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.
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.
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.