Quarterly Links present my most important reading in the last 3 months. I aim for timelessness, conciseness, and delta.

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2020-07-31 Announcement: I now post interesting links to my forum with a special tag. To view them go to:

Jan 2020

Book review: The Sleepwalkers by Arthur Koestler (a):

“The progress of Science is generally regarded as a kind of clean, rational advance along a straight ascending line; in fact it has followed a zigzag course, at times almost more bewildering than the evolution of political thought. The history of cosmic theories, in particular, may without exaggeration be called a history of collective obsessions and controlled schizophrenias; and the manner in which some of the most fundamental discoveries were arrived at reminds one more of a sleepwalker’s performance than an electronic brain’s.”

Email advice from Sriram Krishnan:

Since this week’s Twitter fight is about VC cold emails, here are some thoughts on cold mails - which I love, have opened many doors for me and I often respond to. A few things I’ve learned

  • the most famous, interesting, powerful people all read their own email
  • they’re almost universally good at responding to it quickly
  • they’re always very, very curious.
  • they have very little time. Anything with friction gets done “later” …

Speed matters: Why working quickly is more important than it seems (a)

Shared Environment Proves Too Much (a)

Asymmetric Weapons Gone Bad (a):

Different problems come up when we talk about societies trying to reason collectively. We would like to think that the more investigation and debate our society sinks into a question, the more likely we are to get the right answer. But there are also times when we do 450 studies on something and end up more wrong than when we started. …

But I think I would be demolished if I tried to argue for this on Twitter, or on daytime TV, or anywhere else that promotes a cutthroat culture of “dunking” on people with the wrong opinions. It’s so much faster, easier, and punchier to say “poor single mothers are starving on minimum wage, and you think the most important problem is taking money away from them to make our millionaires even richer?” and just drown me out with cries of “elitist shill, elitist shill” every time I try to give the explanation above. …

There is a level of understanding that lets you realize communism is a bad idea. But you need a lot of economic theory and a lot of retrospective historical knowledge the early-20th-century British didn’t have. There’s some part in the resources-vs-truth graph, where you’re smart enough to know what communism is but not smart enough to have good arguments against it – where the more intellect you apply the further from truth it takes you.

The antibiotic course has had its day (a):

With little evidence that failing to complete a prescribed antibiotic course contributes to antibiotic resistance, it’s time for policy makers, educators, and doctors to drop this message, argue Martin Llewelyn and colleagues

The risks and benefits of sun exposure (a):

The body of science concerning the benefits of moderate sun exposure is growing rapidly, and is causing a different perception of sun/UV as it relates to human health. Melanoma and its relationship to sun exposure and sunburn is not adequately addressed in most of the scientific literature.

Why did Hitler chose to ignore the Molotov-Ribbentrop treaty of non-aggression between Germany and the USSR during WWII? (a):

the USSR was not considered the threat that they became because of WW2. Sweden had beaten up Russia in the late 1700s and their expansion was only ended with the aid of France and Spain. Russia then participated, though not well, with the wars against Napoleon. Followed by a series of small wars against smaller neighboring countries in the Middle East. Eventually leading to confrontation with Western Powers when it attacked Crimea, which went very poorly for Russia. A series of rebellions from mid 1800s until the fall of the Tzar also made Russia look weak.

Then Russia went to war with Japan and lost almost their entire navy in 1905. WW1 did even more to make Russia look like a pushover. Followed by a series of wars that Russia lost against countries like Finland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Georgia, Poland, and Armenia from 1918-1921. Eventually culminating in the Communist takeover and formation of the USSR in 1922.

This did little to improve the impression of anyone of the Russian military. The Nazis fought the Soviets in a proxy war in Spain in the late 1930s. A proxy war where the Nazis had sided with the under dogs, and won. Then WW2 happened and the Soviets struggled to fight Finland, while the Nazis conquered France.

The USSR looked like an easy win. Right up until they weren’t.

Feb 2020

Is it Time to State That Diet Restriction Does Not Increase Life span in Primates? (a)

The natural selection of bad science (a):

Poor research design and data analysis encourage false-positive findings. Such poor methods persist despite perennial calls for improvement, suggesting that they result from something more than just misunderstanding. The persistence of poor methods results partly from incentives that favour them, leading to the natural selection of bad science. This dynamic requires no conscious strategizing—no deliberate cheating nor loafing—by scientists, only that publication is a principal factor for career advancement. Some normative methods of analysis have almost certainly been selected to further publication instead of discovery. In order to improve the culture of science, a shift must be made away from correcting misunderstandings and towards rewarding understanding. We support this argument with empirical evidence and computational modelling. We first present a 60-year meta-analysis of statistical power in the behavioural sciences and show that power has not improved despite repeated demonstrations of the necessity of increasing power. To demonstrate the logical consequences of structural incentives, we then present a dynamic model of scientific communities in which competing laboratories investigate novel or previously published hypotheses using culturally transmitted research methods. As in the real world, successful labs produce more ‘progeny,’ such that their methods are more often copied and their students are more likely to start labs of their own. Selection for high output leads to poorer methods and increasingly high false discovery rates. We additionally show that replication slows but does not stop the process of methodological deterioration. Improving the quality of research requires change at the institutional level.

“This mechanism explains perfectly why policy and politics seem to have decoupled so neatly: when problems are solved, people are more likely to see more of them." (a)

“Utilitarian responders don’t need to deliberate to correct an initial deontological response; their intuitive response is already utilitarian in nature." (a)

Diane Coyle on The Rise and Fall of American Growth

Mar 2020

Growth and the case against randomista development (a):

people in such countries do not want these policies. They show that by how they think, how they act, how they vote, how they protest. Here in Chile, for example, people have been fighting tooth and nail against the policies that made the country the wealthiest, most educated one in South America, the only OECD member in the subcontinent. The content of the protests is explicitly against the pro-market policies that have prevailed for the last 40 years here. It is likely that an April referendum on a new constitution will pass, and replace the current basic law with another, much less growth-oriented.

Disposable Income for a Hypothetical Single Parent with One Child, by Earnings, in 2012 – income goes 0–>30k; disposable income goes from 20k to 28k (a) (see Summary Figure 1.)

“blackbox” models aren’t just a messy approximation to some elegant TBD truth; in many/most cases, they’re the literal answer to “how does the brain do it?" (a)

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned as a psychiatrist? (a):

How innocently people are awful at communication. I know the word “innocent” sounds out of place here, so let me explain what I mean.

A Sea Story (a):

It is not known whether victims trapped in the cabins and common spaces saw Thiger or the others who navigated the superstructure while the hull was horizontal. From below the escapees would have seemed like shadows in a dream, passing overhead against a pale night sky. They would have seemed like fugitives on the run. One of them put his foot through a window and was injured but not caught. There was no communication between the two worlds, which had grown impossibly far apart.

Kary Mullis (a):

Mullis was quoted saying “the never-ending quest for more grants and staying with established dogmas” has hurt science.[10] He believed that “science is being practiced by people who are dependent on being paid for what they are going to find out,” not for what they actually produce.[10] Mullis was described by some as an “impatient and impulsive researcher” who finds routine laboratory work boring and instead thinks about his research while driving and surfing. He came up with the idea of the polymerase chain reaction while driving along a highway.[32]

In his 1998 (54) humorous autobiography, Mullis expressed disagreement with the scientific evidence supporting climate change and ozone depletion, the evidence that HIV causes AIDS, and asserted his belief in astrology.[15] [33] Mullis claimed climate change and the HIV/AIDS connection are due to a conspiracy of environmentalists, government agencies, and scientists attempting to preserve their careers and earn money, rather than scientific evidence.[15]

Coercive Contract Enforcement: Law and the Labor Market in Nineteenth Century Industrial Britain (a):

British Master and Servant law made employee contract breach a criminal offense until 1875. We develop a contracting model generating equilibrium contract breach and prosecutions, then exploit exogenous changes in output prices to examine the effects of labor demand shocks on prosecutions. Positive shocks in the textile, iron, and coal industries increased prosecutions. Following the abolition of criminal sanctions, wages differentially rose in counties that had experienced more prosecutions, and wages responded more to labor demand shocks. Coercive contract enforcement was applied in industrial Britain; restricted mobility allowed workers to commit to risk-sharing contracts with lower, but less volatile, wages.

Oct 2019

“Humans may have evolved to experience far greater pain, malaise and suffering than the rest of the animal kingdom, due to their intense sociality giving them a reasonable chance of receiving help” (a)

Ed Boyden on Minding your Brain (Ep. 64) (a):

Ed Boyden builds the tools and technologies that help researchers think about and treat the brain, an organ we still know surprisingly little about. When it comes to how our brains make decisions, form emotions, and exhibit consciousness, there is still a lot we can learn. …

BOYDEN: I like to look at the history of science to learn about its future, and one thing I’ve learned a lot over the last couple years — and it’s even happened to me — is that it’s really hard to fund pioneering ideas. …

For me, it became personal because when we proposed this expansion microscopy technology, where we blow up brain specimens and other specimens a hundred times in volume to map them, people thought it was nonsense. People were skeptical. People hated it. Nine out of my first ten grants that I wrote on it were rejected.

If it weren’t for the Open Philanthropy Project that heard about our struggles to get this project funded — through, again, a set of links that were, as far as I can tell, largely luck driven — maybe our group would have been out of business. But they came through and gave us a major gift, and that kept us going.

Seeking New Physics (a):

Thompson’s genetic algorithm worked the same way, but on a physical substrate. He trained a bunch of circuit boards over 5,000 generations to essentially reconfigure themselves into pitch-discerning machines. He got a bunch that worked really well, and really quickly. But when he tried to figure out how the efficient ones worked, he came back flummoxed. …

After he removed the vestigial, disconnected circuitry, the most efficient algorithm slowed down considerably. Let me repeat that: the algorithms slowed down after Thompson removed vestigial parts of the circuit that had no actual effect on the algorithm. What was going on? …

When Thompson moved the algorithm to an identical board, the efficiency dropped because the boards weren’t actually identical, even though they were manufactured to be the same. Subtle physical differences in the circuitry actually contributed to the performance of the algorithm. Indeed, the algorithm evolved to exploit those differences. …

I suspect, after enough generations, these racing machines will start acting quite strangely. Maybe they’ll exploit quantum tunneling, superposition, or other weird subatomic principles. Maybe they’ll latch on to macroscopic complex particle interaction effects that scientists haven’t yet noticed. I have no idea. …

In short, I wonder if physical AI bots will learn to exploit what we’d perceive to be glitches in physics. If that happens, and we start trying to figure out what the heck they’re doing to get from A to B so quickly, we may have to invent entirely new areas of physics to explain them.

“Oh my god, there 𝘢𝘳𝘦 people without any qualia of long-term memory: “Severely Deficient Autobiographical Memory” syndrome. And they say the exact same thing as aphantasics/anosmics/color-blind” (a)

Gay Rites Are Civil Rites (a):

At some point it got kind of ridiculous. I don’t know how much clearer Jesus could have been about “rich = bad”, but the prosperity gospel – the belief that material wealth is a sign of God’s favor – is definitely a thing. The moral of the story is: religion adapts to the demands placed on it. If it becomes a civil religion, it will contort itself until it looks like a civil religion. It will have all the best values.

Everything happens faster these days. It took Christianity three hundred years to go from Christ to Constantine. It only took fifty for gay pride to go from the Stonewall riots to rainbow-colored gay bracelets urging you to support your local sheriff deparment. …

But I expect it to recapitulate the history of other civil religions in fast-forward. Did you know “pagan” is just Latin for “rural”? The pagans, the people who kept resisting Christianity even after it had conquered the centers of power, were the Roman equivalent of flyover states. Once Pride assimilates its own pagans (and kicks out its own Julian the Apostate), maybe it mellows out. Maybe it becomes more tolerant, the same way Christians eventually started painting Greek gods on everything. Maybe it encounters the same problems other faiths encountered and adapts to them the same way.

Maybe a decade or a century from now, we have all the best values.

“Hype: “Give me data on millions on people and my algorithms will spit out gold.” / Truth: Lots of data + sophisticated methods do not guarantee correct effect estimates. / Our empirical demonstration of the limits of observational data for #causalinference:" (a)

' “Do it yourself” publishing has been LIBERATING. You don’t notice how “traditional” publishing warps your approach to science until you leave it behind. / Arguably the biggest advantage: I can focus on “how can I advance my field?”, rather than “how can I get into a good journal?” ‘ (a)

Nov 2019

“Under communist rule, Poland was exceptionally unequal in nearly everything that mattered. Wage inequality was one of the few exceptions. The idea that inequality in Poland is much higher now than then is a statistical artefact – one that relies on ignoring capital income 1/4” (a)

48 Moments That Will Make You Look At History Differently (a)

Offline: The gravy train of systematic reviews (a):

Imagine if the entire edifice of knowledge in medicine was built upon a falsehood. Systematic reviews are said to be the highest standard of evidence-based health care. Regularly updated to ensure that treatment decisions are built on the most up-to-date and reliable science, systematic reviews and meta-analyses are widely used to inform clinical guidelines and decision making. Powerful organisations have emerged to construct a knowledge base in medicine underpinned by the results of systematic reviews. One such organisation is Cochrane, with 11 000 members in over 130 countries. … Cochrane’s claims are big: trusted evidence, informed decisions, better health. But what if the astonishing energy, commitment, and productivity of the systematic review community are poisoning rather than nourishing medical practice? This question has been repeatedly asked by one of the UK’s leading clinical trialists, Ian Roberts, Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health and Co-Director of the Clinical Trials Unit at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. It is a question that can no longer be avoided.

Bacteria Behind Yet Another Disease (a)

Milton Friedman’s Thermostat (a):

if the driver were skilled, and the car powerful enough, you would see the speed stay constant. So, if you were simply looking at this particular “data generating process”, you could easily conclude: “Look! The position of the gas pedal has no effect on the speed!”; and “Look! Whether the car is going uphill or downhill has no effect on the speed!”; and “All you guys who think that gas pedals and hills affect speed are wrong!”

Book Review: Against The Grain (a):

In this model, the gradual drying-out of Sumeria in the 4th millennium BC caused a shift away from wetland foraging and toward grain farming. The advent of grain farming made oppression possible, and a new class of oppression-entrepreneurs arose to turn this possibility into a reality. They incentivized farmers to intensify grain production further at the expense of other foods, and this turned into a vicious cycle of stronger states = more grain = stronger states. Within a few centuries, Uruk and a few other cities developed the full model: tax collectors, to take the grain; scribes, to measure the grain

Don’t Copy the Greeks: The Necessary Originality of Unwelcome Distribution (a):

If market access is guarded by incumbents, how can unknown upstarts win? One common growth tactic is mimicking prior, successful attempts at gaining distribution. Founder stories get canonized, and eager disciples imitate.

But, vulnerabilities exploited by upstarts get patched. Success of the mission aside, Troy would be caught off guard by the pregnant wooden horse once and only once. The next Instagram will not be able to piggyback on Facebook’s social graph. The next Tweetdeck will not be able to use what’s left of Twitter’s API’s. The next Zygna will not be able to embed their games into Facebook. Each of these startups dove headlong into gaps that quickly closed behind them. (Good on them. When your success depends on entering a wormhole in infinite space, timing and position are everything.)

Biological plasticity rescues target activity in CRISPR knock outs

Dec 2019

Google and (a):

Google is waging war on the peddling of magical pills and miracle cures by questionable health sites — and seems to have been caught in the crossfire.

Google Is Taking Censorship of Health Websites to The Next Level (a)

Do Google’s Algorithms use Scientific Consensus to Censor Health Content? (a)

Before Apple Music was launched, Spotify came up first when you typed “music” in the app store. / After the launch, Spotify dropped to 23rd. / After Spotify complained to regulators it climbed up again. (a)

The Untold Story Of Larry Page’s Incredible Comeback (a):

One day in July 2001, Larry Page decided to fire Google’s project managers. All of them.

Excised linear introns regulate growth in yeast (a):

The ease with which we were able to observe accumulation of stable introns raised the question of why they were not detected earlier. The answer lies with two features of our analysis. First, we examined cells in saturated culture, whereas most analyses examine cells in log phase, a stage at which all excised introns are rapidly degraded. Second, we avoided mRNA poly(A) selection, whereas many analyses perform poly(A) selection prior to RNA-seq, which depletes excised introns because they lack poly(A) tails. In addition, we used an in-house RNA-seq protocol in which RNA was fragmented and 27- to 40-nucleotide fragments were isolated for sequencing, whereas most analyses use commercial RNA-seq kits that deplete RNAs shorter than a few hundred nucleotides, the size of excised yeast introns. In principle, studies that used splicing-isoform microarrays to assay intron retention during stress, including rapamycin and DTT treatment, might have detected stable introns40,43,44. However, those studies focus on measurements over the course of 40 min, with no measurements taken beyond 2 h of treatment, which might not have been enough time to detect stable introns under these conditions. Our findings on prolonged TORC1 inhibition strengthen the links between TORC1 signaling and secretory stress in yeast33–35, and show that short and long durations of TORC1 inhibition can result in distinct effects on some downstream biological processes—including stable-intron regulation.

“Five years ago, I reported 800 scientific papers with image duplications to journals. As of today, only one third of these have been corrected/retracted. Journals/institutions are very reluctant to take action." (a)

Everything You Need to Know about Napoleon (a):

In hindsight, it’s easy to see how dumb of a decision Napoleon made. But as Roberts points out, Napoleon’s sentiment after hearing all of his advisors’ concerns was, I’ve heard this many times before, and I’ve always been proven right.

