Marketplace - American Public Media

Subscribe to Marketplace - American Public Media feed
Updated: 16 min 39 sec ago

Classical music sales enter 'survival mode'

Thu, 2015-05-14 13:00

Classical music sales have been struggling for years now. They make up just 1.4 percent of music consumption, compared to 29 percent for rock, according to a Nielsen survey last year. Symphonies from Nashville to Canada’s Prince Edward Island are dealing with mountains of debt. And audiences of classical music haven’t changed much, which makes it tough for artists who aren’t Andrea Bocelli to make it in the industry. 

When Lara Downes, a classical pianist, describes what she does, she uses terms familiar to today’s generation of starving artists. Terms like "entrepreneurial" and "DIY." 

“We’re in survival mode,” she says. “We need to build an audience. And we’re kind of tired of making music for the same people all the time.”

So Downes not only does the concert circuit, but she’s on social media, and she’s at schools. And she posts her work on sites like Soundcloud.

She’s hoping her music will land on fresh ears. At performances, she looks out into audiences and sees mostly older people who are there because they love Beethoven. Her job, she says, “is to find the person who could come to the concert hall because you get them curious about Beethoven.” 

Audiences of classical music aren’t diverse, which is a challenge for the industry, says Michael Boriskin, artistic and executive director of Copland House. The organization promotes classical music through live performances and outreach programs. 

Boriskin says touring is still the bedrock of an artist’s career. But they can’t just walk out onto a stage, perform, and go onto the next city. “Because there is so much competition for people’s attention,” he says. 

Boriskin says that personal interaction is what makes the difference. And there’s a chance to sell a few CDs. 

Writing your way to the White House

Thu, 2015-05-14 13:00

Walk into about any bookstore in Washington and they are hard to miss – all the books by presidential hopefuls.

James Webb has a book  called “I Heard My Country Calling." Ben Carson's is “One Nation."  Then of course there’s “God, Guns, Grits and Gravy” from Mike Huckabee.

“This is where we put the newest books that were released in paperback – so  you can see right at the front is Hillary Clinton’s paperback:  just came out last week,” says Mark Laframboise, the book buyer for the Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C. 

He points out other books, by Senator Marco Rubio, and Congressman Paul Ryan.

“Paul Ryan’s around sometimes," he says. "He was down in the coffee shop a couple weeks ago.”

This is ground-zero for political books, a hangout for politicians and political junkies. But Lafromboise says even here, the presidential campaign book usually has a short shelf life.

“A month, three weeks," he says.

So why write them?

“Candidates feel a lot of pressure to get their message out there in their words with their ideas, without the filters of lots and lots of other people,” says Lissa Muscatine, a former chief speechwriter for Hillary Clinton, who worked on most of Clinton’s books. 

Now Muscatine owns Politics and Prose with her husband, Bradley Graham. Muscatine says the candidates’ books take many forms.  Memoirs, or manifestos, laying out what they would do as president. Who buys these books? People like Gordon Mantler, a historian at George Washington University.

Mantler is browsing in the political section.  He bought one of President Obama’s books: "Dreams from my Father."

“I didn’t feel like this was the typical memoir that’s setting up a presidential or national campaign,” Mentler says.

And that’s key.

“I think the most important thing is to write a book that the reader will find authentic,” says longtime publisher Peter Osnos, founder and editor-at-large of the PublicAffairs publishing company.  

He says political writers should open up about their lives. And say something original. And it doesn’t hurt if people are really interested in you. “Dreams from my Father” was published in 1995, but sales didn’t take off until after Barack Obama’s speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. 

And candidates shouldn't worry if their book is a total bomb — we’ve had some pretty bad writers win the White House.

Small businesses work to keep up on social media

Thu, 2015-05-14 13:00

In the middle of the night, Brenda Shapiro woke up and thought: “LibbyLicious.” The perfect name for a small baking business built from a mandel bread recipe handed down by her husband’s grandmother, Libby.

