Toyota Bets Hybrids Are Still Short-Term Best Green Car Technology

(p. B3) TOKYO— Toyota Motor Corp. said most of its U.S. vehicles would still run on gasoline a decade from now because it doesn’t think fully electric vehicles will have caught up in cost and convenience.

Toyota doubled down on its commitment to a technology it pioneered, hybrid vehicles, which are fueled with gasoline but also have an electric motor that raises fuel efficiency. The company projected that in 2030, slightly more than half of the vehicles it sells in North America would be hybrids, while around 30% would run on traditional gasoline engines and the remainder would be fully electric.

“If you take a snapshot of 2030, the price of battery EVs and the provision of infrastructure around the globe probably won’t have advanced all that much,” said Toyota executive Jun Nagata at a news conference Wednesday. “Hybrids and plug-in hybrids will be easier for customers to buy.”

. . .

“The goal is not electric vehicles, the goal is carbon neutrality, and even if we have the best technology, if it’s not chosen by customers, it will not have the impact of reducing emissions,” Mr. Kuffner said at Wednesday’s news conference.

For the full story, see:

Peter Landers. “Toyota Doubles Down on Hybrid Technology.” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., May 13, 2021): B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 12, 2021, and has the title “Most Toyotas Will Still Use Gasoline in 2030, Company Says.”)

Choppin at Hughes Medical Institute Hired Good Scientists and Let Them Pursue Hunches and Serendipitous Insights

(p. A27) Purnell Choppin, whose research on how viruses multiply helped lay the foundation for today’s fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, died on July 3 [2021] at his home in Washington, one day shy of his 92nd birthday.

. . .

Dr. Choppin (pronounced show-PAN) focused on measles and influenza, but his research, and the methods he developed to conduct it, proved critical for later work on other viruses, including severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, the virus behind the Covid-19 pandemic, said David Baltimore, an emeritus professor of biology at the California Institute of Technology and a winner of the 1975 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

“The issue of how viruses infect cells was very much on his mind, and the mechanisms he worked out studying influenza were central to thinking about coronaviruses,” Dr. Baltimore said. “Thanks to his work and that of so many others, when the pandemic hit, we were able to formulate questions about the virus in quite precise terms.”

Dr. Choppin was equally well known as an administrator, first at Rockefeller and then at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which hired him in 1985 as its chief medical officer. He later ran the institute for 12 years, turning it from a modest-size research organization into a global research powerhouse.

. . .

With a calm, easygoing demeanor that disguised a fierce, visionary ambition, Dr. Choppin took an innovative approach to funding. Unlike other institutions, which provide grants for specific projects, he focused on identifying top researchers and then showering them with money and resources. Even better, he did not ask them to move to the institute, in Chevy Chase, Md. — they could stay where they were and let the Hughes largesse come to them.

. . .

While Dr. Choppin was sometimes criticized for making safe bets on established scientists who probably didn’t need his help, he made no apologies, and had the track record to prove the soundness of his approach: Dozens of Hughes researchers had gone on to become members of the National Academy of Sciences, and six won the Nobel Prize.

“We bet on people who look like they are going to be winners,” he told The Washington Post in 1988. “You look for originality. How they pick a problem and stick to it. Their instinct for the scientific jugular.”

For the full obituary, see:

Clay Risen. “Purnell Choppin, 91, Researcher Who Focused on Viruses.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, July 25, 2021): 27.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date July 23, 2021, and has the title “Purnell Choppin, 91, Dies; Researcher Laid Groundwork for Pandemic Fight.”)

Scientist Phillippy Co-Led DNA Completion Because Gaps “Were Just Really Bugging Me”

People with different ways of thinking are better at doing different kinds of work. For instance those who are obsessive/compulsive or have some types of Asperger’s, may be better at careful detailed work that requires perfectionism. (I do not know anything about Phillippy beyond the article quoted below, so I am in no way suggesting that he is an examplar of either of these ways of thinking.)

