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RFD for Cancer Conspiracy Debate

whiteflame
Posts: 1,378
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1/22/2016 6:27:47 PM
Posted: 10 months ago
This is an RFD for the debate between RyuuKyuzo and aaronyero given here: http://www.debate.org... In case you"re wondering why this RFD is posted in the economics section and not the science section, you can see the debate for yourself, but the focus is entirely economic.

So" yeah, I feel like there"s very little going on in a debate that should be used to explore cancer as a topic and where the varied interests are. Profit motive is only one aspect of the issue, and while Con paints it as everything there is in the whole wide world" it"s not. It really isn"t. This isn"t part of my RFD, but it"s a basic problem with Con"s case and with the focus of this debate. But I"ll get to that shortly. Before I get into my actual RFD, I"ll talk about my major gripe.

Where"s the science, people?

I get that profits are important and everything, but all that Con discussed what motive, and Pro really doesn"t attack the idea that motive isn"t enough to prove likelihood. That"s because the entire debate is just wanton speculation, focused more on why companies might take certain actions than any evidence suggesting that they have.

But that"s beside the point. A focus on the science behind a potential cure for cancer could have been far more meaningful, particularly for Pro"s case. After all, if a cure for cancer is impossible, then there"s no chance that there"s a conspiracy to hide it. There"s a lot of good research on this end, and particularly the idea of a "cure" is fraught with trouble. Vaccines aren"t cures. Antibiotics, though they may be touted as such, aren"t cures. They"re preventative medicine and treatments. To my knowledge, a real and true cure doesn"t exist. It"s an ideal, and we hope that many of the treatments we use are curative, but there is no real and true cure for any illness.

And cancer itself is a nightmare. An effective treatment for any substantial subset of cancer would be a major boon " the best scientists have managed to do is find some for isolated, really rare cancers. And there"s good reason for that: cancer is incredibly complex and we don"t understand the mechanisms behind many of them. The mechanisms appear to be very different for different kinds of cancers. Some have even suggested that cancer is an unavoidable part of the aging process, but I digress. Con"s case starts to sound more absurd when you realize that any research that elucidates the mechanisms by which cancer starts and progresses would be key to uncovering any new treatments. That means that companies would have to practically shut down the publication of any cancer research in order to prevent the cure from coming to light.

But, again, I"m getting off track. Still, this is what was going through my head as I was reading through this debate, and while it is technical science, I think in a debate about cancer, I should hear something more than its costs. More on that later.

Onto what each of you actually said.

Con"s argument is entirely based around a single number: 3,707,706,880,000 dollars a year. There are so many problems with this number. First, that"s 3.7 TRILLION, not 3.7 billion dollars. Second, that profit excludes all costs of care, which are steeper than you think, especially for hospitals which share some of the profit gained from these treatments. Third, that number is just plain wrong. There are actual estimates of the overall costs of cancer care in the U.S., and they estimate them at around $125 billion or a little over an order of magnitude off from what Con claims based on rudimentary math. Fourth, as Pro states, that number is split among all companies doing these treatments, which means that no individual company is making anywhere near that much money. Fifth, I"m not at all sure how that cost breaks down. Are most of these people getting chemotherapy? Radiotherapy? Antibody therapy? Surgery? Both of you keep talking about therapy in a very nebulous manner, but cancer treatment is not straightforward by any stretch of the imagination.

But I suppose none of that really matters. It"s not important because the number"s big, and therefore there"s a profit incentive. Except" it kinda does. If we don"t know what the profit is from current treatment (and by profit, I mean revenue minus costs) for companies, then I don"t know what the size of the nest egg is that they"re trying to protect, and therefore I don"t know what they would have to make up for if they did find a cure. Con uses that huge a$$ number all over the place to justify the need for a cure to be sold at great cost to consumers, but that"s one of only two justifications he gives me for setting the price high. The second is a claim that appears late in the debate that the costs of researching the cure would have to be made up, and while I"m sensitive to that argument, it"s not well explained. It also doesn"t hold up particularly well against the realities. What you"re talking about here is someone who"s already developed the cure, so all the preliminary research is done. They would have to bring it through clinical trials, and those can be very expensive (up to about $1 billion), but when it comes to cancer research, the cost and time investment are markedly lower due to the lack of a consistently effective treatment. So while I buy that there"s a cost to pursuing the cure, without a number there"s little I can do to add this in.

Nonetheless, Pro doesn"t attack the actual number beyond stating that it would be split, so I"m kind of forced to buy that there"s a huge profit incentive. It exists (even though it doesn"t"), and we go from there.

So now we get into the points that Pro brings up, and whether they dissuade me from thinking that profit motive is sufficient reason to hide the cure for cancer.