Unfortunately, the South Florida baker did not wake up with a social media strategy.

“This is why I have my daughter-in-law do this for me,” Shapiro said, “I’m busy baking, delivering, packaging, going out and selling my cookies myself. I’m a one-person show.”

There were 28.2 million small businesses in the United States in 2011, the most recent year of data available from the U.S. Small Business Administration. For mom and pop, the ins and outs of Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram can prove tricky.

When Brenda Shapiro quit her job as a surgical assistant at 50 years old, it certainly wasn't to pursue a life-long love of hashtags and status updates. She was following her passion for baking. Shapiro’s social media strategy for LibbyLicious is to take pictures and send them to her daughter-in-law, who posts those pictures to the company’s social media accounts. As a result, Shapiro couldn’t actually remember her own Twitter handle.

“It’s ‘LibbyLibicious.co,’” she said. When it was pointed out to her that periods aren’t allowed in a Twitter username, she guessed again: “Just ‘LibbyLicious’?”

Actually it’s @LibbyLiciousCo.

Last year, the social networking site LinkedIn published a survey that found most small businesses are most concerned with attracting new customers. And that they’re banking on social media as part of the solution.

One potential reason: the voice of a single stranger on social media could hold irrational power.

“Remember back to the days when there were Blockbuster video stores?” said Angela Hausman, who runs the social media marketing firm Hausman and Associates. “Other customers would come up behind us and see us looking at a video box and say, ‘Oh yeah! I really liked that movie.’ Or, ‘no! That was a really stupid movie. Don’t get that...’ We believed them!”

Marcus Messner, a social marketing professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, says getting people to talk about your brand is a first step. “I think the real challenge is to go beyond people liking your Facebook page or following your Twitter account.” The Holy Grail, Messner said, is to “actually have them do something: Have them buy your product, show up at your store.”

In 2009, before its reality TV debut on TLC, Georgetown Cupcake started turning followers into customers by posting a daily secret flavor on Twitter and Facebook. The “FREE (not-on-menu)” cupcake goes to the first 100 customers who show up and ask for the flavor by name: “Vanilla caramel hazelnut” on the day this story was written.

@GTownCupcake/Twitter

Sofie Kallinis LaMontagne, who started the company with her sister Katherine Kallinis Berman, says they use social media to pull back the curtain on their business.

“Secret flavor is one of those ways,” LaMontagne said. “It’s giving [customers] an inside look at flavors we’re developing, things that are not quite on the menu yet. And they feel like they’re a part of the experience.”

Brenda Shapiro, the one-woman, mandel bread-baking show, doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar location to lure customers into just yet. She’s still working on building her social media identity.

Niklas Myhr, a blogger and assistant professor at Chapman University, had a few specific ideas for Shapiro.

For starters, he said, “it could help to have a sort of backstory.” To tell people about Grandma Libby and her history and her recipe.

Also, he says, small business owners are experts in their fields. Hone that expertise and write posts that are informative, “something that is not just looking like an ad,” he said.

Finally, listen to people online. Be helpful.

“The same principles that Dale Carnegie wrote about in ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ still apply in the digital era,” said Myhr.

US-certified 'GMO free' on the way, for a price

Thu, 2015-05-14 13:00

Chipotle made headlines last month for its decision to remove genetically modified ingredients from the food at its 1,800 stores.

Now, the Associated Press reports that the United States Department of Agriculture plans to start issuing its own certification for foods that are “GMO free." There are currently no government labels that certify a food as GMO-free, nothing akin to Department of Agriculture’s “certified organic” label.

But, in a letter obtained by the AP, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack describes a plan to roll out a voluntary “GMO Free” distinction that  companies can pay to get; a government certification that could be a marketing advantage. The label was requested by a large food company. 

Brian Yarbrough is a consumer research analyst with Edward Jones.

