Open threads at the Open Thread tab every Sunday and Wednesday

Links For May 2014

In philosophical debates on determinism, someone will say “We have to believe in free will, because without the belief in free will humans will lose their moral compass and become monsters!” Well, high levels of belief in free will are directly correlated with high murder rates. I doubt this is anywhere near causative, but it’s going to make a good debating point next time someone raises that objection.

xkcd proposed a cuddle mattress once. Well, now it exists for real. And it’ll only cost you $1500. And there are no robots 🙁

A while back we talked about the dark side of online retailers like Amazon and how warehouse shipping jobs were kind of hellish. I don’t know how to square that with the new story that Amazon so insists on happy, loyal warehouse employees that it will pay them $2000 to $5000 to leave. Commenters on Reddit are cynical, saying maybe Amazon trusts that no one can leave a paying job in this economy and so it is free publicity. I dunno. $5000 can support someone for a pretty long time. And I’m still confused about how hard or easy it is to get a minimum-wage job – from the news it seems very hard indeed, yet some of my psych patients keep getting fired and then re-hired by someone else a couple of times a year.

D-glucosamine supplementation extends lifespan of mice and nematodes. Man, I wish I was a nematode doctor. We can cure anything in those suckers.

Lots of giant corporations have signed a statement calling on world governments to fight climate change. From the article it’s not clear whether they’re doing it for publicity/good citizenship reasons, or whether they think it’s a threat to business. But for a very interesting alternate perspective, Forbes asks why the market hasn’t priced in the effects of climate change on things like coastal properties yet. Their conclusion is that the market doesn’t really believe climate change will cause many problems. Alternative hypotheses: we are not good at long-term time-discounting, or coastal properties would cost even more if no warming. [EDIT: Ozy adds government-subsidized flood insurance as a possible culprit.]

Claim: The old intellectual superstar was a sophistcated humanities scholar involved in something like Marxism or literary theory, like Jacques Derrida. The new intellectual superstar is a charismatic scientist peddling explanations of human nature like Steven Pinker. Is this TED’s fault? Or does it say something wider about society?

A lot of talk on how doctors are the most miserable profession and 90% of doctors would discourage others from entering the profession (I hear that in that annoying advertisement voice: “Nine out of ten doctors recommend…!”) Here’s the Reddit comment thread and personal testimony. All the doctors I work with agree that this is true and the career is terrible. On the other hand, so far I’m enjoying it (EXCEPT DURING MY INTERNAL MEDICINE MONTHS LIKE THIS ONE) and expect to enjoy it much more after residency. Also, their survey is very different from for example Medscape’s compensation reports, which find that 66% of internal medicine doctors (the most common and “typical” kind of doctor) would choose medicine again as a career.

I knew there was a Scumbag Analytic Philosopher, so I should have figured out that Scumbag Continental Philosopher was probably also a thing.

I was really surprised by the success of the hoax article that selfie-taking was now a DSM-listed mental disorder. It wasn’t just that people apparently think that poorly of the DSM. It was the total incompetence of the hoax to anyone who knows anything about psychiatry or medicine. Seriously, “selfie-itis”? Inflammation of the selfie?

Here is your go-to article for responding to anyone who says the SAT is useless and tests don’t measure real intelligence.

Continuing on the subject of evidence-based education, a new study shows that “Replacing a teacher in the bottom 5% with an average teacher would increase the present value of students’ lifetime income by approximately $250,000 per classroom.”

New Hampshire is about to make adultery legal. In other news, adultery currently illegal in New Hampshire. I find it very interesting that a lot of our current political debates are about the sanctity of marriage in one way or another, but that the question of whether or not adultery should be legal seems to never come up or get politicized. Also, the percent of people who are against adultery has (to my surprise) increased consistently over the past fifty years (though no stats on how many, if any, want it banned).

I find the evo psych angle to this article unconvincing, but it still seems relevant to our discussion of cyclic fashion: Beard Trend Is Guided By Evolution.

Three good articles on meta- versus object- level politics. First, Popehat lambasts Republicans for trying to ban insurance from taking gun ownership into account when deciding on risk and policy cost, noting (I think correctly) that it goes against everything they believe about letting the market connect actions to natural consequences without government interference just for the sake of striking an object-level blow for guns.

