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News, views and reviews measured against professional literature in peer reviewed journals (adjusted for design flaws and bias), well researched books, authoritative encyclopedias (not the bowdlerized Wiki entries on controversial topics) and the investigative reporting and skeptical studies of courageous original thinkers among academics, philosophers, researchers, scholars, authors, filmmakers and journalists.

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Halton C. Arp wki/obit/txt/vds/txt/txt/bk/bk, Henry Bauer txt/blg/ blg/bks/bk/txt/bk/vd, John Beard bk, Harvey Bialy bk/bk/txt/txt/rdo/vd, John Bockris bio/txt/ltr/bk, Donald W. Braben, Peter Breggin ste/fb/col/bks, Darin Brown txt/txt/txt/txt/txt/vd, Giordano Bruno bk/bio/bio, Frank R. Buianouckas, Stanislav Burzynski mov, Erwin Chargaff bio/bk/bio/prs, James Chin bk/vd, Nicolaus Copernicus bk, Mark Craddock, Francis Crick vd, Paul Crutzen, Marie Curie, Rebecca Culshaw txt/bk, Roger Cunningham, Charles Darwin txts/bk, Erasmus Darwin txt//bk/txt/hse/bks, Peter Duesberg ste/ste/bk/txt/vd/vd, Freeman Dyson, Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman bio, John Fewster, Rosalind Franklin, Bernard Forscher tx, Galileo Galilei, Walter Gilbert vd, Goethe bio/bk/bio, Nicolas Gonzalez tlk/rec/stetxt/txt, Patricia Goodson txt/bk/bk, Alec Gordon, James Hansen, Etienne de Harven bk/txt/vd, Alfred Hassig intw/txt, Robert G. Houston txt, Steven Jonas vd, Edward Jenner txt, Benjamin Jesty, Adrian Kent vd, Thomas Kuhn, Fred Kummerow, Stefan Lanka txt/txt/vd, Serge Lang, John Lauritsen vd, Paul Lauterbur vd, Mark Leggett, Richard Lindzen, James Lovelock, Andrew Maniotis, Lynn Margulis, Barbara McClintock, Christi Meyer vd, George Miklos, Marco Mamone Capria, Peter Medawar, Luc Montagnier txt/txt/vd, Kary Mullis, Linus Pauling prs/vd/vd, Eric Penrose, Roger Penrose vd, Max Planck, Rainer Plaga, David Rasnick bio/vd/bk, Robert Root-Bernstein vd, Sherwood Rowland, Otto Rossler, Harry Rubin, Marco Ruggiero txt/txt/intw/vd, Bertrand Russell Carl Sagan vd, Erwin Schrodinger, Fred Singer, Barbara Starfield txt, Gordon Stewart txt/txt, Richard Strohman, Thomas Szasz, Nicola Tesla bio/bio, Charles Thomas intw/vd, Frank Tipler, James Watson vd/vd, Alfred Wegener vd, Edward O. Wilson vd.


