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Links for June

Bad Catholic has responded to my post on contraception and abortion rates, defending his position that contraception increases or at least doesn’t decrease abortions. See his Part One and Part Two, with my replies buried in the comments.

The early English four-form system – apparently “yea” and “nay” were quite a bit more complicated than just archaic versions of “yes” and “no”. And apparently we’ve all been using “yes” and “no” wrong our entire life.

Physicists: was the Universe once two-dimensional?

Publishing a document called “Consensus Statement On Morality” seems like terrible hubris, maybe one step below “I am more powerful than ZEUS!”. But not only did a bunch of scientists and philosophers (including Roy Baumeister! and Joshua Greene! and Jonathan Haidt!) produce a Consensus Statement on Morality, but it actually looks pretty good.

In 1940, an explorer in the Honduran jungle claimed to have discovered a “lost city of the monkey god”, but was killed “in a car crash” before who could reveal its location. Now, modern satellite imaging may have recaptured his discovery.

A new popular Japanese band is basing their performances around the stock market. “We base our costumes on the price of the Nikkei average of the day. For example, when the index falls below 10,000 points, we go on stage with really long skirts”. A line from their latest song: “Fix the yen’s appreciation. Quantitative easing. Don’t forget public investment”. Needless to say, young people love them.

When I was very young, I got confused about units of time. I knew what a second was, I knew what a minute was, but what was a “moment”? I distinctly remember getting angry at my mother because she said she would “just take a moment”, and when she got back I accused her of being gone way more than a moment. She kindly explained to me that a moment wasn’t a specific unit of time with a single well-delineated meaning. And she was wrong.

Kind of hopeful that Yahoo’s acquisition might destroy Tumblr, but even if it doesn’t it’s already paid off dividends in the form of the slideshow in this article. I think my favorite is number 6.

Buffalo Commons. I find the most interesting part of this article to be the claims that the Great Plains are becoming depopulated and may just end up reverting to Nature of their own accord.

The old conventional wisdom was that happiness research had showed money doesn’t make people happier after their basic needs are met. The new conventional wisdom is that nope, money still makes you happier no matter how much of it you have. The Economist gives an unusually clear presentation of the data.

So it turns out that molecules look exactly like they do in chemistry books. Still waiting to see whether protons are red, neutrons blue, and electrons fuzzy little yellow sparks.

The Washington Post profiles the effective altruist community, including my friends, occasional dance partners, and readers of this blog Jeff and Julia. I think this would be a good time to point out that, although not all of us can aspire to be as good people as Jeff and Julia, and not all of us even have the strength of personality it takes to engage in altruism at all, every single one of us, without exception, are better people than the commenters on that article. Seriously, don’t even look or it will destroy every shred of faith in humanity you have left.

Luckily, here are 31 Charts That Will Restore Your Faith In Humanity. REACTIONARIES, ARE YOU LISTENING? There’s also the parody version, 31 Charts That Will Destroy Your Faith In Humanity. The first one there really, really speaks to me.

Speaking of the system working, Cheap Household Labor No Longer Abundant In India. People are having to give their servants good working conditions, or they just quit. This is exactly how capitalism is supposed to work! Hurrah!

The Last Psychiatrist, of all people, comes out in favor of basic income guarantees. I mean, if they existed he’d probably say society was terrible for letting them exist. But since they don’t exist, he’s happy to proclaim society terrible for not considering them, and that’s what’s important!

My friend Darcey has blogged a conversation she and I had a couple of months ago about creativity.

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63 Responses to Links for June

  1. Berry says:

    You warned me, and I read the comments anyway.

    I am a sad berry now.

  2. St. Rev says:

    Broken/malformed link at ’31 Charts That Will Destroy Your Faith In Humanity’.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Thanks. Fixed (and a few more links added while I was poking around in there)

  3. falenas108 says:

    I’m very surprised at the money/happiness chart. It seems to have such a straightforward correlation, but other studies did not detect this correlation at all.

    I’m holding out on judgement until we get more data.

