Less [adjective] than Zeus

Links for February 2014

Buried in the comments of my last link post I found this little gem: New Frontiers Of Sobriety. A writer takes drugs that are pharmacological opposites of common drugs of abuse to see if he can become more sober than sober. Or, as Terry Pratchett fans would call it, knurd.

One of my interests is weird ways the face interacts with the brain, so I enjoyed this study: masticatory deficiency as a risk factor for cognitive dysfunction. People (and lab rats) without their teeth or with otherwise impaired chewing ability become demented much more quickly than controls, apparently because the mechanics of chewing help stimulate or oxygenate certain parts of the brain. No word yet as to whether you can become a super-genius by chewing everything all the time.

A school in New Zealand gets rid of all those rules that say you’re not allowed to have fun because it might be harmful – and finds not only that kids actually stay pretty safe, but that bullying decreases once kids have something better to do than pick on each other.

Tumblr feminism takes some much-appreciated steps toward self-awareness. The article’s punching-up/punching-down distinction seems like very useful terminology and a good thing to for everyone to keep in mind regardless of ideology (though like all distinctions, not to be followed off a cliff). And people are finally realizing “You live in your mother’s basement!” isn’t the best insult. You guys better stop this or I might have to get a Tumblr and start reblogging social justice stuff with little Tumblr-style smiley faces underneath (*◕‿◕*)

Scientists extract DNA from the tooth of a victim of Justinian’s Plague and find that the pathogen was…yersinia pestis. Also starting to seem possible that Periclean Plague was yersinia as well. So we’ve got this pathogen that, every eight hundred years or so, suddenly goes viral (sorry) and kills half the population of Earth, before disappearing and lying dormant for another eight centuries. That is some seriously Asimov’s-Nightfall-esque stuff right there.

Alyssa Vance of Rational Conspiracy on why San Francisco’s tech companies just can’t win.

Labeling Obesity As A Disease Might Have Psychological Costs: researchers find that telling obese people that obesity is a disease makes them less likely to diet or feel a need to become less obese – at least on the very short scale (< 1 hour) on which psychological studies are performed (THIS IS TRUE OF MOST OF THE PSYCHOLOGICAL STUDIES YOU HEAR ABOUT AND IS A BIG PROBLEM). This should be taken in the context of multiple very robust results showing that the disease model of mental illness (ie "it's a genetic brain disease that patients can't control") increases stigma towards the mentally ill (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). And while the biological view of these conditions is probably mostly correct, one wonders if maybe we should STOP PUSHING IT SO HARD DOWN EVERYONE’S THROATS. However, this should also be taken in context of studies showing that random taunting of obese people just makes them get more obese, so discussions of the causes and consequences of obesity should probably be left to professionals or at least marginally polite people.

Our medical system at work: Patient charged $89,000 for antivenom available on Internet for $750.

But this is also our medical system at work: 62-year-old brain surgeon walks six miles through blizzard to save patient.

I’ve said a couple of times that if someone could sift through the reactionaries’ cultural zeitgeist, clean off the spittle, and repackage the ideas as highbrow social commentary, that person would get lauded as an incredibly original and incisive thinker. Well, Ross Douthat is that person: Social Liberalism As Class Warfare (if you can’t access the NYT, copy here). One heck of an impressive essay – at least until the point where it tries to somehow tie abortion in. This always happens. Conservatives get into really wonky data-driven novel ways to help the poor, and I’m totally excited and on board, and then they’re like “Also, ban abortion” and then I just end up confused.

Speaking of marriage and divorce, a lot of people have been talking about a study that purportedly showed a simple “psychotherapy” in which couples talked about a few romantic movies with each other halved the divorce rate. But Reddit’s r/science tears it apart by noting that the groups were self-selected and the movie discussion group had the same divorce rate as the general population. r/science is what peer review wishes it could be.

Potential Root Cause Of Depression Discovered, says very excited article. Spoiler: it’s the acetylcholine system. And while the acetylcholine system no doubt influences depression (nootropics users are always talking about not taking too much alpha-GPC choline or you’ll make yourself depressed) “root cause” is going way too far. Every system in the brain is connected, pushing on one affects all of them, and just as certain taps to the serotonin system can influence depression, so other taps to the acetylcholine system can. That doesn’t prove it’s the root cause. Or even that there is a single root cause – maybe some people have problems with acetylcholine drive them into depression, other people have problems with serotonin do so, et cetera. My suspicion continues to be that all these things bottom out in BDNF levels.

I always knew teacher evaluations by college students were a joke, but Robin links to proof. Looks like worker evaluation systems don’t work too well either. And companies/colleges don’t care about fixing them because coalition politics.

A friend of mine says that his favorite thing to do at Bay Area parties is to make up absurd startups and try to convince real startup people that he works there. The specific examples he gave were “Trulia for golf carts”, “Uber for puppies” and “Snapchat for the developing world”. For some reason I thought of him when I heard about Startupbus, the company that puts a bunch of wannabe entrepreneurs on a bus together and has them start a business together before it reaches its destination a few days later. Braden on Facebook made exactly the right comment: “AND IF YOUR GROWTH RATE EVER GOES BELOW 2%, THE BUS WILL EXPLODE!”

