Summary of “Five Books Expert Recommendations”

Coronaviruses are RNA viruses like flu and Ebola viruses.
Although SARS-CoV-2 – which is the correct virological nomenclature for the new coronavirus – doesn’t have much in common at the genetic level with, say, herpes viruses, which are DNA viruses, it is 85% identical to SARS-CoV-1 that caused the SARS epidemic in 2003.
The Coming Plague came out just when I was writing my first book about viruses, The Invisible Enemy: A Natural History of Viruses, and it certainly stimulated me to get on with it.
Read. Let’s move on to our next book about viruses.
Dawkins called one of his books The Blind Watchmaker and viruses are totally blind but appear very sophisticated.
Dawkins has a wonderful way of expressing himself in writing, and his books have informed all my writing about viruses, because they’ve given me a feeling for evolution.
We are now using viruses to transfer genes into humans.
They’re always one step ahead. In Viruses: A Very Short Introduction, you quote George Klein to the effect: “The stupidest virus is cleverer than the cleverest virologist.” Where does that leave us? Are we fated to be finally wiped out by a virus that has outsmarted us?

The orginal article.

Summary of “‘It’s a Place Where They Try to Destroy You’: Why Concentration Camps Are Still With Us”

The disturbing truth is that concentration camps have been widespread throughout recent history, used to intern civilians that a state considers hostile, to control the movement of people in transit and to extract forced labour.
The definition of a concentration camp is sometimes fuzzy, but at root, such camps represent a combination of physical and legal power.
That the British, Americans, Spanish, French and Germans, among other nations, had all used concentration camps led some thinkers to ask whether such camps were inevitable features of the modern state.
According to Agamben, the tendency to banish and dehumanise keeps on coming back in the form of the concentration camp: a space where people are outside the law, yet more subject to its power than anywhere else.
Concentration camps are uniquely dangerous spaces.
In June 2019, amid the outcry from opponents of this policy, congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez recorded a video for her Instagram followers: “The US is running concentration camps on our southern border,” she stated, “And that is exactly what they are I want to talk to the people that are concerned enough with humanity to say that ‘never again’ means something.”
The two most prominent critics of Britain’s camps – the feminist campaigners Emily Hobhouse and Millicent Fawcett – both had to struggle against political and public opinion that initially saw the camps as a wartime necessity, and both fought hard to alleviate suffering.
Without Hobhouse’s radical critique, it would have been harder to oppose the harm done by Britain’s camps a century ago, and would be harder to understand why camps still appear in the world today.

The orginal article.

Summary of “No, Opposites Do Not Attract”

Photo from Zediajaab, CC BY-SA. Everyone seems to agree that opposites attract.
It’s even been internalized by people who are on the hunt for a partner, with 86 percent of those looking for love saying they’re seeking someone with opposite traits.
Researchers have investigated what combination makes for better romantic partners – those who are similar, different, or opposite? Scientists call these three possibilities the homogamy hypothesis, the heterogamy hypothesis and the complementarity hypothesis, respectively.
So is there scientific support that opposites might attract at least some of the time?
Love stories often include people finding partners who seem to have traits that they lack, like a good girl falling for a bad boy.
It’s easy to see how both partners could view the other as ideal – one partner’s strengths balancing out the other partner’s weaknesses.
The question is whether people actually seek out complementary partners or if that just happens in the movies.
People persist in thinking opposites attract – when in reality, relatively similar partners just become a bit more complementary as time goes by.

The orginal article.

Summary of “The Surprising Reason People Change Their Minds”

Researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem recently gave people statements like “I believe the internet makes people more sociable” or “I believe the internet makes people more isolated”.
There hadn’t been time for people to change their behaviour to adjust to the practicalities of the ban.
Today, general consensus is that it makes sense not to allow smoking inside hospitals – but before that ban became commonplace, some people felt otherwise.
Laurin’s team found that just a couple of days after his inauguration, those same people felt more positively about him.
Even people who disliked Trump’s performance at the inauguration approved of him more after he was made president than they did before.
We do have to bear in mind that it wasn’t that people who couldn’t stand Trump decided they loved him when he took office – but they did start to dislike him a little less.
So it’s not that people simply become accustomed to a new situation.
We might rationalise the things that are hard to change, but once a critical mass gets behind a cause, people stop rationalising the status quo, feel they can make a difference because others are with them and begin campaigning for change.

