1. Subscription news will inevitably skew partisan. The journalistic code of objective news is a legacy from last century. With only three national TV stations and at most a handful of newspapers per city, news gatekeepers had monopoly power. And that power led to a journalistic code of balance, showing two sides to every story. What Jay Rosen calls the view from nowhere. Fine. This gloss of impartiality was helpful in its day, and clearly in the public interest. But what’s less obvious is a second support for the view from nowhere: advertising. Journalism funded by advertising created powerful financial incentives to reach a mass audience and exclude no one. These two great pillars supporting journalism’s (now stubbornly legacy) culture have crumbled to dust. The internet took away the news monopoly. And now is taking away advertising. Moving journalism towards subscriptions. And don’t get me wrong. Subscriptions are great! A viable way to support news in our internet age. With an honorably history going back to the earliest subscription print magazines. But let’s not fool ourselves. The subscription model, like the loss of monopoly, skews incentives strongly towards having an actual point of view. That is, towards partisanship. The hard job of today’s journalists is to exercise the omniscient ghost Walter Cronkite, still haunting our newspaper dreams. And instead find an honest kind of partisanship appropriate for today. Perhaps, if so inclined, attempting highbrow partisan. Say the Jacobin (subscription since 2010) or The Economist (subscription since 1843, predating the 20th century mass media era!). And with that, here’s Alex Tabarrok:
I’d add one more factor to Potter’s analysis. Since the advertisers care about eyeballs, advertisement-funded media are incentivized to produce more eyeballs. Such incentives tends to encourage lowest-common-denominator entertainment but also more political balance. Subscription-funded media, in contrast, face a tradeoff: subscribers want content that supports their world view so moderating the content to appeal to a larger audience will likely reduce the price that any one reader is willing to pay. Revenues are therefore larger with a smaller but more political extreme audience.
1. Amazon Healthcare. My current favorite example of tech and healthcare is the Mycin system. A 1978 AI expert computer system that was better than pathologists, yet never adopted due to incentives. So better technology is important, but if you can’t shift incentives, it’s completely useless. Health is hard. And using the word “AI” doesn’t magically change incentives. Which brings us to Amazon’s health announcement. Since most tech initiatives in health are doomed to fail, Amazon health is interesting only if Amazon is ambitious enough to completely revamp the American healthcare system. On a decades long time horizon. Well. Ben Thompson walks through how that might happen. Key quote: “Amazon’s goal is to basically take a skim off of all economic activity.” Speculative post, but excellent throughout. Recommended.
1. Cloning of Macaque Monkeys by Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer. Here’s the paper in Cell. The scientists are from Mu-Ming Poo’s Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai. They used the same technique as Dolly the sheep, which previously hadn’t worked in primates. How? “We found that injection of H3K9me3 demethylase Kdm4d mRNA and treatment with histone deacetylase inhibitor trichostatin A at one-cell stage following SCNT greatly improved blastocyst development and pregnancy rate of transplanted SCNT embryos in surrogate monkeys.” Ummm? I’d paraphrase as they discovered a trick. Injecting a couple of chemicals after cloning helped turn the cloned cell back into a stem cell. There’s two takeaways. First, it took them 127 attempts, to get 109 embryos, to get 21 surrogate monkey mothers, to get 6 pregnancies, to get 2 live births. Which now puts primates on par with sheep in terms of success rate using this technique. That is, still very low. Second, China don’t care. They’ve moved on. I doubt anyone doing this kind of work in China worries about what backwards countries in the west think of cloning or gene editing. Best popular story I read is here in the Atlantic.
1. More people should read and follow Spotted Toad to learn about the Opioid Crisis. Yes it’s true. Someone is writing about the Opioid Crisis under the pseudonymous handle Spotted Toad. As he(?) noted on twitter this week: Lol, US Senators are holding public hearings based on blog posts they read from “Spotted Toad”. And: If this had happened under my own name it would be the Most Important Thing That Ever Happened To Me but fortunately it’s all under a ridiculous pseudonym.
1. Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and Apple. Here’s a good piece on the continuing rise of voice interface at CES. My favorite CES read was by Ben Bajarin (link), who begins with the unfortunately necessary caveat “For the record, Apple is not doomed.” Then gets to his primary point:
Gone are the days of Apple’s presence, or observably “winning” of CES, even though they are not present. It was impossible to walk the show floor and not see a vast array of interesting innovations which touched the Apple ecosystem in some way. Now it is almost impossible to walk the floor and see any products that touch the Apple ecosystem in any way except for an app on the iOS App Store. The Apple ecosystem is no longer the star of CES but instead things like Amazon’s Alexa voice platform, and now Google’s assistant voice platform is the clear ecosystem winners of CES.
I plan to write a links-with-commentary blog post every Saturday in 2018. Today being the first one. I’ll keep these newsletter style casual, with minimal edits. Hopefully that will increase the chance I’ll post every Saturday this year. Mostly I’ll pull from what I’ve recently shared on twitter.
Soylent started in 2013 as a Rob Rhinehart crowdfunded experiment in food replacement. The name and food replacement angle attracted lots of enthusiasm, for example see what happened when I ate only Soylent for 30 days. Answer: farts. Evil ones. With the 2.0 version coming out in Sep 2015 as a prepackaged drink, I bought some to try it out. On my Friday commute I often listen to Ben Thompson and James Allworth’s Exponent podcast, and their latest episode covered disruption in the internet age. Drinking Soylent while listening, the two seemed (somewhat) related. Let me explain, finishing with my Soylent review.