• A bit of this, a bit of that

    Keats’ unweaving – from Lamia

    ... There was an awful rainbow once in heaven:
    We know her woof, her texture; she is given
    In the dull catalogue of common things.
    Philosophy will clip an Angel’s wings,
    Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,
    Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine —
    Unweave a rainbow…

    Marina Abramovic and Ulay at the MoMA (The Artist is Present – 2010)

    Lost in translation: Molecular basis of reduced flower coloration in a self-pollinated monkeyflower (Mimulus) species.

    … we identify a single nucleotide substitution in an anthocyanin-activating R2R3-MYB gene causing flower color variation between a pair of closely related monkeyflower (Mimulus) species, the hummingbird-pollinated Mimulus cardinalis, and self-pollinated Mimulus parishii. This causal mutation is located in the 5′ untranslated region and generates an upstream ATG start codon, leading to attenuated protein translation and reduced flower coloration in the self-pollinated species.

    Park Kiyoung (박기영) – A Thorn Tree (가시나무)

  • Sins of Sinclair

    A scathing review of Lifespan: Why We Age and Why We Don’t Have To by Sinclair and LaPlante (2019).

    While age reversal is an old grift, the latest version has reached new heights of feigned legitimacy and hype.

    all vertebrate animal species have a distribution of natural lifespans that are limited by their gene sets… Long-lived species like humans also provide a substantial investment in caretaking of offspring… advantages conferred to youth by parents mean that genetic selections for parental health are extant in caretaking species. Such genetic selections for post-reproductive health are not extant in non-caretaking species… for animals that can mate multiple times, longevity is an emergent property of the ability to continue to do all the things required to reproduce and promote the success of offspring….Think of it this way: if foxes can reproduce at 6 months, what genetic selections are present for them to live for six years? The ones that live for 6 years might reasonably produce 6 times as many offspring as those who perish in a year but those who die in a year would still contribute to the gene pool so long as they are successful at reproducing. Indeed, experiments done in flies that were selected for the ability to reproduce late in life suggest that hundreds or thousands of genes, not single dominantly acting genes, are modified to allow every organ system to function better over time in the resulting long-lived flies… However, animals in the wild are under little to no direct genetic selection for longevity beyond that to produce reproductive success.

    Do sirtuins extend lifespan in yeast, invertebrates and vertebrates? Has Sinclair discovered sirtuin activators? Based on 25 years of work by ac- ademic and industrial investigators, the clear answer to both questions is no… Resveratrol is the molecule found in red wine that Sinclair claims as a sirtuin activator. There is a global consensus that resveratrol disturbs the assay used to measure sirtuin activity and generates a false signal… The global interest in sirtuins and sirtuin activators was such that companies—most notably GSK—spent many billions of dollars trying to get a positive result and could not because the so-called sirtuin activators do not activate sirtuins and because sirtuins are not longevity genes. Lifespan therefore represents a pivot in which a person central to the failure of the largest longevity medicine program in pharmaceutical history turns to the general public to retell his story. In the retelling, sirtuins are longevity genes and sirtuin activators are real.

    As the premise of the book is that we do not have to age, it is no surprise that the book includes Sinclair’s daily regimen, which includes 1 g of type 2 diabetes drug metformin in addition to aspirin, resveratrol and three vitamins. While Sinclair tells people these are not recommendations for others, he advertises the page number on social media in response to being asked what to take for longevity. Indeed, there is clear evidence from social media that there are huge numbers of followers that believe that Sinclair is providing them with an inside track to extend healthy aging. The regimen is potentially damaging for individuals without type 2 diabetes as there is strong evidence that metformin use blunts the beneficial effects of physical activity

    In the accompanying Lifespan podcast, Sinclair makes innumerable non-evidence based statements about benefits of time-restricted eating, statements about age-reversal as evidenced only by changing biomarkers (Fahy et al., 2019), and even potential immortality by repeatable drug treatments…

  • Scientific publishing

    1) This exchange argues that the removal of peer review will:

    (1) remove their [ ficional ] value as a career currency 
    (2) will improve speed of resaerch communications 
    (3) save a lot of time for reviewers AND readers

