Saturday links 26-May-2018: Golden Rice, Algorithmic social feeds, Racism as original sin, Asteroid smotes flying birds

1. FDA approves Golden Rice. Mark Lynas is a former anti-GMO activist, who in 2013 changed his mind about genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Quote:

It eventually dawned on me … that I was actually being anti-science in the way I was talking about GMOs, and that there are many ways a stronger scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs than there is about the reality of climate change.

One of the case studies that really changed my mind about this was the saga of golden rice, which was developed to be vitamin A-enhanced, because something like a quarter million children per year die from a vitamin A deficiencies in developing countries, particularly in South Asia … Greenpeace has been waging a campaign to stop this rice from ever being developed … You can make a pretty strong case that tens of thousands of children have died because they were denied access to this purely because it’s GM, and there is a ideological bias against that.

Greenpeace still has their anti golden rice page up here. But what is heartening is even if Greenpeace won’t publicly change their mind, most people have. So I enjoyed seeing Lynas’ name again on the byline of this announcement that the FDA has (finally!) approved golden rice. The most dramatic (and tragic) aspect of this was when anti-GMO protesters in the Philippines pretended to be farmers, and destroyed golden rice. Smiting the GMO devil Monsanto had some terrible costs. Glad the FDA has approved golden rice. Progress!

2. China video app Douyin and AI algorithmic feeds. Mossy Wittenberg writes about Douyin, “the most downloaded iPhone app in the world for the first quarter of 2018”. Launched at the end of 2016, “14% of China’s 670 million smartphone users now have it on their devices.” You share 15 second video clips. What I found most interesting is Douyin uses a pure algorithmic feed. So you don’t manually follow or friend people. Instead, when you start you view some sample videos and say which ones you like. The algorithm does the rest. Very few are willing to manually curate their feed. As twitter has discovered. A pure algorithmic feed seems the natural end state for AI enabled social apps. Expect to see more in the next few years. link

3. Are mass school shootings up or down? I’m a bit confused as I noted on twitter. One story in 538 says mass shootings are up, first chart below. Another from Northeastern says down, second chart below. There must be some kind of methodology counting mismatch. If I had to guess, the second is correct, but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

source 538, source Northeastern

4. John McWhorter on Activism as Atonement. For the past few years McWhorter has argued how a particular kind of anti-racism has parallels to religion, with racism as original sin. His post is not for everyone, and is unlikely to change minds. But I believe there’s something to it, and is worth mulling over. link

5. The Asteroid That Smote the Dinosaurs Burned the Birds Out of Trees. Ed Yong with another killer title. The subtitle explains the piece: “Forest fires killed off tree-dwelling species and left the ground-dwelling ones to restart the avian dynasty.” Enjoyed this one quite a bit. Interesting and well done. link

6. Stuart Ritchie new book? I’ll finish with a recent exchange on twitter. First, here’s J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, saying happy birthday to IQ researcher Stuart Ritchie. As one does.

Then from same thread

I highly recommend Ritchie’s short book on IQ. And following him on twitter.  He knows his stuff, and can be drolly entertaining.

But I’m unsure what’s going on with an IQ researching being twitter pals with Rowling. I guess Ritchie is coming out with a new book. Perhaps on IQ testing Fawkes and Buckbeak. Whatever’s going on, I’ll pre-order his next book.

Have a great weekend.



Categorized as Link post

By Nathan Taylor

I blog at on tech trends and the near future. I'm on twitter as @ntaylor963.

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