Economics Society Technology

The Reconn Reader: Jan 25, 2019

Each week, I share some of the most interesting articles I’ve come across in the past seven days. Here is this week’s selection. -CA


World & Politics

William Boyd on Brexit : « What I am currently experiencing is something close to shame »

History will not be kind to David Cameron, the ex-prime-minister, now nowhere to be seen. In promising a simple in-out referendum as a way of pacifying the anti-Europe right wing of the Conservative party he made the biggest, most grotesque political blunder of his career and he will go down in the annals as the man who changed Britain irrevocably – for the worse. Brexit won a narrow victory – 52% leave to 48% remain –, but 28% of the population didn’t bother to vote. It is hardly a sensational mandate for radical change. Only one third of the British population is getting what it wants. The « British People » did not speak. (Le Monde)

It’s Time to Let the UK Go

That certainly doesn’t mean that the British should not be given a few extra weeks. Indeed, a limited extension beyond the March 29 Brexit date could be conceivable, perhaps even until the new European Parliament convenes in July. It is unlikely, but if Prime Minister May and Labour Party head Jeremy Corbyn do succeed in finding a cross-party majority for a soft Brexit and a customs union with the EU, or perhaps even for remaining in the single market like Norway, then nothing but good would come of it for all Europeans. (Der Spiegel)

The discredited economic vision at the root of France’s ‘gilets jaunes’ problem`

Yet, we are now in the twenty first century still hearing the discourse of the last century and there is a persistent failure to ask the fundamental question. Given the metamorphosis of our socio-economic system, what are the appropriate ways to radically modify our policies to ensure that fewer are left behind to start with, rather than continuing simply to placate the losers that emerge as a result of the policies of the past? (London School of Economics)

The trouble with America’s extraterritorial campaign against business

America has much to be proud of as a corruption-fighter. But, for its own good as well as that of others, it needs to find an approach that is more transparent, more proportionate and more respectful of borders. If it does not, its escalating use of extraterritorial legal actions will ultimately backfire. It will discourage foreign firms from tapping American capital markets. It will encourage China and Europe to promote their currencies as rivals to the dollar and to develop global payments systems that bypass Uncle Sam. And the doj could find that, having gone all guns blazing into marginal cases, it has less powder for egregious ones. Far from expressing geopolitical might, America’s legal overreach would then end up diminishing American power.  (The Economist)



Business & Economics

This Is What Happens When You Try to Sue Your Boss

Today, millions of workers can be steered from courtroom litigation into a venue that gives them worse odds of winning and smaller judgments if they come out on top, says Alex Colvin, who teaches at Cornell and wrote the Economic Policy Institute study. He describes mandatory arbitration as unfair and ridiculous: “It’s halfway between Law & Order and Judge Judy,” Colvin says, “except nobody’s wearing robes.” (Bloomberg)


Beyond mostly vague concerns involving Russia and China, the U.S. intelligence community did not know what to make of the vulnerability of computer supply chains. Conducting such attacks was “difficult and resource-intensive,” according to the NIE, but beyond that, it had little information to understand the scope of the problem: “The unwillingness of victims and investigating agencies to report incidents” and the lack of technology to detect tampering meant that “considerable uncertainty overshadows our assessment of the threat posed by supply chain operations,” the NIE said. (The Intercept)

Who Profits From AI? It’s Getting Harder to Find Out

“For some of these very valuable patent applications, the examiners are coming back and saying, ‘Yes, but at the end of the day it’s just math,’” Holoubek said. “They say processing data by a computer is just what a computer is used for. It’s not just math — there’s a lot of processing — but they say ‘it’s just a computer doing what a computer does.’” (MIT Tech Review)


What they found was that men with meaningful connections to influential peers across the student body were 1.5 times more likely to be hired in a highly ranked leadership position after graduation, compared with men who were less well connected to their peers. Women with the same kind of strong connections across the student body didn’t fare as well. The women who landed the best jobs tended to have both strong connections to the student body and a tighter inner circle of at least two or three women. (WIRED)



Science & Technology


The attempt to subject the American information space to some form of top-down, public-private control was in turn made possible—and perhaps, in the minds of many on both the right and the left, necessary—by the collapse of the 20th-century American institutional press. Only two decades ago, the social and political power of the institutional press was still so great that it was often called “the Fourth Estate”—a meaningful check on the power of government. The term is rarely used anymore, because the monopoly over the printed and spoken word that gave the press its power is now gone. (WIRED)

Happy Sesquicentennial, Periodic Table!

