Numlock News: April 2, 2021 • Lambs, Grizzly Bears, Mr. Brightside

By Walt Hickey

Have a great weekend! To hear the audio version of last week’s Sunday interview with the brilliant Karen Hao, anyone can check out the Numlock Podcast on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.

Doing Just Fine

The Killers song “Mr. Brightside” has spent five years on the United Kingdom’s Top 100, a full 260 weeks. There is no other song that comes even remotely close, the nearest runner-up is “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol, which logged 166 weeks on the charts. Every week, the song “Mr. Brightside” is streamed an average of 1.2 million times, and if my Spotify history since learning about this statistic is any proof, you will probably be one of them soon. It’s all the more remarkable because the song was released in 2003, didn’t chart its first time around in the U.K. at all, and has seen basically zero promotion: it’s never been licensed to an advertising campaign or a television show, and has appeared pretty much in one film, The Holiday.

Mark Savage, BBC News

Science

The number of papers published about the type of viruses known as coronaviruses, according to the repository PubMed, was quite low until the 2002 SARS outbreak and subsequent 2012 MERS outbreak led to a gentle annual increase, up to roughly 5,000 papers in 2019. Last year, there were over 80,000 coronavirus-related articles uploaded to PubMed, a 1,600 percent increase from the prior year. In 2019, about one out of every 130 articles was related in some way to coronaviruses; in 2020, that was about one out of every 10. Factoring in related terms like COVID-19, there were 93,593 new scientific articles in 2020 about coronaviruses, published at a rate of about 11 new articles every hour.

Jeff MacInnes, The Pudding

Sneakers

Sneaker collecting and trading has been a popular hobby for quite some time, but now that there’s a ton of money in it, many people who have been fans of the hobby since the beginning and made it popular to begin with have been driven out. The streetwear resale market has reached an estimated $2 billion in North America and is growing 20 percent annually, which is nice for investors but kind of a bummer if you just want to look fresh. The resale value — the latest Air Jordan 1s in Carolina blue sold out instantly at $170 retail and immediately appeared on marketplaces for $300 — is driving smaller, passionate consumers out of the market amid a robotically-enhanced, optimized and well capitalized investor class.

Kim Bhasin, Bloomberg

Ship of Theseus

A new study published in Nature Medicine takes another shot at the rate of cellular turnover in the human body. Basically, your individual component cells have shorter lifespans than you do as a larger organism. Fat cells last an average of 12 years, a muscle cell lasts 50, blood cells live anywhere from three to 120 days, and the cells lining your gut make it less than a week. On any given day, an estimated 330 billion cells are replaced, so about 1 percent every day. Over the course of 80 to 100 days, about 30 trillion cells will turn over, equivalent to about one “you.”

Mark Fischetti and Jen Christiansen, Scientific American

Lamb

When the pandemic struck, it was at first devastating for sales of lamb, as it destroyed the supply chain during the spring season when a large amount of sales happen around Passover and Easter. The second-largest lamb processing plant even filed for bankruptcy on March 19, 2020, and live lamb prices dropped in half by April. However, supermarket sales throughout the rest of the year were booming: store sales of lamb rose 28 percent year-over-year, a greater gain than that seen by beef (25.6 percent) or pork (20.5 percent). The 2021 wholesale price of lamb loins is 33 percent higher than the 2015-19 average, and the 1.1 pounds of lamb the average American eats is well above the 0.6 pound average of 2011.

Virginia Gewin, Bloomberg

Bears

Grizzly bears have made a slow, gradual recovery from their near destruction in the contiguous United States, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In two areas specifically — the Yellowstone region and around Glacier National Park — the populations have made a recovery in the past 10 years. While grizzlies inhabited just 2 percent of their historical range in 1975 in the United States, they now occupy 6 percent of their historical range. Still, where once there were about 50,000 grizzlies in Western North America, the number now is about 1,900.

Matthew Brown, The Associated Press

Tax

About nine years ago, Bristol Myers Squibb formed an offshore subsidiary in Ireland, which the Internal Revenue Service would later identify as an abusive tax shelter that avoided $1.4 billion in taxes. The company denies wrongdoing, but the government wants its money, a fact unbeknownst to the company’s investors until an accidental reveal of the dispute that was quickly scrubbed from public view. In the three years leading up to 2012, the company’s tax rate was about 24 percent, well shy of the corporate income tax rate at the time of 35 percent. In 2012, after setting up the shelter, the tax rate dipped from 25 percent in 2011 to negative 7 percent.

Jesse Drucker, The New York Times

Last Sunday, I spoke to MIT Technology Review editor Karen Hao, who frequently appears in Numlock and wrote the bombshell story “How Facebook Got Addicted to Spreading Misinformation.” Karen’s story goes inside Facebook’s attempts to address that, and how their focus on rooting out algorithmic bias may ignore other, more important problems related to the algorithms that print them money. Karen can be found on Twitter, @_Karenhao at MIT Technology Review, and at her newsletter, The Algorithm, that goes out every week on Fridays.


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