(p. A10) Two decades after the draft sequence of the human genome was unveiled to great fanfare, a team of 99 scientists has finally deciphered the entire thing. They have filled in vast gaps and corrected a long list of errors in previous versions, giving us a new view of our DNA.

. . .

In 2019, two scientists — Adam Phillippy, a computational biologist at the National Human Genome Research Institute, and Karen Miga, a geneticist at the University of California, Santa Cruz — founded the Telomere-to-Telomere Consortium to complete the genome.

Dr. Phillippy admitted that part of his motivation for such an audacious project was that the missing gaps annoyed him. “They were just really bugging me,” he said. “You take a beautiful landscape puzzle, pull out a hundred pieces, and look at it — that’s very bothersome to a perfectionist.”

Dr. Phillippy and Dr. Miga put out a call for scientists to join them to finish the puzzle. They ended up with 99 scientists working directly on sequencing the human genome, and dozens more pitching in to make sense of the data. The researchers worked remotely through the pandemic, coordinating their efforts over Slack, a messaging app.

. . .

Dr. Altemose plans on using the complete genome to explore a particularly mysterious region in each chromosome known as the centromere. Instead of storing genes, centromeres anchor proteins that move chromosomes around a cell as it divides. The centromere region contains thousands of repeated segments of DNA.

In their first look, Dr. Altemose and his colleagues were struck by how different centromere regions can be from one person to another. That observation suggests that centromeres have been evolving rapidly, as mutations insert new pieces of repeating DNA into the regions or cut other pieces out.

While some of this repeating DNA may play a role in pulling chromosomes apart, the researchers have also found new segments — some of them millions of bases long — that don’t appear to be involved. “We don’t know what they’re doing,” Dr. Altemose said.

But now that the empty zones of the genome are filled in, Dr. Altemose and his colleagues can study them up close. “I’m really excited moving forward to see all the things we can discover,” he said.

For the full story, see:

Carl Zimmer. “Scientists Have Finally Filled in All the Gaps in the Human Genome.” The New York Times (Saturday, July 24, 2021): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated July 26, 2021, and has the title “Scientists Finish the Human Genome at Last.”)

Entrepreneurs Hold “Business Showers” for Their Startups

(p. B1) Sid Singh, 36, was joking recently with a friend that everyone he knew seemed to be having their third baby while he was bringing something entirely different into the world. He had just quit his consulting job to build a financial coaching company. It dawned on him that he could have a baby shower for his new endeavor.

. . .

Across the United States, especially in New York City, entrepreneurs are appropriating the baby shower, an event previously reserved for expectant parents, usually mothers. The idea is that if building a business is just as compre-(p. B5)hensive (and expensive!) as having a baby, why not build in the same kind of communal support?

. . .

“I remember when I first started telling people I was pregnant, I had never been congratulated like this for anything in my life,” she said. “I know people were coming from a place of love and excitement, but for me, launching the business was that for me.”

. . .

Mr. Singh received some confused responses. “Some people thought I was hosting a baby shower for someone,” he said. “Others thought I was having a baby with someone.”

He laughed it off, but he did explain to his friends why he was doing this. “People need to understand I am basically committing my entire life to this,” he said. “I am taking the biggest risk I can.”

For the full story, see:

Alyson Krueger. “Congratulations! It’s a Start-Up.” The New York Times (Saturday, July 24, 2021): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 19, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

Jon Stewart’s Solyndra Riff Skewered Industrial Policy

Remember Solyndra? Apparently too few do. Today’s WSJ reports how the U.S. is imitating China’s “industrial policy” of subsidizing favored firms in favored industries such as green energy and semiconductors. To remind us that Larry Summers was right when he wrote that “government is a crappy venture capitalist,” I link above to Jon Stewart’s wise and funny send-up of the Solyndra debacle, first broadcast almost 10 years ago, on September 15, 2011.

The WSJ article mentioned above, is:

Ip, Greg. “West Dusts Off an Old Idea to Compete with China.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 30, 2021): A1 & A7.

