A fitting tribute to Alan Turing

Nature has just published a fantastic Alan Turing special issue commemorating 100 years since the birth of the artificial intelligence pioneer, code-breaker and mathematician.

It’s a really wonderful edition, available to freely read online, and accompanied by a special podcast that talks to his biographer about Turing’s famous 1936 paper on computable numbers, his contribution to cracking the German Enigma ciphers, and his thoughts on machine intelligence.

The articles in the issue are no less exciting and cover everything from Turning’s impact on biology to a debate on whether the brain a good model for machine intelligence.

Essentially, stop whatever you’re doing right now, take the phone off the hook, poor yourself a drop of something thought-provoking and enjoy.

Great stuff.

Link to Nature special issue on Alan Turing.

Did drug money keep the banks high and dry?

A little known but striking comment from the then executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime on how illegal drug money was the only thing that kept the banks afloat during the 2008 crash.

Vienna-based UNODC [United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime] Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa said in an interview released by Austrian weekly Profil that drug money often became the only available capital when the crisis spiralled out of control last year.

“In many instances, drug money is currently the only liquid investment capital,” Costa was quoted as saying by Profil. “In the second half of 2008, liquidity was the banking system’s main problem and hence liquid capital became an important factor.”

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime had found evidence that “interbank loans were funded by money that originated from drug trade and other illegal activities,” Costa was quoted as saying. There were “signs that some banks were rescued in that way.”


Link to Reuters reporting of interview.

A non hysterical view of ‘cheerleader hysteria’

I’ve written an article for the Discover Magazine blog The Crux about mass hysteria and conversion disorder in light of the not-very-good-coverage given to the issue after a group of cheerleaders with unexplained neurological symptoms made the headlines.

The New York Times described the situation as a ‘nutty story’ and said hysteria is ‘not supposed to happen anymore’ which is insulting and wrong in equal measure.

Nature News described the situation as a ‘mystery US outbreak’ and managed to confusion conversion disorder with mass hysteria, generating a unfortunate mix of scaremongering and confusion.

So the article for Discover Magazine tracks the history of conversion disorder (the condition that the girls have actually been diagnosed with), what it actually means (neurological symptoms without neurological damage) and the science of how we can experience unusual effects like blindness, paralysis or, in this case, tics, without actually having a neurological disorder.

As Freud fell out of fashion, many people assumed that the concept of hysteria had gone with him, but this is not the case. Although his theory about hysteria being caused by the “unconscious repression of trauma” isn’t very popular among scientists, it’s a simple fact that patients can develop what seem like neurological disorders—such as paralysis, blindness, seizures, and tics—despite having a perfectly functioning nervous system. And despite popular claims that the condition is rare or “doesn’t happen any more,” it still commonly presents in neurological clinics. Numerous studies have found that up to one-third of patients who consult with neurologists typically have symptoms that are not fully explained by neurological damage.


Link to Discover Crux piece on ‘Cheerleader hysteria’.