Lessons from the field

As glamorous and thrilling as fieldwork might sound, no field season is complete without a few tales, typically funnier after the fact. Here’s my attempt to impart some humor and share lessons learned after the emotional trauma subsided. Lesson #1: Try new things but acknowledge your limits The second day of our trip, I was …

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A day in the field

3:00 a.m. My alarm goes off. I open my eyes and see the Heilongjiang sun starting to rise. I close my eyes just for a minute more… (Editor’s note – China, while geographically spanning five time zones, follows only one for unity. That means far eastern locales like Heilongjiang see daybreak early.) 3:15 a.m. My …

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Genetic variation in Han Chinese population

Largest component of genetic variation is a N-S cline (phenotypic N-S gradient discussed here). Variance accounted for by second (E-W) PC vector is much smaller and the Han population is fairly homogeneous in genetic terms: …while we revealed East-to-West structure among the Han Chinese, the signal is relatively weak and very little structure is discernible …

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Face Recognition applied at scale in China

The Chinese government is not the only entity that has access to millions of faces + identifying information. So do Google, Facebook, Instagram, and anyone who has scraped information from similar social networks (e.g., US security services, hackers, etc.). In light of such ML capabilities it seems clear that anti-ship ballistic missiles can easily target …

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CNGB: China National Gene Bank

Unbeknownst to me I’ve been skyping with a collaborator who has been working from this location. SCMP: China opens first national gene bank, aiming to house hundreds of millions of samples China’s first national gene bank, claimed to be the largest of its kind in the world, officially opened on Thursday to store and carry …

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On the military balance of power in the Western Pacific

Some observations concerning the military balance of power in Asia. Even “experts” I have spoken to over the years seem to be confused about basic realities that are fundamental to strategic considerations. 1. Modern missile and targeting technology make the survivability of surface ships (especially carriers) questionable. Satellites can easily image surface ships and missiles …

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AlphaGo (BetaGo?) Returns

Rumors over the summer suggested that AlphaGo had some serious problems that needed to be fixed — i.e., whole lines of play that it pursued poorly, despite its thrashing of one of the world’s top players in a highly publicized match. But tuning a neural net is trickier than tuning, for example, an expert system …

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Trump Triumph Viewed From China

This is from a blog that tracks Chinese public opinion, mainly via the internet. I don’t agree with everything in the original post, but here’s something sourced from the crowd: … a widely-read Weibo post (again originated from Zhihu) summarizes what Trump’s win has “taught China”, generating tens of thousands of retweets. “1. We should …

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Coming home

The second part of my project involves DNA extraction from my soil samples. For that, I travel to Nanjing and work in the lab of Dr. Fang Wang in the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Soil Science Institute.  Nanjing is only about an hour from Shanghai, which makes my presence much less of a novelty, as …

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The Pivot and American Statecraft in Asia

Hugh White, Professor of Strategic Studies at the Australian National University, critiques the Obama administration’s so-called pivot to Asia. Australian strategists are a good source of analysis on this issue because they are caught in the middle and have to think realistically about the situation. Whenever I see a book or article on this topic …

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Ethics vs. Efficiency

As we drive through the rural Chinese country side visiting village after village, I notice a pattern within Chinese agriculture that is paralleled in Chinese culture, and that is quite different from anything I’ve experienced in America. They literally use everything —  and between rice paddies are planted to soy and the medians between roads …

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When the rain comes

My fieldwork in China started off rough. After the sparkle of the first week – being an honored guest, attending lavish dinners and getting private tours – wore off what remained was me, our research team of five and a project that had some serious American bias hiding within it. The soil analysis for my …

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What I actually do

So if you remember from previous blogs, my research project is attempting to find differences is in the soil-microbial community between corn, rice (grasses) and soy (a legume). Global soybean trade, specifically soybeans from Brazil and the USA, are being imported by China; these imports are cheaper than domestically produced soybeans, thus driving out China’s …

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Arthur Kroeber (Gavekal) on Chinese economy

