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Links for Octember

The San Francisco Bay Area, where I lived last year, is famous for its history of odd characters, most famously Emperor Norton. I was worried that my current home state of Michigan would seem dull by comparison. I shouldn’t have worried. Here is the story of the 19th century King Strang, Imperial Primate of the Halcyon Order of the Illuminati, who ruled over a polygamist island kingdom of 2600 people just off the Michigan coast.

NAACP, KKK leaders meet to discuss race issues. Meeting goes well, Klan official joins NAACP on the spot. Meanwhile, bloggers with ever so slightly different definitions of ‘privilege’ continue hurling vicious insults at each other through thirty pages of comment threads.

Dr. Brid McGrath was my lab partner in medical school. Now she’s become an advocate for doctors’ rights in Ireland – a more serious issue than you would expect, given that interns and other junior doctors are often asked to work 24-36 hour shifts under terrible conditions suffering constant abuse for minimal pay. Articles she’s written include A Standard Below Basic Human Rights – How Doctors Are Treated In Ireland, and Pain, Shame, and Blame – The Emotional Lives Of Doctors. This is especially timely as Irish junior doctors are preparing to go on strike next week, demanding among other things an end to 100-hour weeks. Go ahead, small group of commenters who continually prophesy doom about government-run healthcare; you’ve earned this one.

A Nested List Of Everything In The Universe. You think I’m joking, but I’m not.

The Fall And Rise Of Gene Therapy. In 1999, an attempt to cure a metabolic disorder through genetic engineering went disastrously wrong, and everyone decided to abandon the field rather than be tainted with the same brush. Now gene therapy is finally starting to make a promising comeback.

Reason # 9245801 that our entire education system is a colossal fraud: students learn better from non-tenure-track than from tenure-track professors.

DialectQuiz – answer some questions about the way you speak (do you call it “soda” or “pop”?) and they will tell you what part of the United States your dialect best matches (probably where you grew up). The website seems very certain that I grew up in New York City, which is interesting because I in fact spent age 0 – 18 in California, but both of my parents grew up in New York City. I now have slightly more skepticism about Judith Rich Harris’ idea that children absorb culture from their friends rather than their parents.

Did you know it’s the law that all mountains on Saturn’s moon Titan must be named after mountains in Tolkien books? Or that all plains on Titan have to be named after planets from Dune? Actually, pretty much all geographical features on Titan are pretty neat.

Reason # 9245802 that our entire education system is a colossal fraud.

gwern on brainwashing: contrary to conventional wisdom, even in optimal conditions it doesn’t actually work.

How To Argue About Research You Don’t Like: A Flowchart. This is meant as mockery, but the scary thing is that following it would be an improvement in 99% of cases.

A Cheat Sheet For Determining Which Old Paintings Are By Which Famous Artists. The last one is the best.

Pregnant women with more morning sickness will go on to have smarter kids. Much smarter kids. One study found that 21% of morning-sickness kids scored above 130 on an IQ test, compared to only 7% of no-morning-sickness kids. Competing theories include a role for related hormones in brain development, or more plausibly morning sickness doing a really good job in its likely evolutionary role of making the mother avoid toxins dangerous to the developing fetus.

The government, including Michelle Obama, is launching a giant health initiative urging Americans to drink more water. But drinking more water won’t help your health, and no one including the people running the campaign has a good reason for why they’re doing it.

Russian man shoots stranger in argument about Kant’s philosophy. Remember, people, deontology kills.

I never stop being amazed at how many absolutely perfect moments in history I had previously missed. For example, Allen Funt, host of Candid Camera, and the entire Candid Camera crew, get on a plane to fly to their next filming location. The plane gets hijacked by terrorists. The passengers see Funt and the camera crew on the plane and refuse to believe that they are really being hijacked, instead assuming it is a Candid Camera stunt. To what I can only assume is the terrorists’ increasing confusion, the passengers start laughing and clapping. This actually happened!

Or: Galileo discovers that Saturn has rings and Venus has phases. He wants to keep his discoveries secret but make sure he can take credit for them if someone else discovers later. Nowadays we would use a hash. Galileo instead released them in the form of anagrams, daring other astronomers to unscramble the puzzle. Kepler comes up with some half-assed guesses at the anagrams – some awful bastardized Latin pseudo-sentences that sort of mean “Mars has two moons” and “Jupiter has a giant red spot on it”. As far as anagrams go, Kepler’s unscramblings were totally 100% laughably wrong. Yet several centuries later, it was discovered that totally unbeknownst to either Galileo or Kepler, Mars has two moons and Jupiter has a giant red spot on it. This actually happened!.

