March 14, 2019

Rutger Bregman's Utopia for Realists

The idea of an a universal basic income (UBI) has been around for some time. It's a bold idea that has the potential to fundamentally change the way our society works, and there aren't enough of those. Whether it'd be a positive change is a different question.

The UBI is one of three big ideas historian Rutger Bregman discusses in Utopia for Realists. The other two are open borders and radically shorter work weeks. The essence of the book is interesting and it inspired me to read more about president Nixon, who had a few things going on that were at least as interesting as the Watergate scandal. One of them was he came close to introducing the UBI in the United States.

Unfortunately, it's hard to appreciate the book's tone, which at times feels like it was written with an audience of 12 year old school children in mind. Neither can I recommend it if you're interested in a balanced discussion of the disadvantages as well as the advantages associated with the UBI and the other topics it covers. Bregman is a polemicist more than he is a scholar, as will be obvious if you look for some of his recent media appearances.

Finally, for your enjoyment here is the photo of Rupert Murdoch that first made me aware of the book's existence when I came across it on Twitter:

Her husband chose Utopia for Realists: And How We Can Get There by Rutger Bregman

Genetics week in review

March 7, 2019

Genetics week in review

  • The last time I needed data on recombination in the human genome I went back to HapMap, which was published in 2005. In human genetics terms, that's a different era. Now deCODE has come out with a recombination map based on whole-genome sequencing. One interesting insight: Recombination is mutagenic. "Both sexes show an ~50-fold increase in [de novo mutations] within 1 kb of crossovers, but the types of DNMs differ considerably between the sexes". In addition, they find 34 loci associated with recombination, in addition to the already known PRDM9
  • On phenotypic screening. Do human knockout-based projects qualify as phenotypic screening?

February 28, 2019

Genetics week in review

February 21, 2019

Genetics week in review

February 14, 2019

Genetics week in review

February 9, 2019

Temple Grandin's Animals in Translation

Why are we able to consciously perceive only so little? Every moment, our senses collect a large amount of information including sounds, smells, visual input and pressure, temperature and proprioception readings from all over our bodies. However, we're only consciously aware of a tiny and heavily filtered part of that information. Why is that? Why can't our consciousness deal with a larger fraction of the input data? Why can't we pay attention to many things at the same time? Why is our consciousness pointy instead of wide?

There are plenty of books trying to define consciousness, but there is much less literature on why human consciousness is the way it is. Temple Grandin's Animals in Translation addresses this question indirectly by considering different kinds of minds, like those of people with autism and those of animals. As it turns out, people with autism and animals both have access to more unfiltered sensory input, which in both cases can be overwhelming under circumstances that are fine for non-autistic people.

Unlike much of popular science writing, Grandin's books are firmly based on her own experience of working with animals and being autistic. As a result, they avoid being overly theoretical. Her writing style reflects this: She cares about her subjects without being sentimental. I haven't come across any science writer who combines extensive personal experience with published research as well as she does.

Animals in Translation came out in 2006 and some of the research may benefit from an update, but the vast majority of insights this book delivers are timeless.