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Peter Singer’s “The Most Good You Can Do” Quotes 1

Dharma Master Cheng Yen is a Buddhist nun living in Hualien County, a mountainous region on the east coast of Taiwan. Because the mountains formed barriers to travel, the area has a high proportion of indigenous people, and in the 1960s many people in the area, especially indigenous people, were living in poverty. Although Buddhism is sometimes regarded as promoting a retreat from the world to focus on the inner life, Cheng took the opposite path. In 1966, when Cheng Yen was twenty-nine, she saw an indigenous woman with labor complications whose family had carried her for eight hours from their mountain village to Hualien City. On arriving they were told they would have to pay for the medical treatment she needed. Unable to afford the cost of treatment they had no alternative but to carry her back again. In response, Cheng Yen organized a group of thirty housewives, each of whom put aside a few cents each day to establish a charity fund for needy families. It was called Tzu Chi, which means “Compassionate Relief.” Gradually word spread, and more people joined. Cheng Yen began to raise funds for a hospital in Hualien City. The hospital opened in 1986. Since then, Tzu Chi has established six more hospitals.

To train some of the local people to work in the hospital, Tzu Chi founded medical and nursing schools. Perhaps the most remarkable feature of its medical schools is the attitude shown to corpses that are used for medical purposes, such as teaching anatomy or simulation surgery, or for research. Obtaining corpses for this purpose is normally a problem in Chinese cultures because of a Confucian tradition that the body of a deceased person should be cremated with the body intact. Cheng Yen asked her volunteers to help by willing their bodies to the medical school after their death. In contrast to most medical schools, here the bodies are treated with the utmost respect for the person whose body it was. The students visit the family of the deceased and learn about his or her life. They refer to the deceased as “silent mentors,” place photographs of the living person on the walls of the medical school, and have a shrine to each donor. After the course has concluded and the body has served its purpose, all parts are replaced and the body is sewn up. The medical school then arranges a cremation ceremony in which students and the family take part.

Sharon Bertsch McGrayne’s “The Theory That Would Not Die” Quotes 5

When an economist was preparing a research budget for the U.S. Air Force at RAND, a California think tank, he asked visiting statistician David Blackwell how to assess the probability that a major war would occur within five years. Blackwell, who had not yet become a Bayesian, answered, “Oh, that question just doesn’t make sense. Probability applies to a long sequence of repeatable events, and this is clearly a unique situation. The probability is either 0 or 1, but we won’t know for five years.” The economist nodded and said, “I was afraid you were going to say that. I have spoken to several other statisticians, and they have all told me the same thing.”

Sharon Bertsch McGrayne’s “The Theory That Would Not Die” Quotes 4

A series of spectacular international events in 1949 and 1950 intruded on [Turing’s] productive years and precipitated a personal crisis for Turing: the Soviets surprised the West by detonating an atomic bomb; Communists gained control of mainland China; Alger Hiss, Klaus Fuchs, and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were arrested for spying; and Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin began brandishing his unsubstantiated list of so-called Communists in the U.S. State Department.

Even worse, two upper-crust English spies—an openly promiscuous and alcoholic homosexual named Guy Burgess and his friend from Cambridge student days Donald Maclean—evaded arrest by fleeing to the USSR in 1950. The United States told British intelligence they had been tipped off by Anthony Blunt, another homosexual graduate of Cambridge, a leading art historian, and the queen’s surveyor of paintings. With both the British and American governments panicked by visions of a homosexual spy scandal, the number of men arrested for homosexuality in Britain spiked.

On the first day of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, February 7, 1952, Turing was arrested for homosexual activity conducted in the privacy of his home with a consenting adult. As Good [one of Turing’s colleagues during the war effort] protested later, “Fortunately, the authorities at Bletchley Park had no idea Turing was a homosexual; otherwise we might have lost the war.”

