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Best of the Web

Why new drugs are so expensive

Why new drugs are so expensive

(ThinkstocK)

Our pick of the week from around the web, including the cost of medicines, how NSA almost killed the internet and the world’s hottest app.

Geel welcomes the mentally ill
Mike Jay | Aeon | 9 January 2014

Moving. Amazing. Geel, an “otherwise unremarkable Belgian market town”, has a unique vocation: “For more than 700 years its inhabitants have taken the mentally ill and disabled into their homes as guests.” Odd behaviour is “ignored where possible, and when necessary dealt with discreetly”. The system is non-medical. “When boarders meet their new families, they do so without a backstory or clinical diagnosis.”

How the NSA almost killed the internet
Steven Levy | Wired | 7 January 2014

The Snowden/NSA saga as seen from the viewpoint of the tech giants – Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple – who found themselves in the unhappy role of useful idiots at best, government stooges at worst. “The tech world found itself ensnared in a fight far bigger than the ones involving oversharing on Facebook or ads on Gmail. Over the coming months, they would find themselves at war with their own government.”

Why drugs are expensive
Ashutosh Jogalekar | Scientific American | 6 January 2014

Or new drugs, at any rate. “Taking a drug all the way from initial discovery to market is considered harder than putting a man on the Moon. The science of drug discovery is so tortuous because biology is so complex. We are dealing with a classic multiple variable optimisation problem, except that the variables to be optimised pertain to a very poorly understood, complex and unpredictable system.”

The world's hottest app or a $3 billion disappearing act?
J.J. Colao | Forbes | 6 January 2014

Profile of the 23-year-old Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel, who turned down $3bn from Facebook, and aims to be the next Mark Zuckerberg himself. He thinks Snapchat has found a strategy for beating Facebook, at least among younger people: Posts to Snapchat disappear after a while, whereas Facebook content haunts you forever. The median Snapchat user is aged 18; the median Facebook user, 40.

Hacking it
Evgeny Morozov | New Yorker | 6 January 2014

Will the Maker movement transform the political economy of physical things, much as the Internet has transformed the political economy of intangibles? Perhaps, but expect the same level of blowbacks and contradictions. Tools are just tools; they can be used for good, or for bad. “Our tech imagination is at its zenith. But our institutional imagination has stalled, and with it the democratising potential of radical technologies.”

Thinking the unthinkable
Alexander Nazaryan | Newsweek | 3 January 2014

Sizzling review of an “occasionally insane, but far more frequently brilliant” short book, Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World, by Timothy Morton. Hyperobjects are “the very big things that have come to dominate human existence: cancer, global warming, radionuclides, petrochemicals”. By Morton’s reckoning, the end of our world is nigh, but we cannot or will not think about it.

The closing of the scientific mind
David Gelernter | Commentary | 1 January 2014

Angry polemic from the pen of a computer scientist accusing Daniel Dennett, Ray Kurzweil and scientists in general of seeking to extinguish humanism by claiming the brain as form of computer and the mind as a form of software. By reducing thought to the status of computation, and denying the central fact of subjective experience, they attack the sanctity of life. Some straw men lurk here, but it’s a good read.

More important than that choking, the yips and not having your mind right
David Papineau | 1 January 2014

A philosopher writes: “When Jonathan Trott was struggling in the first two tests of the current Ashes tour, some cricket commentators suggested that he was suffering from The Yips. This didn’t make sense to me. You can’t get The Yips when batting in cricket, nor for that matter in baseball, for reasons explained below. Rather Trott’s problem was simply that he did not have his mind right.”

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