“The natural organic food industry is exploding with growth and the regular food industry is just struggling,” Yarbrough says. “If you are just a core center-of-the-aisle, a Kraft Food or a Kellogg's, you can go back and look at the results, growth is hard to come by."

Yarbrough says it’s too soon to tell if “GMO free” will achieve the same market appeal that organic has. 

But consumer groups pushing for GMO disclosure aren’t thrilled

“We think this is an outrageous move,” Katherine Paul, associate director of the Organic Consumers Association, says. The group supports laws requiring companies to disclose all GMO ingredients.

Making it easier for consumers to find GMO-free food is a good thing, Paul says, but "not if it's going to cause the manufacturers of those products to have to charge consumers more because they had to pay for that certification."

Food companies oppose mandatory disclosure of GMOs, citing scientific consensus that GMO food is safe.

The Department of Agriculture has not said when it will start issuing the labels.

There are possible ways to check your food labels though. KQED's Mike Kahn breaks down how to read Price Look-up Codes (PLUs) to look for conventional, organic and GMO produce. 

Six things to do with your new free time on Facebook

Thu, 2015-05-14 12:43

Facebook's new Instant Articles feature allows news organizations like Buzzfeed and the New York Times publish articles directly to the site. The pitch is that they'll load faster, so users won't waste precious seconds waiting for content to load. Here's a few things you can do with that free time.

This video was produced by Preditorial.

Elon Musk's evolution, from sci-fi dreams to Space X

Thu, 2015-05-14 12:33

Elon Musk runs a couple of high-tech companies, but they do more than code.

They make things like space rockets and electric cars. Elon Musk is the CEO of both SpaceX and Tesla, and now he’s the subject of a new biography by Bloomberg Business reporter Ashlee Vance. It’s called "Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future."

Vance's book is getting some buzz this week. We talked with him about, arguably, one of the most important entrepreneurs of our time.

On Elon Musk’s upbringing:

He was born in South Africa, and ... as you might kind of expect, he was really into sci-fi and video games. He was a bit of a loner at school. He was very bright. Growing up, his father was pretty hard on him. It’s one of these things in the book where Elon and his family members talk about it, but they never say what was so difficult about his dad…but you know that it left this big impression on Elon’s life.

About Musk’s evolution in Silicon Valley:

He had to learn a lot during that period. At Zip2, he was the CEO of the company and he was not a great CEO. He worked really hard, and people were impressed with that. He outworked everybody and he had this hustle. He was smart but he wasn't great at managing people. Then he gets to PayPal and it sort of repeats, although he’s getting a little bit better as time goes on. And he’s finding ways to sort of marshal people and learn to encourage them, and then he realizes you get more out of people if you do that. You see him evolve.

On Tesla’s charging stations and innovation:

I was one of many people who thought that was crazy and it would never happen, and today there are hundreds of these charging stations, not only in the United States but in Europe and Asia. So you have a guy who built the electric car and then built the fuel infrastructure to pull it off. When he starts doing things like that, you start giving him the benefit of the doubt.

On Space X:

I think Space X has changed the space industry. All of its competitors are reacting to it. There’s still huge gambles and risks but the companies are very healthy right now.

Your Wallet: Can you buy exclusivity?

Thu, 2015-05-14 11:55

On next week's show, we're talking about exclusivity. 

What does it mean for you, in your finances? We want to hear your stories of exclusivity...tell us about the time you paid a premium for a special service (or didn't!) or signed up for a high-rewards membership credit card. We want your stories of being excluded and included when it comes to finance. 

Write to us here, visit the Marketplace Facebook page, or tweet us, we're @MarketplaceWKND

Face-to-face transactions at the farmer's market

Thu, 2015-05-14 11:01

Transactions are getting quicker, easier, more digital, less personal. At convenience stores and even grocery stores you can check yourself out. In a growing number of stores, you can pay with your phone

Sometimes, simple transactions come at a cost.

