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More Links For December

A old-timey schoolmaster is unnecessarily cruel to his students, caning them for the slightest offense real or imagined. His students get so angry that they revolt, tie up the schoolmaster, and leave him bound in the classroom, where he remains for hours before being rescued by a passing traveler. The schoolmaster complains to the father of one of the boys, the ringleader in the plot. The boy’s father – himself a judge – answers “Sic semper tyrannis!”. That boy? Albert Einstein Future US President John Tyler.

In retrospect, Amazon’s nifty-but-implausible drone delivery announcement being a way to make the headlines on Cyber Monday rather than a real plan makes perfect sense. The good news is that China seems to be genuinely working on this.

The drones – not even the promise of drone delivery, but just the existence of hexacopters and stuff like them – are one of a couple of things I’ve been thinking about in the past few months that make me more skeptical of the Great Stagnation. There’s also 3D-printed organs, self-driving cars, six or seven really promising new potentially revolutionary medical technologies, cost-effective renewable power, graphene + metamaterials, cheap genetic testing, and consumer virtual reality – though of course there’s still time for any of those to slip up before market. And another good technology in this category is tasty non-animal based meat.

Speaking of which – futurology is notoriously difficult and bad, but this Business Insider article on Twenty Trends That Will Dominate America’s Future seems surprisingly on the ball.

This month’s cancer “breakthrough” is carbon monoxide (popular, academic). Staying on the subject, I’ve been noticing how people like to say “The idea of a ‘cure for cancer’ is a popular myth; in reality cancer is hundreds of different diseases each of which will require its own cure”. They make an important point, and this is how nearly all cancer research thus far has proceeded, but it’s important to qualify this by mentioning that many cancers share a lot of similarities and that it’s by no means certain that powerful treatments that work across a wide variety of cancers won’t be found. Or if treatments are limited, they may be limited not by the traditional division of cancer (breast, lung, prostate) but by the cancer’s genetic makeup. This carbon monoxide thing, if it pans out, may be one such treatment. (Note: carbon monoxide is still a deadly poison and using it not under the guidance of a trained researcher is still a bad idea)

Doug S points out that a science fiction story sort of like my proposed genre treatment of Thanksgiving has already been done: Despoilers of the Golden Empire.

Also would make a good science fiction story: some bandits in Mexico capture a cargo truck. In the back, they find some very heavily armored and well-protected boxes and assume they’ve hit the jackpot. But when they pry them open, they find only a teaspoon of nondescript material. They shrug and make their escape. A week later, all of them are either dead or dying horribly, and the major governments of the world are on alert. This happened two weeks ago!

Your Ex Probably Doesn’t Have A Personality Disorder. I remember once managing to impress someone with my creepy psychiatrist powers. I mentioned I was a psychiatrist, and he said he thought his ex-girlfriend might have had a psychiatric disorder. I interrupted “Let me guess – borderline personality?” and he was pretty freaked out that I got it right first try without knowing him or his ex. The “secret” is that everyone diagnoses their ex-girlfriend with borderline personality disorder because it fits a lot of stereotypical complaints about the way women behave in relationships. As such, this article is a good one to read and useful. My only qualm about it is that, while it accurately points out that laymen just reading through a list of DSM criteria for an illness and seeing which ones seem to fit the subject doesn’t always work that well, it then implies that real psychiatrists have a much better way of doing things. If that’s true, I haven’t learned it yet. And the first time I suspected one of my patients might have borderline personality disorder, I asked my attending what I should do and she said “Go through the DSM criteria, see if she fits, and if she does, diagnose her”. I think the appropriate semantic stopsign here is “clinical experience”, but goodness only knows how much that helps.

Is Krampus The Christmas Demon Becoming Too Commercial? asks a real article that somebody actually published.

I’ve previously talked about “wet houses” which address alcoholism through an “if you can’t beat them, join them” philosophy of letting alcoholics drink as much as they want while having a roof over their heads and a supportive community. Now Amsterdam is trying a not dissimilar tactic of paying alcoholics in beer for help on city beautification projects.

Tilt-shifted astronomical images. Mini-space! Looks kind of like plankton or cells or crystals or something.

A police officer on what’s really happening behind all those “that brutal policeman got off with just ‘paid leave’! That’s like punishing someone with a vacation!” stories

Patri Friedman, one of the first people in our community to go polyamorous, has just come out as monogamous, and makes a guarded recommendation that other people should turn monogamous as well. Notable as a critique of polyamory from someone who’s been there and isn’t just playing the Shocked And Appalled At You Kids’ Depravity card.