    • Damien says:

      As Cornelioid says below, income is on a log scale, so get the same linear(?) increase in happiness requires doubling income, and doubling it again. That’s not consistent with a saturation plateau at $75,000 as some have suggested but it is consistent with diminishing marginal utility.

      Also, the income seems to go up only to $128,000, with only the US reports approaching that, so it may not be inconsistent with the plateau after all. Especially with a scale that can’t go above 10… for the US, 7 to 7.5 is roughly $16k-$64k, so 4x income = +0.5 happiness. $256k would give 8.0, and $65 million should achieve perfect happiness at 10.0

      • g says:

        I think “average happiness increases linearly with log income, without limit” and “average happiness increases linearly with log income, without limit, until you get to about $65M/year” are equivalent for most practical purposes.

        Also, if your surveys use a limited scale like this one (which is probably necessary) then that argument is *always* available, whatever the data and whatever the actual relationship between income and happiness.

        • Damien says:

          Fair point on forever and 65M being practically the same; I think the observations that they only go up to about $128K, and that it is log income, might be more telling.

          (Also if past studies claim saturation about $75K, and this working paper — not conventional wisdom — claims otherwise, why do we believe this paper refutes all other research, rather than being the outlier?)

  4. St. Rev says:

    Regarding the last link: One has to be oblivious or mad to claim that creativity has declined in the modern era. (I think Lanier is both.) Depending on your aesthetics, the ratio of ‘good’ creative work to ‘bad’ creative work may have fallen, but that’s attributable to three factors: the explosion in accessibility of modes of artistic creation, the explosion in the ability to communicate artistic work, and the erosion of the role of creative gatekeepers. In other words, the denominator of the ratio has grown faster than the numerator; there’s vastly more visible crap out there.

    But no new artistic modes? How about role-playing games? I don’t mean the games as designed, I mean the games as actually played: millions of people engaged in small improvisational theater troupes, generating art for their own personal consumption, in a form that didn’t exist before 1970.

    • Multiheaded says:

      Hear, hear! That’s what I tell people all the time IRL; sadly, it goes against the usual bullshit folk narrative of ill-defined cultural decline.

      (It doesn’t help matters that, in a particular timeframe (~20 years) and due to specific causes, my country did experience a rather bad all-around cultural decline. USSR in 1990 was a more advanced, progressive and educated society than Russia in 2013; to top things off, we now probably have more censorship and state violence.)

  5. Brian Delwiche says:

    I’d really like to know how they’re defining “slave or serf” in that third graph. I’m not an expert on that part of history, but my understanding was that serfdom in Europe was already in a steep decline by 1750 (though most countries didn’t outlaw it until the early 1800s). The rise in the middle 20th century is also a lot larger than I’d have expected; the fact that they’d put the local minimum at 1917 suggests to me that they’re counting workers under planned economies as serfs. I suppose that’s not completely insane, but it’s certainly a nonstandard usage.

    The curve’s suspiciously smooth, too.

    • Eric Rall says:

      I suspect it’s smooth because it’s build from a very small number of data points.

      I can think of two reasons for the mid-20th-century spike, depending on exactly where it peaks and how much smoothing is in the graph:
      – Forced labor under fascist and communist governments, particularly during WW2.
      – The British and French colonial empires largely went away in the mid 20th century. Slavery had been forbidden for some time in these empires, but was restored in some of the more disfunctional former colonies after independence.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Yes, it’s smoothing out 5 points, 2 of them with unlabeled dates that you can’t guess because the x-axis isn’t to scale. Yes, the choice of 1917, and the adjacent chart about “totalitarian rule” (explicitly meaning communist) suggest that they count communism as slavery. If you’re going to count 35% of the 1917 world as serfs, it would be ridiculous not to. It’s the first step that bothers me. I don’t know how they come up with the 75% in 1750; they misquote their only source as putting it at 95%.

