Links 3/25/17

Links for you. Science:

The Parrot With a Call as Infectious as Laughter
The plot to kill Homo habilis
Squid speak a unique, undeciphered language using their skin
Canada’s new genetic privacy law is causing huge headaches for Justin Trudeau
Why Did Greenland’s Vikings Vanish?


How a Sleepy German Suburb Explains Europe’s Rising Far-Right Movements
DC’s affordable housing fund spends a lot, but doesn’t deliver much
GOP-leaning group’s analysis backs dedicated funding for Metro (disagree with them about the buses though)
The untold story of Metro’s 29-hour emergency shutdown
I Was A Hardcore Conservative: What Changed My Mind
No One Likes Trumpcare
Burying Their Cattle, Ranchers Call Wildfires ‘Our Hurricane Katrina’
Democrats and Gorsuch
The Bigotry And Idiocy Of Donald Trump’s Favorite News Show: The President Of The United States Has Made Fox & Friends’ Lack Of Journalistic Standards A National Security Issue
Kindly, Moderate, Nonpartisan Neil Gorsuch
Organizing to Hit Trump’s Corporate Cabinet and Allies Where it Hurts
These areas went overwhelmingly for Trump. Now he wants to cut one of their lifelines.
In Shocker, FBI and NSA Testify That Trump Is Full of Shit
The Basic Psychological Structure of Our Society Does Not Work
How much did Russian hacking affect congressional races? And how deeply was the GOP involved?

Posted in Lotsa Links | 1 Comment

Do Economists Really Not Know These Things?

There’s an NY Times article, “What if Sociologists Had as Much Influence as Economists?“, that completely perplexes me. Neil Irwin writes (boldface mine):

But as much as we love economics here — this column is named Economic View, after all — there just may be a downside to this one academic discipline having such primacy in shaping public policy…

Sociologists spend their careers trying to understand how societies work. And some of the most pressing problems in big chunks of the United States may show up in economic data as low employment levels and stagnant wages but are also evident in elevated rates of depression, drug addiction and premature death. In other words, economics is only a piece of a broader, societal problem. So maybe the people who study just that could be worth listening to…

For starters, while economists tend to view a job as a straightforward exchange of labor for money, a wide body of sociological research shows how tied up work is with a sense of purpose and identity.

“Wages are very important because of course they help people live and provide for their families,” said Herbert Gans, an emeritus professor of sociology at Columbia. “But what social values can do is say that unemployment isn’t just losing wages, it’s losing dignity and self-respect and a feeling of usefulness and all the things that make human beings happy and able to function.”

That seems to be doubly true in the United States. For example, Ofer Sharone, a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, studied unemployed white-collar workers and found that in the United States, his subjects viewed their ability to land a job as a personal reflection of their self-worth rather than as an arbitrary matter. They therefore took rejection hard, blaming themselves and in many cases giving up looking for work. In contrast, in Israel similar unemployed workers viewed getting a job as more like winning a lottery, and were less discouraged by rejection.

It seems plausible that this helps explain why so many Americans who lost jobs in the 2008 recession have never returned to the labor force despite an improved job market. Mr. Sharone is working with career counselors to explore how to put this finding to work to help the long-term unemployed.

Jennifer M. Silva of Bucknell University has in recent years studied young working-class adults and found a profound sense of economic insecurity in which the traditional markers of reaching adulthood — buying a house, marrying, landing a steady job — feel out of reach.

Put those lessons together, and you may think that the economic nostalgia that fueled Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign was not so much about the loss of income from vanishing manufacturing jobs. Rather, it may be that the industrial economy offered blue-collar men a sense of identity and purpose that the modern service economy doesn’t.

Sociology also offers important lessons about poverty that economics alone does not. “Evicted,” a much-heralded book by the Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond, shows how the ever-present risk of losing a home breeds an insecurity and despondency among poor Americans.

It works against the tendency to think about housing policy as solely a matter of which subsidy goes to whom and what incentives ought to be in place to encourage banks to lend in poor neighborhoods. All that stuff is important, of course, but doesn’t really address the overwhelming challenge of insecurity that affects millions of people.

How does anyone in the U.S. not know that the “ability to land a job as a personal reflection of their self-worth rather than as an arbitrary matter” is a commonly held notion?