Why Doctors Still Offer Treatments That May Not Help (a):

The British Medical Journal sifted through the evidence for thousands of medical treatments to assess which are beneficial and which aren’t. According to the analysis, there is evidence of some benefit for just over 40 percent of them. Only 3 percent are ineffective or harmful; a further 6 percent are unlikely to be helpful. But a whopping 50 percent are of unknown effectiveness. We haven’t done the studies.

Mental Mountains (a):

UtEB’s brain is a mountainous landscape, with fertile valleys separated by towering peaks. Some memories (or pieces of your predictive model, or whatever) live in each valley. But they can’t talk to each other. The passes are narrow and treacherous. They go on believing their own thing, unconstrained by conclusions reached elsewhere.

Consciousness is a capital city on a wide plain. When it needs the information stored in a particular valley, it sends messengers over the passes. These messengers are good enough, but they carry letters, not weighty tomes. Their bandwidth is atrocious; often they can only convey what the valley-dwellers think, and not why. And if a valley gets something wrong, lapses into heresy, as often as not the messengers can’t bring the kind of information that might change their mind.

Teacher Effects on Student Achievement and Height: A Cautionary Tale (a):

Estimates of teacher “value-added” suggest teachers vary substantially in their ability to promote student learning. Prompted by this finding, many states and school districts have adopted value-added measures as indicators of teacher job performance. In this paper, we conduct a new test of the validity of value-added models. Using administrative student data from New York City, we apply commonly estimated value-added models to an outcome teachers cannot plausibly affect: student height. We find the standard deviation of teacher effects on height is nearly as large as that for math and reading achievement, raising obvious questions about validity. Subsequent analysis finds these “effects” are largely spurious variation (noise), rather than bias resulting from sorting on unobserved factors related to achievement. Given the difficulty of differentiating signal from noise in real-world teacher effect estimates, this paper serves as a cautionary tale for their use in practice.

(Lack of) Cost Disease in Cosmetic Surgery (a):

The average price increase between 1998 and 2016 for the 20 cosmetic procedures displayed above was 32%, which is less than the 47.2% increase in consumer prices in general. Over the same period, prices for “Medical Care Services” in the US more than doubled (+100.5% increase) while the prices for “Hospital and Related Services” nearly tripled (+177% increase)

“Government power is now spread so thin that places once incapable of stopping bad projects now cannot get good projects off the ground” - an examination of government power using Penn Station as an example (a)

Poincaré on intuition in mathematics (a):

It is impossible to study the works of the great mathematicians, or even those of the lesser, without noticing and distinguishing two opposite tendencies, or rather two entirely different kinds of minds. The one sort are above all preoccupied with logic; to read their works, one is tempted to believe they have advanced only step by step, after the manner of a Vauban who pushes on his trenches against the place besieged, leaving nothing to chance. The other sort are guided by intuition and at the first stroke make quick but sometimes precarious conquests, like bold cavalrymen of the advance guard.

">5 yrs ago I decided to build on the highly cited econ finding that US universities get more patent license income when they give inventors a higher % of royalties. / Turns out that finding was due to coding errors; none of our analyses show a correlation” (a)

The antibiotic course has had its day (a):

With little evidence that failing to complete a prescribed antibiotic course contributes to antibiotic resistance, it’s time for policy makers, educators, and doctors to drop this message, argue Martin Llewelyn and colleagues

Visual neurons don’t work the way scientists thought, study finds (a):

Less than 10% of neurons in the mouse visual system behave the way scientists thought most such cells work to perceive the outside world

Jul 2019

“Did you know the human body is full of evolutionary leftovers that no longer serve a purpose?" (a)

"[In the US,] 90% of people in extreme poverty are not in extreme poverty when you use a more correct measure of their income and account for in-kind transers." (a)

“Taboos prohibiting consumption of various nutrient dense foods among populations that are chronically undernourished is difficult to explain functionally. Human’s reliance on culture and social learning means maladaptive beliefs can spread."

July 1. (a):

So I’ve been watching the women’s World Cup, and this year they’re using VAR for the first time. It stands for video assistant referee, and almost everyone hates it. In theory it makes sure the calls on the field are right, but in practice, it breaks the flow of the game, and it allows results to be influenced by things so insignificant that only the machine can see them. …

Another rule change in world football, is what the refs look at when there’s a handball in the box. They used to consider the player’s intention, but now they’ve been instructed to ignore intention, and only rule on whether one physical object has impacted another. It’s like we worship machines so much that we are turning ourselves into machines, devaluing any skill that humans have and machines don’t.

Selling To The Fortune 500, Government, And Other Lovecraftian Horrors (a):

I wanted to be able to use their logo on my website and use that social proof as a wedge into the (large and extraordinarily lucrative) healthcare market. So I crazily overdelivered on the questions and concerns the user at the hospital had. You can crush arbitrarily large/sophisticated competition on small deals that are uneconomical for them to pursue with the goal of expanding into the core of the business.

“I’m frustrated Steven Pinker won’t admit an error in Enlightenment Now. Summary:" (a):

  • Pinker names Stuart Russell as an expert who’s skeptical of AI risk
  • Someone points out that’s exactly backwards; Russell is one of the main experts warning about AI risk
  • Pinker doubles down

What does it mean to understand a neural network? (a):

We can define a neural network that can learn to recognize objects in less than 100 lines of code. However, after training, it is characterized by millions of weights that contain the knowledge about many object types across visual scenes. Such networks are thus dramatically easier to understand in terms of the code that makes them than the resulting properties, such as tuning or connections. In analogy, we conjecture that rules for development and learning in brains may be far easier to understand than their resulting properties. The analogy suggests that neuroscience would benefit from a focus on learning and development.

“The Remarkable Unresponsiveness of College Students to Nudging” (a)

“This is a compelling account of data leakage through dodgy but popular browser extensions." (a)

In Praise of Passivity (a) by Michael Huemer:

Voters, activists, and political leaders of the present day are in the position of medieval doctors. They hold simple, prescientific theories about the workings of society and the causes of social problems, from which they derive a variety of remedies–almost all of which prove either ineffectual or harmful. Society is a complex mechanism whose repair, if possible at all, would require a precise and detailed understanding of a kind that no one today possesses. Unsatisfying as it may seem, the wisest course for political agents is often simply to stop trying to solve society’s problems.

Why Are So Many Women Rejecting Medical Science? (a)

A Study Guide for Human Society, Part I (a):

Some of these books are better than others. Some are over-rated. Others are works of minor brilliance. But their enduring brilliance (or lack of it) are not why they show up on these lists. They pop up so often because they are perfectly, though unintentionally, designed to transform the life of a certain sort of person: the bookish, overly-intellectual American teenager.

Do not misunderstand me. None of these books (well, maybe a few of Hermann Hesse’s…) were designed for the ‘young adult’ audience. Almost all were written before publishers considered ‘YA’ a distinct consumer demographic. Much of their attraction to the teenage mind comes from this fact. These books are adult works written for adult audiences. They are meant to be taken seriously. And these young readers do take them seriously.

Aug 2019

Comments to Against Against Billionaire Philanthropy (a):

Curiously, default rate is inversely proportional to loan balance, and over 60% of borrowers defaulting on their student loans have a balance of under $10,000. The vast majority of student loan debt is held by borrowers who are perfectly capable of serving it.

All of which is to say that a giant welfare program for the upper middle class is at or near the top of the Democrats’ spending priorities. I’m not giving the Republicans a pass here, but I don’t think many of this sub’s readers need much convincing there.

This college dropout was bedridden for 11 years. Then he invented a surgery and cured himself (a)

A Tale of Two Sisters (a):

I have studied separated twins for many years, first from 1982 to 1991 as an investigator with the Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart (MISTRA). Today, I follow the progress of 16 young Chinese reared-apart twin pairs, as well as older twins separated due to unusual life events. I have seen striking examples of identical, reared-apart twins whose athletic talents coincided prior to any contact between them. Japanese-born twins Steve and Tom, raised by different families in the United States, both became competitive lifters and owners of bodybuilding gyms; Steve competed in the 1980 Olympics. Adriana and Tamara, born in Mexico and raised in New York, attended different Long Island colleges and found each other only after one was mistaken for the other. But both were already accomplished dancers and later performed together. Mark and Jerry, each six-foot-four, were both already volunteer firefighters when they met in their early thirties, each having developed the strength, stamina, and motivation to pursue the demanding role. 

Conditional cooperation and confusion in public-goods experiments (a):

The finding that people vary in how they play economic games has led to the conclusion that people vary in their preference for fairness. Consequently, people have been divided into fair cooperators that make sacrifices for the good of the group and selfish free-riders that exploit the cooperation of others. This conclusion has been used to challenge evolutionary theory and economic theory and to guide social policy. We show that variation in behavior in the public-goods game is better explained by variation in understanding and that misunderstanding leads to cooperation.

Small-game fallacies (a):

A small-game fallacy occurs when … [specialists] … posit a simple, and thus cognizable, interaction, under a very limited and precise set of rules, whereas real-world analogous situations take place within longer-term and vastly more complicated games with many more players: “the games of life” … [such] analysis useless … as a guide for how the “players” will behave in real circumstances.

Sep 2019

Maybe Your Zoloft Stopped Working Because A Liver Fluke Tried To Turn Your Nth-Great-Grandmother Into A Zombie (a):

People always talk about the body as a beautiful well-oiled machine. But sometimes the body communicates with itself by messages written with radioactive ink on asbestos-laced paper, in the hopes that it’s killing itself slightly more slowly than it’s killing anyone who tries to send it fake messages. Honestly it is a miracle anybody manages to stay alive at all.

Effective action #4a: ‘Expertise’ from fighting and physics to economics, politics and government (a):

Fundamental to real expertise is 1) whether the informational structure of the environment is sufficiently regular that it’s possible to make good predictions and 2) does it allow high quality feedback and therefore error-correction. Physics and fighting: Yes. Predicting recessions, forex trading and politics: not so much. I’ll look at studies comparing expert performance in different fields and the superior performance of relatively very simple models over human experts in many fields.

“Before thermometers: philosophers mocked the idea of temperature ever being measurable, with all its nuance, complexity and subjectivity” (a)

The Impostor Cell Line That Set Back Breast Cancer Research (a):

It’s an open secret among cancer scientists that a staggering number of cell lines used in studies—one 2007 paper estimated a fifth to more than a third—are later discovered to be contaminated or misidentified strains of the disease.

“Our new paper is out today. We used CRISPR to uncover some really striking findings with several drugs and drug targets in clinical trials. … This project started with a statistic that was really shocking to us: 97% of drug-indication pairs tested in human cancer patients fail during clinical trials and never receive FDA approval." (a)

Secret Handshakes and [Reputational] Suicide Pacts (a)

Time Horizon vs. Endurance (a):

The fund’s objectives, the manager said, were generational.

“So how do you measure performance?” Fink asked.

“Quarterly,” said the manager.

There is a difference between time horizon and endurance.

BBC: Ugandan Asians dominate economy after exile (a):

Uganda’s tiny Indian community accounted for 90% of its tax revenues before being expelled in 1972. They were permitted to return in the 1980s, and today (despite being only 1% of the population) account for 65% of Uganda’s tax revenues.

“Wealth taxes are the talk of the town. A way too long “accounting” thread on the French wealth tax, the revenue it raised (EUR5.2bn, 0.24% of GDP in 2014), its limitations, and the lessons it potentially holds for similar plans in the US (1/n). …" (a):

Rate schedule and average wealth in top 1% yield lower bound for effective average tax rate at 0.7%; combined with theoretical 85% exemption, yields theoretical lower bound for revenue of c.EUR14bn, in lieu of actual 5.2bn raised.

“Many standard medical treatment have never been effectively studied for efficacy." (a):

There is evidence of some benefit for just over 40%; 3% are ineffective or harmful; 6% are unlikely to be helpful. But 50% are of unknown effectiveness.

The Submarine (a):

Why do the media keep running stories saying suits are back? Because PR firms tell them to. One of the most surprising things I discovered during my brief business career was the existence of the PR industry, lurking like a huge, quiet submarine beneath the news. Of the stories you read in traditional media that aren’t about politics, crimes, or disasters, more than half probably come from PR firms.

Apr 2019

Notes on teaching in prison (perma):

The academic level of most inmates is very, very low. About one in ten is illiterate, another tenth doesn’t speak a word of French, and around half would struggle to write a single decent sentence. …

The EU funds research or public projects. It does so partially according to criteria: does your initiative involve educating kids from tough neighbourhoods ? File for an XYZ678 grant. Could it lead to the empowerment of women ? Then you can find money thanks to TRF98 (I just invented these, but they probably exist). This incentivizes a lot of people to frame their initiative in such a way that they can apply for as many grants as possible, even when the effects on e.g. disadvantaged kids or woman empowerment are very speculative (some people are experts at just that). …

How much should hedonic treadmill effects be taken into account when considering inmate welfare? I feel like there is a very real sense in which convicts who did not expect to ever go to prison tend to be traumatised and extremely depressed whereas convicts who grew up in an environment where prison was ’normal’, or at least not unheard of tend to be better equipped to deal with the situation.

Daughter of BTK Killer Dennis Rader struggled to forgive dad (perma):

Everybody assumed BTK was some sort of sadistic genius.

The real BTK was an ordinary, inarticulate doofus, Darian thought.

And a good dad, Kerri told him.

He did not hit. Did not abuse. With Mom, Dad taught godliness. Kerri had two college degrees; Brian, her older brother, had been an Eagle Scout and was training to serve on U.S. Navy nuclear submarines. …

Dennis, in jail, couldn’t understand why no family visited. As he told Pastor Clark, he had been a good man “who just did bad things.”

Writing in the Morning (perma):

We know that acute sleep deprivation seems to have a manic and euphoric effect on at least some percent of the population some percent of the time. For example staying up all night is one of the most effective ways to temporarily aleve depression. Of course the problem is that chronic sleep deprivation has the opposite effect, and the temporary mania and euphoria is not sustainable.

My speculative take is that whatever this mechanism, it was the main reason you experienced a productivity boost. By waking up early you intentionally were fighting against your chronobiology, hence adding an element of acute sleep deprivation regardless of how many hours you got the night before. That mania fuels an amphetamine like focus.

“Kuhn and Lakatos assumed scientists would argue with ideas they disagree with. Didn’t anticipate that, faced with ideas they couldn’t refute, scientists would just passively ignore them” (perma)

How the Soviet Union Transformed Terrorism - The Atlantic (perma):

The USSR developed two tools that changed the world: airplane hijackings and state-sponsorship of terror

Deep Listening at the Recurse Center (perma):

this interest, when fully cultivated, is indistinguishable from a sense of love and compassion for the other person. Deep listening isn’t just about listening, either, though that’s the core of the skill. One aspect of deep listening that seems to be useful is in reflecting back insights to the person you’re in conversation with. This seems to help the person relate more clearly to their present internal reality — what’s actually happening for them right this second. I believe that over time people start to absorb this skill and begin listening to their own thoughts, emotions, impulses, and bodies in a deeper way, and this mindfulness will help them make better decisions about their lives.

Crucially, deep listening does not involve much advice-giving. In my experience, most unasked-for advice comes out of a place of ego (wanting to feel smart) or ignorance (not truly understanding where a person is coming from), and as such has limited utility.

Littlewood’s Law and the Global Media (perma):

Selection effects in media become increasingly strong as populations and media increase, meaning that rare datapoints driven by unusual processes such as the mentally ill or hoaxers are increasingly unreliable as evidence of anything at all and must be ignored. At scale, anything that can happen will happen a small but nonzero times.

Why You Should Ignore Every Founder’s Story About How They Started Their Company (perma):

He was the most successful independent operator in the US & had 15 years of experience in retail, surely it should have been easy for him to raise money from investors…?


Sam asked other store owners, entrepreneurs, competitors… basically everyone said no.

He got a measly 5% from his own brother & a store manager and had to borrow the other 95% (signing their house and all their other stores as collateral).

Even the great Sam Walton couldn’t find investors to start the 1st Walmart, on the back of a near-perfect record in retail.

Facebook is asking some new users for their email passwords and appears to be harvesting their contacts without consent (perma)

The Amazing Tale of Possibly the Most Successful Financial Fraudster in History - Jho Low (perma):

There are rich people, and then there are rich people. Leonardo Dicaprio is the former but not the latter. His net worth is $245 million according to some Googling, and yet even he is willing to hang out with some nerdy, awkward guy for money. This is something the book brings up a lot - even people accustomed to wealth, like Paris Hilton who was born an heiress, were simply astounded by Jho Low’s spending habits. He would show up at a club and just spend more than everybody. He would bet hundreds of thousands of dollars on single hands of poker. He would hand out handbags worth tens of thousands of dollars to random girls at parties. He would send strangers private jets to give them lifts. There is a level of wealth that even the wealthy can’t resist.

“Brains drastically change how they respond and representations of the world can change depending on an animal’s state - here is a look at single neurons across the brain when an animal is thirsty or not” (perma)

“If you don’t know Chinese, or learn from someone who does, you don’t know what’s going on in China. This is basic information hygiene that surprisingly many smart people don’t practice. In particular, the Western press exaggerates the capabilities of Chinese science & tech." (perma)

Occam’s dice (perma):

knocking out a gene with CRISPR leads to the expression of homologous genes to compensate for the loss

“Thirteen Misunderstandings about Natural Selection” (perma)

“The patent bargain is utterly broken. The people who work within the patent system realize it. That’s why no one raised red flags when Theranos received hundreds of patents without telling the scientific community how its machines actually worked." + “Makes one wonder about all the economic literature using “number of patents” as a proxy for scientific innovation [in a field, in a country, under particular regulatory regimes, etc.]" (perma)

May 2019

“the human back is just complete garbage” (perma)

Be Skeptical of Income and Wealth Claims (perma):

A recent study by Stephen Rose of the Urban Institute illustrates the wide variation in incomes data, as shown in the table. He compared six scholarly estimates of U.S. real median income growth between 1979 and 2014. The results span a huge range—from an 8 percent decrease to a 51 percent increase in a recent CBO study. Four of the six indicate solid middle-class income gains.

