Articles to 2018-08-23

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First the link to this week's complete list as HTML and as PDF.


Edelson et al. have pinpointed the traits that make some individuals assume leadership. As Fleming & Bang point out in their last paragraph leaders are no better than average at making decisions for themselves and others. While that may be true (I can't find where their data come from) it's beside the point. A leader's role is not so much to decide for others but rather to make a binding decision for the whole group swiftly and get it accepted. A leader's main responsibility is getting the group to work together and achieve the best possible collective result.


Kersey et al.'s results are convincing, but aren't they rather trivial? Nobody has ever doubted that girls, least of all budgeting housewives, can be and are good with numbers. But primary school level arithmetic is not the same as graduating in a STEM subject. All physics and engineering students I've known, including and especially the best ones, have burnt the midnight oil and students of these and similar subjects are not known for their social and cultural lives. All the women I've known, who were equally prepared to pursue their studies with the same dedicated single-mindedness were on average at least as successful as the men. Student life tends to look decidedly different in those subjects generally pursued by women, and that again is true for both sexes.


I can't quite share Post’s enthusiasm for Nasca et al.'s results. Although the upper third of serum values for healthy controls is outside the range of the two subgroups of depressives, two thirds of the range fully overlaps and not even the minimum values show a consistent difference. The prognostic value of that measure is zero as the supplementary figure 5 confirms most clearly.

That said things look very different when viewed the other way round. The measured serum values can be predicted very well from depressive patients' anamneses. So this molecule clearly does seem to play a role in the course of a depression. It is well worth pursuing further.


Admittedly Tucci et al.'s figure 4a does look suggestive and the statistical outcome is very far from chance. But does it mean anything? Do their identified genes have any measurable effect? The tiny correlation in figure 4b, such as it is, is purely driven by one or two outliers alone. Figure 4c shows the combined effect of all those genes to be essentially nonexistent.


The current perception in our society, at least in the affluent West, is that we and our modern, proficient agriculture are far less susceptible to the vagaries of the climate than our grandparents were, for whom bad years and bad harvests were a constant threat. Looking back over the long term we find that just is what all successful generations thought about themselves, who the luck of several decades of unchanging good weather like we've enjoyed since about the end of the last world war.

Evans et al. have looked back at past climate swings and found the one ending the Maya civilization to much worse than hitherto imagined. Precipitation declined by up to 70 % over long stretches of time. It is very doubtful whether we could survive any better on less than a third of our accustomed rainfall. The main difference may be that our ability to spread out and fall back would turn out to be very much lower than theirs was.

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