I have no idea if this is an accurate assessment of how economists think–and to the extent economists do read my shitty blog, they are probably left-leaning–but if it’s even close, then economics, as many of the heterodox critics charge, really is divorced from basic reality.

Or maybe it’s just very incomplete sociology?

Posted in Economics | 5 Comments

Links 3/24/17

Links for you. Science:

The biocrust conundrum
Superbug-sniffing spaniel kept busy at Vancouver hospital
San people of Africa draft code of ethics for researchers
How Does Trump’s Plan To Gut Health And Medical Research Make America Great?
How women can deal with periods in space


George W. Bush Gave Us Donald Trump. Now He Wants To Be Forgiven.
Reported Gorsuch Statements Show Disqualifying Disregard for Women’s Workplace Rights
‘Deep State’ Keeps Sending Their Worst Assassins After Roger Stone (keep in mind, Stone is supposed to be one of the clever ones)
Banned and barred, Israel’s women stand up to religious hardliners
Jimmy Breslin, Legendary New York City Newspaper Columnist, Dies at 88
Jimmy Breslin, old-school genius and voice of New York
Senior Trump Adviser Thinks Muslims ‘By And Large’ Want To ‘Subjugate’ Non-Muslims
Stopping Gorsuch Is Just the Start
Tim Allen’s career is a metaphor for America
The Perils of the New, Shiny George W. Bush
Jimmy Breslin, Legendary New York City Newspaper Columnist, Dies at 88
Trump’s Race-Baiting Bromance with Andrew Jackson
Stephen Bannon Is a Fan of a French Philosopher…Who Was an Anti-Semite and a Nazi Supporter
I will not log in to your website
Meet the New Monopoly Tokens: A Rubber Ducky, a T-rex and a Penguin
French literary boy wonder Édouard Louis on saving the working class from Marine Le Pen
Traveling while American
JIMMY BRESLIN, 1930-2017.
The GOP has become the party of white nationalism
Once in the Shadows, Europe’s Neo-Fascists Are Re-emerging

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These Are The Robots America Needs

While there has been much internet discussion about the current and future role of robots and what it means for American workers, we can all agree that having robots pipette stuff is a good thing. Which brings us to this awesome PlosOne article (boldface mine):

Liquid-handling robots have many applications for biotechnology and the life sciences, with increasing impact on everyday life. While playful robotics such as Lego Mindstorms significantly support education initiatives in mechatronics and programming, equivalent connections to the life sciences do not currently exist. To close this gap, we developed Lego-based pipetting robots that reliably handle liquid volumes from 1 ml down to the sub-μl range and that operate on standard laboratory plasticware, such as cuvettes and multiwell plates. These robots can support a range of science and chemistry experiments for education and even research. Using standard, low-cost household consumables, programming pipetting routines, and modifying robot designs, we enabled a rich activity space. We successfully tested these activities in afterschool settings with elementary, middle, and high school students. The simplest robot can be directly built from the widely used Lego Education EV3 core set alone, and this publication includes building and experiment instructions to set the stage for dissemination and further development in education and research.

The only thing better than a pipetting robot is one made out of Legos.

Do we have video of the Lego pipette-bots? Of course we do!



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Links 3/23/17

Links for you. Science:

Trump wants to end funding of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup. Here’s who’s fighting back.
Trump’s Muslim Ban Also Hurts Scientific Research
Every attempt to manage academia makes it worse
What Going To Mars Will Do To Our Minds
SfN Urges Congress to Invest in NIH, Not Slash Funding


Opponents of single payer are moral monsters on par with AHCA proponents (“The difference between Obamacare and AHCA is 24 million uninsured people while the difference between single-payer and Obamacare is 28 million uninsured people.”)
Everyone loves Bernie Sanders. Except, it seems, the Democratic party
Republicans’ four-point plan to help the poor get poorer
Why ‘Trump Administration’ Is An Oxymoron
Fear, Hope, and Deportations
Tomi Lahren Forced To Defend Herself After Admitting She’s Pro-Choice (but feminists who fought and still fight for abortion rights are evil something something)
Trump’s budget would mean double whammy for Washington region
If Democrats Cave On Gorsuch They’ll Be Sorry
Meet the Companies Literally Dropping ‘Irish’ Pubs in Cities Across the World
Trump Trolls the Welfare State
Kids on winning robotics team told, ‘Go back to Mexico’
Door-Busting Drug Raids Leave a Trail of Blood
New Jersey passes bill forcing presidential candidates to release tax returns
Russian elite invested nearly $100 million in Trump buildings
Rural Areas Brace for a Shortage of Doctors Due to Visa Policy