    2) Michael Eisen on:
    a) the problems with the APC model

    b) society journals

    3) “Time to end parachute science

    “In geoscience, only 30% of articles from Africa had an African
    author [7]. In the field of coral reef biology, 40% of publications that contained fieldwork conducted in Indonesia or in the Philippines did not specify which nation the field research had been conducted in; the respective figure for Australia was just 22%… authorship hierarchies in which local authors are by default assigned middle-author positions, i.e., neither first nor last author positions… collaborative authorship models commonly involve assignment of robust primary outcomes papers — the cream of the research — to researchers from HICs, while secondary papers are allocated to local scientists…

    … because scientists in HICs have majority access to funding, they tend to dictate the research agenda, thus the disease priorities of the countries hosting field research are not prioritized…

    … From the societal angle, lack of equitable inclusion of local scientists has repercussions on community engagement, trust, and robustness of research, with profound effects on the outcome of the research, its reproducibility, and implementation… parachute science limits the effectiveness of responses to outbreaks of infectious diseases, such as those associated with the Ebola and Zika epidemics, in which lack of data sharing by foreign researchers undermined host countries’ capacity to prevent and prepare for outbreaks…

    …journals have the unique responsibility to increase awareness of — and eliminate — extractive research practices… In 2021, PLOS announced a landmark policy on parachute science and inclusivity in global research. Foreign researchers are required to complete an “Inclusivity in global health questionnaire” — which aims to improve transparency in reporting of research performed outside researcher’s own country… This is an exhortation to all journals to develop ad hoc policies to tackle this inequity in global research.”

    4) https://blog.peer-review.io/we-might-have-a-way-to-fix-scientific-publishing

    You have to admire both the optimism and arrogance of tech bros who feel it within their scope to corral the whole means of scientific knowledge generation and dissemination, and slot it in as a application subroutine. He’s basically proposing PLoS with a Reddit-like post-pub voting mechanism.

    He doesn’t want to radically overhaul the current, inefficient system. He wants to maintain the current pre-pub review gatekeeper schtick, but dispense with anonymity altogether (forget double-blind reviews, this system won’t even have single-blind reviews). And replace three reviewers with hundreds of reviewers.

    The idea of assessing and rating reviewers seems a good one, if only to incentivize reviewers to be more fair and thoughtful.

    He doesn’t address the issue of APC. In fact, the issue of financing is entirely unclear. But he’s looking for investment. Always a good thing when no-one gets paid except him.

    Overall, can’t help but feel this an incredibly naive proposal which takes no account of bad actors, and how a complex mechanism will provide more opportunities for people to game the system. This includes predatory publishers with financial incentives to gum up the system any way, any how.

    It does emphasize how difficult it will be to overhaul the whole process, to pinpoint inefficient path dependencies that can be eliminated, to make it financially viable over the long term without it being exploitative, to assign priority, to do it more cheaply, fairly, quickly.

    Finally, I would argue that scientific info archiving and dissemination should be a public responsibility, and should not be in the hands of private individuals, foundations or companies. This has always been my problem with companies like 23 and Me, or Ancestry. Even if you think the current management team is composed of the most decent human beings on the face of the planet – no founder lives forever. At some point, new people will take over, or the company will get sold to Google or Amazon etc. What then? Scientific information should not be in the hands of a single company – open source or otherwise (what will you do when, one day, the company decides they no longer want all “their” info open source?). Also, the public paid for the research and should have the right to access the information that they paid for.

  • Temporarily embarrassed millionaires

    According to hellyesjohnsteinbeck

    “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

    This is a misquote, and:

    “the remark is very likely a paraphrase from Steinbeck’s article “A Primer on the ’30s.” Esquire (June 1960), p. 85-93:”

    Except for the field organizers of strikes, who were pretty tough monkeys and devoted, most of the so-called Communists I met were middle-class, middle-aged people playing a game of dreams. I remember a woman in easy circumstances saying to another even more affluent: ‘After the revolution even we will have more, won’t we, dear?’ Then there was another lover of proletarians who used to raise hell with Sunday picknickers on her property.

