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The importance of caffeine

February 11, 2020, 11:33 AM UTC

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Good morning.

If the oil fueled the 20th century, what will fuel the 21st?

The most common answer these days is: data. But at a time when intellectual capital holds dominant sway, author Michael Pollan suggests an alternative: coffee. More than 150 million adult Americans drink coffee daily, and more than 2 billion cups of coffee are consumed worldwide each day. If alert and engaged employees are today’s key to business success, then surely coffee is the critical input!

Pollan’s book is called How Caffeine Created the Modern World, and it is available only in audio format. I confess I haven’t listened yet. (Reading is so much more efficient!) But I enjoyed Pollan’s other books—particularly The Omnivore’s Dilemma—and was intrigued by his interview with Fortune’s Rachel King, which you can read here. A few excerpts:

What inspired you to write about caffeine?

I’ve had a longstanding interest in the plant-human relationship and the ways plants have figured out ingenious ways to get us to spread them around the world by gratifying our desires…Addicting us to caffeine is just another example of the genius of plants.

What was the most surprising fact you learned about caffeine?

There were so many! But probably the fact that 80% of humanity consumes it daily—children included (in the form of soda). That means to be caffeinated is not an exceptional state, but is now baseline human consciousness.

What was the most devastating fact that you learned about caffeine?

That whatever its effect on the quantity of your sleep, caffeine is almost certainly undermining its quality.

So grab your morning latte, and read on. There is more news below. And while you are waiting for the New Hampshire primary results tonight, take time to read editor-in-chief Clifton Leaf’s argument for replacing this whole silly system with a national primary, here.

Alan Murray


Coronavirus update

There are now more than 42,000 coronavirus cases in China, and the death toll has cleared 1,000. Analysts are predicting an over-30% year-on-year drop in smartphone shipments for Q1. And if you'd like a very useful Q&A on how the virus is spread and how it's best contained, Fortune's Naomi Xu Elegant has you covered. Fortune

T-Mobile and Sprint

A federal judge is likely to clear the merger of Sprint and T-Mobile US today, in a victory for the carriers over the concerns of various state attorneys general. The $26 billion all-stock deal was proposed two years ago, and got federal regulatory clearance last year thanks to concessions from the firms. Wall Street Journal

Google HR

Google's HR chief, Eileen Naughton, is stepping down. Google said the move is so Naughton can spend more time with her family, though her departure later this year does also come against a backdrop of rising tensions between Google staff and management, over issues such as the company's handling of sexual misconduct cases. Fortune

Daimler profits

Mercedes-Benz sales hit a record high last year, but manufacturer Daimler reported its biggest drop in net profit—almost two-thirds—in a decade. The reason: legal and restructuring charges, stemming from diesel probes, the scrapping of the X-Class pickup truck, and the restructuring of Daimler's mobility services unit. Fortune


Equifax hack

The Justice Department has charged four Chinese army members over the 2017 Equifax breach that led to 145 million Americans' data being stolen. But as the New York Times' Charlie Warzel writes, Equifax isn't just a victim here—like other data brokers, it amassed all that personal information without the subjects' consent, and then didn't properly secure it. NYT

Bad trip

A Holland America Line cruise ship has been turned away by four countries and territories—Guam, the Philippines, Japan and Thailand—over fears that coronavirus may lurk onboard. There is however no evidence that the virus has actually infected anyone on the Westerdam, but it's yet more trouble for operator Carnival, which also has a cruise ship quarantined at Yokohama. Bloomberg

NASA budget

NASA's budget is being boosted for the next fiscal year, with much of the extra cash being earmarked for the Artemis lunar exploration program. However, the 2021 federal budget still needs to clear Congress, and its slashing of civilian and foreign aid programs may constitute a major hurdle. Fortune

Medical A.I.

Are "A.I."-based diagnostic apps as reliable as clinicians? Not by a long shot, warns the British Medical Journal, which just published research about skin-lesion-diagnosing apps: "Little evidence indicates that current AI apps can beat clinicians when assessing skin lesion risk, at least not in a verifiable or reproducible form." The evidence point is crucial, because it's hard to evaluate what goes on inside an app developer's algorithms. BMJ

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.