Posted in Lotsa Links | 1 Comment

More On Bogus NIH Budgets

Last week, we discussed Il Trumpe’s magic asterisk NIH budget, which supposedly will find a way to cut over $6 billion in spending through what is essentially pixie dust:

What’s idiotic is that there’s no way ‘consolidations’ could possibly bring anywhere close to $6 billion. Are there entities that should be cut? Absolutely–the travel office comes to mind. But NIH already runs a tight ship, and to the extent it doesn’t, these are usually to comply with federal and congressional mandates. So this is a bullshit nothing statement–you’re not going to get close to $6 billion.

So what gets cut? Well, the entire intramural research budget (on-NIH campus research) is less than ten percent of the total; this includes things like PubMed, Genbank, and so on. Even if you eliminated all intramural research (including PubMed and Genbank), there is still a $3 billion dollar hole.

Former NIH director Harold Varmus explains further what massive cuts in NIH spending would mean (boldface mine):

To understand just how devastating a cut of less than 20 percent of an agency’s budget would be requires some understanding of how the N.I.H. operates. Very little of its typical annual budget is spent on the agency’s administration: The industrious, underpaid government scientists who manage the funding of the N.I.H.’s research programs consume less than 5 percent of its budget. Only a bit more, about 10 percent, supports the work of government scientists. In sharp contrast, over 80 percent of its resources are devoted to competitively reviewed biomedical research projects, training programs and science centers, affecting nearly every district in the country.

The N.I.H. awards multiyear grants and contracts, but receives annual appropriations that must be spent that year. This means that at the start of each year most of its dollars are already committed to recipients of awards from prior years. A budget cut of the size that is proposed would effectively prevent the awarding of new grants or the renewal of any that have reached the end of a multiyear commitment. Junior scientists, already struggling in a highly competitive atmosphere, may not get a chance to have an academic career. Senior investigators might need to lay off staff, disrupting research teams and leaving projects unfinished.

One thing the Trump ‘budget’ claims it will do is enact “other consolidations and structural changes across NIH organizations and activities”, but as Varmus notes, even if you eliminated all of the NIH administration–which is an impossibility–you would still be close to $5 billion short.

What scares me is that the people who wrote the Trump ‘budget’ probably do believe there are massive administrative costs (and, don’t forget, Trump has said the NIH is “terrible.”)

They really don’t know what they’re doing. All we can do is hope that enough Republicans in Congress recognize the economic importance of NIH spending.

Posted in Funding, NIH | Leave a comment

Links 3/22/17

Links for you. Science:

My cats poop for science
Humans may have transformed the Sahara from lush paradise to barren desert
Trump’s NIH budget may include reducing overhead payments to universities
Getting It Wrong on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
So, which diseases should we stop working on?


‘Teenage Historian’ Chuck Berry Reviews The Clash, Talking Heads, Joy Division And The Sex Pistols For A 1980 Punk Zine
Your March Madness Bracket Is Exploiting Student-Athletes
Here’s How Donald Trump’s Budget Screws Over the People Who Elected Him
The Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Trump’s budget blueprint is a war on the future of the American economy
Donald Trump, Movie Buff and Apparent Time Traveler, Can’t Get Over WWII
A stroll through London’s Brompton Cemetery
Trump’s Obsession With Cutting Regulations Will Make America Sick
Why Trump’s budget may be ‘devastating’ to his supporters
Here’s Why the US Women’s National Hockey Team Is Going on Strike
Chuck Berry and Jimmy Breslin Reinvented the English Language
Trump’s Plan to Eliminate Public Broadcasting Would Hurt Listeners in Trump Country
Why I Take Attacks on Muslims and Hispanics Very Personally
Here’s What You Need to Know About the Federal Reserve: We demand way too much from the central bank—but that’s because our elected politicians have done almost nothing to revive the economy
Jeff Sessions is not likely to stop the police war on minorities and the poor
Trump and Ryan could lose Trumpcare battle—and still destroy Obamacare
On Banning on Leaf Blowers

Posted in Lotsa Links | 1 Comment