Pro tells me that a cure would gain a lot of value. I think this needed a lot of the scientific context, which, again, is missing from this debate. Neither side really takes the time to explore the effectiveness of current treatments and compare them to a potential cure. Both sides pretty much accept the view that treatment is effective, it"s just longer term than a one-time cure.

Again, I feel the need to say something here. Most cancer treatment is not effective. The "cure" rate for cancer treatment with chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and antibody therapy is something like 2% if I remember correctly. Surgery is a lot more effective, but only works if the cancer is in its early stages, allowing for easy removal. Ignoring the question of whether a cure would be effective against any stage of cancer or not (and, another assumption both sides are making, that a cure would require only a one-time treatment), a cure is a lot more than just a treatment with a shorter time frame. A cure wouldn"t replace all forms of treatment just because it"s faster. A cure would replace all forms of treatment because it has a higher than 2% success rate. It"s not the regular visits to the hospital that people would want to replace. It"s the not dying part. I"ll come back to this.
whiteflame
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1/22/2016 6:28:23 PM
Posted: 10 months ago
But back to the argument. Pro tells me that there"s a lot of potential benefit from garnering the cure for cancer, and this really becomes the focus of the debate. The idea that a cure would essentially turn everyone away from treatment is never well explored, but since both sides accept that that would happen (at least for those who could afford it), I accept it, too. Pro tells me that the researchers have tremendous incentive to become rich and famous, which I agree with. Con"s response that companies will always suppress their own employees, and thus prevent such discoveries from moving out of their R&D departments, is about as far as I"m willing to go with him. When he starts telling me that they"re a) monitoring all research going on at non-profit centers (i.e. every single university, state and national lab, and private non-profit lab), and b) they"re actively sabotaging/stealing research and killing scientists in those labs before that information gets out, I"m skeptical. Seems to me that we"d see a rash of lab vandalism and scientist deaths if this was the case, and Con"s not providing me with any more than speculation that they"re happening. Maybe if these companies control the media as well (the argument that bribing them solves is just another one of these "money makes the world go "round" arguments that you"re overly reliant on), but that"s starting to sound more and more outlandish.

So I"m buying that there"s reason to believe that if a cure for cancer suddenly appeared in any lab that"s not a company lab, it would likely have gotten out. Con"s not giving me more reason to believe that a company lab would manage this than any other, so this sets him down to a 50% probability of this happening at best. What tips it over, and ends this debate, is this idea that companies would themselves benefit from selling the cure. The cost issue ends up going to Con because" well, so long as $3.7 trillion is the number we"re dealing with, the amount of money that would have to be charged to make even a fraction of that up would be large. I don"t think it would be a million dollars, but it potentially could. But the issue of one company acquiring the cure and essentially becoming a monolith monopoly, shoving out all competitors, does matter, and Con"s not really responsive to it. I don"t know why presenting a cure wouldn"t shove out competitors. Maybe there"s some sort of cabal going on here where all the companies have decided to protect their nest egg by spurning all potential research, but that again requires another logical step, and not one Con presented. Maybe there are companies that have discovered it, but are holding it in reserve and waiting until someone else starts going through clinical trials to present it. Honestly, I probably would have found that to be more plausible, but Con doesn"t present it, so it isn"t in my thought process.

So I could vote solely based on this. It"s good enough reason for me to think that it"s possible that one or two companies out there will break off from the rest and form a monopoly, even if those companies are currently working on cancer therapy, since they may not have much market share. I could also vote based on the personal aspect. Unless companies start killing off their own researchers, I don"t see how they can expect every single person to ignore cancers among their family and friends. The idea that money trumps all just isn"t enough to make me think that every single individual has lost sight of the importance of people in their lives.

Pro"s last contention probably should have garnered more space, mainly because I think it"s the most relevant. The fact that there are lots of other incentives is really important to the debate, mainly because it"s the only argument that seeks to explain why the motives of companies aren"t so straightforward. It"s not particularly well explained, and Pro doesn"t tell me why companies pursue items such as vaccines and antibiotics (which, as I said above, aren"t cures), but it"s something. I think it would have paid off to spend some time talking about how companies view their image and the work they do with governments, but since Con doesn"t really address this point beyond saying that money trumps all, it"s really not important. Con does say that there might be some human rights group backlash, but I"m not clear on why that happens following the inception of the cure and not in status quo where treatments may not be curative, but are often effective. Why does the cure dramatically alter the way these groups behave? And why does their action cause any substantive harm that would dissuade companies from marketing the cure? It"s not clear.

Alright, now that the decision is explained, one last thing to get out of the way.

