Sustained Outrage

If it’s Thursday, then it’s time for another round of stories that we appreciated this week.

For years, the pharmaceutical industry has cited extensive research costs to justify its, er, healthy profit margin of 25 to 50 percent of revenues, reported. A 2003 study published in the Journal of Health Economics put the cost of developing a new drug at $1 billion (in 2011 dollars), but a new study published in BioSocieties — which attempted to correct for flaws in the earlier study’s methodology, such as not accounting for government funding, tax breaks, and including returns on investments not made because capital was tied up in research — puts the cost per drug at around $55 million (with an “m”).

In part because of recent developments in Wisconsin, public employees’ pension plans have come under heightened scrutiny. But those who claim that such “unfunded mandates” will explode states’ budgets may be overstating the issue, according to this article by McClatchy Newspapers’ Kevin G. Hall. “A close look at state and local pension plans across the nation, and a comparison of them to those in the private sector, reveals a more complicated story. However, the short answer is that there’s simply no evidence that state pensions are the current burden to public finances that their critics claim,” Hall wrote.

Was the computer virus Stuxnet the opening salvo in a new cyber war? In a fascinating look at how the computer security world pieced together information about the elusive virus, which some believe was designed to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program, Vanity Fair examined the cloak-and-dagger speculation that has followed in the virus’ wake. Stuxnet is the Hiroshima of cyber war, the piece concludes, a watershed moment: “Cyber-conflict makes military action more like a never-ending game of uncle, where the fingers of weaker nations are perpetually bent back. The wars would often be secret, waged by members of anonymous, elite brain trusts, none of whom would ever have to look an enemy in the eye.”