In a recent interview Paul Ryan gave a much faster personal record for his marathon time than he actually ran. Nicholas Thompson has a good overview, plus James Fallows as well. Ryan claimed to have finished “Under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty-something.” Via Thompson he actually finished with a 4:01 time, which put him in 1990th place out of 3227. A 2:55 time would have been 113 out of 3227. As the interviewer responded “Holy smokes.” To which Ryan replied “I was fast when I was younger, yeah.”
Ayn Rand is in the news this month since Congressman and VP hopeful Paul Ryan cited her as a major influence. In reaction, Paul Krugman wrote that Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged is “a perennial favorite among adolescent boys”. And in regard to the G.O.P.:“What does it say about the party when its intellectual leader evidently gets his ideas largely from deeply unrealistic fantasy novels?” The Economist is a bit more calm, saying “Paul Ryan is an elected official whose views therefore fall squarely within the ambit of conventional political wisdom. Despite his professed admiration for Ayn Rand, and the ardent wishes of his admirers and detractors alike, Mr Ryan is far from a laissez faire radical.”
Olympic medal count predictions are good fun, especially by economists who put a model behind them. But with the Olympics over it’s already hard to care much about the medal race between China and the US. But maybe that’s because we used the wrong economists. You know, ones who are alive. Perhaps the best economist to learn a lesson from is David Ricardo, dead for nearly 200 years.
In part 1, we saw how the 10,000 fold decease in genome sequencing costs is creating a golden age for genomics biology. In part 2, we reviewed recent debates about race, genetics and intelligence. Now we can put this together and see how the genomic tsunami is reshaping existing arguments around genes, race, intelligence and human equality.
In part 1, we saw how the 10,000 fold decrease in genome sequencing costs has ushered in a golden age for genomic biology. This onslaught of genetic data is upending a lot of old views, and in particular it’s starting to spill over into longstanding debates about genes, racism and human equality. But before going there, let’s review some history. The theme here on genes and racism is that nobody escapes looking good. No one can handle the truth, myself included.
The human genome project completed the first draft of the human genome in 2000 after a 10 year push. Looking back, what’s striking is the expectation this draft genome would provide immediate practical use in medicine. President Clinton’s office sent out a press release at the time saying “Before the advent of the Human Genome Project….connecting a gene with a disease was a slow, arduous, painstaking, and frequently imprecise process. Today, genes are discovered and described within days.” The press release went on to gushingly list all the new medicine to come. Now some of this was merely hype to justify the $100 million research expense. But it also reflected a belief that the genetics of medical diseases would be straightforward. That turned out not to be the case.
The recent release of the wonderful mars rover pancam shot above shows how real space exploration is being done. I used to enjoy science fiction books and movies about astronauts doing space exploration, but the tropes involved just don’t ring true anymore. Those tropes were formed around the time of the Apollo program and haven’t changed in the 40 years since. Daring space explorer jumps into rocket, off we go into the unknown. Aliens, rocket battles, strange discoveries. Star Trek. Don’t get me wrong, I still read and enjoy sci-fi. It’s just that the space opera future with human space exploration now feels like nostalgia of a very peculiar sort. Nostalgia for what the future was supposed to be like, not what is has become.
During this week’s trip to safeway for food shopping I was zoning out in the check out line since it was taking forever. The guy behind me complained and switched to another line. After a while I noticed the woman in front of me had crinkled dollar bills, tons of nickels, dimes and quarters spread out across the counter in front of her. The cashier and I recognized each other since I’m a regular, and the cashier was helping count the coins. Suddenly things came into focus and I realized the cashier had just unscanned some items to bring the woman’s total down. I looked. It was two jars of baby food. The woman searched again and again in her purse and suddenly pulled out another crinkled dollar. At the same time, the cashier asked the woman to reswipe her safeway card. After the new swipe, she got a new discount and it turned out she didn’t need the extra dollar after all. The woman suddenly choked up and said “thank you, I just want to feed my baby.” She was wiping away tears. Then she apologized to me and the cashier for taking up so much time. Suddenly she smiled, the cashier smiled, they both looked at me and I smiled right back and realized I was teary-eyed myself. We were all grinning madly. Just as quickly the moment passed. The woman wiped her eyes, got her groceries and left. I checked out as usual. But that short jolt of perspective was so vivid I can’t get it out of my head.
Sean Carroll had some great posts about the recent Higgs boson announcement. In particular the video he posted is quite moving, especially when Peter Higgs is shown saying he did not expect it in his lifetime. The enthusiasm is contagious.
William Gibson has a deservedly famous quote: The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed. Normally this is applied to technology, like smartphone adoption.