue May 1st, 2007 at 07:58:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This is a fascinating diary, and highly moving. I certainly seldom consider who creating WMDs can have a great personal cost.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman
by dvx (dvx.clt ät gmail dotcom) on Sat Apr 28th, 2007 at 06:30:42 AM EST
Have you seen "Bowling for Columbine"?

I remember strongly the Columbine WMD factory part of the movie, here is wikipedia on it:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bowling_for_Columbine#Weapons_of_mass_destruction


Weapons of mass destruction

Early in the movie Moore links the violent behavior of the Columbine shooters to the presence in Littleton of a large defense establishment, manufacturing rocket technology. It is implied that the presence of this facility, and the acceptance of institutionalized violence as a solution, contributed to the mindset that led to the massacre.

Moore conducts an interview with Evan McCollum, Director of Communications at a Lockheed Martin plant near Columbine, and asked him

    "So you don't think our kids say to themselves, 'Dad goes off to the factory every day, he builds missiles of mass destruction. What's the difference between that mass destruction and the mass destruction over at Columbine High School?'"

McCollum responded:

    "I guess I don't see that specific connection because the missiles that you're talking about were built and designed to defend us from somebody else who would be aggressors against us."

by Laurent GUERBY on Sat Apr 28th, 2007 at 10:32:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes I did, but I felt that particular bit was pretty far-fetched. IMO He was onto something when he started talking about guns and fear, but failed to notice it (although the end sequence with Charlton Heston alone is worth the price of admission).

There was recently a series of diaries at DK starting here that I found much more illuminating with regard to school shooters.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt ät gmail dotcom) on Sun Apr 29th, 2007 at 01:54:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My real reason for doing this rather personal story was to illustrate the process whereby young minds with great potential can be sucked up, massaged into compliance, then drained and discarded by the user class.
Americans- people generally- don't like to think about the powerfully exclusive nature of class structure today.
Mobility is mostly history. With a few passionate exceptions, they just don't want to know that, generally, no matter how bright they may be, how compliant and useful, they will probably never get to join the overclass.

Just tools.

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.

by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Sun Apr 29th, 2007 at 04:34:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Remarkable story and superb diary. Thanks, Geezer!

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Sat Apr 28th, 2007 at 04:02:51 PM EST
Great diary.

Lower down the tree, the picture is slightly different.

With an electronic engineering degree, aerospace is a major pull. But I found the people who had been sponsored by the big defence companies - in those days it was Plessey, GEC, and Marconi - universally unappealing to varying degrees, from loathesome to approximately tolerable for short durations.

There were no super-geniuses among them, and some of the sponsored types were barely competent - good enough to make something work, more or less, but lacking the flair and creativity needed to make it work well on a tiny budget.

The absence of real talent, never mind likeability, we very obvious among the defence people. Company culture had apparently vetted for a certain kind of just-clever-enough mediocrity. The talented types - and there were a few - had been missed. They mostly seemed to shuffle off into academia after the course ended.

A few years later I met someone - unrelated to my course - who had been involved in the design of a missile system used in one of the Israeli wars.

"I never thought about it until I saw them being used on TV - those things can really kill people."

Tones of wonder - not so much of dismay. It really hadn't occurred to him that he was working on a death machine.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat Apr 28th, 2007 at 07:22:08 PM EST
You've reminded me of my high school physics teacher.  She was amazing, brilliant and energetic, with an advanced degree in physics from a top university.  This was in the 80s.  When she first came to teach at the school, a rather unexceptional public (state) high school in a rather remote suburb, everyone was puzzled.  What was she doing there?

She told us she had finished her degree and went to work in the private sector.  She lasted maybe a year or two, "but then I realized that what I was really doing was building a better bomb.  And I didn't want to build a better bomb."

So she quit, and she taught us the principles of projectile motion by letting us build giant slingshots and launch water balloons at her.  She came to class dressed up as Isaac Newton.  She rode a skateboard down the hall while she talked about inertia.  She was probably the best teacher I've ever had.

The better-bomb-building doubtless went on without her, but I suspect she never thought twice about her decision.  We were certainly glad she made it.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Sun Apr 29th, 2007 at 03:53:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
How lucky for you that you had her. I'm sure she never regretted it. Skateboard? Newton? Wonderful.

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.
by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Sun Apr 29th, 2007 at 04:24:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Company culture, and the selection for mediocrity.
Boy, are you right there.
In my exceedingly short career with IBM in the 60's, I truly disliked most of my coworkers, but it had more to do with what I saw as their complete toadying to the opinions of their superiors.
The regional head honcho came to my installation to hobnob with the lower orders, and commented on a tiny  demonstration at Ohio State University where some guys picketed Werner Von Braun's speech on his passionate personal crusade for a Pax Americana- his notion that we needed to complete the Fuher's dream for him, and launch a nuclear satellite, toast some insignificant city somewhere as a lesson to the world, and declare the eternal Peace. No joke. He really believed this.

 His speech was picketed by a handful of engineers in suits and ties, with signs that said, "We support the peaceful use of outer space". Arrested, expelled.
Our IBM potentate suggested that a better response would have been to line them up and shoot them, "Just like Stalin would have done".
Bobbing heads around the lunch table, murmurs of admiring agreement. Gag.

My perfect opportunity for a satisfying exit from an environment so intellectually stultifying and morally corrupt that I could barely bring myself to come to work.
I said, "Don't you think a firing squad is an extreme response to someone who disagrees with you? Aren't we the ones who are supposed to believe in freedom to speak your mind?

After they fired me, I went to work pouring beer in a bar, and felt a lot better.


Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.

by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Sun Apr 29th, 2007 at 04:21:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Jesus, that story is almost more rattling than the diary itself.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.
by marco on Sun Apr 29th, 2007 at 05:30:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Reminds me of when I bought Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! for my Japanese uncle, having had just read the book and being sure my uncle would appreciate Feynman's completely offbeat sense of humor and some aspects of his way of seeing the world.

When I visited him again a few weeks later, he told me he finished the book, and found it enjoyable.  But he was very disappointed with Feynman, because the great physicist had not evinced a hint of regret for participating in the construction of the atomic bomb.

My uncle's comment disappointed me in turn, as I took it for a reflex reaction based on an irremediable self-pitying -- and self-serving -- "victim" consciousness I had noted in Japanese people.  I thought, "Here was this great physicist, this wonderful sense of humor, this marvelous set of reminiscences, and the first and only thing you do is judge the guy for doing what he probably thought was his patriotic duty, or even his duty as a human being, in a time of great moral struggle in the world?"