Jad Adams bk, Marci Angell bk/txt/txt/txt, Clark Baker ste/txt/rdo/vd, James Blodgett, Tony Brown vd, Hiram Caton txt/txt/txt/bk/ste, Jonathan Collin ste , Marcus Cohen, David Crowe vd, Margaret Cuomo, Stephen Davis BK/BK,/rdo, Michael Ellner vd, Elizabeth Ely txt/txt/ste, Epicurus, Dean Esmay, Celia Farber bio/txt/txt/txt/vd, Jonathan Fishbein txt/txt/wk, T.C.Fry, Michael Fumento, Max Gerson txt, Charles Geshekter vd, Michael Geiger, Roberto Giraldo, David Healy txt, Bob Herbert, Mike Hersee ste/rdo, Neville Hodgkinson txt /vd, James P. Hogan, Richard Horton bio/vd/vd, Christopher Hitchens, Eric Johnson, Claus Jensen vd, Phillip Johnson, Coleman Jones vds, William Donald Kelley, Ernst T. Krebs Sr txt, Ernst T. Krebs Jr. txt,/bio/txt/txt/ltr, Paul Krugman, Brett Leung MOV/ste/txt/txt/tx+vd/txt, Katie Leishman, Anthony Liversidge blg/intv/intv/txt/txts/txt/intv/txt/vd/vd, Bruce Livesey txt, James W. Loewen, Frank Lusardi, Nathaniel Lehrman vd, Christine Maggiore bk/ste/rec/rdo/vd, Rouben Mamoulian txt/txt/txt/txt/txt/doc/flm/flm, Noreen Martin vd, Robert Maver txt/itw, Eric Merola MOV, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Michael Moore bio/MOV/MOV/MOV, Gordon Moran, Ralph Nader bk, Ralph Moss txt/blg/ste/bks, Gary Null /txt/rdo/vd, Dan Olmsted wki, Toby Ord vd, Charles Ortleb bk/txt/bk/intw/flm, Neenyah Ostrom bk, Dennis Overbye, Mehmet Dr Oz vd, Eleni Papadopulos-Eleopulos ste/vd, Maria Papagiannidou bk, Thomas Piketty bk/bk/bk/bk/bk/bk/bk/bk/bk/bk, Robert Pollin txt/vd/bk, Jon Rappoport bio/bk/bk/ste/bk/bk/vd, Janine Roberts bk/bk, Luis Sancho vd, Liam Scheff ste/txt/bk/bk/rdio/vd, John Scythes, Casper Schmidt txt/txt, Joan Shenton vd/vd, Joseph Sonnabend vd, John Stauber, David Steele, Joseph Stiglitz bk/txt, Will Storr rdo Wolfgang Streeck, James P. Tankersley ste, Gary Taubes vd, Mwizenge S. Tembo, John Tierney vd, Michael Tracey, Valendar Turner rec, Jesse Ventura bk, Michael Verney-Elliott bio/vds/vd, Voltaire, Walter Wagner, Andrew Weil vd, David Weinberger bio/bk/blg/blg/BK/bk/pds, Robert Willner bk/txt/txt/vd, Howard Zinn.

I am Albert Einstein, and I heartily approve of this blog, insofar as it seems to believe both in science and the importance of intellectual imagination, uncompromised by out of date emotions such as the impulse toward conventional religious beliefs, national aggression as a part of patriotism, and so on.   As I once remarked, the further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.   Certainly the application of the impulse toward blind faith in science whereby authority is treated as some kind of church is to be deplored.  As I have also said, the only thing that ever interfered with my learning was my education. I am Freeman Dyson, and I approve of this blog, but would warn the author that life as a heretic is a hard one, since the ignorant and the half informed, let alone those who should know better, will automatically trash their betters who try to enlighten them with independent thinking, as I have found to my sorrow in commenting on "global warming" and its cures.
Many people would die rather than think – in fact, they do so. – Bertrand Russell.

The progress of science is strewn, like an ancient desert trail, with the bleached skeletons of discarded theories which once seemed to possess eternal life. - Arthur Koestler

One should as a rule respect public opinion in so far as is necessary to avoid starvation and to keep out of prison. – Bertrand Russell

Fraud and falsehood only dread examination. Truth invites it. - Samuel Johnson

A sudden bold and unexpected question doth many times surprise a man and lay him open. – Sir Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626)

He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that. – John Stuart Mill

Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it is time to reform. – Mark Twain

Although science has led to the generally high living standards that most of the industrialized world enjoys today, the astounding discoveries underpinning them were made by a tiny number of courageous, out-of-step, visionary, determined, and passionate scientists working to their own agenda and radically challenging the status quo. – Donald W. Braben

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When even the brightest mind in our world has been trained up from childhood in a superstition of any kind, it will never be possible for that mind, in its maturity, to examine sincerely, dispassionately, and conscientiously any evidence or any circumstance which shall seem to cast a doubt upon the validity of that superstition. I doubt if I could do it myself. – Mark Twain

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his income depends on his not understanding it. – Upton Sinclair

A clash of doctrines is not a disaster, but an opportunity. - Alfred North Whitehead

