Protests in Modi's India; the meat-substitute industry; and fun reviews of bad pop science

Early on, we had two goals that were fully aligned: to be identical to a burger from a cow and to be much better than a burger from a cow. Now they’re somewhat at odds, and we talk about the chocolate-doughnut problem: What if what people really like in a burger is what makes it taste like a chocolate doughnut, so you keep increasing those qualities and suddenly you’re not making a burger at all?

13 Jan 2020 · Matthew Alampay Davis

Climate change underrepresentations; the 'productive disappointment' of the Obama era; and 'Parasite' (2019)

The choice of the name ‘game theory’ was brilliant as a marketing device. I think it’s a very tempting idea for people, that they can take something simple and apply it to situations that are very complicated, like the economic crisis or nuclear deterrence. But this is an illusion. Now my views, I have to say, are extreme compared to many of my colleagues. I believe that game theory is very interesting, I’ve spent a lot of my life thinking about it. But I don’t respect the claims that it has direct applications… If I could repeat my life, I would probably follow my unfulfilled dream to be a lawyer.

04 Nov 2019 · Matthew Alampay Davis

HBO’s Chernobyl; the assassination by Patricia Lockwood of the coward John Updike; and stratified randomization

The trafficking of arms from the United States is rarely discussed as a cause of the violence people are fleeing; the drug war, she argues, is also hemispheric: it ‘begins in the Great Lakes of the northern United States and ends in the mountains of Celaque in southern Honduras’. Consumers and producers of prohibited drugs bear responsibility in each country along the route, as do the dysfunctional laws that push the trade into a violent underground. The migrant children, she writes, are more accurately described as refugees of a hemispheric war.

03 Nov 2019 · Matthew Alampay Davis

The remarkable efficiency of the kidnapping industry; the science of suppressing disease-vector mosquitoes; and the monotony of op-eds

The UN forbids the transfer of money to designated terrorist groups. Private persons and entities cannot legally make concessions to proscribed groups, and if they do, their insurers cannot legally reimburse them, though ransom-payers are rarely if ever prosecuted. But it’s not always clear which category kidnappers fit into. Some terrorists pretend to be part of criminal organizations so that they can legally collect ransoms. Shortland reports that when a Somali told British negotiators that he represented the ‘commercial arm’ of al-Shabaab, the jihadist fundamentalist group, ’they had to explain that this was not sufficiently removed from the parent organization to have a payment authorized.’

09 Aug 2019 · Matthew Alampay Davis

Data imperialism in the NBA; Apichatpong Weerasethakul; the virtues of academic giants dying; and Emily Wilson on translating Homer

In 2003, the two of us made a wager. We had just left a talk by a renowned scientist when Pierre quipped, ‘It must be amazing to work in his orbit, where his brilliance and the intellectual exchange of ideas must raise the level of scholarship of everyone around him.’ Josh, a bit more sardonic in nature, replied, ‘I don’t know. I bet he consumes a lot of scarce research resources and commands an oversized amount of attention. He might well suck all the oxygen out of the room.’ Without missing a beat, Pierre countered that this was really an empirical question. Nearly a decade-and-a-half later, we have some answers. It seems we were both right. These results paint a picture of scientific fields as scholarly guilds to which elite scientists can regulate access, providing them with outsized opportunities to shape the direction of scientific advance in that space.

20 Jul 2019 · Matthew Alampay Davis

'The Uninhabitable Earth' by David Wallace-Wells and the moral imperative of alarmism

I want you to understand how overwhelming, how insurmountable it must have felt [in the Jim Crow South]. I want you to understand that there was no end in sight. It felt futile for them too. Then, as now, there were calls to slow down. To settle for incremental remedies for an untenable situation. They, too, trembled for every baby born into that world. You don’t fight something like that because you think you will win. You fight it because you have to. Because surrendering dooms so much more than yourself, but everything that comes after you. Acquiescence, in this case, is what James Baldwin called ’the sickness unto death.’ What, now, do you have to lose? What else can you be but brave?

05 Mar 2019 · Matthew Alampay Davis

Robert Caro's research process and non-line-of-sight imaging

‘I didn’t know someone from Princeton could do digging like this,’ he said. ‘From now on, you do investigative work.’

27 Jan 2019 · Matthew Alampay Davis

Facebook and my vote in the 2016 Philippine election; on 'academic freedom'; and Vice (2018)

When I read my straight colleagues telling everyone else to give Finnis the ‘respect’ of engaging with his opinions, to ‘make arguments’ in response, I wonder how many times they have had to ‘make the argument’ for their happiness, for their home and their partner, for the life they’ve built with the people they love. At times, I’m not even sure what I am meant to be making the argument for… I can engage, certainly, I can make arguments in response, but there is also a sense, at a deeper level, in which there is nothing I can say.

26 Jan 2019 · Matthew Alampay Davis

The Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event and the etymology of narwhals

The samples contained a surprise: huge amounts of iridium, so much that it would have taken tens or hundreds of millions of years to deposit at background rates. What could explain it? The Alvarezes came to a radical conclusion: the high concentration of iridium in the band must have come from outer space, and it must have been delivered in bulk by a colossal asteroid strike – an event destructive enough to have triggered the end-Cretaceous extinction. The iridium-rich clay band at Gubbio was the shroud of dust and debris that had eventually settled on a devastated world.

09 Jan 2019 · Matthew Alampay Davis