Every Saturday morning, I look forward to spending time reading the Quartz newsletter. I thought they outdid themselves this morning and I thought I’d share these notes with you.
On Saturdays, one of the lead journalists or editors pens a 4-5 paragraph Editorial of sorts. It is always thought provoking. Today’s struck a similar chord to my note a few days ago about Nobel prizes being a celebration of science.
Good morning, Quartz readers!
Even if you’re not a scientist or literary critic, you likely couldn’t help but notice that this week was Nobel Prize week(the last prize, in economics, will be announced Oct. 9). Though most people may not remember any winner’s name next month, these 10 laureates will walk as demigods among colleagues for the rest of their lives.
They will also walk past more than a few raised eyebrows.
Awarding a prize to a few humans for such grand achievements is inherently unfair. Prizes by nature require arbitrary limitations; the science Nobels, for instance, don’t recognize large collaborations, and are restricted to anachronistic categories (where’s the technology Nobel?). Interpretations of achievement are subjective; the peace Nobel seems to reward hope more than actual peacemaking, with US president Barack Obama and Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos. And prejudice complicates the entire picking process; science Nobels overwhelmingly go to white men (women have won 18 of 593 prizes), while the literature Nobel has been criticized for excluding worthy contenders—such as Leo Tolstoy—that don’t fit the Swedish Academy’s political world view.
But as our attention careens between disasters, massive sporting spectacles, and overhyped entertainment awards, there’s still something valuable in setting aside a week to celebrate knowledge itself. Other disciplines have their “Nobels” too, like the Fields Medal in mathematics or the Turing Award in computer science. But it is only the Nobel Prize that manages to draw attention from beyond the ivory tower, turning even the man and woman in the street to marvel at our ever-growing pyramid of human invention and ingenuity—in a vital counterbalance to calls from politicians to reject “experts.”
Arbitrary and subjective as they may be, prizes and competitions seize the public’s attention precisely because they give us heroes. They make people care about abstract subjects through the story of an individual, even if our desire for role models is flawed to begin with. Critics of the Nobel Prize, often journalists or academics, tend to take a zero-sum approach when they decry the Prize’s selection flaws. But perhaps a better approach would be to shed light on even more prizes and deserving individuals on the frontiers of human knowledge, instead. After all, Nobel week doesn’t have to be the only week each year when we celebrate what it means to be an advanced species.—Akshat Rathi
In addition the editorial note, they bring together some of the most noteworthy articles from the week. I try to read a couple and skim a few more. Here are a few that were, in equal parts, fascinating.
China’s blockchain ambitions—politics be damned. In a journey from Inner Mongolia’s bitcoin mines to a palatial villa for the Beijing’s bitcoin elite, Joon Ian Wong parses the reason why China has become dominant in the stateless cryptocurrency, and why its corporate establishment is now taking aim at the underlying technology.
Snapchat has become the perfect tool for understanding tragedy. The social network makes a surprisingly effective window into real-time news events—especially when disaster strikes. Mike Murphy reveals the deeply intimate perspective of Snap Maps, surfacing user views from Las Vegas, Catalonia and Mexico City, even after the news trucks leave.
An ex-“healer” sees the light. Information bubbles don’t just block political discourse, they filter out scientific evidence—and can end up endangering people’s health. Akshat Rathi profiles a former naturopath turned skeptic for a look at how even thoughtful people can end up blinded by false belief.
Germans are increasingly obsessed with “Heimat.” Anxiety over globalization, digitization, and migration has spurred a nationwide soul-search about the concept of “homeland.” At Reuters, Andrea Shalal explores Germany’s surging demand for dirndls, cuckoo clocks and detective novels.
How Breitbart took white nationalism mainstream. BuzzFeed reporter Joseph Bernstein takes a damning behind-the-scenes look at the right-wing US website, its editor Steve Bannon, and the billionaire Mercer family that funds it, based on a cache of emails exchanged within the site’s inner circle.
WANTED: Two piglets named Lucy and Ethel. Why is the FBI is hunting down escaped baby pigs from Smithfield Foods, the world’s biggest pork producer? At the Intercept, Glenn Greenwald examines the ties between the US government and Big Food, and explores animal rights activists’ powerful new tool: virtual reality experiences of factory farming.
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