The Long Game 25: Dogma in Science, Alzheimer's Disease, Meritocracy, Time, Who vs. What
🇪🇪 Estonian e-Residency, Bio Meets Crypto, Travel Influencers, Life Beyond, and Much More!
Greetings from Montenegro 🇲🇪
🎙 I’ve published two new episodes on The Long Game Podcast:
In this episode, we explore:
Dogma in science
Time is personal
Stop reading the news
Let’s dive into it!
Galileo before the Holy Office, a 19th-century painting by Joseph-Nicolas Robert-Fleury
🤫 How Dogma in Science can Kill Progress: The Case of Alzheimer’s
This article is an excellent read to understand how dogma and identity-based thinking can ruin the progress of a field.
The brain, Alzheimer’s researchers patiently explain, is hard — harder than the heart, harder even than cancer. While that may be true, it is increasingly apparent that there is another, more disturbing reason for the tragic lack of progress: The most influential researchers have long believed so dogmatically in one theory of Alzheimer’s that they systematically thwarted alternative approaches. Several scientists described those who controlled the Alzheimer’s agenda as “a cabal.”
It’s concerning to think that science is becoming like religion, where it’s almost impossible to study specific hypotheses within a field.
In more than two dozen interviews, scientists whose ideas fell outside the dogma recounted how, for decades, believers in the dominant hypothesis suppressed research on alternative ideas: They influenced what studies got published in top journals, which scientists got funded, who got tenure, and who got speaking slots at reputation-buffing scientific conferences.
The number of people with Alzheimer’s disease is worrying, and for each people with the condition, a whole family is affected.
Today, 5.8 million people in the U.S. have the disease, including 1 in 10 of those 65 and over, estimates the Alzheimer’s Association. It is the fifth leading cause of death in that age group. For many patients and their families, that’s a small mercy: Robbed of their memories, unable to recognize those they loved, often suffering from psychosis, they lose their mind and their identity long before their life.
It made me wonder, what are similar situations happening in medicine right now, where we don’t explore all the possible hypotheses to cure a disease. As gerontologist David Sinclair explains, addressing aging directly as the meta-disease responsible for all the other conditions is the best strategy to ensure significant healthspan improvement.
If we could stop all cardiovascular disease—every single case, all at one—we wouldn’t add many years to the average lifespan; the gain would be just 1.5 years. The same is true for cancer; stopping all forms of that scourge would give us just 2.1 years of life on average, because all other causes of death still increase exponentially. We’re still aging, after all.
What can we do to prevent such situations where dogma kills progress from happening? Unfortunately, there is no quick fix here; we’ll need better funding models, and above all, remembering that science is about skepticism. Remembering that the half-life of facts is 45 years will be beneficial here.
The challenge here is that there will always be a lot of noise in the contrarian opinions. For example, the Hereticon Conference from Founders Fund aims at inviting all the outcasts of science and technology (including flat earthers and all kinds of crazy thinkers.) It’s easy to dismiss farfetched opinions right away, but by doing so, we miss the 1% of genius hidden in this heterogeneous group.
Let’s not forget what the church did to Galileo and not reproduce the same mistakes today.
⏳ Time is Personal
Time is the indefinite progress of existence and events that occur in irreversible succession from the past. Time is also something that brings people together. For centuries, cultures have been following rituals and gathering for special moments.
The problem is that since the Renaissance, and the rise of the concept of the individual, it’s getting harder and harder for people to align the timing of their individual lives with the time constraints of society.
We celebrate new years on the 31st of December, but why would that necessarily be meaningful in your life? The moment that’s going to define a new year is very personal and doesn’t happen at a specific date.
The same goes for every date where you feel compelled to celebrate something. The best moments usually happen at random dates and random locations. I’m not saying cultural events are bad, but there’s definitely a tradeoff to find between shared rituals and personal time.
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🧠 Better Thinking
📰 Stop Reading the News
I stopped reading the news regularly three years ago, and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made. The news cycle is obsessed with the breaking news, the drama, and the details of today’s problems.
I came across this quote from Nassim Taleb:
"To be completely cured of newspapers, spend a year reading the previous week's newspapers."
A year might be a bit long, but just taking some time to read the news of last week can be enlightening. Almost all of it will be totally useless now. By definition, the news is something that doesn’t last. People usually object to this by saying they need to stay informed, but how much of this news really matters for your personal and professional life?
Every decision we make is a bet, and by reading the news, you bet that the latest piece of information, optimized to get your attention, is more important than other types of content.
⚡️ Startup Stuff
❓ Who is More Important than What
I’m still reading hiring materials this week; I read Who by Geoff Smart, a great book on hiring recommended to me by multiple friends as a framework to hire well.
Here are a few quotes from the book I find interesting:
We define an A Player this way: a candidate who has at least a 90 percent chance of achieving a set of outcomes that only the top 10 percent of possible candidates could achieve.
The first failure point of hiring is not being crystal clear about what you really want the person you hire to accomplish.
The scorecard is composed of three parts: the job’s mission, outcomes, and competencies. Together, these three pieces describe A performance in the role—what a person must accomplish, and how. They provide a clear linkage between the people you hire and your strategy.
