Yesterday I posted the below picture to Twitter, exclaiming that showed the dire state of Australia’s health when compared to the rest of the world. Since then I’ve had several people point out the correlation between the countries suffering from high cancer incident rates: they’re nearly all developed nations who have a decent healthcare system. The theory then goes that these figures are somewhat meaningless as lower incidents of cancer typically means people aren’t living long enough to get it. Whilst I agree that this is true to some extent it’s unfortunately not as simple as that and some new research I came across today could point to something that shows why Australia’s incident rate is so high.
Now this graphic, whilst giving you a great overview, is unfortunately a rather blunt instrument for validating the theory that better health care = longer lives = higher cancer incident rate. Primarily this is because of its resolution which makes it hard to pick out the smaller countries, specifically the developed ones that have low rates of cancer. Singapore for instance has the lowest rate out of many countries with a per capita income that ranks in the top ten of the world. Similarly Japan, whilst not being the anomaly that Singapore seems to be, has a rate that’s dramatically lower than Australia (about 70 per 100,000) with a population that’s aging and is almost 6 times the size.
Initially I was going to make a point about skin cancer as Australia is a well known offender with our incident rate for melanoma around 90 per 100,000. Surprisingly New Zealand is not too far behind in this regard and the drop after that is quite incredible with the next closest competitor being Norway with an incident rate that’s almost half of anywhere else. That leads me to believe it’s somewhat cultural as whilst we like to blame the hole in the ozone layer it’s actually anything but since its reach doesn’t extend up to our continent. Since this kind of cancer is almost entirely preventable I felt the need to rant at Australians who are knowingly killing themselves but there might be an even wider issue that could have a far greater impact on this.
Obesity is a major issue for a lot of western developed countries and if you overlay the graphs from here with the one shown above it’s hard to deny the strong correlation between the two. Indeed whilst the level of healthcare and wealth might be a good predictor for the incident rate of cancer in a country obesity is a much better predictor and the links between obesity and certain types of cancer is well known. The same argument against wealth also works for obesity (people don’t get as fat in poor countries) however this is, again, a preventable risk factor for cancer. Combining these two factors together and you have a recipe for Australia being a hot bed for cancer, one that it needn’t be at all.
The good news is that, should you want to avoid the major risk factors for getting cancer in Australia, you can do that without a meaningful impact on your life. It might be time for the government to resurrect the campaigns of decades past, albeit with an additional message to watch your weight as well as your exposure to the sun. They had an impact, I can still remember the jingle like I heard it yesterday, and it’s prime time to get the next generation of Australians thinking about their long term health.
I’ve been on these Internets long enough to have seen my share of pyramid schemes masquerading themselves as something “revolutionary”. Back in the early 2000’s I can remember getting swept up in all sorts of “make money online” things that promised to pay you big bucks if you did surveys, clicked on links and some for just simply browsing the web. I also had a hand in bringing a few of these down, like many users of it did, when the system only did minimal checks on new users making it quite easy to make 1 person look like 200. I still keep a couple trophies of that time (a couple CDs I bought with Beenz) mostly for the sick pleasure I get in knowing that those companies were doomed from the start.
Over the years many other forms of alternate currencies came and went as did the venture capital dollars that had been invested in them. I think the last one I ever tried was EmailCash which has managed to survive by not trying to become an alternative currency, preferring to stay in the lucrative world of rewards programs. After I realised the effort I was putting into the schemes was netting me a return of much less than $1/hour I gave up on them completely and spent more time at my real job.
The idea of a inventing a currency is a tantalizing one though and the most recent addition to the long list of alternative currencies is becoming a hot topic amongst the tech community. I am of course referring to the BitCoin sensation, a decentralized peer to peer currency that allows users to “mine” BitCoins by acting as part of the payment network. It’s a very interesting idea especially when it adopts many characteristics of the platform its built on, allowing for truly anonymous transactions and a currency that can’t be controlled by any government. However, whilst I love the core idea behind BitCoin, I can’t help but feel this is an extremely elaborate pyramid scheme, and I’ll explain why.
Take a look for instance at this graph detailing the predicted number of BitCoins over the coming years:
BitCoins have an upper limit on how many can be produced, approximately 21 million if we take the creator’s word for it. BitCoins are almost infinitely divisible however so they can still be used quite extensively once the upper limit on the number has been reached. However the complexity in mining a BitCoin increases considerably over time as they start to become mined out and is accelerated by the number of people participating in the network. Thus the true benefactors of the BitCoin system are those who were in it from the beginning as back then it was relatively easy to generate BitCoins and thus they could amass quite a large amount of wealth in a short amount of time.
Like any alternative currency however BitCoins are completely useless if you can’t exchange them with other people for goods and services. It is then in the best interests of the early adopters to get other people to accept them as a legitimate form of currency. This means getting more people on the BitCoin network which, strictly speaking, doesn’t have a traditional referral system in place so it usually passes the pyramid scheme sniff test of most people. Still every additional member that joins and participates in the network is generating value for all of those that came before them, thus it is better for someone to “get in now” before the gold rush hits and the potential wealth disappears.
Also BitCoin, whilst being quite resilient to most exploitations, is still a computer system that can be manipulated. Most recently it came to light that one of the pools, DeepBit, managed to reach the critical 50% threshold of computing power that would make exploitation possible. Whilst it quickly sank back down in order to avoid such a scenario such a situation and no exploits were detected such a situation had only been “theoretically” possible until it actually happened. If BitCoin garners mass adoption you can bet there will be bot herds targeting the network in an attempt to exploit it. Whether they will be successful or not remains to be seen.
Given the rather checkered history that alternative currencies have I’ve been casting a sceptical eye over anyone who thinks that they’ve got this problem space solved, and BitCoin is no exception. Sure I was little excited about being able to generate some cash with spare CPU cycles but that feeling that this whole thing is just an elaborate pyramid scheme was too hard to shake and I’ve left it by the wayside. As a payment system it might not be a bad idea but the whole idea behind mining coins just means you’re paying to make the early adopters rich and that’s the main reason I take issue with the BitCoin system. It’s really hard to trust something when its structure too closely follows that of the ye olde pyramid scheme.