Yeah, so, you know that recession we’re going through? And how the rich are taking a larger and larger share of the pie? Well, disposable income among the poor and middle class is probably at an all-time high. Welfare states are amazing things.

Are Video Games Influencing Our Children To Run Too Many Errands?

Paul Krugman points out that among all the questioning about whether we will ever be able to control spiraling health care costs, Medicaid has no trouble controlling costs at all and they’ve been stable since the start of the century. Suggested takeaway – government technocrats designing health care for the poor are free to get it right; people choosing their own health care will never say “no” and so their costs will double every decade or so with little corresponding increase in quality.

Six Castles That Cost Less Than An Apartment In New York City. You couldn’t pay me to live in New York City. But dibs on castle # 4.

Church Members Mistreat Homeless Man In Church Unaware It Is Their Pastor In Disguise. Pretty funny and pretty impressive, although “mistreat” seems a little strong. I tend to not reply to random scary-looking strangers trying to get my attention either, not because I’m a bad person who looks down on the homeless, but because I find unplanned social situations stressful, or expect to be manipulated into a situation where I have to do something for them or else feel guilty. And giving money to beggars isn’t always such a great idea. I’m not sure to what degree Christian doctrine allows or doesn’t allow these church members to take those sorts of considerations into account.

Yet another article on the amazing therapeutic and nootropic promise of LSD. But this one has a twist – the idea of LSD micro-dosing! Take a tiny fraction of a regular dose – they suggest – and instead of merging with the Universal Fractal Consciousness, you just feel a little better, calmer, more productive, and more “in tune” during your day. A random person on Reddit reports success, and that’s good enough for me. Too bad I’m in a position of responsibility where I have to serve as a Positive Role Model for others and so probably shouldn’t try it.

This is a just another mildly funny satire until you reach the comments, and then it becomes another one of those things that saps your faith in humankind.

Which means it’s about time for something that restores your faith in humankind. Last year Raemon from Less Wrong put on a really nice humanist Winter Solstice ritual which I got to attend. This year he’s planning to go much bigger including a Kickstarter fundraiser and a really nifty website. I probably won’t be able to make it as it’s two days before my big licensing examination, but if you think you can make it to New York and enjoy song, dance, ritual, food, cheer, and friends, give it a try.

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44 Responses to Links for Octember

  1. Pawel Aleksander Fedorynski says:

    brainwashing: contrary to conventional wisdom, even in optimal conditions it doesn’t actually work

    So, are you saying Robert Cialdini is full of shit? In the book “Influence” he relates the brainwashing of American POWs by Red China as a fact.

    • gwern says:

      If you had clicked-through, you would’ve see that was dealt with. Almost all of the POW brainwashing failed in the short run and long run, huge resources were spent working on the POWs, and you only get ‘success’ when you count anything as collaboration even when the POWs in question saw the collaboration as a pragmatic tactic to eg. get out word to the world that they were still alive.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Everything Cialdini says is compatible with Gwern’s claims. Even the things he is widely misquoted as saying are somewhat compatible, but you should be nervous trusting your memory of someone who generates extensive misquotes.

  2. Creutzer says:

    The website seems very certain that I grew up in New York City, which is interesting because I in fact spent age 0 – 18 in California, but both of my parents grew up in New York City. I now have slightly more skepticism about Judith Rich Harris’ idea that children absorb culture from their friends rather than their parents.

    I don’t think that’s very surprising. Unfortunately, I can’t open the quiz for some reason, but if they ask for things like “soda” vs. “pop”, then it seems likely that the lexical items they use are ones that are acquired from parents before peer-driven socialization even begins.

  3. David Gerard says:

    Homeless man -> preacher on Snopes. Status: undetermined. But Newsvine clearly just c’n’ped the latest version of the glurge in question.

  4. lmm says:

    Didn’t we already expect tenure-track professors to be more focused on research (and publications), and thus make poorer teachers?

    • Eric Rall says:

      I think there’s an assumption that “being a good researcher” and “being a good teacher at the college level” are strongly correlated, since mastery of the subject matter contributes strongly to both. I get the impression that this assumption is the primary justification for merging the roles of researcher and college teacher into a single job.

      I suspect the assumption has a lot going for it at the graduate level (at least for MS/MA/PhD programs; JDs, MDs, MBAs, and other professional graduate programs are a different story), where the students are effectively apprentice researchers themselves, being brought up to speed on the current state-of-the-art research in their fields and being trained on how to conduct academic research. But at the undergraduate level, I doubt the assumption.

  5. Deiseach says:

    I have never been to America in my life, but taking the 140 question version of the quiz, I sound like I come from New York (New York city or Yonkers), Massachusetts (Boston or Lowell), or Connecticut (Stamford).