The Worst Things For Sale Blog. Kind of addictive. Also contains lots of Amazon links in case hearing about how terrible a product is motivates you to want to buy it.

The 28 Funniest Notes Written By Kids In 2013.

There’s a new record cold temperature on Earth, and it’s in Michigan Antarctica.

Did you know that African immigrants to the United States have among the highest educational attainment of any demographic group and are over twice as likely as native-born white Americans to have college degrees?

New Mexico is the only state with an official question, a discovery which has started me thinking about what other states’ Official Questions should be.

Sentences you don’t often hear: “Approximately 1% of the total population of the country lived in the building”. Especially when the country in question is a quarter of the size of the United States. Also: “During [the building’s] first year, there were minor problems with coagulated blood clogging up the drainage”. Blok P.

Sky News headline posted on Reddit as “Why we need the Oxford Comma”: “Top stories: World leaders at Mandela tribute, Obama-Castro handshake and same-sex marriage date set”.

People confuse me with Scott Aaronson a lot – a confusion I don’t mind at all because he is awesome. Aaronson’s essay on 23andMe isn’t going to make things any less confusing. He says a lot of the same things I did, only more fluently and convincingly.

Last week I argued that government should strengthen welfare instead of trying to increase the minimum wage. Now David Neumark – an economist whose name came up a couple of times in the comments – argues that we are already sort of doing this. On the other hand, the way it’s being done is terrible and even worse than the minimum wage, because it ties the benefits to having children even though many people in poverty are childless and even though this punishes impoverished couples who want to wait until they’re financially stable enough to support children before having any.

You know (or “know”) that Nixon said he would have made a good Pope. But did you know that he said if rap had existed during his childhood, he would have become a rapper instead of a politician?

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46 Responses to More Links For December

  1. B.B. says:

    Scott Alexander said
    Did you know that African immigrants to the United States have among the highest educational attainment of any demographic group and are over twice as likely as native-born white Americans to have college degrees?

    I have heard this a couple of times before. What I never hear is where did they get these degrees from? How many of these degrees are from African universities which don’t exactly have stellar academic reputations? I’d also like some decent psychometric data on African immigrant cognitive ability. Jason Richwine calculated IQ scores from a reverse digit span test from the 2003 New Immigrant Survey, and found the children of African legal permanent resident immigrants only scored 89, while South Asian Indians scored 112. Granted, this is only a simple reverse digit span test, so maybe they’d score better on a full Wechsler battery. If anyone has any better data on this, feel free to point me to it.

    • ckp says:

      How about selection effects? Are these migrants from the existing African elite?

    • anodognosic says:

      I’ve heard one intriguing hypothesis which might help explain this phenomenon: universities want to boost their diversity and so apply a quota or some other system that privileges minorities in order to do that. African immigrants are not as historically disadvantaged as African-Americans, but both get lumped into the same category and are thus both beneficiaries of that affirmative action. As less disadvantaged than their Af-Am counterparts, African immigrant kids tend to be closer to the top of this artificial category, “Black”, in educational attainment. They end up tending to beat out the Af-Am kids for those spots in US universities, leading them to be overrepresented in higher education. I haven’t seen concrete evidence for this, but it seems plausible.

    • I looked into this once and it’s totally a selection effect: it’s much easier to get in if you have a degree already or come to the US to get one. Thirty seconds on Google turns up the following: (pdf source)

      U.S. immigration laws, which favor people who have
      relatives already living in this country, have the effect of ensuring that very few black Africans are allowed to become permanent residents here
      in the U.S.A. We must also take into account that a large number of black Africans who come to the United States do so under student visas to study at U.S. colleges and universities. Black Africans who come to the U.S. to further their education often belong to rather affluent and highly educated families in their nations on the African continent. In the early and mid-1980s more than 40,000 black Africans were studying at U.S. institutions of higher education … Many of these black college students end up staying in the United States after graduation.

      The statistics are different for populations that come in through other mechanisms. Somalis, for example, have one of the lowest rates of educational attainment—IIRC something like 9% college graduation rate.

    • antoine says:

      There are no conclusions to be made, because you do not know the original.nationality of the african test subjects. How.many somalis, nigerians, sudanese etc. took.part in the survey?

  2. Douglas Knight says:

    Clinical experience: one hypothesis is that psychiatrists have experience with a wider range of people and so are calibrated to see the behavior of the ex as normal. But if that’s true, they ought to be able to say so. In particular, either Scott has passed through this transformation and didn’t notice, or the instruction of his attending to naively read the DSM was problematic.

    Another hypothesis is that psychiatrists only diagnose people who have problems. But that doesn’t give me great confidence that the diagnosis is related to the problems.