Fraud and falsehood only dread examination. Truth invites it. – Samuel Johnson

Man’s mind cannot grasp the causes of events in their completeness, but the desire to find those causes is implanted in man’s soul. And without considering the multiplicity and complexity of the conditions any one of which taken separately may seem to be the cause, he snatches at the first approximation to a cause that seems to him intelligible and says: “This is the cause!” – Leo Tolstoy

The evolution of the world tends to show the absolute importance of the category of the individual apart from the crowd. - Soren Kierkegaard

Who does not know the truth is simply a fool, yet who knows the truth and calls it a lie is a criminal. – Bertold Brecht

How easily the learned give up the evidence of their senses to preserve the coherence of ideas in their imagination. – Adam Smith

Education consists mainly in what we have unlearned. – Mark Twain

The mind likes a strange idea as little as the body likes a strange protein and resists it with similar energy. If we watch ourselves honestly, we shall often find that we have begun to argue against a new idea even before it has been completely stated. – Arthur Koestler

Whenever the human race assembles to a number exceeding four, it cannot stand free speech. – Mark Twain

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He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that. – John Stuart Mill

It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere. – Voltaire

People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.- Blaise Pascal.

Illusion is the first of all pleasures. – Voltaire

The applause of a single human being is of great consequence. – Samuel Johnson

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Quality Science at Javits Book Expo Bash

June 10th, 2012

Excellence in book form triumphs amid BEA scrum

University row yields a score of fine science books in pipeline

Superb fiction reprints include Richard Stark’s cut diamond crime from Chicago

Without doubt for many the exciting high point of Manhattan literary life is a huge commercial event – the annual Book Expo America at Javits, a vast cornucopia of thousands of just published and forthcoming new season titles, from highbrow to low, presented to twenty thousand booksellers, editors and reviewers and, increasingly, consumers.

The Expo is a vital annual parade of titles competing for the consideration of booksellers editors and reviewers, who are now being joined as many as a thousand keen readers on the last day, amid a high energy atmosphere proving once again that real life personal contact cannot be replaced by technology.

At the BEA last week we were happy to find the silken flags of high production values and scholarly idealism flying high above the crowds of booksellers, authors and readers of more popular works.

For while the meretricious quality of some of the best sellers being hawked by major publishers can be disconcerting, there are oases of enlightenment. Amid hundreds of booths the highbrow university presses such as Harvard, Princeton, Columbia and Yale, and their more literate trade counterparts who are also producing fine books, form many small havens of quality, with the care devoted to their books’ writing, editing and production quite moving to find.

At this Book Expo we found plenty of these shining islands of literacy and fine editing and production amid the sea of more popular and heavily promoted books stretching in dazzling and colorful displays from one side of the huge cantilevered barn of Javits’s top floor to the other.

Exceptional trade books

Even among just published and forthcoming works on science from trade publishers there were some spectacular finds.

Among them:

The Whole Story of Climate by E. Kirsten Peters***** scheduled for November 2012 is a debate changer which puts climate change into a bigger perspective. Geology reveals that climate change has been massive and often sudden in the past, and suggests that dumping greenhouse gases into the air may well trigger a switch of catastrophic proportions. Amid staggering complexities Peter’s prose intelligently amasses many details into a coherent and more comprehensive story of how we got where we are and where we might be heading, conclusions which you may often confirm by looking out of the train window.

Most important is the attention she draws to underground coal fires which are burning at huge cost to the environment unremarked by the media and ignored by government. Putting them out could make a huge contribution to keeping CO2 levels down, Peters writes. But surprisingly, she concludes that from the vast geological perspective we still don’t know whether we will soon bake or freeze in another Ice Age.

The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver***** due September 2012 from Penguin is a supremely penetrating and analytical book which throws a bright light on predicting the future in many fields, including how to reduce the climate debate to manageable proportions. Crack baseball and election forecaster and Times blogger ( Nate includes an extensive and entertaining analysis of the chess championship between Kasparov and Big Blue, in which Kasparov lost key games only because he grew paranoid and nervous.

