A Bestselling Author Became Obsessed With Freeing a Man From Prison. It Nearly Ruined Her Life. | The Marshall Project
After the success of her novel Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen spent years trying to prove a man's innocence. Now she’s “absolutely broke” and “seriously ill,” and her next book is “years past deadline.”
‘It’s like I drew a door and disappeared through it’ | Meduza
Meduza correspondent Irina Kravtsova asks Russia’s homeless population what it’s really like living on the street — and what’s keeping them from returning to ‘normal life’
Book Review: “Viral” by Alina Chan and Matt Ridley | Shtetl-Optimized
The authors never once come across like tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorists, railing against the sheeple with their conventional wisdom: they’re simply investigators carefully laying out what they’re confident should become conventional wisdom, with the many uncertainties and error bars explicitly noted. […]
I would say that Viral proves the following propositions beyond reasonable doubt:
Virologists, including at Shi Zhengli’s group at WIV and at Peter Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance, were engaged in unbelievably risky work, including collecting virus-laden fecal samples from thousands of bats in remote caves, transporting them to the dense population center of Wuhan, and modifying them to be more dangerous, e.g., through serial passage through human cells and the insertion of furin cleavage sites. Years before the COVID-19 outbreak, there were experts remarking on how risky this research was and trying to stop it. Had they known just how lax the biosecurity was in Wuhan—dangerous pathogens experimented on in BSL-2 labs, etc. etc.—they would have been louder.
Even if it didn’t cause the pandemic, the massive effort to collect and enhance bat coronaviruses now appears to have been of dubious value. […]
It’s important to understand that, even in the worst case—that (1) there was a lab leak, and (2) Shi and Daszak are knowingly withholding information relevant to it—they’re far from monsters. Even in Viral‘s relentlessly unsparing account, they come across as genuine believers in their mission to protect the world from the next pandemic.
And it’s like: imagine devoting your life to that mission, having most of the world refuse to take you seriously, and then the calamity happens exactly like you said … except that, not only did your efforts fail to prevent it, but there’s a live possibility that they caused it. It’s conceivable that your life’s work managed to save minus 15 million lives and create minus $50 trillion in economic value.
Very few scientists in history have faced that sort of psychic burden, perhaps not even the ones who built the atomic bomb. I hope I’d maintain my scientific integrity under such an astronomical weight, but I’m doubtful that I would. Would you?
I Am a Heroin User. I Do Not Have a Drug Problem | Nautilus
Carl Hart is a neuroscientist and Ziff Professor of Psychology at Columbia University—he was the first tenured African-American professor of sciences at Columbia. His research focuses on the “behavioral and neuropharmacological effects of psychoactive drugs in humans.” Hart’s new book, Drug Use For Grown-Ups, is a bold and engaging effort to counter what he sees as generations of misinformation and moral grandstanding about drug use. Today’s “sensationalistic media coverage of the opioid crisis continues a long, awful tradition of exploiting ignorance and fear to vilify certain members of our society,” Hart writes. The media is not the only problem. Scientists, he states, “have frequently overinterpreted and distorted” drugs’ effects on the brain.
Hart reports that more than 70 percent of drug users—whether they use alcohol, cocaine, prescription medications, or heroin—do not meet the health criteria for drug addiction. In Drug Use for Grown-Ups, Hart strives to “present a more realistic image of the typical drug user: a responsible professional who happens to use drugs in his pursuit of happiness.” With genial candor, Hart presents himself as a model drug user. “I am now entering my fifth year as a regular heroin user,” he writes. “I do not have a drug-use problem. Never have. Each day, I meet my parental, personal, and professional responsibilities. I pay my taxes, serve as a volunteer in my community on a regular basis, and contribute to the global community as an informed and engaged citizen. I am better for my drug use.”
Nautilus caught up with Hart to discuss his drug use and his sharp points about science and society. He was as casually bold in conversation as he is in Drug Use for Grown-Ups.
How Dinosaurs Thrived in the Snow | Smithsonian
Discoveries made in the past decades help show how many species coped with cold temperatures near both poles
Friendly family man’s 50-year secret: He was fugitive, too | AP
Just before Thomas Randele died, his wife of nearly 40 years asked his golfing buddies and his co-workers from the dealerships where he sold cars to come by their home.
They gathered to say goodbye to a guy they called one of the nicest people they’d ever known — a devoted family man who gushed about his daughter, a golfer who never bent the rules, a friend to so many that a line stretched outside the funeral home a week later.
By the time of their final visit last May at Randele’s house in suburban Boston, the cancer in his lungs had taken away his voice. So they all left without knowing that their friend they’d spent countless hours swapping stories with never told them his biggest secret of all.
For the past 50 years, he was a fugitive wanted in one of the largest bank robberies in Cleveland’s history, living in Boston under a new name he created six months after the heist in the summer of 1969. Not even his wife or daughter knew until he told them in what authorities described as a deathbed confession.
How he was able to leave behind one family and create a new life — while evading a father and son from the U.S. Marshals Service who never gave up their hunt — is just now being pieced together.
Designing a Lego Car to Cross Gaps | Kottke
In the second video by Brick Experiment Channel I’ve posted here in the past week, a Lego car is repeatedly adapted to cross larger and larger gaps, until it can cross a massive gap just a little narrower than the length of the car. As I said before about their climbing car video, watching the iterative process of improving a simple car performing an increasingly difficult task using familiar design objects is such an accessible way to observe how the process of engineering works.
One of the things you get to witness is when a particular design tactic dead ends, i.e. when something that worked across a shorter gap is completely ineffective crossing a wider distance. No amount of tinkering with that same design will make it work…you have to find a whole new way to do it.
Don’t F*ck with Big Sugar | Marginal Revolution
Sugar was never really my fight, but I always thought it was a little silly that the sugar industry has all this power in Washington. But I liked to spend my time on issues I might actually be able to change, and I knew the chances of winning a fight with Big Sugar was basically zero.
At one point in the mid-1990s, I got fed up and decided to yank their chains anyway. […]
My phone did not stop ringing for the next five weeks….I had no idea how many people in my district were connected to the sugar industry. People were calling all day, telling me they made pumps or plugs or boxes or some other such part used in sugar production and I was threatening their job. Mayors called to tell me about employers their towns depended on who would be hurt by a sugar downturn. It was the most organized effort I had ever seen.