        They follow with a bar chart putting “totalitarian rule” as covering 35% of the world in 1950, so the 4th point on the graph is probably 1950. So who are the 15% of the 1950 world that are serfs but not subject to totalitarian rule? Colonial empires? And who are the 10% in 2000? the rural Chinese? the legally rural Chinese? Who are the 2% subject to totalitarian rule in 2000? That’s a lot more than North Korea.

      • Brian Delwiche says:

        Forced labor under fascist governments was the first thing that came to mind for me too, but the deltas aren’t big enough — the numbers I’ve found for Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union point to a peak of about fifteen million forced laborers. I haven’t been able to find good sources on Japan’s contributions, but even if we make fairly loose assumptions we come up with a number an order of magnitude lower than what that graph suggests.

  6. Cornelioid says:

    Regarding the Stevenson–Wolfers plot, amidst a discussion elsewhere it was collaboratively observed that the plot does not so much refute the conventional wisdom as make it more precise. In view of the linear trend on the log-linear plot, the take-home message is that increased income brings increased life satisfaction with steadily diminishing returns. (That’s taking the data at face value, of course, without scrutinizing the instruments or taking the upper bound on the satisfaction index into account. By definition no one could have greater “life satisfaction” than 10/10.)

  7. Cornelioid says:

    Now that i notice it, any idea why only 7 of the 8 participants at the Edge conference signed the “consensus” statement?

  8. anon says:

    Naturally, I had to read the comments on the effective altruists article, and I figured my pessimism properly prepared me to expect anything. People insisting that working a successful job means you’re doing more damage than any amount of charity? Sure. People ascribing attention-whoring motives? Check. People offended that their direct charitable work is being compared to cutting a check? Naturally. People claiming that they’re actually greedy fucks because they’re claiming all that charity as deductions on income? Math? In my comment section?

    But I got blindsided by people who indicated, some implicitly and some explicitly, that saving children in the 3rd world is an actively negative outcome due to overpopulation. That shook me. I ran across several of those before I quit.

    • suntzuanime says:

      One of the privileges of internet citizenship is that you eventually gain the ability not to click on things you’re told not to click on.

    • Randy M says:

      I think it is either people using the article for any remotely related soapbaox they already had (capitalism evil! or whatever) or people feeling attacked by them promoting their method of altruism as optimal.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      If higher population is always good, shouldn’t that have been mentioned as an argument against contraception?

      • Aris Katsaris says:

        Preventing births isn’t the same thing as increasing deaths. The size of the population isn’t the only metric that matters.

  9. The Last Psychiatrist, of all people, comes out in favor of basic income guarantees. I mean, if they existed he’d probably say society was terrible for letting them exist. But since they don’t exist, he’s happy to proclaim society terrible for not considering them, and that’s what’s important!

    There’s convincing evidence that the Last Psychiatrist is a lady. (I also assumed that the author was male.)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      The “convincing evidence” seems to be that ze sometimes talks about beauty products. That’s…pretty weak.

      In this post he talks about a (hypothetical) situation where he’s attracted to a female patient (in a way that analyzes the potential attraction without bringing up the complications lesbianism would cause), and a (non-hypothetical) situation where one of his patients is viewing him as a father figure. I’d say that’s a heck of a lot more convincing than “he sometimes writes about beauty products”, especially since his modus operandi is such that critiquing beauty products to make fun of society and advertising is exactly the sort of thing he would look for an opportunity to do whether he used them himself or not.

      • The only strong prior evidence that the Last Psychiatrist is male is demographic. When I saw this quote, in particular:

        That’s the world I’m stuck in, and though I haven’t burned a bra in years I do somewhat rely on feminists to nudge the bar consistently higher so my theoretical daughters don’t have to rely on penis or Prozac to live happily ever after. So where my girls at?

        I updated heavily towards zir being female. One expects zir to be good at simulating other selves, but I didn’t notice similarly idiomatic masculine speech in your linked post. Perhaps I just haven’t met the type of men who would refer to burning a bra (not that I find it objectionable).

        • Scott Alexander says:

          I interpreted that comment as sort of sarcastic, kind of like the way I said in my last post “When I was in medical school, my textbooks almost never had names like Pharmageddon.” I wasn’t implying they *actually* sometimes rarely did have names like that, I was just being silly to make a point.