    I guess the trouble was that we didn’t have any self-admitted proletarians. Everyone was a temporarily embarrassed capitalist. Maybe the Communists so closely questioned by the investigation committees were a danger to America, but the ones I knew — at least they claimed to be Communists — couldn’t have disrupted a Sunday-school picnic. Besides they were too busy fighting among themselves.

  • How do you translate “새끼”?

    At the Global Fund’s Seventh Replenishment Conference in New York City, the South Korean president was caught on a hot mic disparaging the United States Congress. He said:

    국회에서 이 새끼들이 승인 안 해주면 바이든은 쪽팔려서 어떡하나?

    On YouTube, one must now bear witness to Korean news commentators contorting themselves into awkward shapes while reporting on how English language newspapers translated Yoon’s faux pas (this means, translating – into Korean – the English translation of the original Korean). As Dave Chappelle might say, a dubious activity to be involved in.

    The crux of the issue revolves around how to translate the word “새끼.” The literal translation of the word is “child, offspring, kid, spawn, baby.” It can also be applied to animals: “pup, cub etc.” Of course, it would be nonsensical to translate it this way – and I’m a big proponent of translating the intent as opposed to the literal meaning – understanding that translation is an effort in approximation, and that you are bound to lose nuance.

    One instance when a literal translation would be appropriate is “개새끼” which means “son of a bitch.” This is an excellent alignment – both in the literal meaning, and the intent.

    새끼 is difficult to translate because it covers a broad spectrum. It lies in that gray area between “dude” and “bastard”, or “guy” and “asshole.” The English language seems surprisingly lacking in words like these – namely, a pejorative but not necessarily a term of abuse. For instance, I’ve seen the words 가시나 (or 가시내) and 기지배 (or 개지배) translated as “bitch” which seems a bit unfair. An English speaking grandparent, after all, is unlikely to call their five year old granddaughter “a bitch.”

    So, how is the world’s press translating the word “새끼?”

    In the United States, the Washington Post, Bloomberg and the Washington Examiner are going with “idiots.” This is a bad translation. “Idiots” implies a lack of intellect, and Yoon was not disparaging their intellects. The crasser CBS and Fox – are going with f****rs and fers, respectively. Clearly, they mean “flowers.” Fox felt the need to add the “e,” no doubt worried that their readers might not discern which word they were referring to. Meanwhile, in Asia, the South China Morning Post is adopting the Fox strategy and going with the “e”. The Straits Times adopts the “idiotic” Washington Post strategy. The old colonies of the British monarch also show evidence of the Queen’s propriety – CNA (Singapore) going with “fers”, the Hindustan Times with the (now boring) “idiots”. The Dawn (Pakistan) gives us the “k” as well as the “e” in order to drive the point home. The Filipinos (much inured to crassness under the rule of Rody Duterte), the Nigerians and News18 (Indian, I believe, albeit clearly not as cultured as the Hindustanis) all give us the full monty.

    Again, for the record, in my opinion, both “idiots” and “fuckers” are inaccurate translations. I would go with something a little less offensive. “Douchebags, Jimmy Savile Row merchants, Lord BucketHeads” come to mind. On Twitter, @aaronvandorn suggests “these fuckin’ guys” which may be the best translation yet.

  • Rumpole and the Golden Thread

    Notes on Kittle’s PhD thesis Chapter 4:

    The role of the British legal system in British sense of national identity – “the long history of British common law serves a specific ideological function. It helps to establish as a distinctly British trait the fair and reasonable treatment of those involved in legal proceedings, whether criminal or civil.”

    The story Rumpole and the Golden Thread set, very unusually, in Africa, in the fictitious country of Neranga. The story is inspired by events that happened in Zimbabwe and the trial of the seven accused Zapu dissidents. The British High Commissioner there is named Arthur Remnant, “he is among the last vestiges of British Empire still extant in Neranga” (Kittle, p. 168). “The story as a whole… makes the British justice system a clear marker not just for national identity, but for the British position in the larger global community” (Kittle p. 169).