    Considering the large amount of Irish emigration to the east coast of the United States, I am not surprised our version of English had such an effect on local pronunciation and vocabulary.

    • @Johnwbh says:

      Interesting. By contrast I (a lifetime uk resident) got california and west coast generally (taking the 25 question version).

      Maybe I’m influenced more by california produced television?

      • Deiseach says:

        Oh, the amount of American slang and references I’ve picked up from television, movies, books and being on the Internet is immense, and I think we’re all influenced by it. To the point where I’ve heard born, bred and buttered Irish people pronounce the letter “Z” as ‘zee’, not ‘zed’: granted, this was in the context of computer/IT training, and since all the software was Microsoft and hence American voice-over, American spelling, and American pronunciation, I think younger people are being brain-washed into talking this way.

        There is no earthly reason I should know what a “s’more” (sic) is, especially as I’ve never encountered the thing in reality, but I do.

        Re: Yonkers, the result is even funnier because I had a great-aunt (a sister of my grandmother) who emigrated to America and ended up living in Yonkers 🙂

  6. Zakharov says:

    I’m Australian (my parents are Californian); apparently I talk like someone from around Albany, or according to the cities, Newark.

  7. Alejandro says:

    I had three red clusters in the dialect map: Washington DC, Boston, and Miami. They seem to correspond respectively to the effects living in the DC area for the last two years, having lived four years in the UK previously, and being from South America.

    Also, Michigan was my only (but very distinctive) dark blue spot. Is speech there much different to the rest of the US, or is it just a particular direction that is orthogonal to mine?

  8. Nick T says:

    Judging by the front page, the source of the video-game article is an Onion-alike.

  9. I haven’t followed this in detail, but the ‘Drink water’ initiative could have the aim to decrease sweetened drinks consumption, they just ‘want to keep it positive’ not to stir-up a counter lobby from the manufacturers. Either that, or they are indeed clueless. Anti-Hanlon’s razor? Never attribute to good will that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

    Jupiter’s red spot was discovered only some 50 years after Galileo by Hooke and Cassini.

    • Alexander Stanislaw says:

      That’s very clever. I hope this is the true explanation.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      They mentioned the soft drink explanation in the article, but if that’s what they want they’re sure going about it in a strange way.

      • Deiseach says:

        Does anybody know where this “drink eight glasses of water a day” idea came from? I’ve even seen it as “drink eight pints of water a day” which would have your kidneys floating out your ears!

        All kinds of health and beauty and medical advice columns trot out the “You need to be hydrated and humans need eight glasses a day”, but did anyone ever get a solid reason for this?

      • Reading through the article, they are anxiously defecting about it:

        Another reporter: Are we talking about replacing sugary drinks and sodas with water?”

        Lawrence Soler, president and CEO of Partnership for a Healthier America, fielded that one. “It’s less a public health campaign than a campaign to encourage drinking more water. To that end, we’re being completely positive. Only encouraging people to drink water; not being negative about other drinks. ”

        It is clear they do not want an open fight with “soda”/”pop” companies. Fighting obesity this way is likely not the only motivation for the campaign, but I am sure they were thinking about it and consciously decided to not formulate this point explicitly. I think this was a good call at the price of sounding more clueless then they really are. Of course it is still a question whether the campaign will be efficient enough to be worth it.

        • Deiseach says:

          I know: of all the health campaigns to get off the ground “Drink more water!” is one that sounds a bit weak.

          Are they going to talk about the diuretic effects of caffeine? If it’s a campaign to replace sugary drinks so that if you’re drinking one or two litres of non-diet soft drinks a day, you’re ingesting extra calories, then switching to water may be better.

          On the other hand, will they mention that you don’t need to buy bottled water, the stuff out of the tap will do as well?

          And finally, are people really that badly under-hydrated? It may well be possible, but I’d like to know more if it is so!

        • Katie Hartman says:

          Look at the corporate sponsors.

          Aquafina is owned by PepsiCo. Arrowhead, Poland Springs, Ice Mountain, and Purelife are Nestlé. Dasani? Coca-Cola. These are not companies that stand to gain by getting people to replace their soda consumption with a product that can be bought bottled *or* drawn from the tap for (essentially) nothing.

          These parent companies are well aware of how much success the food industry has had increasing the overall level of consumption. I would be very surprised if they weren’t very diligent in the way they approached the leverage they have with this sort of campaign.

          The key takeaways of the video ad seem to be “drink when you feel slow/tired/blah-ish” and “water is a very good choice.” I wouldn’t be surprised if the campaign caused an increase in consumption of a wide variety of beverages.

