David R. Henderson  

Three Thumbsuckers

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When I was writing a lot for Fortune in the late 1980s and early to mid-1990s, an editor of one of my articles casually referred to it as a "thumbsucker." I thought it was an insult, but he explained to me that it meant simply that readers couldn't simply scan it but needed to read it carefully and think about it.

I read three good thumbsuckers this morning. Here they are:

1. Arnold Kling on Tyler Cowen's interview with Atul Gawande. Gawande had said:

In the 1950s, we had no real FDA, and you had the opportunity to put out, to innovate in all kinds of ways, and that innovation capability gave us modern cardiac surgery and gave us steroids and antibiotics, but it also gave us frontal lobotomies, and it gave us the Tuskegee experiment and a variety of other things.

Arnold points out that Tyler didn't challenge Gawande. Arnold does, writing:
The primary reason we abhor frontal lobotomies and the Tuskegee experiment is lack of patient consent. Patient consent is not the focus of the FDA at all. You do not need an FDA to enforce the patient's right to consent. In fact, you can argue that the FDA acts contrary to patient consent, because it tells people what drugs they cannot have even if they are fully aware of the evidence regarding the risks of the drugs and the data on the drugs' effectiveness.

2. The "settled" science is now unsettled:
In the 150 years since Schwendener, biologists have tried in vain to grow lichens in laboratories. Whenever they artificially united the fungus and the alga, the two partners would never fully recreate their natural structures. It was as if something was missing--and Spribille might have discovered it.

He has shown that largest and most species-rich group of lichens are not alliances between two organisms, as every scientist since Schwendener has claimed. Instead, they're alliances between three. All this time, a second type of fungus has been hiding in plain view.


From Ed Yong, "How a Guy From a Montana Trailer Park Overturned 150 Years of Biology," The Atlantic, July 21, 2017.

3. The change in Congressional procedure that started in 2006:

In 2017, it is useful to recall that this process used to apply to each and every government activity that required a dollar from the U.S. treasury, each and every year. For the past 11 years, however, all the money drawn from the treasury have come from single "continuing resolutions" (CRs) or "omnibus" bills, drafted in secret by "leadership" staffers, executive branch officials, and lobbyists, on which there have been no hearings and which few members have ever read, and on which few if any amendments have been allowed. These "Cromnibuses," served up as the government runs out of spending authority, end up being passed by the majority party's near unanimity.

From Angelo Codevilla, "Restoring the Republic Means Reimposing 'Regular Order'", American Greatness, July 23, 2016. HT2 Instapundit.


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COMMENTS (4 to date)
Hazel Meade writes:

As I pointed out over on Tyler's thread, the FDA's policy on direct-to-consumer genetic testing is almost an exact analogy to the Tuskeegee study. In both cases, government officials decided that patients should not have access to information about their condition for similarly paternalistic reasons.

In one case we're talking about patients with an actual disease not being told they had the disease, and in the other, patients not being allowed to find out what their genetic risk factors are. In both cases, this paternalistic policy is motivated by the fear that the patient would somehow misuse the information or suffer from the knowledge of it - that people are better off not knowing they have syphillis or risk factors for breast cancer.

Linda Seebach writes:

The Atlantic article about lichens is from 2016, not this year.

Henderson David writes:

@Hazel Meade,
Good point.
@Linda Seebach,
Thanks.

Jon Murphy writes:

Question:

The Tuskegee Experiment was a US government operation, run by the FDA's bosses (HHS). What authority would the FDA have to shut it down? How could the FDA have prevented this?

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