But I admit, this was 15 years ago, and my uncle's comment has never stopped coloring my image of Feynman as a scientist who did not give enough consideration, and respect, to the nature of the job he did in Los Alamos.  That may not at all be fair to Feynman; I should look further into what else he may have thought/wrote about it.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Sun Apr 29th, 2007 at 05:46:14 AM EST
That is absolutely unfair to Feynman, whose friendly attitude to Japan is evident in several stories not only from Surely you're Joking, Mr Feynman! but also from What do you care what other people think?. I don't have my copies of the stories handy, but I have been able to find a few web references.

Poem on Hiroshima reminds me of Feynman. The Hiroshima bombing itself (back in 6 August 1945) is not a pleasant thing to remember, but the awkward thing is that after joining Manhattan Project (to make the bomb), Feynman visited Japan in 1950s to stimulate Japanese scientists in terms of physics (by invitation). It's not totally awkward though since Feynman really fancied Japan: fancied the culture, the people, but not the language.
In partucular, I think you should seek out What do you care what other people think and read the speech he gave at the shrine (see below) to see if it would be suitable for your uncle...
Some of these essays [in What do you care...] are relatively minor barely touching on physics, and some of them are tangentially related such as his giving an address protested by a feminist group handing out pamphlets titled "Feynman Sexist Pig!" due to a misunderstanding of two stories told in a lecture series. In the essay "I Just Shook His Hand, Can You Believe It?" Feynman tells of not being satisfied being a typical tourist to Japan, instead choosing to stay at a small family run place, traditional style without a Western toilet. In the course of events, Feynman is asked by a monk to make a speech at a religious ceremony, even though he does not speak Japanese and the monk does not understand English. The barely comprehensible speech is a hit and catapults Feynman to temporary local celebrity.
There is much more where those two came from.

As for the issue of involvement with the Manhattan Project, maybe this is a mythology that physicists propagate to absolve themselves of responsibility, but 1) I don't think anyone had any idea what they were building; 2) I don't think most people on the Manhattan project thought the Bomb would be used since the Germans, the ones they were supposedly pre-empting, had already been defeated; 3) It's possible that if Roosevelt hadn't died, the Bomb might never have been used — I pin the blame squarely on Truma for that; 4) There are only two prominent physicists that I know were in favour of nuclear bomb development after WWII, Edward "Dr. Strangelove" Teller and John A. Wheeler (more about this later).

On 1) and 2) see Wikipedia on Oppenheimer and also the film Fat man and Little Boy (1989); on 3) we have had some discussions of the "strategic" value (or lack thereof) of Hiroshima and Nagasaki here on ET, I'll dig them up.

Not to speak of Feynman's own atttudes to war and the military (which you can see in the stories about how he was declared mentally unfit for military service and how he and his wife got on the nerves of the military handlers at Los Alamos.

on 4) Edward Teller became a pariah among American physicists because he contributed to destroying the career of J. Robert Oppenheimer, as well as leading the effort  to make the Hydrogen bomb. I had no idea how strongly the leading American physicists felt about this until I had a chance to attend a symposium on the occasion of John A. Wheeler's 90th birthday where I had some conversations with some senior physicists there. Wheeler was Feynman's Ph.D.  advisor and one of the most conceptually inspiring physicists of the entire 20th century. The list of his academic descendants is astounding. However, there is a dark spot in his biography and that is that he was the only respected physicist who collaborated with Teller on the H bomb. I was told this had a lot to do with Wheeler's brother dying in Europe during WWII.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Apr 29th, 2007 at 09:26:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hey Mig, you met Wheeler?

I always wanted to meet the man who wrote this.

Behind it all is surely an idea so simple, so beautiful, that when we grasp it - in a decade, a century or a millennium - we will all say to each other, how could it have been otherwise? How could we have been so stupid for so long?


"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson
by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Sun Apr 29th, 2007 at 10:06:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I was in the same symposium, yes.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Apr 29th, 2007 at 10:09:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Here is a reference to the source of that quotation: "How Come the Quantum?" (Ann NY Acad Sci, 480 p.304 , 1986)

Wheeler was probably right about quantum mechanics.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Apr 29th, 2007 at 10:13:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I read and enjoyed What do you care what other people think? as well, shortly after Surely you're Joking, Mr Feynman!, but I cannot remember it as well.

Nevertheless, my uncle's issue was not about Feynman's attitude to the Japanese, but rather his participation in creating such a monstrous weapon of mass destruction, regardless of who it would be used against.  While post-War II Germans have had it pounded into them for decades how horrible their country behaved during that war, post-War II Japanese have had it pounded into them for decades how horrible the atomic bombs used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were -- a tragic side-effect of the use of that weapon, as it allowed a vicious aggressor nation to recast itself historically as the victim.

The relevance of my uncle's being Japanese is that as a Japanese, he was perceiving and judging Feynman far too narrowly, I felt, allowing his atomic-bomb related education as a Japanese to blackmark anything involved with its creation and use as being first and foremost something bad, ignoring, almost willfully, any other factors.  To be clear: my uncle did not perceive Feynman as being hostile to the Japanese, but rather as being the same kind of scientifically brilliant yet socially and morally oblivious or obtuse scientist as Dan in the diary.

As for the opinions and thoughts of physicists working on the Manhattan Project go, a sampling of quotes cannot do justice to that question, but I did find some of the following to be quite interesting (Szilard's strikes me as being particularly honest):

We had the means to end the war quickly, with a great savings of human life. I believed it was the sensible thing to do, and I still do.
     Luis W. Alvarez

If I had known that the Germans would not succeed in constructing the atom bomb, I would have never lifted a finger.
     Albert Einstein

We were afraid that Hitler had the bomb first, and we made this bomb, which shortened the war and saved a lot of American and Japanese lives in the Japanese war.
     Victor Weisskopf

As for my participation in making the bomb, there was no choice. The original discovery that made it possible was made in Germany, and we had believed that the German scientists were ahead of us in the development of a nuclear weapon. I shudder to think what would have happened if Germany had been first to acquire the weapon.
     Eugene Wigner

At Los Alamos during World War II there was no moral issue with respect to working on the atomic bomb. Everyone was agreed on the necessity of stopping Hitler and the Japanese from destroying the free world. It was not an academic question, our friends and relatives were being killed and we, ourselves, were desperately afraid.
     Joseph O. Hirschfelder

At Los Alamos we had some conversations on the subject and I must admit that my own position was that the atom bomb is no worse than the fire raids which our B-29s were doing daily in Japan, and anything to end the war quickly was the thing to do.
     George B. Kistiakowsky

During 1943 and part of 1944 our greatest worry was the possibility that Germany would perfect an atomic bomb before the invasion of Europe. ... In 1945, when we ceased worrying about what the Germans might do to us, we began to worry about what the government of the United States might do to other countries.
     Leo Szilard

From Cheap Thoughts on Science



Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.
by marco on Sun Apr 29th, 2007 at 10:50:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think while he was at Los Alamos Feynman was mostly concerned with his wife dying of tuberculosis, to be honest.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Apr 29th, 2007 at 12:18:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
At Los Alamos we had some conversations on the subject and I must admit that my own position was that the atom bomb is no worse than the fire raids which our B-29s were doing daily in Japan, and anything to end the war quickly was the thing to do.
     George B. Kistiakowsky

He is right of course. The atomic bomb is just another kind of fire bomb, one which need only one airplane instead of one hundred, or one thousand.

