Adonis Diaries

Archive for the ‘engineering/research/experiments’ Category

Forgotten history of Autism?

Decades ago, few pediatricians had heard of autism.

In 1975, One in 5,000 kids was estimated to have it. Today, 1 in 68 is on the autism spectrum.

What caused this steep rise? Steve Silberman points to “a perfect storm of autism awareness” — a pair of psychologists with an accepting view, an unexpected pop culture moment and a new clinical test.

But to really understand, we have to go back further to an Austrian doctor by the name of Hans Asperger, who published a pioneering paper in 1944.

Because the paper was buried in time, autism has been shrouded in misunderstanding ever since. (This talk was part of a TED2015 session curated by Pop-Up Magazine: or @popupmag on Twitter.)

Steve Silberman · Writer and editor. A writer and contributing editor for Wired who covers science and society. His newest book explores neurodiversity and the link between autism and genius.
Filmed March 2015

How to make digital transformation more than a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow

Digital transformation can often feel a little like chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

As you achieve one milestone, you look up to see the rainbow has moved and that pot of gold is as elusive as the profitability stakeholders seem to immediately expect from any digital activity.

When, in 2010, Transform first started conducting annual research – our Digital Maturity Insights (DMI) – into how digitally mature companies were, we were asking the now astonishingly basic; “Do you have a website” and “Is it transactional?” Several iterations of DMI later and we were asking, “Do you have a mobile strategy?”

Then the industry got used to the channels and tech and began to look more closely at the customer.

We became comfortable talking about user journeys, CX & employee experience, test-and-learn and service design. The number of tech stories we’re seeing every week seems to be growing almost exponentially as AI, voice interfaces and IoT horde column inches.

Yet to become too tech-focussed when approaching business problems is a mistake.

The difference between operating digitally and actually being digital lies in having a truly balanced eco-system.

Tech is important. Yes, the customer is important too. Likewise, the channels you deliver through are key. And, of course, data is underpinning nearly everything we do digitally. But without the right internal employee culture and a well-developed strategy you’ll never be digitally mature.

Being digital on the inside

As with the chicken and the egg, it doesn’t really matter whether customer or employee comes first, the key point is that they both depend on each other.

Yet many organisations are so focussed on the customer, they neglect supporting employees with the kinds of digital transformation that can help them deliver on the overall purpose of the company.

Whilst digital continues to get more bandwidth, investment and attention, we need to move our focus from customer experience to operations if we’re to really benefit the end user.

Our research shows that whilst 51% of businesses say they’re customer-focussed, just 2 per cent said they were employee focussed.

Worse still, 87% said that their employees ‘are not engaged’. It’s a huge concern.

Motivated, engaged employees are more productive and deliver greater returns. Businesses need to be looking internally to drive great results for their customers. Legacy processes and general inefficiencies can affect employees too, so we should all consider the implications of poor digital on internal morale and culture.

From our perspective at Transform, there are three ways companies can drive internal change:

  • Apply a Customer Experience approach to Employee Experience – great design delivers processes that are productive, effective and appreciated, internally and externally
  • Address the organisational challenge – define ways of working that combine the best of IT, digital and the employee teams instead of limiting digital expertise to the customer
  • Act commercially and considerately – manage ‘change’ from the beginning, and treat it as a ‘people change’ programme and just a ‘process reengineering’

With data, size doesn’t always matter 

Most businesses are now aware of the value data can offer them, but many still lack the knowledge and experience to actually extract it.

Billions may be being invested in large-scale tech that stores, saves, organises, analyses and acts on data – yet few companies have seen the promised ROI or clear operational benefits.

The overt focus on CRM and SCV has left us with an eco-system too heavily weighted towards technology, with not enough focus on what we need to get out of data, or the strategy, culture and customer engagement models required to generate change.

In short, it’s all very well creating a giant pool of data – but do you have the expertise and tools to actually fish in it?

You’ll have read that more data will be created this year than in the history of data, but still less than 0.5% of it will be used for operational decision making. We’ve reached the point where smart, connected data is where the value lies. Our research shows that 72% are focused on gathering data, rather than analysing it – and whilst 80% say data is “key to decision making”, under a third (31%) are actually structured for it.

