Science and Technology links (February 24th, 2019)

  1. Dooley interviews Barabasi (a famous researcher) on his book The Formula: The Universal Laws of Success. Here is an interesting quote:

    It is true that major breakthroughs are typically connected to young individual’s name, but that’s not because the older folks are not creative, but because the young people are trying more often. That is that the productivity in youth is higher, and with age productivity drops down. People are simply not trying to build new companies, not trying to write new research papers, not trying to paint new paintings, and when we correct for the core productivity, it turns out that innovation has no age. In other terms, as long as we keep trying and putting projects on the table, your chances of breaking through at 80, is exactly the same as breaking through in your twenties.

    (Credit: Part of this quote appeared on highscalability.com.)

    I am reading through Barabási’s book right now. He lays out several laws of success:

    1. Performance drives success, but when performance can’t be measured, networks drive success.
    2. Performance is bounded, but success is unbounded.
    3. Previous success + fitness = future success.
    4. While team success requires diversity and balance, a single individual will receive credit for the group’s achievements.
    5. With persistence success can come at any time.

    The book is well written and I recommend it.

  2. We know that naked mole rats essentially do not age in the way most mammals do: their mortality does not increase with age as far as we can tell. We do not know why that is. Munro et al. argue that it might due to their mitonchondria (the power plants of our cells) that seem remarkably resilient and well protected.
  3. Men who are to complete more than 40 push-ups are associated with a significantly lower risk of incident cardiovascular disease (e.g., heart attack) compared with those completing fewer than 10 push-ups. The difference is massive (20x). However, few men could do fewer than 10 push-ups (5%), so we can assume that they are at the very lower end of the fitness spectrum. And men who could do more than 40 push-ups are part of an elite group of high fitness (only 15% of all men). What the article suggests is that instead of measuring blood pressure or weight, doctors would be better off asking patients to do push-ups. (Update: Tom Naughton points out that men who can do more pushups are younger and less likely to be smokers. If we compensate for these effects, the difference might be less significant.)
  4. Intense exercise might improve your protein maintenance via short-lived hormonal changes.
  5. Improving teachers’ effectiveness through training based on science is a good idea, but it is unclear whether it is done right currently: “Teachers have a tough job, and we waste enough of their time with education courses and professional development sessions that provide them with little useful information.”
  6. In Can Medicine Be Cured?, O’Mahony points out that medical research is failing patients. Work done in laboratories fails to translate into better health. When there is translation in the clinic, it is often costly and incremental. Large investments translate into mediocre gains. The book rambles on about gluten intolerance but is otherwise excellent.
    A case can be made based on this book that medical research is overfunded: in computer science, we receive a tiny fraction of what the medical researchers receive, but we seem to have a much greater impact on society. I am unsure why medical research is so unproductive, but it seems obvious that the incentives to improve clinical outcomes are too small. The focus seems to be on writing research articles. Research articles are a means of communication, not the final outcome of a research project.
  7. There is a clinical trial aiming to use gene therapy (via a virus) to cure and prevent macular degeneration, a disease that lead many older people to become blind.
  8. The surface of Mars is probably too harsh for even bacteria, that is, it is likely maintained sterile.
  9. An Israeli company just launched a craft called Beresheet at the Moon, at the modest cost of $100 million. They used Elon Musk’s SpaceX services. Right now, the only resident on the Moon is a Chinese robot that landed last Month.

Published by

Daniel Lemire

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

5 thoughts on “Science and Technology links (February 24th, 2019)”

  1. in computer science, we receive a tiny fraction of what the medical researchers receive, but we seem to have a much greater impact on society

    Computing has had a big effect, but assigning this to computer science departments is unjustified. Most practitioner’s eyes glaze over when they see a PDF and use technology and practices developed in industry.

    1. Computing has had a big effect, but assigning this to computer science
      departments is unjustified. Most practitioner’s eyes glaze over when
      they see a PDF and use technology and practices developed in industry.

      I am sympathetic to the point of view that only a small fraction of the progress in computing can be attributed to computer-science researchers, but we are starting from a small investment. The government-sponsored medical research is much richer, and so it should be judged accordingly.

      We are spending more each year on research for single diseases than for all of computer science, with often no clinical translation in sight.

      There is an accountability issue in medical research that is just not present in computer science.

  2. On the subject of health research – I don’t know many health researchers, and only a few more doctors, but they are almost universally motivated more by “helping people” than by what I consider scientific curiosity. Those that are more scientifically minded go into science or engineering disciplines.

    I have had numerous discussions with doctors who don’t understand basic statistics for example, who were arguing for certain types of screening. Lo and behold – those types of screening are finally being discarded.

    1. I don’t know many health researchers, and only a few more doctors, but
      they are almost universally motivated more by “helping people” than by
      what I consider scientific curiosity. Those that are more
      scientifically minded go into science or engineering disciplines.

      I think that we have clear indications that medical researchers do not do much to “help people” in aggregate.

  3. Damnit. Now you have challenged me to start doing pushups again. I recommend doing them first thing after you wake up, because you are too sleepy to feel them. 🙂

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