It’s Saturday. So here’s a list of what I found most interesting to read this week, prefaced by why I liked it.
1. Social Fake News. A new paper finds false stories spread faster on twitter than true ones. Caveat: the paper may have selection bias, as they sampled only stories which wound up on snopes.com and other fact check sites. I plan to do a dedicated post on this shortly. In the meantime, my general take for social media driven fake news is simple enough: new tech requires new norms. And developing those new norms takes time (and patience). link to paper.
2. Grit and Growth Mindset. Angela Duckworth made her reputation promoting Grit (TED talk). Carole Dweck made hers promoting Growth Mindset (TED talk). Critics have said the replication crisis in psychology would eventually catch them both. Turns out Grit and Growth Mindset are real after all, though the effects are small. So no doubt everyone needs to claim victory. See Stuart Ritchie on twitter here and here, plus Alex Tarborrak has a good post. Let me quote Tarborrak’s closing paragraph, which makes an excellent additional point: “The ending of the post-replication-crisis era also makes another trend clear–the future of social science will be even more hierarchical and unequal–future social science will be done by large, well-funded teams, run by superstar researchers at top universities. This study, for example, had 10 co-authors from multiple universities and probably cost well over a million dollars. The smaller the effect the bigger the team that will be needed to find it.”
3. Ancient DNA from southeast Asia. New preprint Ancient Genomics Reveals Four Prehistoric Migration Waves into Southeast Asia. Razib Khan has an explainer post saying “Austro-Asiatic and Austronesian people were agriculturalists issuing out of southern China that transformed the region over the past 4,000 years”. The larger lesson is in pre-history, we’ve now swung to a new default understanding. Human groups often replaced each other at the 1000s of years scale. In particular farmers overran hunter gathers. John Hawks captures the point nicely.
4. Fermi Paradox podcast interviewing Stephen Webb. I recommend Julia Galef’s podcast Rationally speaking, and particularly liked the most recent episode where she interviews Stephen Webb about the Fermi Paradox (aka, why can’t we find any space aliens). Along those lines, I relied heavily on Webb’s book when I wrote what’s become the most viewed post on this site: Avoiding “Sagan Syndrome.” Why Astronomers and Journalists should pay heed to Biologists about ET.
5. Glenn Loury and John McWhorter talk about race. Since I’m linking to podcasts today, I must admit I find Loury and McWhorter discussions of race in America to be refreshingly original, if at times caustic. They are not conservative so much as out of step with people like Ta-Nehisi Coates. So not for everyone. But if you want to try something different on race relations in America, I think they have intellectual integrity and originality. So in my view worthwhile whether you agree with them or not. Here they are on YouTube, or as a podcast.
6. Ben Thompson – Lessons From Spotify. Excellent analysis detailing the business implications of marginal costs for Facebook versus Spotify. For Facebook, each added user is essentially no added cost. For Spotify, each added user means more license costs paid to the record labels. link. And for completeness, I guess I am compelled to also link to the related podcast.
7. Gorillas in zoos dying from heart disease. Turns out eating processed food biscuits with all the right nutrients but not enough fiber is a bad idea. It led to bad microbiomes in the guts of gorillas, which in turn led to heart disease. Makes me wonder if my morning breakfast bars qualify as human food biscuits. So yummy! Well written story.
8. Kenneth Field’s new map of US voting. Let me finish with a map. What makes this so great is unlike the traditional coloring by red state/blue state, this map captures the details of how all states are both colors. And really. How can you dislike someone who finishes their post by saying “Hurriedly written from a hotel in Palm Springs during which time the map’s had many more likes, 11 more mentions and I’ve picked up another 86 followers. I can only apologise to them when they realise I tweet just as much about beer and football as I do about maps.” link.
When Richard Dawkins coined the word “meme” he predicted that those memes that were best-suited to survive and propagate would become dominant. He had in mind the idea that true memes would displace false ones. What he completely failed to predict was that the memes that seem to thrive are those that match pre-existing confirmation bias.