But maybe the thing to do would have been considering the morality of fire-bombing civilians...
(Especially as it was extremely inefficient from a war-fighting perspective, something pointed out by Basil Lidell Hart among others)

Still, war is war. Americans soldiers, sailors and Marines were being killed all the time, so in a way I understand them. Revenge, and making the war shorter (though it wasn't very effective and the Japanese would have surrendered anyway, as it was perfectly clear to everyon that they had already lost when they were nuked).

And it has always irritated me somewhat that everyone knows about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but most people have forgotten Tokyo (which was way worse than Hiroshima), Hamburg and Dresden.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Sun Apr 29th, 2007 at 04:46:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The irony about Hiroshima and Nagasaki is that nuke weapons are an extension of the logic of war, not a unique aberration.

They do what was already being done, but far more efficiently and quickly - like every other weapon in history, only in a 'We've got your genocide right here on special offer' kind of a way.

At the start of the war, the British were very reluctant to bomb civilians. But as the fight became more bitter the notion of what was acceptable slowly shifted. After the Blitz it was almost taken for granted that terror bombing wasn't just acceptable, it was necessary to win.

The real problem wasn't any particular strategy or any particular weapon, but a generation of psychotic leaders who were happy to use whatever was available, against other tribes whose leaders were even more psychotic.

War is ultimately a civilian issue because it's born out of weaknesess in diplomacy and democracy created by leaders who see force projection as a valid political tool for the advancement of their personal aims and careers.

Rather worryingly, that seems to be where we are again today.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Apr 30th, 2007 at 12:49:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
At least partly.  

It is not that Feynman showed antipathy to the Japanese (I know of no evidence for any) it is that Feyman was resolutely in favor of social irresponsibility.  

This contrasts sharply (and unfavorably) with Feynman's deep concern for scientific integrity.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Tue May 1st, 2007 at 01:09:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I know someone who was offered the wonderful opertunity to do his PhD work on the self healing mine field project:

village voice > news > Weapon of the Week: The Self-Healing Minefield by George Smith

Troops on the Afghan front know mine-clearing is risky work. But Taliban minefields are as nothing next to the Yankee ingenuity that--through the federal Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency--is bringing the "self-healing minefield" to the arsenal of freedom.

Utilizing commercial off-the-shelf computer chips and "healing" software, the networked minefield detects rude attempts to clear it, deduces which parts of itself have been removed, and signals its remaining munitions to close the hole using best-fit mathematics. The mines, which can hop, then redistribute themselves, frustrating the enemy and quite probably terrifying him in the process.

He declined, telling the prof. that he would never even consider working on such disgusting, evil technology. The prof. expressed great surprise. Arguing that he could not see why someone would not work on a technologically interesting project just because it had some terrible military applications. That the 'duty' of the scientist/engineer is to concentrate on the scientific/technical aspects of projects, and not worry about the moral/ethical implications. Those things are for others, specifically trained in such issues, to worry about... Gaahaha.

by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Sun Apr 29th, 2007 at 05:56:56 AM EST
One of my favourite short stories seems topical here:
Donald Barthelme: report
    Our group is against the war. But the war goes on. I was sent to Cleveland to talk to the engineers. The engineers were meeting in Cleveland. I was supposed to persuade them not to do what they are going to do. I took United's 4:45 from LaGuardia arriving in Cleveland at 6:13. Cleveland is dark blue at that hour. I went directly to the motel, where the engineers were meeting. Hundreds of engineers attended the Cleveland meeting. I noticed many fractures among the engineers, bandages, traction. I noticed what appeared to be fracture of the carpal scaphoid in six examples. I noticed numerous fractures of the humeral shaft, of the os calcis, of the pelvic girdle. I noticed a high incidence of clay-shoveler's fracture. I could not account for these fractures. The engineers were making calculations, taking measurements, sketching on the blackboard, drinking beer, throwing bread, buttonholing employers, hurling glasses- into the fireplace. They were friendly.
by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Sun Apr 29th, 2007 at 07:56:38 AM EST
by Keone Michaels on Sun Apr 29th, 2007 at 01:18:17 PM EST
... Japanese have had it pounded into them for decades how horrible the atomic bombs used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were -- a tragic side-effect of the use of that weapon, as it allowed a vicious aggressor nation to recast itself historically as the victim.

like a cop riot (Waco anyone?), the use of barbaric, indiscriminate destructive force against badguys makes the badguys look like sympathetic characters.  the US with its testerical overkill response to geopolitical situations has kind of a track record in this area -- they can make Saddam look good (in hindsight) to Iraqis, and that's an achievement of sorts...  of course Putin's similar "hard man" public display in Chechnya similarly raises international sympathy for the Chechen rebels, whether or not they are nice people one would like to share a park bench with :-)

something about disproportionate response...  vitiates the ethical rationale for that response...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Mon Apr 30th, 2007 at 05:31:29 PM EST
btw, kudos to the diary author.  moving, insightful, well written.  we had a Wunderkind among our students once;  the bomb labs snapped him up asap.  he died young;  I forget whether it was suicide or not...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Mon Apr 30th, 2007 at 08:39:51 PM EST
Disturbing post.  However, it was nice to read the Columbus connections.

Regarding von Braun, how complicit were the German scientists that we brought over here?  Did we bring them over because we wanted their skills to defeat the Communists.  If they cooperated with the Nazis, perhaps building nukes is not a stretch.

So, we're using these kids so young that they haven't totally developed a moral conscience?  Then throwing them away.

No wonder you stayed in Paris!

by tobysmom (tobysmom) on Tue May 1st, 2007 at 12:21:14 AM EST
Von Braun was always an unreclaimed Nazi- we wanted his skills, along with hundreds of other scientists and spooks whom we imported and supplied with power and money. He did not have to be a nice guy. He wasn't.
And the evidence for serious efforts at nuclear weapons development by the Third Reich is definitive, but I do not think the record indicates their development was imminent-- a couple years away, given perfect luck, and as I remember, there were severe materials shortage problems.

