Links for Apr-Jun 2018

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

Note: I do not endorse anything in links below.

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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."


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.”


“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.”

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