But one marketplace remains mostly unchanged by technology and mostly un-marred by fees: the farmer's market. There, you can still find tables piled high with fresh fruits and veggies, see the same familiar faces selling flowers or handmade soaps, try hummus and dips made the day before, and interact with the farmers who grew your food. 

Even though an increasing number of market's accept food stamps, prices are higher than what you'd find at a typical grocery store. Still, there are deals to be had — sometimes if you're willing to haggle a little bit, other times if you're willing to buy in bulk. 

At the farmer's market in Los Angeles, we brought $20 and left with pounds of strawberries -- enough for two pies -- seven avocados, a half-dozen eggs, two nectarines and two donut peaches, the first stone fruit of the season. 

A few tips for how to make the most of your money at the farmer's market:

  • Buy in bulk: if you have a vendor you like, buy a few things from them, they're more likely to throw in something extra or knock a dollar off the price
  • Don't pick out your own fruit: ask the farmer what's ripe, and if they have time, have them pick out what you're looking for. You'll end up with the best tasting fruit, and if you ask for "$4 worth of ____" instead of picking it out yourself and having them weigh it later, you'll stay on budget. 
  • Buy in season. Produce is cheapest when it's in season, no matter where you're buying. 
  • Try things! Take advantage of free samples and deals on new products or seasonal specials. 

Kay Cannon on writing the hit 'Pitch Perfect'

Thu, 2015-05-14 10:35

When "Pitch Perfect," the film about a female college a cappella group came out in 2012, it was considered a surprise hit at the box office. When its writer, Kay Cannon, heard that the studio wanted to do a sequel, she says she was not only terrified, but,  "I thought I was going to barf.”

Cannon has a background in improve. She performed at Second City in Chicago, and later in Las Vegas. She credits Tina Fey for launching her career as a writer.

“I started writing because I wasn’t getting things as an actor," she says. "I wasn’t like pretty enough to be the ingénue, I wasn’t 'character' enough to be the goofball sidekick, I’m kind of ethnically ambiguous.”

She says she decided, “I’ve got to literally write my own ticket.”

And that’s where Fey comes in. Fey read some of Cannon’s work and asked her to be a writer on "30 Rock." It came with a caveat though. Fey asked Cannon if they’d still be friends if Fey had to fire the unexperienced writer. Cannon replied, “I look forward to the day you fire me.”

Since then, Cannon’s added credits for "New Girl" and "Cristela" to her resume. "Pitch Perfect" was her first feature film.

“In a practical sense, it was absolutely easier to write the second one than the first one. On a personal level, I lost my father and had a baby,” Cannon says.

The first film took her four years to write but with the sequel, she was on deadline.

“I was just happy the first one got made," she says. "And then to see the reactions of everybody, it does feel like there’s an anticipation for this movie. It’s very exciting.”

Kay Cannon on writing the hit Pitch Perfect

Thu, 2015-05-14 10:35

When "Pitch Perfect," the film about a female college a cappella group came out in 2012, it was considered a surprise hit at the box office. When its writer, Kay Cannon, heard that the studio wanted to do a sequel, she says she was not only terrified, but,  "I thought I was going to barf.”

Cannon has a background in improve. She performed at Second City in Chicago, and later in Las Vegas. She credits Tina Fey for launching her career as a writer.

“I started writing because I wasn’t getting things as an actor," she says. "I wasn’t like pretty enough to be the ingénue, I wasn’t 'character' enough to be the goofball sidekick, I’m kind of ethnically ambiguous.”

She says she decided, “I’ve got to literally write my own ticket.”

And that’s where Fey comes in. Fey read some of Cannon’s work and asked her to be a writer on "30 Rock." It came with a caveat though. Fey asked Cannon if they’d still be friends if Fey had to fire the unexperienced writer. Cannon replied, “I look forward to the day you fire me.”

Since then, Cannon’s added credits for "New Girl" and "Cristela" to her resume. "Pitch Perfect" was her first feature film.

“In a practical sense, it was absolutely easier to write the second one than the first one. On a personal level, I lost my father and had a baby,” Cannon says.

