Science and Technology links (November 3rd, 2017)

A paper in the journal Intelligence reports that people with high intelligence are more at risk for psychological problems. As someone who works with lots of very smart people, I am not surprised.

Atherosclerosis is a medical condition, common with age, that makes you more at risk for heart diseases and strokes. Your arteries become damaged. Lipids (fat) play a key role in this phenomenon and it was believed until now that these lipids came from what you eat. Thus it was suggested that a low-fat diet might be good for your arteries. It turns out that these lipids may come from bacteria. That is, avoiding fats in your diet to prevent a stoke might be a waste of time.

The LA Times report on the growing evidence linking sugars and bread (carbohydrates) with cancer.

Malaria could hold the cure for cancer. Or not.

When you suffer from a heart attack, your heart is damaged. Sadly, heart cells (cardiomyocyte) that die are usually not regenerated though other cells are. Thus a heart attack diminishes you, permanently. However, we now have the technology to transform common cells (fibroblast) into almost any cell we want. Thus, in theory, we could regenerate new cardiomyocytes. But we don’t quite know how to do this reliably. Nature reports on breakthrough work on this problem. The end goal would be to spur regeneration of your cardiomyocytes, and get your heart to repair itself. There is also another related paper in PNAS about mathematical models to that could give us clear recipes to reprogram any cell into any other cell. What is surprising to me is how important mathematical models and software is to these endeavours.

The New York Times points out that there may not be much demand for science graduates:

Much of the public enthusiasm for STEM [science-technology-engineering-mathematics] education rests on the assumption that these fields are rich in job opportunity. (…) What recent studies have made increasingly apparent is that the greatest number of high-paying STEM jobs are in the “T” (specifically, computing). Earlier this year, Glassdoor, a jobs listing website, ranked the median base salary of workers in their first five years of employment by undergraduate major. Computer science topped the list ($70,000), followed by electrical engineering ($68,438). Biochemistry ($46,406) and biotechnology ($48,442) were among the lowest paying majors in the study. (…) At LinkedIn, researchers identified the skills most in demand. The top 10 last year were all computer skills, including expertise in cloud computing, data mining and statistical analysis, and writing smartphone applications (…) STEM advocates, often executives and lobbyists for technology companies, do a disservice when they raise the alarm that America is facing a worrying shortfall of STEM workers, based on shortages in a relative handful of fast-growing fields like data analytics, artificial intelligence, cloud computing and computer security.

What the article does not ask, and should… is why so little demand for people with skills in biotechnology?

In Why ‘Statistical Significance’ Is Often Insignificant, Noah Smith writes about the challenge we face in keeping scientists productive:

The real danger is that when each study represents only a very weak signal of scientific truth, science gets less and less productive. Ever more researchers and ever more studies are needed to confirm each result. This process might be one reason new ideas seem to be getting more expensive to find. (…) We need to change the incentive for researchers to prove themselves by publishing questionable studies that just end up wasting a lot of time and effort.

To sum up the problem, we reward people from writing papers about how we might cure cancer (in mice), rather than rewarding them for actually trying to cure cancer.

Amazon, the retailer, is hiring hundreds of Ph.D.s. More so than most universities.

The retail behemoth has hired nearly 500 Ph.D.s, former professors among them, since the beginning of this year to work in its applied-science and research-science units, according to company figures. The pace and scale of that hiring are far greater than those of any college or university in the country.

In Darwin’s aliens, the authors try to predict what aliens might look like and they conclude that complex aliens will be composed of a nested hierarchy of entities, with the conditions required to eliminate conflict at each of those levels. This tells us little about aliens, sadly.

Scientific American reviews genetic editing toolkits that anyone can order to start doing genetic modifications in their garage. There is speculation that it could help science:

It’s possible that people working in their garages or their kitchens will come up with a novel application or a solution to a problem that professionals just haven’t gotten around to.

That’s maybe how we get superheroes.

Daniel Lattier asks Why Professors Are Writing Crap That Nobody Reads?

Professors usually spend about 3-6 months (sometimes longer) researching and writing a 25-page article to submit an article to an academic journal. (…) 82 percent of articles published in the humanities are not even cited once. Of those articles that are cited, only 20 percent have actually been read. Half of academic papers are never read by anyone other than their authors, peer reviewers, and journal editors. So what’s the reason for this madness? Why does the world continue to be subjected to just under 2 million academic journal articles each year?

Drum writes about the end of work:

These are all harbingers, the way a dropping barometer signals a coming storm—not the possibility of a storm, but the inexorable reality. The two most important problems facing the human race right now are the need for widespread deployment of renewable energy and figuring out how to deal with the end of work. Everything else pales in comparison. Renewable energy already gets plenty of attention, even if half the country still denies that we really need it. It’s time for the end of work to start getting the same attention.

I wonder how well such opinion pieces will age?

There is a mysterious object that is going through our solar system at insane speeds. We don’t know what it is, though it is probably just a dumb piece of rock. Still, we have never seen anything like it: we only ever observe objects that are stuck in our solar system.

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