As for the Wunderkind---
Yes, we try hard to get them early, and use them up fast. It's a merciless process, often. But equally often, they learn to detach themselves from consequences, and end up doing the recruiting themselves later.

Feinman, whose books are a real pleasure, survived somehow--perhaps because he believed in the inevitability of what was happening, and could therefore use the "If I don't do it, someone else will" defense. In his case, -and in all cases, I think- the defense is false. There are very, very few Feinmans.

I think, however, that, even acknowledging the tragic death of his wife from TB and it's emotional effect on him, he had a remarkable ability to separate himself from the human consequences of his beloved mind puzzles.

Feinman was one of the greatest of the wunderkind.

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.

by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Tue May 1st, 2007 at 03:40:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Feinman, whose books are a real pleasure, survived somehow--perhaps because he believed in the inevitability of what was happening, and could therefore use the "If I don't do it, someone else will" defense. In his case, -and in all cases, I think- the defense is false. There are very, very few Feinmans.

As I have said on a parallel thread responding to bruno-ken, at Los Alamos Feynman was mostly focused on his wife dying of tuberculosis and his physics work probably functioned as an escape. Feynman then had some very tough years after the end of WWII (and the death of his first wife): a failed marriage, professional burnout...  It's really the Feynman of the 1960's (after the age of 40) that was that carefree maverick that people know and love.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 1st, 2007 at 05:02:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
On Richard Feynman:

http://guerby.org/blog/index.php/2006/04/23/64-the-pleasure-of-finding

If you don't already have, sepnd 40 minutes watching "The Pleasure of Funding":

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8777381378502286852&q=feynman

There's a moving description of the first bomb account amongst scientists who designed the bomb.

by Laurent GUERBY on Tue May 1st, 2007 at 05:58:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you for this, Laurent.  I should not have doubted Feyman: he acknowledges the "immoral" dimension of his involvement in the building of the bomb, i.e. losing sight of the ultimate purpose of this terrible endeavor:

[Starting around 13 minutes and 56 seconds into the video]

It was a completely different kind of thing. It would mean that I would have to stop the research in what I was doing, which is my life's desire, to take time off to do this, which I felt I should do in order to protect civilization. Okay? So that was what I had to debate with myself. My first reaction was, well, I didn't want to get interrupted in my normal work to do this odd job. There was also the problem, of course, of any moral thing involving war. I wouldn't have much to do with that, but it kinda scared me when I realized what the weapon would be, and that since it might be possible, it must be possible. There was nothing that I knew that indicated that if we could do it they couldn't do it, and therefore it was very important to try to cooperate.

With regard to moral questions, I do have something I would like to say about it. The original reason to start the project, which was that the Germans were a danger, started me off on a process of action which was to try to develop this first system at Princeton and then at Los Alamos, to try to make the bomb work. All kinds of attempts were made to redesign it to make it a worse bomb and so on.

But what I did, - immorally I would say - was to not remember the reason that I said I was doing it, so that when the reason changed, because Germany was defeated, not the singlest thought came to my mind at all about that, that that meant now I would have to reconsider why I am continuing to do this. I simply didn't think, okay?

And there it is.

But you have to give him credit:  he realized -- and seems to regret -- that very lack of conscientiousness (consciousness) about the nature of the work he was doing.  In that sense, in the sense of just mindlessly working on the project at hand, he was just like Dan in the diary.

Would like to see if he has written about this in any of his books as well.

(By the way, that Google video is totally jacked: audio and video not synchronized, lots of silent patches, and lots of irritating cuts and garbles.  Then again, can't complain about what's free.  I transcribed the whole damn passage before having the bright idea to google it, finding of course that it already exists online.)

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Tue May 1st, 2007 at 09:10:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm uploading my copy of the video here:

http://laurent.guerby.free.fr/ftp/Thepleasureoffinding-n800.avi

Should be complete in one hour, size is 147228742

Here is the passage I remembered, the aftermath:


The only reaction that I remember - perhaps I was blinded by my own reaction - was a very considerable elation and excitement, and there were parties and people got drunk and it would make a tremendously interesting contrast, what was going on in Los Alamos at the same time as what was going on in Hiroshima. I was involved with this happy thing and also drinking and drunk and playing drums sitting on the hood of -the bonnet of-a Jeep and playing drums with excitement running all over Los Alamos at the same time as people were dying and struggling in Hiroshima.

I had a very strong reaction after the war of a peculiar nature-it may be just from the bomb itself and it may be for other psychological reasons, I'd just lost my wife or something, but I remember being in New York with my mother in a restaurant, immediately after Hiroshima and thinking about New York, and I knew how big the bomb in Hiroshima was, how big an area it covered and so on, and I realized from where we were-I don't know, 59th Street-that to drop one on 34th Street, it would spread all the way out here and all these people would be killed and all the things would be killed and there wasn't only one bomb available, but it was easy to continue to make them, and therefore that things were sort of doomed because already it happened to me-very early, earlier than to others who were more optimistic-that international relations and the way people were behaving were no different than they had ever been before and that it was just going to go the same way as any other thing and I was sure that it was going, therefore, to be used very soon. So I felt very uncomfortable and thought, really believed , that it was silly: I would see people building a bridge and I would say `they don't understand'. I really believed that it was senseless to make anything because it would be destroyed very soon anyway, but they didn't understand that and I had this very strange view of any construction that I would see, I would always think how foolish they are trying to make something. So I was really in a kind of depressive condition.

by Laurent GUERBY on Tue May 1st, 2007 at 12:16:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for this, Laurent and Migeru.
As you can tell, I have a real affection for Feinman the whimsical, curious about the world- Feinman the amateur safecracker, Feinman the Rake----
I can well imagine his circumstances, and the difficult decisions that must have occupied his mind---and the admission that he did not think about it at a crucial point is good to know- there is integrity in seeing your own errors.
 

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.
by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Thu May 3rd, 2007 at 02:24:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Excellent diary, thank you for that.

I was interested for a long while in working as a chemist for what was the Defence Estate Research Agency, primarily because of the incredible opportunities to work on cutting edge projects, with good facilities and funding... It was incredibly tempting and I can understand why people who are good at science and passionate about it would take up an opportunity to be as brilliant as they can be. Stretch their brains in every direction and be outstanding.

But I really struggled with the ethics of it. What if I was told I would be working on developing new chemical warfare products?  What if I developed something that killed/maimed hundreds of people?  I couldn't do it, I'm very glad that all the glossy brochures didn't win me over in the end.  Especially reading a story like this.