The orginal article.

Summary of “The Cognitive Biases Tricking Your Brain”

Present bias, by contrast, is an example of cognitive bias-the collection of faulty ways of thinking that is apparently hardwired into the human brain.
Wikipedia’s “List of cognitive biases” contains 185 entries, from actor-observer bias to the Zeigarnik effect.
Availability bias makes us think that, say, traveling by plane is more dangerous than traveling by car.
Most books and articles about cognitive bias contain a brief passage, typically toward the end, similar to this one in Thinking, Fast and Slow: “The question that is most often asked about cognitive illusions is whether they can be overcome. The message is not encouraging.”
Because of confirmation bias, many people who haven’t been trained answer.
The New York-based NeuroLeadership Institute offers organizations and individuals a variety of training sessions, webinars, and conferences that promise, among other things, to use brain science to teach participants to counter bias.
Initiated a program, Sirius, to fund the development of “Serious” video games that could combat or mitigate what were deemed to be the six most damaging biases: confirmation bias, fundamental attribution error, the bias blind spot, the anchoring effect, the representativeness heuristic, and projection bias.
Some subjects played the game, which takes about three hours to complete, while others watched a video about cognitive bias.

The orginal article.

Summary of “1918 flu cultural memory: Elizabeth Outka finds the pandemic in literature.”

Last year, I wrote an anniversary piece about the “Forgotten” 1918-19 flu pandemic, relying on the work of historians who’ve asked why such a huge event had so little effect on culture, policy, and public memory in the decades after that deadly flu strain burned itself out, leaving between 50 million and 100 million people dead. This year, as SARS-CoV-2 has forced the entire world into a terrifying and depressing alternate reality, I find this historical phenomenon even harder to understand.
Enter Elizabeth Outka, a literary scholar whose fortuitously timed late-2019 book Viral Modernism: The Influenza Pandemic and Interwar Literature explains quite a bit.
The book looks at the small group of authors who addressed the pandemic head-on in their work but also argues that the work of some of the greats-T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, William Butler Yeats-was deeply affected by the flu in ways that aren’t so immediately obvious.
Combining literary analysis with flu history and writing by flu survivors, Outka makes it clear that the pandemic wasn’t “Forgotten”-it just went underground.
We spoke recently about the narrative impossibility of viruses, the mental health struggles of flu survivors, and the pervasive presence of something Outka calls “Contagion guilt.” Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
I want to ask about the overlapping nature of the flu pandemic and World War I. I think this is one of the common answers to the question of why the flu pandemic was “Forgotten”: “We were at war.” But your book makes clear that people experienced these two tragedies as intertwined catastrophes.
The William Maxwell book They Came Like Swallows, which is a straightforward, realist, completely heartbreaking depiction of what happens to a family when the flu kills the mother, brings up another aspect of the pandemic experience that you call “Contagion guilt.” In that book, each surviving family member blames himself, in one way or another, for the mother’s death.
Reading letters from survivors of the flu pandemic, one of the things that strikes me over and over again, that’s so moving, is that almost every one of them says, “I never forgot; I never forgot; I never forgot.” , I interviewed one 105-year-old woman who had the flu in Richmond, when she was 8.

The orginal article.

Summary of “The Seven Deadly Sins of AI Predictions”

We are surrounded by hysteria about the future of artificial intelligence and robotics-hysteria about how powerful they will become, how quickly, and what they will do to jobs.
Personally, I should probably be wary of the second sentence in his first law, as I am much more conservative than some others about how quickly AI will be ascendant.
Suppose we further show Newton how the device can illuminate the dark, how it can take photos and movies and record sound, how it can be used as a magnifying glass and as a mirror.
Performance Versus CompetenceWe all use cues about how people perform some particular task to estimate how well they might perform some different task.
We naturally assume that this person can answer questions like What is the shape of a Frisbee? Roughly how far can a person throw a Frisbee? Can a person eat a Frisbee? Roughly how many people play Frisbee at once? Can a three-month-old person play Frisbee? Is today’s weather suitable for playing Frisbee?
Besides the fact that they can only label more images and cannot answer questions at all, they have no idea what a person is, that parks are usually outside, that people have ages, that weather is anything more than how it makes a photo look, etc.
Not so for AlphaGo or Deep Blue.Suitcase words mislead people about how well machines are doing at tasks that people can do.
It turns out that many AI researchers and AI pundits, especially those pessimists who indulge in predictions about AI getting out of control and killing people, are similarly imagination-challenged.