Con, your case was baffling, especially from what I read of your R3 points. You say that many people cannot afford the cure, but then why wouldn"t the treatments continue for those people? If the cure costs a million dollars and no one"s willing to pay for it, why wouldn"t there still be a large market for cancer treatments? I don"t see any reason why the cancer treatment market wouldn"t persist, and if it does persist, where"s the incentive not to market the cure? Why not get millions from rich people and hundreds of thousands from everyone else?

You say that there"s more benefit in long term treatment. This is something I mentioned earlier, but cancer is lethal. As in, these people are going to die. Apart from that 2% cure rate, every single person with cancer will eventually lose their lives to it under the current treatment regimens. Why is that beneficial to these companies, to lose patients? Pro also sort of just assumes that treatments will all be long term and all be extremely profitable, when in reality a longer life following a cure may be far more profitable to these same companies. Moreover, if it was really far more profitable for them to be on treatments long term, why would you then say that "Insurance isn"t going to pay for the cure"? Why wouldn"t they? Are they banking on the patient dying early, and if so, why are pharmaceutical companies banking on the patient dying late? You seem to be applying different incentive structures to the two sets of companies, but I can"t follow the logic. If pharmaceutical companies make a lot more money on treatment than they would on cures, then insurance has incentive to pay for cures because it reduces their overall bottom line. Why doesn"t that make sense?
whiteflame
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1/22/2016 6:28:35 PM
Posted: 10 months ago
You say that the chance of someone getting cancer after having their cancer cured is low, but I don"t see any evidence of that (and it seems blatantly false, though I suppose that would depend on what the cure is and how it works). Similarly, the idea that having a cure would destroy the business of any company is entirely unwarranted " cancer won"t vanish from the face of the Earth just because someone"s marketing a cure, particularly if that cure is really expensive and not that many people can afford it. This isn"t an infectious disease like smallpox; a cure would not prevent cancer from ever happening again. If the market of the very rich did dry up (which I suppose is possible, given their population size), why wouldn"t that drive the price of the cure down? Honestly, it seems like you"re telling me that companies do nothing except think based on profit incentive, using supply and demand to decide everything, and then you"re telling me that when supply and demand tells them they have to lower their prices, they"ll lose their minds and let the company collapse. You"d have to assume that making the cure incurs insane costs in order to justify the view that lower prices would destroy a company, and without any explanation for what a cure would likely cost, I have no reason to believe that that"s game breaking. The most your explanation tells me is that profits will go down, but that"s not necessarily a bad thing when you"re going from some small percentage of the market to 100% market share. Merely having less liquidity but more stability can be a big deal, and that"s especially true when you"re dramatically enhancing your public image in the process.

Honestly, this is all I could think of in the last few minutes, but the amount of internal contradictions in Con"s case is just staggering. You"ve got to be consistent with your arguments, and think them through better. Your entire case hinges on a single made up number and the mentality that everyone values money most of all. That"s a pretty weak argument, and it"s difficult to support. Don"t throw all your eggs in one basket. Spend the time to show that a cancer cure has likely been found, and give me evidence to make me believe that it"s been covered up. I know it"s a conspiracy, but all conspiracies are supported by at least SOME evidence, even if that evidence isn"t direct. I need to see it, and I need more than just assertions to prove it.
ResponsiblyIrresponsible
Posts: 12,398
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1/22/2016 6:51:38 PM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 1/22/2016 6:27:47 PM, whiteflame wrote:

I saw that you posted in this forum and got really excited. I won't say that this is a downer, but..... lol.
~ResponsiblyIrresponsible

DDO's Economics Messiah
whiteflame
Posts: 1,378
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1/22/2016 9:08:09 PM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 1/22/2016 6:51:38 PM, ResponsiblyIrresponsible wrote:
At 1/22/2016 6:27:47 PM, whiteflame wrote:

I saw that you posted in this forum and got really excited. I won't say that this is a downer, but..... lol.

Aw...sorry bout that.
Greyparrot
Posts: 14,282
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1/22/2016 9:21:12 PM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 1/22/2016 6:51:38 PM, ResponsiblyIrresponsible wrote:
At 1/22/2016 6:27:47 PM, whiteflame wrote:

I saw that you posted in this forum and got really excited. I won't say that this is a downer, but..... lol.

Flames never burn for long.
ResponsiblyIrresponsible
Posts: 12,398
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1/22/2016 9:21:32 PM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 1/22/2016 9:21:12 PM, Greyparrot wrote:
At 1/22/2016 6:51:38 PM, ResponsiblyIrresponsible wrote:
At 1/22/2016 6:27:47 PM, whiteflame wrote:

I saw that you posted in this forum and got really excited. I won't say that this is a downer, but..... lol.

Flames never burn for long.

lol
~ResponsiblyIrresponsible

DDO's Economics Messiah