“We Pivoted a few yrs ago. This is the story- mostly my feelings. It has never been told publicly. / This will be rambly and represents the chaos in my head at the time. There is [hopefully] no advice here. I don’t know if we did it right." (perma)

“A Cincinnati newspaper printed a malevolent editorial proclaiming that [Andrew] Jackson’s mother was a common prostitute brought to this country by British soldiers." (perma)

Can Things Be Both Popular And Silenced? (perma):

Here is a story I heard from a friend, which I will alter slightly to protect the innocent. A prestigious psychology professor signed an open letter in which psychologists condemned belief in innate sex differences. My friend knew that this professor believed such differences existed, and asked him why he signed the letter. He said that he expected everyone else in his department would sign it, so it would look really bad if he didn’t. My friend asked why he expected everyone else in his department to sign it, and he said “Probably for the same reason I did”.

The Narrowing Circle (perma):

The “expanding circle” historical thesis ignores all instances in which modern ethics narrowed the set of beings to be morally regarded, often backing its exclusion by asserting their non-existence, and thus assumes its conclusion: where the circle is expanded, it’s highlighted as moral ‘progress’, and where it is narrowed, what is outside is simply defined away. When one compares modern with ancient society, the religious differences are striking: almost every single supernatural entity (place, personage, or force) has been excluded from the circle of moral concern, where they used to be huge parts of the circle and one could almost say the entire circle. Further examples include estates, houses, fetuses, prisoners, and graves.

This Too Shall Pass: Unassailable Monopolies That Were, in Hindsight, Eminently Assailable (perma):

With each cycle in tech, companies find ways to build a moat and make a monopoly. Then people look at the moat and think it’s invulnerable. They’re generally right. IBM still dominates mainframes and Microsoft still dominates PC operating systems and productivity software. But… It’s not that someone works out how to cross the moat. It’s that the castle becomes irrelevant. IBM didn’t lose mainframes and Microsoft didn’t lose PC operating systems. Instead, those stopped being ways to dominate tech. PCs made IBM just another big tech company. Mobile and the web made Microsoft just another big tech company. This will happen to Google or Amazon as well. Unless you think tech progress is over and there’ll be no more cycles … It is deeply counter-intuitive to say ‘something we cannot predict is certain to happen’. But this is nonetheless what’s happened to overturn pretty much every tech monopoly so far.

Faceless Together (perma):

If you were in a public place, you’d pick the answer that makes you look good. It’ll be something pretentious (if you’re around pretentious people), or something relatively normal and acceptable (if you’re around normal people), and you’ll choose the answer that doesn’t ostracize you otherwise negatively affect you socially.

In the room of invisible people, that pressure does not exist. You are speaking to the equivalent of an empty room. You can say the most embarrassing shit you can think of - let them know about that horrible, poorly-drawn DeviantArt comic series you are super into. If they laugh at you for it and you regret your choice to bring it up, then all you have to do is step a few feet to the left and say you like something else.

The Graphing Calculator Story (perma):

There was one last pressing question: How could we get this thing included with the system software when the new machines shipped? The thought that we might fail to do this terrified me far more than the possibility of criminal prosecution for trespass. All the sweat that Greg and I had put in, all the clandestine aid from the friends, acquaintances, and strangers on whom I had shamelessly imposed, all the donations of time, expertise, hardware, soft drinks, and junk food would be wasted.

Once again, my sanity was saved by the kindness of a stranger. At 2:00 one morning, a visitor appeared in my office: the engineer responsible for making the PowerPC system disk master. He explained things this way: “Apple is a hardware company. There are factories far away building Apple computers. One of the final steps of their assembly line is to copy all of the system software from the ‘Golden Master’ hard disk onto each computer’s hard disk. I create the Golden Master and FedEx it to the manufacturing plant. In a very real and pragmatic sense, I decide what software does and does not ship.” He told me that if I gave him our software the day before the production run began, it could appear on the Golden Master disk. Then, before anyone realized it was there, thirty thousand units with our software on the disks would be boxed in a warehouse. (In retrospect, he may have been joking. But we didn’t know that, so it allowed us to move forward with confidence.)

5-HTTLPR: A Pointed Review (perma):

First, what bothers me isn’t just that people said 5-HTTLPR mattered and it didn’t. It’s that we built whole imaginary edifices, whole castles in the air on top of this idea of 5-HTTLPR mattering. We “figured out” how 5-HTTLPR exerted its effects, what parts of the brain it was active in, what sorts of things it interacted with, how its effects were enhanced or suppressed by the effects of other imaginary depression genes. This isn’t just an explorer coming back from the Orient and claiming there are unicorns there. It’s the explorer describing the life cycle of unicorns, what unicorns eat, all the different subspecies of unicorn, which cuts of unicorn meat are tastiest, and a blow-by-blow account of a wrestling match between unicorns and Bigfoot.

“There’s been a lot of associated commentary of the form “let’s get the evil for-profits out of science”. This commentary is well-intentioned, but misdiagnoses the underlying problems." (perma):

My thinking about the role of for-profits started to change after reading John Willinsky’s pro-open access book “The Access Principle”.

Willinsky points out that in the second half of the 20th century, not-for-profit society publishers were often remarkably conservative. A new adjacent sub-field of science would open up, they’d respond “not our area”, and only very slowly expand the scope of their journals.

Much of the slack was taken up by for-profit publishers, who were far more willing to provide a space for people developing new sub-fields of science.

June 2019

Harnessing vision for computation (perma):

Might it be possible to harness the visual system to carry out artificial computations, somewhat akin to how DNA has been harnessed to carry out computation? I provide the beginnings of a research programme attempting to do this. In particular, new techniques are described for building `visual circuits' (or `visual software') using wire, NOT, OR, and AND gates in a visual modality such that our visual system acts as `visual hardware' computing the circuit, and generating a resultant perception which is the output.

Gwern’s review of The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History, 1962-1976 (perma):

The disappointment generates dissonance: many people genuinely believed that the solutions had been found and that the promises could be kept and the goals were realistic, but somehow it came out all wrong. (“We wanted the best, but it turned out like always.") Why? It can’t be that the ideology is wrong, that is unthinkable; the ideology has been proven correct. Nor is it the great leader’s fault, of course. Nor are there any enemies close at hand: they were all killed or exiled. The cargo cult keeps implementing the revolution and waving the flags, but the cargo of First World countries stubbornly refuses to land.

The paranoid yet logical answer is that there must be invisible enemies: saboteurs, counter-revolutionaries, and society remaining ‘structurally’ anti-ideological. No matter that victory was total, the failure of their policies proves that the enemies are still everywhere. (“One man’s modus ponens…") And the rot must go all the way to the top. (But, of course, not to the very top, as the actually powerful are too powerful to criticize; the emperor is—as always—innocent & benevolent & a benediction unto his people, and merely misled or betrayed by evil officials). In actuality, the middle’s evil incompetence & sabotage, in addition to the doubtless high levels of corruption (which may be much less than that of the top and often economically-efficient work-arounds), is merely a muddling through with a mix of ideology, pragmatism, and incompetence, and there is nothing to purge.

As China Hacked, U.S. Businesses Turned A Blind Eye (perma):

Technology theft and other unfair business practices originating from China are costing the American economy more than $57 billion a year, White House officials believe, and they expect that figure to grow.

Yet an investigation by NPR and the PBS television show Frontline into why three successive administrations failed to stop cyberhacking from China found an unlikely obstacle for the government — the victims themselves.

In dozens of interviews with U.S. government and business representatives, officials involved in commerce with China said hacking and theft were an open secret for almost two decades, allowed to quietly continue because U.S. companies had too much money at stake to make waves.

“New work from my lab and @circadianumbers published in @PNASNews today shows massive (>50-fold) individual differences in the response to evening light, but also high average sensitivity. Big implications for vulnerability to circadian disruption." (perma)

What I Wish I Knew in College (perma):

I feel like I only learned how to optimize effectively during my senior year of college. At that point I was mostly set into my college path: I was an economics major, I had already used my off-terms, I was involved in particular organizations, I had my group of friends, etc. What I could change was the entire course of my future, but I still looked back on the previous three years and thought about how I wasted so much time and possibility. I wished that someone had told me what I needed to know back when I was a freshman, it seemed like such a unique opportunity that I simply didn’t know how to optimize when I first got to college.

Asymmetric Weapons Gone Bad (perma):

What if there are some issues where rational debate inherently leads you astray?

Five Lessons from History (perma):

What kind of person makes their way to the top of a successful company, or a big country?

Someone who is determined, optimistic, doesn’t take “no” for an answer, and is relentlessly confident in their own abilities.

What kind of person is likely to go overboard, bite off more than they can chew, and discount risks that are blindingly obvious to others?

Someone who is determined, optimistic, doesn’t take “no” for an answer, and is relentlessly confident in their own abilities.

Jan 2019

Facebook won because its culture was voyeuristic (perma) - read the entire thing, this essay is amazing:

What happens when our mental models are built within a culture that wants to avoid negative details? Uncomfortable grey area is structurally rewritten out of Silicon Valley’s narratives. We reduce taboo details to factoids and then model the success without them. Founders don’t emphasize certain sensitive actions. …

Seventy percent of all actions are related to viewing pictures or viewing other people’s profiles.” … The biggest usage categories are men looking at women they don’t know, followed by men looking at women they do know. Women look at other women they know. Overall, women receive two-thirds of all page views.

How to Think (perma) (h/t Misha Yagudin):

4. Always have a long-term plan. Even if you change it every day. The act of making the plan alone is worth it. And even if you revise it often, you’re guaranteed to be learning something.

Coase: The Border Between Theory and Practice (perma):

there’s a tendency for people to under-theorize in general, but to overshoot once they reify their theories.[2] This holds any time you apply a theoretical model to a real-world situation: if you aren’t thinking of the capital asset pricing model when you judge the risk and reward of different career options, you might behave suboptimally — but if you take CAPM as gospel, you wind up assuming that all undiversifiable risks have offsetting rewards, which is hardly the case.

A study fails to replicate, but it continues to get referenced as if it had no problems. Communication channels are blocked. (perma:)

OK, fine. The paper’s only been out 3 years. Let’s look at recent citations, since 2017:

“Oxytocin increases trust in humans”: 377 citations

“Does Oxytocin Increase Trust in Humans? A Critical Review of Research”: 49 citations

Quotes (perma) - a collection of quotes by Michael Nielsen:

Leonard Adleman: I often sit for months and do no productive work that anybody can see, because I don’t feel I have a good enough question to work on. … I believe that by working on extremely hard problems, by being courageous, you may succeed. But even if you fail, you fail gloriously. And you will have learned immense amounts, you will have extended the envelope of what you can do. As a byproduct of failing on a great problem, I have always found that I could solve some lesser but still interesting problems - which then fill your vitae.

Jonathan Blow: What I learned, later on, is that I do not at all have a bad work ethic and I am not a bad person. In fact I am quite fierce and get huge amounts of good work done, when I believe that what I am doing is important. It turns out that, for me, to capture this feeling of importance, I had to work on my own projects (and even then it took a long time to find the ideas that really moved me). But once I found this, it basically turned me into a different person. If this is how it works for you, the difference between these two modes of life is HUGE.

Brian Eno: there’s a tremendously strong pressure to repeat yourself, to do more of that thing we all liked so much. … people nearly always prefer what I was doing a few years earlier - this has always been true. … Discovering things is clumsy and sporadic, and the results don’t at first compare well with the glossy and lauded works of the past. You have to keep reminding yourself that they went through that as well, otherwise they become frighteningly accomplished.

Robin Jones Gunn: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."

Steven Weinberg: When I received my undergraduate degree — about a hundred years ago — the physics literature seemed to me a vast, unexplored ocean, every part of which I had to chart before beginning any research of my own. How could I do anything without knowing everything that had already been done? Fortunately, in my first year of graduate school, I had the good luck to fall into the hands of senior physicists who insisted, over my anxious objections, that I must start doing research, and pick up what I needed to know as I went along. It was sink or swim. To my surprise, I found that this works. I managed to get a quick PhD — though when I got it I knew almost nothing about physics. But I did learn one big thing: that no one knows everything, and you don’t have to.

How long will you need to find your truest, most productive niche? This I cannot predict, for, sadly, access to a podium confers no gift of prophecy. But I can say that however long it takes, it will be time well spent. I am reminded of a friend from the early 1970s, Edward Witten. I liked Ed, but felt sorry for him, too, because, for all his potential, he lacked focus. He had been a history major in college, and a linguistics minor. On graduating, though, he concluded that, as rewarding as these fields had been, he was not really cut out to make a living at them. [do read this quote in full on Michael’s page]

On Progress and Historical Change (perma):

It is not an easy thing to prove science works when you have no examples of science working yet.

Bacon’s answer — the answer which made kingdom and crown stream passionate support and birthed the Academy of Sciences–may surprise the 21st-century reader, accustomed as we are to hearing science and religion framed as enemies. We know science will work–Bacon replied–because of God. There are a hundred thousand things in this world which cause us pain and suffering, but God is Good. He gave the cheetah speed, the lion claws. He would not have sent humanity out into this wilderness without some way to meet our needs. He would not have given us the desire for a better world without the means to make it so. He gave us Reason. So, from His Goodness, we know that Reason must be able to achieve all He has us desire. God gave us science, and it is an act of Christian charity, an infinite charity toward all posterity, to use it.

They believed him. …

It really took two hundred years for Bacon’s academy to develop anything useful. There was a lot of dissecting animals, and exploding metal spheres, and refracting light, and describing gravity, and it was very, very exciting, and a lot of it was correct, but–as the eloquent James Hankins put it–it was actually the nineteenth century that finally paid Francis Bacon’s I.O.U., his promise that, if you channel an unfathomable research budget, and feed the smartest youths of your society into science, someday we’ll be able to do things we can’t do now, like refrigerate chickens, or cure rabies, or anesthetize. There were a few useful advances (better navigational instruments, Franklin’s lightning rod) but for two hundred years most of science’s fruits were devices with no function beyond demonstrating scientific principles. Two hundred years is a long time for a vastly-complex society-wide project to keep getting support and enthusiasm, fed by nothing but pure confidence that these discoveries streaming out of the Royal Society papers will eventually someday actually do something. I just think… I just think that keeping it up for two hundred years before it paid off, that’s… that’s really cool.

“Large scale experiment shows training teachers improves student outcomes in Peru. But teachers then leave for new schools, taking the treatment effect w/ them. Schools might under invest in training as a result. Would love to see same design with managers and firms” (perma)

50 Years Ago, Sugar Industry Quietly Paid Scientists To Point Blame At Fat (perma)

an industry group called the Sugar Research Foundation wanted to “refute” concerns about sugar’s possible role in heart disease. The SRF then sponsored research by Harvard scientists that did just that. The result was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1967, with no disclosure of the sugar industry funding.

An Analysis On How Deepmind’s Starcraft 2 AI’s Superhuman Speed is Probably a Band-Aid Fix For The Limitations of Imitation Learning (perma)

David Silver’s claim that AlphaStar can only perform actions that a human player is able to replicate is simply not true.

When the game is played with inhuman speed and accuracy, abusing superior control is very likely to be the best and most effective and correct way to play the game. …

Deepmind’s blog post makes no attempt at explaining TLO’s absurd numbers. If they don’t explain TLO’s funky numbers they should not include them in the graph. Period.

This is getting dangerously close to lying through statistics. Deepmind has to be held to a higher standard than this.

“Working in an Amazon fulfillment center is mostly ordinary warehousing work. It’s not way worse and it’s not way better. … Amazon is helping a LOT of people in this area go from unemployment or very low pay to a job that lets them be self-sufficient, if only barely. It’s not going to get you into a middle class lifestyle, it gets you out of poverty." (perma)

Mongol Apologia – How Genghis Khan Made the Modern World (perma):

A Mongol army would ride up to some big walled city and demand the unconditional surrender of the inhabitants. If the city acquiesced, the Mongol army would ride in, demand that their horses be fed, tell the inhabitants to hand over 15% of the city’s wealth, and execute the 100 richest guys (not counting religious figures whom they rarely touched). Then the Mongol general would tell the local city administration that they are now part of the Mongol Empire. Their duty is to report to this small group of (probably Chinese or Korean) bureaucrats that the army is going to leave behind. …

Then these Mongol Empire bureaucrats would inform the city of their new tax obligation to the Empire, which was nearly always lower than that of their old tax obligation to their previous empire. Also, religious freedom is now a thing, so anyone caught beating Jews or Yazidi Muslims better stop. And also, the Mongols have their own legal code with a zero-tolerance policy, which mostly consists of stuff like “don’t steal,” “don’t rape,” and “don’t murder.” Even the Golden Family (the close relatives of the Great Khan) and the Great Khan himself were subject to Mongol laws. For instance, no member of the Golden Family could murder another family member without achieving a proper quorum. Now that’s rule of law.

