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Czesc! Welcome to this week's digest. This week is a very special "Searching" edition, with content geared towards helping us more effectively explore the world.

I was fortunate to explore Joshua Tree last weekend (shout-out to Zacharias!) with new and old friends. For those who have not yet been to this U.S. national park, it offers a seemingly infinite landscape filled with rocks, cactus-esque trees, and raw desert. Nature in general is often awe-inspiring, and Joshua Tree is extra special in this regard. Environments like JT can serve as a beautiful blank canvas for you to explore the depths of your mind!

This week's topics include sun exposure guidelines, optimal stopping, corrupted credibility signals, and Atlanta hip-hop. Enjoy!


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TDD TL;DR

"[O]ptimal stopping’s most fundamental yet most unbelievable assumption — its strict seriality, its inexorable one-way march — is revealed to be the nature of time itself." ~ Brian Christian
 
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SHAMELESS PLUGS
FRIEND PLUGS - TWINE IS RECRUITING (NYC)

Joseph Quan and Nikhil Srivastava are building Twine, a people analytics platform. They are one of the top Seed > Series A stage companies in NYC, and they recently opened up half a dozen new roles, including Chief of Staff, Customer Success Leader, and Success Engineer (see their Careers page for more roles). Joseph and Nikhil value people who are intellectually curious, relentlessly hardworking, and strongly analytical (and I brazenly assumed they would find some of those people reading this ;D).


Feel free to reach out directly to Joseph (CEO) @ joseph@twinelabs.com.

 
BEST OF WHAT I CONSUMED THIS WEEK

ARTICLE - Outside: Is Sunscreen the New Margarine? by Rowan Jacobsen - A thoughtful analysis challenging conventional dermatologist wisdom on sunscreen and sun exposure. My read of the data Rowan presents is that current U.S. recommendations suffer from: 1) Myopic incentives (i.e., dermatologists ONLY focus on the skin impact, not the holistic impact); 2) Bias towards taking pills over behavior change (a bias seemingly shared across U.S. healthcare); and 3) Focusing on harm minimization for outliers, rather than expected value optimization for the general population.

One-Sentence Takeaway: A mix of complexity and myopic incentives may be biasing U.S. sun exposure recommendations, which could mean that many people can improve their overall health by using less sunscreen and getting more direct sun exposure.

Answering The Drucker Question: Estimate your weekly sun exposure, and compare that to global recommendations.

My highlights:
  • In fact, says [dermatologist Richard] Weller, “When I diagnose a basal-cell skin cancer in a patient, the first thing I say is congratulations, because you’re walking out of my office with a longer life expectancy than when you walked in.” That’s probably because people who get carcinomas, which are strongly linked to sun exposure, tend to be healthy types that are outside getting plenty of exercise and sunlight.
     
  • There are not many daily lifestyle choices that double your risk of dying. In a 2016 study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine, [Pelle] Lindqvist’s team put it in perspective: “Avoidance of sun exposure is a risk factor of a similar magnitude as smoking, in terms of life expectancy.”
     
  • But not all people process sunlight the same way. And the current U.S. sun-exposure guidelines were written for the whitest people on earth... Sunburn was probably a rarity until modern times, when we began spending most of our time indoors. Suddenly, pasty office workers were hitting the beach in summer and getting zapped. That’s a recipe for melanoma.
     
  • Even in high summer, Australia recommends a few minutes of sun a day. New Zealand signed on to similar recommendations, and the British Association of Dermatologists went even further in a statement, directly contradicting the position of its American counterpart: “Enjoying the sun safely, while taking care not to burn, can help to provide the benefits of vitamin D without unduly raising the risk of skin cancer.”


BLOG POST - Optimal Stopping: How to Find the Perfect Apartment, Partner, and Parking Spot by Brian Christian - This piece shares mathematical solutions to a few versions of the question "When should I stop searching and make a choice?". For analytical optimizers like me, the answers within can provide useful heuristics. That said, the hardest part of the optimal solution is factoring in search and opportunity costs (especially if benefits compound over time), which will be unique to the individual and the specific search context.

One-Sentence Takeaway: Mathematical shortcuts provide helpful heuristics for figuring out when to stop searching and make a choice.