Technology/science really is such a double edged sword in so many respects. We see it manifesting itself around us every day, whether we stop to think about it or not.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Tue May 1st, 2007 at 05:48:34 AM EST
Scientists working for companies that patent drugs are killing lots of people too.

May be they kill and have killed lots more people than weapon engineers.

by Laurent GUERBY on Tue May 1st, 2007 at 06:01:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
They save lives too. Most people surely want their work to produce results that benefit people, but the downside is that some things, by design or not, will cause deaths.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Tue May 1st, 2007 at 06:43:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Nuking Japan saved lifes too, remember. Accepting to work within the pharma patent system means you're accepting to create a drug which will be used by one person paying $100000 while you'll watch 100000 people die screaming without access to the drug you created, because they're not rich. Without the patent system, everyone would pay $1 and rich people pay a bit more taxes to pay for public R&D funding. That's an ethical choice to make, it has IMHO far more consequences than the choice weapon engineer make. But of course, the public and MSM talks about weapons more than drug patents.
by Laurent GUERBY on Tue May 1st, 2007 at 07:27:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Nothing is clear when it comes to the philosophy and ethics of this type of work. If you work within pharmaceuticals, the 'system' is out of your control, perhaps you can hope for change and hope for HIV drugs, vaccinations and anti-malarials and other life savers to be given for free to those who need them the most...

What happens with the drugs is out of the control of the scientist who works to create them, but the other side of the coin is that at least these drugs are there. At least there is the potential that somebody will make the right ethical choice and disseminate the drugs fairly.  They can't do that if the drugs don't even exist.

I don't think I can make a stark judgement on whether being a scientist in that environment is right or wrong - but certainly the ethics of those who sell the drugs at out of reach prices for most, are abominable.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Tue May 1st, 2007 at 07:38:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Weapon engineer don't control the use of their inventions either.

Nothing different for drugs.

Must read: chapter 9 of "Against Intellectual Monopoly" on "The Pharmaceutical Industry" here (18 pages):

http://www.dklevine.com/papers/ip.ch.9.m1004.pdf

In particular pay attention to the Italy then India testcase, before drug patents and after introduction of drug patents show no difference in drug creation share (slightly lower actually).

A choice to make, not easy but definitely not unclear.

Whole book:

http://www.dklevine.com/general/intellectual/against.htm

by Laurent GUERBY on Tue May 1st, 2007 at 08:00:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for the link, I'll try to follow it up at some point.

Your comments imply that you think I view the evils of pharmaceuticals as less relevant or significant than the evils of weapon development.  I picked up on weapons simply because that is primarily being discussed in the thread.  But I also made a choice as a chemist never to work in industry, especially never for a pharmaceutical company because I don't agree with the ethics of the way that drugs are tested, patented and how they are sold and the price attached to this.

I decided in the end on a career in academia because I wanted to be involved with teaching and leading my own research.  I was forced to abandon this route entirely because physical sciences are just too inaccessible for me. So, I no longer work as a scientist, but I do appreciate the issues from both sides. I don't think there is enough debate around the ethics involved in certain types of technological advances, so it's good to have some discussion on it here.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Tue May 1st, 2007 at 11:19:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, computers have been invented to improve weapons anyway :).
by Laurent GUERBY on Tue May 1st, 2007 at 12:05:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Do you think publicly funded R&D can produce the same quality and diversity of drugs that the pharma patent system does, and as quickly?

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.
by marco on Tue May 1st, 2007 at 09:19:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes. And I think it could do so more safely. Presently the very same company that creates a drug is responsible for its testing. They are responsible to demonstrate safety and efficacy. This is a huge conflict of interest! They are for example not required to release data from all clinical trials performed. They are just required to be able to conduct enough clinical trials with the outcome they wish, and those that indicate something different can conveniently be discarded. There is further a lot of possibilities for dirty tricks in upgrade drugs. You know, drug patents only last so long and at the end of this cycle the company will want to have a replacement drug available that can be shown to in some way work better. This could be faster recovery, higher recovery rates, or less side effects. There are a hundred little ways to 'demonstrate' that the new drug is 'better'. And let us not even get into marketing of drugs... And how, in particular with psychoactive substances, the development of a new 'wonder drug' is often accompanied by the invention of a new 'disorder', or the widening of the spectrum of what is considered in need of treatment for an old one.

I would like independent reviews of all these aspects. Independent, by people paid by a government agency, not by the company that made the product. The waters of the pharma industry are murky indeed, and they will do everything they can to keep it that way.

Remember, these companies are not in the business of saving lives. They are in the business of making money.

by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Tue May 1st, 2007 at 10:03:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Remember, these companies are not in the business of saving lives. They are in the business of making money.
I would have to respectively disagree.  They are in both.  It is possible for eithical people to develop products and services that save lives, and improve the quality of lives, and at the same time earn a living.  Dialysis machines, pacemakers, defibrillators, angioplasty catheters,,,,obviously the list goes on and on,,,,,have saved millions of lives now, and thousands of employees and managers work in those industries every day looking for ways to improve those products.

Doctors have made a living off of saving lives for hundreds of years.  And yes, there have been some crooks that were doctors and took advantage of their patients--selling quack medicine on the side for example.  But the fact that there are crooks in the practice of medicine shoulnd't brand all doctors as crooks.  It has required in the US development of new laws and regulations to eliminate, or reduce, potential conflicts of interest.

the same concept is true of industry.  there may be some bad actors, who give into the conflicts of interest and make the quick buck.  they are generally prosecuted in the US when found out.  but one shouldn't brand the industry here because of a few bad actors.  and perhaps new legislation on clinical trials is needed--I'm not saying good ideas wouldn't improve the process.  but the process is under constant scrutiny.  and the resulting requirements, which all in all are good ones, have led to it costing, I think the number now is, $1 billion for discovering, developing, and gaining approval of one drug in the US.

by wchurchill on Tue May 1st, 2007 at 10:27:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
PS: I saw someone's comment on the recent comments thread, and am responding to his comment only, since I haven't read anything else in the diary.  perhaps I shouldn't have done that, and if I'm out of context here with the discussion, I apologize.
by wchurchill on Tue May 1st, 2007 at 10:31:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The legal obligation of the corporation is to increase shareholder value, to the exclusion of everything else. If there is an action that would increase profits that could be taken, and it that action is legal, than the corporation is legally obliged to do it. (As far as I have understood things... Which might be poorly... I'm not an economist, MBA, lawyer, etc...) Up to and including hiring persons to lobby for legislation that would decrease the regulatory burden of the industry. The self-regulation favoured by corporations is utter nonsense in the context of the all important share holder value.