[video] Lee Kuan Yew versus the SIA Strikers

1/2 “It wasn’t until I started reading about medieval science and thechnology that I figured out how fake most of contemporary discussions on politics and ideology are. // One phenomenon jumps out to you when you get seriously interested in history (even it you happen to be amateur like me). And that is that people tend to naively judge periods' accomplishemnts largely based on how much they superficialy resemble our age. If period resembles ours we emphasize good parts and forget about flaws; if period looks alien we forget good parts, emphasize bad and sometimes even invent flaws out of tin air. Let me explain." (perma)

2/2 “One thing that fascinates me is how symbols from the past never mean what they originally did, but what people from present want them to." (perma)

"‘pain’ has to be painful in the sense of forcing us to be motivated to stop it, and can’t simply be a neutral sensory perception ‘oh by the way something might be wrong over here’, because otherwise we will incur enormous amounts of bodily damage for poor reasons or no reason at all." (perma)

That was then, this is now (perma):

A Cincinnati newspaper printed a malevolent editorial proclaiming that [Andrew] Jackson’s mother was a common prostitute brought to this country by British soldiers. thereupon she married a mulatto man with whom she had several children, among them Andrew Jackson. Apprised of this far-fetched, scandalous tale, [John Quincy] Adams thought it absurd, but cynically went on to comment that even if proved true it would probably not hurt Jackson. The course of the campaign seemed to substantiate all Adams’s apprehensions that fervent partisanship was demolishing reasonableness, a slugfest of calumny and lies replacing political civility. Vice was triumphing over virtue. And the cynicism expressed in his reaction to the malignant piece regarding Jackson’s mother and his birth signaled that he had begun to doubt the probity of the republic and its citizens.

Daily reminder that neurons are complex cells, not just linear summators of their inputs: if you apply a neuromodulator, the I/O function changes. Apply two, and it changes in nonlinear ways. (perma)

The Best Way To Save People From Suicide (perma):

All around him, Motto saw suicidal patients being made to feel alone. In 1965, he chanced upon a collection of papers by a German psychoanalyst named Hellmuth Kaiser. Kaiser argued that the most disturbed patients could be helped if they felt a sense of connection, even on a subconscious level. This got Motto thinking about Marilyn Ryan and how her letters had gotten him through the war, her sincerity dispensed as steadily as an intravenous drip.

“My own experience—it didn’t prove anything, of course,” Motto told me years later. But he wondered if the simple act of showing people that he was there for them—and expected nothing in return—would make suicidal patients feel less isolated, less in conflict with themselves. …

The letters were to be mailed on a set schedule: once a month for the first four months; every two months for the next eight months; every three months for the next four years. In all, the correspondence would include 24 letters, sent over the course of five years, that would vary subtly. Some of the subsequent templates included:

“This is just a note to assure you of our continuing interest in how you are getting along.”

“Just a note to say that we hope things are going well, as we remain interested in your well being. Drop us a line anytime you like.”

“We realize that receiving a letter periodically expressing our interest in how things are going may seem a bit routine. However, we continue to be interested in you and how you are doing. We hope that our brief notes will be one way of expressing this.” …

Motto recalled receiving letters that thanked him and his team for remembering them, while one replied, “You will never know what your little notes mean to me.” Even when the subject matter was dark—“Please call I don’t care what time it is. I love my kids but I need a rest because I think I am having a nervous breakdown,” a woman wrote in 1973—there was a sense of intimacy there.

Sign Here to Lose Everything. Part 1. “I Hereby Confess Judgment” (perma)

The lenders’ weapon of choice is an arcane legal document called a confession of judgment. Before borrowers get a loan, they have to sign a statement giving up their right to defend themselves if the lender takes them to court. It’s like an arbitration agreement, except the borrower always loses. Armed with a confession, a lender can, without proof, accuse borrowers of not paying and legally seize their assets before they know what’s happened. Not surprisingly, some lenders have abused this power. In dozens of interviews and court pleadings, borrowers describe lenders who’ve forged documents, lied about how much they were owed, or fabricated defaults out of thin air.

“Somebody just comes in and rips everything out,” Doug said one evening in August, pulling up a stool at a Starbucks and recounting the events that killed the Duncans’ business. After a long day spent selling houses for another company, the name tag pinned to his shirt had flipped upside down like a distress signal. “It’s cannibalized our whole life.”

“Contact almost surely can be either harmful or beneficial with respect to intergroup hostility. But, just as surely, the benefits of contact have been wildly oversold to an overeager social psychology consuming audience. End." (perma)

Feb 2019

“TIL that PNAS study about judges issuing harsher sentences before lunch was almost entirely driven by the fact that prisoners who didn’t have legal representation went last before breaks” (perma)

2018: a mildly muddled review of the year in neuroscience (perma)

“Activating the tagged neurons still worked after 30 days between training and testing. It worked after 60 days. An infant mouse’s memory of what happened in the bad place could be turned back on at will. It was there, but they could not access it. Which opens up the slightly worrying idea that infant amnesia is not the erasure of memory, but the hiding of memory.”

UK productivity gap narrows with new measure (perma):

The UK’s productivity gap with France is only half as big as previously thought because British workers work far fewer hours than official measures suggest.

Nobody Knows Anything About China (perma):

We don’t know China. Nor, however, do the Chinese — not even the government.

We don’t know China because, in ways that have generally not been acknowledged, virtually every piece of information issued from or about the country is unreliable, partial, or distorted. The sheer scale of the country, mixed with a regime of ever-growing censorship and a pervasive paranoia about sharing information, has crippled our ability to know China. Official data is repeatedly smoothed for both propaganda purposes and individual career ambitions. That goes as much for Chinese as it does for foreigners; access may sometimes be easier for Chinese citizens, but the costs of going after information can be even higher.

What Happens When Techno-Utopians Actually Run a Country (perma):

Casaleggio had recently watched V for Vendetta, a 2005 dystopian futuristic thriller. (Tagline: “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.”) In the film, Britain is ruled by a fascist dictatorship; one night, a lone insurgent wearing a Guy Fawkes mask hacks into a state-controlled news broadcast and tells the people of Britain to meet him outside Parliament in exactly one year, setting in motion the end of the regime. Inspired by the movie, Casaleggio wrote a late-night post, published under Grillo’s name, on June 14, 2007. Beneath a picture of a Guy Fawkes mask, Casaleggio summoned all of Grillo’s readers to gather in person for something called Vaffanculo Day, or “Fuck Off Day,” in three months’ time—a mass collective middle finger to the political establishment. …

By the afternoon of V Day, September 8, 2007, the square had swollen with a crowd of about 50,000 people.

Muscle memory discovery ends ‘use it or lose it’ dogma (perma):

New research shows that extra nuclei gained during exercise persist even after a muscle shrinks from disuse, disease or aging — and can be mobilized rapidly to facilitate bigger gains on retraining

Malaysia: The Inside View and the Outside View (perma)

Wednesday saw a historic Malaysian election, where the opposition defeated the incumbent government coalition — a coalition built of parties that had founded the nation of Malaysia.

The inside view suggests that this is an unprecedented, historic victory. We think anything can happen, because nothing like this has happened before. I’ve read pieces saying that a “New Malaysia” is born, that the people have spoken, and that Malaysia has set a “World Benchmark in Reclaiming Democracy”. …

The fact is, democratically elected ruling parties have generally floundered after about half a century to three-quarters of a century. They become corrupt, riven by internal strife, and eventually prompt a previously loyal electorate to vote them out. …

If we take the Outside View, what has happened in Malaysia isn’t particularly new. We may actually forecast what happens next, calibrated using the experience of other countries, but informed by our inside knowledge of Malaysia’s unique circumstances.

Study: Most Rigorous Large-Scale Educational RCTs are Uninformative–Should We Be Concerned? (perma):

Typically the pattern goes: pilot study finds a large effect size (perhaps even very large, as in Bloom’s effect size of 2.0 from individual instruction and mastery learning), replication study finds a much more modest effect size (IIRC Bloom replicated around .3 or .4), and then when you roll it out to a general setting the effect disappears almost completely. For whatever reason a more limited intervention by original researchers tends to have much larger effects than replications or broader implementations of those interventions.

Junto (club) (perma):

The Junto, also known as the Leather Apron Club, was a club for mutual improvement established in 1727 by Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia. The Leather Apron Club’s purpose was to debate questions of morals, politics, and natural philosophy, and to exchange knowledge of business affairs.

My disabled son’s amazing gaming life in the World of Warcraft (perma):

Robert and Trude mourned what they thought had been a lonely and isolated life for their disabled son. But when Mats died, they discovered that people all over Europe lit candles in his memory.

Mar 2019

Why People Hook Up (perma)

a much higher proportion of women (64.5 percent) than men (35 percent) ideally wanted their hookups in general to lead to romantic involvement. Again, the gender difference was even more pronounced when they were asked about their most recent hookup: 60 percent of women versus 13 percent of men said a romantic relationship was the ideal outcome of that sexual encounter.

RIP Culture War Thread (perma):

But once you remove all those things, you’re left with people honestly and civilly arguing for their opinions. And that’s the scariest thing of all. …

It doesn’t matter if taboo material makes up 1% of your comment section; it will inevitably make up 100% of what people hear about your comment sectionand then of what people think is in your comment section. Finally, it will make up 100% of what people associate with you and your brand. The Chinese Robber Fallacy is a harsh master; all you need is a tiny number of cringeworthy comments, and your political enemies, power-hungry opportunists, and 4channers just in it for the lulz can convince everyone that your entire brand is about being pro-pedophile, catering to the pedophilia demographic, and providing a platform for pedophile supporters. And if you ban the pedophiles, they’ll do the same thing for the next-most-offensive opinion in your comments, and then the next-most-offensive, until you’ve censored everything except “Our benevolent leadership really is doing a great job today, aren’t they?” and the comment section becomes a mockery of its original goal.

“For years Facebook claimed the adding a phone number for 2FA was only for security. Now it can be searched and there’s no way to disable that." (perma)

“Antedisciplinary” Science (perma):

the history of science is full of ideas that seemed radical, unfathomable, and interdisciplinary at the time, but that now we teach to undergraduates. Every generation, we somehow compress our knowledge just enough to leave room in our brains for one more generation of progress. This is not going to stop.

“you can’t compare educational categories (some high-school, high-school graduate, some college, etc.) as if they’re stable demographics of people. A high-school drop-out was around the 40th %-ile of academic achievement in 1973. Now a high-school drop-out is around the 10th %-ile” (perma)

The “devalue and dismiss” fallacy, methodological pluralism, and DSGE models (perma):

One of the most common fallacies in the economics blogosphere — and elsewhere — is what I call “devalue and dismiss.”  That is, a writer will come up with some critique of another argument, let us call that argument X, and then dismiss that argument altogether.  Afterwards, the thought processes of the dismisser run unencumbered by any consideration of X, which after all is what dismissal means.  Sometimes “X” will be a person or a source rather than an argument, of course. The “devalue” part of this chain may well be justified.  But it should lead to “devalue and downgrade,” rather than “devalue and dismiss.”

Stuff (perma):

It has proven hard for me to appreciate exactly how confused the Haitians are about some things. Gail, our program director, explained that she has a lot of trouble with her Haitian office staff because they don’t understand the concept of sorting numerically. Not just “they don’t want to do it” or “it never occurred to them”, but after months and months of attempted explanation they don’t understand that sorting alphabetically or numerically is even a thing. …

getting more medicine of any type is always a good thing and will make them healthier, and doctors are these strange heartless people who will prevent them from taking a stomach medication just because maybe they don’t have a stomach problem at this exact moment. As a result, they lie like heck. I didn’t realize exactly how much they were lying until I heard the story, now a legend at our clinic, of the man who came in complaining of vaginal discharge. He had heard some woman come in complaining of vaginal discharge and get lots of medication for it, so he figured he should try his luck with the same. And this wasn’t an isolated incident, either. Complaints will go in “fads”, so that if a guy comes in complaining of ear pain and gets lots of medicine, on his way out he’ll mention it to the other patients in line and they’ll all mention ear pain too - or so the translators and veteran staff have told me.

Etoro people (perma):

The Etoro believe that young males must ingest the semen of their elders to achieve adult male status and to properly mature and grow strong.

Networking for Nerds (perma):

Though Edison, Einstein, Musk (and anybody you may have heard of) have done real work, their projects would have been stillborn or failed if they didn’t know the right people: partners, employees, backers, supporters.

Ursula von der Leyen (perma) - I don’t have anything bad to say about her specifically, but this is an interesting peek into German culture:

Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen … is a German politician serving as Minister of Defence since 2013. … Over the years she has often been described as a potential successor to Merkel as German Chancellor.[2] Since 2018, she has however been described as the favourite to succeed Jens Stoltenberg as Secretary General of NATO. …

A 2015 VroniPlag Wiki investigation published evidence that parts of von der Leyen’s doctoral dissertation could have been plagiarised.[15] As of 27 September 2015, VroniPlag detected plagiarism from 27 sites, out of 62 sites examined, or 43.5 percent. Three pages contained 50 to 75 percent plagiarised content, and five pages contained more than 75 percent plagiarised content.[16][17]

Gerhard Dannemann [de], a professor at Humboldt University of Berlin, said that it was particularly dangerous for von der Leyen’s medical work to contain 23 false references, for which the sources cited did not support the cited content.[18] …

The German Higher Education Commission found that 20% of the work was flawed, but only three “serious errors”. Christopher Baum, the president of the university[clarification needed], said: “In the central part of the dissertation, no shortcomings were found. […] The results of the dissertation were scientifically new, valid and of practical relevance.” In particular, there was “no misconduct directed by the intention to deceive”.[20]

Reasoning from a price change, example #341 (perma):

“But if real interest rates are negative, why isn’t demand for credit going up?”

This is common mistake in economics. Many people think prices impact demand. They do not, they impact quantity demanded. Draw a supply and demand curve, and then shift the demand curve to the left. Interest rate fall. See what happens to equilibrium quantity.

Things I Learned From Working With A Marketing Advisor (perma):

“People hate reading,” she tells me.

Seriously? You’re going to rip up my nice, fluent, carefully-written essay explaining my rationale and replace it with a table?

Yes. Yes we are.

She’s not wrong, though. I’ve had the experience of meeting with executives after sending them a two-page document, worrying that I should have written something more comprehensive, and finding they didn’t even read the two-pager. I learn best through text, but clearly not everyone does. So promotional content needs to make allowances for the skimmers, the glancers, the reading-avoidant.

Why you can’t have privacy on the internet (perma):

Will you pay 120rs for a 100rs movie ticket in order to protect your privacy from your payment provider? It’s important to note that while the extra 20rs may seem to go to the payment network, in reality it will go to the smartest scammers.

“I’ve come to believe everyone systematically underestimates how influenceable people are in the last inning of deciding major life decisions like jobs. The smallest moment magnifies. Managing the last mile so key. And conversely getting lazy for a second so fatal” (perma)

Meaningful (perma)

The first chemist says “Maybe she knows things like that water makes iron rust. That’s a chemical fact.”

The second chemist says “No, she knows that (clear shiny appearance + wetness + refreshment) makes (dull metallic appearance + hardness) get (patchy redness). She doesn’t know that H2O + Fe = iron oxides. She knows many statistical relationships between sense-data, but none of them ever connect to the deeper chemical reality.”

The first chemist says “Then on what level can we be said to understand water ourselves? After all, no doubt there are deeper things going on than chemical reactions – quantum fields, superstrings, levels even deeper than those. All we know are some statistical relationships that must hold true, despite whatever those things may be.”

How Delusions in the Real World Disappointed My Expectations (perma)

Rather than updating the belief, people just stop being so motivated by it. That is to say, in the large majority of people, rather than the belief changing, the centrality of the belief changes. I find this very unsatisfying. “Yeah, I still think drones are probably following me everywhere but I don’t worry about it that much.” This isn’t all that much different from belief in health - confirmation bias is all-pervasive, and recall that science advances one funeral at a time.

Deep Listening at the Recurse Center (perma):

Deep listening, in contrast, involves listening to someone with the fullness of your attention, the same kind of attention one gets in a deep flow state. It involves calmly monitoring your own field of awareness and bringing your attention back to what the person is saying if it wanders too much. If emotions, judgements, or impulses to speak flare up, they’re noticed immediately and let go. In this way, it creates a sense of safety for the conversational partner, that they could say anything and the other person would not have an adverse reaction. It also involves a genuine interest in what the other person is communicating, not just with their words but their facial expressions, body movements, word choice, tone of voice, reactions to prompts, conversational themes, etc. I don’t think it would be too much to say that this interest, when fully cultivated, is indistinguishable from a sense of love and compassion for the other person.

Oct 2018

happiness is bullshit. the only times i’ve ever felt truly alive have been periods of total obsession with something. not always “pleasant” (perma) // people seriously underestimate the degree of high that is obsession. it is, imo, basically the greatest high there is. (perma)

There’s a debate about whether fish feel pain and the best moment is “actually plants might feel pain” (perma) (also, plants domesticate animals)

Bribery, Cooperation, and the Evolution of Prosocial Institutions (perma):

There is nothing natural about democracy. There is nothing natural about living in communities with complete strangers. There is nothing natural about large-scale anonymous cooperation.

There is something very natural about prioritizing your family over other people. There is something very natural about helping your friends and others in your social circle. And there is something very natural about returning favors given to you. These are all smaller scales of cooperation that we share with other animals and that are well described by the math of evolutionary biology. The trouble is that these smaller scales of cooperation can undermine the larger-scale cooperation of modern states. Although corruption is often thought of as a falling from grace, a challenge to the normal functioning state—it’s in the etymology of the word—it’s perhaps better understood as the flip side of cooperation. One scale of cooperation, typically the one that’s smaller and easier to sustain, undermines another.