Here’s a good analysis of the claim that psychoanalytic (Freudian) psychotherapy works better than other therapies (h/t Kate from Gruntled and Hinged). Better meta-analyses continue to show minimal difference between therapy methods, just as I previously predicted.

Lily Tomlin said: “Ninety-eight percent of the adults in this country are decent, hard-working, honest Americans. It’s the other lousy two percent that get all the publicity. But then – we elected them.” And I thought of her reading Marginal Revolution on corruption in India. Short version: the reason that there are so many crooks in the legislature is that voters are much more likely to vote for crooks than non-crooks. Seems pretty obvious, but nice to have it all arranged in a big graph in front of you.

You’ve seen this already, but: Messages From Creationists To People Who Believe In Evolution. I was hoping this would help people move beyond straw man versions of creationists, but it turns out the straw man versions of creationists are exactly like real creationists. Disappointment.

The ancient Greeks had a public railroad

India held a randomized controlled trial where 6,000 children were randomly assigned to continue in public school or go to a private school. After four years, the children in charter schools had learned significantly more at less than a third of the cost per pupil of the public schools. Although it is obviously tempting to generalize the results to the West, it should be kept in mind that India’s public school system seems particularly bad, with problems sometimes going as far as teachers just not showing up. Most interesting Facebook comment on the story was someone who predicted that “When the government schools feel the pinch of declining attendance and compensation from the government, political pressure will mount to ‘bring the private sector into compliance with all applicable regulations’, which will drive up the cost and reduce the gains.” What an awful cynic! Obviously the government would never attack extremely effective private education just to cover up its own educational inadequacy!

In a totally unrelated story that is totally unrelated to the above, US government attacks coding bootcamps. I know this is just a link post and I’m supposed to avoid too much commentary, but let me have just a second. These camps have helped a bunch of friends of mine, some of whom were having serious life crises related to unemployability, find really good stable high-paying jobs. When I was terrified I was going to miss a medical career, the knowledge that these bootcamps existed and so I would have good options other than drone labor or going back to college for four years was incredibly reassuring. Some of these bootcamps are taking groups not traditionally associated with computer programming and who might not do four year CS degrees – women, for example – and specifically recruiting them to be in the field. The alternative to these bootcamps is four years studying CS in college costing > $100,000 in future debt, with associated bureaucracy issues that many low-functioning people can’t navigate. These bootcamps replaced them with two months of very intense practical training with a near-guaranteed future job at the end of it, and have very much saved some of my friends’ futures. On my more cynical days they are nearly the only form of education in the Western world that I would unreservedly declare are non-horrible. If regulators actually shut them down – as opposed to the “You need to fill in these forms and pay us a bribe licensing fee” that I am expecting, I will probably have to go full libertarian and start donating to blimps with Ron Paul’s name on them.

And since we’re talking about nonstandard education: also from Marginal Revolution, charter schools increase students’ future income 13% and likelihood of college enrollment 7-13% compared to public schools. Nice quasi-experimental design tries to avoid selection effects, though if someone else thinks of a clever way there might be some lingering ones I won’t argue.

And since we’re talking about things that make me want to fund the Ron Paul blimp: The Search For A Blockbuster Sleep Drug. Merck spends bajillions creating a sleeping pill that doesn’t kill you or make you nuts or quickly stop working (ie not Ambien). FDA somewhat randomly decides to limit dose to a level where it won’t have any patient-noticeable effects, possibly leaving it stillborn. I wouldn’t be so angry except that another study was reported recently suggesting that treating comorbid insomnia nearly doubled the remission rate for depression, which is HUGE. The study used psychotherapy to treat insomnia, but it’s really hard to make patients go to therapy. If there were a safe effective sleeping pill I could prescribe I would be absolutely THRILLED, but I’m not satisfied with any of the ones that currently exist. Oh well. I can always prescribe suvorexant at twice the recommended dose.

American Conservative claims that the real battle is not between liberal and conservative Catholics, but that no one listens to the liberal Catholics and the real battle is between conservative Catholics who want to work within liberal democracy and conservative Catholics (including MacIntyre!) who think the liberal democratic project is flawed from the beginning. Catholic readers, does this agree with your analysis of the situation?

People keep on saying “The fact that people joke about X means they don’t realize how traumatizing X is!” They’re missing the benign violation theory of humor, which states that jokes are funny precisely because we know how traumatizing their subjects can be. Now scientists measure exactly when it is funniest to joke about a tragedy – in their case, thirty-six days later, when the tragedy was not so fresh as to be horrifying, but not so dull as to be emotionless.

Bitcoin is just the beginning, and the basic technology allows for leaderless Platonic corporations. I’m going to have to revise Raikoth’s economy based on this.

