Two Stories About America And One About Alcohol | Vol. 4 / No. 43

This week’s news roundup is brought to you by my Saturday activities—joining 40,000 protesters in the streets of Boston to give the middle finger to a pack of cowardly white supremacists, and then having a drink afterward to both celebrate the success and mourn the need to do it in the first place. So without further ado, here it is: the weekly roundup for Sunday, August 20, 2017.


Yin and Yang | Eleonora Albasi, CC BY 2.0

Not So White?

This week’s first story comes to us via Scientific American’s STAT blog, and it’s all about a recently-published sociological study on racist-as-hell white nationalists taking genetic ancestry tests and then (upon finding out how not totally “European” they are) going to their racist-as-hell support boards to massage each others’ feelings and talk about how full of crap those genetic tests are anyway. On the one side, they’re not totally wrong: the tests aren’t exactly perfect. There’s a level of precision implied by services like 23andMe that probably isn’t called for. On the other hand, well:

For the study authors, what was most interesting was to watch this online community negotiating its own boundaries, rethinking who counts as “white.” That involved plenty of contradictions. They saw people excluded for their genetic test results, often in very nasty (and unquotable) ways, but that tended to happen for newer members of the anonymous online community, [study author] Panofsky said, and not so much for longtime, trusted members. Others were told that they could remain part of white nationalist groups, in spite of the ancestry they revealed, as long as they didn’t “mate,” or only had children with certain ethnic groups. Still others used these test results to put forth a twisted notion of diversity, one “that allows them to say, ‘No, we’re really diverse and we don’t need non-white people to have a diverse society,’” said Panofsky.

You can read the whole piece at STAT.


Photo: HedOvMetal, CC BY 2.0

A Database of Hate

One of the biggest problems of hate-based actions in America is the dearth of information about them. Not just about things done by self-professed white supremacists, but by random hateful Americans who happen to (for instance) hate Trans people or Muslims or mixed-race couples. As the folks at TechCrunch point out, while the feds are required to report hate crimes to a national database, the local and state-level officials aren’t required to. Well, now ProPublica and Google News have teamed up to create an updated-daily, searchable news database of stories related to hate in America. It’s called the Documenting Hate News Index, and it’s going to make a good start for building numbers that more accurately reflect the disaster that is the state of Americans’ tolerance of difference. You can learn more about it at TechCrunch or ProPublica, or even go try it out yourself. When you’re done with that, though, you might need to come back and read our third story. Don’t worry, we’ll be here when you get back.


Photo: Phil Long, CC BY 2.0

A Drop of Water

If you need a drink after perusing the Documenting Hate News Index, well, here’s a story for you: a new report in the journal Nature shed a little light on why putting a little water in your whiskey might improve the flavour. For years, whiskey enthusiasts have said that—especially for high-percentage, “barrel-proof” whiskeys—a little bit of dilution can really “open up” the flavour profile and make the drink tastier. The report out this week explains why that might be the case. A lot of the subtle flavours in whiskeys are the product of a type of molecule called amphipathic molecules. The new science shows that for at least one of these compounds, guaiacol, alcohol can literally get in the way of you tasting it. Because guaiacol is preferentially associated with ethanol, at higher ethanol concentrations, the guaiacol is effectively “surrounded.” But lower that concentration, and those flavour-enhancing molecules become more accessible. Now the study seems to focus more on the differences between above 59% alcohol and below 45% alcohol solutions, so adding a little water to your Canadian Club probably won’t improve the flavour much, but for high-proof whiskeys there might be a good reason to add a drop of water to the mix. And while the study also focused specifically on guaiacol, its authors think it may be true of other amphipathic molecules that give whiskey flavour as well. You can read the open-source article itself over at Nature.


Best of the Rest

And as usual, there’s always more to get to than I can possibly cover. So here it is: your weekly linkspam!

That’s all for today, but before I go I’d like to remind anyone interested in tomorrow’s total solar eclipse of the following:

DO NOT LOOK AT THE SUN WITHOUT PROPER EQUIPMENT BECAUSE IT WILL DAMAGE YOUR EYESIGHT PERMANENTLY. A partially-obscured sun will not be bright enough to force you to look away but it will still burn your retina. Use CERTIFIED eclipse glasses (NOT SUNGLASSES) or a pinhole projector. Go to the link below to see five safe ways to view it.

Five Ways To View The Solar Eclipse

That’s all for today, have a safe time tomorrow, and have a great week.


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Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as Deputy Managing Editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.