Answering The Drucker Question: Pick a decision you are making in your life involving search and choice (e.g., buying a couch, renting an apartment, dating, etc.) and quickly run it through the analytics involved in this piece. Which heuristic applies to your situation? What is the recommendation based on your variables? How does the mathematical answer feel relative to your current experience of the situation? Is it time to stop searching?

My highlights:
  • The more information you gather, the better you’ll know the right opportunity when you see it — but the more likely you are to have already passed it by. So what do you do? How do you make an informed decision when the very act of informing it jeopardizes the outcome? It’s a cruel situation, bordering on paradox. The crucial dilemma is not which option to pick, but how many options to even consider.
     
  • Thirty-seven percent. If you want the best odds of getting the best apartment, spend 37% of your apartment hunt (eleven days, if you’ve given yourself a month for the search) noncommittally exploring options... But after that point, be prepared to immediately commit — deposit and all — to the very first place you see that beats whatever you’ve already seen... It is the provably optimal solution.
     
  • Having looked at the solutions for a number of the optimal stopping problems we face in our everyday lives, the irresistible question is whether — by evolution or education or intuition — we actually do stop correctly. At first glance, the answer is no. About a dozen studies have produced the same result: people tend to stop early, leaving better options unseen.
     
  • ...optimal stopping’s most fundamental yet most unbelievable assumption — its strict seriality, its inexorable one-way march — is revealed to be the nature of time itself. As such, the explicit premise of the optimal stopping problem is the implicit premise of what it is to be alive. It’s this that forces us to decide based on possibilities we’ve not yet seen, this that forces us to embrace high rates of failure even when acting optimally. No choice recurs. 


ARTICLE - ProPublica: I’m a Journalist. Apparently, I’m Also One of America’s “Top Doctors.” by Marshall Allen - A fun story of a journalist being "nominated" as a top doctor, and his subsequent deep-dive into the murkiness behind the for-profit awards market in medicine. This piece reminded me of Yuval Noah Harari's point that many elements of society are shared fictions, including awards. This piece is also a shining example of the common Latin phrase "Caveat Emptor" (buyer beware), especially when it comes to assessing the quality of the credibility signals involved with purchase.

One-Sentence Takeaway: All credibility signals are human created fictions, and ought to be subject to personal due diligence.

Answering The Drucker Question: Identify a consumption category where you rely on third-party credibility signals. Re-evaluate these credibility signals to see if they are worth your continued faith.

My highlights:
  • Medicine is complex, and there’s no simple way of saying some doctors are better than others. Truly assessing the performance of doctors, from their diagnostic or surgical outcomes to the satisfaction of their patients, is challenging work. And yet, for-profit companies churn out lists of “Super” or “Top” or “Best” physicians all the time...
     
  • “It says you work for a company called ProPublica,” she said, blithely. At least she had that right. I responded that I did and that I was actually a journalist, not a doctor. Is that going to be a problem? I asked. Or can you still give me the “Top Doctor” award? There was a pause. Clearly, I had thrown a baffling curve into her script. She quickly regrouped. “Yes,” she decided, I could have the award. Anne’s bonus, I thought, must be volume based.
     
  • “This is a scam,” said Dr. Michael Carome, the director of the health research group for the advocacy organization Public Citizen. “Any competent qualified doctor doesn’t need one of these awards unless they want to stroke their ego. These are meaningless, worthless awards.” Carome took it a step further, calling it unethical to hand out the awards or accept them.
     
  • Dr. John Santa spent years leading efforts to measure health care quality for Consumer Reports magazine. Anything that relies on nominations, he said, will be gamed by doctors with financial ties to one another: partners who work in the same practice; doctors who refer patients to each other. “If you look at these methodologies, they are rife with economic and relationship biases,” Santa said. Santa called the various vanity awards an insult to patients, who deserve better information about where to go for care.
MOST FAVORITE FROM THE PAST

MUSIC
- R.A.P. Music by Killer Mike - A beautiful, meandering journey into Mike's life and cultural analysis, with a focus on the American south and racial injustice. This album also serves as a prelude to the formation of Run The Jewels with the album's producer, El-P.

One-Sentence Takeaway & Answering The Drucker Question: Find an hour to fill your life with perspective and lyrical bliss from Killer Mike.

My favorite songs:
  • Southern Fried
  • Butane
  • Anywhere But Here
  • Willie Burke Sherwood
  • R.A.P. Music
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