Merck should invest in Rolaids

Merck’s product pipeline has been rather weak, which in drug company terms means several years of hard times when the patents start expiring. Now Merck is pulling Vioxx from the shelves effective immediately because of increased risk of heart attack and stroke after 18 months on the drug.

Tonight’s debate

Well, looks like the expectation-lowering machine of the debates, and especially of the Bush campaign, worked pretty well. Kerry carried himself very well, but we knew he would do that anyway, right? Being the master debater that he is.

Bush did what he needed to do: separate himself from the Swifties (by commending Kerry on his Viet Nam War service) and show Kerry as someone who can’t lead because he sends “mixed messages.” He brought up the myriads of Security Council resolutions against Saddam Hussein and correctly points out that another round would have been fruitless.

However, I think it’s Kerry that came out on top. He needed to show the common thread of his talk about the “wrong war at the wrong time,” and I think he did a pretty good job. He certainly has a long way to go in repairing his image, but he got off to a good start tonight.

It was good to see some discussion of North Korea and Darfur, though I’m not sure what is going to be done about Darfur. I believe that the U.S. is obligated under treaties to put pressure on the Islamic government of Sudan and possibly commit troops, but I still don’t know what the policy differences are. I guess at this stage we shouldn’t, though Bush did a good job stating that we were already putting humanitarian effort in. Kerry mentioned something about logistical support; it would have been nice to hear an elaboration.

Kerry is the clear winner when it comes to debate style. Given what I thought each needed to do, I give Bush a C (did what he needed to do and nothing more) and Kerry a B- (started doing a lot to repair his image as a flip-flopper, could have done even better).

Clueless in America

This scares me. But I must admit, it doesn’t surprise me. Wasn’t there a study recently that suggested that looks had a stronger than expected influence on elections?

Break more of the rules

Glad to see somebody’s got the gall to break some of the petty rules for the joint press conference debate on Thursday.

Our next smog-reducing policy: deforestation

As Reagan pointed out in 1980, trees really do cause smog. Maybe.

Before we jump on an environmental policy bandwagon, we have to examine facts carefully. Global warming from man-made sources seems to be as accepted as the theory of evolution. The fact is our ecology is complex and poorly understood. Expect surprises such as the tree-smog connection and this surprise to crop up and remind us that environmental policy will never be straightforward.

My own polls study

I’ve been tinkering around with polls.

I came up with the following nifty graphic (click to enlarge):

Kerry and Bush polls over time
Kerry and Bush polls over time-legend

The are above the zero line indicates support for Bush, and the area below the line indicates support for Kerry. Points in gray indicate polls of registered voters, while black points indicate “likely” voters.

Since I have a job unrelated to polls and a family (also unrelated to polls), I assumed the polls are comparable and so included every one in the analysis. Here’s a few thoughts.

It looks like Bush is gaining support over time, although there is so much noise I’m not sure what confidence I’d put in any lead at this point.

Fox polls, which I comment on because Fox News seems to be a favorite whipping boy of the left, somewhat consistently showed more favor for Kerry than average. Gallup consistently showed more favor for Bush, sometimes significantly more so as in the recent poll showing Bush with a double-digit lead.


The datasource is PollingReport (updated 9/27). After copying the numbers (Bush/Kerry numbers only) into a spreadsheet, I loaded the data into the R statistics program. It took a little manipulation to turn the dates from character strings into date objects, and I subtracted Kerry’s support from Bush’s to create a margin of support (with positive numbers favoring Bush). I then created a scatterplot using a different letter for each poll (as indicated in the legend). The curve through the data is created using lowess. (Lowess is like a weighted moving average, which weights “the data point you’re on” the highest and those farther away lower. It’s similar in spirit to the linear regression you do in basic statistics, except it does curves.) The smoothing parameter was 0.5.

The loss of Big Pharma on the drug reimportation issue

Derek Lowe explains why the pharmaceutical industry will lose the reimportation battle.

Safety and counterfeiting issues, while a big problem, can be addressed. Their arguments about R&D costs have the potential to be the strongest argument, but that potential isn’t going to be fulfilled. What pharma companies need to do is tell the truth:

  1. Drugs typically take 8-12 years to develop and a lot of money. (The $800 million figure ought to be vigorously defended, or a defensible figure needs to be put forth. Transparency will be helpful here.)
  2. Advertising budgets can’t simply be moved over to R&D. If no one hears of the drug, then no one will buy it.
  3. ‘Me-too’ drugs are important because people’s bodies may respond more to one member of a class of drugs over another, or side effects of one may be better than another on an individual basis. The competition aspect of me-too drugs is also helpful.
  4. Each of these problems might be addressed by further regulations which will open up other problems and produce further waste in the system.

In short, the pharmaceutical industry has a lot of valid points it can put forth. Perhaps it’s out of fear (or arrogance) that people won’t understand the nuances of the economy of drugs (which is pretty much like the economy of any other good which is hard to research and usually easier to manufacture) and the nature of applied research and development that they hide behind simple (and intimidating) explanations.