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The Hidden Half: The unseen forces that…
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The Hidden Half: The unseen forces that influence everything (utgåvan 2020)

av Michael Blastland

MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygDiskussioner
301630,869 (3)Ingen/inga
Why does one smoker die of lung cancer but another live to 100? The answer is 'The Hidden Half' - those random, unknowable variables that mess up our attempts to comprehend the world. We humans are very clever creatures - but we're idiots about how clever we really are. In this entertaining and ingenious book, Blastland reveals how in our quest to make the world more understandable, we lose sight of how unexplainable it often is. The result - from GDP figures to medicine - is that experts know a lot less than they think. Filled with compelling stories from economics, genetics, business, and science, The Hidden Half is a warning that an explanation which works in one arena may not work in another. Entertaining and provocative, it will change how you view the world.… (mer)
Medlem:Rusty37
Titel:The Hidden Half: The unseen forces that influence everything
Författare:Michael Blastland
Info:London : Atlantic Books, 2020.
Samlingar:To read -- library
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Taggar:non-fiction, library

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The Hidden Half: How the World Conceals its Secrets av Michael Blastland

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Michael Blastland is upset that everything is not neat and tidy. That there is no guarantee of symmetry. That economies are not predictable. That genetics does not describe nearly everything about life. In his The Hidden Half, he examines a multitude of disciplines and events to show we must be missing half of what is going on, because we can’t explain them otherwise. We exist on half the knowledge we need, without knowing what we don’t know.

The book is a fast-reading and delightful collection of failures, peppered with behavioral science, which is always entertaining.

When people who have written down a position one way are interviewed as if they had chosen the opposite stance, they actively defend the position they did not take as if it were always their own. Politicians are famous for being absolutely certain of the rightness of their position one day, yet take the precise opposite position another. Every year, only one economist is correct about the performance of the economy. Every model is wrong. Nothing, it seems, is predictable.

He begins with a startling enigma, at least to scientists. The marmorkrebs is a newly discovered kind of crawfish that flourishes in the German aquarium industry. Its unique feature is that the females can lay eggs that will hatch without input from males (parthenogenesis). All you need is a female, who can lay thousands of eggs and produce thousands of offspring with DNA identical to hers. Perfect clones, in theory. And yet, the offspring come in all shapes and sizes, and variable colorings. How is this possible when their DNA is identical? Blastland says nobody knows. No answer satisfies, and it all points out that we clearly do not understand genetics after all. If more proof were needed, he points to the past decade of breakthroughs in genetic research, which have resulted in essentially nothing. Identifying genes has not changed medicine or lives anything like the predictions had it, because that is only part of the story. And we don’t know what the rest of the story is.

Man has an insatiable need to put everything in its proper place. He needs to know things are organized, measurable, consistent and predictable. And they just aren’t. But that stops no discipline working on those assumptions and making those kinds of claims. Studies in peer-reviewed journals attest to the constant flow of new, absolutely proven ideas that are just plain wrong. Some cannot be replicated. Many are just the survivors; the journals don’t publish all the contradictory failure articles. So they aren’t cited in other papers. The result is undisputed discoveries that are worthless. We see them daily, particularly in biology, genetics and medicine. As easy to disprove as they were to prove, they are soon forgotten when they prove useless.

Medicine comes in for a particular beating in The Hidden Half.

Blastland deconstructs studies to show how useless they, drugs and tests really are. He shows that 90% of drug study results are not replicable, even by the original researchers. In one specific example of pointless tests, he takes on dementia in over 65s, where a test long considered reliable can pinpoint four positive cases in 100 tests. Unfortunately, there are six cases per hundred, so it misses two of them, or one third. Far worse, it also labels 23 additional cases as positive – falsely. This means the test claims a total of 27 positives when we know there are only six. The result: nearly two dozen people suffer the stress and anxiety of becoming demented without every becoming demented. So with breast cancer and numerous other examples where failure stops no one from taking these tests. Or doctors from requiring them.

Even in detective work, we have no clue as to the right answer. It’s a lot of guesswork and assumptions that are all but completely unreliable. He gives the example motorcycle thefts in Germany, which dropped unexpectedly from 150,000 to 45,000. All kinds of theories were put forward in economics, sociology, crime rates, employment trends and so on. The truth turned out to be, of all things, helmet laws. Germany mandated helmets for motorcyclists, which kneecapped the casual theft of motorcycles. Helmets were on no one’s top ten list of causes.

There is a lot on mice. Mice used in experiments have proven to be frustrating for those keen on definitive findings. The same batch of mice, bred to have identical properties, put in identical labs, with identical conditions and food, but in geographically different facilities, have produced different results in identical tests run on them. What is it we don’t know? We don’t know. But no one can rely on test results; that much is certain.

My own favorite story of lab mice concerns the researchers. A study wanted to determine if mice could hide their pain. Researchers injected chemicals into mice legs which gave them a great deal of pain. They found that when female humans handled them, the mice grimaced freely. But when males handled them, they braced themselves and hid their suffering, putting on a brave face. They wouldn’t allow themselves to show weakness before men. This even worked when a male’s used t-shirt was left by the cage. The experiment showed two things, neither of which has to do with muse pain. The results of mice studies are colored by the sex of the researchers and are therefore unreliable. And every mouse test going back a century is invalid because it did not take into account the sex of the researchers who examined them daily if not hourly. Our unintended arrogance in announcing results of such experiments is typical of the hidden half Blastland talks about, even if he doesn’t explicitly cite this one phenomenon.

At bottom, Blastland is saying we are nowhere near as far along as we claim and like to believe. We need a little more humility and a lot less hubris. He quotes Gustave Flaubert, hundreds of years ago: “The rage for wanting to conclude is one of the most deadly and most fruitless manias to befall humanity.” We need to accept the imperfection, not of the universe, but of our knowledge of it. That would change the whole frustration index of continual failures in science.

Meanwhile, back at the marmorkrebs, the crawfish Blastland says have stymied all the experts, it instantly occurred to me while reading the prologue that there is an obvious answer. At least to me. The fact that no males participate in the reproductive cycle means the DNA of the newborns is deficient and therefore unstable. This will produce unpredictably different, if not deformed offspring, with uncertain futures. Parthenogenesis among crawfish is unnatural, and Darwin would posit that situation could not last. Defective chromosomes missing the male input will see to it the subspecies of genetically identical females does not continue. But what do I know. I’m no biochemistry researcher. I just review books.

David Wineberg ( )
1 rösta DavidWineberg | Jul 27, 2020 |
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Why does one smoker die of lung cancer but another live to 100? The answer is 'The Hidden Half' - those random, unknowable variables that mess up our attempts to comprehend the world. We humans are very clever creatures - but we're idiots about how clever we really are. In this entertaining and ingenious book, Blastland reveals how in our quest to make the world more understandable, we lose sight of how unexplainable it often is. The result - from GDP figures to medicine - is that experts know a lot less than they think. Filled with compelling stories from economics, genetics, business, and science, The Hidden Half is a warning that an explanation which works in one arena may not work in another. Entertaining and provocative, it will change how you view the world.

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