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Never gonna give you up
Hello and welcome to the difficult third album. This week: a bluffer's guide to bluffing about CRISPR, Facebook's fuzzy math, and why you should never give advice.
NEED TO KNOW
Have you got your head around CRISPR yet? Maybe no-one can truthfully answer yes to that yet, since its implications are vast and unknowable. But you should probably start trying. It's one of those technical topics you kind of need to be informed about, if only a little, to grasp how the world is changing (machine learning is another). I've only just begun but here's my 4 line summary:
CRISPR is a new and incredibly powerful tool for editing genomes. Of course, we've been doing genetic engineering for a while, but it's like we've been fiddling around with bits of flint and then somebody came along with a power drill. Suddenly (and it has all happened quite fast) we have a very reliable and efficient way to manipulate organic life - including humans, of course. WE HAVE BECOME GODS. And I'm not sure we've had the training for it.
A good place to start on CRISPR is this brilliant podcast from the Radiolab team (Radiolab, my first pod love), which tells the story of its discovery and explores some of the implications, both exciting and scary. Gizmodo has a very clear explainer. And Tyler Cowen is good on the weighty choices parents will be making before too long.
There are 76 million people age 18-34 in America; Facebook tells advertisers it can reach 101 million of them. Yup - that's according to a comparison of Facebook's figures with U.S. census data, made by an investment analyst. It's great to see an analyst actually doing the job of interrogating Facebook's business rather than retailing its spin. Anyone with something to sell is pouring their money into Facebook, yet we know surprisingly little about how effective it is as an advertising platform. What we do know that many of its 'users' are bots, and that big advertisers are beginning to get sceptical about value for money. Look, I don't think it's a swindle or a house of cards about to collapse. But I do think there's a chance it's significantly overrated, in more ways than one.
RULES FOR LIFE
I really enjoyed this lovely piece on the perils of giving advice. It ends by recommending that you don't give advice, unless someone insists. I concur, more or less. The smarter-assed among you will point out that this is, itself, advice. But I think that misses the point: it's fine to give advice in a public forum to everyone and nobody in particular, because everyone is free to ignore it. The problem arises in the context of a personal relationship, when giving advice places a burden on the person to consider it, or at least pretend to consider it.
Please, please stop with the '21st century learning'.
Rick Astley and the Foo Fighters. Joyous.
A 1998 study covering 174 parachute injuries treated by the NHS, 94% being first-time parachutists, calculated that for each pound raised for the health service it spend £13.75 on treatment.