Altruism Today

Website helps people divest their money from gun stocks

May 25th, 2016  |  Source: Springwise.com

Goodbye Gun Stocks is a searchable website that lets users make sure none of their investments are tied to the gun industry.

As consumers become more ethically aware, we have seen a big rise in the number of tools that enable customers to find out more about companies’ business practices. There is an app for diners concerned about sustainable produce, another for shoppers who want to avoid brands whose histories clash with their principles, and a browser plugin that hides any product associated with child labor. Now, for those who oppose guns, there is Goodbye Gun Stocks, a searchable website that enables visitors to make sure none of their investments or retirement funds are tied to the gun industry.

Though many investors are not aware, 35 percent of US stock funds are tied to gun and ammunition makers and sellers. Goodbye Gun Stocks has analyzed nearly USD 6 trillion of investments against gun stocks, and created a searchable database that enables users to find alternative investments if their stocks are not gun-free. The database covers more that 24,000 mutual funds, ETFs and TSP funds for federal employees. When users enter their fund name into the search box, the site generates comprehensive results. These tell the investor how much gun-related stock the fund holds, and with what companies the stocks are associated. The platform also offers equivalent alternative investments so that the customer can move their money somewhere more suitable to their ethical beliefs.

The website is part of a larger campaign to encourage investors to divest their money away from gun stocks, and is available to use for free for the next month. Are there other transparency tools that could enable consumers to spend more ethically?

Website: www.goodbyegunstocks.com
Contact: goodbyegunstocks@hellomoney.co


Are Hillary’s Philanthropic and Political Roles Too Close for Public Comfort?

May 24th, 2016  |  Source: NPQ

Source, New York Times

On May 16thNPQ asked “Is There a ‘There’ There?” in response to yet another accusation that the Clinton Foundation is corrupt. Albert Hunt at the New York Times now asks whether there is “an inherent conflict of interest should Mrs. Clinton become president” or even now as a candidate.

NPQ has reported many times (such as herehere and here) on the seemingly endless controversies the Clinton Foundation inspires. What the NYT asks is whether it is possible for the Clinton Foundation to pursue its philanthropic work above suspicion, even with absolute transparency. It would be difficult to find anyone anywhere in the world without an opinion.

The (Bill, Hillary & Chelsea) Clinton Foundation (not to be confused with the family foundation) is an operating foundation under section 501(c)(3) of the U.S. tax code. The money raised by the Foundation is spent directly on programs. The Foundation works principally through partnerships with individuals, organizations, corporations, and governments, often serving as an incubator for new programs. Through 2014, the foundation raised $2 billion from donors across the world.

Charity Navigator says it has “determined that this charity’s atypical business model cannot be accurately captured in our current rating methodology. Our removal of The Clinton Foundation from our site is neither a condemnation nor an endorsement of this charity. We reserve the right to reinstate a rating for The Clinton Foundation as soon as we identify a rating methodology that appropriately captures its business model.”

When they moved out of the White House in 2001, the Clintons were “dead broke”because of legal fees. Today, they are worth more than $100 million. Because of polling in the current election cycle, we know that “Hillary Clinton’s ‘honest’ and ‘trustworthy’ numbers are lower than ever.” The numbers are likely to go even lower with this new documentary entitled “Cash Money” (trailer here) that just premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. The book Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich may prove to be especially troublesome because major news organizations, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Fox News have exclusive agreements with the author to pursue the story.

Bill Clinton was the youngest ex-president since Theodore Roosevelt. His global relationships, intellect, and many talents meant he could achieve more than most charitable organizations. Should he and his family not be given that chance? Among his predecessors, George Washington was worth $525 million and Thomas Jefferson was worth $212 million (in 2010 dollars). It could be argued that the Clintons are achieving more for the world today than any presidential predecessor.

When Hillary Clinton became secretary of state in 2009, she pledged complete transparency to President Obama to ease worries about foreign influence on the nation’s top diplomat: “Out of [an] abundance of caution and a desire to avoid even the appearance…of a conflict, Clinton said, the foundation would agree to strict rules: It would disclose all its donors and clear new contributions from foreign governments with the State Department.” Only that did not happen.

Perhaps the most important policy a nonprofit board can adopt is one governing conflicts of interests. The IRS is very clear about what the government means byinurement/private benefit. Nonprofit leader and author Jan Masaoka takes it a step further by recommending nonprofit boards take “a 3-dimensional view,” that “more than written policies, board and staff leadership must establish by example and attitude an atmosphere of personal integrity.”