The Collapse Of The Great Gatsby Curve: economists find, contrary to previous results, that rising income inequality does not decrease social mobility. In fact (contrary to a comment I left on Brute Reason last week – sorry!) social mobility has not really changed much in the past fifty years. Not that this makes rising income inequality okay, but at least we only have one problem rather than two problems. And here’s the paper.

You know, it’s weird. Every time I want to be a raging raise-the-red-flag leftist, it’s because of something I read in the Economist. Their latest really good piece on inequality is The Inaudible Majority

Malaysian newspaper finds Civilization V offensive because the ability to take history down different paths implies that non-Muslims could conquer Mecca. Also offensive: the player can control the actions of prophets, which technically makes zir God.

I once said I would write up a really long complete review of Feser’s The Last Superstition. I got in one post about toothpaste-eating squirrels before I gave up. Luckily, someone who knows much more about philosophy than I do has written a long and comprehensive critique. Without having the text in front of me it’s a little hard to follow, and I feel like a lot of the points would have to be developed a lot more carefully to convince anyone not convinced already, but some points seem broadly similar to the ones I would have made, especially where they touch about categories and representations.

The drug propranolol reduces racism on IAT (h/t a very long and fascinating article on the social perception of racism as a disease in Radish (warning: very neoreactionary) which I don’t have time to critique properly beyond a few things I pastebinned to Twitter). I think Radish’s critiques of the study is kind of groping blindly at something without reaching it – the critique I would make is that propranolol reduces blocks adrenoceptors and so decreases fear/anxiety states which probably tie into emotional System I processing. IAT opposes emotional System I processing (your natural categories and associations) to rational System II processing (the categorization rule you’ve been told to follow by the experimenter), and so decreasing emotional inputs to System I processing tilts the balance in favor of System II and makes you look “less racist”. Which is not to say that propranolol might not also suppress racism based on anxiety/fear reactions in other more real-world contexts.

Saving possibly the most important for last – a group of relatively responsible non-starry-eyed people have a plan to send free satellite Internet to everyone in the world, which would not only be a huge boon for poor countries but also make censorship impossible. This might be the sort of thing that can actually deflect my non-far-future effective altruist budget away from whoever’s on top of GiveWell this year.

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82 Responses to Links for February 2014

  1. suntzuanime says:

    “Conservatives get into really wonky data-driven novel ways to help the poor, and I’m totally excited and on board, and then they’re like “Also, ban abortion” and then I just end up confused.”

    If you really wanted to help the poor, who in this world is poorer than a fetus? Among the things you can do to help the poor, stopping them from being murdered en masse is probably among the most cost-effective.

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    • St. Rev says:

      who in this world is poorer than a fetus?

      Assuming a fetus has zero net assets, about 2 billion people last I checked.

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      • Anonymous says:

        I feel like that sort of accounting neglects the value of human capital. An indebted college graduate can go to work right away, while a fetus needs 22 years of expensive nurturing and education before he’s any good to anybody. (Which is why people are so eager to kill him.)

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    • Sly says:

      Only if you think they are actually people getting murdered.

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      • Joe says:

        From the essay “No longer would an unplanned pregnancy impose clear obligations on the father.” I think this quote out lines Rod’s beef with abortion. In a society that gives women the choice of abortion is much more difficult to convince poor and middle class men they are still obligated to pay child support. Her choice to give birth her financial responsibility. More single motherhood more poverty.

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        • Tom Womack says:

          Pay child support? The traditional obligation from getting someone pregnant is to marry them and be faithful to them from that point on, not some matter of mere financial responsibility. If you are a cad and from a family that values its name (and what family does not value its name), maybe brute money is sufficient recompense, but I saw that as a reference to a shotgun wedding rather than to a paycheck deduction.

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      • Benquo says:

        If they’re not people, then lacking the attribute of personhood makes them even poorer.

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        • Joe says:

          I agree Tom. Its just that if you can’t even convince people they should get married before or after they get a girl pregnant then all you can expect form the state is to at least legally obligate the young men to pay child support. My point was that legalized abortion sends mixed signals to dead beat dads. On one hand you have the state saying its the woman’s right to choose and on the other hand it demands that the man take responsibility for that choice. Reproductive rights ideology is one-sided. You and I would probably agree that the cure is to ban abortion all together and expect both men and women to take responsibility for their children. But the way things are going in this country I can easily imagine a judge at some point exonerating a deadbeat dad form all paternal obligations making everything even worse.

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  2. bilbo says:

    FYI the tumblr link is malformed — an html tag trapped in there somehow.

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  3. Sniffnoy says:

    “Punching up” and “punching down” is definitely older than that; I have no idea where it might have originated, though I think I first saw it here. The usage suggests that it’s older than that though.

    Honestly, I’m not a fan of it, because it reinforces the idea of a single universal up/down axis, which SJers seem to assume but I don’t think is correct.

