03 July 2010

Daily Digest, 2010.07.02

Friday: problems at Wikileaks; Eric Maskin's "five best books" on economic theory and the financial crisis; how lobbyists co-opted...erm, sorry, "shaped" the financial reform bill; Max Beauvoir, voodoo houngan, on the Haiti earthquake; Kristof on the Israeli occupation of the West Bank; Perelman turns down the $1 million Clay prize; two follow-ups on the 2.1-billion-year-old fossils from Gabon; how did Europeans get white skin? (it may not have been because of Vitamin D); a really cool Darwin tattoo; free articles from Royal Society Publishing.

Threat Level at Wired reports on apparent problems at Wikileaks. The site has not added a new document in the past four months, and it recently failed to renew its SSL certificate.

Continuing its series this week on Money, Five Books at The Browser talks with Noble-prize-winning economist Eric Maskin about "Economic theory and the financial crisis." Four of Maskin's five "books" are actually seminal articles on banking, bank runs, and liquidity, beginning with Douglas Diamond and Philip Dybvig (1983), "Bank Runs, Deposit Insurance and Liquidity," Journal of Political Economy. This article is available through JSTOR; some of the other articles that Maskin discusses are more recent and are behind paywalls, sorry to say.

Maskin's main point is that theoretical models that were sufficient to predict the recent financial meltdown had been in place for some time, but were largely ignored, and the sorts of regulation that would help prevent such meltdowns are pretty well understood...but are perhaps not being implemented (see next item).

Steven Brill has published an article Thursday in Time (available in an "abridged" version online here), "Government for Sale: How Lobbyists Shaped the Financial Reform Bill."  And by "shaped," he means, basically, "changed to what the financial industry wanted."  Which is unlikely to be in the best interests of most of us.

So we can pretty much count on this happening again (not that we've recovered from the consequences of the last time yet).

The NZZ Online talks to Max Beauvoir, biochemist and voodoo houngan, about Haiti and voodoo after the earthquake, and the diversion of relief funds by corrupt government officials (auf Deutsch).

Nicholas Kristof has an op-ed piece in this past Wednesday's The New York Times which begins:
The Israeli occupation of the West Bank is widely acknowledged to be unsustainable and costly to the country’s image. But one more blunt truth must be acknowledged: the occupation is morally repugnant.
And he goes on to explain why, in quite direct terms.

He's right.

80beats reports that Grigori Perelman, the brilliant Russian mathematician who published his proof of the Poincaré conjecture online in 2003, and now lives in seclusion with his mother, has refused the $1 million Clay prize....this after having already refused the Fields medal in 2006, the "Nobel prize" of mathematics.

Two good follow-up posts on the new Nature article on the 2.1-billion-year-old fossils from Gabon that are being claimed possibly to be multicellular creatures (and thus would be the oldest such known; see the link in my digest for Wednesday):

Chris Rowan at Highly Allochthounous explains how it is that we know the fossils are 2.1 billion years old (and the case is quite strong).

And Ed Yong at Not Exactly Rocket Science summarizes the find and its context (not long after the "Great Oxidation Event"), and cites some dissenting views (that is, scientists who aren't convinced the fossil represents multicellular creatures).

Peter Frost at Evo and Proud has a good discussion (with bibliography) of the many problems with the hypothesis that populations in Europe evolved white skin in order to maximize production of vitamin D in the skin under conditions of weak sunlight and low amounts of vitamin D in the diet.

His objections seem persuasive.  What is particularly interesting is the evidence, which Frost quickly summarizes, that the evolution of white skin is quite recent; the relevant alleles of two genes that are known to be involved seem to have originated no earlier that 12,000 years ago.  That this date roughly coincides with the development of agriculture, it has been suggested that the change in diet may have been a selective force in the change in skin color. But Frost points to flaws in that argument as well.

I grew up before the popularization of tattoos; to me, tattoos were something that drunk sailors got.  So I've never been able quite to understand why anyone would want to get one.

But if I were ever to get a tattoo, it would be this one:  Darwin's famous first sketch of a phylogenetic tree from his Notebook B (via Carl Zimmer at The Loom).

All articles on neuroscience and cognition in journals from Royal Society Publishing are free until 30 July. (The journals include Biology Letters, Proceedings B, and Philosophical Transactions B.)

I'm going to be doing a lot of downloading over the next few days.

This doesn't quite count as Open Access (hence no tag). But hey, we "deinstitutionalized" scholars take what we can get.

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