The challenge for the Clintons is that no matter what they do, they are not likely to please everyone, or even most people. The Clinton Foundation is so big and strange that Charity Navigator cannot understand it. It is impossible for the Clintons not to receive money from donors who have no connections to foreign governments. As the NYT suggests, are the two roles just too entwined for the comfort of an already untrusting public?


Why Work for Welfare Doesn’t Work

May 23rd, 2016  |  Source: PS Magazine

Challenging our policies and perspectives on welfare and hunger.

Hi, you’ve reached Just Harvest, this is — — — speaking, how may I help you today?”

Variations of this refrain were basically background noise in the Pittsburgh office of the anti-hunger non-profit where, until recently, I worked as an Emerson National Hunger Fellow. They were background noise until, both slowly and suddenly, they weren’t.

As fall turned into winter, I was increasingly the recipient of the calls, as it was my job to try to make sense of the return of a food stamps policy that was confusing thousands in Pittsburgh’s Allegheny County as well as across the country. And while, in answering these calls, I learned a lot about policy exemptions and reporting requirements, my biggest takeaway was how American policy views its welfare recipients, and what it expects from them: namely, work.

On April 1, hundreds of thousands of childless Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or “food stamps”) recipients were cut off from their benefits. Childless adults without disabilities — or “able-bodied adults without dependents,” ABAWDs — are limited to receiving food stamps for just three months in a three-year period, unless they are working at least 20 hours a week.

This provision has actually not been seen by much of the country for the past several years due to high unemployment rates, which allow states to receive geographic waivers of the rule for specific areas. But since unemployment is falling, 22 states saw the policy come back this January.

ABAWDs who aren’t meeting the requirement are allowed three months of food stamp benefits.

Three months. January. February. March.

The orientation of public assistance around work is a long-held vestige of how we assign responsibility for one’s poverty. There are, we think, those who are “deserving of assistance” — children, the elderly, people with disabilities — and those who are not: the able-bodied poor, or, really, those who are expected to work. This is not a new idea in America: Cotton Mather (Puritan minister circa 1700) summed up this view quite succinctly when he wrote, “For those who indulge themselves in idleness, the express command of God unto us is, that we should let them starve.”

This way of thinking continues today, and it informs our policy. Perhaps invoking the ghost of Cotton Mather, Representative Steve Southerland of Florida once told a woman who was at risk of losing her food assistance, “I believe that if you are going to eat, you should bring something to the table.”

And so we have the ABAWD policy.

But this view is making an assumption about what it’s like to be poor in America, and this assumption does not match up with the reality of poverty and work. The reality is that people experiencing chronic poverty (the average income of a person affected by the ABAWD rule is 17 percent of the poverty line) are often not the most employable because of the symptoms of poverty that wreak havoc on their lives: In my time in Pittsburgh, I encountered clients hampered by lack of adequate access to transportation, lack of education or employable skills, criminal records, homelessness, and limited language skills.

The orientation of public assistance around work is a long-held vestige of how we assign responsibility for one’s poverty.

But it isn’t only that our societal stigma against people in poverty informs our policies and punishes poor people; our policies are actively working against the ultimate goal of self-sufficiency by not providing the grounding for people to gain skills and find employment.

States have no obligation to support individuals affected by the ABAWD policy through work training program placements. Hungry individuals are left to find their own employment when they are already suffering from hunger, which increases susceptibility to disease, limits concentration and focus, and causes severe stress. And since job search alone does not count as a work activity, those who are actively looking for work may also suffer under the ABAWD policy.

This blatant disregard for what it’s like to be poor continues in the communication between the government and those on public assistance. Thanks to the Pennsylvania budget impasse, the state’s Department of Human Services didn’t have the allocated funds to send out advance notice of the policy change. So it was up to DHS’s “community partners,” like Just Harvest, to spread the word in the interim. When the state’s notice finally did come out, merely three weeks before the three-month clock was about to start, a friend who worked at an anti-hunger non-profit herself asked me what her two-sentence notice meant. The disconnect between policy, government workers, and the people affected by poverty would be laughable if we weren’t talking about people literally losing access to food.

