A theme of my writing over the past ten or so years has been the role of data in society. I tend to frame that role anthropologically: How have we adapted to this new element in our society? What tools and social structures have we created in response to its emergence as a currency in our world? How have power structures shifted as a result?
Increasingly, I’ve been worrying a hypothesis: Like a city built over generations without central planning or consideration for much more than fundamental capitalistic values, we’ve architected an ecosystem around data that is not only dysfunctional, it’s possibly antithetical to the core values of democratic society. Houston, it seems, we really do have a problem.
Facebook, Apple stock ride sidecar, Amazon soars on health news
Once again the scholars of democracy are displeased with its march, or perhaps we should say its retreat. Last time we reported on this trend, it was the Freedom House sounding the alarm. Today it’s the Economist. Just five percent of the world lives in a “full democracy” and no, the US ain’t included. We live in a “flawed democracy” and honestly, I am starting to wonder if that’s just a bit too charitable. MQ: “The index, which comprises 60 indicators across five broad categories — electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, democratic political culture and civil liberties — concludes that less than 5% of the world’s population currently lives in a “full democracy”.”
We’ll be discussing the decline of democracy with world leaders, governors, mayors, and policy experts, as well as the head of Facebook News Feed and the General Counsel of Google at the Shift Forum next month. Join us!
Smart, young, talented, and very much not bro-tastic.
Business news these days is overwhelmingly depressing. But yesterday I had a chance to speak with five leaders of extraordinary NewCos, the kinds of companies that restore your faith in the role business can play in the world. For today’s column, I thought I’d introduce them to you as well.
Sean Duffy runs Omada Health, a late stage digital therapeutics company focused on addressing our nation’s obesity and diabetes crisis. The company has raised more than $135 million and is a standout in a complex and crowded digital healthcare space. I interviewed Duffy, along with four other entrepreneurs, at Comcast’s Millennial Tech and Change Summit in San Francisco yesterday. Omada is Duffy’s first startup, and as with every new company, it’s had its challenges. But Omada is now charting its own course, and helping hundreds of thousands of people change their lifestyle and beat chronic disease. The concept behind the platform scales to the size of the problem — which is massive.
The big questions that medicine is still struggling to answer
NewCo Shift produces a number of Medium Premium series, articles created in conjunction with noted authors and journalists. One such series is What We Don’t Know, by Thomas Goetz. This series explores the reasons why the most basic problems in medicine are some of the hardest to solve. The first article in the series explores the reasons why we really don’t know how to count dead people.
In 2010, the World Health Organization’s World Malaria Report put the number of annual global deaths caused by malaria at 655,000, but that number, however, turned out to be wrong. A correction by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation found that the actual number was closer to 1.2 million deaths. Goetz asked himself, how could the mortality estimate for malaria, a disease that gets a great amount of attention and resources, and a disease that has such long history and distinct pathology, be so wrong? And how was it possible to get the number right?
Read the first article here to find out why getting the numbers right is really hard to do, and why we must get it right in order to understand human health. The second in the series is due this week, so stay tuned!
Adrian Aoun is one of a small but growing group of serial entrepreneurs tackling massive societal “hair balls” through the structure of an ambitious startup. Elon Musk wants to solve energy and transportation, Max Ventilla is taking on education, Jeff Huber’s wants to cure cancer. Aoun’s mission? To reinvent the doctor’s office — specifically, primary care doctors known as “general practitioners” — the front line of our healthcare system.
GPs are under pressure — our insurance-driven system forces them to see more and more patients, and know less and less about them. Forward, Aoun’s new startup, aims to address this problem with sophisticated technology and a new approach to patient-doctor information systems. He spoke at NewCo Shift Forum earlier this year, below is a transcript of his remarks, edited for clarity, as well as the short video presentation.
Uncertainty is the bane of business planning. But uncertainty is everywhere — so, mostly, managers just try to roll with it. Sometimes, however, so much uncertainty gets thrown at once on a particular industry that it just freezes up.
That’s what happened to healthcare in the U.S. yesterday, when Republicans in Congress passed a massive repeal/rewrite of Obamacare (Vox). No one had read the whole bill. The Congressional Budget Office hadn’t analyzed its impact. And everyone agreed that whatever the House passed, the Senate was largely going to ignore.
Programming code isn’t gendered. It’s inhuman, mathematical, objective — or so many engineers believe. But it’s also a product of human minds, judged by human beings. When one Facebook engineer conducted a study of code reviews inside the company last year, she found that women’s contributions were rejected 35 percent more often than those written by their male colleagues (Deepa Seetharaman in The Wall Street Journal).
The study caused a ruckus inside Facebook and led to a follow-up investigation by a Facebook executive that arrived at a different conclusion. Jay Parikh, Facebook’s head of infrastructure, found that the different rejection rates were the result of differences in engineers’ rank at the company, not gender. Less experienced, more junior engineers got more rejections. And of course it turns out that many more of Facebook’s female engineers — who make up only 17 percent of the company’s technical workforce — fit that description.
One of the most powerful speeches I’ve ever read came from Jeff Huber, CEO of Grail Bio (you can read it here). In it he talks about the loss of his wife to cancer, and his frantic search for a cure while she was still alive. Her legacy lives on through Huber’s work at Grail, where he and his team are working to scale a personalized approach to the diagnosis phase of cancer treatment. He returns to that story, and explains Grail’s approach, in this short video from the NewCo Shift Forum. Watch below, or read the text, edited for clarity.
Jeff Huber: Hi. I am Jeff Huber. I’m the founding CEO of Grail. Grail’s mission is to detect cancer early when it can be cured. We’ll talk a little bit more maybe of the background or the arc of how Grail got to today, and then where we’re going from here. My background is at Google, and that’s material to Grail’s mission.
By routing around insurance companies and going direct, Color Genomics wants to help everyone get the health data they need
Continuing our focus on innovative health companies that are changing the game in their industry, earlier this year at Shift Forum we heard from Jill Hagenkord, Chief Medical Officer at Color Genomics, a preventative genetic testing startup. Hagenkord was drawn to Color because of its mission — to bring vital and potentially life saving information to health consumers who previously were left in the dark due to our bureaucratic “sick-care” system, which focuses only on addressing illness, instead of preventing it. Below is Hagenkord’s presentation, along with a transcript, edited for clarity.
Jill Hagenkord: Hi, thanks to Shift for the opportunity to speak here and to represent Color. My background is as a board certified pathologist. I did two fellowships after that, one in molecular-genetic pathology and the other in pathology-oncology-informatics. My Chairman said to me, “Jill, why don’t you do a real fellowship. You’re never going to get a real job.” And I lucked out. I was training myself to do precision medicine before we had the phrase “precision medicine.”