And the idea that these guys are somehow on 'our side', the nicy-nice picture of themselves painted in advertisements, "Eli Lily, curing cancer, with you, puppies, and candy".

The ads in the Boston subway, for finding clinical trial participants for anti-depressants, asking: "Do you feel tired, worn, exhausted?".
Hey! On the subway? coming home from work? or going there, early in the morning? How is this not a sinister hint that the discomfort one might feel in the course of daily living might be profitably medicable. With the proper oversight of a physician, of course! We cannot let people at it on their own, to determine what things to put in their own body. No! Only by determining a 'disorder', you are broken, must be fixed! By an expert doctor and the kind pharma industry, there with a pill, to ease the burden of daily life, don't question, don't ask, don't think: "should we perhaps consider a better organisation of society?", "is the discontent I am feeling perhaps not an indication of an imbalance in my brain, but an imbalance in society?".

And should I wish to smoke some dope, pop some speed, drop some tabs, because those things amuse me? Well, then, this is illegal! Yeah, not prescribed by a doctor, not condoned by the pharmas, danger, danger! You are illegal, out of line, the change in the patterns of thinking, not according to the approved, commercial, expert opinion of those expertly trained to evaluate and judge, not profitable! Consume, that which gives us profit! Yeah, docs might not be crooks. But the medical profession like the control they exert on all of us!

I had to write a paper once, for a class. I was assigned to write something about the development and use of anti-psychotics. It was terrifying, what I  read. And the only conclusion I could come to was that if I ever come to doubt my sanity, I should off myself before anyone notices. Because the alternatives are oh so much worse! (heh, this is the only reason I have ever thought I might want to own a gun. The only real, good use of one. You can turn it on yourself...)

Anyway, this is my beef with the pharmas, some of it at any rate. Not to logical, or well argued, perhaps...

by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Tue May 1st, 2007 at 12:42:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The legal obligation of the corporation is to increase shareholder value, to the exclusion of everything else. If there is an action that would increase profits that could be taken, and it that action is legal, than the corporation is legally obliged to do it.
This is just not accurate.  Certainly it is true that the obligation of management to shareholders is to run a profitable company, and run it well.  But there is no draconian law such as you describe.  Companies have strong obligations to their customers (in health care that's doctors, a whole ton of healthcare professionals, and patients), to employees and to the communities they reside in.

The self-regulation favoured by corporations is utter nonsense in the context of the all important share holder value.
In the context of healthcare, this is not accurate--maybe other industries.  But this industry needs, and wants, regulation with the power of law behind it.  If you are making a product that helps patients ( of which they are hundreds of thousands), the last thing you want is for some one with the attitude that you describe coming into the industry, deciding that the clinical trial process is too cumbersome so he'll just minimize it--that would hurt patients, put pressure on ethical companies to lower their standards if this new company started winning out, because people thought their product was just as good as the clinically proven ones.  It would be a race to the bottom.

I know you have trouble believing there are people in business with compasion, ethics and a desire to do the right thing, but there are.

by wchurchill on Tue May 1st, 2007 at 12:55:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I know you have trouble believing there are people in business with compasion, ethics and a desire to do the right thing, but there are.
No, I don't, actually. But as they say, the road to hell... I am concerned not so much for intentions as for the outcome...

(I think I should be giving you a lot more 4s than I have for being such a good sport about arguing about these things... I do like a good disagreement!)

by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Tue May 1st, 2007 at 01:04:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But there is no draconian law such as you describe.

I have read about this draconian law elsewhere.  Can anyone confirm that (or if) it's an urban myth?

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Tue May 1st, 2007 at 05:22:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
See UPDATED: "Shareholder value" is wrongly interpreted by technopolitical on December 22nd, 2006.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 1st, 2007 at 05:45:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Huh. I tried reading that thread. I didn't get it. Is that a yes or no to maximising share/shareholder value as the legally mandated goal of the corporation? I saw a bunch of for and against, I think. Can someone summarise simply, without using financial/business jargon? It seems that in practise, corporate entities often do stomp all over both their workers and anyone else who might come between them and a larger profit. Perhaps the are not legally obliged to do this, but do so anyway?
by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Tue May 1st, 2007 at 06:33:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think I can help here.  I would have to prove a negative, I think, that
maximising share/shareholder value as the legally mandated goal of the corporation?
does not exist.
by wchurchill on Tue May 1st, 2007 at 09:41:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Shareholders do sue from time to time management of companies that do not make enough profit or loose money.

On what ground?

by Laurent GUERBY on Wed May 2nd, 2007 at 04:39:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
America is a very litigious society.  And certainly there are shareholder lawsuits.  I do not know of any that claim the company did not make enough money.  And I am not aware that companies that make smaller amounts of money get sued more than companies that make a lot of money.  Do you have any examples of the kinds of lawsuits you are thinking of?
by wchurchill on Wed May 2nd, 2007 at 07:09:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Look at ABN Amro: some shareholders are suing because management does not want to consider higher biders for the merger.
by Laurent GUERBY on Sat May 5th, 2007 at 07:16:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
To the topic:

New York Times: Free Drug Samples? Bad Idea, Some Say

... drug company sales representatives try to keep sample cabinets in medical offices well stocked with the latest medications, for doctors to dispense as the need arises. <...>

... now some leading academic medical centers are restricting the use of samples, and a smattering of physician practices are shutting down the sample cabinet. These critics say doctors should be choosing the most appropriate medication for a patient based on the best scientific evidence available -- not just grabbing something from the office stash that happens to fit the bill. <...>

The crackdown on free samples comes amid growing concern about the close ties between physicians and drug companies. Critics like Dr. Rothman say physicians don't realize the extent to which their medical judgment is influenced by their acceptance of the samples. They point to studies like a 2002 paper in the journal Annals of Family Medicine finding that the number of doctors who treated high blood pressure with the "first line" drugs recommended by national guidelines was low, but increased sharply when free samples were removed. <...>

A 1995 study in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that 11 percent of the statements drug company representatives made during presentations were inaccurate, and all of the inaccuracies were skewed in favor of their products.

The drugs promoted through free samples tend to be the newer medications that doctors are less familiar with, experts say. Some critics of samples say they prefer using older drugs anyway, because their side effects are better known. Critics also point out that helping poor and uninsured patients is not the intent of the sample distribution, and they add that developments like Medicare's prescription-drug coverage, the proliferation of generic drugs and improvements in drug company patient-assistance programs have eased access to medication.



Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.
by marco on Tue May 1st, 2007 at 10:50:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I personally don't agree with this.  But I'm a strong proponent of having other models in the world, and seeing what works and what doesn't.  That is one of the reasons I love the more socialized systems of Europe, and you should love the more capital oriented systems of the US, hopefully, anyway -:),,,,,,because it gives us all a chance to see ideas in action, and modify our views based upon that.

The model of state run enterprise is common in France.  Why haven't the French done this?  It would be great to see how successful such an approach would be.

Without the patent system, everyone would pay $1 and rich people pay a bit more taxes to pay for public R&D funding.
If this is true, and can be shown to be true, I'm a convert!  (and you have convinced me of other things.)

so do it, show us,,,,and we'll follow.

by wchurchill on Tue May 1st, 2007 at 01:04:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
seeing what works and what doesn't
I think there woud be a difficulty in metrics. What constitutes a working state enterprise? Traditionally, the role of those has been in part to absorb people into employment, for example. Profitability would for example not necessarily be the first concern... It gets very trouble some when these kinds of state enterprises are then put to the task of competing with private buissiness. If 'efficiency' was not primary, and was chosen not to be primary, then of course they will come off looking worse.

For example:
European Tribune - This is what's wrong with neoliberalism

In the French countryside, the postiers usually has an important social role, helping some of the population (the elderly and those in isolated areas) with errands, services, etc... or simply taking the time to speak with them - often they're the only person they will see during the day). Now, they are being punished for doing what's so far been part of their job:
by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Tue May 1st, 2007 at 01:19:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree profitability does not need to be an objective.  and presumably that would be an advantage to the state run enterprise, as compared to the profit seeking monsters -:)

so let's set the objective as a reasonable portfolio of drugs that each solve unmet needs in healthcare, and, everyone would pay $1 and rich people pay a bit more taxes to pay for public R&D funding.

we could fine tune this as the French government launches the effort, but just pulling from Laurent to get the principles to be used in setting the objectives and metrics.

by wchurchill on Tue May 1st, 2007 at 01:58:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Must read: chapter 9 of "Against Intellectual Monopoly" on "The Pharmaceutical Industry" here (18 pages):

http://www.dklevine.com/papers/ip.ch.9.m1004.pdf

Some facts:

  • no pharma patent in France from 1844 to 1959 (outlawed). Result: zero new drugs from France? Really?

  • no pharma patent in Italy up to 1978, until they were forced by a suit involving 18 foreign companies. For the period 1961-1980 1282 new active chemicals compounds were discovered worldwide, 119 in Italy (9.28%) without patent. 1980-1983 108 new discoveries worldwide, 8 from Italy (7.5%) - with patents. (no data after that according to the author).

What is your reaction?

Do you really believe we need patents to discover new drugs?

There are many other facts in the 18 pages PDF, and many many other in the complete book which freely available online:

http://www.dklevine.com/general/intellectual/against.htm

by Laurent GUERBY on Tue May 1st, 2007 at 04:27:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Laurent,
I wish I had a few days to really dig into this area, organize my thoughts, and document them--but of course I don't.  I'll try to address points in the paper you refer me to, as well as share some of my own thoughts.

First, my personal experience is heavily on the medical device side of healthcare.  you may already know medical devices, but if not, it is a rather broad group of healthcare products which at the higher technology end of the scale would include things such as pacemakers, defibrillators, angioplasty catheters, dialysis machines and the various accessories, heart-lung machines and accessories, etc.  I've worked a little with drugs, but mainly devices.  Devices share many issues that drugs have, one of the ones addressed in the paper is the clinical trial process.  It is so critical in these businesses that the products don't hurt people more than they help them, that they really do what they are intended to do, and that side effects are well understood.  So the development process is very lengthy, and appropriately so (and even with that there are well documented mistakes).  So development costs, including clinical trials, are extremely high; and the timelines for development are very long; and you can often spend $100's of millions only to find out in the last phase of human clinicals that the product that looked so good in the lab, in animal models, in phase ! safety trials on patients, phase II efficacy trials on patients, but they still bomb in the phase III clinical because they don't statistically prove themselves to help, or help enough.

I really wrestle with some of the comments in the paper, many of them along the lines I just described.  

Much of the case for drug patents rests on the high cost of
bringing drugs to market. Most studies have been sponsored by the
pharmaceutical industry and are so quite suspect. The Consumer
Project on Technology examined the cost of clinical trials for orphan
drugs - good data are available for these drugs because they are
eligible for special government benefits. A pharmaceutical industry
sponsored study estimated the average cost of clinical trials for a
drug at about $24.5 million 1995 dollars. However, for orphan drugs
where better data are available
, the average cost of clinical trials was
only about $6.5 million 1995 dollars - yet there is no reason to
believe that these clinical trials are in any way atypical.
I wrote a diary recently on the venture capital segment of private equity, and used as an example a company developing an orphan drug for Lupus
Just as an example, there is a company called La Jolla Pharmaceutical Company which is today in the hopefull final phase, Phase III of a new drug for a disease called Lupus.  

La Jolla Pharmaceutical Company is dedicated to improving and preserving human life by developing innovative pharmaceutical products. The Company's leading product in development is Riquent®, which is designed to treat lupus renal disease by preventing or delaying renal flares. Lupus renal disease is a leading cause of sickness and death in patients with lupus. The Company has also developed small molecules to treat various other autoimmune and inflammatory conditions.

Through last December they have spent $300 million (I was incorrect in the diary saying $250 million)developing, clinically testing, etc this drug, and they are in the middle of trying to complete their Phase III clinical.  They will likely have to spend another $100 million to complete the trial, hopefully gain approval, and then ramp up production, sales, etc.  So they will spend $400 million before they can earn dollar $1--and that's if they are successful in the final trial.  If they are not successful, they'll stop spending at $350 million or so, but it's all money lost.  But the author tells us that "However, for orphan drugs
where better data are available, the average cost of clinical trials was
only about $6.5 million 1995 dollars - yet there is no reason to
believe that these clinical trials are in any way atypical."  Now I realize this is one bio-tech company, but many of them are public and with a little work one can review a sampling and get a broader view--but there is just no way that you're going to find an average clinical trial of $6.5 million for a non-orphan drug, or an orphan drug.  He is off by a factor of something like 20, he's not even in the ballpark.

