Links for Jul-Sep 2018created: ; modified:
Quarterly Links present my most important reading in the last 3 months. They are uncategorized and sorted by the date on which I read them.
I aim for timelessness, conciseness, and delta.
Note: I do not endorse anything in links below.
Other people’s links I read regularly
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.
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.”
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).
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.
“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!
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.
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.
“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.
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%.
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.
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 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.”
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.
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.
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]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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….”
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.
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
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.
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.
“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.
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.
Jobs Involving Routine Tasks Aren’t Growing — nonroutine cognitive and nonroutine manual jobs are growing; routine cognitive and routine manual are not.
Whitehall operates on exactly opposite principles to those organisations where high performance creates real value.
“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.”
What data patterns can lie behind a correlation coefficient? — a really good visualisation of the amount of information lost by calculating correlation
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
2) They change their view without admitting they have ever held view.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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”?
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.
“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):
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.
Invite them to lunch or dinner with them to talk about your startup.
Make the ask – would you consider joining us?.
Whatever they answer, ask a follow up question – if you did join us, which engineers would you most want to hire?.
Ask for an introduction to those people.
Repeat 2 – 5 with each of the introductions.
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.
“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.
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.
11) 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.
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