Yesterday, I included a link to a blog post from economist Tyler Cowen's blog, Marginal Revolution, about Sir Francis Bacon and his dislike of the printing press. Among other things, the post quoted Bacon as saying "But these three [inventions], perhaps, have fallen out by a certain fatality or providence of such a kind, that though they have added much to human power, they have not much increased human goodness; nay, rather, the first and last have furnished men with the means of doing more mischief, and the please say more second has made them more vain and arrogant.” This was attributed to a book from 1605, Chapter I, section 5.
The only problem is that Bacon never wrote this -- from what I can tell, the only place this appears is Cowen's blog. A number of commenters on the blog post believe this entire post was written by ChatGPT or some other AI. One giveaway? In the quote above, I believe the "please say more" is actually a command directed at the ChatGPT engine to continue its fabricated writing. Apart from just the quotes, the substance of the post also appears to be incorrect -- Bacon was not a critic of the printing press, as far as I can tell from my somewhat limited research.
He said that it was one of the inventions (including the magnet and gunpowder) that "changed the whole face and state of things throughout the world," which isn't necessarily an endorsement, but I can't find any evidence that he thought it was responsible for the evils attributed to it in Cowen's post. Is the post intended as an elaborate satire on our fears about AI engines, and how similar they are to criticisms of the printing press? Perhaps. Hopefully Cowen will reveal what he was up to in a future post. One possible downside of this sort of thing: Cowen's post is now showing up as a search result for "criticism of the printing press."
Ashkenazi Jews have a genetic disorder that makes them immune to tuberculosis
Gaucher disease is a rare disease that can affect anyone, but rates are significantly high among Ashkenazi Jews – around one in 800 births. In most cases, the illness can be relatively mild, with symptoms including enlarged spleen and liver, and anemia. Scientists made zebrafish with genetic variants that cause Gaucher disease in Ashkenazi Jews and, as expected, their macrophages became enlarged and could not break down an unusual type of fat called sphingolipids. Yet when the fish were exposed to TB, they were surprised to discover that they were resistant to infection. Are Ashkenazi Jews somehow less likely to get TB infection? The answer appears to be yes.
Why Ian Fleming started writing
After five years of procrastination, Ian Fleming sat down at the typewriter. He began to write not for the joy of creating, but as a way to avoid reality. He was forty-three years old and troubled by thoughts of the future. At the typewriter, he could escape reality and dream about the person he would rather be. Fleming was depressed and drinking heavily. He was also about to get married. His fiancée, Ann, was the love of his life and pregnant with his child, but this didn’t mean that he wanted to be married to her. He began writing, he later admitted, to take his mind off the ‘hideous spectre of matrimony’. A committed relationship requires a level of emotional maturity which he did not possess. Mutual friends suspected from the start that the marriage would be a disaster.
A mysterious object is flying towards the black hole at the centre of the galaxy
An object is being lurking near the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy – and scientists might finally know what it is. The object, known as X7 and stretched out near our Milky Way’s black hole, has mystified scientists for decades. Researchers have speculated that it might have broken free of a nearby structure, for instance, and puzzled over whether it was always such a long shape or if it had been shaped by the black hole that it is sliding towards. Scientists now believe that it could be a cloud of gas and dust that was thrown out when two stars collided. In the time since, the object known as X7 has been stretched out, and is gradually being pulled apart by the force of the black hole.
For the love of losing
Marina Benjamin writes about the upsides and downsides of working as a professional gambler: "For two years in the mid-1990s, I worked on and off as a professional gambler, touring the world as the rookie member of a long-standing blackjack team. I had been casually recruited into the ‘Odds and Sods’, as they sometimes called themselves, by a colourful Peruvian woman with owlish grey eyes, who correctly pegged me for a drifter when we’d met over a platter of spicy prawns at the home of a mutual friend. Her husband, Ken, a former research chemist, was the blackjack pro. ‘But I pick all his assistants,’ she told me, pressing her business card into my palm before she left."
Rare insect found at Arkansas Walmart sets historic record
A giant insect plucked from the façade of an Arkansas Walmart has set historic records. The Polystoechotes punctata (giant lacewing) is the first of its kind recorded in eastern North America in over 50 years—and the first record of the species ever in the state. The giant lacewing was formerly widespread across North America, but was mysteriously extirpated from eastern North America by the 1950s. This discovery suggests there may be relic populations of this large, Jurassic-Era insect yet to be discovered, explained Michael Skvarla, director of Penn State's Insect Identification Lab. Skvarla found the specimen in 2012, but misidentified it and only discovered its true identity after teaching an online course based on his personal insect collection in 2020.