Noble Prizes

Someday, in my copious spare time, I’m going to tabulate the
Noble prizewinners – consisting of the people who really should have
gotten the Nobel prizes. I would add disciplines not part of the Nobel
prizes, such as geophysics; politely retract prizes from guys who later
turned out to be mistaken, like Fibiger – and of course no prize for people
who appropriated the work of others. So no prizes for Hewish. or
Waksman. And, of course, one would want to go back in time well before
Nobel. I would hope to be fair, not overly Scandi-centric like some folks
we know. And, just for fun, I would like to classify the prizes into a few
discovery categories. There’s the most common kind, where someone is doing
high-quality work in a particular area and runs into something new and
important as a fairly natural consequence of being at the leading edge. At
the other end of the spectrum, you have the guy who has been struck,
sometimes repeatedly, by an overwhelming bolt of inspiration, who does stuff
that maybe nobody else could.
The only problem is that in order to do a fair job of this, one would
have to know virtually everything. I could use some help, probably

So: Oswald Avery, Colin MacLeod, and Maclyn McCarty win the prize for biology in 1944.

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Books, 2016

1. The Peloponnesian War

2 The Empire of the Steppes

3. The Columbian Exchange

4. Breaking the Maya Code

5. War Before Civilization

6. The Discourses (Machiavelli)

7. Introduction to Algorithms

8. Rare Earth

9. The Wizard War

10. Night comes to the Cretaceous

11. Microbe Hunters

12. The Youngest Science

13. Plagues and Peoples

14. Project Orion

15. Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

16. Godstalk, P. C. Hodgell

17. Footfall, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

18. On Stranger Tides, Tim Powers

19. His Share of Glory, Cyril Kornbluth

20. Herodotus

21. The Secret History, Procopius

And you might be interested in my last booklist.

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Last Ditch

Various responses have led me to think about what nations are willing to do in the last extremity, when they see doom impending. Over the Cold War, now apparently forgotten, major nations seemed willing to take the enemy down with them, more or less completely. Thousands of nuclear weapons can do that.

You don’t always get the chance – if the front collapses and the enemy is suddenly at the gates, a state may be beaten before it really knows what’s happening [ France 1940 ]. It’s more the sort of thing that happens in a long war. When you have time to think, and despair.

A state may reach deep down into its socks and find ways to fight back. After Cannae, Rome raised another army, fought defensively, and waited for something to turn up. The Byzantines picked up Greek fire from a refugee Syrian alchemist. I suspect that the Soviets used tularemia at Stalingrad in 1942, but many seem to think that the natural default hypothesis is that Stalin would never have done such a thing. Churchill was ready with anthrax if the Germany ever managed to cross the channel.

Sometimes desperation means taking measures that seem perfectly practical to us, but strike at the heart of the state’s ideology. Very late in the game (too late), the Confederacy decided to raise black troops – but if they were good soldiers, the whole theory of the Confederacy was wrong. Which is one more example showing the folly of being a ‘proposition nation’. Heraclius paid for his war against Chosroes by melting down all the gold and silver in the churches – not an easy thing to do in the Age of Faith. In WWII, Stalin made major concessions to Russian nationalism, the peasantry, and the Orthodox Church – sure, he was more Communist than the Pope, but hey, better pink than dead.

Sometimes a remnant retreats to the hills and continues to fight: ‘Thought shall be the harder, heart the keener, courage the more, as our might lessens.’ Usually they lose. But, sometimes, they eventually win – like Covadonga.

Sometimes a state takes the path of radical reorganization – Byzantine themes Alfred the Great and the burhs.

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Deep Secrets

I noticed some pundits talking about Trump getting his top-secret briefings. They were musing about the emotional impact of learning the Government’s ‘deep secrets’.

I wonder. I remember being read into a special access program and thinking “Is that all there is’?

There is important information that the U.S. government knows that isn’t on Wiki – details of nuclear weapons, for example – but on the whole I suspect that there are more truly interesting facts (some of them scary) that I know and the Feds don’t than the other way around.

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Tracking Polynesian Roots

That late-arriving ~25% Melanesian fraction of autosomal ancestry came from somewhere – somewhere in particular, some population from New Guinea or (more likely) the Solomon Islands. People have inhabited the Solomons for a long time, surely long enough to develop distinct genetics on different islands – so we may be able to find the source. Their language, whatever it was, may also have left a trace in the Polynesian languages.

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Social Desirability Bias

It must be strong today, something like 5 points.

If so, you’ll be hearing calls for the end of the secret ballot.

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Skin Deep

There are a couple of new papers out in Cell about demonstrated immunological differences between Africans and Europeans. We already knew that the course of various infectious diseases can be quite different in people from those two different races, while autoimmune risks are also different (lupus for example is considerably more common in blacks). Researchers found that inflammatory responses were considerably stronger in Africans than Europeans. African macrophages zapped bacteria three times faster than European macrophages.

I wonder if this increased inflammatory tendency is behind the increased risk for sarcoidosis in blacks (12-fold higher death rate). If so, maybe you could help the clinical course by damping down inflammation.

The African pattern almost certainly worked better in Africa (chock-full o’ of pathogens, including many adapted to man or close relatives), while the European pattern worked better outside of Africa – on the whole cooler and less of a microbial playpen.

Henry and I, along with others, put out a paper on this subject a few years ago.

Some of the milder-inflammation alleles in Europeans originated in Neanderthals. Logical, since they too had adapted to the lower pathogen load in ice-age Europe and Central Asia. This probably meant that Neanderthals couldn’t have returned to Africa.

This is all impossible if race does not exist, or if Lewontin had had anything to valid to say on the subject. Of course race does exist, while Lewontin is a fountain of nonsense.

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