In the uproar over Burgess and Maclean, Turing was viewed not as the hero of his country but as yet another Cambridge homosexual privy to the most closely guarded state secrets. He had even worked on the computer involved in Britain’s atomic bomb test. As a result of his arrest, Britain’s leading cryptanalyst lost his security clearance and any chance to continue work on decoding. In addition, because U.S. Congress had just banned gays from entering the country, he was unable to get a visa to travel or work in the United States.

As the world lionized the Manhattan Project physicists who engineered the atomic and hydrogen bombs, as Nazi war criminals went free, and as the United States recruited German rocket experts, Turing was found guilty. Less than a decade after England fought a war against Nazis who had conducted medical experiments on their prisoners, an English judge forced Turing to choose between prison and chemical castration. He chose the estrogen injections. Over the next year he grew breasts. And on June 7, 1954, the day after the tenth anniversary of the Normandy invsaion he helped make possible, Alan Turing committed suicide. Two years later, the British government knighted Anthony Blunt, the spy who later admitted tipping off his friends Burgess and Maclean and precipitating the witch hunt againsth homosexuals. Even today, it is difficult to read—or read—about Turing’s end. In 2009, 55 years after Turing’s death, a British prime minister, Gorden Brown, finally apologized.

Sharon Bertsch McGrayne’s “The Theory That Would Not Die” Quotes 3

A few days after Germany’s surrender in May 1945 Churchill made a surprising and shocking move. He ordered the destruction of all evidence that decoding had helped win the Second World War. The fact that cryptography, Bletchley Park, Turing, Bayes’ rule, and the Colossi had contributed to victory was to be destroyed. […] Everything about decryption and the U-boat fight “from Hollerith [punch] cards to sequential statistics, to empirical Bayes, to Markov chains, to decision theory, to electronic computers” was to remain ultraclassified. Most of the Colossi were dismantled and broken into unidentifiable pieces. Those who built the Colossi and broke Tunny were gagged by Britain’s Official Secrets Acts and the Cold War; they could not even say that the Colossi had existed. Books by British and U.S. participants in the U-boat war were almost immediately classified, confined to high-level military circles, and not published for years or in some cases decades. Even classified histories of the war excluded the decryption campaign against the U-boats. Only after 1973 did the story of Bayes, Bletchley Park, and Turing’s nation-saving efforts begin to emerge.

[…] The British did not want the Soviet government to know they could decrypt Tunny-Lorenz codes. The Russians had captured a number of Lorenz machines, and Britain used at least one of the two surviving Colossi to break Soviet codes during the Cold War. Only when the Soviets replaced their Lorenz machines with new cryptosystems was Bletchley Park’s story revealed.

The secrecy had tragic consequences. Family and friends of Bletchley Park employees went to their graves without ever knowing the contributions their loved ones had made during the war. Those connected with Colossus, the epitome of the British decryption effort, received little or no credit. Turing was given an Order of the British Empire (OBE), a routine award given to high civil servants. Newman was so angry at the government’s “derisory” lack of gratitude to Turing that he refused his own OBE.

Britain’s science, technology, and economy were losers, too. The Colossi were built and operational years before the ENIAC in Pennsylvania and before John von Neumann’s computer at the Institute for Advance Study in Princeton, but for the next half century the world assumed that U.S. computers had come first.

Obliterating all information about the decryption campaign distorted Cold War attitudes about the value of cryptanalysis and about antisubmarine warfare. The war replaced human spies with machines. Decryption was faster than spying and provided unfiltered knowledge of the enemy’s thinking in real time, yet the Cold War glamorized military hardware and the derring-do of spydom.