The larger issue is this: Work-centered policies like the ABAWD policy validate the idea that people who receive welfare benefits do so because they prefer “a handout” to working for themselves. In fact, most welfare recipients prefer work to receiving aid from the government or their family. And, in actuality, many (if not most) people who will be affected by the ABAWD rule are probably already working — just not in a way that satisfies the Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service. Remember, this rule punishes people who aren’t working at least 20 hours per week, which means that an employee who works 15 hours a week is not exempt. And reporting requirements are so complex that seasonal workers and workers who are paid non-traditionally (such as caregivers) may have difficulty proving that they are working.

But the problem isn’t that most SNAP recipients, contrary to popular belief, are already working — it’s that there’s a public perception that they’re not, and that that perception is mirrored in our policies. Welfare stigma makes it easier to enact policies that hurt the poor, when public opinion is distorted to believe that welfare recipients are lazy, drug-addicted criminals. Again, these policies don’t match the real struggles of low-income families, or the evidence. American welfare policies use work requirements as a means to push people off of assistance instead of alleviating the barriers that make it so hard for people to find work in the first place — that’s perhaps the biggest problem of all.

Hunger isn’t an incentive to work; it’s a barrier to work. The purpose of public assistance programs should be to help people overcome the multitude of barriers that exist in their lives, not to hurt them by setting up new ones. But we can’t do that until we recognize that those barriers are there, and that our perceptions and policies based on stigma and stereotypes are keeping them there for much more than three months every three years.


Somalia bank gives microfinancing to rebuild economy hit by war

May 20th, 2016  |  Source: Mail & Guardian Africa

INTERNATIONAL Bank of Somalia said it’s lending citizens as much as $1,000 to start businesses such as grocery stalls, as the Horn of African nation recovers from decades of civil war that ruined the economy.

The lender, based in the capital, Mogadishu, has distributed about $600,000 in cash to some 700 recipients since it began the programme this year, according to Chief Executive Officer Hassan Ahmed Yusuf. The loans range in value from $100 to $1,000 and are given interest-free, with women representing 89% of recipients, he said Tuesday in an interview at his office in the city.

“Our purpose is to provide small loans to very poor people for self-employment projects that generate income, allowing them to take care of themselves and their families,” Yusuf said. “We do not want any profit in return for the loans—this is an initiative we began to encourage small-scale businesses and to reduce the alarming amount of unemployment in the country.”

Somalia has been embroiled in civil war since the ousting of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and its institutions have largely collapsed.

The country’s president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, is seeking to attract investors as its army, supported by African Union peacekeepers, pushes back al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab militants from the country’s main urban areas.

IBS began operations in October 2014 and is the first lender in Somalia to handle foreign transactions. It provides retail, private, corporate and investment banking services.


MacArthur’s $25M to nonprofit journalism outlets includes NPR, ‘Frontline’

May 19th, 2016  |  Source: Current.org

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced a major expansion of its support for nonprofit journalism at the PBS Annual Meeting Wednesday.

Twelve organizations including NPR, Public Radio International, the Center for Investigative Reporting and Frontline will receive a total of nearly $25 million in unrestricted, five-year general operating grants from the Chicago-based foundation.
“We together, PBS and the MacArthur Foundation, need to keep asking: Are we doing all we can to keep citizens informed, empathetic, activated and thinking critically?” said foundation President Julia Stasch at the meeting.
Stasch said the contribution is to help keep nonprofit news organizations “free from commercial and partisan pressures.”

“This is our enduring commitment to work that is deep, fair and compelling,” she noted, “work that informs and inspires and can make a difference.”
Stasch also urged public television stations “to take small steps. … Find money for at least one local project or a beat you’re not covering right now. If you can’t add staff, collaborate with other local news organizations.”