Digital leadership is vertical AND horizontal

Remember when the Customer Experience Officer (CXO) was a thing? We’ve seen the debate about where digital leadership belongs continue, whether it’s with the CCO, CIO or even CMO. That’s not to mention the ongoing paradox of the CDO, whereby most organisations that have one are less digitally mature than those without!

The fact is that responsibility for digital isn’t just with one job title, it needs to be universal across all positions. The role of CEO is key to ensure this happens, as a data leader driving digital across all aspects of the business and getting the most out of their teams.

Likewise – and not often mentioned – is the low-level of digital knowledge at non-exec level. Just 1.7% of non-exec directors in the FTSE 100 would qualify as ‘digital’. Already today a digitally capable non-exec board member can be worth their weight in bitcoin!

The best leaders make digital competency/understanding a key requirement across the entirety of their business, top to bottom. They also put less focus on Target Operating Models and fixed structures of working, and put more on flexibility by design and working across functions. Similarly, empower HR to hire for the near-future and not just the now.

In Summary

The goalposts of digital maturity are constantly moving, and the benchmarks of success often a little rose-tinted. Since we started tracking Digital Maturity, we’ve noticed the shift in what’s being achieved in the world of digital, but also where the main gaps are in companies building a digitally mature, balanced eco-system, where data empowers technology, culture and organisation, channels being used, customers and of course, strategy.

Businesses can improve and re-balance their digital efforts in the three clear areas outlined above, and – as ever – those that do have much to gain; foster an internal culture that’s as employee-minded as it is customer-focussed; hire or outsource the complicated data expertise required to actually grow the business and empower change, and finally, stop trying to make CDOs happen – they’re not going to happen.

In 2017, one thing is clear to us, digital maturity isn’t what you do, but how you do it. It’s organisational and approach-based.

Far more than simply the tech and channels of digital experiences. And it’s data that’s enabling us all to do this more effectively and efficiently.

Emma Robertson, CEO, Transform

Image Credit: Chombosan / Shutterstock 

Does the human eye prove that God exists?

Darwin was baffled by it; Christians see it as evidence of the divine. Will science ever unlock the secrets of the human eye?

When the body of Dr Yoshiki Sasai, an eminent Japanese biologist, was discovered in August this year, his death was widely mourned across the world of science.

Not just for the abrupt end to his glittering career – one which had seen him win several awards, including the 2010 Osaka Science Prize, and become the laureate of the 2012 Inoue Prize for Science.

Nor because of the tragic manner of his death: the 52-year-old was found hanged in his own laboratory – an apparent suicide after a scandal over a research paper he’d co-authored in January.

A close-up of the human eye

Flawless: a close-up of the human eye Photo: Dimitri Vervitsiotis/Getty
Chris Bell posted this  24 Sep 2014

Instead, the scientific world lamented what, perhaps, Dr Sasai was about to achieve.

As one of the directors at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, he was one of the world’s leading experts in stem cell technology. His team had pioneered incredible new techniques for creating organ-like structures – making giant strides towards a future where replacements for our failing human organs could be grown in a Petri dish.

And most tragically, the months before his death had heralded Sasai’s biggest achievement.

His team had already grown partial pituitary glands and even bits of the brain, but now he’d coaxed embryonic stem cells into forming the functioning tissue of arguably the most complex and scrutinised organ in the entire animal kingdom. Sasai had grown an eye.

And in doing so, he’d also helped resolve a scientific obsession that had lasted centuries.

In very basic form, the eye is thought to have first developed in animals around 550 million years ago.

But such is its perfect design – its infinite adaptability, and irreducible complexity – that many argue it is proof of the divine itself.

Darwin remarked that the whole idea of something so flawless “could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.”

The eye has become a focal point for biologists, ophthalmologists, physicists and many other branches of science ever since. So when the Spanish neuroscientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal made the first anatomical diagrams of neurons and the retina in 1900, it stoked a century of biologists attempting to unlock the eye’s secrets.

And there have been several discoveries. Unlike our ears and nose, for example, which never stop growing our entire lives, our eyes remain the same size from birth.

Then there’s the complicated process of irrigation, lubrication, cleaning and protection that happens every time we blink – an average of 4,200,000 times a year.