“Fun study that asked people questions about things like where on a bike the pedals, chain, etc were. Surprisingly many people - even frequent cyclists - made basic errors when a bike wasn’t actually in front of them” (perma)

Technological convergence in drug discovery and other endeavors (perma):

You would think that the Wright brothers’ historic flight from Kitty Hawk on December 17, 1903 had little to do with chemistry. And yet it did. The engine they used came from an aluminum mold; since then aluminum has been a crucial ingredient in lightweight flying machines. The aluminum mold would not have been possible had industrial chemists like Charles Hall and Paul Héroult not developed processes like the Hall-Héroult process for refining the metal from its ore, bauxite. More elementally, the gasoline fueling the flight was the result of a refining process invented more than fifty years earlier by a Yale chemist named Benjamin Silliman. There was a fairly straight line from the Bayer and Silliman processes to Kitty Hawk. …

The more positive conclusion to be drawn from the story of convergent technology is to keep track of ancillary enabling technologies if you want to stay ahead of the curve. In case of the iPod, Jobs seems to have had the patience to wait before USB, battery and internet technologies became mature enough for Apple to release the device; in spite of being the third or fourth mp3 player on the market, the iPod virtually took over in a few years. …

Technology, like life on earth, is part of an ecosystem. Even breakthrough technology does not develop in a vacuum. Without convergence between different innovations, every piece of technology would be stillborn. Without the aluminum, without the refined petroleum, the Wright Flyer would have lain still in the sands of the Outer Banks.

“The environment is genetic too” (perma)

German occupation of Czechoslovakia (perma):

In early November 1938, under the First Vienna Award, which was a result of the Munich agreement, Czechoslovakia (and later Slovakia)—after it had failed to reach a compromise with Hungary and Poland—was forced by Germany and Italy to cede southern Slovakia (one third of Slovak territory) to Hungary, while Poland invaded Zaolzie territory shortly after.

Why small isn’t always beautiful: labor regulations and firm growth (perma):

The power law of firm size in France is broken at 50 employees, exactly where the main labor regulations begin to bite. There are more French firms just below the regulatory threshold and a smaller fraction of firms greater than 50 throughout the rest of the distribution. This makes economic sense – the regulation causes some firms to hover just below 50 employees, but by being an additional cost it makes all firms with more than 50 employees smaller than they would otherwise be.

Applying polygenic risk scoring for psychiatric disorders to a large family with bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder (perma, pdf); Michael Story’s summary:

Psychiatrists studying a big family with hereditary mental illness found that each generation had earlier and worse symptoms - in part because people marrying in to the family were also mentally ill

“the effective marginal tax rate when a person moves from the bottom to the middle quintile is 1 - (15.4-12.9)/(12.6-2.2), or 76 percent” (perma)

The Price Of Glee In China (perma): did Chinese become any happier thanks to the economic development?

The School Shootings That Weren’t (perma): most school shootings reported by the government never happened — the perils of doing surveys on sparse data

Криштиану Роналду всю жизнь стремился стать совершенством, но теперь его репутация под угрозой. Иван Калашников рассказывает историю футболиста (perma):

Он оставался после тренировки, чтобы нанести еще сто ударов, и требовал, чтобы в воротах при этом стоял лучший голкипер команды — дублеры его не устраивали. Защитник «МЮ» Патрис Эвра однажды сказал: «Если Роналду позовет вас к себе в гости, не соглашайтесь. Вы будете там тренироваться, а не ужинать».

Помимо бесконечных тренировок на поле и в тренажерном зале, Криштиану проводил часы в компании аналитиков футбольной статистики, которые помогали ему определять правильную стратегию для разных игровых ситуаций: откуда начинать разбег, чтобы выпрыгнуть выше всех при подаче углового, как рассчитать траекторию полета мяча при ударах с разных дистанций, в каких зонах открываться при передаче из глубины.

Can we even understand what the responses of a neuron ‘represent’? (perma):

  • Does it make sense to talk about a neuron representing a single feature instead of a confluence of features (a la Kording)? Is understanding the way a neuron responds in one context good enough?
  • If a neural response is correlated with something in the environment, does it represent it?

Animals who look like they’re about to release a chart topping single: THREAD (perma)

Bounded cognition (perma) (h/t JS Denain):

The Pirahã language and culture seem to lack not only the words but also the concepts for numbers, using instead less precise terms like “small size”, “large size” and “collection”. …

For many years I attempted to teach Biology and Genetics students the rudiments of statistics, with, alas, only limited success. The notions of population, sample, variance, hypothesis testing, etc. require more time and practice than can be devoted to them in such courses. Most students in the life sciences are math-phobic and few take statistics courses until they reach graduate school.

List of common misconceptions - Wikipedia (perma):

Ancient Greek sculptures were originally painted bright colors; they only appear white today because the original pigments have deteriorated. Some well-preserved statues still bear traces of their original coloration.

Open access is often argued about in the abstract. I want to talk about a specific case study where I have detailed data - usage patterns for my (open access) online book/monograph “Neural Networks and Deep Learning” (perma)

Origins and Destinations of the World’s Migrants, 1990-2017 (perma):

In 2017, 49,780,000 people living in the United States were born in other countries.

When causation does not imply correlation: robust violations of the Faithfulness axiom (perma, pdf):

We demonstrate that the Faithfulness property that is assumed in much causal analysis is robustly violated for a large class of systems of a type that occurs throughout the life and social sciences: control systems. These systems exhibit correlations indistinguishable from zero between variables that are strongly causally connected, and can show very high correlations between variables that have no direct causal connection, only a connection via causal links between uncorrelated variables. Their patterns of correlation are robust, in that they remain unchanged when their parameters are varied. The violation of Faithfulness is fundamental to what a control system does: hold some variable constant despite the disturbing influences on it. No method of causal analysis that requires Faithfulness is applicable to such systems.

The world will only get weirder (perma):

It used to be that airliners broke up in the sky because of small cracks in the window frames. So we fixed that. It used to be that aircraft crashed because of outward opening doors. So we fixed that. Aircraft used to fall out of the sky from urine corrosion, so we fixed that with encapsulated plastic lavatories. The list goes on and on. And we fixed them all.

So what are we left with? …

And so, with more rules we have solved most of the problems in the world. That just leaves the weird events left like disappearing 777’s, freak storms and ISIS. It used to be that even minor storms would be a problem but we have building codes now (rules). Free of rules, we’d probably have dealt with ISIS by now too.

Ultimately, this is why the world is getting weirder, and will continue to do so. Now with global media you get to hear about it all.

Men outraged over paying child support for kids who are not theirs (perma)

Beauty and social capital: Being attractive shapes social networks (perma):

  • Physical attractiveness influences people’s network preferences and outcomes.
  • More attractive people prefer broker positions in social networks.
  • The reported networks of more attractive people are relatively less dense.

Nov 2018

Mexico’s drug cartels are moving into the gasoline industry (perma):

Pemex was founded on the nationalist idea that Mexicans would themselves be responsible for developing Mexico’s oil wealth, and the profits would be used to benefit the country as a whole. It eventually grew bigger than Gazprom, the Russian state oil company, but it has always had a problem with internal malfeasance and featherbedding. “Corporate governance is poor,” says Duncan Wood, head of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center. “It’s disorganized. There are little fiefdoms within it. They strike deals with organized crime and turn a blind eye.” Patrick Corcoran, an analyst at InSight Crime, puts it even more succinctly: “Pemex is a massive cash cow, riddled with corruption.” …

Peña Nieto’s solution was to end Pemex’s monopoly and open the energy industry to foreign corporations, which he and his allies consider inherently more efficient and less susceptible to corruption than a state-owned enterprise. It took them five years to amend the constitution and implement a free-market framework — “the mother of all reforms,” …

The reforms were supposed to lower costs at the pumps but ended up doing the opposite. Public anger at the price hikes occasionally boiled over into riots, and contributed to the election of López Obrador.

“In 1996, not only did the Clinton team influence Russia’s election to Boris Yeltsin (who collapsed their economy and made the life expectancy go down by 5 years), they bragged about it in Time Magazine." (perma)

‘How Schools Work’ Review: The Worm in the Apple (perma):

Mr. Duncan assumed that Calvin, a solid B-student from an intact, hard-working family, just needed some help studying for the ACT ahead of applying for college—until the first day that Mr. Duncan sat down with him and realized that he was reading at the level of a second-grader. Despite a summer of hard work, Calvin wasn’t going anywhere.

“The lies told to Calvin,” Mr. Duncan writes, “were not told to torture him. . . . More often than not they existed to protect resources, or to safeguard jobs, or to control what kids were taught and how or whether they were tested on what they knew.” Calvin was ill-served by a system that kept passing him along to the next grade level when he hadn’t mastered the basic skills of the one before. …

Upon taking charge of the public schools in Chicago in 2001, he discovered (with the help of the Chicago-based economist Steven Levitt) that at least 5% of the city’s teachers were helping their students cheat on standardized tests. He was appalled but felt stymied: “If I’d asked Mayor [Richard] Daley to fire 5 percent of all Chicago teachers, then there would have been hell to pay.”

why selection bias is the most powerful force in education (perma):

Immigrant students in American schools outperform their domestic peers, and the reason is about culture and attitude, the immigrant’s willingness to strive and persevere, right? Nah. Selection bias. So-called alternative charters have helped struggling districts turn it around, right? Not really; they’ve just artificially created selection bias. At Purdue, where there is a large Chinese student population, I always chuckled to hear domestic students say “Chinese people are all so rich!” It didn’t seem to occur to them that attending a school that costs better than $40,000 a year for international students acted as a natural screen to exclude the vast number of Chinese people who live in deep poverty. …

Sometimes, in fact, it is deliberately hidden in education. A few years ago, Reuters undertook an exhaustive investigation of the ways that charter schools deliberately exclude the hardest-to-educate students, despite the fact that most are ostensibly required to accept all kinds of students, as public schools are bound to. … Excluding students with cognitive and developmental disabilities is a notorious example. (Despite what many people presume, a majority of students with special needs take state-mandated standardized tests and are included in data like graduation rates, in most locales.) Simply the fact that parents typically have to opt in to charter school lotteries for their students to attend functions as a screening mechanism. …

Tell me how your students are getting assigned to your school, and I can predict your outcomes – not perfectly, but well enough that it calls into question many of our core presumptions about how education works.

Using prediction markets we found that researchers were very accurate in predicting which studies would replicate and which would not. (perma)

Bacteriophage Cooperation Suppresses CRISPR-Cas3 and Cas9 Immunity; Adam Strandberg summarizes (perma):

Bacteriophage produce anti-CRISPR proteins, but they need to cooperate to have sufficient density to overwhelm bacterial defenses

On Volitional Philanthropy (perma):

Most of us have had similar experiences. A wise friend or acquaintance will look deeply into us, and see some latent aspiration, perhaps more clearly than we do ourselves. And they will see that we are capable of taking action to achieve that aspiration, and hold up a mirror showing us that capability in crystalline form. The usual self-doubts are silenced, and we realize with conviction: “yes, I can do this”.

This is an instance of volitional philanthropy: helping expand the range of ways people can act on the world.

“In research, both problem finding and problem solving are important. Surprisingly often, problem finding is more important than problem solving." (perma):

There’s a rare, related activity which I think of as field finding. It’s not about problem finding, per se, but rather about developing an underlying narrative which generates many superb problems over decades or centuries.

Most of my favourite papers are field finding.

Jobs Involving Routine Tasks Aren’t Growing (perma)

“It wasn’t until I started reading about medieval science and thechnology that I figured out how fake most of contemporary discussions on politics and ideology are." (perma):

One phenomenon jumps out to you when you get seriously interested in history (even it you happen to be amateur like me). And that is that people tend to naively judge periods' accomplishemnts largely based on how much they superficialy resemble our age. If period resembles ours we emphasize good parts and forget about flaws; if period looks alien we forget good parts, emphasize bad and sometimes even invent flaws out of tin air. Let me explain.

What’s the fastest way you’ve seen someone fuck up their life? (perma):

Brain injuries are sad. Worked with a guy who retired from the Navy (last assignment was in charge of supplies for an aircraft carrier), got a civilian logistics job with the Navy and became in charge of the warehouses in Norfolk. He was hit by a car while he was riding his bike to work; now he lives with his sister and has difficulty with his stocking job at Walmart. The worst thing is that he remembers how he used to be.

We Don’t Want to Know What Will Kill Us (perma):

A unique longitudinal study published in 2016 by Hanane Bouchghoul and colleagues at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris unpacks that decision-making process. They interviewed 54 women—either Huntington’s carriers or wives of carriers—and found that if a couple received a favorable result in a first prenatal test, the majority had the child and stopped there. Most of those who got an unfavorable result terminated the pregnancy and tried again. If a second prenatal test produced a “good” result, they had the child and stopped. But if it produced a “bad” result and another termination, most changed strategy. Some opted for preimplantation genetic diagnosis, removing the need for termination, since only mutation-free embryos are implanted. Some abandoned the idea of having a child altogether. But nearly half, 45 percent, conceived naturally again, and this time they did not seek prenatal testing. Summarizing the findings, the geneticist on the team, Alexandra Dürr, says, “The desire to have a child overrides all else.”

“Never forget that opposition to IQ tests is an anti-proletarian ploy cooked up by capitalist running dogs” (perma)

“This sort of reminds me of my time on /r/nootropics, back before eternal September hit. There were a lot of smart people, even ridiculously smart people like /u/MisterYouAreSoDumb/ . But for all that, we did not make any progress." (perma):

And a lot of our hypothesizing about various mechanisms of action (and even self experimentation) proved pretty futile. I don’t think we found a single drug that was more effective than nicotine as a cognitive enhancer, despite MisterYouAreSoDumb literally doing extremely impressive novel chemical research. Absent a scientific and legal tradition that supported enhancement research, little progress was made. Perhaps the problem is just intractable; I don’t know.

Instead we did what you are doing now, pattern matching various receptors and coming up with vague theories. As there are no regulatory issues blocking the kind of understanding you are hoping to achieve, I would strongly recommend formal education. For all its problems, I don’t think you will get very far outside a traditional research context.

“one of my favorite pictures ever: 29 teams analyze the same data set. Point estimates (of odds ratio for the key effect) vary by a factor of 3” (perma)

The Economics of Missionary Expansion: Evidence from Africa and Implications for Development (perma); Justin Sandefur comments (perma):

“New paper throws some shade on the long-term historical persistence literature, argues missions and colonial settlement were even less randomly placed than thought.”

Women Favour Dyadic Relationships, but Men Prefer Clubs: Cross-Cultural Evidence from Social Networking (perma)

Canadian man claiming to be ‘female’ sues 16 women for refusing to wax his genitals (perma)

Natural Resource Booms in the Modern Era : Is the curse still alive? (perma):

Despite having vast sums to invest, GDP growth per-capita outside of the booming sectors appears on average to have been no faster during the boom years than before. The paper finds no country in which (non-resource) growth per-person has been statisticallysignificantly higher during the boom years. In some Gulf states, oil rents have financed a migration-facilitated economic expansion with small or negative productivity gains. Overall, there is little evidence the booms have left behind the anticipated productivity transformation in the domestic economies. It appears that current policies are, overall, prooving insufficient to spur lasting development outside resource intensive sectors.

“Ease of piracy may have been a key component of @Adobe’s growth. No longer, with the subscription model it’s shifted to ~5y ago!” // “Companies will monitor and even maintain popular cracks of their software! If it starts getting used in commercial environments, it’s easier and more profitable to send the bill to legal dept than fight the pirates." (perma)

Enhancers active in dopamine neurons are a primary link between genetic variation and neuropsychiatric disease (perma) (via Benjamin Saunders) (perma)

Dec 2018

CRISPR-induced null mutations trigger a pervasive up-regulation of homologs of the deleted gene (perma)

Resistant protocols: How decentralization evolves (perma):

… users flocked to the best user experience possible that was just decentralized enough to stay alive.

Precise Minds in Uncertain Worlds: Predictive Coding in Autism (seems like an uncannily accurate description of the experience of an autistic mind) (perma):

There have been numerous attempts to explain the enigma of autism, but existing neurocognitive theories often provide merely a refined description of 1 cluster of symptoms. Here we argue that deficits in executive functioning, theory of mind, and central coherence can all be understood as the consequence of a core deficit in the flexibility with which people with autism spectrum disorder can process violations to their expectations. More formally we argue that the human mind processes information by making and testing predictions and that the errors resulting from violations to these predictions are given a uniform, inflexibly high weight in autism spectrum disorder. The complex, fluctuating nature of regularities in the world and the stochastic and noisy biological system through which people experience it require that, in the real world, people not only learn from their errors but also need to (meta-)learn to sometimes ignore errors. Especially when situations (e.g., social) or stimuli (e.g., faces) become too complex or dynamic, people need to tolerate a certain degree of error in order to develop a more abstract level of representation. Starting from an inability to flexibly process prediction errors, a number of seemingly core deficits become logically secondary symptoms. Moreover, an insistence on sameness or the acting out of stereotyped and repetitive behaviors can be understood as attempts to provide a reassuring sense of predictive success in a world otherwise filled with error.

“Against the Social Brain Hypothesis, large scale analysis finds no link from primate social group size to brain size” (perma)

Sovereignty in the Ancient Near East (perma):

if a general planned to attack a city, he should promise to cancel the debts and free the slaves, in order to get the debtors to come over to his side. And if you’re defending a city, you also promise to cancel everyone’s debts and free the slaves. That’s how you get people on your side. Coriolanus did that in Rome, and Zedekiah in Judah. But both rulers went back on their word as soon as the fighting was over.

Stunning Videos of Evolution in Action: The MEGA-plate allows scientists to watch bacteria adapting to antibiotics before their eyes. (perma)

No, it’s not The Incentives—it’s you (perma):

As best I can tell, the words “it’s the incentives” are magic. Once they’re uttered by someone, natural law demands that everyone else involved in the conversation immediately stop whatever else they were doing, solemnly nod, and mumble something to the effect that, yes, the incentives are very bad, very bad indeed, and it’s a real tragedy that so many smart, hard-working people are being crushed under the merciless, gigantic boot of The System. Then there’s usually a brief pause, and after that, everyone goes back to discussing whatever they were talking about a moment earlier.

highlights from Giftedness and Genius: Crucial Differences by Arthur Jensen (perma)

Why Correlation Usually ≠ Causation: Causal Nets Cause Common Confounding (perma):

It is widely understood that statistical correlation between two variables ≠ causation. But despite this admonition, people are routinely overconfident in claiming correlations to support particular causal interpretations and are surprised by the results of randomized experiments, suggesting that they are biased & systematically underestimating the prevalence of confounds/common-causation. I speculate that in realistic causal networks or DAGs, the number of possible correlations grows faster than the number of possible causal relationships. So confounds really are that common, and since people do not think in DAGs, the imbalance also explains overconfidence.

