Book Review: Lifespan




David Sinclair – Harvard professor, celebrity biologist, and author of Lifespan – thinks solving aging will be easy. “Aging is going to be remarkably easy to tackle. Easier than cancer” are his exact words, which is maybe less encouraging than he thinks.

There are lots of ways that solving aging could be hard. What if humans worked like cars? To restore an old car, you need to fiddle with hundreds of little parts, individually fixing everything from engine parts to chipping paint. Fixing humans to such a standard would be way beyond current technology.

Or what if the DNA damage theory of aging was true? This says that as cells divide (or experience normal wear and tear) they don’t copy their DNA exactly correctly. As you grow older, more and more errors creep in, and your cells become worse and worse at their jobs. If this were true, there’s not much to do either: you’d have to correct the DNA in every cell in the body (using what template? even if you’d saved a copy of your DNA from childhood, how do you get it into all 30 trillion cells?) This is another nonstarter.

Sinclair’s own theory offers a simpler option. He starts with a puzzling observation: babies are very young [citation needed]. If a 70 year old man marries a 40 year old woman and has a baby, that baby will start off at zero years old, just like everyone else. Even more interesting, if you clone a 70 year old man, the clone start at zero years old.


So Sinclair thinks aging is epigenetic damage. As time goes on, cells lose or garble the epigenetic markers telling them what cells to be. Kidney cells go from definitely-kidney-cells to mostly kidney cells but also a little lung cell and maybe some heart cell in there too. It’s hard to run a kidney off of cells that aren’t entirely sure whether they’re supposed to be kidney cells or something else, and so your kidneys (and all your other organs) break down as you age. He doesn’t come out and say this is literally 100% of aging. But everyone else thinks aging is probably a combination of many complicated processes, and I think Sinclair thinks it’s mostly epigenetic damage and then a few other odds and ends that matter much less.

Author(s): Scott Alexander

Publication Date: 1 Dec 2021

Publication Site: Astral Codex Ten

‘The Premonition’ Review: A Pandemic of Experts



The article, in any case, doesn’t claim that 180,000 people could have been saved by more robust public-health interventions in early 2020 but that those deaths are mostly the result of Americans’ poor health. That the U.S. death rate, even so, is lower than that of the U.K. and Italy and nearly equal to that of France — all G7 nations — rather complicates Mr. Lewis’s breezy thesis.

It is amazing to me that intelligent people in 2021 can survey the past year and conclude that some alternative set of non-pharmaceutical interventions would have made an appreciable difference in the spread of this magnificently resilient virus. But many such people do believe that, including the author of this book and its ostensible heroes. One of those heroes, an accomplished hospital administrator named Carter Mecher, drew up a national pandemic response plan for the George W. Bush administration. The key to stopping dangerous pathogens, he came to believe as he studied pandemic modeling, was closing schools.


Here is a point that Mr. Lewis’s heroes show no awareness of grasping: that the United States is a big unruly country in which people are accustomed to going where they please and don’t care for government authorities telling them what to do based on poorly understood “data.” One of the Wolverines, a public-health official in Santa Barbara County named Charity Dean, appears to believe that any sign of a dangerous contagion permits health authorities to assume dictatorial powers. She tells Mr. Lewis that in early 2020 California should have closed its borders “until it figured out exactly how much virus was circulating, and where” and that the U.S. should follow Thailand’s example and require “anyone entering the country to wear a GPS wristband” and so enable the authorities to know who’s disobeying quarantine rules.

Author(s): Barton Swaim

Publication Date: 3 May 2021

Publication Site: Wall Street Journal

Book Link:

Datawrapper Dataviz Book Club



1. What was the most surprising thing you’ve learned? Choose a text passage, and explain how it challenged something you assumed. (Type up the text passage / phrase, and tell us on which page we can find it!) 

2. Select one of your favorite data visualizations. Is it working well becauseof a principle that Tufte explained? Or do you appreciate something about it although it goes against Tufte’s principles? – give us a link to the data vis! If you need to upload something, but it on or Twitter. 

3. Having read the book, what will you do differently the next time you design a chart?

Date Published: August 2018

Date Accessed: 21 April 2021

Publication Site:

‘The Genome Odyssey’ Review: From Code to Clinic



The fact that critical information lurks within the three billion or so pairs of letters representing our genetic instructions was a key driver of the Human Genome Project, begun in 1990 and completed, with suitable fanfare, 13 years later. But translating DNA sequence into actionable insight hasn’t been easy. This is a major theme of “The Genome Odyssey,” Euan Ashley’s impassioned, firsthand account of the effort to bring genomic data into clinical practice and help patients like Carson and Chase.

For starters, says Dr. Ashley, a cardiologist and geneticist at Stanford, there was the price — prohibitively high early on. Thanks to advances in technology, the cost of sequencing an individual’s DNA has declined a million-fold since 2003 — the equivalent, he says, of a Ferrari plummeting from $350,000 to less than 40 cents. The time required to decode a genome has plunged to days rather than years or months. When Jazlene, a newborn girl with a dangerously abnormal heart rhythm, arrived at Stanford in 2014, Dr. Ashley and his colleagues were able to identify the genetic cause within days and “practice more ‘precise’ medicine” by fine-tuning the infant’s therapy.

Author(s): David A. Shaywitz

Publication Date: 24 February 2021

Publication Site: Wall Street Journal