Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tim Harford's "Adapt"

Tim Harford is the author of The Undercover Economist and The Logic of Life.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure, and reported the following:
Page 99 really is a microcosm of Adapt. The book is about how complex problems need to be solved through trial-and-error – and about why we resist that idea in favour of a right-first-time solution. I’ve tried to weave together a logical case for this view and a rhetorical case, relying both on academic research and on storytelling. Page 97 introduces the amazing life of Mario Capecchi, and by page 102 we’re looking at the statistical evidence in favour of an adventurous way of funding scientific research. We join the action half way down page 98:
...and so Mario Capecchi became a street urchin at the age of four and a half. Most of us are content if, at the age of four and a half, our children are capable of eating lunch without spilling it or confident enough to be dropped off at nursery without tears. Mario survived on scraps, joined gangs, and drifted in and out of orphanages. At the age of eight he spent a year in hospital, probably suffering from typhoid, passing in and out of feverish oblivion each day. Conditions were grim: no blankets, no sheets, beds jammed together, nothing to eat but a crust of bread and some chicory coffee. Many Italian orphans died in such hospitals.

Mario survived. On his ninth birthday, a strange-looking woman arrived at the hospital asking to see him. It was his mother, unrecognisable after five years in a concentration camp. She had spent the last eighteen months searching for him. She bought him a suit of traditional Tyrolean clothes – he still has the cap and its decorative feather – and brought him with her to America...
A few decades (and paragraphs) later, Capecchi is defying the grant-makers at the National Institutes for Health. For some reason, he doesn’t scare easily:
...What did Capecchi do? He took the NIH’s money, and ignoring their admonitions he poured almost all of it into his risky gene-targeting project. It was, he recalls, a big gamble...

...In 2007, Mario Capecchi was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine for this work on mouse genes. As the NIH’s expert panel had earlier admitted, when agreeing to renew his funding: ‘We are glad you didn’t follow our advice.’
Learn more about the author and his work at Tim Harford's website.

Tim Harford: top 10 undercover economics books.

The Page 69 Test: The Undercover Economist.

The Page 69 Test:The Logic of Life.

--Marshal Zeringue