The first film took her four years to write but with the sequel, she was on deadline.

“I was just happy the first one got made," she says. "And then to see the reactions of everybody, it does feel like there’s an anticipation for this movie. It’s very exciting.”

Tech IRL: Mobile transactions and Apple Pay

Thu, 2015-05-14 09:18

Weeks after the release of the Apple Watch and months after the introduction of the iPhone 6, 6 Plus and Apple Pay, more store and banks are signing on to offer mobile payments though Apple's service. 

Mastercard, Visa and American Express already support Apple Pay, and Discover will soon join the club. And the list of banks and retailers who accept Apple's mobile payments is growing: You can use Apple Pay at McDonald's or Whole Foods, in Coca-Cola vending machines and at the JetBlue terminal in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles airports. 

Apple Pay has been touted as being more secure and more convenient than swiping a credit card, but has faced some questions about security when the onus is on banks to verify accounts. It's also had issues with acceptance in stores that are pushing their own mobile retail services, like CVS, Walmart, and until recently, Best Buy. 

As more U.S. businesses make the move toward mobile payments and Apple Pay, the service is looking for even more reach: integration into Las Vegas businesses and a move to China. 

To hear more about Apple Pay and where it's headed, tune in using the player above. 

PODCAST: Mad Men ends

Thu, 2015-05-14 03:00

First up, more on the news that college enrollment in the U.S. is down 2 percent from last year. Plus, a growing number cities are taking banking regulation into their own hands—requiring the banks they work with to pass muster as "socially responsible." That means investing in low-income areas, helping distressed homeowners and avoiding predatory lending practices. And with Mad Men ending this Sunday, AMC is rolling out a marathon ... and an interesting ad strategy.

A call for responsible banking in low-income neighborhoods

Thu, 2015-05-14 02:00

“Redlining” is when banks in lots of U.S. cities refuse to make loans or provide services in some neighborhoods—often low-income neighborhoods with high populations of immigrants and African Americans. The practice was officially ended in 1977, with a federal ban known as the Community Reinvestment Act that also encouraged banks to reinvest in poor areas.

But now some cities are saying those regulations are not doing enough: New York, Seattle and Dayton are among the cities that have passed their own ordinances to push banks to invest in low-income neighborhoods and avoid predatory lending.  

In the Westwood neighborhood on the west side of Dayton it's hard to find a bank. A PNC branch closed in the area in 2013, and now this is what’s called a banking desert. Donna Preston, who’s hanging out on a stoop nearby, confirms this. 

“I’m not mobile, I don’t have a vehicle, so it is kinda hard to get to banks,” Preston says. The isolation makes things tricky for her business. “I do hair for a living. I have a business called 'Donna’s Soft Touch Braids.'”

She takes the bus to her credit union—but she runs her business mostly in cash.

West Dayton is like a lot of neighborhoods around the country—it’s seen bank branches pull up and leave. Katy Crosby, who heads the city of Dayton’s Human Relations Council, says this is a big problem. 

“The small business development is just not occurring, economic development is just not occurring,” Crosby says. She’s been working with banks in the area to encourage banks to open up branches and do education with older residents about how to make use of online banking resources, but the process is slow.

Dayton’s new socially responsible banking ordinance is simple: It tells the banks that if they want Dayton to deposit city funds with them, they’ll have to show that they’re investing in low-income neighborhoods, and complying with requirements under the Community Reinvestment Act.

Rob Rowe is with the American Bankers Association and doesn't support the ordinance. “Banks are not utilities, they’re not charities, they’re businesses. They’re created and established as business organizations” he says.

Rowe is worried that a variety of ordinances from different cities creates unnecessary hoops for banks to jump through.

Dayton will need to get people like Rob Rowe on board, though. The ordinance, like those in other cities, is really just evaluation guidelines as opposed to actual regulations that could compel banks to behave a certain way.

Still, Jesse Van Tol is hopeful. He’s with the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, an organization that wrote a template for these city ordinances.