    • misha says:

      or the dsm is actually fairly terrible!

    • ozymandias says:

      IDK, my prior that a random person at a mental hospital who seems to match the diagnostic criteria has BPD is way, way higher than my prior that a random person who seems to match the diagnostic criteria has BPD.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I think it might mean that there are a lot of very subtle hard-to-write-down things that help with diagnosis. For example, once you’ve seen a couple of severely depressed people, you start to recognize them just by their facial expression and voice.

      Clinical experience might be a sort of extensional learning, where someone points to you and says “This, this, and this person have borderline personality; that, that, and that person don’t”, and eventually you get hard-to-explain patterns in your head that you can use.

      I think this is an elegant theory but I’m not sure it actually happens.

      • Brian says:

        Well, I certainly don’t have the training you have, but I have noticed certain commonalities in behavior and interaction style between the three or four people I’ve met that I know to have credible BPD diagnoses (none of whom, incidentally, were among my exes). I could approximate some of them using words like “grandiose”, but they seem quite a bit more specific than that implies.

        So yeah, this model’s plausible to me, amateur and dilettante though I am. Though I couldn’t say whether it applies to everything in the DSM; BPD just happens to be one of maybe two personality disorders that I’ve had a reasonable amount of exposure to.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Your third paragraph expressions skepticism that extensional learning occurs. But doesn’t your first paragraph say that it happened to you? Are the first and second paragraphs supposed to be in contrast?

        Many forms of clinical experience seems very plausible to me. It’s just annoying that people don’t come out the end and admit that they aren’t really diagnosing by the book. My point was to suggest a mechanism by which they were diagnosing by the book and that laymen just don’t realize how extreme the conditions in the book are meant to be. But I think it’s more plausible that you are learning to do something real but completely different.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          The depression example is pretty clear-cut, but with BPD it’s like subtle hard-to-describe personality characteristics. I bet if you gave me five random people and said they all had a mental illness, I could pick up some subtle hard-to-describe personality similarity among them.

  3. Sniffnoy says:

    “Official question” link is broken.

  4. I think I’ve hit some sort of online maturity or something. I refused to continue with the Twenty Trends link because there was too little information per page down.

  5. Jack says:

    has just come out as monogamous

    Agh! The annoying thing is, I basically agree with everything he said in that post, and I agree that, presuming you have to choose between “LOTS AND LOTS OF SERIOUS FULL-TIME RELATIONSHIPS” and “ONE TRUE WUV FOR EVER AND EVER”, most people are likely to choose the first in their teens and twenties, and the second in their twenties/thirties/forties, for all the practical reasons he says.

    But I don’t see why it has to be a giant choice where one is right and one is wrong. When I first started to accept polygamy, my obvious interpretation was that, people could choose to have zero, or one, or more relationships, and saying “one is the correct number and anything else is stupid” and “two+ is the correct number and anything else is stupid” were equally unhelpful. Having decided that there are multiple options, what are the chances that everyone fits EXACTLY into one box, or EXACTLY into the other box? I sort of assumed it went without saying that different people would find different balances, and other people should respect whatever they found.

    The most common models I’ve seen work are (a) people with a lot of time, spending most of it maintaining 9 different relationships (b) people with a traditional primary relationship, with or without children, who have old friends they also occasionally sleep with (separately or as a couple), who have their own full-time lifestyle (c) stable triads or larger, with or without children (d) people who’ve outgrown disapproval, and done all their childbearing, and have two gentlemen/lady friends who they spend as much or as little time as they want with.

    I assumed it was obvious that multiple relationships normally take more time. (I guess, in theory, you might have two partners with EXACTLY COMPLEMENTARY needs, and spend no time doing the same thing with both of them. But I don’t imagine it’s normally that neat.) And that if you DO want to settle down and have children, the children, and one or two full-time shared caregivers absorb most of your energy. If, hey, it turns out that’s true, that seems good to know, but it doesn’t scream “OK, now everyone go back to considering ‘true love’ a binary on/off switch”, it just explains why many people live in that mode while they have children growing up.

  6. Brian says:

    Notable as a critique of polyamory from someone who’s been there and isn’t just playing the Shocked And Appalled At You Kids’ Depravity card.

    Yet when you get down into the actual arguments, they end up looking depressingly similar to those emanating from the Shocked At You Kids’ Depravity crowd. There’s even Pascal’s old trick of sneaking an infinity into your expected utility calculations and binding it to serve cultural norms; your kids really are that important to you, right?

    That said, the childrearing argument probably is the strongest; but even there I see an enormous excluded middle lurking in the center of the room.