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      That is why it can’t be followed off a cliff, but it seems like a bare minimum. And the people in that essay seemed to use it with a little more subtlety – for example, insulting the same person could be punching up or down depending on what insults you were using.

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      • Sadly, I’m not optimistic. I’m pretty sure this is the first time, ever, that I’ve seen the punching up / punching down distinction used sensibly. Usually it’s (1) any horrible shit you say about someone high status, no matter how unjustified, is “punching up” (2) people who can position themselves as oppressed declaring themselves immune from criticism.

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        • Multiheaded says:

          people who can position themselves as oppressed declaring themselves immune from criticism

          That’s more or less how it’s supposed to work, though; it’s intended to cure the (very real) abuse of privilege, like a guillotine is guaranteed to cure headache. Radical SJ rejects many principles of Enlightenment public discourse. I don’t want it to be the only mode of discourse, but I’d hate if this never existed, either – it’s useful as an epistemic experiment and as a blunt instrument to push the overton window. So I bite quite a few bullets on it.

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        • Randy M says:

          I’ve used the Overton excuse myself recently, but I wonder if it isn’t just a justification for either not distancing oneself from an ally that one disagrees with but it effective, or else making points with plausible deniability.

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    • The problem with punching up and down is just how quickly things can change, at least on the axis that makes it feel like the punching is up or down.

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  4. a person says:

    Tumblr feminism takes some much-appreciated steps toward self-awareness. The article’s punching-up/punching-down distinction seems like very useful terminology and a good thing to for everyone to keep in mind regardless of ideology (though like all distinctions, not to be followed off a cliff). And people are finally realizing “You live in your mother’s basement!” isn’t the best insult. You guys better stop this or I might have to get a Tumblr and start reblogging social justice stuff with little Tumblr-style smiley faces underneath (*◕‿◕*)

    I’m not so hopeful. SRS came to this realization a few years ago when they went from calling all their enemies neckbeards to making calling someone a neckbeard a bannable offense. They’re still awful, last time I checked.

    I’ve said a couple of times that if someone could sift through the reactionaries’ cultural zeitgeist, clean off the spittle, and repackage the ideas as highbrow social commentary, that person would get lauded as an incredibly original and incisive thinker.

    Maybe to a certain extent, but I feel like racism (genetic differences among races) is the linchpin of reactionary thought, and for better or for worse, there’s no way to make those ideas palatable right now.

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  5. Alyssa Vance says:

    The Outernet project is *not* satellite Internet; it is one-way broadcasting like satellite TV or shortwave radio (which has been commercially available tech since the 1930s). Real portable satellite Internet is called BGAN and is expensive as all get out – the prices I’ve seen are around $7 per megabyte (not gigabyte, megabyte).

    Google’s Project Loon looks much more promising: http://www.google.com/loon/

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  6. lmm says:

    I as ready to get excited about satellite internet once I saw how they were handling the upstream. Turns out they aren’t, they’re broadcasting curated “news and educational” content. So conceptually no different from the BBC World Service.

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  7. lmm says:

    I was ready to get excited about satellite internet once I saw how they were handling the upstream. Turns out they aren’t, they’re broadcasting curated “news and educational” content. So conceptually no different from the BBC World Service.

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  8. seez says:

    I assume you’ve seen the many internet claims that chewing gum makes you smarter (http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/11/the-cognitive-benefits-of-chewing-gum/)

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  9. Kokomo says:

    So we’ve got this pathogen that, every eight hundred years or so, suddenly goes viral (sorry) and kills half the population of Earth, before disappearing and lying dormant for another eight centuries. That is some seriously Asimov’s-Nightfall-esque stuff right there.

    As elite progressives monopolise the ideological big megaphones and education system, and use their bottomless funds to flood every meatspace or virtual community with sockpuppets, is it not pathetic that they whinge and bitch about how a tiny number of unpaid people’s commentary might “go viral” and destroy the world. Pity the powerless progressives.

    “It might go viral, even if it isn’t true!”

    Oh the irony.

    Maybe they should apply memetic epidemiology to themselves: conspiracy theories, exaggeration, and willful misinterpretation appear to have high fitness within the part of the Polygon that thinks about rival memeplexes. They also pretend not to understand spontaneous order, as though their special snowflake of a Cathedral is the only one that could possibly exist.

    “How could another system of illusions possibly be better than ours?”

    Such sophistication. Much refutation. Wow.

    IAT opposes emotional System I processing (your natural categories and associations) to rational System II processing (the categorization rule you’ve been told to follow by the experimenter), and so decreasing emotional inputs to System I processing tilts the balance in favor of System II and makes you look “less racist”. Which is not to say that propranolol might not also suppress racism based on anxiety/fear reactions in other more real-world contexts.

    Smart progressives emit an astounding amount of piffle about “racism”.

