Science and Technology links (November 10th, 2018)

  1. It already takes more energy to operate Bitcoin than to mine actual gold. Cryptocurrencies are responsible for millions of tons of CO2 emissions. (Source: Nature)
  2. Half of countries have fertility rates below the replacement level, so if nothing happens the populations will decline in those countries” (source:BBC)
  3. According to Dickenson et al., 8.6% of us (7.0% of women and 10.3% of men) have difficulty controlling sexual urges and behaviors.
  4. A frequently prescribed drug family (statins) can increase your risk of suffering from ALS by a factor of 10 or 100.
  5. Countries were people are expected to live longest in 2040 are Spain, Japan, Singapore, Switzerland, Portugual, Italy, Israel, France, Luxembourgh, Australia. Not included in this list is the USA.
  6. Smart mirrors could monitor your mood, fitness, anxiety levels, heart rate, skin condition, and so forth.
  7. When you are trying to determine whether a drug is effective, it is tempting to look at published papers and see whether they all agree on the efficacity of the drug. This may be quite wrong: Turner et al. show a strong bias whereas negative results are never published.

    Studies viewed by the FDA as having negative or questionable results were, with 3 exceptions, either not published (22 studies) or published in a way that, in our opinion, conveyed a positive outcome (11 studies). According to the published literature, it appeared that 94% of the trials conducted were positive. By contrast, the FDA analysis showed that 51% were positive. Separate meta-analyses of the FDA and journal data sets showed that the increase in effect size ranged from 11 to 69% for individual drugs and was 32% overall.

    Simply put, it is far easier and profitable to publish positive results so that’s what you get.

    This means that, by default, you should always downgrade the optimism of the litterature.

    Simply put: don’t be too quick to believe what you read, even if it is comes in the form of a large set of peer-reviewed research papers.

  8. Richard Jones writes “Motivations for some of the most significant innovations weren’t economic“.
  9. Cable and satellite TV is going away.
  10. “What if what students really want is not to be learners, but alumni?” People will prefer an academically useless program from Harvard to a complete graduate program from a lowly school because they badly want to say that they went to Harvard.
  11. Drinking coffee abundantly protects from neurodegenerative diseases.

Published by

Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the Université du Québec (TELUQ).

6 thoughts on “Science and Technology links (November 10th, 2018)”

  1. Life expectancy: this study is worse than useless – it’s grossly misleading (“CNN”). It is purports to show deficiency of US healthcare system, while, in reality:

    – People in the US drive much more than in the ‘top’ countries, so there are many more traffic fatalities.
    – Firearms make suicides easier, so there are more of them, also more murders per capita.
    – Opoids epidemic: look at the numbers, so many young people dying.

    Bias in drug efficiency research: what do these results imply for anthropogenic global warming science?

    Thanks for posting these links, I look forward to them every week.

  2. study is worse than useless – it’s grossly misleading (“CNN”)

    Do you think CNN is misleading a lot? Do you have some proof? What would be their motivation?

    in reality

    The top 10 causes of depth are listed here, and the reasons you listed (traffic, suicides, opioids) are not top reasons. Health is. So… But it’s hard to say what is the most effective way to reduce death rate. And for a small subset of suicides, it arguably doesn’t make sense to do so.

    anthropogenic global warming science

    For drug research, the motivation to selectively publish is clear, but it’s less clear for topics global warming. There is incentive for both pro and contra.

    1. For drug research, the motivation to selectively publish is clear, but it’s less clear for (…)

      There is the notion of skin in the game that’s always relevant.

      What is the interest of the researchers? Generally it is to please their peers and sponsors. When the research is funded by the state throught peer reviews, the peers and the sponsors are often more or less the same.

      This means that you will see relatively little research that is likely to upset a community. And you are disproportionally likely to see research that will make people from that community feel good.

      However, science is still the best we have. If you are interested in truth and knowledge, there is no other way than to put some trust in the business of science. You should, however, always be critical.

  3. Yes, motivations are more complex than one would think. A friend of mine, a professor in Florida whose research area includes climate change, once told me that climate change research gets funding more easily if Republicans are in power, as for Democrats its already clear that climate change is anthropogenic, so no more such research about that is needed in their view.

    1. I am not American, but I am skeptical that Republicans will provide more generously to climate-change researchers than Democrats.

      However, it is also incorrect to think that Republicans spend less on science:

      This study suggests that Democrats do not always spend more on R&D, contrary to what is often expected by the public and the media. While it may superficially seem that Republicans are less supportive of investing in R&D compared to Democrats, a closer scrutiny of the data suggests otherwise (…) Although party affiliation may tell us which party is spending more on certain areas of science policy, there is no consistent party pattern in total research and development funding.

      1. I am skeptical that Republicans will provide more generously to climate-change researchers than Democrats.

        That’s what I heard, about 8 years ago. I guess it changed with Trump.

        A lot of research is just related to climate change, but mainly about more short-term effects (effects of fertilizers and so on).

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