    • Anatoly says:

      >Yet when you get down into the actual arguments, they end up looking depressingly similar to those emanating from the Shocked At You Kids’ Depravity crowd.

      This affinity is what makes it interesting, though – you can take it as (reasonably weak) evidence that the Shocked At You Kids crowd was right all along, but it takes some serious poly-time for the excitement to wear off and the pragmatic realities of time, effort, trust, dedication, etc. to reassert themselves. Which is, again, exactly as the Shocked At You Kids crowd people would predict – they’d say “just wait a few years…”

      The actual arguments, however, are very poor – sloppy naive evo-psych and excluded middles everywhere. At the next secret meeting of the Shocked At You Kids conspiracy, I’m going to propose pushing just the “conversion” and the “bitter experience” soundbites in our PR from this, and leave the arguments out of it.

  7. Gunlord says:

    I think neoreactionaries would point to the “stagflation/productivity gains have ground to a halt” in your business insider article as proof that the Great Stagnation is a Thing. On the other hand, the caption quotes someone as saying this may be related to unemployment, so as time goes on and more people return to work, we may begin to see productivity gains again.

  8. Doug S. says:

    A George Bernard Shaw character, on the phenomenon of the “undeserving poor”:

    DOOLITTLE: Don’t say that, Governor. Don’t look at it that way. What am I, Governors both? I ask you, what am I? I’m one of the undeserving poor: that’s what I am. Think of what that means to a man. It means that he’s up agen middle class morality all the time. If there’s anything going, and I put in for a bit of it, it’s always the same story: ‘You’re undeserving; so you can’t have it.’ But my needs is as great as the most deserving widow’s that ever got money out of six different charities in one week for the death of the same husband. I don’t need less than a deserving man: I need more. I don’t eat less hearty than him; and I drink a lot more. I want a bit of amusement, cause I’m a thinking man. I want cheerfulness and a song and a band when I feel low. Well, they charge me just the same for everything as they charge the deserving. What is middle class morality? Just an excuse for never giving me anything. Therefore, I ask you, as two gentlemen, not to play that game on me. I’m playing straight with you. I ain’t pretending to be deserving. I’m undeserving; and I mean to go on being undeserving. I like it; and that’s the truth. Will you take advantage of a man’s nature to do him out of the price of his own daughter what he’s brought up and fed and clothed by the sweat of his brow until she’s growed big enough to be interesting to you two gentlemen? Is five pounds unreasonable? I put it to you; and I leave it to you.

  9. Broken link in the second-to-last paragraph: argues that we are already sort of doing this. Should be argues that we are already sort of doing this, with “http://” in the URL.

  10. Eeuuah says:

    So I clicked through to the article about the record low temperatures and this jumped out at me:

    “scientists do routinely make naked 100 degree below zero dashes outside in the South Pole”

    I would like to know why this is, if anyone could enlighten me. Thank you in advance

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      Maybe to see if anyone has read this far?

    • Anonymous says:

      Because it feels awesome. As the sibling mentioned, they do this as part of a hot session in a sauna. Many people here in Finland do it as well, although of course here the temperature difference usually is just a meager 100 to 120 degrees Celsius.

      • I realize that, since Finns have been doing it for ages, it is clearly anatomically possible to survive sitting in a room with a >70°C temperature—but how?!? I mean, sure, it originated with the people who came up with blood sausage, salmiak, and sending metal bands to Eurovision, so there’s a record there of coming up with brilliant ideas that sound incredibly unintuitive, but…

        • Andy says:

          Native Americans do much the same thing, though I don’t know if their sweat lodges get up to 70C, and I haven’t heard of the refinement of running out into the snow. One thing that got emphasized when we were studying this kind of rituals in my Anthropology of Magic, Religion, and Witchcraft class was that many ceremonies of this kind require intense training and qualification in order to lead, so there’s always someone trained in contingencies if someone has a health issue. Some Native American traditions require a trained person to be outside the lodge to assist if necessary.

        • Kaj Sotala says:

          BenSix’s link describes an event where people died in a sweat lodge… after they had first fasted for 36 hours and been two days without water. *Any* physical exertion would have been dangerous after that. As long as you know your limits and don’t have any serious conditions, saunas are pretty much completely safe.

          (Indeed, as a Finn, my first reaction to Wesley’s question was, “uhh, what’s so weird about it”? 😀 70 C is actually considered relatively cool for a sauna…)

  11. ozymandias says:

    I feel like Patri’s post is true in the same sense that “if you’re really interested in your career, you don’t have any hobbies” is true. It is true that time and energy you spend gardening or knitting or playing Skyrim is not time you spend on a career. However, there are lots of reasonable objections to the argument, including “actually, my hobby enriches my career (different perspectives, networking, a chance to relax)”, “the marginal utility of more time and energy devoted to my career is basically zero,” and “actually, I want more than one thing.”