The story of Oleg Melnikov, liberating people from slavery (perma):

In Dagestan, there were five people in slavery - two girls and three men, and one of these people was just a relative of a friend. My friend and I set them free. The girls were from a provincial town near Nizhny Novgorod, they studied at vocational schools, and suddenly they were called to work at one of the fast food chains in Moscow. They arrived, and they were told that there are no places here, but there are vacancies in Sochi. So they got to Dagestan, where they began to engage in prostitution in order to “work out” the money that was allegedly spent on their relocation. And the men worked in a brick factory, but the story of how they fell into slavery was very similar.

Health Services As Credence Goods: A Field Experiment (perma) Misha Yagudin summarizes (perma):

A test patient who does not need treatment is sent to 180 dentists to receive recommendations …

27% of dentists recommend a filling to someone with no dental problems. 13 teeth suggested.

There’s recent news about some really interesting hardware implants. I wanted to take a bit to share more technical thoughts and details that can’t be reduced to a mainstream article on the topic. (perma)

Questioning the evidence on hookworm eradication in the American South (perma):

the deworming campaign in the American South did not coincide with breaks in long-term trends that would invite eradication as the explanation.

Connie Chan’s top 50 tweets in 2018. (perma): China lives in the future

Siege of Baghdad (1258) (perma):

the waters of the Tigris ran black with ink from the enormous quantities of books flung into the river and red from the blood of the scientists and philosophers killed.

Book Review: The Black Swan (perma):

Taleb gives cautionary examples of what happens if you ignore this. You make some kind of beautiful model that tells you there’s only a 0.01% chance of the stock market doing some particular bad thing. Then you invest based on that data, and the stock market does that bad thing, and you lose all your money. You were taking account of the quantified risk in your model, but not of the unquantifiable risk that your model was incorrect.

In retrospect, this is an obvious point. But it’s also obvious in retrospect that everything classes teach about probability fall victim to it, to the point where it’s hard to even think about probability in non-ludic terms. I keep having to catch myself writing some kind of “Okay, assume the risk of a Black Swan is 10%…” example in this review, because then I know Taleb will hunt me down and violently assault me. But it’s hard to resist.

“Contrary to popular belief, the poor do not eat more fast food than the rich." (perma)

Jul 2018

Book Review: Bas van Bavel, “The Invisible Hand?”pdf with my highlights:

It is the very institutions that make the expansion of factor markets possible that also, perhaps inevitably, lead to the rise of a new ruling class that will alter their parameters so as to entrench their economic and political position. Far from the problem with factor markets in premodern (and developing) societies being that they simply aren’t being adequately supported at the social and political level, as the New Institutionalists argue, Van Bavel’s argument suggests the opposite: the problem is that factor markets are inherently self-defeating as an instrument for either freedom or prosperity, at least for the vast majority.

What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage:

I listened, rapt, as professional trainers explained how they taught dolphins to flip and elephants to paint. Eventually it hit me that the same techniques might work on that stubborn but lovable species, the American husband.

The central lesson I learned from exotic animal trainers is that I should reward behavior I like and ignore behavior I don’t. After all, you don’t get a sea lion to balance a ball on the end of its nose by nagging. The same goes for the American husband.

Back in Maine, I began thanking Scott if he threw one dirty shirt into the hamper. If he threw in two, I’d kiss him. Meanwhile, I would step over any soiled clothes on the floor without one sharp word, though I did sometimes kick them under the bed. But as he basked in my appreciation, the piles became smaller.”

Владимир Миняев и чемоданная мафия:

Оперуполномоченный, раскрывший схему краж багажа в аэропорту Внуково, получил три года колонии. Воры признаны потерпевшими

Utilitarianism is a moral abomination.:

Islam and Christianity [i.e. deontological moral systems] are big on slavery, but it’s mainly a finite list of do’s and don’ts from a Celestial Psychopath. Obey those, and you can go to a movie. Take a nap. The subjugation is grotesque, but it has an end, at least in this life.

Not so with utilitarianism. The world is a big machine that produces utility, and your job is to be a cog in that machine. Your utility is 1 seven billionth of the equation - which rounds to zero. It is your duty in life to chug and chug and chug like a good little cog without any preferential treatment from you, for you or anyone else you actually care about, all through your days without let.

On the (dis)unity of the sciencespdf with my highlights:

“A typical thesis of positivistic philosophy of science is that all true theories in the special sciences [i.e., everything but fundamental physics, including non-fundamental physics] should reduce to physical theories in the long run. This is intended to be an empirical thesis, and part of the evidence which supports it is provided by such scientific successes as the molecular theory of heat and the physical explanation of the chemical bond. But the philosophical popularity of the reductivist program cannot be explained by reference to these achievements alone. The development of science has witnessed the proliferation of specialized disciplines at least as often as it has witnessed their reduction to physics, so the wide spread enthusiasm for reduction can hardly be a mere induction over its past successes.” I would go further than Fodor here, echoing Dupré above: the history of science has produced many more divergences at the theoretical level — via the proliferation of new theories within individual “special” sciences — than it has produced successful cases of reduction. If anything, the induction goes the other way around!

How tiny wasps cope with being smaller than amoebas:

Polilov found that M.mymaripenne has one of the smallest nervous systems of any insect, consisting of just 7,400 neurons. For comparison, the common housefly has 340,000 and the honeybee has 850,000. And yet, with a hundred times fewer neurons, the wasp can fly, search for food, and find the right places to lay its eggs.

On top of that Polilov found that over 95 per cent of the wasps’s neurons don’t have a nucleus. The nucleus is the command centre of a cell, the structure that sits in the middle and hoards a precious cache of DNA. Without it, the neurons shouldn’t be able to replenish their vital supply of proteins. They shouldn’t work. Until now, intact neurons without a nucleus have never been described in the wild.

Influence of birth month on the probability of Western Australian children being treated for ADHD:

Among children aged 6–10 years, those born in June (the last month of the recommended school-year intake) were about twice as likely to have received ADHD medication than those born in the first intake month (the previous July); the relative risks (RRs) were 1.93 for boys (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.53–2.38) and 2.11 for girls (95% CI, 1.57–2.53).

“past a certain point there’s no sign NHE [national health expenditure] & life exp are correlated. Intercept shifts up w/ time but not well explained by NHE delta”

Код доступа / 07.07.18:

Если вы думаете, что они не применили это – фигушки! – применили. В начале 90-х годов вооруженные этими 450 тоннами и специальным флотом грузовиков они опрыскали всем этим окрестности двух американских военно-морских баз, аэропорт Нарита, парламент, дворец императора и еще штаб-квартиру каких-то соперников. Увы, никто не пострадал, включая самих членов секты, которые не применяли особых предосторожностей. Удивительно, но это осталось незамеченным.

Потом у них был план применить все это с воздушных шаров. В 93-м году они начали экспериментировать с сибирской язвой, которую они опять же собирались генномодифицировать. Но опять же вследствие невеликого интеллектуального ресурса не смогли. Дальше пошли в ход опять гигантские ферментеры, чтобы распылять все это на врагов и опять ничего не получилось, и враги даже об этом не узнали.

То есть они много раз пытались делать Апокалипсис, но в связи с бездарностью не смогли, потому что, как я уже сказала, к сожалению, не самые лучшие становятся членами подобных культов. И всё это просто игнорировалось. Японская полиция, я боюсь, что просто вульгарно боялась, потому что было проще сказать, что это мирная секта. Перерыв на новости.


Infinite Exchange:

“Without vitamin C,” Anthony writes, “we cannot produce collagen, an essential component of bones, cartilage, tendons and other connective tissues. Collagen binds our wounds, but that binding is replaced continually throughout our lives. Thus in advanced scurvy”—reached when the body has gone too long without vitamin C—“old wounds long thought healed will magically, painfully reappear.”

The impostor cell line that set back breast cancer research — cell lines that scientists study are selected for ease of studying more than for their usefulness to science:

And it turns out they [breast cancer cells] were especially useful, as they had the rare ability to spread in mice the way cancer metastasizes in people. In short order, labs around the country clamored for samples of MDA-MB-435 to study metastatic breast cancer. It proved so popular that in the late 1980s, the National Cancer Institute selected it as one of 60 key lines that would get extraordinary attention. …

Further investigation has since revealed that the cells are nearly identical to another cell line in the NCI-60, a melanoma cell line called M-14. The NCI put up a note of caution to alert breast cancer researchers that the cell line appeared to be misidentified. Some scientists who had spent many years studying this “breast cancer” dug in their heels.

Many scientists still don’t realize that this is a melanoma cell line, and they continue to publish “breast cancer” studies based on this skin cancer cell line. There are now more than 1,000 papers in scientific journals featuring MDA-MB-435—most of them published since Ross’s 2000 report.

What does it mean to have a low R-squared? A warning about misleading interpretationpdf with my highlights:

Phil Birnbaum (On correlation, r, and r-squared, 2006) puts it comically:

The ballpark is ten miles away, but a friend gives you a ride for the first five miles. You’re halfway there, right? Nope, you’re actually only one quarter of the way there.

He rightly pointed out that r² expresses the effect size in a statistical sense, not in the real life sense. If only one is interested in the sums of the squares of the differences (i.e., deviations) the r² can make sense. But again, it’s meaningless from the real life perspective. From the real life perspective, brain size would explain 40% of the variance in IQ, not 16%.

A letter we’ve seen millions of times, yet can’t write:

Despite seeing it millions of times in pretty much every picture book, every novel, every newspaper and every email message, people are essentially unaware of the more common version of the lowercase print letter ‘g,’ Johns Hopkins researchers have found.

The Lifehack (also see my [similar] thoughts about podcasts and audiobooks here):

For a long time, I couldn’t listen to any spoken word. Audiobooks, podcasts, and their ilk just didn’t work for me. I would lose focus and think about other things, and have to go back in order to listen again to what I’d missed, and this was deeply frustrating because I had no idea how far back I needed to go and the whole point of listening to things is not having to interact with the source of the information.

Now I am always listening to podcasts and audiobooks. Whenever I’m in transit or walking around. The difference is a genuine One Weird Trick: speed up the audio.

“In honor of all the CEOs who have told me they are “crushing it,” and that they “can’t keep up with the growth” - I’d like to put forward just some of the many many mistakes I’ve made as CEO. Some were bad for @CircleUp , some were just embarrassing”

The Utopian UI Architect [a profile of Bret Victor]:

“The example I like to give is back in the days of Roman numerals, basic multiplication was considered this incredibly technical concept that only official mathematicians could handle,” he continues. “But then once Arabic numerals came around, you could actually do arithmetic on paper, and we found that 7-year-olds can understand multiplication. It’s not that multiplication itself was difficult. It was just that the representation of numbers — the interface — was wrong.”

Can Science Make People Save Money?pdf with my highlights:

Nudges can’t overcome that psychology. At times, they can even make it worse. One of Loewenstein’s studies used a series of reminders to see if people would put money in a federally funded, matched-savings program for low-income families. The results, posted in February to the Social Science Research Network, found that “none of our four interventions had the desired effect of increasing savings.” Some, in fact, discouraged saving because they were overly complicated and added stress to the savings process.

Also, Financial Education for the Disadvantaged? A Review:

There seems to be a positive effect on short-term financial knowledge and awareness of the young, but there is no proven evidence on long-term behavior after being grown up. Studies on financial behavior of migrants and immigrants show almost no effect of financial education.

RS 212 - Ed Boyden on “How to invent game-changing technologies”pdf with my excerpts

How did adverts get so good at following us around?

Scott And Scurvy:

It has been known since antiquity that fresh foods in general, and lemons and oranges in particular, will cure scurvy. Starting with Vasco de Gama’s crew in 1497, sailors have repeatedly discovered the curative power of citrus fruits, and the cure has just as frequently been forgotten or ignored by subsequent explorers. [last time the cure was rediscovered by Europeans it was early 20th century]

Anti-gay purges in Chechnya:

The Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov denied not only the occurrence of any persecution but also the existence of gay men in Chechnya, adding that such people would be killed by their own families.

Terry Tao: “I find there is a world of difference between explaining things to a colleague, and explaining things to a close collaborator.":

In one extreme case, I ended up rolling around on the floor with my eyes closed in order to understand the effect of a gauge transformation that was based on this type of interaction between different frequencies. (Incidentally, that particular gauge transformation won me a Bocher prize, once I understood how it worked.) I guess this last example is one that I would have difficulty communicating to even my closest collaborators. Needless to say, none of these analogies show up in my published papers, although I did try to convey some of them in my PDE book eventually.

Augmenting Long-term Memorypdf with my highlights — also see my Instilling Novel Thought Patterns and Making Your Long-Term Memory Accountable with Anki:

In this essay we investigate personal memory systems, that is, systems designed to improve the long-term memory of a single person. In the first part of the essay I describe my personal experience using such a system, named Anki. As we’ll see, Anki can be used to remember almost anything. That is, Anki makes memory a choice, rather than a haphazard event, to be left to chance. I’ll discuss how to use Anki to understand research papers, books, and much else. And I’ll describe numerous patterns and anti-patterns for Anki use. While Anki is an extremely simple program, it’s possible to develop virtuoso skill using Anki, a skill aimed at understanding complex material in depth, not just memorizing simple facts.

Propaganda, Religious and Secular IIIpdf with my highlights:

It is possible to argue that the really influential book is not that which converts ten millions of casual readers, but rather that which converts the very few who, at any given moment, succeed in seizing power. Marx and Sorel have been influential in the modern world. not so much because they were best sellers (Sorel in particular was not at all a widely read author), but because among their few readers were two men, called respectiely.:Lenin, and Mussolini.

“Against the Social Brain Hypothesis, large scale analysis finds no link from primate social group size to brain size”

Aug 2018

Placebo effects are weak: regression to the mean is the main reason ineffective treatments appear to work

Also, Growth slowdowns: Middle-income trap vs. regression to the mean:

Dozens of nations think they are in the ‘middle-income trap’. Lant Pritchett and Larry Summers present new evidence that this trap is actually just growth reverting to its mean. This matters since belief in the ‘trap’ can lead governments to misinterpret current challenges. For lower-middle-income nations the 21st century beckons, but there are still 19th century problems to address. Moreover, sustaining rapid growth requires both parts of creative destruction, but only one is popular with governments and economic elites.

Eric Weinstein topicspdf with my excerpts:

it’s better to be in an expanding world and not quite in exactly the right field, than to be in a contracting world where people’s worst behavior comes out and your mind is grooved in defensive and rent-seeking types of ways.

Stop Trying to Save the Worldpdf with my highlights:

According to Ben Ramalingam’s Aid on the Edge of Chaos, international development is just such an invasive species. Why Dertu doesn’t have a vaccination clinic, why Kenyan schoolkids can’t read, it’s a combination of culture, politics, history, laws, infrastructure, individuals—all of a society’s component parts, their harmony and their discord, working as one organism. Introducing something foreign into that system—millions in donor cash, dozens of trained personnel and equipment, U.N. Land Rovers—causes it to adapt in ways you can’t predict.

A friend of mine works at an NGO that audits factories in India and China, inspecting them for child labor, forced labor, human-trafficking, everything celebrities are always warning us about. I asked him if, after ten years of inspections, conditions have gotten any better. “Yes and no,” he said. “Anytime you set a standard, some companies will become sophisticated to meet it, and others will become sophisticated to avoid it.”

Also, Rossi’s Rules:

The Iron Law of Evaluation: The expected value of any net impact assessment of any large scale social program is zero.

The Iron Law arises from the experience that few impact assessments of large scale social programs have found that the programs in question had any net impact. The law also means that, based on the evaluation efforts of the last twenty years, the best a priori estimate of the net impact assessment of any program is zero, i.e., that the program will have no effect.

Rape during the occupation of Germany. Also see A Woman in Berlin.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings: Sleep Is Our Competition:

“You get a show or a movie you’re really dying to watch, and you end up staying up late at night, so we actually compete with sleep,” he said of his No. 1 competitor. Not that he puts too much stock in his rival: “And we’re winning!”

“Okay I’m going to go on a bit of a rant about complexity in public policy. Working on SNAP (food stamps) for a number of years now I’ve seen just how complex this program is, but also how that complexity creates significant costs to the people whose lives it seeks to improve.":

But here we also have a political economy problem: there is no natural constituency for public policy simplification. In fact, many groups benefit from existing complexity, and in general it’s a situation of concentrated benefits and diffused costs.

“CBS News buys 4 used photocopiers at random. // Like every digital copier since 2002, they have hard drives that store images of every copy, every scan, every fax. // They pull the images from the hard drives…."

“Some people really benefit from hearing advice that everyone knows, for the same reason we keep schools open despite every subject in them having been taught before.":

There is no hidden reserve of smart people who know what they’re doing, anywhere. Not in government, not in science, not in tech, not at AppAmaGooBookSoft, nowhere. The world exists in the same glorious imperfection that it presents with.

Does It Harm Philosophy as a Discipline to Discuss the Apparently Meager Practical Effects of Studying Ethics?:

Across 17 measures of (arguably) moral behavior, ranging from rates of charitable donation to staying in contact with one’s mother to vegetarianism to littering to responding to student emails to peer ratings of overall moral behavior, I have found not a single main measure on which ethicists appeared to act morally better than comparison groups of other professors

“What is SPRITE? It’s a tool for turning descriptive statistics in a scientific paper into plausible distributions.":

If you make up an impossible mean/SD, SPRITE will flag it. If you make up implausible data, SPRITE can find it. Again, not all the time. But enough.