Second, Fredrik de Boer points out how the new xkcd-approved leftist orthodoxy that free speech means absolutely nothing except that the government can’t arrest you borrows from the worst parts of libertarianism and is about as anti-leftist as you can get. Libertarians are the ones who say that “rights” mean only that the government can’t take something away from you – that there can’t be a “right to health care” except in the very strict sense of “the government should not ban you from getting health care”. Democrats have prided themselves on a more nuanced understanding – that you also have to create the kinds of conditions in which meaningful exercise of the right is possible – like creating a climate in which people can afford health care if they want it. If the government won’t arrest you for getting free speech, but there’s a climate in which people without complete financial independence are afraid to speak freely and so in practice free speech is impossible for all except the rich, that’s a state of affairs only the most callous straw man of a libertarian could be happy with.

Third, a more encouraging example of a time when people did stick to their meta-level principles even when it might not be expected on the object-level: The Tea Party Wants To Help You Go Solar.

Scientists analyzing blood from the world’s oldest woman find two lines of very persistent stem cells. Quotes scientist as saying there is a potential for rejuvenating bodies using stem cells saved from youth. I wonder if that means anybody willing to cryopreserve themselves should also, as a separate hedge, freeze some stem cells right now. That way, if they learn how to rejuvenate your body from youthful stem cells when you’re 90, you’ll have some cells around to work with.

New meta-analysis finds no support for evolutionary psychological theory that women’s mate preferences should vary across the menstrual cycle (h/t Kate Donovan). But even more interesting to me is the accompanying editorial by a reviewer: Meta-Analyses Rarely Resolve Ideological Debates. It makes a lot of the same points made in my last post on parapsychology and Eliezer Yudkowsky’s comment on same, but also adds a few things I hadn’t thought about before. Also, he doesn’t pull punches at all: “I struggle to think of an ideological debate that has been resolved by meta-analysis…it may be that meta-analyses are not capable of answering big questions.”

While we’re on the subject of menstruation (and nothing good has ever started with that phrase), the evolutionary explanation for why women menstruate is really horrible and unexpected.

People don’t like when I link to Radish because they say it’s super racist. And okay, it is super racist. Nevertheless, its latest article on Lovecraft’s philosophy is exceptionally good. If you just read the middle three sections – “Cosmic Perspective”, “Atheistic Traditionalism”, and “Reality Check”, you will get most of the value and avoid almost all of the racism. As best I understand it – and it is meaty enough that I should read it several more times – it argues that Lovecraft’s philosophy was that there is no objective value in the world, and wishy-washy Sartrean “we can choose our own values” doesn’t work in real life, so your best bet is to just seize the value system you’ve got and cling to it like a drowning man to a life preserver. This seems a lot like MIRI’s idea of getting AI to preserve contingent human values. But it also reveals a profound philosophical gulf. Starting with the same premises, MIRI concluded “we must act as if universal human values are objectively correct” and Lovecraft concluded “I must act as if early 19th century upper class Rhode Island Protestant values are objectively correct”. This philosophically-grounded desperate parochialism explains a lot about Lovecraft – including some of his racism, hence its inclusion in Radish – and should be intuitively obvious to anyone who read the frame story to Unknown Kadath. A must-read for anyone interested in Lovecraft on a level deeper than Cthulhu jokes.

Canada sticks a bunch of garbage in a town square as an art installation. What happens next will shock you. Okay, not really. Sorry, I’ve been reading too much Buzzfeed. But what happens next is mildly amusing albeit predictable.

Studying the FDA is hard because of our government’s inexplicable failure to give us a control FDA to compare it to. But Marginal Revolutionary Alex Tabarrok and his co-authors come up with a way to rate the FDA by comparings its divisions to one another. He finds that “Greater agency efficiency would be worth about $4 trillion in value to patients, from enhanced U.S. life expectancy.” I think this is the first time I have seen the number “four trillion dollars” used as the potential benefit of anything. I don’t know enough economics to evaluate, but a former head of the FDA seems to think it’s legit.