In its announcement, Kathy Im, MacArthur’s director of journalism and media, said unrestricted funding is especially important to help nonprofit news organizations “experiment and innovate, and enables journalists and editors the independence to pursue important stories that do not make commercial sense, particularly in the costly realms of investigative and international reporting.”
The recipients:
Frontline at WGBH, $4.2 million for the PBS investigative journalism series;
NPR, $4 million for investigative and international reporting;
The World at PRI, $1.75 million for the network’s signature news program;
The Center for Investigative Reporting, $3.5 million for researching, reporting and disseminating in-depth investigative reports;
The Center for Public Integrity, $2 million for its investigative reporting;
The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, $2.5 million for international enterprise reporting;
Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, University of California, $1.5 million for its Investigative Reporting Program;
The Foundation for National Progress, nonprofit publisher of Mother Jonesmagazine, $1.5 million for investigative and explanatory journalism;
American University’s Investigative Reporting Workshop, $1.5 million to produce original reports on a variety of topics (Current is an independent journalism center of AU’s School of Communication);
The Global Press Institute, San Francisco, $1.25 million for recruiting and training local women as journalists for its 21 foreign desks;
The Nation Institute, New York City, which works to strengthen independent press and advance social justice and civil rights, $750,000 for its Investigative Fund; and
Round Earth Media, Minneapolis, $500,000 for its global reporting project that pairs early-career U.S. journalists with their counterparts in other countries to work on stories together.
Related stories from Current:
• MacArthur-backed nonprofit aims to create “new ecosystem” for teen education
• Firelight Media receives MacArthur grant for reserves, innovation fund
• MacArthur Foundation grants $2 million to documentary projects


Indian scientists are breeding small cows that fart less

May 18th, 2016  |  Source: Springwise.com

Scientists at Kerala University are breeding miniature cows that produce less methane, with the aim of reducing its impact on climate change

India’s flatulent animals release approximately 13 million tons of methane into the atmosphere each year — a huge contribution to climate change. We have already seen Argentina tackle this problem with methane backpacks that capture cow farts and turn them into green fuel, but now, scientists in India are going right to the root of the problem and breeding miniature cows that produce less methane in the first place.

The mini cows are being bred by researchers in Kerala, led by breeding expert E. M. Muhammed. They produce less milk than their larger predecessors, but are able to withstand very hot weather, and only fart one-tenth of the methane produced by regular crossbred cattle. They also produce significantly less manure.

Elsewhere, scientists in America and India are experimenting with the cow’s feed to reduce flatulence. Could any of these projects become the norm?

Website: www.kvasu.ac.in
Contact: de@kvasu.ac.in


Is Facebook Manipulating the News?

May 17th, 2016  |  Source: NPQ

Source; New York Times

Gawker Media Group’s Gizmodo website published a story last Monday, quotingformer Facebook contractors accusing the Internet giant with editorial bias in its news feeds. The bias allegedly includes neglecting or downplaying conservative stories, topics, and media websites while sometimes artificially emphasizing non-conservative story lines Facebook leaders believed deserved more attention.

Conservatives have long believed that the mainstream media are biased against their views, and the Gizmodo report plays into that belief. It doesn’t help that the Facebook spokesperson who initially denied the reported bias is himself a maxed-out donor to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, and that Facebook executives have given her campaign more than $114,000 through March. That total is almost seven times higher than that received by Marco Rubio, the Republican presidential candidate receiving the most support from Facebook executives.

By the end of the week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had promised a “full investigation” as well as a commitment to reach out to representatives of conservative media and thought. A letter to Zuckerberg from U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-SD), chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, may have helped increase visibility of the issue and focused Zuckerberg’s attention.

The New York Times has been following the story and believes it bears watching for several reasons. More than 167 million U.S. subscribers and one billion people worldwide receive Facebook’s news feeds every day, from home subscribers to media editors, politicians, educators, and policymakers. Facebook’s editorial choices can, quite literally, influence what the world is thinking and talking about.

But isn’t Facebook’s news feed ranked using an impersonal, impartial computer algorithm? Not really, say the former Facebook workers who helped compile and publish the newsfeed. Selecting articles is a very human process performed by “news curators” who examine the information developed by Facebook’s algorithms and make judgment calls on the appropriateness of the topics, stories, and sources.

“Depending on who was on shift, things would be blacklisted or trending,” said the former curator. This individual asked to remain anonymous, citing fear of retribution from the company. The former curator is politically conservative, one of a very small handful of curators with such views on the trending team. “I’d come on shift and I’d discover that CPAC or Mitt Romney or Glenn Beck or popular conservative topics wouldn’t be trending because either the curator didn’t recognize the news topic or it was like they had a bias against Ted Cruz.”

Another issue calling Facebook’s editorial choices into question is its recent announcement that it is contracting with media outlets to pay for streaming video and other news content to be “broadcast” using Facebook. Which outlets will it contract with—or refuse to contract with—and why? Will subscribers be told which content is paid for by Facebook and which is not?