I found thought-provoking that the author suggests not hiring generalists but going instead for specialists. The framework the author gives is really good and worth visiting if you’re hiring people.
Also, it’s worth understanding that hiring takes a lot of time, and it should be this way, in the words of Sam Altman:
The vast majority of founders don’t spend nearly enough time hiring. After you figure out your vision and get product-market fit, you should probably be spending between a third and a half of your time hiring. It sounds crazy, and there will always be a ton of other work, but it’s the highest-leverage thing you can do, and great companies always, always have great people.
📚 What I Read
🌇 Order Without Design
I started reading Order Without Design by Alain Bertaud after listening to this episode of EconTalk, where he explains his ideas. I discovered this book through Mark Lutter from the Charter Cities Institute that I just got on the podcast (coming soon.)
The book is about how the economics of bottom-up, emergent order—what he calls markets—interact with the top-down administration and regulation of cities around the world. It's a fabulous introduction to urban economics.
My favorite part so far is when he explains why cities shouldn’t limit household sizes because it’s a recipe for high rents in the city and people living very far from where they work. The main idea of the author is that people who earn a salary by working in a city should have the means to live in the city.
The author also covers the cultural side of urbanism, talking about his experience as an urbanist in Tlemcen, Algeria, where he had to adapt the French “Code de l’Urbanisme” —that was tailored to the French culture (large windows) — to make it fit the Algerian culture (rooms oriented around the central courtyard.)
🥇 Is Meritocracy as Good as it Seems?
There are a lot of people calling for ownership, taking control of your life, and responsibility for your future. To a certain extent, I like this philosophy of life because it pushes people to overcome the past challenges they went through and get the most out of their life. This idea is strongly related to the concept of meritocracy.
It’s tempting to consider that if you succeed, you were the only reason for this success, but as Michael Sandel points out, meritocracy has serious limits:
Meritocracy is an attractive, even inspiring ideal, but it has a dark side: It generates hubris among the winners and humiliation among the losers. I suppose you could say this is a reading of the moral psychology of our political moment.
Sandel also covers the problems of credentialism and challenges the idea that the money people make is the measure of their contribution to the common good.
Meritocratic hubris is the tendency of the successful to inhale too deeply of their success, to forget the luck and good fortune that helped them on their way.
🎙 Podcast Episodes of the Week
Robert is a friend of mine; we share a lot of the same interests. He writes an excellent newsletter about business, data, and emerging technologies in healthcare. He is an expert on Crypto, Blockchain, and all things related to healthcare, and he is a great thinker. He is currently building a better healthcare system at ConsenSys Health; a Spun out from an internal ConsenSys team.
We start the conversation discussing why so many people from the crypto world are now interested in biotech and longevity; then we talk about internal motivation and social media. After that, we cover health optimization, and we discuss the idea of a "Strava for Health." Then Robert explains the idea behind prediction markets and how we might use them in the future. We also touch on the problems of the funding of scientific innovations and Eroom's Law. We finish the conversation talking about philosophy and why Robert loves Kierkegaard.
Arnaud is the head of communications & policy at Skeleton Technologies and the former head of public relations of the Estonian e-Residency. Arnaud is also the former digital communication officer of former French President François Hollande. Estonia is a fascinating country, well known for its digital society, and Arnaud is the best person to understand everything related to Estonia and the future of governance.
We start the conversation by talking about how Arnaud ended up in Estonia. Then Arnaud gives a great explanation of the Estonian digital society and the mindset shift that led to the e-Residency. He explains the value of transparency in the country and describes how Estonia helps other countries set up the same model. After that, we cover the details of the e-Residency and how it helps entrepreneurs worldwide succeed by creating an Estonian company. We finish the conversation talking about the sauna culture in Estonia and the underrated book Arnaud enjoyed recently.
🍭 Brain Food
This article is an interesting exploration of the intersection between the world of travel influencers and geopolitics. Authoritarian regimes jumped on the new trend and are now inviting famous personalities to share sponsored posts of their country.
Pakistan’s National Tourism Coordination Board actively courted Western bloggers in 2019 in a bid to change the country’s public face, given that media coverage about it has been dominated for close to two decades by the war on terror.
The problem is that these countries expect the influencers to share tailored messages and edited pictures that don’t really show the reality of the country.
Uncritically spreading political propaganda is unethical under all circumstances and especially in the form of branded content.
🎥 What I’m Watching
🔭 Life Beyond
I love the videos of melodysheep. The soundtrack is always outstanding, and the visuals as well. I already shared here TIMELAPSE OF THE FUTURE: A Journey to the End of Time, which is the best video I’ve ever watched, and this one is the second part (part I) of a series exploring life outside of earth.
🔧 The tool of the Week
It’s getting harder and harder to stay focused in today’s world. I’ve tried multiple tools for focused work, but most of them were too complicated, had useless features, and were pricy. I like LeechBlock because it does one thing: block specific websites at specific times, and it’s free.
🪐 Quote I'm Pondering
Ultimately decline is a choice. We as a people decide whether we want to accept decline, whether we want to live off existing rents, cannibalizing future generations, or whether we want to build. Overcoming decline cannot be done alone, it requires coordination. We must regain our understanding that we can come together and solve problems. We must build and celebrate those building.
— Mark Lutter
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