Quote of the day

"Never speak ill of yourself, your friends will say enough on that subject"
— Prince de Talleyrand

Lust and the Turing Test Pick of the day

Confronted by the question: “can machines think?”, the computer scientist Alan Turing proposed a different test. If a machine cannot be distinguished from a human, then it passes the test. As machine intelligence advances, this intriguing possibility comes closer – and it has been fascinating film-makers in the past few years. This scientist enjoyed Ex Machina, directed by Alex Garland, precisely because it prophesies a dilemma which humans will face in this century. (1,074 words)

PTSD: Beyond The Battlefield

Skip the first 2,000 words. The argument begins where Junger points out that half the US Army’s Iraq and Afghanistan vets have applied for permanent disability; of whom one-third have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder; yet only one-tenth of troops see combat. What’s going on? According to Junger, they aren’t all faking it. Soldiers love active service, war included. It’s the return home that traumatises them (7,500 words)

How To Rig A Clinical Trial And Fool Millions

A science journalist explains. Use a tiny sample, measure for lots of things, and decide what you are looking for after you see the results. The author hired 16 people on Facebook, fed chocolate to five of them for three weeks — and found “proof” that chocolate helped weight-loss. Newspapers around the world ran with the story. “It was, in fact, a fairly typical study. Which is to say: It was terrible science” (3,075 words)

The Book That Changed Campaigns Forever

Theodore White’s Making of the President 1960 transformed political reporting, not always for the better. White turned Kennedy’s campaign into grand historical drama. But his method required constant access to the candidate; and when every journalist wanted to be the next Theodore White, campaigns turned into media scrums. “I sincerely regret it”, White said later of his innovation. “Who gives a fuck if the guy had milk for breakfast?” (4,300 words)

America, Bees, Class

The documentary Spellbound followed eight American teenagers from diverse backgrounds through the national finals of the 2002 Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee. It offered, in effect, a version of the American dream: Rich or poor, black or white, anybody can succeed if they have enough grit. How does that message hold up 13 years later? Pretty well, actually. All eight finalists made college. One died young, the rest are flourishing (3,000 words)

The Stakes Behind The FIFA Scandal

FIFA as the mirror of history. Its founders were “aristocratic European white men” who ran football on colonial lines. With Havelange came decolonisation, the rise of non-European countries. Blatter’s FIFA wallowed in a resource boom from broadcasting rights. “The clean FIFA will get rid of African and Asian influence, host World Cups in impeccable stadiums in Germany and the US, and ignore three-quarters of the poor world” (1,050 words)

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