Editorial bias is common and is not in itself wrong. As long as there has been a press, there have been publications with an ideological viewpoint—liberal, moderate, conservative, libertarian, and all the others. Special interest publications are plentiful, with each taking a particular view of events and issues. Bias consists not only in how stories are reported, but, more importantly, how stories and sources for stories are selected by editors. Most publications proudly proclaim their editorial viewpoint as they seek to build their audience, and audiences choose to consume (or avoid) publications based on their ideology as well as their accessibility and journalistic quality.

The Facebook story does offer a reminder of how editorial bias works and the need for critical thinking by aware and informed consumers. As a for-profit corporate media outlet, Facebook owes no explanations to Senator Thune or any government representative about its editorial decisions. However, it does owe the public, and especially its subscribers, a simple and transparent explanation of its own biases and choices in what it presents to the planet as “trending news.”


China killed thousands of Maine jobs. Now it’s eating up the state’s lobsters.

May 16th, 2016  |  Source: Washington Post

A tiny American town is staking its future on Chinese foodies.

LITTLE CRANBERRY ISLAND, MAINE — The long journey from this remote island of free-spirited fishermen to the most populous country in the world began, as it does most mornings, at just about sunrise. Bruce Fernald, a sixth-generation fisherman, loaded his 38-foot fiberglass boat with half a ton of bait and set out in search of Maine’s famed crustacean: the lobster.

One by one, Fernald checked the 800 traps he had placed along 30 square miles at the bottom of the Gulf of Maine. He quickly hauled each wire cage onto his boat, reached a gloved hand inside and plucked out the lobster lurking within. The young ones, the breeders and the crusty old ones were thrown back into the water. The rest were dropped into a saltwater tank to keep them alive and energetic on their 7,000-mile trip to China.

“Just do everything you can to not stress them out,” Fernald, 64, said of his cargo. “The less stressed they are, the more healthy they’ll be, just like people.”

Little Cranberry, an island of 70 inhabitants, and China, a nation of 1.4 billion people, increasingly find themselves connected by the shifting currents of the world economy. The rise of China’s middle class has coincided with a boom in Maine’s lobster population, resulting in a voracious new market for the crustaceans’ succulent, sweet meat. Exports of lobsters to China, nonexistent a decade ago, totaled $20 million last year. The bright red color of a lobster’s cooked shell is considered auspicious, making it a staple during Chinese festivals and at weddings.

The lobster’s tale is a testament to the complexities of the global marketplace — and a reminder that the line between economic winners and losers is not always clear. China has played the villain from Wall Street to the presidential campaign trail, blamed for plunging stock markets, the downfall of developing nations and the disappearance of blue-collar jobs, including in Maine, where the closure of lumber and pulp factories have left thousands of workers unemployed.

Yet the reality is more nuanced. Even as foreign competition has devastated parts of the U.S. economy, China ranks among the biggest international customers for a vast array of other industries, from ginseng to airplanes to pork. Maine lobsters are just a tiny sliver of the $116 billion in annual exports to China, a figure that has nearly tripled in the past decade.


For Safe Driving, Are All Distractions Created Equal?

May 13th, 2016  |  Source: PS Magazine

A new study confirms that texting and driving is incredibly stupid.

Distracted driving—everything from eating a hamburger to talking on the phone—is the culprit behind thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of injuries every year in the United States. But new research suggests that not all distractions are created equal: Our brains can actually compensate somewhat for certain diversions—though texting is not one of them.

“There has been a lot of emphasis, and rightly so, on texting while driving,” says Ioannis Pavlidis, director of the Computational Physiology Laboratory at the University of Houston and lead author of the new study. “But there has not been equal emphasis … on distraction in general.” The question he poses is whether a heated argument or a challenging math problem could present a threat to safety on par with texting—and if not, how come?

To find out, Pavlidis and his colleagues sat 58 people down in a driving simulator and gave them various challenges—math and other questions requiring analytical reasoning, emotionally intrusive questions (“Have you ever lied to a man or woman to get them to go out with you?”), and, of course, requiring that they respond to texts. Meanwhile, Pavlidis and his team tracked the drivers’ stress levels with thermal cameras aimed at their noses—that’s where people sweat when they’re stressed out—while simultaneously tracking their driving.

Only texting led to noticeably worse driving.