In this fine review of forecasting and its pitfalls Nate Silver demonstrates the power of using reason and skepticism to avoid bad forecasts by correcting weak understanding of probability, bad premises, personal bias, self-interest and overconfidence, in other words, the pitfalls of human nature, as well as poor algorithms. In this excellent survey he demonstrates with his examples the power of examining accepted wisdom and revising it where necessary, which is often. Most of us including many experts are very weak at forecasting, as Silver shows.

Mad Like Tesla:Underdog Inventors and Their Relentless Pursuit of Clean Energy by Tyler Hamilton**** published last September (2011) is a fine, understanding exploration by a Toronto Star science reporter of the life of the Serbian electricity genius Nikola Tesla and his latter day counterparts, inventors and theorists in the field of alternative energy whose promising ideas are discounted because they are outside the pale of established competitors and their received wisdom, and the innovators usually have difficult personalities to boot.

Hamilton’s storytelling is masterful as he describes the creative insight of Tesla and the endless obstacles put in his way by Edison, who knew very well that a fair review of his own direct current technology compared with Tesla’s far more efficient alternating current would result in the triumph of the latter, as it eventually did.

This hostility from a rival is only one of the barriers a game changing innovator must surmount. Hamilton lists others as “scientific groupthink, bad timing, entrenched corporate interests, misplaced public fear, gaps in available technology, high cost, resource scarcity, personality clashes, lack of financing, resistance to change, complacency, competitive rivalry, misguided policy, lack of vision, and general ignorance — to name just a few.”

Not all bright ideas prove out, of course, and Tesla had his duds, including an “earthquake machine” and some cosmic theories to prove Einstein wrong. He also developed mildly loony personal foibles (pearl earrings disgusted him and he would walk around a building three times before entering). But this is the point of the book. Assessing the unusual ideas of the unusually clever should not be biased because of their unusual personalities (many are autistic) because oddity is to be expected. It is, after all, only the flip side of the same coin.

In this spirit readers can not only enjoy Hamilton’s stories but can follow his lead and make up their own minds about the various energy alternatives described, and their inventors.

Power Plays: Energy Options In The Age of Peak Oil by Robert Rapier looks like the ideal book on the future of energy because it is a comprehensive but even handed survey written by a knowledgeable observer with wide industry experience who has no special axe to grind, although he is a technology officer with a forestry and renewable energy company, as well as writing the R Squared energy column at the Consumer Energy Report, whose editorial side he manages.

Amid sorting out various issues from shale oil to nuclear risk Rapier draws a global picture and exposes common misconceptions, pointing out the US is the third largest oil producer, that Canada uses more oil than the US, that China mandates solar hot water in all new construction.

Hits along university row

Judging from the show, despite the inroads of the ebook and the Internet into the market for trade publishing it seems the electronic empire will not soon destroy the academically informed and illustrated work of the great university publishers. In fact the turmoil of the BEA serves to underline their current role as the great repository of the best thinking, old and new, on the most important topics.

These presses maintain consistently superb production values and their books enclose the most reliably informative and up to date texts available to serious readers, with editing and writing now almost always as accessible as the best trade books with whom they increasingly compete.

Unfortunately, the specialist nature of many of the topics and issues they cover combined with high production values suggests that they must sell relatively few copies in some cases.

Harvard University Press, while not as large as the University of Chicago Press, seems to flying the flag of quality and specialism higher than anybody, living up to its motto for its next year’s Centennial, Celebrating 100 Years of Excellence in Publishing.

With sometimes heavy, glossy pages to enhance color illustrations, and prices as much as $45 for a small volume, Harvard is proving that some (one hopes enough) readers still value the craft attributes of fine printed books.

Among forthcoming titles promised for Spring Summer 2012 and later are the following exquisitely focused and well produced science topic volumes:

Internal Time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag and Why You Are So Tired by Till Roenneberg, released in March (2012), was heralded by friendly colleagues as an accessible, up-to-date deep and broad overview of a novel subject of wide interest, namely the highly individualized biological clocks we inherit with our genes which regulate everything from digestion to cognition, and which we flout at our peril. Ignoring our internal chronometers leaves nearly half of us us sleep deprived, obese, depressed, ill and unable to think straight, and the disruption of artificial light brings on many of these ills, writes Roenneberg, a university professor of chronobiology in Munich. The easiest and best way to fight back, he says, is to get more sun – bicycle to work and eat outside.

