I guess it’s no secret I’m miffed about the whole (what I consider) NuSI debacle. If the lackluster research results and the enormously inflated time and expense to “achieve” them aren’t enough, you’ve got (what I believe to be) seriously lavish executive compensation problems in the face of turmoil with some up and quitting, while keeping their spoils. Now, they’re spending over $13 million to feed 150 college students for a few weeks, do some arithmetic, and statistics. The “non-profit” aspect boggles the mind…
“Nobody profits.” Bullshit. Lie.
I know many either don’t care, don’t think they were bamboozled with mousy results in the face of mountainous, “Manhattan Project,” hyperbole, or both. It makes many uncomfortable—enough so to just look away. It’s analogous to the political sphere. ‘If only we could get our people in power…’ without realizing that power, authority, and privileged influence is the systemic problem. Then comes the mass amnesia next time around.
So in this my last intended post on this aspect of the NuSI controversy, let me try to help in a constructive way, and at least offer what in my view would be a better way to actually accomplish a Manhattan Project in Nutrition Science Research.
First, what is the scope and scale of a Manhattan Project, and what might it cost? Well, what we do know from the project by that name that began in 1942 is that by 1945, it had cost a total of about $2 Billion in 1945 dollars, which comes out to about $25 Billion in 2016-inflated dollars. A lot of money, but at the time, was equivalent to about 10 days of wartime spending. Wrap your mind around that. Also of note is is that “over 90% of the cost was for building plants and producing the fissionable materials, and less than 10% for development and production of the weapons.”
In other words, the compensation to all those involved in the project, 130,000 people, was a line-item in that 10% of the “development and production of the weapons” budget figure. I doubt anyone was getting rich, or even well-to-do. Here’s a nice, comprehensive post on the breakdown of costs for the project.
No matter which way you slice it, whether government overhead or Los Alamos, not relatively much was going to the 130,000 employees, which is in itself misleading.
Why is that 125 – 130,000 employee figure misleading? First, because that was just the peak.
But second, because it does not reflect the cumulative total number of people who ever worked on the project.
Now that number on the left, the total hires, is a pretty big one — over 600,000 total. Unlike the other graph, I don’t have the exact figure for this, but it looks to be around 610,000. That’s a huge number. Why would the numbers be at such odds? Because at the big sites — Oak Ridge and Hanford — there was a pretty high rate of turnover, as the “terminations” bar indicates: over 560,000 people left their jobs on the Manhattan Project by December 1946.
What about direct compensation? Rather than spend a lot of time digging up those figures, I think we can assume it was relatively modest for the average worker. So how about the big wigs, since in the case of NuSI, that’s what some, including myself, are miffed about. I’ve only gathered bits and pieces, some suggesting that in the late 30s, Oppenheimer was making about $3,500 per year and two years after leaving Los Alamos in 1945, he took up the directorship of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton for a salary of $20,000.
Here’s another clue. Richard P. Feynman.
Feynman wrote Arline, “they haven’t found out that I am a relativist yet.”
Fear sometimes clutched Feynman now. His intestines suffered chronically. He had a chest X ray: clear. Names rushed through his head: maybe Donald; if a girl, maybe Matilda. Putzie wasn’t drinking enough milk—how could he help her build her strength at this distance? They were spending $200 a month on the room and oxygen and $300 more on nurses, and $300 was the shortfall between income and expenditures. His salary as a Manhattan Project group leader: $380 a month. If they spent Arline’s savings, $3,300 plus a piano and a ring, they could cover ten more months. Arline seemed to be wasting away.
Letters went back and forth almost daily. They wrote like a boy and a girl without experience at the art of love letters. They catalogued the everyday—how much sleep, how much money.
Macy’s sent Arline an unexpected mail-order refund of forty-four cents: I feel like a millionaire … I.O.U. 22¢.
His sporadic bad digestion or swollen eyelid; her waning or waxing strength, her coughed-up blood and her access to oxygen.
They used matching stationery. It was a mail-order project of Arline’s—soon most of her relatives and many of Richard’s friends on the hill had the same green or brown block letterhead from the Dollar Stationery Company.
Ha! What do you suppose his “opportunity cost” was?
A final point on this score. Everyone always thinks The Manhattan Project was about scientists. It was, but integrate this, and then consider it a second time in light of the expenditures on the project.