Dr Yoshiki Sasai, the late Japanese biologist who was building a human eye in his lab (Dimitri Vervitsiotis/Getty)

And there are other astonishing inbuilt systems too.

Take, for example, a little trick called the Vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR). In short, it’s our own personal Steadicam – an inbuilt muscular response that stabilises everything we see, by making tiny imperceptible eye movements in the opposite direction to where our head is moving.

Without VOR, any attempts at walking, running – even the minuscule head tremors you make while you read these words – would make our vision blurred, scattered and impossible to comprehend.

But while the inner workings of the eye continue to surprise scientists, the last decade has seen an unprecedented confluence of biology, technology and ophthalmic innovation. An international scientific endeavour that is not only finally unlocking the eye’s true potential – but also how to counter, and ultimately cure, its biggest weaknesses.

One scientist leading the charge is Professor Chris Hammond, the Frost Chair of Ophthalmology at King’s College London. “I’ve been working in ophthalmology for nearly 25 years,” he says. “And I think we’re at a key moment. The pace of our genetic understanding, cell-based therapies and artificial devices for the treatment of eye disease is advancing faster than ever.”

His personal crusade – treating common conditions such as myopia, cataracts and glaucoma, as well as eye diseases – is, he says, slowly becoming possible.

“For example, we’re finally starting to understand some of the mechanism of these diseases – how genetic and environmental risk factors, and not ageing, might be significant. And with some of the rarer diseases, we’re starting to look at actual cures.

“We are also understanding more and more about the processing that is already being done within the retina, before signals are sent to the brain. And with the amazing abilities we have today for imaging, the emerging technologies are exciting too.”

With much fanfare, the first bionic eye debuted last year.

Developed by Second Sight Medical Products, the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System consists of 60 electrodes implanted in the retina, and glasses fitted with a special mini-camera. Costing €73,000 (£58,000) to install, it then sends images – albeit very low-resolution shapes – to the user’s brain. Which means people with degenerative diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa can differentiate between light and dark, or make out basic shapes such as doorways.

“In terms of devices like these, we are still at the very crude technology stage,” says Prof Hammond. “They’re only really of use to people who are completely blind. But the thing about technology is that it evolves with amazing speed.”

Less invasive, “wearable” optic gadgetry is catching up fast.

Although still in its infancy, the ability to mount microelectronics within a contact lens is already offering huge potential. Take the Sensimed Triggerfish, for example – a curiously-named soft, disposable silicone lens with a micro-sensor that continuously monitors the shape and pressure of your eyeball, ideal for monitoring the progress of treatment or post-surgical health.

Other lenses are coming on the market too.

In January this year Google announced a lens that tests the level of glucose in the tears of diabetes sufferers, eliminating the finger prick test commonly used several times each day by many diabetics. Others are planned that actually secrete precise dosages of drugs continuously into your system via your eye – even when you’re asleep.

And then the barrier between technology and sci-fi begins to blur.

Already, millions of tiny miniaturised telescopes, known as intraocular lenses, are implanted in patients’ eyes following cataract surgery, to help with the focusing of light into the eye. But the launch of Glass, Google’s web-enhanced spectacles, has prompted research into mounting microelectronic elements onto the polymer of a contact lens itself.

Already mooted, again by the Google X development lab, is a contact lens camera – a boon for, if no one else, the paparazzi.

With enough digital storage capacity, we could record our entire visual experience in real time. But the new “wonder-material” graphene offers greater potential.

As University of Maryland researchers announced in early September, graphene’s broad wavelength sensitivity enables it to detect light frequencies 100 times broader than the normal visible spectrum. And when incorporated into a contact lens, it could allow the wearer to see ultraviolet and infra-red light.

And other scientists are working on mounting suitable optical elements to project information directly into your eyeball, like fighter-jet style “head-up display”.

A team at the University of Washington debuted a bionic contact lens with a single-pixel display in 2011;

by 2012 the display had increased to a whopping eight pixels. If we end up being able to project images and even videos directly into your eye, you may never have to leave the house for a business meeting or theatre production again.