A second comment that is worrisome from the author:

Yet, since the 1970s,
pharmaceutical manufacturing has become quite concentrated with a
few large companies holding a dominant position throughout the
world and with a few companies producing medicines within each
country. Why is this? The industry claims it is because only very
large firms can afford the high cost of pharmaceutical R&D.
A very large % of drug development is done by very small companies, like the example I show with La Jolla Pharmaceutical--it's called the bio-tech industry.  One of the main reasons for its development was that it was hard for the large Pharma companies to take the huge risks of drug development on a lot of drugs--if they failed, they could destroy the value of their company.  So the model that evolved was that private investors would take the risk for a lot of the drugs that big Pharma didn't feel they could take on.  So the private investors took the risk and lost the money if the drug failed, but made the big money if the drug made it.  Big Pharma then buys or liscenses the winners--they can't have boom and bust years in today's stock markets, so this is an effective way for them.  And they have the sales forces, manufacturing plants, quality control systems, etc to manufacture, distribute, market the drugs, so they add that value--plus of course the drugs they do develop themselves.  But the author doesn't seem to know there is a bio-tech industry, or maybe he doesn't know it's made up of small companies, and he certainly doesn't understand one of the fundamental reasons for it's development is big pharma needing to farm out a lot of drug development due to the high costs and risks.  

I would really like to go on here (I have much more to say--he seems to suggest there is a lot of new pharm innovation in France and Italy despite not having patents,,,I don't know pharma well, but I can't think of any successful medical device companies there; I would also like to address his AID's comments), but it's 6:15pm here after a long, but good, day--and my Warriors basketball team is about to try to close out their series in the first round of the NBA playoffs.  btw, one of our star players is Mickael Pietrus from France--one of my favorites and very popular amongst the fans.

But I do think patents are needed in pharmaceuticals and medical devices, because just using Lupus as an example, no investor would put even $100 million into this high risk drug development if once they got the drug approved, if they got the drug approved, other people who didn't spend the money or take the risk could just make the drug.

by wchurchill on Tue May 1st, 2007 at 09:25:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm starting to know quite well your one example :).

How a multi-hundred drug multi-decade study weight against one example?

I'm talking about public funding where globally worldwide - no patents means no need to hide data until "patent" and hence enhance efficiency of spending, as noticed by no one less than Bill Gates which condition funding to transparency in research - 300 millions euros is fraction of peanuts in this context.

by Laurent GUERBY on Wed May 2nd, 2007 at 05:02:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm suggesting that you look at public biotech companies who are still developing their first products.  By doing that, you can see clearly how much money they are spending on product development, and all of its components, such as clinical trials.  Here's another, Biomarin Pharmaceuticals:
BioMarin develops and commercializes innovative biopharmaceuticals for serious diseases and medical conditions, focusing on product candidates that:

*    Address currently unmet medical needs
*    Suggest a clear-cut development profile
*    Provide an opportunity to be first-to-market

Approval of Aldurazyme® (laronidase), the first specific therapy approved for the treatment of mucopolysaccharidosis I (MPS I), reflects the company's commitment and ability to execute its business strategy. Today, with two approved products on the market and a fully-integrated infrastructure in place, BioMarin is positioned to realize continued success in providing patients with innovative therapeutics for serious diseases.

They have actually gotten approval on two drugs (I believe both orphan drugs), but have spent $591 million getting there--almost all of which is in the R&D, clinical development process.  You can look yourself at public biotech companies that are early stage, and thus see how much money they are spending on development.  It's hundreds of millions in all cases.  The drug industry has estimates of new drug development which they have published, I haven't looked a recent one up, but their estimates are in the $100's of millions.  Knowing the industry reasonably well, and seeing this kind of data--much of which you can quickly review and looking at early stage biotech--it's just obvious the spending is enormous, and that the guy who wrote that paper leading us to believe that the clinical trials cost $6.5 million is not credible.  

Just like he's not credible in saying small companies can't do drug development--look at these two companies.  they are small companies.

one of the main reasons for biotech companies is to spread the risk and high cost of drug development to private investors.  If it cost $6.5 million to run clinical trials for a drug, which would these multi-billion drug companies, with all their research labs, not easily take on all these trials?

I'm talking about public funding where globally worldwide - no patents means no need to hide data until "patent" and hence enhance efficiency of spending, as noticed by no one less than Bill Gates which condition funding to transparency in research - 300 millions euros is fraction of peanuts in this context.
I'm afraid I don't understand what you mean here.
by wchurchill on Wed May 2nd, 2007 at 07:35:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I just posted the following on Laurent's excellent Diary re IP and the Supreme Court...

 We misunderstand "Property" by conceiving of it as an "Object" when it fact it is a bundle of rights of use and "ownership".

And we are used to an unbridgeable divide between these rights of absolute ownership and temporary use: Freehold and Leasehold; the debate concerning "fair use" of proprietary IP and so on.

In both the case of land and IP I am pointing out that by using simple new legal forms other than private Companies for the purpose of "packaging" Property rights it is possible to come up with new partnership-based policy options that are capable of completely changing the game.

ie put IP into a "trust" (the IP Foundation?) with the trustee/custodian as a member of a partnership with:
(a) the IP creator;
(b) the IP user;
(c) a Manager/Developer/Operator.

The revenues - if there are any (and many IP creators choose not to charge) - are simply shared proportionally between the IP creator and the Manager/ Operator (if any).

It's not difficult. But it IS new. Neither Proprietary nor "Open", but both.

A partnership model which is "closed" in that only Members may use IP but "Open" in that anyone who consents to the terms of the partnership agreement may join.

This "Commonhold" model seems even more applicable in the life and death world of drugs in the way it allows private and public capital to be deployed seamlessly alongside each other. ie while some IP creators choose not to charge, the converse is that some Investors choose not to demand a return either.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Thu May 3rd, 2007 at 03:38:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Drug that just slightly improve health state are way more expensive to test than drugs that just save lifes, because you need a much bigger population to test on to show that you have a statistically non zero effect with your drug. When a drug save lives, you know about quickly in the test process, and sometimes authorities just give you authorization while the normal process is not done yet.

That says a lot about what numbers are important.

About my last sentence, I suggest you look for Bill Gates  public statements on this subjet for full documentation.

He has a few spare billions to spend on his (and Buffet) mission, he is I assume now knowledgeable about the issues involved and he clearly said secrecy coming from the patent game cost lots of lives and wastes lots of money. But of course Bill Gates is not in the business of adding a month to rich people life for $200k a year of drugs.

by Laurent GUERBY on Sat May 5th, 2007 at 07:23:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The greater expense of testing low-value drugs is an interesting and important point. I haven't seen it made before, and it obviously undercuts one of the arguments for strong pharmaceutical IP (that is, intellectual protectionism -- "intellectual property" is a misnomer).

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Sat May 5th, 2007 at 07:50:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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