One of the first triumphs of the periodic table took place soon after it was first discovered. In addition to incorporating all the elements that were known at the time, Mendeleev left several empty spaces in his table, predicting that new elements would be discovered to fill them, and laying what their properties would be. Specifically, he predicted the existence of four elements. Remarkably enough, three of these elements, subsequently named gallium, germanium and scandium, were discovered within 15 years of Mendeleev’s predictions. The fourth, now known as technetium, was first synthesized in 1937. (Scientific American)

Years before CRISPR babies, this man was the first to edit human embryos

Huang’s lab results alarmed top Western biologists who reviewed them starting in late 2014. They claimed the work was sloppy and made sure his submission was rejected by both Science and Nature, the world’s premier science journals. But in truth, the experts were shocked by how advanced the Chinese work was. Before Huang could publish his report elsewhere, American biotech executives who had seen his text called for an immediate moratorium on all embryo editing. Their editorial, published by Nature, was titled “Don’t edit the human germline.” (MIT Tech Review)

Yes, it is getting harder to publish in prestigious journals if you haven’t already

Other explanations, however, include various ways that reputation and elitism manifest in academia. For example, says Daniel Larremore, a computer scientist at the University of Colorado in Boulder who was not involved in the study, a chaperoned scientist could become a “known quantity” to the editor, which could make the editor more likely to look favorably upon future submissions. “It could be due to that person’s skills or it could be due to the fact that they’re already in the editor’s Rolodex,” says Larremore, who has studied the role of prestige in faculty hiring decisions. More broadly, it could also come down to visibility, both to editors and to the scientific community as a whole, Larremore says. (Science)


Culture & History

Sailing Across the Pacific with Muscular Dystrophy

The ocean is a powerful filter. Every sailor we met in those remote places had made a choice and crossed a massive body of water. Despite our different boats, levels of experience, personal beliefs, financial worth, genders, ages, or languages, every one of us faced our fears and decided to untie the dock lines and sail into the unknown. Fear can be a gift, but it can also be a cage. Ultimately, it is your choice. There’s no going back once you understand that fact. For some people, that’s an incentive. For others, it’s an excuse (Outside)

Although it is hard to pinpoint when pizza was first sold by the slice, the introduction of the gas oven with multiple decks gave New Yorkersthe option of enjoying a crisp-bottomed slice either as a full meal or a substantial snack between meals as they moved around the city. Pizza shop owners no longer needed to learn how to operate a coal-fired oven, meaning pizza could be made quicker and with less training. By the 1960s, the slice joint boom was on. And it is the slice joint that really turned pizza from an Italian food in New York City into a New York City food — a meal shared across neighborhoods, ethnicities and age groups, equally at home in the Bay Ridge of “Saturday Night Fever” as in the Bedford-Stuyvesant of “Do the Right Thing.” (New York Times)

Brazil Dissolves Its Ministry of Culture

Unlike in 2016 when demonstrations across Brazil stopped former President Michel Temer from extinguishing the Ministry of Culture, Bolsonaro was not met with an organized resistance when he announced his willingness to downgrade the ministry’s status during his campaign. That statement was made a day after a tragic fireengulfed Brazil’s National Museum in flames and left the oldest scientific institution in the country in ruins. On that occasion, he amped up support for his plans by saying that the “Rouanet Law”intended to boost artistic production in Brazil, “needed to be revised” because it was unnecessarily draining public funds. (Hyperallergic)

You Will Always Be Someone From Somewhere Else

To be situated beyond hope and understanding while yet in the absolute middle of each of those essentialities—this is what it means to be alive in Dao Strom’s You Will Always Be Someone From Somewhere Else. Such living, then, has degrees of calibration, some easier to swallow than others. The ultimate onus, though, is on the being. To be is to persevere and in persevering comes the allowance of freedom: our endless ability to be set free. (Hong Kong Review of Books)

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