We all know the saying: “There are lies, there are damned lies, and there are statistics!” Somehow implying that statistics can be used to obfuscate the truth under heaps of numbers. But when applied correctly (I’d almost say ‘honestly’), it is a valuable tool to discover the non-apparent relations around us.
However, what those numbers mean is often ill-understood. The worst is confusing correlation (two things occur together) with causation (one thing causes the other). This article explains it nicely, using the fact that the correlation between number of mobile phone masts and a significantly higher birth rate.

I wish more people understood this stuff. It’s important.

I used to burn patterns in a piece of wood with a magnifying glass in summer. Small fry compared to this video. Apparently 2m2 of sunshine has enough power to melt any material on Earth, if it’s focussed enough. Quite impressive.

Nostalgia

Yesterday, I attended a presentation from a former professor of mine. The one I worked for ten years ago.
He is still at it (even though he is getting at an age where he should be starting to think about retirement), and he is still working on the same things we worked on together. It was loads of fun to see his current project, and to be able to understand why it is superior to the keyword-based search of the likes of Google.

I stopped working in Information Retrieval 6.5 years ago, but even after all that time it still gets me all excited in a way my current job doesn’t.

The most important thing about humans, the single factor that has allowed us to become as succesfull as we are, is our ability to shape our environment. We can imagine something that would improve our situation (“Wouldn’t it be great if the goats lived with us? Then we’d never have to go up on the mountain to catch ’em!”) and then manipulate our environment to make that come true.
As the species expanded, we needed more resources. Our ability to ‘invent’ agriculture, animal husbandry (and pretty much the whole catalogue of inventions from the game ‘Civilisation’) enabled us to increase crop yields and expand into new territories. Shaping our world made our lives more secure and more comfortable. This comfort allowed us to invest more energy into building better tools, which in turn allowed us to shape our world in still other ways.
We have arrived where we are today by rigorously shaping our world to better suit us. Instead of adapting ourselves, we simply adapted our environment — carving out our own ecological niche, so to say.

If we had been unable to do so, we would still be living in caves. There wouldn’t be six billion of us. We would have to worry about getting enough food the next year.
Just let that sink in for a bit. Modifying our environment has given us everything we have today.

So why stop now? To further expand, to make our lives and those of others more secure and more comfortable, we need to continue manipulating our environment. We have new tools to do so available to us: genetic engineering.
We can increase the resistance to disease, increase crop yields and increase the nutritional value of staple foods like rice, cassava and banana. Yet European countries and ‘environmental groups’ don’t want genetically modified crops out in the market.

That’s very easy for them to say: they have enough to eat. They can worry whether their food is ‘natural’. But if you go blind because your diet contains too little vitamin A, you don’t care if your food is ‘natural’. If you lose you single source of income because bananas go extinct because of a single disease, you don’t care if the banana is ‘natural’. If you starve because there is too little food, while the yields of cassava would increase 30 to 40 percent because of a resistance to the mosaic virus, you don’t care if your food is ‘natural’.

They want to stop the human evolution.

tdj pointed to this article. A quote:

Activists usually blame the inaction of rich countries for killing people in poor countries. However, instead of outrage here, we get Greenpeace geneticist Doreen Stabinsky primly quipping in the Post-Dispatch, “Hunger is not solved by producing more food. We’re the breadbasket of the world, and we have hungry people in the U.S.”

Easy for her to say: Doreen Stabinsky can go to a well-stocked supermarket to get pretty much any sort of agricultural product she desires. But it seems apparent that she (and Greenpeace and their ilk) don’t care about poor starving masses.
It’s not natural to eat superfoods, but it is perfectly natural (and thus perfectly fine with Greenpeace) to starve. Think about that the next time they ask you for a donation.