Quartz Weekend Brief—wunderkinds, chocolate myths, the Age of Bullshit

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This is a story about two guys, both unnervingly young, insanely clever, frighteningly resourceful, and wildly ambitious. One is a “good guy” and one is a “bad guy.”

The bad guy is Martin Shkreli, a hedge-fund whiz kid-turned-pharma CEO. Before this week, he was already widely reviled for acquiring an old drug and then jacking up its price by 5,000% (though others have done the same), as well as for being just generally obnoxious. On Dec. 17, the FBI arrested Shkreli, now 32, for securities fraud—a fraud that, if the charges are true, showed extraordinary daring and brilliance.

The good guy is George Hotz, a hacker-turned inventor. He was already widely lauded for being the first person to jailbreak Apple’s iPhone and for hacking Sony’s Playstation 3 (which led to a lawsuit), as well as for being just adorably brash. This week, Bloomberg profiled Hotz, now 26, for rigging up some kit in his garage that he claims can turn any car into a self-driving one—a claim that, if true, is an extraordinary poke in the eye to the Googles and Teslas of this world. (“I think a lot of companies today are just doing a really poor job,” Hotz shrugs.)

It’s easy to see Shkreli and Hotz as utterly different, but their similarities are more interesting. That combination of intelligence, arrogance, and contempt for the establishment led one to become an opportunistic price-gouger and the other to be (perhaps) a creative genius. And it might not have taken much—a slight difference in character, a chance encounter with right or wrong person—to switch their roles of hero and villain. It’s not their achievements, bad or good, that make both Hotz and Shkreli fascinating, so much as their youthful brilliance—something our society worships and fears in equal measure.—Gideon Lichfield

Five things on Quartz we especially liked

The myths of an “artisanal” chocolate and “life-hacking” coffee. Deena Shanker investigates Mast Brothers, darlings of craft chocolate chic, and finds large holes in their claims of “bean-to-bar” purity and superior quality. Meanwhile, Corinne Purtill peels back the breathless marketing behind Bulletproof, pushers of high-fat diets and butter-laced coffee.

How to design a Chinese font. Designing typefaces is a hermetic, rarefied art. Designing Chinese typefaces makes designing Latin ones look like kindergarten drawing. Nikhil Sonnad takes us, with lots of illustrations, through the painstaking process of creating over 13,000 glyphs, all of which must be carefully balanced against one another.

Where were your clothes were really made? Quite possibly on a bed in someone’s hovel. Across the world, millions of “homeworkers” take up the slack clothing factories can’t handle, often at even lower pay and with few protections. Marc Bain and Shelly Walia look into the statistics and the stories of this giant shadow industry.

Should we be able to choose our racial identities? As several events in the US in 2015 showed, race is a social construct, yet racism is very real. Marcie Bianco explores that apparent paradox, and argues that today’s fetishization of “identity” as a way to ensure respect for difference is in fact contributing to society’s divides and inequalities.

The internet has ushered in the Age of Bullshit. Nathaniel Carr, a cognitive psychologist, describes his research showing that certain kinds of people are likely to accept specially constructed nonsense statements as “profound”. The internet, he argues, encourages that kind of uncritical thinking, and that it’s everyone’s responsibility to fight the trend.

A podcast we like, and think you’ll like too

This week, Actuality just happens to stop by your house with a helping of holiday cheer, a glass of eggnog, and some special guests armed with well-informed cocktail chatter about five of our favorite stories in 2015.

Five things elsewhere that made us smarter

The scientific myths that just will not die. Despite evidence to the contrary, many believe antioxidants make you live longer or that the humans have unusually large brains. Nature’s Megan Scudellari takes an in-depth look at five such myths, their impact on public health, and how they can impede scientific progress.

The costs of unreasonable doubt. This remarkable story from ProPublica’s Christian Miller and The Marshall Project’s Ken Armstrong explains how a pair of women detectives helped catch a serial rapist. The awful twist: the rapist might have been caught years sooner, if police had trusted the word of an 18-year-old victim. Instead, they said she’d made the whole story up.

What would a really cool, hip, Jesus do? Pastor Carl—the Saint Laurent-wearing spiritual advisor to Justin Bieber and a number of NBA stars—is the subject of a deeply affecting profile by GQ’s Taffy Brodesser-Akner. She is so drawn to his charismatic ministering and how it conflicts with her Orthodox Jewish upbringing that Carl ends up undermining her faith in organized religion altogether.

The shrimp industry’s dirty secret. A scathing account of the Thai shrimp industry from the Associated Press reveals that the world’s insatiable appetite for the cheap protein has been built on the back of brutal slave labor. There good news: Thanks to the AP, one slave-driven factory has closed, and Thai Union, a global seafood supplier, said it will bring all shrimp processing in-house.

Was Lord Byron’s daughter the world’s first programmer? Ada Lovelace, born 200 years ago, has long been considered a proto-nerd hero for her work on a Victorian-era computing device. Stephen Wolfram delves into her life and work and concludes that she was, indeed, the first person in history to touch on “a defining intellectual idea of our time.”

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, Chinese font designs, and bullshit to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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