Going in to the experiment, the researchers had thought that each of the different distractions would be stressful and therefore bad for driving. That was true to a point. Solving analytical problems, answering emotional questions, and texting all made drivers sweat more, and in turn made their steering more jittery. The stressors, Pavlidis says, “did their job.”

But only texting led to noticeably worse driving, including more swerves into other lanes and a generally diminished ability to keep the car moving in a straight line. Despite the stress, those who faced mental or emotional challenges drove just as well as those who faced no stressors at all.

Some basic features of our physiology may be to blame. A certain, small amount of shaking is actually necessary for normal movement, Pavlidis says, and the brain is set up to compensate for those movements—a little jitter to the left gets quickly corrected by a little jitter to the right. That mechanism appears to be enough to compensate for mental and emotional stresses while driving.

But “if for a moment this mechanism fails … this jitter is left uncorrected,” Pavlidis says, and that’s when people start driving erratically. If drivers are physically distracted—in particular, if they’re focused on typing out messages on a phone and looking away from the road—a small jitter could become an unexpected trip into oncoming traffic.

In fact, the researchers found, it’s a bit worse than that. Even after drivers had stopped texting, they remained more stressed and their steering remained a bit less stable than normal, making them perhaps a bit more prone to accidents. While texting at a stoplight might not be as bad as texting on the highway, it’s still a pretty bad idea, Pavlidis says.

In turn, heated discussions—and math problems—might not be the worst thing for driving, provided your physical resources stay focused on driving.


Are Doctors Taking Money to Push Brand-Name—and Expensive—Medication?

May 12th, 2016  |  Source: PS Magazine

The findings of a new study, by researchers at Harvard Medical School, are in line with a similar analysis done in March that found a link between brand-name prescribing and pharmaceutical money.

A group of researchers at Harvard Medical School has found that medical industry payments to physicians in Massachusetts are associated with higher rates of prescribing brand-name drugs that treat high cholesterol.

The study’s finding, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, is in line with aProPublica analysis and story from March, which showed that physicians who receive industry money tend to prescribe higher rates of brand-name drugs — and thus, lower rates of similarly effective, more affordable generic drugs — when compared to peers.

An aim of the study, said lead author Dr. James S. Yeh, was to determine and reduce any industry influence that could produce bad behavior.

“You want your doctors to be objective rather than doing something because there is a financial gain, be it subconscious or conscious,” Yeh said. “That’s not the way we should be doing medicine.”

“You want your doctors to be objective rather than doing something because there is a financial gain, be it subconscious or conscious.”

Yeh added that not all industry relationships with physicians are problematic. Often pharmaceutical companies fund large research projects that could produce advances in medical care.

The Harvard study concluded that physicians’ rate of prescribing brand-name statins — the category of drugs that treat high cholesterol — increased by 0.1 percent for every $1,000 in industry money received. Under $2,000 in payments, there was no significant increase in brand-name prescribing.

A 0.1 percent increase in brand-name prescribing might not seem like much, but the study notes that brand-name statins cost two to four times wholesale as much as generics and that cost is an important factor in patient health outcomes. Patients are less likely to keep taking drugs that are more expensive.

Both ProPublica and the Harvard researchers were careful not to assign a causal relationship between payments and brand-name prescribing because there’s a lot that the data alone can’t show — for instance, why a doctor chose a certain drug, or the list of preferred drugs used by a patient’s insurer. It’s also possible that pharmaceutical companies market their drugs more to doctors who are already high brand-name prescribers.

“I think the causal relationship is really difficult to determine because there’s so many other factors that impact the physician’s prescribing behavior,” said Yeh, a research fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

The Harvard study differs from ProPublica’s analysis in a few ways. ProPublica looked at doctors nationwide in the five most populous specialties, using data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’Open Payments program, which included all payments to doctors from drug and device makers in 2014. The Harvard researchers only looked at Massachusetts doctors, using a 2011 physician payment database kept by the state’s department of health.

Also, ProPublica focused on overall brand-name prescribing rates, not just for statins. The researchers chose statins because they are frequently prescribed and because there are both generic and brand-name options.

Both analyses used prescribing data from Medicare’s Part D program to determine physicians’ brand-name prescribing rates — in fact, the Harvard researchers purchased Part D data prepared for analysis by ProPublica. Part D currently provides drug coverage to nearly 41 million seniors and disabled people.

One of Yeh’s co-authors, Dr. Aaron Kesselheim, provided feedback on the design of ProPublica’s analysis.




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