The orginal article.

Summary of “One Ping After Another: Why Everyone Needs a Notification Detox”

According to one small study conducted in 2014, mobile phone users receive an average of 63.5 alerts every day, with most viewed within minutes – whether the phone is on silent or not.
It is hardly any wonder some people are undergoing a notification detox.
Just hearing the ping of a notification was equally as distracting as actually taking a phone call, suggesting to the researchers that “Mobile phones can disrupt attention performance even if one does not interact with the device”.
After proudly publicising the 7.4tn notifications pushed through its servers in 2013, in 2018 Apple introduced features to grant users more control over how and when they were interrupted, such as a “Do not disturb” function to help them “Stay in the moment”.
Even Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook, owned up to having “Gutted” his own notifications, and encouraged all iPhone users to do the same.
“It’s not just about turning off notifications, it’s about knowing what you want to do with your time. You can’t call something a distraction unless you know what it is distracting you from.”
Employees of Slack, a corporate instant messaging platform that is often cited as a source of “Notification spam”, are told not to use it after hours or on weekends, says Eyal – the message from the top being “Work hard and go home”.
The constant emails from parents, students and colleagues manifested as notifications – “An enormous trigger” for her at that time, she remembers.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Invisible Manipulators of Your Mind”

Kahneman presented their new model of the mind to the general reader in Thinking, Fast and Slow, where he characterized the human mind as the interrelated operation of two systems of thought: System One, which is fast and automatic, including instincts, emotions, innate skills shared with animals, as well as learned associations and skills; and System Two, which is slow and deliberative and allows us to correct for the errors made by System One.
The field of behavioral economics, a subject pioneered by Richard Thaler and rooted in the work of Kahneman and Tversky, has taken up the task of figuring out how to turn us into better versions of ourselves.
Behavioral economics will increasingly be providing the behavioral insight that drives digital strategy.
In conjunction with big data, behavioral science has become an extraordinarily powerful tool in the world of business and finance, and Kahneman has not shied away from these applications.
Since the electoral surprise of November 8, 2016, the magical tale of behavioral science making the world a better place has been replaced by a darker story in the public mind.
In videos made by Cambridge Analytica’s research wing, the Behavioral Dynamics Institute, the group describes strategies for appealing directly to people’s underlying fears and desires in ways that are continuous with the insights of behavioral economics, but that seem less scrupulous about employing lies or half-truths to influence System One motivations.
According to Issenberg, in 2006, a private group at the University of California, Los Angeles, called the Consortium of Behavioral Scientists, which was run by psychologist Craig Fox and included Kahneman and Thaler, began to persuade Democrats that they needed to employ behavioral science.
In a more combative and unstable environment there must clearly be greater concern about our capacity to regulate the uses of behavioral science, the robustness of the fundamental research, and the political or financial motivations of any behavioral initiatives to be employed or countered.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Adele’s Weight Loss Is A Double Bind”

The discourse around Adele’s weight loss – without her really saying a single public word about it – is already kind of unsavory.
Conversely, there are plenty of people who feel a little mournful about her weight loss since Adele was a hero for fat people.
The tricky part is that Adele doesn’t owe us any explanation for her weight loss.
Adele’s weight loss is somehow not just an aesthetic change, akin to cutting her hair or losing her trademark winged eyeliner; it’s a value add, as if who she was before somehow wasn’t good enough.
Her silence on her weight loss is perhaps the most important factor here.
Her comments on working out and weight loss thus far have mostly been pretty agnostic, saying that she does it merely to have the endurance to perform live.
Thus goes the double bind for a celebrity like Adele, made famous by their talents but rendered endearing because they look “Relatable,” even when “Relatable” still means exceptionally beautiful by any measure.
Like most things, our response to Adele’s weight loss says more about us than it does about her.

The orginal article.