Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Patenting synthetic life, smallpox vaccine helps fight HIV, organic Food (is bullshit), wine tasting.

I shall apologise in advance. This weeks post is likely to be ranty.

After the awesometastic synthetic life creation I blogged about previously the guy in charge has done something lame: tried to patent it. I won't lie. I think the whole idea behind patents and IP is bullshit. On one level because there is a implicit assumption that whosoever is granted a patent is a genius and noone could possibly ever have come up with such a great idea without seeing his first, but also because it seems to be used to quash competition rather than the much touted benefit of encouraging innovation. In my opinion the latter doesn't even make much sense since the options are to (watch as I make a false dichotomy) a) sit on your patents collecting money b) be forced to innovate cos everybody's always stealing your stuff. Anyway another factoid was revealed to me that makes me feel somewhat better about what, as far as I can tell, is just an opinion: the fashion industry lacks copyright.

Moving right along. From 60 second science comes a paper that suggests the smallpox vaccine may have offered partial protection against HIV. It tickles my irony bone to think that a vaccine was so successful at wiping out an illness that it stopped being used, despite conferring other benefits people were unaware of.

Finally Steven Novella wrote an article on whether organic food is more healthful. It basically breaks down a systematic review and in general the scientific results have found that organic food is not more nutritious, doesn't taste better, isn't better for the environment and isn't better for people. (The article and posts in comments will fill in any links I can't be bothered finding). However further from this I discovered that expensive wine tastes better. I didn't realise this had actually been studied. Having been to a few wine tastings at various conferences as far as I'm concerned wine tastes like wine. I was also often puzzled by a room of scientists being happy to have someone stand up, tell them what the wine is supposed to taste like, and then taste it!

Actually that wasn't as bad as I thought it'd be. Carry on.


  1. Are you really unable to perceive taste differences between different wines, or do you find differences in taste but have no way to label them beyond "wine-like"?

    With red wines, I tend to be in the latter category but with whites I can be a bit more specific about tastes. Greater experience with reds is slowly helping me appreciate differences there too.

    I'm curious about how reliable the effect of knowing the price is -- certainly I'm aware that I may like a cheaper wine more than an expensive one, so simply knowing a wine is expensive doesn't mean I expect to like it.

    Vino Fino does an annual "Value?" tasting where you get to compare different wines of the same type blind. Collectively, people there have been able to identify expensive vs cheap at better-than-chance rates, and also do not always prefer the wine they think (rightly or wrongly) is more expensive. On the other hand, I've seen a case where almost everyone got it wrong (a big name wine had a bad season while its cheap partner was a respectable lesser-known winery) and one where almost everyone really disliked one of the pair but many suspected correctly that it was more expensive than the taste indicated (an "entry-level" French burgundy that had me asking if it was off compared to an NZ pinot noir with the aim of showing NZ producers were pricing some of their export wines too low).

  2. I was being a little flippant. I can tell a small difference and I can tell the difference between white and red (althought I haven't tried it blind :P). Your assessment of me actually meaning "wine-like" was spot on.

    It's hard to pass comment on Vino Fino's tasting. Having people visually blinded is merely one step, they could also be receiving clues from the sounds of people around them including the people running the event, or the order in which the wines are tasted can affect the outcome. On the other hand this is also just one study. :P

    My concerns about the leading during the wine tastings I've been to still stands though.