“It is a law that over years and decades will make a difference,” he says. “And I think you see that in the historic impact of a lack of investment."

He gives Ferguson, Missouri as an example of that lack—it was redlined, and for decades whole black neighborhoods were blocked from banking services like home loans.

“The same is true with many neighborhoods in Baltimore,” he says.

Dayton city government passed its ordinance with a unanimous vote, and it goes into effect May 22.

It's a Mad Mad Men world for AMC

Thu, 2015-05-14 02:00

AMC is sending off its series "Mad Men" in style. On Wednesday night, the network started a marathon of all episodes of the show, running in order, leading up to the series finale Sunday night.

During the finale, AMC will also turn off programming at its sister networks, including IFC and BBC America, pointing audiences to the "Mad Men" finale.

The major promotional push for the show is also a strategic business move for AMC.

"It really does get across to people that this is quite a large programming entity with five networks. And it really brings some scale. And it can really attract attention," says analyst John Tinker of Maxim Group.

The big finale campaign can help AMC promote other, newer shows that it's added to its schedule more recently. At the same time, the end of a network's big show can often lead to a period of decline for the network. And, AMC has recently ended two of its three big shows: "Breaking Bad" and, now, "Mad Men."

Of course, it still has one of the priciest TV shows for advertisers, "The Walking Dead."

Thomas Eagan of Telsey Advisory Group says it is important for AMC to get traction for new shows, because original programming—even if the ratings aren't stellar—are coveted by advertisers.

"Buyers in the marketplace, the advertisers, they'll pay a higher CPM for an original show, even if it has a lower rating," says Eagan.

CPM stands for 'cost per mille' or the ad price per thousand viewers.

"Mad Men" has commanded a high price, says Eagan, because each week's episode has been water cooler fodder, and audiences have watched the show live, instead of online or on the DVR where they might skip commercials.

Why Jeeps are turning into luxury SUVs

Thu, 2015-05-14 02:00

Gas prices have gone down, car sales are bouncing back, and a big part of that growth is the SUV market. One particular area of renewed consumer demand has been where space and cushiness intersect: the luxury SUV. Auto makers are paying attention.

Jeep just announced it'll make a luxury SUV to compete with Range Rover. And ultra-high-end brands like Bentley, Maserati, and even Rolls-Royce are jumping into the six-figure SUV sphere.

Just don't call the Rolls-Royce all-terrain vehicle an SUV. That sounds so pedestrian. Rolls has a better idea.

"They call it the high-bodied car," says Mike Austin, editor-in-chief of Autoblog. He says luxury car buyers want everything they had in their sedans—the seat massagers, the heated steering wheels—plus more room.

Robert Sorokanich, reporter for CarandDriver.com, says when Porsche came out with its first SUV, the Cayenne, car enthusiasts thought it was a bad move.

"Now we know that that car helped make Porsche more profitable than its ever been, and a lot of the other brands are noticing this," he says.

Luxury car shoppers want the same thing Jeep offered with the Wrangler: the promise of an off-road adventure. Sorokanich says in reality, "they're not going crashing through the Sahara. Shocking, right? But it's the promise that you could do that."

And the sheer delight when people gawk at your big, bad Aston Martin SUV.

When you're too cool for school

Thu, 2015-05-14 01:59
2 percent

That's how much college enrollment in the U.S. has fallen in the last year, according to a new study published Thursday. As the WSJ writes, improvements in the job market have likely affected enrollment at four-year for-profit colleges and two-year public colleges, where students tend to skew older.

$262 million

That's how much Congress cut Amtrak's budget Wednesday, a day after a deadly derailment in Philadelphia. Amtrak says it has a $52 billion maintenance backlog in its Northeastern corridor, from Washington to New York.

$1 billion

This week, Christie's auction house not only set the record for most expensive painting ever sold, but also became the first auction house to have a $1 billion art week. Yesterday's $658.5 million sale of art, combined with the $705.9 million taken in on Monday, made for record breaking sales figures. 