Another way to look at this is to say that we usually talk about the atomic bomb as a project focused on scientific research. But one could arguably say that it was more a project of industrial production instead. This is actually quite in line with how General Groves, and even J. Robert Oppenheimer, saw the problem of nuclear weapons. Oppenheimer, in testimony before Congress in 1945, went so far as to phrase it this way:
“I think it is important to emphasize [the role of industry in the Manhattan Project], because I deplore the tendency of myself and my colleagues to pretend that with our own hands we actually did this job. We had something to do with it. If it had not been for scientists, there would have been no atomic bomb; but if there had been only scientists, there also would be no atomic bomb.”
This is actually a very important point, and one which shines light onto a lot of other questions regarding nuclear weapons. For example, one of the questions that people ask me again and again is how close the Germans were to getting an atomic bomb. The answer is, more or less, not very close at all. Why not? Because even if their scientific understanding was not too far away — which it was not, even though they were wrong about several things and behind on several others — they never came close to the stage that would be necessary to turn it into an industrial production program, as opposed to just a laboratory understanding. That sheer fact is much more important than whether Heisenberg fully understood the nature of chain reactions or anything like that.
So, let’s design a real Manhattan Project Nutritional Science Initiative, shall we?
First, let’s learn our lessons:
Grant Whores Need Not Apply
I know there are plenty of good scientists who apply for and work off grants, but there is a problem.
Camp Bias Is Not The Problem, System Bias Is The Problem
Again, this is modeled already in politics. Everyone has a bias, whether Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Conservative, Liberal or whatever (intentionally ambiguous Oxford comma omission). Everyone spends inordinate time pointing out the bias in all other camps when what overshadows it all is a collective bias in the system.
The problem is not with bias per se. That’s the given. The problem is bias towards a system, so the bias is systemic in both a direct and an indirect way. It’s baked into the cake. The problem is the cake recipe, and not which incorporated ingredients are the more right ingredients according to the bias of cake bakers.
…And gluten-free isn’t going to help.
The Problem Requires Nuts and Bolts, And Not Highly Compensated Authorities Or Influence Peddlers
NuSI is an example of how when one works inside the system, the system eats you up. There’s lots of money in the world. There’s lots of care. There’s lot’s of charity. Charity itself is a huge market. People are good and noble, and everything they say about them is true. Focussed misanthrope I am, I like to say that I like the idea of people, but I know it’s just curmudgeonry.
The question is, are people up for this, and if so, are they up for it where the stakeholders are the primary drivers of system, structure, procedure and accountability?
It raises the question: when are average folks who want good results for most and all—because they’re good—want to see everyone happy, yada yada, prepared to take on the task themselves, rather than giving it over to a Soviet-style hierarchy of top-down politically-motivated management by the Nomenklatura?
At what point—rather than asking whether something has been “peer reviewed”—do people instead wonder to what extent it’s been categorized, prioritized, scrutinized, classified, marginalized, proselytized, hierarchicallized, leveled, inclusivized, approved, encouraged, discouraged, rewarded, unwarranted, managed, mismanaged, and by what means it became official?
Here’s a new item just from this morning, pointing out the essence of such problems: Bennet Says He Has ‘No Answers’ for ‘Most Expensive Health Care on the Planet’ From Obamacare.
How To Tackle The Problem From a Personnel Standpoint
Everything that advances the human condition requires people. A given.
What kind of people is not a given. For those locked into the system box, or who put themselves into it as NuSI did—for reasons of credibility—want something beyond the task. Think patents, trademarks, copyrights, and on and on it flows. This is why it’s not an opportunity cost, but an “opportunity investment,” that relies upon the hierarchical, authority-baked system.
Thinking outside the box, you want two things: effectiveness and credential agnosticism. Think Linux. Think Wikipedia. Think open-source software. The point is, there are more millions of talented people who laboriously—and more can—give of their time and efforts—because they can’t not—than there are people of significant talent who won’t lift a finger without a contract, notoriety, back-end deals, and so on. There are tons of talented and able people who will Just Do It and see what happens. They have no investments in million-dollar educations and thousands of hours of schmoozing money spigots to protect.
The world is changing, naturally.
The 90%: The Sediment, Strata, Edifice, Nuts And Bolts
Unlike an experiment I predict will fail—like NuSI—to do the impossible and create and Atomic Bomb of health clarity in a few years—I instead propose the building of a city, tantamount to K-25.
This wouldn’t be government or institutionally funded, so cost control is paramount. Job #1 would be to locate a very large, cheap piece of land, preferably with structures of sound foundation that can be rehabilitated and repurposed. Think of it as re-creating Epcot Center. Think Detroit for cheap and available.
In the end, you want a veritable city that, since cut off from the outside world in a very targeted manner, will require capital infusions. But, if a good to increasingly large portion of your test subjects inside the gate are employees and trade is encouraged then it could, over time, develop its own economies toward defraying project costs.