Omaha’s “Boutique” Quarantine Unit Looked Backward to Ebola, Not Forward to Covid-19

(p. C1) Quarantine can be lifesaving; it can also be dangerous, an exercise of extraordinary power in the name of disease control, a presumption of guilt instead of innocence.

In “Until Proven Safe,” a new book about quarantine’s past and future, Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley do an impressively judicious job of explaining exactly why fears of quarantine are understandable and historically justified, . . .

. . .

(p. C6) What becomes clear in “Until Proven Safe” is that it’s a lot easier to tell someone else to just shut up and submit to quarantine than to do it yourself. Any exercise of such formidable power also opens up the possibility of abuse. The book includes historical examples of disease control measures getting mapped onto existing prejudices. In 1900, a cordon sanitaire in San Francisco’s Chinatown zigzagged around white-owned businesses; . . .

. . .

Quarantine infrastructures tend to be tailored to the previous epidemic, instead of anticipating whatever is to come. A shiny new federal quarantine facility in Omaha — the first constructed in the United States in more than a century — was finished in January 2020, just in time to receive 15 American passengers from the coronavirus-infested Diamond Princess cruise ship. This National Quarantine Unit has a grand total of 20 beds. It offers a “boutique experience” ideally suited to managing one or two patients at a time after they have had potential exposure to, say, Ebola. The facility can’t do much to help contain a raging pandemic. As Manaugh and Twilley point out, the first American evacuation flight out of Wuhan alone carried 195 passengers.

For the full review, see:

Jennifer Szalai. “BOOKS OF THE TIMES; You Can’t Leave Unless We Say So.” The New York Times (Tuesday, July 27, 2021): C1 & C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 26, 2021, and has the title “BOOKS OF THE TIMES; The Extraordinary History (and Likely Busy Future) of Quarantine.”)

The book under review is:

Twilley, Nicola, and Geoff Manaugh. Until Proven Safe: The History and Future of Quarantine. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2021.

Lack of Full FDA Vaccine Approval Discourages Use

(p. A12) Even as President Biden, the C.D.C. and virtually the entire scientific community are urging — pleading with, even — Americans to get vaccinated, the government has not formally approved any vaccine. The Food and Drug Administration has instead given only “emergency use authorization” to the shots from Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson. That’s a temporary form of approval that allows people to receive shots while the agency continues to study their effectiveness and safety.

The difference between emergency authorization and full approval matters.

. . .

The situation also feeds uncertainty and skepticism among some Americans who have not yet gotten a shot. Those skeptics, as Matthew Yglesias of Substack wrote yesterday, are effectively taking the F.D.A. at its word. The F.D.A. leaders’ official position is that “they don’t have enough safety data yet,” Yglesias noted.

. . .

. . ., public health officials made highly technical statements about masks that many people interpreted as discouragement from wearing them. These statements ignored the many reasons to believe that masks could make a difference (like their longtime popularity in Asia to prevent the spread of viruses) and focused instead on the absence of studies showing that masks specifically prevented the spread of Covid.

Later, officials insisted that they were merely “following the data.” In truth, though, they were basing their advice on a narrow reading of the data — . . . .

. . .

Think of it this way: In the highly unlikely event that the evidence were to change radically — if, say, the vaccines began causing serious side effects about 18 months after people had received a shot — Americans would not react by feeling confident in the F.D.A. and grateful for its caution. They would be outraged that Woodcock and other top officials had urged people to get vaccinated.

The combination means that the F.D.A.’s lack of formal approval has few benefits and large costs: The agency has neither protected its reputation for extreme caution nor maximized the number of Americans who have been protected from Covid. “In my mind, it’s the No. 1 issue in American public health,” Topol told me. “If we got F.D.A. approval, we could get another 20 million vaccinated,” he estimated.

For the full commentary, see:

David Leonhardt. “Why, After Months of Shots, Are None Approved?.” The New York Times (Thursday, July 22, 2021): A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 21, 2021, and has the title “Why Aren’t the Vaccines Approved?”)

