Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Future? It's all good....

New Pew survey result here.

Money quote:

  • 81% expect that within the next 50 years, people needing new organs will have them custom grown in a lab.
  • 51% expect that computers will be able to create art that is indistinguishable from that produced by humans.
  • 39% expect that scientists will have developed the technology to teleport objects.
  • 33% expect that humans will have colonized planets other than Earth.
  • 19% expect that humans will be able to control the weather in the foreseeable future.
I'n really dubious about teleportation. And I'll be happily surprised if we'll have colonized other planets or fixed the weather issue.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Space Solar and Elon Musk

Loyal readers know that I'm interested in space-based solar power as a solution to many of our planetary problems. Here's an interesting tid-bit from Japan that ties up nicely with Space-X's partially successful experiment with reusable launch vehicles last week.

Why do economics majors make the big bucks?

Hat tip Tyler Cowen, link here.

It strikes me that the simple answer is: it's the math. Having quantitative skills is a crucial differentiator for the part of the labor force that goes on to join the one percent. I think that those skills can also be found in other majors (e.g. engineering, computer science) and in fact, those folks do very well also.

What about the natural sciences? Here the story is a bit murkier: some of the natural science majors go very light on the quantitative skills. If you are a neuroscience major, but don't have a good understanding of calculus, differential equations and perhaps linear algebra then at some level, you're in the same boat as the political science major...

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Reinventing biomedical research support in the United States....

The absolutely seminal article by Alberts, Kirschner, Tilghman and Varmus is here, published in PNAS. If you can't get behind the firewall, read the news story here.

Short version: the labor economics of biomedical research needs to be rebalanced because it's currently unsustainable. From a macro-standpoint, the number of doctoral students and postdocs need to be reduced and that smaller number need to be better supported.

I agree with all of the article's recommendations. This is important stuff....

Where next in neuroimaging?

Terrific report from Eric Betzig's lab at Janelia Farm published in Nature Methods here. For the intelligent lay public version look here. Adaptive optics technology from astronomy meets zebrafish brain.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The perils of ocean acidification....

It's making some fish make rash decisions, story here, original report in Nature Climate Change here. While this report may seem humorous to some readers, what's going on with acidification of the oceans is deadly serious. It's a result of increased carbon dioxide in sea water as a result of greenhouse gas emissions. We're preparing a virtual symposium issue of The Biological Bulletin on the follow-on effects of acidification--they are incredibly complex and of potentially huge significance for the biosphere. Stay tuned...

Friday, April 11, 2014

Subprime rises from the dead....

Only not in real estate, this time it's cars. GM cars to be specific. Gillian Tett's column is here at the FT.

US to back out of ITER Fusion Project?

Science Magazine's Adrian Cho has the story, here. This is a long complicated tale....when I was up on the Hill in the late 1970's, fusion energy was in my portfolio. My own opinion is that if human's are to thrive and eventually colonize space, we're going to have to figure out how to do this.

Monday, March 31, 2014

The CDC report on autism spectrum disorder....

The report estimates that 1 in 68 children has autism spectrum disorder. The announcement is here. The actual report is here. There is a great deal of geographic heterogeneity in the data (Alabama 1/175, New Jersey 1/45) which I suspect has more to do with general differences in health care delivery rather than the environment.

The change in the prevalence is indeed worrying. One has to wonder whether this is a real increase or rather represents increased awareness of autism among those doing the diagnosing. It would also be very interesting to see the global data if it exists. I guess the other question I would have is what percentage of those diagnosed are high functioning (as in Aspergers).

What I've been reading....


  1. Max Tegmark's book on multiverses
  2. Simon Winder's personal travelogue history of Habsburg Europe, Danubia
  3. Thomas Piketty's new book on inequality, Capital in the 21st Century
  4. Gerald K. O'Neill's 1976 book on space colonies, The High Frontier