Science and Technology links (May 26th, 2017)

Linux, the operating system driving cloud computing and the web, was developed using an open source model. For a time, Linux was seen as a direct competitor to Microsoft, but things have changed and Microsoft is happy to see Linux as just a piece of technology. Because of how large and complicated the software got, the Linux project manager, Linus Torvalds, ended up writing its own source control tool, Git. It quickly became a standard. Today, Windows is built on Git. This shows the power of open source. “Open source” is a concept just as powerful and important for our civilization as “the scientific method”. Though both science and open source can wipe out business models, they are also engines of innovation making us all richer. Microsoft does not use Linux and Git because it gave up on having viable competitors, but rather because it understands that fighting open source is about as useful as fighting the scientific method. (As an aside, modern implementations of Git are accelerated with compressed bitmaps called EWAH, something I personally worked on.)

Organic food is better for you, right? Galgano et al. (2016) find no evidence of such benefits:

The organic food market is growing in response to an ever increasing demand for organic products. They are often
considered more nutritious, healthier, and free from pesticides than conventional foods. However, the results of scientific studies do not show that organic products are more nutritious and safer than conventional foods.

Ok but organic food is better for the environment, right? Maybe not because organic farming requires more land and more animals:

Furthermore, higher on-farm acidification potential and global warming potential per kilogram organic milk implies that higher ammonia, methane, and nitrous oxide emissions occur on farm per kilogram organic milk than for conventional milk. Total acidification potential and global warming potential per kilogram milk did not differ between the selected conventional and organic farms.

A company called Warby Parker has a mobile app you can use to sidestep entirely optometrists and opticians in some cases. The main point seem to be that a lot of what opticians do can be computerized easily and that it is not hard to check your prescription.

Omega-3 fats rejuvenate the muscles of old people:

Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids reduce mitochondrial oxidant emissions, increase postabsorptive muscle protein synthesis, and enhance anabolic responses to exercise in older adults.

You have heard that teenage acne was unrelated to diet, right? Not so fast:

We found a positive association between intake of skim milk and acne. This finding suggests that skim milk contains hormonal constituents, or factors that influence endogenous hormones, in sufficient quantities to have biological effects in consumers.

The epidemic incidence of adolescent acne in Western milk-consuming societies can be explained by the increased insulin- and IGF-1-stimulation of sebaceous glands mediated by milk consumption.

We found a positive association with acne for intake of total milk and skim milk. We hypothesize that the association with milk may be because of the presence of hormones and bioactive molecules in milk.

Keytruda is the first cancer drug that targets a genetic dysfunction rather than specific cancer type. This type of drug might open the door to cheap and effective genetic cancer therapies. Note that Keytruda is actually approved for use in the US, so this is not purely speculative.

Volvo makes self-driving garbage-collecting trucks. A report from Goldman Sachs suggests that self-driving cars could destroy 25,000 jobs per month in the US. That sounds like a lot, but I don’t think it is anything dramatic, if true. See also the Sector Disruption Report (May 2017) by James Arbib and Tony Seba that sees the effect of self-driving car as enormous:

This will keep an additional $1 trillion per year in Americans’ pockets by 2030, potentially generating the largest infusion of consumer spending in history

Arthritis is a terrible disease where some people end up living in near constant pain. Yet it could be prevented with good diet and exercise, according to an article in Nature.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, wants us to build permanent settlements on the Moon. This is the same man who wants to deliver us goods using drones, and help cure aging through the clearance of senescent cells.

Scientists have linked 52 genes to intelligence. Let me caution you: no we cannot build super smart babies by manipulating genes. Not yet at least.

Daniel Lemire, "Science and Technology links (May 26th, 2017)," in Daniel Lemire's blog, May 26, 2017.

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Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

7 thoughts on “Science and Technology links (May 26th, 2017)”

  1. The limits of organic is that it is a government label. But I regard it and the movement around it as an attempt to buy purer products, not necessarily more nutritious. When you are in the store, go read the label on buttermilk. Should be just buttermilk and some live cultures, but in regular stores there can be like a half dozen different things in there.

    Additionally, I think both right and left have sort of accepted this idea that less land in production is good, but this goes against what we see in nature- especially in the traditional grasslands of America, which are suffering from ecological collapse because there aren’t a ton of buffalo around anymore- so, we really need to run ruminants on that land to mimic the buffalo, and restore the ecology.

    A yield of some sort is usually an indicator of ecological health. Over production in one place isn’t good, but nor is abandoning land to desertification.

  2. The environmental impact wrt organic milk did not show much difference between the two types of farming, and it offered mitigation suggestions (reduce off farm concentrates and roughage).

    There is a tendency to “concentrate” and “specialize” in our farming methods which does not suit sustainability. A traditional mixed farm that raises its own fodder and animals will likely fare much better in terms of environment impact. The animals contributing to the plants and vice-versa.

    Additionally, milk production is just one area of farming. I would suspect that organic farming of grains and vegetables is much less destructive to the environment than conventional farming of same.

    This does not even get into permaculture, which by its very design intends to be permanently sustainable.

    1. I would suspect that organic farming of grains and vegetables is much less destructive to the environment than conventional farming of same.

      At least for wheat, the productivity of organic farming is about half, which means that twice as much land is needed.

      1. I would hope wheat production would become a quite small, and somewhat boutique industry. I like the idea of Restorative Agriculture, and switching from annual crops to perennial tree crops, in a savannah like system where animals are pulsed through the landscape. Chestnuts would be the most likely replacement for wheat. Hazelnuts could replace soy.

        Of course, thinking about direct replacements like that is due, in part, to the fact that there are so many industries sort of queued up for highly processed carbs, proteins, and oils. The current crops have also been subsidized- as American food policy is still in World War II mode, and as a consequence demand for this junk is a lot higher than it would be if people had to pay the true price.

  3. The other issue is what does this metric really mean? Modern farming leads to soil depletion. Organic farming shouldn’t. Good farming models build the soil over time.

    So what’s the time horizon here for that particular piece of land?

    1. I think that both organic and conventional farming require care if you want to avoid soil erosion/depletion. I don’t know of any evidence that organic farming is intrinsically more sustainable. Both can suffer from soil erosion, for example.

      The one data point we do have is that conventional farming leaves more land to nature.

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