  10. James says:

    Russian man shoots stranger in argument about Kant’s philosophy. Remember, people, deontology kills.

    I think that the victim is the Kantian. He must have instructed his opponent that he is morally obliged not to harm anyone. How better to demonstrate that such a claim is fatuous?

    • Yadal says:

      Define “morally obliged”. Assuming the Kantian can’t what they’re talking about is incoherent anyway, but for some possible definitions at least it is compatible with what actually happened.

      • Creutzer says:

        Well, Kant wanted to say that behaving immoral is irrational, so that, once one has seen his argument, one should be compelled to behave morally in the same way one feels compelled by instrumental rationality considerations. That, at least, is the joke here.

  11. Alexander Stanislaw says:

    Disclaimer: I am not a graduate student or a PhD.

    The frustrated graduate student seems to have three main problems with academia:
    1) Academia is structured like every other business and he doesn’t like how businesses are structured.
    2) He think that academia should be about originality, creativity and the unrelenting pursuit of knowledge.
    3) Modern academics are too concerned with their self image and how good they look which creates perverse incentives as what research they conduct, and how they conduct it.

    I am sort of sympathetic to 3 but not to 1 and 2. Regarding 2 I’m too lazy to rehash Robin Hanson’s philosophy towards originality and brilliance as well as Luke Muelhauser’s so I’ll just link them here. Tl dr originality is overrated and boring work is underrated.

    As for 1, the frustrated graduate student doesn’t like the fact that researchers don’t do much research instead allowing their students to do it. However he ignores the reason why this is so: Comparative advantage. The senior researcher may have an absolute advantage to conducting experiments and doing research, but the student has a comparative advantage in doing research. There are a few reasons for this (which generalizes to why other businesses are structured this way):
    1) The senior researcher has a comparative advantage is teaching others how to do research. If the students don’t learn how to do experiments themselves, then who is going to be the next generation of researchers?
    2) The senior researcher needs to take in account the bigger picture. For example what sorts of hypothesis to test what sorts of experiments to conduct, and where to take the lab’s research agenda next. Not to mention keeping the lab up and running which is more important in some fields (biology) than others (math).
    Its not that strange really. Head chefs don’t cook for customers at a fancy restaurant, they come up with the menu and manage while the junior chefs cook. If there is a better way of doing things I’d be interested to hear it.

  12. Jeff Kaufman says:

    The plane gets hijacked by terrorists. The passengers see Funt and the camera crew on the plane and refuse to believe that they are really being hijacked

    Here’s a news story from 1969:

    Candid Camera Team About Hijacked Plane

    MIAMI (UPI) – An Eastern Air Lines Boeing 727 airliner carrying television personality Allen Funt, 86 other passengers, and a crew of six was hijacked and delivered to Cuba today.

    “Looks like we’re going south of Miami today,” the Federal Aviation Administration quoted the pilot in reporting the ninth hijacking of an American airliner this year. [Note: This was February 3rd.]

    The plane was Flight 7 from New York to Miami. It was hijacked at 10:45 a.m. EST, about 90 miles east of Charlestown S.C., and landed safely in Havana at 12:37 p.m. EST, the FAA said.

    Aboard the plane with Funt, the master of ceremonies of the popular television show called “Candid Camera,” were his wife, Marilyn, two children, Wiliam 1 1/2 and Juliette, 2 1/2, and three members of the camera crew, according to Bart Kaitz of Allen Funt Productions in New York.

    Kaitz said Funt was enroute to film a portion of a movie called “What Do You Say to a Naked Lady?” which would be distributed to theaters.

    The FAA said it had no details of the hijacking other than the message from the pilot. The plane was in contact with the FAA control center in Jacksonville Fla., at the time it was hijacked.

    It was the 12th successful hijacking to cuba this year, the other three involving foreign aircraft.

    Barely made the front page because this was a time when hijackings to Cuba were common and it was the 25th hijacking in the twelve months and one of two that day.

  13. vaniver says:

    I’m not sure to what degree Christian doctrine allows or doesn’t allow these church members to take those sorts of considerations into account.

    Basically, it doesn’t. That doesn’t stop people from believing it does.

  14. Kevin says:

    A late contribution: The benefits of a total surveillance state

    The author might fit in well in Raikoth…

    • Romeo Stevens says:

      Along these lines I recommend the hominid trilogy by Robert Sawyer

    • Alexander Stanislaw says:

      The comments made me very sad. I don’t know why I kept reading.

    • Yadal says:

      As far as the author goes he’s pretty much right. That doesn’t change the fact that if a realistic option emerges (admittedly unlikely) it would be best to prevent such states coming into being and that if a realistic option so emerges it will be worth considerable work and manpower to prevent it.