You’re building some sort of hybrid of city, campus, and “prison.”
The prison part is what the study is all about. This is the control, and the control is ALL relevant data your cold heart can imagine. And so here’s the next part of the building. All data is collected, and that’s part of the deal for being there. All food is disbursed from a number of different facilities, Epcot like, but it’s all tracked. All caloric intake is accounted for. Every calorie, and you develop better and better methods to measure it.
On the output side, all energy expenditure is tracked, and rest and sleep. Fitbit and other devices already give data for this, but it can be specialized and improved and could integrate with centralized trackers that measure each subject’s every move, 1984 style. Perhaps even implants (voluntary, of course), but the wherewithal even with fuzzy data is already there.
I don’t want to delve too deep here. Use your imagination. Essentially: people sign up for a job in a walled city, agree to have literally anything and everything measured, including the bacterial makeup of their shit.
…Notice I’m not taking about who we find to pay millions to as President, Directors, Vice Presidents, Rain Makers, Movers, or Shakers?
Capital infusion would likely be necessary—just as buying the land and building out structures—to create the foundational database. Curiously enough, this is where I have a good deal of [ancient] knowledge. It was about 1993 when Microsoft came out with Access 1.0 and I went to town with it. Having a decent background in software programming in college, I dove in an created many iterations of my own software to backbone my company in operations intelligence for over ten years. I was able to do it all on my own until the 15-employee mark and other sophistications such as interfacing with the financial transactions network and such. I had reached a point of diminishing returns for developing myself, and handed it over.
But is was another lone developer, a Pakistani who took it to many higher levels over the next five or so years, earning about a half-million over that time. We moved quick, and he could move quick.
Transparency and Wiki
This is where you really give a middle finger to NuSI-like establishment philosophy.
It’s all open source, in a Wiki-like environment, where the data collection, the database storing it all, and the front-end query and data display features evolve constantly—with everything being backward and forward compatible. All new versions subsume all previous data and all older versions with all data up to their endpoint are accessible in the version in which all was gathered, up to the point of departure to the new.
Involving the worldwide public in this way would likely ensure a constant stream of operational-capital donations (much like Wikipedia itself), such that something they can monitor with a fine-tooth comb, have an influence in changing if they’re up for the effort of it, and have access to data diversions to their heart’s content will be very enticing.
It might even motivate an evolutionary move to a new paradigm in the way such stuff is done, rather than the Soviet way.
It also could shoot off other health and fitness initiatives based entirely on the wealth of data collection. Sky. Limit.
We Already Know What it Will Show
It should be obvious that the data will show:
- Those in chronic caloric surplus will gain weight over time.
- Those in average caloric balance will sustain weight over time.
- Those in average caloric deficit measured against expenditure will lose weight over time.
We already know this. But, how about some deep resolution?
- What is it that “makes” a person eat too much, too often?
- What is it that “makes” some people stop at some level of such overindulgence while others just go and go an go?
- Is it carbs, per se?
- Or is it the kind of carbs? Or, the kind of fats? Or both in combination?
- What role does the gut biome have in all factors?
- Does exercise help (we know it does) more because of energy expenditure or because of hormonal or other metabolic-signalling pathways? In other words, is ‘move more, eat more or less’ a better meme than ‘eat less move more?’
- What role do highly engineered processed foods play? Is it more about the nutritionally vapid but calorically dense intake, or more about the potential hormonal effects that motivate more consumption while demotivating exercise?
- What’s the role of internet, TV, and other moveless diversions.
…It will never happen. Even though most people in the know can give pretty educated guesses about all of the foregoing, we don’t really want to know, because it would put us all (including me) out of a job or influence peddling.
…I can always blog about politics and socialist bullshit, so I’m game. But it’s really like looking at the U.S. tax Leviathan. No way there will ever be meaningful reform, because there is a multi-billion industry built around tax compliance. Yes, that’s right. We spend billions to ensure that not a single penny gets stolen from us that’s not a legal taking.
Should the U.S. actually make the tax code as simple as a few questions on a postcard, it would put millions of companies with employees out of business overnight. It would also significantly lighten the load for millions of companies, as they could lay off tons of employees in terms of bodyweight, and sever relationships with firms they pay tens and hundreds of thousands to annually in order to comply with exactly how much money is stolen from them.
That may strike you as a diversion. It’s not. Nobody is particularly interested in having final resolution into the obesity problem. Everyone has plausible deniability because everyone can say that’s what the really want, but they really don’t.