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The mile-high building is coming

The mile-high building is coming

(Copyright: Science Photo Library)

Our pick of the week’s science and tech stories, including misguided cancer metaphors, a breakthrough that could radically change skylines and FAQs about FAQs.

I have cancer, but don’t call me brave
Luke Allnutt | One Eyed Dog | 19 June 2013

Cancer lends itself to military metaphors. Sufferers “fight” or “battle” the disease, though in practice this usually means accepting a prescribed course of treatment. “Whenever I hear those martial verbs, or hear people being described as brave, I feel a little sorry for people with heart disease or Alzheimer’s, who, rather than warriors, tend to be portrayed as passive, voiceless victims, who never get to ‘fight’ their illnesses but only ever ‘succumb’.”

The science of why we don’t believe in science
Chris Mooney | Medium | 18 June 2013

Much of this will be familiar to anybody who has dipped a toe into behavioural psychology — Kahneman, Kahan, confirmation bias, affect and so on — but still, it’s well put together, and pushes a bit harder than you might expect at first. Yes, people are reluctant to change their minds. But: “On the one hand, it doesn’t make sense to discard an entire belief system, built up over a lifetime, because of some new snippet of information.”

The other mile-high club
Anonymous | The Economist | 15 June 2013

Finnish liftmaker Kone has announced a super-strong, super-light cable made of carbon-fibre, 90% lighter than steel, which can raise an elevator a kilometre or more — twice the existing limit. Since the effectiveness of lifts is one of the main constraints on the height of buildings, this breakthrough could allow for a new generation of skyscrapers twice the height of existing ones. The mile-high tower-block is coming. And maybe space elevators too.

The men behind Germany’s building debacles
Susanne Beyer & Ulrike Knofel | Spiegel | 14 June 2013

Amazing stuff. Spiegel rounds up the architects responsible for three national fiascos — Stuttgart’s train station, Hamburg’s concert house, Berlin’s airport — and asks them to explain. They blame contractors, clients, national character, changing regulations, and, just a little bit, themselves. “A building project doesn’t simply progress from A to Z, with everything going according to plan. Most plans start at the end.”

Data minding
Emanuel Derman | 14 June 2013

Notes on privacy, curiosity, government. “The older I get the more I want what Isaiah Berlin called negative liberty, freedom from interference. I don’t want to be controlled. I don’t want to be watched. I understand the value of the vote, but I might be willing to give it up in exchange for the right to not be interfered with. There’s something increasingly attractive about anarchy, in the precise sense of no government.”

The Supreme Court’s bad science on gene patents
Noah Feldman | Bloomberg View | 13 June 2013

Bad science, but perhaps good law. The Court preserved some scope for patents in genetics, by making a false distinction between naturally-occurring DNA, which cannot be patented, and “complementary” (in effect, manipulated) DNA, which can. The result: “An ethically appealing judgment [that] left room for private enterprise to play its role. The baby has been split — or maybe spliced — in half. Let’s hope she survives, and that we do.”

FAQs about FAQs
Jay Martel | New Yorker | 12 June 2013

“Q: Why do I often find my question missing from the F.A.Q.s?” “A: By their very definition, lists of frequently asked questions strive to include all questions that are frequently asked. If you don’t find your particular question, the most likely reason is that it isn’t frequently asked.”

The secret war
James Bamford | Wired | 12 June 2013

Profile of NSA boss General Keith Alexander. “Never before has anyone in America’s intelligence sphere come close to his degree of power. He is director of the world’s largest intelligence service, the National Security Agency; chief of the Central Security Service; and commander of the US Cyber Command. He has his own secret military, presiding over the Navy’s 10th Fleet, the 24th Air Force, and the Second Army.”

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