All that is fairly well known but Roenneberg has deep knowledge of his field and those who read the book will learn unexpected details about Roenneberg’s theory of social jet lag, the gap between internal time and external clocks. This now afflicts Central Europe so badly that four out of ten people suffer chronic lag of two hours or more ie their midsleep on free days is two hours behind midsleep on workdays. Nearly nine out of ten (87%) suffer from some degree of social lag, and the problem is much the same in other industrial societies.

Apparently larks can survive the disruption much better that owls (you are born whatever type you are) but more interesting is that the stress is enough to ensure people remain smokers who would normally succeed in giving up the habit. Social jet lag is chronic among teenagers who are simply not built to get up at the hour enforced by schools. Enforcing lark hours only produces stress which leads to smoking and drinking.

Despite the professor’s attempt to make things easy to absorb by indulging in stories his writing is a little wooden and many may prefer to get the main message without ploughing through all of what are mostly well known points. This is that our genes are switching on and off depending on the time of day.

One takeaway is that it is remarkably easy to suffer from social jet lag. If you sleep 11 till 6 on weeknights your midsleep (midpoint) is 2.30am. If you change to 1 to 9 on weekends you midpoint is 5 am – a lag of 2 1.2 hours, much the same as flying from New York to Los Angeles. The lesson is that almost everyone has a sleep deficit and industrial societies are almost certainly being vastly undermined by social jet lag. This largely invisible problem should be addressed as a crisis, and one solution is simply to allow us to sleep more.

For one point Roenneberg makes is intriguing: You can never oversleep.

Other exceptional scientific presentations (somehow they deserve a more princely name than books) coming soon from Harvard include:

Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccuping and Beyond by Robert R. Provine (August 2012) Provine goes in search of explanations for these lowly, undignified human behaviors and finds that these instinctive acts bear the imprint of our evolutionary origins and throw much light on how the brain works. Yawning is triggered by even the thought of yawning and its powerful contagiousness reminds us we are neurologically programmed to be beasts in a herd (so does laughter, a social interaction more often than a mental tickle). Tickling may teach us to program robots into persons, farting and belching relate to the development of speech. Maryland professor Provine, the leading and very determined neuroscientist in this area, suggests self-experiments to provide research data from readers in the spirit of his research which prefers basic tools (pencil and paper) to fMRI scans. Meanwhile, he has worked out what the world’s oldest joke must be, since it works on babies and on chimps (“I’m gonna get you!” followed by a tickle.).

Genetic Explanations: Sense and Nonsense edited by Sheldon Krimsky and Jeremy Gruber (Cloth February 2013) is an important book correcting the excesses of DNA determinism peddled in science and in the media today. The texts selected by Krimsky of Tufts (author of Science in the Private Interest in 2003, and Genetic Justice last month) and Gruber of the Council of Responsible Genetics are powerful pushback which argue that the working of genes is far more complex an interaction with life experience than merely following the blueprint of DNA,which is more a dynamic script that changes as we develop and age and interacts with its environment. Sequencing genes is not enough to explain disease, intelligence or abilities. While a certain gene mutation is known to threaten breast cancer, for example, most breast cancer patients do not carry the mutation, and this is typical of genetically “explained” disease. It’s not “all in our DNA”, this densely informative book explains, we change over time even at that fundamental level. Alert readers will find it suggests how evolution might be based on broader influences than mutation.

Bioluminescence: Living Lights, Lights for Living by Therese Wilson and J. Woodland Hastings (February 2012) Fireflies, anyone? A celebration of good old
fashioned scientific enquiry into nature, this is a glossy, colorful and scholarly bible of how creatures create their own light in many intriguing and beautiful forms, especially in the oceans, how bioluminescence evolved, and how it has various uses, from detecting microbes contaminating beef to seeing how cancer cells spread and the circuits of the brain develop, not to mention a Nobel prize in 2008 for GFPs (bright green fluorescent protein from jellyfish) which is now used to tag and track previously invisible proteins in almost every field of biological research. A definitive and simply written work from two Harvard biologists who run a leading lab on the topic, a study which has yielded great insight into how biochemistry is molded by evolution, as well as powerful research tools.