If all this feels a bit like the futuristic Tom Cruise film Minority Report, then think again – because, well, aspects of that are already happening. Thanks to New York company Eyelock, the concept of scanning a person’s iris from afar for ID purposes is now a reality. As Jeff Carter, Eyelock’s Chief Technology Officer, explains: “Today your identity can be determined from across the room while you’re at a full run – even if you’re wearing a mask, or a wig, or sunglasses – to within a one-in-a-quadrillion certainty that you are who you say you are.”

The Eyelock works by photographing your eyes using a high-resolution camera, then combines 240 unique points on each iris to generate an encrypted code. “To authenticate your ID, our technology matches the code with your eyes,” says Carter confidently. “It’s roughly 2,000 times more powerful than a fingerprint. Only DNA is more accurate.”

The individual uniqueness of each eye’s iris – the pattern of lines, dots and colours that surround the pupil – was first noted by Hippocrates in 390 BC.

Even today, its infinite complexity still compels our interest. The plot of writer/director Mike Cahill’s new sci-fi film I Origins, for example, follows a biologist attempting to find an identical pair – and how his discovery has implications for his scientific and spiritual beliefs.

But it’s only with our modern concerns over security, access and identify fraud that the iris’ potential for a foolproof identification system has been realised. Already, for example, over half of India’s population have had their irises scanned as part of a groundbreaking nationwide identity scheme known as UIDAI.

“This year a report by Intel Security estimated the annual worldwide cost of cybercrime to be more than $445 billion,” says Carter. “But [iris scanning] could mean no more credit cards, no more driver’s license, no more passports, no more user IDs or passwords… our everyday lives can be made simpler, better, more seamless and secure.”

And now scientists are delving deeper into the eye than ever before. One widely held belief for decades was that the eye was just a basic, dumb camera. That light would hit the retina (the light-sensitive layer of tissue lining the inner surface of the eye), and electrical signals would then be swiftly transmitted back to the brain where all the heavy visual processing took place.

Science and spirituality meet in the new film I Origins

It’s only in the last few years that researchers have discovered the retina is doing a huge amount of pre-processing itself – and that as light passes through the retina’s several dense layers of neurons, a lot of detail like colour, motion, orientation and brightness are determined.

And so a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have started work on a formidable task: intricately mapping this vast network of millions upon millions of neurons to see how they connect and process visual information.

“A huge amount is known about optics and the muscles around the eyes,” says Claire O’Connell, an MIT fellow on the project. “But the retina is the great unknown territory. It’s one of the most complex tissues in the human body.”

And that was the problem: with retinal tissue resembling, well, extremely tangled spaghetti, much of this neuron mapping proved too complex for computers, and had to be done manually – a task estimated to take upwards of 15 years. And so, the team hit on an unusual solution: they made it into a game.

In December 2012, Eyewire was launched – a web-based puzzle game that now boasts over 120,000 players from 150 countries.

“Believe it or not, it was inspired by Angry Birds,” says O’Connell, who helped design Eyewire. “We wondered if the thousands of hours people put into games like that could be used to crowd-source how the retina works at a cellular level. And it turns out it can.”

So now, instead of killing pigs with a deftly placed parrot, players can register at for a different kind of challenge – examining 3D electron microscope scans of neural matter and tracing the path of neurons within it. A few clicks later, an entire neuron, plus its connections, can be identified. And better still, no medical knowledge is required. “There’s a regular player we have called Crazyman,” says Claire. “He’s 16 and from Bulgaria, and he sometimes spends 23 hours in a row helping us in this quest – it’s awesome!

“The game as a whole has been a huge success. Mapping out the precise synaptic connections from one cell type to another would take us two weeks in the lab, but now we can do it in a day. Already, Eyewire has identified the areas responsible for motion detection. The more we discover about the eye, the more amazing it becomes.”

And now scientists are stood at a new threshold: the creation of a biological eye itself, that most complex of all bodily organs. Despite the untimely death of Dr Sasai, his colleagues at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology announced a new scientific first on September 12: the successful implantation of new retinal tissue, grown for the first time from stem cells, into the eyes of a Japanese woman in her 70s suffering from encroaching blindness.

It could prove to be the first step in eradicating loss of sight in humans for good. But restraint is imperative, cautions Prof Hammond. “The hope is blindness will be a thing of the past in a few years’ time – but we have to be careful about overstating what we can do,” he says.