100

That's how many times some Wegmans stores turn over their produce, compared to up to 20 times per year at most grocery stores, the Washington Post reported. That's especially interesting considering Wegmans locations are enormous; their smallest, opening in Brooklyn in 2017, is 74,000 square feet. The New York-based grocer has quickly become one of the most-lauded chains in the country, somehow combining Whole Foods' quality, Trader Joe's prices and Wal-Mart's vast options.

1977

That's the year that "Redlining"—when banks refuse to make loans or provide services in often low-income neighborhoods—was put to an end by the Community Reinvestment Act. But some cities say it's not enough, and are now pushing for more investment in poorer neighborhoods and less predatory lending. Dayton, OH, for example, where a socially responsible banking ordinance forces banks to show they are putting money into low-income communities before the city will store funds within their institutions.

100 percent

That's how much more Tom Brady-branded merchandise has been sold since the NFL slapped the New England Patriots quarterback with a four-game suspension for his role in "deflategate," the Wall Street Journal reported.

'Instagram for doctors' is grisly and useful

Wed, 2015-05-13 13:30

Note: This story contains some graphic images.

While you’re on Instagram looking at puppies, artisan desserts and celebrity selfies, some doctors are on a different photo sharing app, looking at gangrene, gallstones and rashes.

First-year emergency medicine resident John Corker has just uploaded a photo. It’s of a fresh red and greenish wound on the top of a right foot.

“What you’re looking at here is a badly infected foot," he says. "It's a commentary on what can happen when patients don’t have good follow up.”

He put this photo on Figure 1 – an app that’s been called the "Instagram for doctors." Sitting on a bench outside of Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Corker scrolls down below the image to reveal it was starred by a number of people, "which means they appreciated the image" he says.

Courtesy of John Corker

It might seem like a strange thing to appreciate, but hundreds of thousands of people have created an account on Figure 1. Most are doctors, like Corker, who join the service to learn about medical conditions and share the occasionally gruesome photo. The x-rays, lesions, tumors and gunshot wounds are categorized by anatomy and specialty. Corker says in the emergency room, access like this is invaluable.

“If I’m able to log on to Instagram or Figure 1 and see a picture of something that I learned about three years ago in medical school that I may see in the future, that’s really helpful for my learning going forward,” Corker says, 

Unlike Instagram, Figure 1 requires users to remove all personal details – faces or birthmarks, for example – from the photos they post.

“The best way to keep a secret is not to have it,” says 34-year-old critical care doctor and Figure 1 co-founder Joshua Landy.

“We give them all the tools they need to remove any potentially private details from the photo," Landy says. "There’s an automatic tool to block out faces, tools that let you block out name, date, tattoos, or other identifying marks that might be in the photo.”

Then Landy and a small team review each image before giving the final go-ahead.

Figure 1

Of course, doctors are supposed to ask for consent before snapping a photo of that amputated finger or bumpy rash, but there’s some variation in what counts as consent.

“We encourage all users to get consent. However, they’re not restricted to using our consent form. They’re permitted to using the consent form from their jurisdiction. Some hospitals require it to be done on paper, and some require it to be using voices instead of just paper.”

Now if you’re thinking all this photo snapping and sharing is new, it’s not.

Classic textbooks are teeming with images of guts and brains spliced and splayed in professional lighting. In some specialties, like dermatology, photos are especially useful.

“We diagnose and treat based on seeing, feeling, and examining the skin. Looking for rashes, abnormalities — and so pictures inherently are a daily part of our practice,” says dermatologist Seemal Desai.

Figure 1

As medical file sharing and photo sharing become ubiquitous, Desai has a few words of advice to doctors about to hit upload: “Always keep in the back of your mind, 'Is what I’m doing in the best interest of my patient?' And, 'Is this going to help outcome of my patient?' And if the answer is no, you don’t need to be involved in it,” he says.

