Science and Technology links (August 9th 2020)

  1. The BBC reports that diversity and anti-bias training is of little use and may even be counterproductive if the goal is reduce biases:

    “The effect of bias training is very weak if you look at the long run,” says Kalev. “A company is better off doing nothing than mandatory diversity training.”

    Some research warns that such training may spur more racism by enticing people to think in terms of “races”.

  2. Our ancestors frequently died of smallpox, and it did not affect just kids or the poor:

    [Louis XIV] was a man who almost died of smallpox when he was 9 years old and lost nearly all of his legitimate heirs — his son, a grandson and a great-grandson — along with his younger brother, another grandson and a great-grandson, to smallpox. Eventually, he was succeeded by his second great-grandson, who became Louis XV and died (you guessed it) of smallpox.

    In America, smallpox is usually associated with the decimation of Native Americans, but Europeans were not immune to the disease. As late as the 18th century, for example, smallpox killed about 400,000 Europeans annually. The overall mortality rate was 20% to 60%. Among infants, it was more than 80% and was one of the reasons for the low overall life expectancy of 20 to 30 years. The disease was eradicated in 1980. Today, we don’t think of smallpox any more than we think of the bubonic plague, which, in five short years, killed almost one-third of all Europeans in the 14th century.

  3. Eating well is associated with high greenhouse gas emissions:

    After adjustment for energy intake, high-nutritional-quality diets had significantly higher greenhouse gas emissions (+9% and +22% for men and women, respectively) than did low-nutritional-quality diets.

  4. It seems that the extended ice age our ancestors survived was caused by several volcanic eruptions. This was only a few thousands years ago.
  5. In the UK, coal use has fallen to levels so low that it compares with pre-industrial levels.
  6. Though the population in the Western world is aging quickly, the number of people affected by dementia (e.g., Alzheimer’s) is falling. We do not know why.
  7. We are reportedly renaming genes to avoid the limitions of Microsoft Excel. (This should be an object of shame for Microsoft.)
  8. Mammals like human beings have a limited ability to recover from brain damage. In particular, we are not very good at producing new neurons. However, recent work shows that other cells in the brain can become neuron stem cells (neurons able to produce other neurons) in response to injury.

Published by

Daniel Lemire

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

3 thoughts on “Science and Technology links (August 9th 2020)”

  1. Yes, speaking racism, you can find out what works and what doesn’t by looking at what companies that have been found at variance with community standards are willing to do about it.

    Companies are most likely to do what will cause the least change to what they are already doing. Anti-bias training is probably the single most popular thing and I would argue that that is because it doesn’t work. What companies (and right wing pundits) argue most strenuously against is the idea of “quotas” – and my bet is that is because they would work if adopted.

      1. This is such a hard discussion to have on the internet without being interpreted poorly or causing heat. I have no intention of either of these. I write this sincerely. I think this blog might have a rather logical and professional audience, so I hope someone can help me understand his or her reasoning.

        What is the problem that is meant to be solved? As far as I can tell, to assume that the training could “work” in the same way that quotas would “work” is to presume that employees involved in the hiring processes are bigoted based on certain shallow, protected characteristics. Is this not the presumption of guilt?

        If quotas are what the definition implies, would they not be responding to the possibility of bigotry or discrimination with 100% definite discrimination of the same kind? Why isn’t this the case? If the goal isn’t to remove discrimination, but is instead something like “representation,” shallow “diversity,” or “illogical and bigoted (in my opinion) customer acquisition,” I still have the same question.

        I just really don’t understand why people seem willing to discriminate against innocent members of protected classes or why they seem to think they are doing the opposite. It doesn’t seem right to me.

        Thanks for your patience, and thanks if anyone can help me understand the logic behind these proposed solutions.

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