Famine alters Metabolism for successive Generations

The increased risk of hyperglycemia associated with prenatal exposure to famine is also passed down to the next generation, according to a new study of hundreds of families affected by widespread starvation in mid-20th Century China. Hyperglycemia is a high blood glucose level and a common sign of diabetes. The new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that hundreds of people who were gestated during a horrific famine that afflicted China between 1959 and 1961 had significantly elevated odds of both hyperglycemia and type 2 diabetes. Even more striking, however, was that their children also had significantly higher odds of hyperglycemia, even though the famine had long since passed when they were born.


Posted in Famine, Metabolism | Tagged ,

Why Bees could be the secret to Superhuman Intelligence

A tool inspired by swarming insects is helping people predict the future – making groups of people smarter than their members are by themselves. Louis Rosenberg thinks he has found a way to make us all a lot smarter. The secret to this superhuman intelligence? Bees.
Rosenberg runs a Silicon Valley startup called Unanimous AI, which has built a tool to support human decision-making by crowdsourcing opinions online. It lets hundreds of participants respond to a question all at once, pooling their collective insight, biases and varying expertise into a single answer. Since launching in June, Unanimous AI has registered around 50,000 users and answered 230,000 questions. Rosenberg thinks this hybrid human-computer decision-making machine – once dubbed an ‘artificial’ artificial intelligence – could help us tackle some of the world’s toughest questions. What’s more, with advances in AI coming thick and fast, he sees it as a way to put humans back into the loop.


Posted in Bees, Human intelligence, Intelligence | Tagged , ,

Social Science is not fighting Inequality

Sociology is at risk of losing what credibility it has because we have latched onto ways of studying inequality that are not suited to new economic arrangements. What are those ways? They started as truths that now represent half-truths or worse – we just repeat them and think we’re doing something to produce insights into how inequality is produced and maintained. An unjust economic system that rewards rent collection, tax avoidance, hoarding of public goods, the creation of private substitutes for public goods, and the automatic passing on of advantages from one generation to another will not change substantially by making CEO’s, corporate board members, Chief General Counsels, Chief Financial Officers and Hedge-Fund Managers more demographically diverse. Nor will inequality decrease by sending more African Americans to Harvard. “Me too” social science and social policy does little to fight inequality. The real question is, are we ready to meet the challenge?


Posted in Inequality, Social sciences | Tagged ,

Addressing Intolerance and Extremism through Universal Values in Curricula

Underlying intolerance is the tendency to reject others’ values and/or to impose values on one another. This tendency persists in spite of growing dialogue on diversity, gender equality, the global equity imperative, and the increasing ease of real and virtual communication in the 21st century. Cases of intolerance and related violence and extremism are often accompanied by discrimination by gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, culture, and race.

The global lexicon and dialogue on addressing intolerance, violence, and extremism have focused more on diversity than on similarities. While efforts to acknowledge and celebrate our differences are critical, they remain incomplete: we cannot fully appreciate our differences unless we recognize and embrace our common humanity. When education systems integrate our universal values in the curriculum and children learn to recognize cultural differences as diverse manifestations of our universal values and shared humanity, violent extremism is bound to reduce its appeal, and building more tolerant societies will become a practical possibility.


Posted in Cultural values, Curriculum, Extremism, Intolerance, Values | Tagged , , , ,

UNESCO – Challenging Inequalities: Pathways to a Just World

Never before has inequality been so high on the agenda of policy-makers worldwide, or such a hot topic for social science research. More journal articles are being published on the topic of inequality and social justice today than ever before. The Report draws on the insights of over 100 social scientists and other thought leaders from all over the world, across various disciplines, to emphasize transformative responses to inequality at all levels, from the grassroots to global governance. It concludes that:

unchecked inequality could jeopardize the sustainability of economies, societies and communities;
inequalities should not just be understood and tackled in terms of income and wealth: they are economic, political, social, cultural, environmental, spatial and knowledge-based;
the links and intersections between inequalities need to be better understood to create fairer societies;
a step change towards a research agenda that is interdisciplinary, multiscale and globally inclusive is needed to inform pathways toward greater equality.

In short, too many countries are investing too little in researching the long-term impact of inequality on the sustainability of their economies, societies and communities. Unless we address this urgently, inequalities will make the cross-cutting ambition of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to ‘leave no one behind’ by 2030 an empty slogan.