The most viewed Overcoming Bias post as of a while ago was My Favorite Liar, about a teaching technique that makes kids try to figure out a teacher’s deceptions. Here is a really cute story from Reddit about much the same thing.

I never wanted a 3D printer before because I figured unless you really really want plastic figurines you can’t do anything useful with them. Well, you still can’t do anything useful per se, yet suddenly I find myself desperately wanting one at any price: 3D Print Your Minecraft Worlds

Reddit: If Every US State Had A Surname For Bastards, Like Game Of Thrones, What Would Each State’s Name Be?

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150 Responses to Links For May 2014

  1. ThePrussian says:

    Yes, I noticed the Radish article on Lovecraft. It is a very good one about the man.

    • Anonymous says:

      They cited a work of fiction published in nature article as if it were a real finding…

      • George says:

        It’s not like the average Radish reader hasn’t seen that Nature short story before. I didn’t see it as a “citation” but rather as a back-reference and reminder of a related idea.

  2. Deiseach says:

    I thought the Amazon payments sounded like “voluntary redundancy”, the kind of deals firms over here do to ‘encourage’ employees to leave (and then the sackings commence, if not enough people took the hint to resign).

    I don’t know what American companies or employment law is like, and I doubt every warehouse employee is getting five grand to give up a job – that sounds more like the lower management/supervisor levels to me.

    But sometimes it’s cheaper to fire people for ‘cost efficiency’ except that if you announce a round of firings, the stock market gets nervous about is your business in trouble, so ‘voluntary’ layoffs are the way to eat your cake and have it!

    (The reason I’m scare-quoting “voluntary” is that, more often than not, when you hear your employer is looking for those, you know it’s only a matter of time before it’s jump or be pushed).

    And minimum wage jobs depend on churn. I worked in a retail job once, and it was uncanny how, as soon as a till operator was there long enough to qualify for a pay raise, she suddenly became so bad at her job that she had to be let go (yes, me also after a couple of years when I was due for a rise on the pay scale).

    Everyone knew the score, but when the economy is bad (as it was in 80s Ireland and is now, though allegedly recovering), you take whatever job is going.

    • Anonymous says:

      amazon makes the offer to all warehouse workers every year, not just when they want to reduce headcount

      churn: this looks like a disagreement between the immediate supervisor and someone higher up setting the rules. why not just not offer the raise?

      • roystgnr says:

        I was about to ask the same question when one alternative answer occurred to me: publishing a seniority-based raise schedule may serve to attract workers, and how often you actually follow through on those raises doesn’t have to be published. Attracting workers lets you either offer lower entry-level pay or pick better applicants or both.

        Although, my theory doesn’t really jibe with the “pick better applicants” explanation. You’d probably lose more good workers than you gained, whether because you had to fire them when they reached the scheduled raise or because they quit when they discovered the scam.

      • Eric Rall says:

        I suspect the fire-senior-people-after-raises issue is most prevalent in unionized workforces. Unions tend to push for seniority-based compensation plans because 1) removing manager discretion in favor of a rules-based compensation structure reduces opportunities for managers to push employees to do tasks beyond their formal job descriptions, and 2) the first-order effects benefit more senior employees, who generally wield disproportionate political clout within unions.

        If it’s happening in non-union jobs where it isn’t required by regulations, they you’re probably right about a disconnect between store-level managers and corporate policy-setters. Anecdotes I’ve heard suggest that that kind of disconnect is very common in retail.

        • Anonymous says:

          but unions also generally try to make it hard to fire people

          the only analogous story i’ve heard about unionized workforces is about teacher unions, where it is hard to reach the three year seniority threshold of guaranteed employment

  3. Daniel Speyer says:

    The free will / murder thing looks pretty dubious. Just from the article, the question they correlated was:

    Some people feel they have completely free choice and control over their lives, while other people feel that what they do has no real effect on what happens to them. Please use this scale where 1 means “none at all” and 10 means “a great deal” to indicate how much freedom of choice and control you feel you have over the way your life turns out.

    That sounds pretty orthogonal to free will to me.

