5 Things (forensic science, survivorship bias, neanderthals, gay genes, internet hoaxes)

1.Forensic Science

I blame Val McDermid. I read her excellent book Forensics – The Anatomy of Crime earlier this year. Since then I’ve developed a bit of a fascination with the gruesome subject. I really enjoyed Gabriel Weston’s thoughtful BBC documentary series, Catching History’s Criminals – The Forensics Story.  All very reassuring, but forensic science has its sinister side too. This essay about Forensic DNA Phenotyping shows how racist ideology can underlie (and be reproduced by) what appears to be a scientific breakthrough in fighting crime: Sci-Fi Crime Drama with a Strong Black Lead.

2. Survivorship Bias

This entertaining TED Talk  by David McRaney makes me wish that someone had introduced me to survivorship bias back when I was around twenty one years old.  ‘Survivorship bias’ refers to our human tendency to favour examples of survivorship – in the broadest sense – and to ignore the usually far greater evidence of failure. This is a problem because survivors are pretty rare and seeking advice from them results in a seriously skewed perception of reality. People who want to open restaurants will pay attention to the successful restaurants in town, but fail to research the more numerous restaurants that shut down. Whatever the survivors might claim, its difficult to identify the real source of their success. Perhaps they were just lucky. McRaney argues that the failures can often provide us with more useful information. There’s a longer essay available on his website if you’re interested.

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5 Things (neanderthals, nutrition, sauerkraut, sleep, academic journalism)

Let’s start with SauerkrautSomehow, my mother managed to persuade me to take home an enormous jar of Sauerkraut.  This was because she wouldn’t “be able to finish it all herself”, although she was able to finish the chocolate biscuits and the ice cream. Now, I’ve always liked Sauerkraut, but I was just a little intimidated by the size of this particular jar. I turned to twitter for help and soon had recipe suggestions for Shchi (@PrimeJunta) and Bigos (@plumpieinthesun). We made the Bigos and it was fantastic. I had no idea that Sauerkraut could result in something so delicious. I want to make the Shchi as well, but the jar is now almost empty and I’ll have to get another one.

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