  15. Brian says:

    Can anyone explain to me what a “qwubble” is? In the Nested Universe link, each quark expands into a ‘qwubble’, which contain things like “donutverse,” “paraverse,” and “retroverse,” which in turn expand into new universes.

    Is “qwubble” some actual term in physics I’m just not familiar with? Is there a theory about the fundamental nature of the the world, where quarks are made of qwubbles, which are made of universes, or something? Or is this just a joke?

  16. David Gerard says:

    The mindhacks article is a mild rewrite of the Adequacy classic of the genre. I’m sure there are predecessors aplenty (I’m not aware of Twain having written one, but he should have).

  17. Paul Torek says:

    evolutionary role of making the mother avoid toxins dangerous to the developing fetus.

    When my wife was pregnant, she could smell a half-rotten potato wrapped in a bag and sitting in the back of a closed kitchen cupboard, from the upper floor! (And vociferously demand that I remove that horrible smell from the house. Naturally I couldn’t smell it, nor find it.) And now I know why.

  18. Phil Goetz says:

    Re. “disposable income among the poor and middle class is probably at an all-time high” — that article is based on /household/ income. Most households had one wage-earner in 1970; most have two today. The author dismissed this factor by observing that most households had the same number of workers in 2007 as in 2012; but 2007 is not 1970. Redo the analysis on a per-worker basis and compare 2012 to 1973. Then recall that the total (CPI-adjusted) wealth of the United States has grown by a factor of perhaps 10 since 1973 (hard to compute since derivatives have taken on financial importance). Government benefits would have to be over 1000% of income for you to say that the poor benefitted as much from growth as did the rich after taking benefits into account.

  19. Nestor says:

    A link for you
    A review of a new novel called… DSM-V

    • ozymandias says:

      What an awful article.

      For one thing the author seems to object to the fact that the DSM categorizes mental illnesses. Like, the DSM isn’t supposed to have deep insight into the human soul; it’s supposed to classify typical ways that people are dysfunctional into categories so that doctors know how to treat them and so treatment can be billed on insurance. I dunno, does the author complain when biologists describe the traits of a Botaurus stellaris and contrast it with a Botaurus lentiginosis? When a classicist lists out the different ways that Latin uses the ablative?

      I also think that the essay shows a stunning lack of awareness that mental illness is a real actual thing that really actually exists. Mania is different from happiness, unless I’ve been wrong this whole time and happiness is typically characterized by only having to sleep for three hours at a time or racking up tens of thousands of dollars in debt. I have a personality disorder; my occupational and social functioning is not impaired by my Awesome Rebelliousness and Nonconformity, it is impaired by the fact that sometimes my reaction to people mildly criticizing me is to curl in a ball sobbing for twelve hours and then punish myself for being Worse Than Hitler. Like… treating mental illness and “art, literature, love, and humanity” are not opposed to each other. I assure you I would be so much better at art, literature, love, and humanity if I could leave the house on a regular basis.

      The thing is that… mental illness definitions sometimes sound like they refer to normal behavior. Like people often think that depression means being sad, and then are like “if the DSM gets its way then people will never be sad anymore!” But depression isn’t the same thing. “Sad” doesn’t leave you unable to leave your bed for days at a time, or losing ten pounds because eating seems like it would take too much energy, or thinking “man, the only reason I’m still alive is that killing myself is too much work.” We can eliminate that feeling and still have LOTS of sad feelings left. Grand passions, even!

      This is not to say that the DSM isn’t fucked in some ways (it is) or that mental illness is never used to pathologize deviant-but-functional behavior (it is) or that social factors don’t play a role in the development of mental illness (they do). It is not even to say that we should always cure mental illnesses; I think that cure for disability is a complicated question. But that article is a pile of denialist bullshit.

      I am a huge fan of the social model of disability. But the thing I don’t think people get is that impairment is a real thing. It is possible *both* that I am impaired by the fact that my brain doesn’t regulate emotions as well as normal people’s does, and that society constructs this impairment as a mental illness and worsens my situation by not accommodating me. Similarly, a person in a wheelchair is impaired because they can’t walk, but the fact that a ton of sidewalks aren’t wheelchair-compatible plays a pretty key role in the situation. To pretend that it’s all social, that no one has brains that don’t work as well as others, is to throw mentally ill people under the bus for Rebellion Points.

      • Nestor says:

        I took the whole thing as a joke, a performance piece that treats it as a dystopian novel, not an actual critique of the actual DSM-V

        Obviously one of us needs his sense of humour tuned up. Maybe it’s me!