📰 News

DNA Data. The Sunday Business Post and The Journal collaborated on an excellent piece on Genomics Medicine Ireland (now “Genuity Science”) a private company doing huge amounts of work that is usually done by, or at least lead by, state-run genomics entities in other countries. They frequently offer to sequence DNA for free, which is always a dead giveaway that there’s huge value in the underlying database they’re building. Private companies should probably play a role in executing this work, but the ownership of the underlying Intellectual Property (data on the DNA of our citizens) should probably be state owned, or well regulated at the very least. Links: The Journal. SBP.

QAnon Banned. Big news as Facebook announced a ban on all QAnon related groups. The conspiracy theory has had severely negative impacts on its followers and the danger it posed to the wider public was growing, promoting anti-mask and anti-vaccination, as well as shootings and real-life violence. It started in shady parts of the internet like 8chan, but it reaches average people on Facebook, YouTube and Reddit, so this move is a very significant one. Link.

Content Moderation. In an interesting illustration of tradeoffs, here’s two different approaches to the same problem – posting terrorist content on a social network. Facebook have decided to ban depictions of terrorism that are supportive or glorifying, but allow depictions used to condemn it. Twitch, the video streaming site, on the other hand, have decided to ban all extremist content, “even for the purposes of denouncing such content”. Link.

Excel woes. In a story that will send shivers down the spine of anyone who has worked on data projects in large organisations, the UK under-reported 16,000 Covid cases because they were moving data around in CSV files, but when opened in Excel it maxxed out at 1million rows (1 row per test) and nobody noticed. I’m not saying it’s best practice, or even good practice, but it’s certainly very common practice. Link.

Cambridge Analytica. The UK’s ICO has issued an update on their investigation of CA. In summary, it paints a picture of CA as an organisation full of bad practices, but significantly over-selling their own effects and influence. The scary things they claimed they did were mostly an overblown sales-pitch. However, “the whole ecosystem of personal data in political campaigns” was pretty bad in 2016, but much work has been done to clean up practices in political parties, platforms and legislation. At least on this side of the Atlantic. Link.

EU Spy Free Zone. “The European Court of Justice (ECJ), the EU’s highest legal authority, ruled Tuesday that member states cannot collect mass mobile and internet data on citizens.” Link.

💡 Interesting Links

Cluster Busting. This is the best new information I’ve read on the science of Covid in months. I’d recommend reading it in full, but to give you the quick summary, the article suggests we stop thinking about a linear progression of the virus, where person A infects B, B infects C, and so on. Instead, this virus seems to move in clusters, where A, B and C all get the virus, infect no-one, but then D infects 50 people in a night club or at choir practice. Covid Clusters emerge when 3 Cs come together – “crowds in closed spaces in close contact” – and countries should consider “cluster busting” as a key approach. Read More.

Outliers. What type of reward system produces the most radical innovation? This study found that “Providing sizable rewards for only the very top performers appears to inspire the sort of risk-taking required to encourage the requisite creativity that delivers scientific and technological novelty.” There’s a metaphor for modern (US) capitalism in there – producing outsized results, but also lots of losers, which can work if everyone gets to benefit from the innovations, but that’s not been happening as much as it used to. Link.

Colourised Past. Have you seen the video of the snowball fight in France 124 years ago? It’s wonderful, you can see it here. There’s a growing community on YouTube using machine learning techniques to add colour and fill in missing frames to modernise these very old videos. There’s lots more here. Some Historians are complaining that the process distorts understanding, but I think they’re a powerful way to collapse the distance between then and now.