    Repeat after me: if a concept encompasses:

    *Beliefs about the clustering of human DNA
    *Discriminatory hiring
    *Beliefs about human intelligence
    *Nazism
    *Saying “nigger” instead of African-American
    *Choice of friends and sexual partners
    *Apartheid
    *Anxiety/fear reactions towards particular ethnic groups
    *The Israel-Palestine conflict

    And more, morphing over time in relation to the Overton window…this concept is of little value to rational discussion of complex ideas.

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  10. Avantika says:

    Why do you think it all bottoms down to BDNF levels?

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  11. Regarding ‘masticatory deficiency as a risk factor for cognitive dysfunction, ‘ what does this imply for the flurry of support for Soylent?

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  12. Sniffnoy says:

    One heck of an impressive essay – at least until the point where it tries to somehow tie abortion in. This always happens. Conservatives get into really wonky data-driven novel ways to help the poor, and I’m totally excited and on board, and then they’re like “Also, ban abortion” and then I just end up confused.

    To be fair, one could read this as just saying “here is a cost that comes with abortion being allowed” and not necessarily “and therefore abortion should be banned” (he doesn’t actually say the latter). One can still say “Yes, this is a real cost to allowing abortion, but it’s a cost I’m more than willing to pay.” Policy debates not appearing one-sided and all that.

    …or maybe you’re saying that even the former is not really justified from what came before. In which case I guess this comment is pointless.

    (Btw, you have a link to the mobile version; the regular version is here.)

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  13. BenSix says:

    Having read The Last Superstition, why does it surprise you that a Catholic opposes abortion? Thanks for linking to Boyden’s critique, though. Good to see criticism from an atheist who thinks philosophy is something more than science’s senile grandad.

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  14. Protagoras says:

    Wow, someone actually read my review of Feser! Thanks for linking to it! Maybe somebody I’ll go back to it and try to be clearer. Perhaps after Feser’s next book, Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction comes out, at least if that actually manages to clarify his position any.

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  15. Kokomo says:

    Conservatives get into really wonky data-driven novel ways to help the poor, and I’m totally excited and on board, and then they’re like “Also, ban abortion” and then I just end up confused.

    That’s OK. But if you’re confused by or about someone’s beliefs, the rationalist way is to ask perspicacious questions and have a discussion.

    Elite progressives fail at the first step, by treating their real beliefs as a secret and therefore asking dumb or irrelevant questions in these online circles. To ask good questions and elevate the level of discussion would require them to expose their real, sophisticated ideology.

    Their commitment to the ideal of debate would in any case be doubtful. COINTELPRO =/= debate.

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    • Kokomo says:

      Tl;dr: Don’t treat your opponents like morons, and then complain that they are so clever that your megaphones are overpowered by their blogs.

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    • ozymandias says:

      I… am confused about why you are assuming that elite progressives are into COINTELPRO, since COINTELPRO was mostly directed against the New Left, feminist groups, civil rights organizations, and socialist organizations, all of which seem fairly elite and progressive to me. Is this a metaphor for being nasty on the Internet? Is there another example of COINTELPRO-like behavior on the part of progressives which I’m not aware of and which you were referring to? Does your definition of progressive not include Martin Luther King Jr. and the anti-Vietnam-War protestors?

      It also seems… unique… to lecture others about the principle of charity while assuming your debate opponents don’t actually believe what they say they believe.

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  16. Steve says:

    > Bitcoin is just the beginning, and the basic technology allows for leaderless Platonic corporations.

    Most frightening piece of news this month, imo. I know Greg Egan’s “Economics 2.0″ from Accelerando is fiction, but I don’t see anything wrong with it as a prediction.

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    • Kokomo says:

      Most frightening piece of news this month.

      New technology, and new vast, formless things in general ought to frighten us—out of self-satisfied complacency. But isn’t this blog affiliated with LessWrong: you know, the site about SUPERINTELLIGENT AI and many other accurate, awful ideas?

      If we can’t treat the Internet, decentralised technologies &c. as opportunities to be fine tuned, rather than threats to be hindered at all costs, have we not

      a) Abandoned many rationalist virtues
      b) Determined that humanity is, in a large proportion of futures, going to fail to realise its potential?

      (On a similar note: is it so implausible that someone might actually be, qua executive sub-agent, a singularitarian/utilitarian and, notwithstanding the human suite of frailties, status needs and biases, act and modify himself on that basis? Progressive manipulation tactics seem to assume otherwise.)

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      • Anonymous says:

        Less Wrong is terrified of AI, too. And to the extent they’re not, so much the worse for them. This blog should not be bound to any follies they commit.

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      • Scott Alexander says:

        Yeah, far future technologies are definitely in the “if you’re not terrified, you’re not paying attention” category. LWers pay a lot of attention.

        Economics 2.0 was pretty horrifying in and of itself.

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        • Kokomo says:

          Yeah, far future technologies are definitely in the “if you’re not terrified, you’re not paying attention” category. LWers pay a lot of attention.