“the gender gap in income is primarily driven by motherhood."

Software updates: the “unknown unknown” of the replication crisis — sometimes, statistical software update formulas that calculate statistics, meaning, in a replication, newly calculated statistics may be different from the original ones, even if all procedures are held constant.

Informative priors: Internet A/B tests are >70% testing null effects:

“We investigate whether online A/B experimenters “p-hack” by stopping their experiments based on the p-value of the treatment effect. Our data contains 2,101 commercial experiments in which experimenters can track the magnitude and significance level of the effect every day of the experiment. We use a regression discontinuity design to detect p-hacking, i.e., the causal effect of reaching a particular p-value on stopping behavior.

Experimenters indeed p-hack, especially for positive effects. Specifically, about 57% of experimenters p-hack when the experiment reaches 90% confidence. Furthermore, approximately 70% of the effects are truly null, and p-hacking increases the false discovery rate (FDR) from 33% to 42% among experiments p-hacked at 90% confidence. Assuming that false discoveries cause experimenters to stop exploring for more effective treatments, we estimate the expected cost of a false discovery to be a loss of 1.95% in lift, which corresponds to the 76th percentile of observed lifts.

Sex matters in experiments on party drug — in mice:

But although Georgiou followed his protocol exactly, she found that treated mice did not swim for any longer than mice injected with a placebo. When she and three female and four male researchers investigated this disconnect by performing the experiments, they discovered that the ketamine acted as an antidepressant only when it was administered by men.

Also, “Turns out, stress & pain interact. So if animals are stressed, they can look like they’re in pain when doing behavioral testing. So what stresses out rats? A lot of things”

Gwern’s collection of this kind of findings about animal studies.

“Contrary to popular belief, the poor do not eat more fast food than the rich."

Jobs Involving Routine Tasks Aren’t Growing — nonroutine cognitive and nonroutine manual jobs are growing; routine cognitive and routine manual are not.

Sep 2018

Unrecognised simplicities of effective action #2(b): the Apollo programme, the Tory train wreck, and advice to spads starting work today:

Whitehall operates on exactly opposite principles to those organisations where high performance creates real value.

Counterpoints to famous biases, effects and stories

“Male mice grow ovaries & female genitalia instead of testes if they are missing a small region of non-coding DNA. Deleting an element of Sox9 gives rise to XY’s (probably critical in humans), with full development of ovaries and female genitalia."

“First reported human casualties/injuries following cyber attacks (on industrial systems, power production)? If confirmed, that would be something."

What data patterns can lie behind a correlation coefficient? — a really good visualisation of the amount of information lost by calculating correlation

‘I suspect that peer review actually causes rather than mitigates many of the “troubling trends” ‘:

It’s very common for reviewers to read empirical papers and complain that there is no “theory”. But they don’t ask for theory to address any specific question. I think they are just looking for an easy reason to reject—-they skim and don’t see scary equations.

10 physics facts you should have learned in school but probably didn’t:

There are a lot of states for the dough ingredients that will turn to dough when mixed, but very few states that will separate into eggs and flour when mixed. Hence, the dough has the higher entropy. …

the idea that any system tries to minimize its energy is just nonsense. The reason that heavy particles decay if they can is because they can.

“Cultural Suppression of Female Sexuality”, Baumeister & Twenge 2002:

Women who engaged in premarital sex were condemned as immoral by 91% of the women in 1965, as compared with condemnation by only 42% of the men.

“It would seem Woodward’s book, out in one week, which I thought would be a substantial broadside, is over-delivering."

“How policies designed to improve academia are actually messing it up”

Ex-Google recruiter: I was fired because I resisted “illegal” diversity efforts

In April of 2017, Google’s Technology Staffing Management team was instructed by Alogna to immediately cancel all Level 3 (0-5 years experience) software engineering interviews with every single applicant who was not either female, Black, or Hispanic and to purge entirely any applications by non-diverse employees from the hiring pipeline.

“The @OpenAI team have done amazing work and really opened my eyes towards many of AI’s possibilities, the vast majority positive.":

… the real focus should be on how these bots are better team players than humans. Humans pride themselves on this. Every darn Disney film focuses on this. Society is based on this. Yet these “dumb” bots used self play and coarse objectives to learn better team work than humans.

Friedrich Nietzsche: The truth is terrible:

If there is no God who deems each human to be of equal worth or possessed with an immortal soul beloved by God, then why think we all deserve equal moral consideration? And what if, as Nietzsche argues, a morality of equality – and altruism and pity for suffering – were, in fact, an obstacle to human excellence? What if being a “moral” person makes it impossible to be Beethoven? Nietzsche’s conclusion is clear: if moral equality is an obstacle to human excellence, then so much the worse for moral equality. This is the less familiar and often shockingly anti-egalitarian Nietzsche.

A Career Cold Start Algorithm:

The first step is to find someone on the team and ask for 30 minutes with them. In that meeting you have a simple agenda:

  • For the first 25 minutes: ask them to tell you everything they think you should know. Take copious notes. Only stop them to ask about things you don’t understand. Always stop them to ask about things you don’t understand.
  • For the next 3 minutes: ask about the biggest challenges the team has right now.
  • In the final 2 minutes: ask who else you should talk to. Write down every name they give you.

Repeat the above process for every name you’re given. Don’t stop until there are no new names.

“I feel like pursuing the discussion in this direction overlooks a major human component, namely, responsibility avoidance.":

And then, when the procedure generates a bad result, we don’t call for less procedure. We say, “what can we do to absolutely prevent such failures in the future,” even though often the real answer is, “nothing, actually, because no procedure is perfect, and neither is any human.”

How to Do What You Love:

A friend of mine who is a quite successful doctor complains constantly about her job. When people applying to medical school ask her for advice, she wants to shake them and yell “Don’t do it!” (But she never does.) How did she get into this fix? In high school she already wanted to be a doctor. And she is so ambitious and determined that she overcame every obstacle along the way—including, unfortunately, not liking it.

Now she has a life chosen for her by a high-school kid.

Disagreement, part 2: The Apathetic Stonewall:

The second you make your strongest point, the other party disappears. There is are two optional stages following on from that:

  1. They try the defeasible argument on someone else, meaning they are in the business of making converts, not seekign truth.
  1. They change their view without admitting they have ever held view.

My Favorite Sayings:

The most important component of evolution is death

Or, said another way, it’s easier to create a new organism than to change an existing one. Most organisms are highly resistant to change, but when they die it becomes possible for new and improved organisms to take their place. This rule applies to social structures such as corporations as well as biological organisms: very few companies are capable of making significant changes in their culture or business model, so it is good for companies eventually to go out of business, thereby opening space for better companies in the future.

The Hidden Homelessness Crisis In California — a great video to update one’s mental model on the causes of poverty.

A.I. Researchers Are Making More Than $1 Million, Even at a Nonprofit:

OpenAI paid its top researcher, Ilya Sutskever, more than $1.9 million in 2016. It paid another leading researcher, Ian Goodfellow, more than $800,000 — even though he was not hired until March of that year. Both were recruited from Google. …

“I turned down offers for multiple times the dollar amount I accepted at OpenAI,” Mr. Sutskever said. “Others did the same.” He said he expected salaries at OpenAI to increase as the organization pursued its “mission of ensuring powerful A.I. benefits all of humanity.” …

On the one hand, of course it’s none of my business to count money in other people’s pockets, on the other, can you really pay your researcher $1.9 million per year and claim that “Our full-time staff of 60 researchers and engineers is dedicated to working towards our mission regardless of the opportunities for selfish gain which arise along the way." It looks as if said researchers are more motivated by money than by the desire to work towards your mission! Conversely, this does indeed fit with the mission statement:

In 2016, according to the tax forms, Mr. Brockman, who had served as chief technology officer at the financial technology start-up Stripe, made $175,000.

The Paradox Of Reproducibility In Statistical Research

We cannot really test statistical models on fixed datasets, because is it statistically illegal. But science demands reproducibility and testing of statistical models on new random sample (new data) is by definition not reproducible. Absolute performance of such models therefore cannot be reproduced, what can be reproduced is a statistical test that with certain probability their performance lies in some interval.

“Surprises from data I collected on gender and same-sex attraction”:

a very large number of people reported at least some attraction to their own gender. In particular, 42% of females and 23% of males reported that a non-zero percent of people they are attracted to are of their own gender! Additionally, 25% of females and 14% of males said that 20% or more of the people they are attracted to are of their own gender!

When Less Is More: The Case for Teaching Less Math in School

Benezet went on to argue that the time spent on arithmetic in the early grades was wasted effort, or worse. In fact, he wrote: “For some years I had noted that the effect of the early introduction of arithmetic had been to dull and almost chloroform the child’s reasoning facilities.” All that drill, he claimed, had divorced the whole realm of numbers and arithmetic, in the children’s minds, from common sense, with the result that they could do the calculations as taught to them, but didn’t understand what they were doing and couldn’t apply the calculations to real life problems. He believed that if arithmetic were not taught until later on–preferably not until seventh grade–the kids would learn it with far less effort and greater understanding.

HemiHive, in Hiding:

Can you blame me? A pair of conjoined twins, fused at the brain? A unique cable of neurons— a thalamic bridge— wiring those brains together, the same way the corpus callosum connects the cerebral hemispheres in your own head? Two people who can see through each others eyes, feel and taste what the other does, share motor control of their limbs— most remarkably, communicate mind-to-mind without speaking? Is it any wonder that at least one neuroscientist has described the twins as “a new life form”?

Genetic variation in carbohydrate digestion enzymes in human populations and its physiological consequences:

The results from this investigation demonstrate that individuals with high AMY1 copy number have an increased glycaemic response and a delayed insulin response after starch consumption. If these data are rep¬resentative of the larger population, it is possible that individuals with high AMY1 copy number are at greater risk of developing type-2 diabetes.

Here’s a list of some interesting [bio] lab websites.

“I feel like people consistently overestimate how widely distributed individual technologies are, even where those technologies are clearly better than alternatives, easy to implement, and have minimal downside risk or cost to reverse adoption.":

You should go to the gym. I should go to the gym. Almost everyone should go to the gym.

I do not go to the gym, as of this exact moment in time, despite knowing that it is the correct thing to do. Anyone who successfully modified behavior could justly claim fairly major benefits

How to Hire Your First Engineer — note how this advice applies to every area of life; in particular, if you want to expand your network (also, recall the “A Career Cold Start Algorithm” link):

  1. Make a list of the best engineers you know, whether you think they’re available or not. Go through your Facebook and LinkedIn to jog your memory.
  1. Invite them to lunch or dinner with them to talk about your startup.
  1. Make the ask – would you consider joining us?.
  1. Whatever they answer, ask a follow up question – if you did join us, which engineers would you most want to hire?.
  1. Ask for an introduction to those people.
  1. Repeat 2 – 5 with each of the introductions.
  1. Repeat 1 – 6 ad infinitum, I know public company founders who still do this. Expect to be spending at least a third of your time on this alone.

‘People with depersonalization disorder (DPD) “feel like feeling like zombies, robots or machines, just going through the motions of their own lives” // Philosophical zombies IRL!'

“My Ph.D. co-advisor loved to tell a story about a lab he used to work in back in the day: there was a reaction that was key in the lab’s broader research goals, and the synthesis was typically handled by one graduate student. When that student graduated and left, to their dismay, they were unable to replicate his results."

Also, If you want to find out how science works, you have to watch scientists doing it. (Not make plausible stuff up and rationalizing it.) // Learning an embodied know-how skill: getting the right amount of alcohol on the Q-tip used to clean a microscopy sample.

The Complexity of Simply Searching For Medical Advice — googling health advice frequently shows not just useless, but actively harmful advice:

There’s an asymmetry of passion at work. Which is to say, there’s very little counter-content to surface because it simply doesn’t occur to regular people (or, in this case, actual medical experts) that there’s a need to produce counter-content. Instead, engaging blogs by real moms with adorable children living authentic natural lives rise to the top, stating that doctors are bought by pharma, or simply misinformed, and that the shot is risky and unnecessary. The persuasive writing sounds reasonable, worthy of a second look. And since so much of the information on the first few pages of search results repeats these claims, the message looks like it represents a widely-held point of view. But it doesn’t. It’s wrong, it’s dangerous, and it’s potentially deadly.

“Modern Europe – liberal, democratic Europe – is the United States’ creation."

10 For centuries, as we discovered, Europe was the globe’s leading exporter of violence, and that is precisely why our postwar foreign policy was designed to ensure our permanent military hegemony over the Continent.

  1. American power put an end to centuries of the same European war, and only American power, as we exercised it, could have ended this conflict. We ended it by credibly guaranteeing Germany’s security under the American nuclear umbrella.

gwern: “One interesting thing about deep learning is that even as ever better results surface, everything we know about NNs is probably wrong. A short list (in rough chronological order)"

Apr 2018

Contrarian Investment, Extrapolation, and Risk: there are trading strategies that continue to outperform the market for many years. The authors argue that this happens because (1) investors shy away from “unglamorous” stocks, (2) incentives are misaligned for money managers, and (3) people are too impatient for abnormal returns. I strongly suggest reading the Summary and Interpretation of the Findings section of the paper. The way I interpret this paper is that technology doesn’t matter — you will always be able to outperform the market, as long as your preferences are idiosyncratic enough

Imagine a thousand tall towers all collapsing simultaneously. Imagine the noise, the pain, the horror of incomprehension, seeing dimly through the dust, ears ringing. That’s what was felt by a subset of tax lawyers, CFOs, CEOs and accounting firms all around the world. The US tax reform did have an impact on individuals, sure, but It was also about blowing up an enormous edifice of tax avoidance. There may not be many of us, but I feel this has been largely overlooked in the media.

Facebook scraped call, text message data for years from Android phones

“So this is a Pareto improvement - literally everyone in this story benefited from immigration - and yet the average income decreased and inequality increased.": [inequality can be substituted for homelessness here]

Molyneux’s problem: “Although after restoration of sight, the subjects could distinguish between objects visually almost as effectively as they would do by touch alone, they were unable to form the connection between an object perceived using the two different senses.”, i.e. different senses are not intrinsically integrated

“my anxiety has a loophole that if somebody is else of equally or more uncomfortable I develop the sudden ability to Do The Thing”: same works for me. If someone is sadder than me, my sadness evaporates instantly and I’m fully concentrated on helping the other person. Also see The Heron and The Crane, Russian folk tale

To “See” Is to Feel Grateful? A Quasi-Signal Detection Analysis of Romantic Partners’ Sacrifices: “Findings consistently showed that sacrifices are equally likely to be missed as they are to be accurately detected, and about half of the time people “see” a sacrifice when the partner declares none. Importantly, “seeing” partners’ sacrifices—accurately or inaccurately—is crucial for boosting gratitude. In contrast, missed sacrifices fail to elicit gratitude, and the lack of appreciation negatively colors the partner’s satisfaction with the relationship when having sacrificed.”

Book Review: Twelve Rules for Life: “The people I listen to need to talk, because that’s how people think. People need to think…True thinking is complex and demanding. It requires you to be articulate speaker and careful, judicious listener at the same time. It involves conflict. So you have to tolerate conflict. Conflict involves negotiation and compromise. So, you have to learn to give and take and to modify your premises and adjust your thoughts – even your perceptions of the world…Thinking is emotionally painful and physiologically demanding, more so than anything else – except not thinking. But you have to be very articulate and sophisticated to have all this thinking occur inside your own head. What are you to do, then, if you aren’t very good at thinking, at being two people at one time? That’s easy. You talk. But you need someone to listen. A listening person is your collaborator and your opponent […] The fact is important enough to bear repeating: people organize their brains through conversation. If they don’t have anyone to tell their story to, they lose their minds. Like hoarders, they cannot unclutter themselves. The input of the community is required for the integrity of the individual psyche. To put it another way: it takes a village to build a mind.”

The Heart of Research is Sick: my takeaways: (1) academic grants are made looking forward (i.e. trying to predict what the grantee is planning to do with the grant), instead, they should probably be made looking backward (i.e. looking at what the grantee has already achieved (or the grantee’s potential) and extrapolating); (2) postdocs are way too short and not enough ambitious long-term projects can be done by young researchers; (3) what can be measured [ahem, citations], will be measured and used as a metric for promotions, then gamed by everybody, then new metric etc. etc.; (4) apparently, hunting for grants takes a lot of researchers’ time. If anybody reading this is a biologist/neuroscientist, please message me — I would love to interrogate you on the state of bio/neuro academia, especially the experience of young researchers during the PhD and postdoc years!

“I’ve been trying to cut down on my swearing, but holy fucking shit how does the United States fuck up incentive systems this badly to a degree that as far as I can tell is unmatched anywhere else in the developed world?": part n out of ∞

“Very attractive people are, in some ways, healthier than the rest of us”: (paper)

The Moral Hazard of Lifesaving Innovations: Naloxone Access, Opioid Abuse, and Crime: “Saving lives is good. But the potential downside of easy access to Naloxone is that reducing the risk associated with abusing opioids could increase opioid abuse.”

Doomsday planning for less crazy folk

The Charisma of Leaders: “In The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James identifies the union of conscience and will in leaders as one of their defining attributes. By conscience he means their values, their morality, their meaning-systems; and by will he means their volition, their drive, their constant, daily intentionality. Thus: their actions are in accord with their ideals. Their desires constantly reflect their beliefs.”

The Experience of Reading: Empirical Evidence: “People differ immensely in what types of experiences they report while reading. Some people report visual imagery all the time; others report it rarely or never; and still others (the majority) report visual imagery fairly often but not all of the time. Similarly for inner speech and words on the page.”