What is Mental Illness? by Richard J. McNally (Paper November 2012) With nearly half of all Americans mentally ill, McNally, who is a DSM advisor, points out that diagnoses are being made up to fit available phrmaceuticals, and mental health professionals are being poorly guided by a DSM (their diagnostic bible) which is a political and intellectual battlefield, which may too easily pathologize everyday life. McNally briefs the reader thoroughly on the genetics, evolutionary psychology and diagnostic controversies
of the field.

The Assumptions Economists Make by Jonathan Schlefer (March 2012) finds that economists have always made doubtful assumptions about the real world which have led their models and predictions astray, and their recent wars over income inequality and the causes of the financial crisis are evidence that the problem continues unabated, despite recent progress in understanding the problems of the real world. Economists may profess academic objectivity but in fact they are human and beset by the same fads and enthusiasms, biases and ideologies which lead them to ignore their own research about, for example, the inherent instability of markets, and actually help to bring on the crises by blindly trusting unregulated enterprise in finance. Schlefer makes comprehensible the irrational politics of economics which paradoxically make economists as impractical as other theorists. As he writes: ““This book is about what economists do in their secret lives as economists, when they aren’t dashing off op-eds to tell everybody else what to believe, pulling the wool over undergraduates’ eyes in textbooks, or otherwise engaging in public relations.”

The War on Heresy by R. I. Moore (May 2012) Moore reexamines the story of the Catholic Church’s supposedly vicious war against heretics in the Middle Ages only to find that there was little opposition to the Church outside its walls, the Cathars were a myth, and the executions for heresy were the result of battles over authority among the elites both secular and religious, whatever the victims who died for their faith were told.

Chicago reprinting excellent fiction

Moreover university presses have taken to reprinting the best of contemporary fiction in pleasing new covers. One outstanding example of this is the very active University of Chicago Press, which has reprinted since 2008 the diamond cut crime novels of Richard Stark (Donald Edwin Westlake) featuring the ruthless Parker, such as the terse, violent but hypnotic Firebreak, among other works it feels the trade has neglected, such as the extraordinary A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava.

Originally self-published in 2008 the novel has now come out from the Press in a hefty paperback edition which can show you what was meant by William Rycroft’s review in The Blurb: “A Naked Singularity is one of those books so large, so ambitious and so bonkers that it makes the task of reviewing almost impossible.”

Among the many flourishes in De La Pava’s madcap tumble of feverish but controlled creativity applied to an inside look at Manhattan’s criminal courts, there is this little gem, just mentioned in passing on page 209: “As a young boy Einstein was taken to see a military parade. He saw the soldiers in strict formation, started crying inconsolably, and had to be taken home.”

Quality output holding its own in face of e-book expansion

As noted, amid the colorful commercial cacophony and the ever lengthening inroads of the ebook we found many fine printed editions on serious topics were still coming from university presses and even major publishers. But one worrying statistic is that the total number of books on science and technology shrank last year by 13% and 11% respectively, according to Bowker’s preliminary estimates.

At the same time ebooks themselves are blossoming into more complex, good looking and scholarly versions. Instant publishing is booming and even an important ebook such as economist Paul Krugman’s latest warning against austerity has been released first as an iPad app. But a rapidly marketed ebook from a distinguished author is only one end of the spectrum. At the other, bells and whistles are being added. E-titles with copious annotated illustrations and even multiple videos are being developed, with some being shown off at the Expo.

The book industry is still settling into a long term balance between rival forms, as is always the case with technology disruption. E-books and fine paper editions are going to coexist, though where the final market shares are going to settle no one yet knows.

As if to underline how a rival communications technology can develop into a partner of traditional books, the magnificent BOOKSPAN bus was once again parked outside the entrance ropes of the show, giving away bright orange CSPAN bags that were seen all over the Expo, reminding all that its weekend cable channel serves, often in hand with the other two C-SPAN channels, as a national stage for serious authors throughout the year.

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