“The teams in Japan have done fantastic work which holds great promise in terms of creating replacement cells,” he says. “The big problem, however, is how we connect the eye to the brain, and to the relevant pathways in the brain. From that point of view, we’re still in very early days.”

But one thing is certain: in terms of solving the eternal mystery of the eye, and curing the frailties that its infinite complexities present, we have never been more focused. And the future, once dim, is significantly brighter – a sentiment that Dr Sasai echoed in one of his final interviews before his death. “We really don’t know where we are going with this,” he said then. “We really are at the final frontier, facing an unknown world.”

I Origins opens the Raindance Film Festival on September 24, and is on general release from September 26

01 Nov 2013

Sloppy science

We can measure it.

For decades, every single year, scientists have visited the Galapagos and measured the beaks of a particular species of finch.

And year after year, with each generation, the beaks change, exactly as we’d expect from the weather patterns of the year before. Evolutionary biology works, and rigorous data collection backs it up.

For hundreds of years, though, science has gotten it wrong about gender, race and ethnicity. Eugenics and its brethren sound simple, but often lead to tragic outcomes.

The sloppy scientist says, “on average, across populations, left to its own devices, this group is [not as skilled] [neurotic] [hard to work with] [not as smart] [not as strong] [slower]” etc. They make assumptions without sufficient data, and the rigor is missing.

The first problem is that human beings aren’t averages, they’re individuals. (They can be Medians when subdivided into a dozen of categories?)

And the bigger problem is that we’re never left to our own devices. We are creatures of culture.

The math that we can do on populations of hedgehogs or pigeons doesn’t apply to people, because people build and change and experience culture differently than any other species.

Your DNA is virtually identical to that of the hordes that accompanied Ghengis Khan, as well as most Cro-Magnon cavemen–pass one on the street and you wouldn’t be able to tell that he’s different from you. The reason you don’t act the way they did is completely the result of culture, not genes.

It’s culture that pushes us to level up, to dig deeper, to do things that we might not otherwise do.

It’s culture that finds and encourages and pushes people to become better versions of themselves than anyone else expected to find.

So it was sloppy/lazy/fearful science that said that women couldn’t handle being doctors.

And it was sloppy science that worked to limit the number of Asian, Jewish, Near-Easterns or African students at various institutions.

And it’s sloppy science that’s been used against black people for hundreds of years.

And sloppy science said that a 4 minute mile was impossible and that a woman could never finish a marathon.

Sloppy because it doesn’t include all the relevant factors. (It is almost impossible to interpret results with even 6 factors and their many interrelations and intersections)

There’s nothing wrong with the scientific method, but everything is wrong with using it poorly (and often intentionally).

What we need are caring human beings who will choose to change the culture for the better.

Not all of it, of course. Merely the culture they can touch. The people they can engage with. The human beings they can look in the eye, offer to help, offer encouragement and offer a hand up.

Once we reset the standard, it becomes the new normal, and suddenly, the sloppy science seems like phrenology. Because culture is up to us.

Sloppy science isn’t science at all.

It’s the lazy or wrongheaded use of the scientific method part of the time, mixing in fear for good measure.

Ignoring culture ignores the part that truly matters.

It’s tempting to judge people by their DNA. It makes a lot more sense, though, to see people based on what they can contribute instead.

Measuring Petanque performance? Which club took this important step?

The game of Petanque is like playing horseshoes with additional complexities: We play with metal balls that could be hit and displaced and the target is a tiny light ball called cochonet that can also be hit, displaced with various consequences.

In Lebanon, the game of petanque (boules) is mushrooming in many villages because young and elder people can play it and gather and meet.

The drawback is that this physically relaxing game (though you end up walking a lot) is Not that relaxing emotionally: A few people (mostly the bullies) shoulder the responsibility of selecting subjectively who is a good player, who’s Not and forgetting the potential new arrivals.

Petanque is a relatively easy game that requires plenty of consistent training to conveniently acquire the skills for analyzing the field and controlling your nerves and muscles for punting (pointeur) to the target or hitting the closest enemy ball to target (tireur).

