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The shocking legacies of Nazi medical research

The legacies of Nazi medical research

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Our pick of the week from around the web, including why Hitler's victims still haunt modern science and the video game designer rewriting the rules of chess.

The hidden technology that makes Twitter huge
Paul Ford | Business Week | 7 November 2013

Twitter thrives for two main reasons. First, it’s cunningly engineered: The visible Tweet contains up to 140 characters, but each message also has 31 hidden data fields which allow Twitter to analyse and monetise network activity. Second, it has uncovered value in “a latent aspect of human life”, something that humans produce freely and plentifully, but which was previously seen as worthless: trivial chatter.

The Nazi anatomists
Emily Bazelon | Slate | 6 November 2013

Remarkable – and often repugnant – piece of writing and reporting on the legacies of Nazi medical research. Anatomists accepted the bodies of thousands killed by Hitler’s regime; German, Austrian, Polish universities still hold remains in their collections. Nazi theories recur even now in America’s abortion debate. Half of Germany’s doctors joined the Nazi Party; almost all continued practising after the war.

Bitcoin Is broken
Emin Gün Sirer & Ittay Eyal | Hacking Distributed | 4 November 2013

Researchers claim to have discovered a fundamental flaw in Bitcoin which could enable dishonest miners to hijack the currency. “The Bitcoin protocol is not incentive-compatible. The protocol can be gamed by people with selfish interests. And once the system veers away from the happy mode where everyone is honest, there is no force that opposes the growth of really large pools that command control of the currency.”

In praise of the polymath
Robert Twigger | Aeon | 4 November 2013

We overvalue specialists in the intellectual world, and undervalue generalists — perhaps because the division of labour has worked well in the business world. But skilled polymaths are happier and more innovative. “Over-specialisation eventually retreats into defending what one has learnt rather than making new connections. The initial spurt of learning gives out, and the expert is left, like an animal, merely defending his territory.”

What is theoretical physics, and why do it?
Mark Jackson | The Conversation | 4 November 2013

A physicist explains. “Theoretical physicists construct theories of nature. For a theory to be true it must be both consistent with itself and consistent with nature. The first can be verified with mathematics, the second with experiment. Scientific exploration is like geographical exploration. Popular lore can be sometimes dramatically overturned, like the interdiction against sailing too far away, lest you fall off the edge of the world.”

Why Russia’s drinkers resist AA
Leon Neyfakh | Boston Globe | 3rd November 2013

Russia has a colossal drinking problem. Alcoholics Anonymous has shown the power of mutual support groups to combat alcoholism. Yet AA has made almost no headway in Russia: there are four times as many AA groups in Boston as in the whole of Russia. Why? Because Russians don’t think drinking is wrong, and they have low levels of trust. “The idea that another drunk can help you is asinine to most Russians.”

Chess 2: The sequel
Christian Donlan | Eurogamer | 3 November 2013

Video-game designer revises the rules of chess to reduce the proportion of draws. “The new victory condition is the simplest, and most immediately satisfying, part of Chess 2. While games still often hinge on good old checkmates, you can now also win if you manage to get your king across the middle of the board. It’s bold stuff when you see it in action: a proper NFL touchdown in the midst of a chess game!”

Review: Basic Structures of Reality, by Colin McGinn
Kerry McKenzie | Mind | 31 October 2013

Philosopher’s attempt to learn and analyse fundamental physics receives one of the most hostile book reviews ever published: “An impressively inept contribution to the philosophy of physics, and one exemplifying everything that can possibly go wrong with metaphyics; it is mind-numbingly repetitive, toe-curlingly pretentious, and amateurish in the extreme regarding the incorporation of physical fact.” (PDF)    

Paul Graham and Y Combinator
Robert Greene | 30 October 2013

Graham was already wealthy from having built and sold an online commerce start-up, when he gave a talk at Harvard in 2005 and was besieged by students wanting to know how to turn their ideas into businesses. From which came another business plan: he would find ten outstanding start-up ideas by advertising, and invest $15,000 in each. His incubator has since launched companies worth almost $14 billion.

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