Bananas, burlesque, and bullshit: all that and more in this week’s What I’ve Been Reading!

  • If you’re a food nerd, chances are you know that there used to be two popular varieties of banana that were cultivated for human consumption: Gros Michel and Cavendish. But around the turn of the 20th century, a fungus known as Panama Disease wiped out the global Gros Michel population, leaving only Cavendish behind. Now there’s a new strain of the disease that’s affecting Cavendish bananas, and it could eventually render bananas extinct. Roberto A. Ferdman of The Washington Post uses this story to make a wider point about how monocultural agriculture leaves crops vulnerable to disease, pests, and other catastrophes. Genetic diversity is essential for the long-term health of a species, but the way we currently practice agriculture seems to actively fight against genetic diversity.
  • Erica Klarreich of Quanta Magazine writes about how three computer scientists – Daniel Spielman, Nikhil Srivastava, and Adam Marcus – solved the decades-old Kadison-Singer problem, a problem that appears in some form or another across many fields of mathematics. Their approach involved running millions of simulations to figure out what was going on. They then formalized the intuitions they got from the simulations in a proof.
  • Writing for Bustle, S. Skye Makaris explains the problem with viewing burlesque as “classy” compared to other forms of sex work, such as pornography and exotic dancing. Makaris explains that historically, burlesque was seen as just as “slutty” as stripping is today. People would do well to recognize the historical roots of what they idealize.
  • You probably know that the Bible was originally written in a now-dead language called Aramaic. But why did it die out? John McWhorter of The Atlantic explains.
  • Finally, you probably have a few friends who infect your Facebook feed with pseudo-intellectual bullshit inspirational quotes, and you probably think those people are pretty stupid. Well, science has vindicated your suspicions! Helena Horton of The Telegraph writes about a study conducted by Gordon Pennycook and coauthors which shows a link between stupidity and thinking bullshit is profound.

As for me, I promise no bullshit on this blog. Okay, some bullshit. A minimal amount of bullshit. Possibly more.