    • anon1 says:

      “So your children are the most important thing in the world to you…and you’ve decided to press your wife’s primal “GET RID OF THIS MAN” button because you want to cavort with a woman whose energetic temperature is a little different?”

      That goes a bit beyond “time is limited and you can’t be 100% committed to more than one thing at a time.” Seems to be assuming that one’s partner *must* be secretly unhappy with poly. At least if said partner is female.

      • Crimson Wool says:

        It also seems strange for it to be *women* who would be incredibly jealous of their partner’s have sex with other opposite-sex individuals. Evolutionarily, men suffer a lot worse from their wives cavorting about with other men, than women suffer from their husbands cavorting around with other women.

        The worst case scenario for men is false paternity. False paternity (if it goes unnoticed or unattended to) costs you your partner’s child-raising resources (since she spends them on a kid that isn’t yours), *and* your child-raising resources (since you spend them on a kid that isn’t yours). You don’t get any kind of genetic payout for this trick, since the kids aren’t yours.

        What’s the worst-case scenario for a woman? Her husband leaves her for another woman. This isn’t actually that bad: having multiple female partners is a good genetic trick for men to play, so her sons will likely inherit that tendency, and reproduce more successfully. Yes, she loses her husband’s child-raising resources, which is bad, but it’s not as bad as what men lose.

        • How much are memetic reproduction and emotional connection to children worth to men? It seems like they’re worth to some men, since some men are willing to adopt.

        • Crimson Wool says:

          How much are memetic reproduction and emotional connection to children worth to men? It seems like they’re worth to some men, since some men are willing to adopt.

          How much are they worth to real, living human men? Plenty. My own father is adopted, and I definitely think of that side of the family as just as “real” as the other one, and as far as I can tell, the feeling is mutual.

          How much are they worth to the genetic survivability of those selfsame men? Approximately nothing. Possibly less.

          I’m just saying that I can’t imagine how any inherent tendency towards jealousy is going to be worse for women than for men. Men just have more to lose.

        • oligopsony says:

          Devil’s advocacy, or perhaps just an exercise in being able to prove anything: maybe women (in this context) are much more likely to have sex-sex affairs, which men don’t have any reason to be jealous of. Or maybe social conservatism and jealousy are more strongly correlated among men, such that men likely to be in polyamorous relationships are more likely to be on the left half of the jealousy curve.

  12. CThomas says:

    This is very minor, but the post contains a factual error (or rather reproduces a factual error present in a linked Wikipedia entry). New Mexico is not the only state with an official question. At least Tennessee has an official question (“How green is it?”), and I don’t know whether any others do.

    See link below:

    • Anatoly says:

      Alas, the bill you’re referencing didn’t pass, and Tennessee remains officially questionless.

      It does, however, have seven state songs, a state poem, two state wild flowers, one state cultivated flower, a state horse, a state fruit, a state tartan (yes, really), a state motto (not to be confused with the state slogan, which it also has), a state rock, a state gem and a state butterfly. Among other things (see Title 4, Part 1, Chaper 3).

      • CThomas says:

        Gosh, Anatoly, you appear to be absolutely right. How embarrassing. Serves me right for relying on my memory of back when this bill was under consideration. Thank you for the correction.


  13. Nestor says:

    My dad’s class had a variant of that first anecdote, in that the hated teacher had a heart attack (Or apoplexy or stroke or what have you) in front of the class and all the kids stood there and watched him die. One eventually did break ranks and run for help, but it took a while.

    The 1950s Irish educational system really knew how to bring out the best in people.

  14. Douglas Knight says:

    Speaking of borderline, what do you think of what the Last Psychiatrist says about it, here and here? And what do you think about Alone in general?

  15. Note: The Business Insider article claims that North Dakota has the highest GDP of any US state. California is #1. North Dakota is #49, and #20 per capita.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      It is confusing GDP and increase. The number it gives, 4.8%, is the Texas GDP growth in 2012, which is indeed #2 behind North Dakota. Praising that number is less stupid than praising ND’s 12.8% growth, but you should not trust anything in that article. And since you do trust everything you read, you should not look at the article.

  16. Aaron Brown says:

    I wouldn’t mind seeing your comments on this:

    [FDA] issued a proposed rule on Dec. 16, 2013 that would require manufacturers to provide more substantial data to demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of antibacterial soaps [with triclosan and similar ingredients].

  17. Pingback: BPD | Skytalker