Numlock News: November 24, 2021 • Mountain Dew Game Fuel, Human Suffering, Peer Review

By Walt Hickey

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The Nectar of the Gods

In 2007, a revolutionary beverage swept into the American market: Mountain Dew Game Fuel, a carbonated sugary beverage designed for the discerning palate of an individual 10 hours into a Halo 3 LAN party. Now, over a decade later, the oenophiles who specialize in appreciating the terroir of Game Fuel are a declining breed, squabbling over the remaining beverages from the golden era of the Dew’s Halo 3 vintage on sites like eBay. Today, one of the few existing cans or bottles of Halo 3 Mountain Dew Game Fuel will set a judicious collector back anywhere from $35 to $80, but truly, is it possible to put a price on history?

Patrick Gill, Polygon

Suffering

For generations, a central question — what is the reason for suffering — has beguiled philosophers, forged religions, inspired elegies and motivated great artists and thinkers as they plumbed the ineffable nature of the origin of human pain. Well, good news for those chumps, thanks to modern polling we solved it and the case is closed: A new Pew Research Center survey found 86 percent of respondents said “sometimes bad things just happen” explains why suffering exists very or somewhat well. This was the most popular, but hardly only contemplation on the origin of suffering: 71 percent of respondents said that suffering was mostly a consequence of people’s own actions, 69 percent said it’s a result of the way society is structured, and 62 percent said it’s an opportunity for people to come out stronger. Tune in next week, when I hear Gallup responds to this broadside by finally reconciling the existence of evil with an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient God.

Pew Research Center

Diapers

The poorest 20 percent of the country spent about 14 percent of their household income on diapers in 2014, a disproportionate outlay for the poorest families in the country. A single diaper can cost $1.50, or when bought in bulk can cost around 25 cents, but poor people don’t have the capacity to buy in bulk and as a result get fleeced. By comparison, for middle-income families, diapers take up around three percent of income. The sacrifices made by poorer families to afford diapers can cause serious issues because in order to put a kid in child care, parents have to put up a day’s worth of diapers up front, and so lacking that they may have to miss work to care for the kid. A 2017 study of North Carolina diaper bank recipients found seven percent had to miss work at least once due to diaper need, and when they just got the diapers from the bank 15 percent said they were able to return to work or school and 18 percent said it allowed them to put their kid in child care.

Chabeli Carrazana, The 19th

Vinyl

Sony Music ordered 500,000 copies of Adele’s new album 30 on vinyl, and that sizable order is sending vinyl pressers into overdrive. Vinyl used to be a niche, one typically utilized by indie musicians, the classic rock set, music professionals or just audiophiles; today, it’s massive, even for the biggest mainstream stars. From 2019 to 2020, vinyl sales grew 28.7 percent to $626 million, and last year they made more revenue than CDs. Globally, pressing plants have an estimated capacity to make around 160 million vinyl albums this year, so that half-million isn’t nothing; what’s more, the global demand for vinyl is actually estimated to be somewhere in the 320 million to 400 million units, and those production constraints — in addition to the reality that the machines that actually press vinyl are fossils — are presenting challenges.

Emily Stewart, Vox

Birds

The North Atlantic has not been a favorable place of study for researchers who specialize in seabirds, given its colossal size and the high cost of carrying out the research on the open sea. Lately, though, a group of researchers have found a 600,000 square kilometer area between Newfoundland and Greenland that’s a major hotspot for seabirds previously unknown, with 2.9 million to 5 million seabirds dropping in sometime every year. It’s surprising that an area surrounded by rich countries went so under-studied, but at least 21 species have been found to be using it, drawn by phytoplankton and small fish and crabs.

Dean Russell, Hakai Magazine

Peer Review

A new study seeks to put some hard numbers to the process of scientific peer review, quantifying the time investment contributed by the scientific community to the large and highly profitable journals that benefit from their work. Using a number of surveys of researchers that put the average time per review at around 6 hours, and factoring in 3,847,081 rejected submissions and 4,701,988 accepted submissions — a workload that would require around 21,800,126 reviews — the estimated total hours of labor spent just on reviewing other papers is around 130.8 million hours per year, or roughly 15,000 years of labor per year. Given the estimated salaries of post-docs from around the world, American researchers contribute around $1.5 billion in labor towards peer review, Chinese researchers contribute $626 million, and U.K. researchers around $391 million.

Balazs Aczel, Barnabas Szaszi and Alex O. Holcombe, Research Integrity and Peer Review

Strawberries

In Japan, Christmas is often commemorated with a cake topped with strawberries. However, Japan’s strawberry farms are shrinking as their proprietors age, and this year it’ll have an impact on the packages used to sell the berries, which will shrink by 20 grams, or around seven percent. All told, the Japanese strawberry harvest is down 10 percent in the past decade to 159,200 tons in 2020, which seems bad, but is worse once you learn the number of farms that grow the berries is down 30 percent since 2015.

Maiko Sugiyama, Nikkei Asia

This past week in the Sunday edition I spoke to Alexander Kaufman, who wrote Oklahoma Proposes Letting Gas Utility Charge A $1,400 ‘Exit Fee’ To Go Electric for HuffPost. We spoke about the recent COP26 conference and why the outcome left a whole lot to be desired, as well as what’s happening in Oklahoma and how it might lay the groundwork for more natural gas companies flexing political power to extract anti-consumer laws. Kaufman can be found at HuffPost and on Twitter.

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