Highly recommended. Kroeber gives a realistic assessment of the Chinese economy, covering topics such as historical development models, infrastructure investment, debt levels, SOEs vs private enterprise, corruption pre- and post-Xi, demographics, hukou reform, etc. In this episode of Sinica, we present an in-depth interview with Arthur Kroeber, founding partner and head of research for Gavekal …

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I got it from my mama…

It’s May.  I am sitting in my studio apartment, looking at old take-out Chinese boxes with disgust and attempting to pack for my field season in China.  In only one bag. How many pairs of socks should I pack? How much instant coffee does a summer of data collection in Asia require? Can I really …

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Publication – Book on Food Safety in China: Past, Present, and Future – Chapter on Food Fraud [published in China in Chinese]

Dr. Spink with book editors Dr. Junshi Chen and Dr. Joseph Jwu-shan Jen This book was created by two of the top handful of Chinese food safety government advisors. Editor Dr. Joseph Jwu-shan Jen stated that this is a landmark publication that will establish the foundation for the state-of-the-art-of the science. They stated “It is …

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Truly Exceptional

I got a survey this week asking about my experience getting my car serviced at Williams Volkswagen here in Lansing. I’m very happy with the service department at Williams, by the way. I’ve bought three cars from them in the decade I’ve lived in Michigan. But the survey sent by Volkswagen of America kind of …

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Got My Mo-Zhou Working

I’m writing this week from seat 11J on a long-haul flight homeward bound from China. I spent a week in the vicinity of Nanjing giving some talks at universities and visiting my friend, Xu Huaike. Xu spent a year as a visiting scholar at Michigan State University, and he wanted to show me his home …

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Dollar Empire

This speech emphasizes an under-recognized motivation for US adventurism abroad: local military and geopolitical conflicts enhance the strength of the US dollar as a reserve currency in the face of global volatility. The essay is long but worth reading as it gives a fresh look at superpower competition across multiple arenas, and some insight into …

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Endings and beginnings

I returned from my first trip to China. Happily I was able to recover enough to get back into the field, but alas only once. We hiked to the border of Wolong Nature Reserve and the reserve to the north, Caopo. This area had excellent panda habitat and we found four different fecal samples. From …

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Anna and the soybean talk

Ironically, after almost two weeks in China I still haven’t had any tea. I have dined in homes and in restaurants, with young and older people but have not encountered this elusive cornerstone of Chinese culture. However, I have encountered many products made from soybeans (黃豆). After being harvested from the field, 85 percent of …

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Whither the World Island?

Alfred W. McCoy, Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, writes on global geopolitics. The brief excerpts below do not do the essay justice. Geopolitics of American Global Decline: Washington Versus China in the Twenty-First Century … On a cold London evening in January 1904, Sir Halford Mackinder, the director of the London School …

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Imperial exams and human capital

The dangers of rent seeking and the educational signaling trap. Although the imperial examinations were probably g loaded (and hence supplied the bureaucracy with talented administrators for hundreds of years), it would have been better to examine candidates on useful knowledge, which every participant would then acquire to some degree. See also Les Grandes Ecoles …

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DNA Dreams at Harvard

This is a panel discussion of the documentary film DNA Dreams (see below), about BGI and its Cognitive Genomics Lab. DNA DREAMS Moderator: Dr. Evelynn Hammonds, Director of the Project on Race & Gender in Science & Medicine, Hutchins Center for African & African American Research/Barbara Gutmann Rosenkrantz Professor of the History of Science Panelists include: (L …

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FFI Presentations at Shenzhen International Innovation Auditorium Conference and Chinese National Center for Food Safety Risk Assessment

This is an advance copy of my January 19 and January 22 presentations at the Shenzhen International Innovation Auditorium Conference (hosted by the Shenzhen Municipal Government) and to the Chinese National Center for Food Safety Risk Assessment (CFSA, Beijing). I will be using the same presentation for both groups. For the CFSA I will review …

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Fukuyama and Zhang on the China Model

This is an interesting discussion between Francis Fukuyama and Zhang Wei Wei on the so-called China Model. Zhang is an apologist but overall the discussion is enlightening. Fukuyama’s perspective is the familiar liberal democratic one so I excerpt Zhang below. ZHANG | … In his presentation, Dr. Fukuyama raised four issues concerning the China Model, …

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