Message from the Editor

by on Thursday, March 30, 2017

Good Reads: Book, Articles and Journals

Have comments on any of the selections below? Did you read a good book or article that your fellow SRA International members can benefit from? Please submit a short description, summary, highlight or quote from the book or article along with your name, email, title and affiliation with the subject line Good Reads to Seema Dhindaw at Please note that we will try and publish as many submissions as possible each month, but SRA International reserves the right to delay publication for future use or to edit and/or omit at its discretion.

1. GSK and Regeneron to mine gene data from 500,000 Britons (Reuters)

The for-profit partnership will sequence specimens from the publicly-funded UK Biobank, a massive biorepository of half a million people. The business deal is that GSK and Regeneron get nine months’ exclusivity in exchange for putting all the data – and the findings – in the public domain.

2. ‘Your animal life is over. Machine life has begun.’ The road to immortality (The Guardian)

The concept, popularized by Ray Kurzweil, of the “technological singularity”, when computer-based intelligences will significantly exceed the sum total of human brainpower, has been around for a while. This article in the March 25th Guardian catches up with the Silicon Valley folks who have taken up the idea and are building businesses around it.

3. All biology is computational biology (PLoS Biology)

As biology becomes an almost exclusively quantitative science, like physics before it, the notion of computational providers as mere “data wranglers”, who exist as order-takers for “real” biologists, is dying. Or at least, this author hopes so, but then he’s biased.

4. New tools for measuring academic performance (Science)

Another space that’s becoming quantitative is performance assessment for academics. NYULMC is at the forefront of this space – this article notes our focus on bringing the notion of “dashboards” beyond measurement of clinical performance to quantitative evaluation of academic performance too.

5. Three challenges for the web, according to its inventor (World Wide Web Foundation)

On March 12, 1989, twenty-eight years ago today, Tim (now Sir Tim) Berners-Lee set out his initial idea for the system that became the world wide web. He took this opportunity to write an open letter outlining three current threats to the world wide web – the hoarding of personal data, acquired in exchange for content, in closed proprietary silos, the spread of "fake news" and similar misinformation, and the use of acquired data for targeted political advertising, allowing campaigns to say completely different, possibly conflicting things to different groups.

6. The US needs to retire daylight savings and just have two time zones—one hour apart (Quartz)

Many of those sleep-deprived souls who, like myself, slept late both days this weekend and have thus abjectly failed to prepare for last night's "spring forward", would welcome this eminently sensible (to me) idea.

7. In My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey Jill Bolte Taylor, a Harvard trained brain scientist describes how a massive stroke in 1996 was both a blessing and a revelation
Find this book at your library or online.

8. Point of view: Five suggestions for substantial NIH reforms (eLIFE)

"...the disease-centric Balkanization of the NIH still dominates almost all aspects of funding: the appropriation of funds by Congress, the targeting by institutes of grant applications in particular directions, and the organization of peer review." The reforms suggested to address this are similar to the Varmus-era direction of the National Cancer Institute: R01s rule, eschew the notion of "projects" with anything close to defined deliverables, and fund established scientists to think great thoughts and check in with us every five years or so. I'm not a fan of such an approach, but then I'm definitionally in the peanut gallery.

9. Blockchain: A Better Way to Track Pork Chops, Bonds, Bad Peanut Butter? (New York Times)

Blockchain is the foundation of BitCoin, but it is becoming a whole lot more. It's the foundational highway of a trust fabric. The example in this article is container shipping, where "...the cost of moving and keeping track of [the paperwork associated with a container shipment] often equals the cost of physically moving the container around the world", but it applies equally well to IT security's move from two-factor authentication to "behavioral" authentication, similar to what your credit card company does when it detects a transaction that is technically valid but doesn't fit with your usual spending patterns - they block it and call you.


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