Symptoms of Stardom

There is a belief within American media that a successful person can succeed at anything. He (and it’s invariably he) is omnicompetent, and people who question him and laugh at his outlandish ideas will invariably fail and end up working for him. If he cares about something, it’s important; if he says something can be done, it can. The people who are already doing the same thing are peons and their opinions are to be discounted, since they are biased and he never is. He doesn’t need to provide references or evidence – even supposedly scientific science fiction falls into this trope, in which the hero gets ideas from his gut, is always right, and never needs to do experiments.

This is from an interesting essay on why Elon Musk’s Hyperloop won’t work. I don’t care at all about the technical details of exotic high speed transport on the west coast, but the first part and the last part of the essay, on why the culture of unquestioned superstar entrepreneurs, is well-worth reading!

via Prof. Cowen

If violent stories made for school violence . . .

. . . I would have sliced up my school with my sword for sure. My parents did indeed buy me one of those souvenir swords. I bet it would have taken an edge! A psychologist takes on the idea of a causal connection between media violence and school violence. I especially like how he dismisses the American Academy of Pediatrics as an advocacy group. Of course they are! They’re not scientists!

Anecdota – in the old fashioned sense of “unpublished”

Or, at least, unpublished where I’d ever noticed! Derek Lowe is speculating about Glaxo-Smith-Kline’s decision to pay big bucks to whoever discovers a new drug…but who is the real discoverer? Here’s an anecdote he quotes:

Even a nurse involved in the testing of a drug can make the key discovery, as happened in Pfizer’s phase 1 program with Viagra, where the nurse monitoring the patients noticed that the drug was enhancing blood flow to an organ other than the heart. To paraphrase Hilary Clinton, it takes a village to discover and develop a drug.


Who knew? I sure didn’t.

Great advice!

My mother has a fuchsia in a hanging basket – and it came with the clearest watering advice I’ve ever seen. None of this “keep partially moist” or “water when barely dry” – the tag says:

Basket should weigh the equivalent of 1G of milk. Let dry until weight is about 1/2G before watering again.

How lucid! We all have hefted gallons and half gallons of milk!

Leprosy – medieval and modern

Here’s the article.

But no sign in the article of ancient leprosy, really (other than a throwaway line about the earliest sample being from India about 4000 years ago).

I’m curious because in the 70s and 80s I frequently read footnotes (especially to newer translations of the Bible) that claimed Biblical leprosy wasn’t the same thing as modern Hansen’s Disease. Indeed, the Jerusalem Bible produced some whopper sentences in which the phrase “loathsome skin disease” and “sufferer from a loathsome skin disease” replaced “leprosy” and “leper.”

Now I always understood that the ancient concept of leprosy might have included a few more diseases, but those footnotes were always tossing the baby out with the bathwater.

Big data from cheap phones – only slightly creepy.

Read and see how you can track malaria in Africa, or:

A powerful demonstration of how useful data from cheap phones can be came after the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which killed more than 200,000 people. Researchers at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute obtained data from Digicel, Haiti’s largest mobile carrier. They mined the daily movement data from two million phones—from 42 days before the earthquake to 158 days after—and concluded that 630,000 people who had been in Port-au-Prince on the day of the earthquake had left the city within three weeks. They also demonstrated that they could do such calculations in close to real time. They showed—within 12 hours of receiving the data—how many people had fled an area affected by a cholera outbreak, and where they went.

via Professor Reynolds.

Me at the Real Alcazar

Me at the Real Alcazar by Michael Tinkler
Me at the Real Alcazar, a photo by Michael Tinkler on Flickr.

The Alcazar Palace is really something – I think it would be very comfortable in the summer time, for Seville!
I remember the tilework from an old PBS show, “Connections.” I can’t think of the presenter’s name, but it was a history of science across time kind of thing – made an impression on me!

Rewilding Europe

This is an odd article about the introduction of large herbivores to Germany to try to achieve a different balance of plant life. Or I found its optimism odd.

With its tiny houses nestled along the main road and its red-brick church, Töpchin — just 25 miles outside of Berlin — is a traditional-looking Brandenburg village. But heading east through the marshland that borders the village, a visitor encounters the unexpected: five huge Asian water buffaloes.

The species was native to Europe until 10,000 years ago, when hunting shrunk its range to the continent’s far southeast. So Germans know these beasts only from pictures of them in fields and rice paddies in Asia. “Some people are really confused when they see the water buffaloes,” says Holger Rössling, the man who set the animals free in Töpchin in the summer of 2011. But the black creatures with massive horns and an impressively muscular build appear to be very much at ease in their new home. And they are meant to stay.

Rössling is a project manager with the Brandenburg Nature Conservation Fund, a government agency in the federal state surrounding Berlin. The group brought in the water buffaloes from a special breeder in France so they would graze threatened tracts of fens and remnant inland salt marshes, as German cows have long since lost their affinity for grazing in such wet or nutrient-poor environments.

I guess that water buffalo are hardly white tail deer – they won’t soon proliferate in such numbers to become a nuisance to Brandenburgers – but the experiment seems like one big unintended consequence. The article also discusses the introduction of Przhevalsky horses (Mongolian, originally) and various other large herbivores.