Scientific Sense Podcast

Thursday, March 29, 2018

United Nations

The United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) is generally a good philosophical framework for humans to attempt to climb out of the dreadful situation they are in. As the "advanced nations," run by idiotic leaders move backward by shoving millions of people away from health care and prevention, one can only wonder if the current regime is any different from the dark ages. The UN's attempts at expanding these goals to an overarching framework that includes social justice and environmental protection are likely ill-advised. Healthcare is already a complex multi factorial issue and given the limited capabilities of humans, it may not be a good idea to make it more complicated than it is.
Health has become an important issue for modern humans. For most of their history, it was not a worry as they either became prey to the mighty beasts, bacteria or their own kind before "old age," arrived. But now with tactical medications keeping them alive in the absence of meat eating predators, most have to worry about health care. As those in the know tend to stay away from politics, the halls of power are filled with octogenarian charlatans, attempting to save themselves and then perhaps, the rest of the world. The United Nations is no exception, where the appointees arrive with a bleeding heart but attempt to fill their own sacks back home. Grand ideas are good but perhaps the organization has to focus on tactics - to provide clean water, acceptable nutrition and health care to a billion people around the world. That certainly will not turn the heads of the Nobel committee but it will be a more important thing to do. As the man who sits on top of $70 billion still tries to figure out how many "nets," are needed in Africa and as the powerful industrialists attempt to enter the "healthcare market," in the US, the real question is whether they can do something practical.
It is unlikely. Doing something good has never won a Nobel prize, other accolades or a return for shareholders. But there are just a few unknown individuals who make humanity proud of their genes.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Where has all the compassion gone?

Recent news that hunger amplifies infectious diseases (1) is problematic for areas such as Nigeria where life is becoming more of a struggle. Humans are funny animals - they spend hours seeking pennies from work and then lose all of it in the stock market in a micro-second. There are 2 billion souls in the world struggling to defeat disease and hunger and they are there only because of the bad initial conditions they started from. Not many got "a few million $," to start a business, something the most powerful man in the world considers to be nothing. Ignorance typically has limits but not always.

Health and food are important public goods. Humans, attempting to rise from their meager beginnings from a few hundred thousand years ago are stuck in a level 0 society, seemingly forever.  They have successfully erected walls in every dimension and are often forgetful of the world at large. They are all connected by a singular genome in spite of the visible surface features, they seem to attach too much importance to. As their cousins die in areas hard hit by hunger and disease, most are unaware of humanity and life itself.

Could we ever pull ourselves to the next level? Could we stop religion and politics? Could we get over academics seeking tenure and politicians getting elected, again? Could we get those pretending to be the best come down from the heavens and could we get those in hell, climb upwards? Could we get humanity to even or at the very least understand that gold is not a proxy for value and power is not a proxy for intelligence?

Where has all the compassion gone? It is time for the next generation to rise and do something good.


Thursday, March 15, 2018

The good people

Recent finding (1) that uses Uranium-Thorium dating on cave paintings in Spain seems to show that they are at least 64,000 years old, well before the arrival of the dominant species in Europe. The gentle and shy humanoids, the Neanderthals, perhaps more artistic and humble than their modern day counterparts, have been wiped out in the blink of an eye by those who migrated from the South. There have been many debates about their brain power and capabilities, arguments likely biased toward those who are making them. But now, it seems like their ability to create art, a clear precursor to intelligence, has predated the humans by a sizable slice of time.
The misunderstood species, now living in less than 5% of the human genome in the world may have been a more worthy occupants of the blue planet. Their swift elimination by those who invaded their hunting grounds indicates that they were gentle and perhaps accommodating. We have many modern day scenarios of the same. In South India, they welcomed most varieties of humans from around the world in recent times only to be run over later. In the Americas, the curiosity of the original inhabitants seem to have done them in. It has happened before, advanced societies seem to perish in the presence of brutal invaders and it could happen again. This implies that advancing thoughts and culture is not necessarily dominant if you want your genome to survive.
The simple objective function that drives most biological entities today - to optimally spread their genes - has a downside. It sub optimizes societal evolution and prefers micro advancement without any overall objectives. Humans are in the worst position - most believe they are put on this earth by God or something similar. And, they try to eliminate anybody who is different.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Lies spread faster than truth