A team in competition is of 3 players, holding 2 balls for a total score of 13 points to win. Otherwise, we can play with 4 members or even 2 people holding each 3 balls. The target cochonet is to be located between 6 to 10 meters.

The subjective selection, usually done by lousy performers, is alienating many players and discarding great potentials, especially when travelling to other villages for competition.

Asking someone to take statistics of each player in each game in order to tabulate performance shouldn’t be such a great burden. A computer software usually manipulate most of the data, provides all kinds of ratios and print the best performers.

I suggest the following criteria for taking statistics:

  1. For punting, coming closer to the cochonet, a distance of less 20 cm is allocated 3 points, less than 30 cm two pts, less than 50 cm a single point
  2. For hitting the ball (tireurs), a carreaux (displacing the other team ball and taking its place) allocate 3 pts, just displacing the ball 2 pts, hitting but not making a significant difference a single point. If the player displace his team’s ball then we deduct 3 points (-3).

It is important to discriminate between performance and consistency in potential skills.

Performance is measuring the scores and selecting the highest scorers for any competition. Potential is just adding the binary numbers of 1 and Zero, like hit or No hit, satisfactory punting or totally lousy.

For example, if you are consistent in hitting regardless of type of hits, or satisfactory punting like within 50 cm, then this consistency can be promising with additional training.

The metallic ball can be of various weights (680 to 730 grams), of slightly different diameters and of various alloys.

I conjecture that the ball is a minor factor, but the types of field is the main variable. 

If you are not flexible and do Not exercise on different throwing methods, in holding the ball, the trajectory of the ball (high or rolling on the ground…), and flexing of the wrist… you will be at a disadvantage.

I find that the wrist is an important factor: if you are Not conscious of the direction and position of your wrist before throwing, the ball will travel according to the normal direction of your wrist.

Also, take all your time to aim and throw: you have 10 seconds to throw. At least, you will enjoy throwing the ball and play on the nerves of the opposing team members.

Beware of those who volunteer to give you advice on their particular methods of throwing the ball: Just keep experimenting with what is best for you.

Lately, many players would like to impress on you that a certain throwing method is the rule (regulation), but I didn’t find any rule, pictures, graphs or anything of the sort of how you hold the ball and throw. (Usually, those who mention “rules” at leisure are lousy performers)

Note: I realized that balls made in China are practically discarded as Not fitting regulation? Why? I think it is a French political and economic colonial constraint for players.



Remnants from an ancient Canaanite found in the Sidon excavation site. A genetic analysis found that the Canaanites survived a divine call for their extinction and that their descendants live in Lebanon. CreditClaude Doumet-Serhal/Sidon Excavation

There is a story in the Hebrew Bible that tells of God’s call for the annihilation of the Canaanites, a people who lived in what are now Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Israel and the Palestinian territories thousands of years ago. (What we call the Syrian Nation, one people)

“You shall not leave alive anything that breathes,” God said in the passage. “But you shall utterly destroy them.”

But a genetic analysis published on Thursday has found that the ancient population survived that divine call for their extinction, and their descendants live in modern Lebanon (along all the eastern Mediterranean seashore).

“We can see the present-day Lebanese can trace most of their ancestry to the Canaanites or a genetically equivalent population,” said Chris Tyler-Smith, a geneticist with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute who is an author of the paper. “They derive just over 90 percent of their ancestry from the Canaanites.”

Dr. Tyler-Smith and an international team of geneticists and archaeologists recovered ancient DNA from bones belonging to five Canaanites retrieved from an excavation site in Sidon, Lebanon, that were 3,650 to 3,750 years old.

The team then compared the ancient DNA with the genomes of 99 living people from Lebanon that the group had sequenced. It found that the modern Lebanese people shared about 93 percent of their ancestry with the Bronze Age Sidon samples.


The Sidon excavation site in Lebanon. Archaeologists retrieved bones from five Canaanites that were 3,650 to 3,750 years old. CreditClaude Doumet-Serhal/Sidon Excavation

The team published its results in The American Journal of Human Genetics.

“The conclusion is clear,” said Iosif Lazaridis, a geneticist at Harvard who was not involved in the study. “Based on this study it turns out that people who lived in Lebanon almost 4,000 years ago were quite similar to people who lived there today, to the modern Lebanese.”

