Essays

Biology

Why can’t we just give steroids to people with muscular dystrophy? – Short answer: muscular dystrophy destroys the muscles, while steroids just recruit more muscle fibers that would be destroyed. It took 12 years and over a billion dollars to get to that answer, though.

A lesser known mechanism for alcohol tolerance – exploring the mystery of alcoholics who walk around with a blood-alcohol level that would literally kill a non-drinker. I argue that the answer is modification to BK channels.

Why bigger species live longer and what we can learn from it – simple observation: bigger species live longer than smaller species (elephants vs. mice), but bigger breeds live shorter than smaller breeds (St. Bernards vs. Chihuahuas). This essay argues that immunology is the key.

A complete guide to self-diagnosing and self-treating IBS – Self-explanatory. This is the sort of guide I wished I had when I was suffering through IBS.

Are mRNA therapies the future? – Examining the hype around mRNA. Hype is partially busted: mRNA is cool, but it’s not a cure-all, and at this point it’s difficult to imagine it being effective in non-vaccine therapeutics.

Why oncology is so popular for pharmaceuticals – Discussing the economic reasons why oncology is such an attractive category for pharma companies, as well as the statistical reasons. Hint: it’s because oncology drugs use bullshit measurements.

What exactly is the role of inflammation in the immune system? – Exploring the enduring mystery of why anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and adalimumab don’t make people much more susceptible to infections.

Don’t use R0 to measure the rate of COVID transmission – Arguing that R0 is a bad measure because:

  1. It depends on circumstance and is not an inherent property of the virus
  2. It’s an average, which ignores superspreaders
  3. Its problematic calculation assumes asymptomatic transmission, a constant relationship between when a person is infected and when they show symptoms, and a single number for “infectiousness”, none of which are justified
  4. The estimates for R0 of all viruses vary drastically

Asymptomatic shedding of the virus is the norm – arguing from examples of every kind of virus (DNA, RNA, enveloped, and unenveloped) that asymptomatic shedding and transmission is common and uncontroversial

How to make bird flu (H5N1) cross over to humans – exploring how viruses cross over from animals to humans, using an experiment where they made the bird flu transmissible between ferrets (and probably between humans)

Why do humans keep getting diseases from bats? – long story short, because bats are social and are virus “reservoirs”. This is because their unique immune system allows them to live with viruses that would kill other mammals.

Genetically engineering virus immune bees – exploring a paper that shows how scientists infected bees with a bacterium that gave the bees immunity to the viruses and mites that cause colony collapse. The key technology was RNA interference, which I explored for a bit in my “failed projects”.

Philosophy

Socrates and Categorizations – Socrates, the first philosopher, developed a method to refine definitions and eliminate internal contradictions in thought. But his method has limitations.

Aristotle and logical systems – Aristotle was a brilliant man who insisted that the world make sense to him. So he developed a way of making it so.

Francis Bacon and observations – Deduction is useful in many ways, but it can’t produce new knowledge. Only induction can do that, but it’s a tricky process. Francis Bacon tried to refine the method, and ended up being the first philosopher of science.

Descartes and radical skepticism – If skepticism is a hammer, Descartes saw all of philosophy as a wall of glass. And he was eager to start smashing.

Hume and the problem of induction – Induction is super useful. It’s a pity, therefore, that Hume showed it can never be justified. In short, nothing can ever be said to cause anything.

Immanuel Kant and intuition – According to Kant, thinking about thinking is like using a microscope to examine itself. It can’t be done. Why? Intuition, or “pre-processing”.

Wittgenstein and the limits of language – Right now, I’m attempting to use language to convey meaning. Is it working? Wittgenstein will tell us.

Karl Popper and falsificationism – Science is what allows men to fly, control electricity, and cheat death. It’d probably be a good idea to figure out what exactly it is, then. Karl Popper is on the case.

Charles Sanders Peirce and arguments – For arguments to work, both sides need to be working off the same definitions. Two users of a word have the same definition of that word only if they intend the same effect when using that word.

Learning

How D1 wrestlers learn and what we can learn from them – basically, the best learning environment is to have

  1. Close interaction with other people who are learning the same thing
  2. Emotional bonding with said people
  3. Drilling of what you want to learn
  4. Single-minded focus on exactly what you want to learn

Using spaced repetition flashcards to learn pretty much anything – showing how spaced repetition can be used to learn any subject, including mathematics.

Why introductory chemistry is boring: a historical perspective – showing the evolution of the teaching of chemistry over time, from exciting medieval times to the overly boring present

Why most intro philosophy courses feel useless – long story short, because they ask somewhat interesting questions and don’t even try to answer them

How to fix calculus: make calculus exciting again – showing how shocking calculus is (and historically controversial), and arguing that, if students were shocked by calculus, they might be interested in learning it

Uncategorized

So, you want to patent a drug. Here’s what you need to know. – Self-explanatory.

What the FDA is like from a small biotech’s perspective (hint: they’re terrifying) – discussing the FDA through the lens of Axsome Therapeutics, a small biotech who rightfully thought they had a soon-to-be-approved treatment for depression. Then they got caught in a drive-by by the FDA.

How to spot a good fake ID – Self-explanatory. A lot of credit is due to a bouncer friend of mine, who is very good at spotting fake IDs and has a huge collection of them.

Recommendations for improving teaching in Brazilian jiu jitsu – Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a sport that I’ve gotten to know pretty well over the last year and a half, and I think it’s fantastic. But I think there’s a lot of room for improvement in the teaching of BJJ, and I’ve outlined those recommendations here. This essay also serves as a brief summary of my philosophy and practices as an educator, as applied to BJJ.

The limits of argumentation – Philosophers (and everyone else) have traditionally used argumentation to determine truth. But this doesn’t always work. Using the 2016 presidential debates, I’ll explore when exactly argumentation breaks down.

Probability, Bayesian theory, and causation– Many philosophers have discussed the difficulties of saying that some event caused another event. The answer that most scientists have adopted is to say some event probably caused another event. Does this work? Not entirely.

Hard science, soft science, and pseudoscience – Some people say that Aristotle was the last man to know all the knowledge available in his time. The rest of us are forced to rely and even trust our lives on theories that we cannot understand or evaluate. This is a difficult problem, but it can be approached philosophically.

Thinking about big numbers – We read in the news every day about thousands, millions, and billions, but these numbers are never put in context. This essay discusses a method of grappling with big numbers and making them understandable.

How to valuate a company – One of humanity’s favorite uses for our money is to use it to make more money, and one of our favorite ways of doing that is to invest our money in companies. This essay compares and contrasts two methods of doing that from a philosophical standpoint: Warren Buffett’s and Andreesen Horowitz’s.

The flow of money – It must be nice to be a bank. People just give you money and you can do whatever you want with it until they ask for it back. Fortunately, banks aren’t the only ones who get to play with other people’s money, and I’m not even talking about kids with rich parents.

Lessons in business from the golden age of advertising – A summary of the lessons from a book I read about Albert Lasker, who was responsible for the success Sunkist, Warren Harding’s presidential run, Palmolive, and Kotex, and others

Self-organized criticality: the potential and problems of a theory of everything – explaining the idea of self-organized criticality, its insane popularity, then its inevitable downfall