    1. Neranga (formerly New Somerset)
      1. based on: Zimbabwe (formely Rhodesia)
    2. Justitia International
      1. based on: Amnesty International
    3. David Mazenze (Nerangan Minister of Home Affairs) – Apu tribe
      1. based on: Joshua Nkomo (leader of the oppositional Zapu party) and a former member of Mugabe’s cabinet, from Matabeleland
    4. Dr. Christopher Mabile – Matatu tribe
      1. based on: Robert Mugabe prime minister and leader of the ruling Zanu party)
      2. scholar/politician with a reputation for bloodthirstiness
    5. Sir Worthington Banzana (judge)
      1. Hilary Squires
        1. white man accused of judicial bias during the trial
    6. Trial of David Mazenze
      1. Trial of seven Zapu dissidents

    “Mortimer’s story may question the universality of Common Law, but still poses the question in purely British terms” (Kittle, p. 175).

    My notes:
    1) Mortimer never challenges the institution of the Courts nor, really, the fairness of laws. In this sense, Rumpole is both conservative (small c) and naive. Rumpole stories do not exist in the conceptual, legal, social extremes where the law is uneasy, vague or inadequate, and Rumpole (as he himself admits) has little to do with the nuances of the written law, and everything to do with the people (and the society from which they come). His skill is not in the understanding of laws, as prescribed, but in understanding of the machinations of the legal system (as a cultural institution).
    2) Rumpole as essentially an anarchist. “I believe in Mutual Aid, Universal Tolerance, and the Supreme Individual. At heart, I’ve long suspected I’m an anarchist” (Mortimer Second 14). His whole identity rests on two absolutes regarding which he is never willing to yield: a) never plead guilty; b) the Golden Thread (the presumption of innocence).
    3) Rumpole and the Golden Thread ironically, and rather cleverly, reverses the courtroom drama trope. Namely, the verdict of Not Guilty is a death sentence, while Guilty means freedom (individually and politically).
    4) Someone once said – I don’t remember who – that what made British TV of a certain era (Sixties, Seventies) so compelling was that there were a lot of people working in the medium who felt they did not quite belong there. Sort of entertainment’s equivalent of Michael Foot. Seems that John Mortimer is definitely of this mold, although few have been quite as adept in bridging the literary fiction/television divide.
    5) There is a sense that Mortimer cultivated the Rumpole persona – although the character was inspired by his father. Clearly he was a more ambitious barrister than Rumpole – made QC, took on famous cases – and retired to the life of a famous writer. His politics ran to the left of Rumpole’s. One suspects that Mortimer admired Rumpole as a purer, untainted self and grew into him as we – in so many ways – adopt our parents’ manners and habits as we age.

    Another book for the reading pile: Valerie Grove – A Voyage Round John Mortimer.

  • From Hare to Fraternité

    A very good essay by David Hare on Tory shamelessness and the 1970s TV show “Road to Freedom.”

    Shame, said Karl Marx, is the only revolutionary emotion. When the series climaxes with the capitulation of the French army to the Nazis in 1940, one of the greatest humiliations of modern history, you realise how refreshing it is, after years of propaganda in which people are constantly exhorted to go easy on themselves, to watch fiction in which anguish and self-reproach are finally admitted to exist and to govern our behaviour… our whole society finds itself asking how we got here, and how on earth we allowed such outrages to happen… One obvious answer must lie with the disappearance of shame from public life. As far as public figures are concerned, there is no longer any such thing as disgrace. They live in an un-Sartrean universe, strangers, apparently, to the inner regulation of self-knowledge and self-hatred. Boris Johnson, theoretically a Catholic, seems to function without any recourse to the doctrine of sin that is meant to define his religion. For him… the idea of regret or remorse is anathema. In his own eyes, he is dully faultless… When the young director Lynette Linton took over London’s Bush theatre a few years ago, she posed in an interview the very question that puzzles many of us: Why do the British not take to the streets?… How much longer will the United Kingdom tolerate a ruling class that is incapable of looking inside itself and confessing fault? Surely, even if they are incapable of disgust, we are not. When will the rage, shame and anger that so memorably drive The Roads to Freedom, and which we recognise in our own lives of squalid acceptance and compromise, turn outwards, not inwards?

    Road to Freedom on YouTube.