Posted in Inequality, Research | Tagged ,

Emergence – A philosophical account

Interest in emergence amongst philosophers and scientists has grown in recent years, yet the concept continues to be viewed with skepticism by many. In this book, Paul Humphreys argues that many of the problems arise from a long philosophical tradition that is overly committed to synchronic reduction and has been overly focused on problems in philosophy of mind. He develops a novel account of diachronic ontological emergence called transformational emergence, shows that it is free of the problems raised against synchronic accounts, shows that there are plausible examples of transformational emergence within physics and chemistry, and argues that the central ideas fit into a well-established historical tradition of emergence that includes John Stuart Mill, G.E. Moore, and C.D. Broad. The book also provides a comprehensive assessment of current theories of emergence and so can be used as a way into what is by now a very large literature on the topic. It places theories of emergence within a plausible classification, provides criteria for emergence, and argues that there is no single unifying account of emergence. Reevaluations of related topics in metaphysics are provided, including fundamentality, physicalism, holism, methodological individualism, and multiple realizability, among others. The relations between scientific and philosophical conceptions of emergence are assessed, with examples such as self-organization, ferromagnetism, cellular automata, and nonlinear systems being discussed. Although the book is written for professional philosophers, simple and intuitively accessible examples are used to illustrate the new concepts.


Posted in Emergence, Philosophy | Tagged ,

On Macrostates in Complex Multi-Scale Systems

A characteristic feature of complex systems is their deep structure, meaning that the definition of their states and observables depends on the level, or the scale, at which the system is considered. This scale dependence is reflected in the distinction of micro- and macro-states, referring to lower and higher levels of description. There are several conceptual and formal frameworks to address the relation between them. Here, we focus on an approach in which macrostates are contextually emergent from (rather than fully reducible to) microstates and can be constructed by contextual partitions of the space of microstates. We discuss criteria for the stability of such partitions, in particular under the microstate dynamics, and outline some examples. Finally, we address the question of how macrostates arising from stable partitions can be identified as relevant or meaningful.


Posted in Complex systems, Complexity, Structure | Tagged , ,

Corporate Social Science and the Loss of Curiosity

“Social science is an enterprise of the modern world.”

Peter Taylor reflects on the directions in which social science has moved in the twenty years since the issuing of the Gulbenkian Commission’s report, Open the Social Sciences. While a strong case was made for interdisciplinarity in that report, Taylor, a member of the commission, highlights a different trend: the development of “corporate” social science. While not opposed to interdisciplinary work, this form of social science, argues Taylor, has established a well-resourced world of institutions and processes for the validation and dissemination of social knowledge parallel to universities and shapes social science in ways that serve private agendas rather than public goals or critical perspectives.


Posted in Corporations, Curiosity, Social sciences | Tagged , ,

The Sharing Economy: A pathway to sustainability or a nightmarish form of Neoliberal Capitalism?

The sharing economy seemingly encompasses online peer-to-peer economic activities as diverse as rental (Airbnb), for-profit service provision (Uber), and gifting (Freecycle). The Silicon Valley success stories of Airbnb and Uber have catalyzed a vibrant sharing economy discourse, participated in by the media, incumbent industries, entrepreneurs and grassroots activists. Within this discourse the sharing economy is framed in contradictory ways; ranging from a potential pathway to sustainability, to a nightmarish form of neoliberalism. However, these framings share a common vision of the sharing economy (a niche of innovation) decentralizing and disrupting established socio-technical and economic structures (regimes). Here I present an analysis of the online sharing economy discourse; identifying that the sharing economy is framed as: (1) an economic opportunity; (2) a more sustainable form of consumption; (3) a pathway to a decentralised, equitable and sustainable economy; (4) creating unregulated marketplaces; (5) reinforcing the neoliberal paradigm; and, (6) an incoherent field of innovation. Although a critique of hyper-consumption was central to emergence of the sharing economy niche (2), it has been successfully reframed by regime actors as purely an economic opportunity (1). If the sharing economy follows this pathway of corporate co-option it appears unlikely to drive a transition to sustainability.


Posted in Sharing economy | Tagged

Paradoxes of openness and distinction in the Sharing Economy

This paper studies four sites from the sharing economy to analyze how class and other forms of inequality operate within this type of economic arrangement. On the basis of
interviews and participant observation at a time bank, a food swap, a makerspace and an open-access education site we find considerable evidence of distinguishing practices and the deployment of cultural capital, as understood by Bourdieusian theory. We augment Bourdieu with concepts from relational economic sociology, particularly Zelizer’s ‘‘circuits of commerce’’ and ‘‘good matches,’’ to show how inequality is reproduced within microlevel interactions. We find that the prevalence of distinguishing practices can undermine the relations of exchange and create difficulty completing trades. This results in an inconsistency, which we call the ‘‘paradox of openness and distinction,’’ between actual
practice and the sharing economy’s widely articulated goals of openness and equity.


Posted in Economic sociology, Inequality, Sharing economy | Tagged , ,