    • Kaj Sotala says:

      Yeah, that sounds like it’s measuring a person’s locus of control rather than their belief in free will.

      Also, studies that have explicitly tried to measure belief in free will (or to experimentally manipulate it) have found that believing in it actually makes people to act more, not less moral: see e.g. http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20130924-how-belief-in-free-will-shapes-us .

      • Deiseach says:

        Yeah – do I believe I can control whether I get hit by a meteorite in the morning? Well, no. Do I believe I possess free will? Yes. (Though do I also believe I may break down and have that third chocolate biscuit when I shouldn’t be eating any at all? Yes, alas!)

        Believing you can or can’t control what happens to you is a really broad question: I believe I can have a bad influence on my health by eating badly and not exercising, so if I (say) get a heart attack then yes, I’ve controlled what happens to me, but it’s also a question of “Is there a history of heart disease in your family?” No, luckily, but there is a strong history of cancer in the maternal line. Apart from not smoking, I don’t think I can control or influence my higher risk for cancer.

    • Deiseach says:

      Taking a country completely at random, I see that Saudi Arabia has a reported murder rate of 0.9 per 100,000 population – but do you want to live in Saudi Arabia? (Of course, it very much makes a difference whether you’re a wealthy White Western ex-pat working on a contract, or a Filipino maid).

      El Salvador appears to hold the unenviable title of “Most Murderous” (6 out of 10 top ten spots since 1995), but is that really due to them having the highest global belief in free will, or to the revolutions, coups d’état, governmental corruption and natural disasters?

      • naath says:

        I read the causation as going the other way – that if there are a lot of murders then you are more likely to believe in free will (because if you do then you scan say “these horrible murders *chose* to murder, punish them!” easier).

  4. Kaj Sotala says:

    > Also, the percent of people who are against adultery has (to my surprise) increased consistently over the past fifty years

    It’s my impression that in cultures where marriages tend to be arranged ones, adultery is much more accepted (at least for the men) because you didn’t marry your partner for love anyway and might not even be that attracted to them. Although the West hasn’t really had arranged marriages for a good while, the social cost of getting out of a marriage has nonetheless declined. The acceptance and awareness of practices like swinging, open relationships etc. might also have grown.

    The combination of those two things might make people feel that there are fewer excuses for engaging in adultery today, when you can just get a divorce or try to negotiate a mutually acceptable agreement with your partner if you really want to jump in bed with someone else that much.

    • Deiseach says:

      I think it’s because of the emphasis on romantic love as being the only valid reason for getting married (marry for money? gold-digger/fortune hunter! marry someone you like because you prudently calculate the pair of you can manage to live a reasonable life together? But that’s so cold and you’re not free to be you!)

      As Kaj points out, arranged marriages are no longer the norm in the West, and the rise of the “marry for love alone” notion and the Sexual Revolution means that modern society has put all its emotional eggs in the one basket of romantic love.
      If you’re packed to the gills with the ridiculous notion of “soul mates”, “just wait and the one for you will come along”, “Mr/Ms Right is out there” and that “Love is all”, then you will take adultery or cheating on a marriage/committed relationship much more seriously, both as a personal betrayal and rejection, and as a violation of the sacred and over-reaching notion of love.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I couldn’t find the exact question they used in that survey. But I found another survey in which the percent against adultery had also gone up, and it was something like “When you’re married, is sex with anyone except your spouse ever okay?”. That seems to exclude swinging, etc. I’m not sure what would happen in a survey that reminded people that swinging existed and was covered under the definition.

      • Anonymous says:

        I’m less *interested* in what would happen in such a survey. I’d rather the survey explicitly exclude swinging. The fundamental moral question here is one of betrayal.

  5. BenSix says:

    Claim: The old intellectual superstar…

    Zizek is still an intellectual superstar. I think the science wars separated different academic camps and they have their different heroes. In fact, it has almost been two decades since the Sokal Hoax. We must be due a Second Science War.

    Scientists analyzing blood from the world’s oldest woman…

    Vaguely relevant to your last post: the world’s oldest living man is a parapsychologist.