Don’t mind the gap: “The gender pay gap is not a good measure of gender discrimination. The attention it is being given is disproportionate and misleading. If it leads to companies gaming it, its effects could be extremely counterproductive. It might improve for reasons that have nothing to do with improving the lot of women, or improvements in it might come at the expense of much more deprivileged groups in our society. On balance the introduction of mandatory reporting is probably harmful.”

The Mind of Marc Andreessen

Patrick Collison has a Few Questions for Tyler: “If your goal is simply to learn something, so often, reading a blog post is better than reading a book. Even if the book is, of course, much longer. Books embody knowledge, they store knowledge, they certify knowledge. Those are important, I’m not anti-book. But as a means of communicating knowledge, once you’ve read a certain number of key, earthquake, worldview-shattering books, books are way overrated. They’re actually a pretty weak, impotent way of learning new things.”

The Minimal Persuasive Effects of Campaign Contact in General Elections: Evidence from 49 Field Experiments: “Significant theories of democratic accountability hinge on how political campaigns affect Americans’ candidate choices. We argue that the best estimate of the effects of campaign contact and advertising on Americans’ candidates choices in general elections is zero.”

“Take the United Arab Emirates, for example, where a majority of Computer Science college students are female. Like Sweden, the UAE has a very generous welfare state for its citizens (who I assume make up the vast majority of its college students), but unlike Sweden the UAE has no shortage of domestic workers, to the point that an astonishing 96% of Emirati families employ domestic workers to help take care of their children”

Gwern’s review of McNamara’s Folly: The Use of Low-IQ Troops in the Vietnam War

Does Far Transfer Exist? Negative Evidence From Chess, Music, and Working Memory Training: “the effect sizes are inversely related to the quality of the experimental design (e.g., presence of active control groups). This pattern of results casts serious doubts on the effectiveness of chess, music, and working memory training. We discuss the theoretical and practical implications of these findings; extend the debate to other types of training such as spatial training, brain training, and video games; and conclude that far transfer of learning rarely occurs.”

Female Chess Players Outperform Expectations When Playing Men: “Previous studies have found that stereotype threat is activated in female chess players when they are matched against male players. I used data from over 5.5 million games of international tournament chess and found no evidence of a stereotype-threat effect. In fact, female players outperform expectations when playing men.”

“The effects of social priming, the voodoo theory of social psychology, manifested themselves only when the experiments weren’t double blinded, exposing a self-fulfilling prophecy.": “studies independently manipulated participants’ exposure to a prime and experimenters’ belief about which prime participants received. Across four experiments…experimenter belief, rather than prime condition, altered participant behavior, psychology”

“In ‘who knew this was a real problem?’, today there was an article in the Dutch news that 2.5 million of our 17 million citizens is ‘functionally illiterate’. The number is 1.3 million for people aged 16-65, and 65% of these have Dutch as their first language. These people are defined as not being able to fill out forms, understand medical instructions, or be able to read contracts, with most of them not able to use the internet. Many of them can’t get a job, get into massive debt, and other trouble, cause they have trouble with language and basic calculus. “

55 лет отмены в СССР платы за обучение в школах и вузах: “26 октября 1940 года было введено постановление №638 «Об установлении платности обучения в старших классах средних школ и в высших учебных заведениях СССР и об изменении порядка назначений стипендий». В старших классах школ и в вузах вводилось платное обучение и с установленным размером годовой оплаты. Обучение в столичных школах стоило 200 рублей в год; в провинциальных – 150, а за обучение в институте уже приходилось выкладывать 400 рублей в Москве, Ленинграде и столицах союзных республик, и 300 – в других городах.”

Cell by Cell, Scientists Map the Genetic Steps as Eggs Become Animals: “Even though they appeared to be going down one path already, the right outside signals could still prod them onto another.”

A Yanomamo Romance: “Such early marriages are common among the Yanomamo. They are not consummated for some time, if ever. The idea is that when the girl has her first menses, she already has a husband and protector. Single women beyond the age of puberty are routinely raped if they do not have husbands.”

“How my boyfriend got pulled over by the police for giving a beggar at 7-11 change: A Thread."

May 2018

Lessons from “The Profit”: “The correct metaphor for competition isn’t a boxing match that knocks out the inefficient firm. The correct metaphor is a slow tide. Inefficient firms must scramble for a bit of high ground but as the tide ebbs and flows they can occasionally catch a breath when their head bobs above the profit line. An inefficient firm can survive for years before it inevitably sinks.”

Scientific Reproducibility: Begley’s Six Rules: “The often used phrase “safe and well-tolerated” in an academic animal study means the animals didn’t look sick nor did they die.  But it doesn’t mean that even gross organ pathology was ruled out, much less full histopathology, chemistry and blood counts, liver enzyme levels, etc…  This language difference is an important factor in translation, but is much more nuanced than Begley’s Six Rules and needs to be considered in any academic-to-industry transfer.”

“Story: 1. Neurons in the brain are very chatty: they fire action potentials, their basic unit of communication, even when there is nothing to communicate. For example in this video, in visual cortex recordings in complete darkness. Lots of chatting:"

“It’s things like this that make the “It’s a private company, it can side in the culture war however it wants, don’t like it, go make your own” so disingenuous. Every time someone idealistic enough to think that will work tries, all manner of attacks occur that stymie them at every turn. DDoS, Chargebacks, coordinated media stories about “Company X is the new Company Y… FOR NAZIS!” “

‘Sadly many people today, often in without realizing it, endorse a key tenet of Hitler’s social project: the theory of “degenerate art”.': a thread on classical and modern art

Birds Can See Earth’s Magnetic Fields, And We Finally Know How That’s Possible: well, but when will humans be able to do this?

How Britain and France’s economies match up: “French companies under-report employee working hours to avoid paying social charges. It’s the big secret no-one wants to talk about here. On a per hour basis, I’m not sure we are more productive than the British, apart from maybe in factories, where in France we invest in high-tech machinery that makes employees more productive. Again, as a way to lower tax and then avoid paying social charges!”

The Effect of Occupational Licensing on Consumer Welfare: Early Midwifery Laws and Maternal Mortality: sometimes occupational licensing is actually good!

‘Metrics Monday: 2SLS–Chronicle of a Death Foretold?: “2SLS estimates are falsely declared significant one third to one half of the time, depending on the method used for bootstrapping.”

10 Craziest Things in the Senate Report on Torture

Ordinary Life Improvements: a list of “[s]mall ways in which ordinary life has been getting better since the late ’80s/early ’90s”

Dee Dee Wanted Her Daughter To Be Sick, Gypsy Wanted Her Mom To Be Murdered

Need To Know Basis: “Take nothing at face value. Don’t investigate things people say. Remember their minds are chaos.”

Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal: moloch

Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham 1997 - 2013: “In two of the cases we read, fathers tracked down their daughters and tried to remove them from houses where they were being abused, only to be arrested themselves when police were called to the scene. In a small number of cases (which have already received media attention) the victims were arrested for offences such as breach of the peace or being drunk and disorderly, with no action taken against the perpetrators of rape and sexual assault against children.”

Prefrontal cortex as a meta-reinforcement learning system: pdf, hn commentary

“In addition to being a professor, I also do freelance statistical consulting (my rent is too damn high). I thought it would be interesting to go over the way that people think about statistics in this hidden little corner of the internet.": “Related, but p-hacking is just an incredibly natural temptation. I’d say that a good 50% of the insignificant results I return get a response asking how they can be changed. The most common phrasing is asking how they can be “fixed.” No concept of that being bad.”

On the (dis)unity of the sciences: “But of course there are easier examples: as I mentioned above, nobody has any clue about how to even begin to reduce the theory of natural selection, or economic theories, for instance, to anything below the levels of biology and economics respectively, let alone fundamental physics.”

Jun 2018

“What are the top ten mind boggling personal websites?"

Strength and Physique Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis Master List: *a giant master list

When algorithms surprise us: “Another set of simulated robots were supposed to evolve into a form that could jump. But the programmer had originally defined jumping height as the height of the tallest block so - once again - the robots evolved to be very tall. The programmer tried to solve this by defining jumping height as the height of the block that was originally the lowest. In response, the robot developed a long skinny leg that it could kick high into the air in a sort of robot can-can.”

What You Can’t Say: “It seems to be a constant throughout history: In every period, people believed things that were just ridiculous, and believed them so strongly that you would have gotten in terrible trouble for saying otherwise.”

Building for Muggles: “Slack took something that worked well but was completely inaccessible to the vast majority of people, and turned it into something that everyone can use. In doing so, became one of the fastest companies to reach a $1 Billion valuation ever.”

“How to Get Rich (without getting lucky)"

The experimental evidence for parapsychological phenomena: A review.: “The evidence for psi is comparable to that for established phenomena in psychology and other disciplines, although there is no consensual understanding of them.”

Choosy Eggs May Pick Sperm for Their Genes, Defying Mendel’s Law: “The oldest law of genetics says that gametes combine randomly, but experiments hint that sometimes eggs select sperm actively for their genetic assets.”

Reaction times match IQ for major causes of mortality: Evidence from a population based prospective cohort study: “The association between intelligence with mortality from the major causes is also seen with reaction times. That effect sizes are of similar magnitude is suggestive of a common cause. It also implies that the association of cognitive ability with mortality is unlikely to be due to any social, cultural or educational biases that are sometimes ascribed to intelligence measures.”

What Genghis Khan, but Elizabeth Can’t: “the city should have kept its part of the “bargain” year after year, and decade after decade, even if no Mongol troops ever passed again within five hundred miles of Elbonia. How could they achieve this?”

Crazy Eddie Saga: (from part 3) “As a 28 year old CPA myself, I understood that audits are very boring and tedious for these young single male auditors. […] Rather than overtly interfering, I engaged in a calculated plan to subtly distract them with cute Crazy Eddie employees reporting to me. I encouraged my female employees to flirt and get friendly with their young male PMM counterparts and discuss audit issues with them over lunch and dinner on Crazy Eddie’s tab. […] Our auditors wasted valuable time getting chummy with our management and female employees rather than paying attention to their jobs. As the scheduled completion of the audit neared, our auditors rushed to complete their field work and failed to undertake key audit procedures which enabled us to easily inflate our reported earnings.”

The financial scandal no one is talking about: “A newly qualified accountant in a major firm will generally slip into a career of what the academic Matthew Gill has called “technocratism”, applying standards lawfully but to the advantage of clients, not breaking the rules but not making a stand for truth and objectivity either. Progression to the partner ranks requires “fitting in” above all else. With serious financial incentives to get to the top, the major firms end up run by the more materially rather than ethically motivated bean counters. In the UK in 2017, none of the senior partners of the big firms had built their careers in what should be the firms’ core business of auditing. Worldwide, two of the big four were led by men who were not even qualified accountants.”

What’s Wrong With Growing Blobs of Brain Tissue?: ‘At what point would an organoid be worthy of moral status? Of respect? “At what point is it reasonable to at least discuss the question of sentience? Or conscious experience? Pain? Pleasure?” '

Why Exercise Alone May Not Be the Key to Weight Loss: “[…] exercisers, whatever their species, tend to become hungrier and consume more calories after physical activity. They also may grow more sedentary outside of exercise sessions. Together or separately, these changes could compensate for the extra energy used during exercise, meaning that, over all, energy expenditure doesn’t change and a person’s or rodent’s weight remains stubbornly the same.”

How Much Should We Trust the Dictator’s GDP Estimates?: “The results indicate that yearly GDP growth rates are inflated by a factor of between 1.15 and 1.3 in the most authoritarian regimes.”

HPPD And The Specter Of Permanent Side Effects: LSD can induce semi-permanent hallucinations. Also see reddit discussion

“My undergrad Human Sexuality professor in undergrad had an encyclopedic knowledge about FGM. Spent an entire class period talking about the different types, what they were “for”, how old the little girls were when they had adults they trusted hold them down and cut them up with dull and rusty knives, and how many girls died because of infection or because the person performing the “operation” cut something they shouldn’t have. She told us a story about when she went to an African country on a humanitarian mission when she was still a practicing surgeon.": Also see wiki on Female genital mutilation

“I think it is a TERRIBLE assumption that jobs shouldn’t exist unless they provide a “minimum amount of money required to live” - this requirement eliminates a large range of opportunities that would make the world a better place. I’ll give a few examples."

The enrollment controversy: “competition among some Asian parents had reached a fever pitch. “Asian parents do their homework and the students are going to U of T or they’re going to Queen’s,” says Bondy, who points out that “Asians get more support from their parents financially and academically.” She also observed that the focus on academics was often to the exclusion of social interaction. “The kids were getting 98 per cent but they didn’t have other skills,” she says. “Their parents would come in and write in the resumé letters that they were in clubs. But the kids weren’t able to do anything in those clubs because they were academically focused.” "

Moving To The Bay Area: a collection of facts on cost of living, traffic, public transportation, and crime in San Francisco, e.g. “[…] San Francisco and surrounding cities have the worst roads in the US, with 71% of roads in “poor” condition, significantly worse than Detroit.”

“As someone with some experience in this respect, banning regulators from joining the industry they regulate is a foolish and shortsighted move. The reason for this is simple: long term incentives."

Animals Have Evolved Into Parasites At Least 200 Times

“Rates of infant and child mortality are remarkably consistent across cultures and throughout history, outside of modern developed nations. On average, about 27% of infants died before the age of one and ~47% of children died before puberty."

Conditional cooperation and confusion in public-goods experiments: “We show that variation in behavior in the public-goods game is better explained by variation in understanding and that misunderstanding leads to cooperation.”

“WHY do some people become ENTREPRENEURS?": “Individuals with ACTUAL ability that EXCEEDS the SIGNAL value of their ability (ie they know they are better than employers can tell from credentials)…become entrepreneurs.”

Jan 2018

On literature pollution and cottage-industry science: “but our lab only has resources for small n studies” is not a good excuse to publish shit

Different Worlds: nothing makes sense, except in light of individual variation, part n out of ∞

Moore’s Law and AGI Timelines: AGI most likely by late 2050s

Open-endedness: The last grand challenge you’ve never heard of: ML on “open-ended” problems is underexplored

In Understanding Business Fluctuations Not all GDP is Equal: shocks to different industries have different impact on GDP, thus the structure of the production can’t be ignored in macro

Dwelling in Possibility: the ability to hold the belief that everything is horrible and it doesn’t matter we will still win simultaneously is pretty important

Longevity FAQ: A beginner’s guide to longevity research

Theory of Change: if you have a goal in mind, move backwards step by step from it to see how to reach it

20 of my [Spencer Greenberg’s] all time favorite life hacks

Re: How do species evolve different numbers of chromosomes?: by inbreeding

The Strangeness of the Modern Mind: modern habits of mind (Universalism, Abstraction, Commensurability) are recent and far from being universal

Poll: Do you have a life mission?: 34% Yes; 31% No; 12% Used to; 23% Hope to

New Evidence on the Impacts of Birth Order: later-born children have worse general outcomes

“I think you fail to understand who is actually in charge of large companies."

Feb 2018

The network nonsense of Albert-László Barabási: apparently a dude with h-index of 125 publishes mostly trivialities and nonsense (on networks)

What are the Laws of Biology?: “Most of what we do in biology and much of what we teach is describing what’s happening – not what a system is doing.”

Intelligent Lifespans: “As a rough rule of thumb, those of IQ 115 live 10 years longer than those of IQ 85.”

The importance of awareness for understanding language: “across 10 high-powered studies, we found no evidence that the meaning of a phrase or word could be understood without awareness”

“the unfortunate fuzziness of rape statistics”: nobody really knows the proportion of rape allegations that are sound

The Gender Earnings Gap in the Gig Economy: Evidence from over a Million Rideshare Drivers: Uber male drivers drive faster than female drivers, thus earn more

Heritability of Social Behavioral Phenotypes (picture): (publication)

Evolution doesn’t give a damn what you think a brain region is called

Will truckers be automated? (from the comments): not soon

Deep Reinforcement Learning Doesn’t Work Yet

“figuring out a trait is highly heritable does not imply much about how that heritability comes about - whether it’s through an interaction with a social environment, interaction with environments created by the genes of those related to us”

The Song Dynasty’s Surrender: finale of an extremely interesting series on the history of China

Mar 2018

“I would like to also provide some excerpts from The black quota at Yale Law School”

Embryo Selection for Intelligence …works

The David Attenborough Style of Scientific Presentation: explicitly try to make any presentation as fun as possible

The emergence of the visual word form: Longitudinal evolution of category-specific ventral visual areas during reading acquisition: support for neuronal recycling

“What’s the most absurd/invasive thing that tech platforms do or have done that sounds made-up but is actually true?"

“At what point we can say that Britain has systemic problem with protection of poor white girls?"

Cells are very fast and crowded places: insides of cells work largely probabilistically, not deterministically

Persistence and resistance as complementary bacterial adaptations to antibiotics

Median income earned by cognitive class: longitudinal differences in income by IQ

Differences in exam performance between pupils attending selective and non-selective schools mirror the genetic differences between them

A Review of “The Case Against Education”: signaling theory of education is not trivially true; also, you should continue to heavily discount everything written by Bryan Caplan

Can Electrically Stimulating Your Brain Make You Too Happy?: humans, just like rats, will keep pressing the button

Humans Sleep (Way) Less Than Other Primates

Naked mole rats defy the biological law of aging: i.e. their death probability distribution is uniform over time

Somewhere Inside, a Path to Empathy: asperger’s and marriage

Tinbergen’s Four Questions: prerequisites for understanding any evolved behavior

Gender-segregated occupations in Norway and the U.S are correlated

Nassim Nicholas Taleb: Thin-Skin In The Game

The relationship between sensory processing, childhood rituals and obsessive–compulsive symptoms …is positive


Gwern’s year summaries, starting with 2015.

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