          I didn’t say that my linked post had idiomatic usage, just that the tendency of zir patients to use zir as a father figure (instead of a mother figure), and zir natural tendency to talk about zir sexual attraction to female patients (rather than male patients, or at least bring up lesbianism) was pretty strong evidence either that ze’s male or trying very hard to pretend to be so (in which case ze wouldn’t’ve let the bra thing slip)

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Looking for more info, I find this paragraph in the blog:

          You mean, “I just want to make sure you didn’t make it up.” Because if I made it up, then it stands entirely on my back. Like an American, the shortcut you use for difficult issues is to judge their proponent as a proxy. If you don’t like some ideas, look for hypocrisy, discredit the speaker. Which will be easy to do with me, I assure you. Heavy drinking, womanizing, misanthropic… maybe not even a psychiatrist. There. Do you win?
          So at the very least, ze describes zirself as “womanizing”.

        • I concede. It looks like my beliefs were not robust in the face of new evidence.

      • hf says:

        Even before reading on, I thought at least one piece seemed like anti-evidence. Sure, a woman could dislike a story about the sexist world she lives in. For example, she could think the author doesn’t make it clear enough that we should oppose the same. But come on.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      If you don’t start with the disclaimer that Alone repeatedly claims to be male, you haven’t read enough to have an opinion.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Score one for Quora. Not (just) for having the answer, but for having a hit on google. Reddit had the answer earlier, and has the hit for some versions of the question, but it isn’t clear from the excerpt that it has the answer. And it might only show up on google because Quora links to it.

      Also, he has for years used a male pseudonym, Edward Teach. Of course, you could say that’s not a male pseudonym, but a pirate pseudonym.

  10. suntzuanime says:

    The rise of democracy is supposed to *restore* our faith in humanity? Somebody hasn’t read Reactionary Philosophy In An Enormous, Planet-Sized Nutshell.

    • Alex says:

      I re-read that article, I didn’t see an argument against democracy in there. Would you be willing to provide me with/ link me to one?

      (I have read many arguments of the form “If democracy were a horrible system, then you wouldn’t notice because of various biases”, however I looking for an actual criticism of democracy preferably with an alternative specified).

  11. Randy M says:

    Is there any reason to keep or develop that form system for yes/no/yea/nay? Maybe as a way of implicitly restating the question to make sure you are on the same page and don’t accidently miscommunicate.

    • Deiseach says:

      There is also the Irish form, where if the answer to any question “Will you do such-and-such?” is “I will, yeah” – that means “no” 🙂

    • Creutzer says:

      Well, there is sort of. If someone says “John isn’t smart” and the response is “yes”, what does it mean? “yes, I agree with you”, or “yes, he is”. Similarly for “no”. You need a convention for whether the response particle associated with the embedded proposition or with the whole, negated proposition. Presumably, such conventions are pretty unstable. The fact that children have trouble acquiring them and go through a phase where they systematically do it wrong (in 3-way systems no less, where doing it one way really is wrong) is evidence in favor of it.

      If you add at least a third element – say, used to deny a negative proposition; I’m not sure if there are languages that have an affirm-positive/affirm-negative/deny-negative contrast, you get a much more stable situation. In that case, you may be relying on Bayesian inference to figure out the fourth case correctly. Having a four-way system, if that indeed occurs – I haven’t checked if that really exists -, saves you that step.

    • Julia says:

      French and Danish have two versions of “yes.”

      It means when someone asks, “You don’t like cheese, right?” you don’t have to say, “No, I do” or “Yes, I don’t.” There’s a confirming yes and a contradictory yes.

  12. Sam Rosen says:

    “People everywhere report more satisfaction as they grow richer.”

    Satisfaction tracks reflective happiness, not experiential happiness.

    We’ve known for a while that wealth brings more reflective happiness. (Probably because you feel higher status.) The question is, does your moment to moment happiness increase with wealth?

