Weekend Briefing No. 333

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Prime Numbers

22.1 – This past winter, American beekeepers lost 22.2 percent of their colonies. This is a substantial improvement considering the winter of 2018–19 resulted in 37.7 percent of colonies dying off.

2.81 – A pound of block cheddar went for $2.81 per pound, up from $1 per pound back in April.

1.95 – In Europe, the cost of recycled PET was 1.95 times that of new PET as of May 2020.

CRISPR

I know this has already been a crazy year, but looking back in 20 years, I believe this story will be seen as the biggest story of 2020: Victoria Gray is the first person with a genetic disorder to get treated in the United States with the revolutionary gene-editing technique called CRISPR. And as the one-year anniversary of her landmark treatment approaches, Gray has just received good news: The billions of genetically modified cells doctors infused into her body clearly appear to be alleviating virtually all the complications of her disorder, sickle cell disease. NPR (6 minutes)

Contagion

Nine years ago, Jeff Skoll’s film company Participant Media partnered with Warner Brothers to put out Contagion, a movie about a global pandemic that started with a virus from a bat. An American businesswoman (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) came home from a trip to China and unknowingly spread a novel, and at times, deadly disease. While many viewed the film as pure science fiction, Skoll had ulterior motives. He hoped the movie would help build support for funding the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and also warn the world about the potential dangers of a global pandemic. Beyond backing a movie about a pandemic, Skoll has been funding pandemic preparedness and prevention since 2009—six years before Bill Gates’ now well-known TED Talk warning about them—through the Skoll Global Threats Fund, to which he pledged $100 million. Newly bulked up, the Skoll Foundation promised to quadruple its grantmaking this year to $200 million. New beneficiaries in 2020 include some of the poorest folks in Los Angeles and the contact-tracing program launching across California. “This is the rainy day we’ve all been saving for,” Skoll says of his charitable giving. “If not now, when?” Forbes (14 minutes)

Wealth

While unchecked discrimination still plays a significant role in shunning opportunities for black Americans, it is white Americans’ centuries-long economic head start that most effectively maintains racial caste today. Today black Americans remain the most segregated group of people in America and are five times as likely to live in high-poverty neighborhoods as white Americans. Not even high earnings inoculate black people against racialized disadvantage. Black families earning $75,000 or more a year live in poorer neighborhoods than white Americans earning less than $40,000 a year, research by John Logan, a Brown University sociologist, shows. According to another study, by the Stanford sociologist Sean Reardon and his colleagues, the average black family earning $100,000 a year lives in a neighborhood with an average annual income of $54,000. Black Americans with high incomes are still black: They face discrimination across American life. But it is because their families have not been able to build wealth that they are often unable to come up with a down payment to buy in more affluent neighborhoods, while white Americans with lower incomes often use familial wealth to do so. Wealth, not income, is the means to security in America. New York Times Magazine (22 minutes)

Algorithm

The detective turned over the first piece of paper. It was a still image from a surveillance video, showing a heavyset man, dressed in black and wearing a red St. Louis Cardinals cap, standing in front of a watch display. Five timepieces, worth $3,800, were shoplifted. “Is this you?” asked the detective. The second piece of paper was a close-up. The photo was blurry, but it was clearly not Mr. Williams. He picked up the image and held it next to his face. “No, this is not me,” Mr. Williams said. “You think all black men look alike?” Mr. Williams knew that he had not committed the crime in question. What he could not have known, as he sat in the interrogation room, is that his case may be the first known account of an American being wrongfully arrested based on a flawed match from a facial recognition algorithm, according to experts on technology and the law. New York Times (11 minutes)

Research

Scientific researchers had published 27,569 papers about COVID-19 as of June 17. Of those, 21,000 went through the scientific peer review process, meaning experts in the field have examined the publications and researchers have more confidence in the results. There are 6,569 known as preprint papers, meaning they were put out to the public before the peer review process. The volume is so great that what’s being published on COVID is equal to all the other research that is usually being put on infectious disease as a whole. It is impossible for a human being to keep up with all that science. Even if it only took an average of 15 minutes to read each paper, getting through all of them would require 287 days of nonstop reading, or more than 100 days longer than the outbreak itself. That’s where machine-learning tools come in. While current AI can’t understand a scientific paper in the way that a trained human being can, it is capable of categorizing and ordering it in a way that reveals useful patterns. And it can do so much quicker than any human being can. The algorithm takes in news articles and social media interactions that reference papers and their authors, which allows a user to quickly see which papers are getting the most attention from experts and average people alike. Papers can also be sorted through research categories like “patient and medical care” or “forecasts and modeling,” and the algorithms behind the tool can also identify topics of interest that emerge from the entire corpus of research. Axios (5 minutes)

Greatness

One of Ronald Reagan’s final speeches as president was a love letter to immigrants. To Reagan, the fact that people from all over the world want to immigrate to the U.S. was a credit to the freedom of the U.S. He also believed that our future strength depends on our ability to continue to renew and enrich our nation with an influx of immigrants. Now This (5 minutes)

Opportunity

One hundred years ago, World War I and the Spanish flu together claimed approximately 100 million lives. At a time when the world was in tatters, Guccio Gucci began to stitch together a business that would become a byword for beauty. He wasn’t alone in seeing opportunity. Inspired by the plight of children suffering from wartime privation and malnutrition, Isaac Carasso founded Danone to help spread nutritious food more widely.  The 2008–2009 financial crisis turned many away from startups, but thankfully not the founders of Uber, The Trade Desk, Pinterest, Square, GitHub, Stripe, Twilio, Slack, WhatsApp and Venmo. @dafrankel (6 minutes)

Bookshelf

March by Geraldine Brooks is the winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize—a powerful love story set against the backdrop of the Civil War, from the author of The Secret Chord. From Louisa May Alcott’s beloved classic Little Women, Geraldine Brooks has animated the character of the absent father, March, and crafted a story “filled with the ache of love and marriage and with the power of war upon the mind and heart of one unforgettable man” (Sue Monk Kidd). With “pitch-perfect writing” (USA Today), Brooks follows March as he leaves behind his family to aid the Union cause in the Civil War. His experiences will utterly change his marriage and challenge his most ardently held beliefs. A lushly written, wholly original tale steeped in the details of another time, March secures Geraldine Brooks’ place as a renowned author of historical fiction. Amazon

Most Read Last Week

Token Black Friend—Ramesh A. Nagarajah wrote a piece on his life experiences, which highlight how subtle and insidious cultural racism is.

Indie.vc—Bryce Roberts, Indie.vc founder, believed there was room for another funding model that backed “real businesses.” 

Permanent Assumptions—Predictions on the future are so often wrong, but can we have permanent assumptions?

About the Weekend Briefing

A Saturday morning briefing on innovation & society by Kyle Westaway – Managing Partner of Westaway and author of Profit & Purpose. Photo by Jim Witkowski.

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Weekend Wisdom

Quality is remembered long after price is forgotten.Aldo Gucci

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