Links: July 2020
Not much this month but I’m committed to sharing a Links post anyway. Hopefully more next month.
- Major bad news this month: Scott Alexander shut down his blog. 😦
See here for his reason, here for Twitter discussion, and here for a petition that might help bring the blog back.
- I started following @RolfDegen on Twitter, and man, I love that his whole thing is that he tweets interesting studies. It’s seriously worth checking out, just to be aware of the shape and scope of recent investigations. (h/t MyBeautifulBubble)
- Spain, one of the hardest-hit COVID countries, sees antibodies in only about 5% of the population. Herd immunity is a difficult goal, it seems.
- (Unfortunately all of the following links are behind a paywall, so unless you work for a university like me you won’t make it past the abstracts.)
Is WiFi an “important threat to human health“? The author thinks so and seems to have lots of references to back up the claim, specifically pointing out threats to male fertility, oxidative stress (proliferation of free radicals), and neurological function. The paper, published in a seemingly reputable journal, freaked me out until I looked at some replies to it, criticizing the selection and interpretation of articles as “cherry picking”.
A more thorough review from 2013 suggests that there isn’t good evidence of any health threat, though very few studies pass their tests for rigor (tests should be on humans and include details about radiation dosage). Since then, I could only find a few more recent studies (on sleep (humans), on psychomotor vigilance (RCT on humans)), which did not show any effect. (This paper looked relevant but is behind a super-paywall so I don’t know what’s in it.) Apparently if you put rats 50cm from a WiFi source 24 hours/day for months at a time there may be an affect on their hearing.
In conclusion, I see little reason to worry about it. (Related: Beware the Man of One Study.)
- If you’re one of those people who is worried about overpopulation, here’s more reason to calm down.
(Aside: I wonder how COVID-19 lockdown will affect fertility rates. Like, will people be less likely to want kids in a virus-ridden world, or will people have lots of sex in quarantine / be bored enough to decide it’s time to have kids? Place your bets!)
- LettersOfNote.com is a site which records famous (or should-be-famous) letters from noteable people in history. There’s a lot of good stuff there, wisdom from days long past.
Here’s a good one from R.P. Feynman (in my estimation, the greatest physicist of the second half of the 20th century): Do Not Remain Nameless To Yourself.
- Because I’m looking into retirement investment options, I recently rediscovered Get Rich Slowly by PutANumOnIt. It lands in that oft-neglected sweet spot for educated but ignorant people trying to crack some new field of investigation, poised between the usual “idiots guide” and “expert analysis” that one usually finds.
- Big news in my field this month was from the XENON1T experiment, a 1-ton detector consisting of liquid and gaseous Xenon atoms built to discover heavy dark matter candidates. They recently reported an excess of electron recoil events which is not (easily) explained by background sources. In brief, they saw more electrons being ‘kicked’ by energetic sources than their background models predicted, with the excess of events corresponding to a >3𝜎 statistical fluctuation.
This was immediately met with at least 40 theory papers in the span of 3 weeks (more since then), with ideas for what New Physics this excess might be, including one paper that predates the actual experimental announcement.
To be clear, nobody thinks a 3𝜎 fluctuation necessarily represents a discovery of anything, as fluctuations of this size come and go routinely in this field (it does not represent “a 0.3% chance of being a mere fluctuation” as the news will likely be saying). But it’s enough to get people riled up.
Just For Fun