  13. @Johnwbh says:

    Slightly odd meta question

    How do you write these posts? Do you write down interesting articles and your opinions on them as they come up or do you sit down at some point and think “what have I read recently?” (I have a continuous facebook/twitter output of interesting articles, but your method seems better,)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I browse Reddit and stuff like that, and when I find something interesting I copy it to a notepad file.

  14. Vaniver says:

    “The old conventional wisdom was that happiness research had showed money doesn’t make people happier after their basic needs are met. The new conventional wisdom is that nope, money still makes you happier no matter how much of it you have.”

    No, the research is the exact same as it’s always been. The key words to focus on are “happiness” and “satisfaction,” which are different things measured differently (as an example: “how many times did you smile yesterday?” vs. “How do you feel your life is going?”). Money barely impacts happiness, but strongly impacts satisfaction.

    For some reason, it seems that very science journalists are aware of this basic fact, after which all the ‘conflicting’ research slides immediately into place.

    • Pawel Aleksander Fedorynski says:

      It is a huge stretch to claim that the common usage of the word “happiness” matches more closely “Emotional Well Being = the quality of a person’s everyday experience such as joy, fascination, anxiety, sadness, anger, and affection” than “Life Evaluation = a person’s thoughts about his or her life (on a longer time scale).” There is a big difference between “Are you happy?” and “Are you enjoying yourself right now?” (Go ask any parent.)

      It’s possible that psychologists use the word “happiness” for “Emotional Well Being”. It wouldn’t be the first time scientists caused confusion by assigning a meaning to a word which is different but not completely unrelated to its vernacular usage. But the meme “research proves that money above $75k doesn’t bring more happiness” has never been true.

  15. Multiheaded says:

    Kind of hopeful that Yahoo’s acquisition might destroy Tumblr

    I realise you’re being ironic, but… but… don’t even joke about taking away my porn! Seriously, it’s probably the best source of (image) porn/erotica out there by now – with, like, dozens to hundreds of blogs for every possible fetish and aesthetic. (I’ve seen the Stereotypical 16-Year-Old Hipster SJW Girl tumblrs, but I’m really not interested in whatever they get up to.)

    • Deiseach says:

      I must be following the wrong Tumblr blogs because I haven’t seen what I’d call “porn” (yes, NSFW stuff but that’s within fandoms and a lot of it is hand-drawn art not computer-generated and yes, some naked self-photos but that was actually within the context of a discussion of transgenderism).

      So is there really all that much commercial porn out there? The worries I saw expressed were on the lines of “If they’re going to try and make Tumblr ‘family friendly’ and attract advertisers, they’ll ban anything they consider ‘porn’ whether it is or not”. I remember the uproar on Livejournal when it tried banning that kind of material, which meant sites promoting (for example) breast feeding or talking about women’s health were lumped in with “Naughty Nymphettes Pure Filth Dirty Sexy XXXXX”.

      • anodognosic says:

        I am, of course, giving myself away here, but yes, porn is huge on tumblr–mainly images and animated GIFs, not so much videos, none of it making anyone any money even if it was produced as commercial porn, because it’s mostly people reposting from other sources or reblogging from other tumblrs. The ease of sharing content makes it a particularly convenient platform for browsing and for representing, and as Multiheaded put it, every possible fetish and aesthetic. Since finding porn is all about hitting the very specific and very personal spot between boring and squicky, tumblr is kind of the ideal platform for it.

        • Deiseach says:

          You find what you’re looking for, I suppose 🙂 Since I’m not particularly interested in normal* porn imagery, I don’t go looking for it so I haven’t encountered it on Tumblr.

          *Hastily clarifies what she means in case anyone thinks I have exotic and unusual fetishes; I mean I’m not particularly interested in looking at naked women, especially pouting women with elaborate makeup thrusting surgically-enhanced breasts at the camera with captions about how filthy these dirty sluts are).

        • Earnest Peer says:

          Deiseach, I’m pretty sure you can find porn tumblrs roughly catering to your tastes whatever they might be.

