Links for Jul-Sep 2019

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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“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.


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.


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.

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