A recent study (1) that shows lies spread ten times faster than truth and reach as many more believers, is troubling. This appears to go against the basic notions of homo-sapien evolution as one would assume selection advantages to those who could separate truth from lies. So, either such advantages did not exist or the structure of recent society has given undefinable advantages to those who go against the grain. If it is the former, that implies who lived longer was able to utilize lies more advantageously and if it is the latter, perhaps society can do something about it.
As the social media kings rise - doling out information with zero marginal cost, they do not seem to understand that their actions have societal costs. As economists stick to their century old text books that discuss the trade-off between work and leisure, they are missing an important point. Leisure has a dark side, especially in the presence of "social media," where those with low cost of lack of work could derive higher utility from unbelievable lies than boring truth. The US currently has a leader who seems to have figured out this idea, perhaps by sheer accident. As the academics in ivy towers try to set the story right, they do not seem to realize that they have been rendered irrelevant by a populace, who derive no value from "education."
If the velocity of lies is ten times faster than truth, humanity may be progressing toward doom. The cause of this phenomena cries out for further research - but then it is unlikely as the social media kings are making money they cannot even count and the academics are still writing papers based on century old ideas to assure tenure.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Blue monkeys

As they roll out the next great technology - operating system and all - those behind the "revolution" seem to have missed some basic things. They have reinvented the "blue box," that shows up arbitrarily on your screen - and since they are all engineers, they do not want to give any options to the user. Often on my server, they show a blue box that requires you to "see" the updates and on my desktop, they give me only a few minutes before they forcibly shut my computer down. Monopoly has costs and if the company does not learn it, there could be trouble ahead.
Granted, they may be saving you as they realize the attacks from the East (and perhaps even from the West), but is it worth having a blue box at the center of the screen when you are doing something important or even watching a Netflix movie? More importantly, forcibly rebooting one's computer in the middle of watching a movie, may be taking monopoly power a bit too far. Even if the evil twin from the East is clamoring to get into your computer, throwing up a screen that proclaims your computer has been infected and you should call them so that they can disinfect you, it seems like a high price to pay when you are enjoying a movie. As often the case, engineers do not have much respect for the population and their programs are "most efficient." Efficiency, however, is not the only thing in life.
Makers of operating systems, autonomous cars and search, need to have an introspection. It is unclear if the leaders of these companies, "know everything." The blue box and failed artificial brain are ample evidence that they do not.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Economics 101

As the "best schools," attended by policy makers may have skipped Economics 101, it may be worthwhile to visit basic principles high school graduates understand. Ricardo's comparative advantage holds true in most cases and unilateral tariffs, however "strategic," are value destroying. There are many countries around the world who understood this after many years of bad experimentation. But now, one of the most advanced nations seems to be backtracking. Free trade and free markets are value enhancing for society and if the policy makers have any doubt, they may want to return to high school, perhaps this time avoid the "best ones," and attempt to learn something.
A few people making decisions that determine winners and losers has been shown to be sub optimal. In an integrated world economy, with firms and countries holding comparative advantages in differing competencies and production capabilities, it is always better to create an environment that allows specialization and trade freely. The socialists and worse have had difficulty understanding this concept. Some prescribed how many guns and butter to produce and others misguided by their elite education in the West, strategically imposed tariffs on selected goods and services. Underlying all these bad policies is the assumption that the policy maker has infinite wisdom to optimize. And, that has never worked out.
And now with infinitesimal wisdom, the one who is home alone, is attempting policies that have been conclusively proven to be bad. Education from the "best schools," may not be enough to have sufficient common sense.