  6. Sergei Lewis says:

    From the free speech article – “Of course free speech doesn’t mean you have a right to not be criticized or a right to occupy every forum.”

    This is the key; well-kept gardens die by pacifism.

    Most of the time I see debate on this subject, the point actually at stake isn’t “what should governments do to permit a state of affairs where people can genuinely speak freely”. It’s “these people appear to be trying to use ‘free speech’ as a fully general argument to require me to suspend moderation of their speech in my private moderated walled garden; how can I stop that? Should I?”

    • James James says:

      This is not the issue. The issue is strangers on the internet getting people fired from their jobs.

      • ozymandias says:

        There definitely are people who get upset about people, frex, banning them on blogs because that’s an infringement of their freedom of expression. Back when I blogged I had a dozen of them filling up my deleted comments folder.

      • Vilhelm S says:

        The XKCD comic mentioned boycotts and banning people from internet forums in the same sentence. So the “free speech is just the first amendment” idea has the appealing property of being a bright-line rule which gets the right results for imprisonments and forum-bans (but maybe the wrong result for boycotts). One problem with a more expansive notion of free speech is that it is hard to formulate an equally bright-line rule (c.f. interminable SSC comment threads about exactly when boycotts are justifiable or not).

        • Douglas Knight says:

          While I think everyone agrees that boycotts are sometimes OK and sometimes not OK and that it is difficult to draw a bright line, I don’t think I have seen any arguments on SSC over “exactly” when they are OK. All the disagreement is over cases that both sides think are very far from the gray area.

        • nydwracu says:

          “Would people care about this if the media didn’t tell them to care about it on its own initiative?” doesn’t seem like that bad a rule, except then you’d end up with the media ‘covering’ an ‘important’ ‘event’ by pulling whichever quotes from Twitter they agree with and going “bam! objective journalism!”.

  7. For what it’s worth, the piece about getting rid of the worst teachers matches my intuitions that the school systems should work on getting the worst and (somehow) improving the odds of each student being taught by at least one excellent teacher, rather than trying to improve the mid-range of teachers.

    This hypothesis is based on the way people talk about school– one bad teacher can cause students to give up on a subject or school in general. One great teacher can inspire for life.

    • somnicule says:

      In New Zealand, around 80% of primary school teachers are women, and 20% are men. Anecdotally, the male teachers that I had in my primary school education were better-than-average teachers, which is likely to do with selection effects due to the greater risks and pressures male teachers experience – you have to be pretty passionate to become a teacher if you’re male. I’m not sure how politically tenable it would be, but it seems like balancing the pressures that men and women experience in teaching might be a good way to replace poor teachers with mid-range teachers.

      • Deiseach says:

        Our Irish Minister for Education got himself into trouble over remarks about the “feminisation of teaching”.

        My beef is this: why on earth is the argument for having good teachers dependent on “the kids will get better paid jobs”? Why can’t it be the common sense notion that a bad teacher will fail in teaching a child, who will then fail to learn the necessary basics and so will struggle to catch up all through their education? And that education is not about preparing the next generation of button-pushers (business and industry say they need Chinese speakers! Quick, start teaching Chinese to six year olds! Now they need chip designers! Quick, change the curriculum to include how to draw circuits!)

        I’ve seen a couple (and luckily only a couple) of bad teachers in my own schooling and where I worked. It’s very hard to get rid of a teacher. I don’t advocate for easier sacking (because I have a horrible suspicion it would be graded on “what teacher got his or her pupils into high-paying jobs as litigators and investment bankers” and not “what teacher raised a D student up to be a C student”) but there should be a mechanism for easing poor teachers out and letting even average (as they say) teachers take over.

        And this is not done by the increasing volume of paperwork and box-ticking, instead of teaching, that I’ve seen teachers have to do to satisfy Department regulations, etc.

        • Randy M says:

          >why on earth is the argument for having good teachers dependent on “the kids will get better paid jobs”?

          It’s an easy number to measure and manipulate, versus more subjective results such as life satisfaction, love of learning, etc. Everyone knows what their salary is right now, other questions are more likely to be subjective or ill remembered.

        • Deiseach says:

          But the trouble with measuring “How many pupils from School X went on to be investment bankers” is that that result does not depend on teaching alone.