        • anodognosic says:

          Tumblr is precisely optimal for seeking out niche and non-mainstream pornography without having to slog through the reams of boring puckered pneumatics that you bring up. Barriers to entry are minimal, and to sharing are nil. A relative few users post images from sources outside tumblr, and these images bounce around, percolating to their respective crannies, so that if you follow the links, you have a pretty good chance of finding blogs that cater to an aesthetic that is very close to your own.

        • Deiseach says:

          Earnest, the key there is “looking for it”. I tend to stick to my little fandom niche of Tumblr and since I’m not searching tags for nudity etc. I don’t get much* exposure to it. I was just surprised (though I suppose I should not have been) that the availability of porn would be a concern.

          *”Much”, not “no”. There was one ask on a blog I follow for advice on, and I quote, “ancient dwarves sex postions”. To which I can only agree with the answer given:

          Look, I’m sorry.

          But what sort of idiot do you have to be to even entertain the idea for a second that JRR Tolkien wrote about ancient dwarven sex positions?

          Use goddamn common sense this time round sweetie.

          Never mind the Original Series Star Trek necrophilia slash fanfiction which another blogger recalled with horrified fascination.

          Rule 34 applies on Tumblr as much as anywhere else, I know 🙂

        • Earnest Peer says:

          Rule 34 doesn’t apply to tumblr “just as much as anywhere else”, it applies *much more*.

  16. Romeo Stevens says:

    Auction the unemployed is the best take on guaranteed income I’ve seen.

    Not perfect but much much more detailed than most proposals.

  17. Rachael says:

    It looks (from that Wikipedia link) like the four-form system was one person’s opinion (and even he used it wrongly) rather than a widespread grammatical feature. There are plenty of made-up “rules” like that in contemporary English too.

    • endoself says:

      He didn’t use the four-form system incorrectly, he used the word affirmative instead of negative. His sentence is correctly negative, though he calls it affirmative, so it seems more likely that ‘affirmative’ and ‘negative’ confused him, not the four-form system. The cited statistical evidence in Chaucer and his approximate contemporaries is pretty strong evidence that More didn’t just make it up.

  18. Creutzer says:

    The early English four-form system – apparently “yea” and “nay” were quite a bit more complicated than just archaic versions of “yes” and “no”. And apparently we’ve all been using “yes” and “no” wrong our entire life.

    Heh, yes. These are complicated words! A number of languages have three (the third being a word for denying a negative sentence), which is sufficient to remove the ambiguity. Four seems excessive. By the way, I’m told that English has variation in how “yes” and “no” are used with negative sentences; that would explain why there seems to be so much confusion about it. Languages in general seem to differ in which way around they do it.

    • Deiseach says:

      Irish is frustrating that way; there isn’t really a simple equivalent to “yes” and “no”. We have “tá” and “níl” (which are used for ‘yes’/’no’ but really are more forms of the copula) and “sea”/”ní hea” which mean “it is”/”it is not”.

      “Is the sun shining?” “Sea” (It is) or “Ní hea” (it is not). “Do you like strawberries?” You would have to say “I do like them” or “I do not like them”, not “Yes” or “No”.

      What I do like is our two “if” clauses, “Má” and “Dá”. “Má” is used with simple conditions and events in the future which are considered likely or probable, and with most verb tenses. (“Is Joe coming with us to the pub?” “If he’s finished on time” would most likely be a “má” answer).

      “Dá” is used in unlikely or improbably future conditions, and for contrary-to-fact conditions, and with the conditional tense. “Will Phil Hogan drop the property tax?” “If pigs fly” is a “dá” answer 🙂

  19. John says:

    I just want to say that your conversation with Marc from Bad Catholic has been thoughtful, witty, and still civil. While I’m certainly on Marc’s side when it comes to contraception and abortion, I’m all for smart, thoughtful bloggers of all shapes and sizes and will be following your blog from now on too. 🙂

    Also, I’m totally going to start holding people to their moments. :-p

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Thank you. I commented on his latest piece today; hope he sees it and that we get some more interesting discussion.

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