Biden’s “Infrastructure” Central Planners Aim to Tear Up Earlier Central Planners’ Highways

(p. A10) As midcentury highways reach the end of their life spans, cities across the country are having to choose whether to rebuild or reconsider them. And a growing number, like Rochester, are choosing to take them down.

. . .

Nearly 30 cities nationwide are currently discussing some form of removal.

. . .

The growing movement has been energized by support from the Biden administration, which has made addressing racial justice and climate change, major themes in the debate over highway removal, central to its agenda.

. . .

Congress is still haggling over Mr. Biden’s infrastructure plan, but experts say the proposed funding for highway removal represents a shift in the way the government approaches transportation projects.

“As recently as a decade ago,” said Peter D. Norton, a transportation historian at the University of Virginia, “every transportation problem was a problem to be solved with new roads.” Now, the impacts of those roads are beginning to enter the equation.

For the full story, see:

Nadja Popovich, and Denise Lu. “Can Removing Highways Fix America’s Cities?” The New York Times (Saturday, May 29, 2021): A10-A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 27, 2021, and has the same title as the print version. The online version, but not the print version, lists Josh Williams as the second co-author.)

Elon Musk Says He Prefers Being an Engineer to Being Boss of Tesla

If Musk really prefers being an engineer, why doesn’t he resign as CEO and take a job as an engineer? Maybe like many entrepreneurs, he complains, but in his heart he prefers being an entrepreneur?

(p. B3) WILMINGTON, Del.—Elon Musk said Tesla bought SolarCity Corp. for one fundamental reason: to become more than a car company.

The Tesla Inc. chief executive made the argument as he wrapped up two days of sometimes feisty testimony in court, defending the roughly $2.1 billion tie-up completed in 2016 at a time both Tesla and SolarCity were financially struggling.

. . .

Though the grilling focused largely on what information Tesla shareholders were given about the financial condition of SolarCity, Mr. Musk at times veered farther afield in answering, particularly when it came to whether he exerted too much control over the purchase, a key question in the trial.

On Monday he said that he didn’t enjoy being the boss of Tesla. “I rather hate it, and I would much prefer to spend my time on design and engineering, which is what intrinsically I like doing,” he said.

When Mr. Baron on Tuesday asked Mr. Musk whether he had lied about when a core SolarCity product would be ready to sell in large volume, he responded, “I have a habit of being optimistic.” Mr. Baron fired back: “This is more than optimistic. This is just plain out false.”

For the full story, see:

Dave Michaels and Rebecca Elliott. “Musk Says Deal Helped Diversify.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 14, 2021): B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated July 13, 2021, and has the title “Elon Musk Defends SolarCity Deal: ‘The Goal Is Not to Be a Car Company’.”)

Critical Race Theory Rejects Enlightenment Rationalism and the Declaration of Independence

(p. A15) . . ., relatively few Americans—including those who regularly denounce it—know much about what critical race theory is. It originated in law schools in the 1970s and has since become a sprawling movement. To find out more about it, I turned to “Critical Race Theory: An Introduction,” co-written by one of the movement’s founders, Richard Delgado. He writes that critical race theory “questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.”

. . .

Because the Declaration of Independence—the founding document of the American liberal order—is a product of Enlightenment rationalism, a doctrine that rejects the Enlightenment tacitly requires deconstructing the American order and rebuilding it on an entirely different foundation.

For the full commentary, see:

William A. Galston. “How Adherents See ‘Critical Race Theory’.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, July 14, 2021): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 13, 2021, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Tata’ Review: From Homestead to Hegemony.”)

The book co-authored by a founder of critical race theory that is mentioned in the passage quoted above is:

Delgador, Richard, and Jean Stefancic. Critical Race Theory: An Introduction. 3rd ed. New York: NYU Press, 2017 [1st ed., 2001; 2nd ed., 2012].