          But think about what *some of them* are actually doing, behind the pretentious veneer. It’s anti-thought: great efforts devoted to preventing pretty reasonable people from thinking about, discussing and researching open-ended ideas that these LWers themselves would admit are pertinent, cleave reality at its joints and will inevitably be incorporated into mainstream thought in the future. I don’t think they basically care where the ideas lead, but they are opposed to the very learning, not least because they are terrified that it might interfere with their comfortable jobs of domineering lego people.

          Economics 2.0 was pretty horrifying in and of itself.

          From Wikipedia:

          In the background of what looks like a Panglossian techno-optimist novel, horrible things are happening. Most of humanity is wiped out, then arbitrarily resurrected in mutilated form by the Vile Offspring. Capitalism eats everything then the logic of competition pushes it so far that merely human entities can no longer compete; we’re a fat, slow-moving, tasty resource – like the dodo.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Template:Sofixit

          Our narrative perspective, Aineko, is not a talking cat: it’s a vastly superintelligent AI, coolly calculating, that has worked out that human beings are more easily manipulated if they think they’re dealing with a furry toy. The cat body is a sock puppet wielded by an abusive monster.

          It’s a funny idea, if that’s what someone really thinks, but isn’t this overly elaborate? Some problems:

          a) How could and why would anyone, or any group of people, write with the serious, primary intent that one of their more important readers might—totally unlike them—be a furry toy, yet sufficiently intelligent and persuasive, and able to synthesise various (including apolitical*) scattered memes correctly without individual guidance?

          b) Doesn’t all the evidence suggest that this furry toy won’t be led on a pre-defined path by anyone, contrarian or otherwise—although it has a lot more respect for contrarians than blah blah ain’t a clever fucker progressives.

          c) Just…intellect isn’t everything. Especially not when you’re dealing with topologically toroidal individuals. If you really do take the talking cat’s performances so seriously, consider that it can itself switch between cold calculation and 4chan cheezburger-ness mostly as it pleases. (Oops, did I say that.)

          A more parsominous hypothesis is that people who put a lot of effort into sharing their contrarian ideas obviously want more or less talented repeaters from their target demographic. Similarly, high-level progressive manufacturers of opinion would be pleased by Scott Alexander and his writing. Does that make him their sockpuppet? Well kind of, but that would really be the noncentral fallacy. However, arguably unlike Scott Alexander, a talking cat looks a bit silly, so…

          Of course, from the perspective of memetic epidemiology, it feels better and saner to interrogate an opinionated talking cat if you think it’s someone else’s carefully cultivated mouthpiece. This kind of belief would proliferate amongst poxy inquisitors who can’t admit that’s what they are.

          *A theory of ethics is the most essential, guiding element of a memeplex. Your memeplex can’t “go” where you want it to, if anywhere, otherwise. (Maybe Richard Joyce is a conspirator, too.)

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    • Brian says:

      You mean Charles Stross?

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  17. Randy M says:

    SA:
    >”This always happens. Conservatives get into really wonky data-driven novel ways to help the poor, and I’m totally excited and on board, and then they’re like “Also, ban abortion” and then I just end up confused.”

    From Douthat:
    >”Again, I’m not alleging cynicism: Social liberals are entirely sincere [...] in their conviction that laws banning abortion or restricting divorce are too punitive, illiberal and inherently sexist to be just [...]”
    (excised other examples in the list of non-hypocrisy)
    This isn’t exactly an out-of-the-blue argument for banning abortion to help the poor, but rather an example in which he is giving other reasons besides intentional sabotage for upper class, trend-setting liberals to believe in and promote personal hedonism (despite not engaging in it) to the same destructive level as the lower classes who can less afford to take such risks.

    I guess your confusion would be from disagreeing with the author that ready access to abortion promotes a cultural trend of promiscuity, and hedonism or individualism or high-time preference more generally that makes lasting marriage and other stable, pro-social habits more likely, or at least that the trade-offs make it worthwhile.

    Certainly I don’t think that would be near the crux of conservative disapproval of abortion, but I think that explains why it is a (brief) part of his argument describing the self-serving nature of elite liberal values dissonance.

    I’m not trying to get you to agree, just relieve the confusion.

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    • Randy M says:

      Of course, I’ll acknowledge that conservatives talking about how banning abortion would help the poor have the same credibility problem as ethical vagans extolling the health benefits of a meat-free diet.

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    • Multiheaded says:

      trend-setting liberals to believe in and promote personal hedonism (despite not engaging in it) to the same destructive level as the lower classes who can less afford to take such risks.

      Here lies one of my main problems with the logic of Douhat’s argument; I grant that 1) the liberal elite is very detached from the plight of lower-class Americans and terribly inegalitarian in practice, and that 2) “self-indulgence” can be costly when you’re in a tough situation and can’t pay for it with your cultural capital (although he neglects to mention that conservative behaviour is, in turn, expensive emotionally and would block the psychological release valves with which the lower classes cling on to their sanity). However, isn’t it still misleading to classify liberal attitudes as inherently destructive and only cushioned by the upper classes’ cultural capital? Isn’t it a more natural framing to say that poor Americans live in abnormal conditions where they’re forced to sacrifice a lot of personal freedoms to get by? What is the baseline: a precarious and marginalized existence, or a reasonably secure and comfortable one? What should the baseline be?

