Monday, August 16, 2010

Restrictions and Optimization

Goats failing at replacing pigs.
Photo by Shawn Baldwin for New York Times

There's a dispute going on related to pigs and vaccines.

As explained here, Saudi authorities are requiring pilgrims get vaccinated against meningitis. Meningitis is a very serious medical emergency. Currently, all available meningitis vaccines are produced via enzymes derived from pigs.

Muslims who refuse to use pig-derived vaccines have to wait to make their pilgrimage until a pig-free vaccine is available or the authorities change their minds.

Optimization: the more you constrain things, the less optimal your potential solutions are. If you constrain things too much, there may not even be a solution.

This vaccine case reminds me of the Egyptians, who slaughtered all thier pigs. Now that collecting food waste is unprofitable, they've got disease and vermin problems, and have to watch goats fail at doing a pig's job.

In general, if one makes restrictions, one has only fewer options. E.g. insist on never-frozen Mangalitsa and you may not get much. Insist on certified organic Mangalitsa and you won't get any (unless someone lies to you, and then you aren't really getting it anyway). Insist on dairy over pig products and you'll eat more saturated fat.

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