Daniel Lemire's blog

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Science and Technology links (June 2nd, 2018)

  1. Human hearts do not regenerate. Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death in occident. Japanese doctors will graft sheets of tissue derived from reprogrammed stem cells in the hope of healing diseased human hearts. It is a small and uncertain trial.1. The surface of your eyes (cornea) may become damaged following an accident or a disease. You can receive a transplant, but it is difficult. On an experimental basis, we are now printing new corneas.
  2. Viagra is out of patent. You can get it cheaper. Viagra might be good for your heart. It also raises testosterone which might help you get more muscular. (I don’t take viagra, but maybe I should.)
  3. Is it a good investment to give a lot of money to a great researcher? Not really: beyond a certain point, you are wasting your money. The scientific return on research reaches a maximum at around $400,000 of annual support per researcher. Funders should limit both the maximum amount of funding per researcher. Maybe you think that $400,000 is a lot, but it is not difficult for some academics to accumulate a lot more funding due to the Matthew effect.1. Yellow spots in the eyes could be a symptom of dementia.
  4. Maybe unsurprisingly, you can buy your way into Harvard:

Before he married Ivanka Trump and became a top adviser to the President, Jared Kushner was well-known for the rumors surrounding the circumstances of his admission to Harvard. Jared’s father, Charles, a New Jersey real-estate developer, donated $2.5 million to the college shortly before Jared applied. Officials at Jared’s high school told Golden that they were shocked he got in (…) And they were especially disappointed that he was admitted while his high-school classmates who were better-qualified on the merits got rejected.

The whole point of places like Harvard is that it is hard to get in. But it is apparently much easier if you are rich and connected.

Logically, this means that a Harvard degree should have much more weight if you are from a modest background.

  1. Donald Trump wears expensive clothes, he is rich, he graduated from a top-5 school, and he is not modest. It works for him.

Why are some people modest? Shouldn’t you always broadcast how great you are? But advertising or burying your signals is itself a signal (a meta-signal). So if you went to Harvard, walking around with a Harvard hat and Harvard shirt is maybe less wise than it sounds.

The really cool and powerful people don’t need to flaunt their accomplishments. If you do much flaunting, you are signaling that you are struggling with your social status. And some apparently negative signals can be positive ones, as they can be used to display confidence. For example, modest clothes can be a signal of power in some contexts.

I suspect that your signals determine who you get to work with. So they are both tremendously important but also quite complicated.1. Reviewers are much more likely to recommend acceptance of papers from top institutions. That is, given the exact same paper, if you are told that it is from a top school, you are much more likely to recommend it, even if everything else is kept the same.

There is an interesting consequence to this observation. When you are given a list of accepted papers at a selective event, look for the contributions from people at non-elite institutions. Their work is probably much more solid since there is a bias working against them and they are the survivors of a more difficult game.

  1. Following the second world war, copyright was temporary waived on German books. This lead them to become much more cited. It should be obvious copyright prevents access. At a civilization scale, this has a significant cost. For example, medical doctors can’t easily access the latest research.
  2. Conclusive evidence for the benefit of any supplement has not demonstrated. Please don’t take multivitamins, at best they are only a waste of time and money. At worse, they are harmful.
  3. Google is working for the military. Many of its engineers are unhappy. I don’t understand why Google does this. Why risk annoying its best engineers, possibly getting them to seek offers elsewhere? Yes, I know that it must be lucrative, but Google has enormous cash reserves: billions and billions that it does not know how to spend. Google’s most valuable asset is not its money. So I am guessing that Google is after more than money.
  4. Only half of kids ages 13-17 use Facebook. Snapchat, Instagram, and YouTube are more popular. Instagram is owned by Facebook.