      (I have other problems with the argument too; I think there is insufficient data to denounce all liberal values as “expensive” and praise all conservative values as “cheap” – just compare proletarians in Western Europe vs. proletarians in poor Muslim countries. And crucially, although I really don’t care for the liberal elites, it’s hard to see a concrete mechanism that would make such “class warfare” adaptive for them. Suppose liberalism did unequivocally screw the lower classes; yet how would that redistribute wealth upwards? Wouldn’t the elites’ real self-interest be in promoting conservatism coupled with elitism, to increase overall wealth through the former and personal status and freedoms through the latter?)

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      • Randy M says:

        >although he neglects to mention that conservative behaviour is, in turn, expensive emotionally and would block the psychological release valves with which the lower classes cling on to their sanity

        Is there some research on repression actually leading to mental illness? This seems like a left-over Fruedian intuition.

        >”However, isn’t it still misleading to classify liberal attitudes as inherently destructive and only cushioned by the upper classes’ cultural capital? Isn’t it a more natural framing to say that poor Americans live in abnormal conditions where they’re forced to sacrifice a lot of personal freedoms to get by? What is the baseline: a precarious and marginalized existence, or a reasonably secure and comfortable one? What should the baseline be?”

        You say natural, but I think the answer is quite obvious in any state approaching a “state of nature” where some struggle must be exerted for a chance at survival. Historically I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that any situation where one doesn’t have to sacrifice a lot of personal freedom to live is quite abnormal, and finding oneself in such a blessed situation is due to others sacrificing even more on your behalf (or more likely shared benefits)–whether the ancestor who worked long, hard, and smart to pass on wealth, or society in general that restrains anti-social urges, or researchers, etc.

        Short of some edenic state, impulse control being of dire importance is the natural state, whether this puts a particular individuals personal fullfillment out of reach or not.

        >”I have other problems with the argument too; I think there is insufficient data to denounce all liberal values as “expensive” and praise all conservative values as “cheap””

        Certainly it must be done so on a case by case basis.

        >”Suppose liberalism did unequivocally screw the lower classes; yet how would that redistribute wealth upwards? Wouldn’t the elites’ real self-interest be in promoting conservatism coupled with elitism, to increase overall wealth through the former and personal status and freedoms through the latter?”

        This is a very good point. My initial thought is that it depends on what the goal of the elites are. Are they trying to extract wealth from the underclass, or rather to status or control over the lower classes? Maybe the poor do provide a non-material resource, as a group to be either mocked or preeningly doted upon, tools in status games among the elite themselves. Maybe the middle class is for harvesting and the lower class is for making oneself appear to tower above the common man in merit?

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    • Multiheaded says:

      Regarding specifically abortion, divorce and single motherhood being somehow particularly liberal: look at the post-war USSR. It had lots of all three, yet overall its culture was rather (left-)conservative.

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      • Randy M says:

        Are you using conservative to mean “preserving traditional culture” or to mean holding to values promoted by Western “conservatives”?
        I’m not familiar with what the term left-conservative to mean.

        But nonetheless, I don’t think the intrinsic liberal-ness of abortion and easy divorce are relevant, rather that they are tools of the current American liberal ideology.

        If liberals want to abandon them, more power to them.

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      Yeah, I feel like that point needed a lot more justification than he gave it.

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  18. gattsuru says:

    Our medical system at work: Patient charged $89,000 for antivenom available on Internet for $750.

    There are some issues with this sort of summary. For one, there’s only one FDA-approved antivenin in the United States, CroFab, and a quick google search suggests that the current wholesale price is closer to 2,000 USD per vial wholesale (8,000 for a four-vial treatment). The Medicare reimbursement value is set to 2,365 USD per vial. Antivenin has a short shelf life, low availability, and is both costly and time-consuming to produce.

    Nor is the antivenin the only part of snakebite treatment. You don’t simply pour the stuff in and go home. These other parts involve other costs, often significant ones.

    Finally, the paper ‘total’ bill isn’t what anyone actually pays. It’s a negotiating tactic, against both the private actors and the government. Being outraged at this might well be a legitimate thing — the lack of useful information about purchasing decisions is a problem — but it’s not the cause of the medical system’s problems. It’s a symptom, and not even a direct one.

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      “Finally, the paper ‘total’ bill isn’t what anyone actually pays. It’s a negotiating tactic, against both the private actors and the government.”

      I understand this in theory, but in practice sometimes people come in without insurance, or with small weak insurances without great negotiating power, and hospitals try to charge them the whole thing (they rarely succeed, but the negotiations are ugly and people still end up paying a significant fraction).