          All else being equal, having Mr Chips instead of Ms Trunchbull as a teacher should mean little Tommy goes on to be a filthy capitalist swine, but all else is not equal (for a start, Mr Chips is a mediocre teacher at a second-rate grammar school, but the kind of pupils who attend there are more likely to be steered to the professions than ‘well, all you’ll ever be fit for is working in a box factory’ of the Ms Trunchbull educational stream).

        • Anonymous says:

          Well, Deisach, yes, it would be a problem if they measured that, but they don’t.

        • roystgnr says:

          In the US we may have the opposite problem from the one in your “horrible suspicion” right now – teachers and schools are being evaluated based on standardized test pass/fail rates. So if you want to improve your evaluation, you have to triage: the students who are borderline capable of passing the test are the ones who you should put your effort into; the future potential lawyers can pass on their own and the future potential defendants are beyond helping.

        • Deiseach says:

          if they measured that, but they don’t.

          That was my point about the ““Replacing a teacher in the bottom 5% with an average teacher would increase the present value of students’ lifetime income by approximately $250,000 per classroom.”

          Somebody decided that would be a good measurement; and either they are totting up how many kids end up in high-paying professions versus working in an Amazon warehouse or they’re pulling the figures out of their backside (“If we assume Joey from the housing estate will go to Trinity and become a neurosurgeon instead of doing an industrial training course in door security for nightclubs if his teacher is replaced, then we estimate that Joey would earn $$$$$ more than expected”).

          As for the “league table” measures, they have infested British education system and they’re probably coming in here: based on which schools get the best results in the final year standardised state exams, that makes them the ‘best’ schools and so more parents want their kids enrolled in them.

          So as you say, you concentrate your efforts on the ones that will get good exam results and leave the “potential defendants” to schools like the one where I worked (very definitely bottom of the pecking order in the schools in the town) and if they drop out of those, then the Early School Leavers’ programme where I also worked as clerical staff.

          Your joke about “potential defendants” isn’t very funny since I saw one of those students (a girl) go through the classic steps: behavioural problems, home problems, dropped out of the school, enrolled on the programme, dropped out of that, involved with soft drugs first and next thing I’m reading her name in the court reports in the local paper arrested for heroin abuse and shoplifting.

          And not the only ‘graduate’ of the system to go from the school to the courts, despite the best efforts of all involved. That’s why I say teachers alone (although poor teachers do no-one any good) are not the only elements to be taken into consideration, so measuring “We switched out Poor Teacher X with Average Teacher Y and five years later, pupils went on to earn $Z thousand more” seems to me to be more along the lines of those “with a bit of guesstimating” figures than the plain “This one simple trick makes all the difference” that it’s being touted as.

        • Anonymous says:

          Deisach, why do you pull your description of the paper out of your backside? If you care so much, why don’t you just read it?

        • Vulture says:

          @roystgnr Legitimately curious: what is the problem with that approach?

        • suntzuanime says:

          It allows things to become arbitrarily bad for the low-tier students, and the only limit on how bad things can become for the high-tier students is that they can’t be so bad as to drop them to the low tier. Focusing solely on the mid-tier students is not the most efficient way of producing aggregate educational outcomes, if you care about more outcomes than simply “ability to pass a certain threshold on a certain test”.

    • Paul Torek says:

      I don’t know how Scott’s authors managed to find a measure of Value Added that was valid. Maybe they should tell New York City schools about it, because the correlation between one teacher’s value added score and that same teacher’s score for teaching the same subject to a different grade (e.g. 5th grade vs 6th grade) was 0.24.

      Color me suspicious.

  8. lmm says:

    I think every group feels a need to claim their job sucks. This has been going around my circle lately despite programming being actually a really fun job.

    • Anonymous says:

      Is there ever any reason in modern society not to exaggerate the hardships one endures?

      • Jai says:

        When the next-highest-rung up the status ladder experiences less hardship, or when you can use it to signal cleverness. I expect at least some people saying “X made my life so much easier” are partially motivated by wanting to show off intelligence.