If you want to peruse the archives of Figure 1, you don’t have to be a doctor or a nurse. Lurkers are allowed. In fact, nearly 10 percent of Figure 1 users are not in health care. You won’t be allowed to comment, but you can admire close-ups of busted lips and green glistening gallstones to your heart's content.

How human behavior impacts the economy

Wed, 2015-05-13 13:00

The problem with many macroeconomic models is that they make predictions that don't account for human behavior. And, as many of us may know, human beings are not always logical.

"In the 1940s, economics started getting highly mathematical," says Richard H. Thaler, founding father of behavioral economics and a professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. "It was basically because economists weren’t smart enough to write down models of real behavior, that they started writing down models of highly rational behavior – and they kind of forgot about humans."

In his new book, "Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics," Thaler describes his time trying to convince economists of this. He recalls his time as a grad student: "My thesis topic was 'The value of a human life.' I asked people a question: 'Suppose you had some risk, a one in a thousand risk of dying, how much would you pay to eliminate it?' People would give one-answers and say '$5,000.'

And then I’d say, 'How much would you have to be paid to take an extra one in a thousand risk of death?' And they’d say, 'Well, I wouldn’t do that at all' or 'I would demand a million dollars!' Well, economic theory says the answers to those two questions should be basically the same, and they were like way different. And I said, 'Oh that’s interesting.' "

Thaler’s behavioral research was at first dismissed as irrelevant. Many mainstream economists argued that professionals responsible for making big economic and financial decisions would think rationally. 

A day after crash, a vote to cut Amtrak funding

Wed, 2015-05-13 13:00

Ride an Amtrak train from Washington, D.C., to New York, and you’ll notice a lot of clickety clacking.  It’s not a smooth ride. In fact, Amtrak says it has a $52 billion maintenance backlog on its Northeast Corridor.

But Congress won't help much with that.

“There was a lot of hand wringing, where they said, 'We all know this is inadequate, but there’s nothing much we can do,' ” says Sean Jeans-Gail, a spokesman for the National Association of Railroad Passengers, who attended the House Appropriations Committee hearing on Amtrak funding today. The committee members said their hands were tied by spending caps.

So, is Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor safe?

“I would characterize it as safe," says Joseph Sussman, a professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering at MIT.  “But there’s also the question of what quality of service is offered.”

For instance, trains are late if they have to slow down to go over rough track. Sussman would like to see not just track maintenance, but more sections of track good enough for high-speed rail.  If you wanted to run high-speed trains along the whole Northeast Corridor, you’d have to spend billions.

“You’d need to invest in it from one end to the other," says Mark Burton, a professor of transportation and economics at the University of Tennessee. "There would almost certainly be no section of track that was unaffected. ”

The entire proposed 2016 budget for Amtrak in today’s House bill?  Just over $1 billion, which is $262 million less than this year.

 

 

California drought threatens even oldest water rights

Wed, 2015-05-13 13:00

California's first come, first served, water-rights system is about to be tested.

State water regulators are expected to issue curtailment orders to the most privileged water users in California – those with so-called senior water rights, claimed before the state established a permitting process in 1914. 

Those lucky enough to be grandfathered in, including corporations, farms and irrigation districts, usually don’t have much to worry about when it comes to water. They’ve been last in line for cuts in dry years, but the drought is starting to chip away at those historic privileges, says Stanford Law School’s Barton “Buzz” Thompson.

“California’s drought has now gone on for a long enough period of time, and it’s bad enough, that it looks like we might actually shut off our senior water rights holders," Thompson says.

Some rural irrigation districts with senior rights may sue over the expected water cutbacks. Jeanne Zolezzi, a Stockton attorney who represents several irrigation districts with senior water rights, says she doesn’t believe the State Water Resources Control Board has the authority to shut them off. If regulators demand a curtailment, she insists, they need to hold a hearing and provide evidence of harm rather than simply issuing an order. 

 

Pages