In an excellent recent essay on “big visions for biology,” Sam Rodriques writes:
Ask most biologists about the cure for cancer, and they will tell you it doesn’t exist: cancer is many diseases that are mostly unrelated to each other, and that all have to be cured one at a time.
Are “most biologists” right about this?
We can get perspective on this from the history of infectious disease. After all, infection was also “many diseases,” with disparate causes (viruses, bacteria, protozoa) and disparate pathways (air, water, food, insects). And yet, while we did not exactly “cure infectious disease” (just ask the 248,544 people who got covid last week in the US alone), we did reduce every major metric of infectious disease by 90% to 99% in wealthy/developed countries:
One of the defining characteristics of the modern world is the ubiquity of steel. Nearly every product of industrial civilization relies on steel, either as a component or as part of the equipment used to produce it. Without it, Vaclav Smil notes in “Still the Iron Age”, modern life would largely be impossible:
…none of [civilization’s] great accomplishments - its surfeit of energy, its abundance of food, its high quality of life, its unprecedented longevity and mobility, and indeed, its electronic infatuations - would be possible without massive smelting of iron and production (and increasingly also recycling) of steel.
...The list of items and services whose reliability and affordability have been made possible by steel is nearly endless as critical components of virtually all mining, transportation and manufacturing machines
Do you think fast progress is dangerous? Use the seat belt test.
What if the seat belt had been invented ten years earlier? If progress in vehicle safety had been faster, thousands of lives would have been saved.
My journey as CEO for The Roots of Progress starts this week—yet in a way, it started at least four decades ago. I grew up in West Germany, a country that after the Second World War saw massive progress, with living standards and opportunities similar to those in the US. Yet I also saw what happens when progress is missing: my family regularly visited our relatives in East Germany. After crossing the heavily fortified border (where our car was searched on the way in lest we smuggle in books with prohibited ideas) 10-year-old me experienced a bleak world. In the East, coal dust lay heavy in the air, my cousin stood in line for hours to get a bottle of ketchup, and our relatives waited 10 years...
As you can tell from the opening, I originally posted this on my Substack in October. Inspired by Jason Crawford's post on curing cancer, I'm reposting it here. I will note that Her2+ breast cancer was not the first once-fatal disease with which I had a scrape. As a child, around 1967, I had scarlet fever, which before antibiotics could kill, as readers of Little Women know.
I think about breast cancer every October, and not because it’s “Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” which I find some mixture of ridiculous and distasteful. I’m all for raising money for breast cancer research and treatment. But making people “aware” by slapping pink on everything from the water in public fountains to specials at Dollar Tree doesn’t do much to save lives....
This is a linkpost for https://www.simongrimm.com/pub/germantalent/
Space colonization and the closed material economy
Nostalgia for space (see this post by David Manheim as a nice example) is probably one of the most relevant characteristics of the techno-scientific segment of my generation. I was born in 1977 when the hangover from Apollo was fresh, and during the 1980s, while ambitious space exploration programs were already history, the space frontier narrative still had traction. Even towards the end of the 80s the idea of space cities and zero gravity factories still seemed possible in the near future.
From time to time, although with less and less conviction, the space dream is re-activated. And it is always activated in connection with rockets, space elevators and other high energy technologies. However, the essential challenge of space colonization is the...
Hi everyone. I'm Eli Dourado, a senior research fellow at the Center for Growth and Opportunity at Utah State University. I work on policies to advance hard technologies that generate economic growth. I have published in top newspapers, negotiated supersonic standards, derailed an international treaty, and spend too much of my time on Twitter. I got my PhD in economics from George Mason University.
Ask me anything! I will be on here from Monday, January 30 for a few days, and will endeavor to get to your questions each day during that time.
Use the comments below to add questions, and upvote any questions you'd particularly like me to answer.