      It look from the article like the actual amount charged was $20,000, which is still a lot more than $750. I don’t know how much of that was non-antivenom related costs, but I would guess the antivenom was still more than $10K of it.

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      • gattsuru says:

        If the hospital charged 10,000 USD for four vials that Medicaid is willing to give 2,365 USD for individually, I’d have more evidence that I don’t understand basic economic theory. I’m not surprised, and I know from first-hand experience how unpleasant dealing with hospital billing bureaucracy reliably becomes.

        But it’s simultaneously a far cry from the 100-fold direct markup that most people will come away from the summary believing.

        Worse, it’s significantly harder to solve. Some of the price increases we actively /like/. I’ve tried arguing for a weaker FDA that would allow cheaper drugs with mild side effects, and I’ve seen folk like Derek Lowe go bug-eyed at it, and I’m willing to at least acknowledge his expertise. But it’s why you can’t get copperhead antivenin made with horses in the United States, and that’s a five- to eight-fold price increase. Even many of the results we don’t like, we still would not prevent from occurring : the ugly negotiations may be vile, but reviews to make sure merchants don’t give the government unusually high price are likely to get torn down soon — nor unique to the medical field.

        There’s a /lot/ to complain about when it comes to the modern medical industry. But it’s not the sort of thing that turns into very easy snippets, and I’d caution suspicion when you find such a thing.

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    • Error says:

      “Finally, the paper ‘total’ bill isn’t what anyone actually pays. It’s a negotiating tactic, against both the private actors and the government.”

      Counterexample: I have actually paid such a bill in full on my own dime when insurance refused to pony up. Spent a couple of years saving up to do so while getting increasingly bad nastygrams and (I assume) having my credit shot to shit. Yes, I could have negotiated it down, but I didn’t know that then. I was 20 and didn’t have a damn clue how to navigate the medical system. Inflated bills may be a negotiating tactic against people who know how to work the system, but for people who don’t, they’re crippling and terrifying.

      I’m curious if there are actual stats somewhere on how many people do pay the list price for medical work.

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  19. St. Rev says:

    What do you see as trazodone’s downsides, aside from it being an off-label use?

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  20. Anonymous says:

    Didn’t you once post a link that chewing gum causes migraines?

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  21. Joe says:

    The AmCom article is spot on. I tend to fall on the side of the “Rad-Catholic” side as it is described in the article, however I do recognize that while the so called radical Catholic side does one heck of a job dismantling american liberalism they have utterly failed, I think, to purpose a viable alternative. The more moderate side I would argue does the best they can given the situation, but like the article points out their optimism for American Catholicism is a little naive.

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  22. Tarn Somervell says:

    Typo Thread:

    “Braden on Facebook made exactly the right comment:”
    I believe that was Brayden.

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  23. Flyreme says:

    I’ve heard that a lot of chewing-related studies are funded by Wrigley (the same Wrigley that makes chewing gum). Does anybody know how to check who funded a particular study? I’ll be a lot more inclined to trust the chewing one here if Wrigley was not involved.

    http://www.wrigley.com/global/benefits-of-chewing/wrigley-science-advisory-council.aspx

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  24. nemryn says:

    I was hoping this would help people move beyond straw man versions of creationists, but it turns out the straw man versions of creationists are exactly like real creationists.

    I call these ‘straw golems’.

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  25. Creutzer says:

    Isn’t it kind of what one would expect that labelling mental… ailments as diseases would increase stigma? Unfortunately, I’d never actually thought about this question, and now that I read the answer, it might just be hindsight bias. I can’t know.

    For one thing, we know that people don’t actually care that much whether something is somebody’s own fault in many cases. And this makes evolutionary sense, too: people can be useless allies and unattractive partners through no fault of their own. Of course, it’s good to have a mechanism for caring to some extent – but only to some extent – about whether it was the person’s fault, because that can help filter out some circumstantial noise from your assessment of the person.

    Being sick is unattractive, regardless of whether it’s your fault. Of course it is, sick people aren’t useful, and we know there’s a lot we cannot expect from them. If something is just part of someone’s character (we’re talking about depression here, right? hallucinating can’t really be construed as a character trait, after all), we can still expect them to be able to respond appropriately to external circumstances and incentives, thus making them seem a more promising ally and less of a burden than a sick person.

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    • ozymandias says:

      IDK in my experience with depressed people we usually are burdens, aren’t very promising allies, and don’t respond appropriately to external circumstances and incentives.

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      • Creutzer says:

        But the question is how other people un- and semiconsciously conceptualise you. When they are told that you are chronically, perhaps even genetically, ill, they just immediately write of off, in a way. That seems to make sense from an evolutionary point of view, though I don’t trust myself very far to be able to tell just-so stories that I come up with from genuinely plausible considerations, so feedback is welcome.

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  26. Madison says:

    If you don’t do too much more, you can almost always
    hit Control-Z to undo and Control-Y to redo any change. You may
    also encounter technical difficulties, but these issues can be resolved.

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