Marc Haber, a postdoctoral fellow at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in England and lead author on the study, said that compared with other Bronze Age civilizations, not much is known about the Canaanites.

“We know about ancient Egyptians and ancient Greeks, but we know very little about the ancient Canaanites because their records didn’t survive,” he said. Their writings may have been kept on papyrus, which did not stand the test of time as clay did. What is known about the Canaanites is that they lived and traded along the eastern coast of the present-day Mediterranean, a region that was known as the Levant.

“What we see is that since the Bronze Age, this ancestry, or the genetics of the people there, didn’t change much,” Dr. Haber said. “It changed a little, but it didn’t change much and that is what surprised me.”

At first the team was not sure if it would be able to retrieve DNA from the ancient skeletons, which were recovered from the hot and humid excavation site within the last 19 years.

Dr. Haber had chosen more than two dozen bones from the site that looked promising and had them investigated for genetic material. It turned out that only five contained ancient DNA.

All of those came from the petrous part of the temporal bone, which is the tough part of the skull behind the ear, from five different individuals.


Ancient DNA recovered from bones in the excavation site was sequenced for a new study.CreditClaude Doumet-Serhal/Sidon Excavation

After extracting that DNA, the team members compared it with a database that contained genetic information from hundreds of human populations. They then further compared their results with the genomes of the modern-day Lebanese population sample, which revealed what happened to the ancient Canaanite population.

Genetics has the power to answer questions that historical records or archaeology are not able to answer,” Dr. Haber said.

He said researchers thought that migrations, conquests and the intermixing of Eurasian people — like the Assyrians, Persians or Macedonians — with the Canaanites 3,800 to 2,200 years ago might have contributed to the slight genetic changes seen in modern Lebanese populations. Still, the Lebanese retain most of their ancestral DNA from the Canaanites.

“It confirms the continuity of occupation and rooted tradition we have seen on-site, which was occupied from the 4th millennium B.C. right to the Crusader period,” Claude Doumet-Serhal, an archaeologist and director of the Sidon Excavation who is a co-author on the paper, said in an email.

She said that the archaeologists had found about 160 burials to date at their excavation site, which is in the heart of modern Sidon. They include graves and burials where a person was placed in a large jar, and they date to between 1900 and 1550 B.C. The genetic results further support the archaeological findings.

“We were delighted by the findings,” Dr. Doumet-Serhal said. “We are looking at the Canaanite society through 160 burials and at the same time uncovering a common past for all the people of Lebanon, whatever religion they belong to.”

Note 1: Lebanon and Syria were the crossroad (carrefour) of all people fleeing persecution and occupation by warrior nations or extremist radical religious sects since antiquity, the temporary melting pot until many transferred again to greener pasture. I won’t be surprised if most European people have many Canaanite genetic traces.

Note 2: One hundred years later, Israel could Not find any trace of their presence in Palestine: they were at best nomadic people who never settled near cities or by the seashore

Sham surgery

The data shows that more than 600,000 people got arthroscopic knee surgery in the US in 2010. It’s expensive and painful.

It turns out that sham surgery works just as well.

That just about as many people would have found pain relief from this procedure if they had experienced fake surgery instead.

In an extensive study of elective surgeries (asthma, obesity, Parkinson’s disease, acid reflux and back pain) it was found that more than half the time, people would have had at least a good an outcome if they had only experienced fake surgery instead of the real kind.

That’s worth a pause.

Same operating room, same gowns, same perception of pain–but no actual surgery.

Half the people would have gotten better, which is awfully close to the number that got better from the real thing.

(Even if this number is twice as high as you are comfortable with, it tells us something dramatic about the power of suggestion).

If you don’t think marketing works, and you’re wondering about the power of the placebo, that’s all the evidence you should need.

That sham surgery on knee pain is virtually as effective as the real kind. Which means it’s not a sham at all, is it?

Of course, placebos work on far more than knees. They work on the taste of wine, the effectiveness of coaching and how well we perform at work.

When they say “it’s all in your head,” they’re actually being optimistic and encouraging.

If it’s in your head, you can do something about it.

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September 2017
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