The secrecy also had a catastrophic effect on Turing. At the end of the war he said he wanted “to build a brain.” To do so, he turned down a lectureship at Cambridge University and joined the National Physical Laboratory in London. Because of the Official Secrets Act he arrived as a nobody. Had he been knighted or otherwise honored he would surely have found it easier to get more than two engineers as support staff. Ignorant of Turing’s achievements, the director of the laboratory, Charles Galton Darwin, a grandson of Charles Darwin, repeatedly reprimanded Turing for morning tardiness after working late the night before. […]

At the laboratory, Turing designed the first relatively complete electronic stored-program digital computer for code breaking in 1945. Darwin deemed it too ambitious, however, and after several years Turing left in disgust. When the laboratory finally built his design in 1950, it was the fastest computer in the world and, astonishingly, had the memory capacity of an early Macintosh built three decades later.

Sharon Bertsch McGrayne’s “The Theory That Would Not Die” Quotes 2

The U- boat peril was the only thing that ever really frightened Winston Churchill during the Second World War, he recalled in his history of the conflict. Britain was self- sufficient in little other than coal; it grew enough food to feed only one in three residents. But after the fall of France in 1940, Germany controlled Europe’s factories and farms, and unarmed merchant ships had to deliver to Britain 30 million tons of food and strategic supplies a year from the United States, Canada, Africa, and eventually Russia. During the Battle of the Atlantic, as the fight to supply Britain was called, German U- boats would sink an estimated 2,780 Allied ships, and more than 50,000 Allied merchant seamen would die. For Prime Minister Churchill, feeding and supplying his country was the dominating factor throughout the war.


Exacerbating the emergency was the fact that the government regarded statistical data as bothersome details. A few months before war was declared in 1939, the giant retailer Lord Woolton was asked to organize the clothing for Britain’s soldiers. He discovered to his horror that “the War Office had no statistical evidence to assist me… . I had the greatest difficulty in arriving at any figures that would show how many suits of uniform and how many boots were involved.” The Department of Agriculture ignored a study of the fertilizers needed to increase Britain’s food and timber supplies because it thought the Second World War was going to be a nonscientific war and no more data would be needed. Government functionaries also seemed to think that applying mathematics to real life would be easy. When the Ministry of Supply needed to assess new rockets, it gave an employee one week to “learn statistics.”

Sharon Bertsch McGrayne's "The Theory That Would Not Die" Quotes 1

Unlike the Poles, the British agency charged with cracking German military codes and ciphers clung to the tradition that decryption was a job for gentlemen with linguistic skills. Instead of hiring mathematicians, the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) employed art historians, scholars of ancient Greek and medieval German, crossword puzzlers, and chess players. Mathematicians were regarded as “strange fellows.”

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Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” Quotes 2

John Graunt compiled the mortality statistics in the City of London in 1632. Among the terrible losses from infant and childhood diseases and such exotic illnesses as ‘the rising of the lights’ and ‘the King’s evil,’ we find that, of 9,535 deaths, 13 people succumbed to ‘planet,’ more than died of cancer. I wonder what the symptoms were.

Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" Quotes 1

In the year 1185, the Emperor of Japan was a seven-year-old boy named Antoku. He was the nominal leader of a clan of samurai called the Heike, who were engaged in a long and bloody war with another samurai clan, the Genji. Each asserted a superior ancestral claim to the imperial throne. Their decisive naval encounter, with the Emperor on board ship, occurred at Danno-ura in the Japanese Inland Sea on April 24, 1185. The Heike were outnumbered, and outmaneuvered. Many were killed. The survivors, in massive numbers, threw themselves into the sea and drowned. The Lady Nii, grandmother of the Emperor, resolved that she and Antoku would not be captured by the enemy. What happened next is told in The Tale of the Heike:

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A placebo for placebos

To shorten the introduction, there’s two things you need to know, and instead of making a pretty narrative out of it, I’ll just assert the two facts directly. (1) I asked my doctor to give me some Adderall, and he said no. (2) Placebos work even when you know they are a placebo. [1]

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Should you check the "Organ Donor" checkbox on your driver's license?

A friend of mine asked “Would you be an organ donor? I’m asking only because I haven’t figured it out for myself.”

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