        Also, I’m not sure of the trope, but the put-upon optimist who is always happy about the current situation: Think any character who says something like “We have each other, and that’s all that really matters!” Also anyone who might be referred to as a “brave little trooper”.

        (This post reads as more cynical than it sounded in my head. I’m very much in favor of happiness and optimism!)

  9. Jack says:

    “We have to believe in free will, because without the belief in free will humans will lose their moral compass and become monsters!”

    What annoys me is people saying something is true because the alternative is awful. It’s a clear failure of Stephenson’s Diax’s Rake.

    I think it’s likely that there are many things which it makes sense to act *as if* they’re true for day-to-day decisions, even if you have to remember they’re not *actually* true when making long-term decisions.

    And it seems likely that whatever answer we come to about free will it involves (a) we effectively have free will, or act as if we have free will, even if we’re deterministic (b) free will is not magical unicorn-juice with equal status in the laws of the universe as the strong nuclear force.

    • von Kalifornen says:

      I have a feeling that he more prefers that the cold, hard light of Science be shuttered than that people truly believe a lie.

  10. zz says:

    The menstruation thing was awesome, but I’m worried the wrong people may read it.

    1. Screenwriter reads it, makes some vampire-like villain than can shoot placentas and take over people’s minds, and call the whole thing science-based, just like X-men and Spiderman are science-based (ie. scientifically literate people need to actively suspend their disbelief)

    2. Feminist reads it, takes it as further proof of patriarchy, blogs about it, becomes a thing, and it pops up on my newsfeed in three months.

    3. Pro-life PETA person reads it, starts throwing wrenches into animal research, thereby delaying life-saving discoveries, thereby killing people.

    • I thought of the feminist thing, too. It really does read like an eeeevil patriarchial conspiracy except that it’s, like, written into our biology.

      • Deiseach says:

        As a person with a menstrual cycle:
        (a) New meta-analysis finds no support for evolutionary psychological theory that women’s mate preferences should vary across the menstrual cycle

        I’m not one bit surprised here. The only thing that changes at certain points is that I am more likely to (want to)punch someone in the face, and that’s due to the increased testosterone; so if “men purported to be of high genetic quality possess as some of their traits “high testosterone” and “dominance”, we are much more likely to be fighting than mating at those times, and afterwards at the calmer points of the cycle it would be “I wouldn’t touch him with a bargepole if he was the last man alive”.

        That’s because I don’t like dominant men trying to be all dominant over me.

        (b) The menstruation thing was amusing, in a grisly way, but the style and tone leads me to believe it’s less about “what is written in our biology” and more what seems like a catchy angle to attract attention, publicity and funding and so it’s the writing style (BATTLE OF THE SEXES! EMBRYO VERSUS MOTHER! WHO WILL WIN?) that, should the preferred narrative swing around to “menstruation is the single most important element of human life” will then be rejigged to fit with that (women menstruate because – evolution! it increases our fitness by permitting us to be ready to mate and reproduce at the drop of a hat! and so women improve the human genome by selective mating!)

        • Andy says:

          I’m not one bit surprised here. The only thing that changes at certain points is that I am more likely to (want to)punch someone in the face, and that’s due to the increased testosterone; so if “men purported to be of high genetic quality possess as some of their traits “high testosterone” and “dominance”, we are much more likely to be fighting than mating at those times, and afterwards at the calmer points of the cycle it would be “I wouldn’t touch him with a bargepole if he was the last man alive”.

          That’s because I don’t like dominant men trying to be all dominant over me.

          As someone on Tumblr put it, when talking about the old “we don’t want a woman president because she’d be on the rag and end the world,” if more aggression made someone unfit to be a leader, then that would disqualify a lot of men.

        • Deiseach says:

          Andy, I have definitely thought “My God, if men feel like this all the time, no wonder they’re always starting wars or getting in bar fights” 🙂

        • You know, I’ve never seen an evolutionary explanation for why a fair number of women are bad-tempered before their periods.

          Anyone want to take a crack at it?

          (Fair warning: I’m cynical about evolutionary explanations.)

        • anon1 says:

          I get bad-tempered when I expect to be in pain for the next few days but I can’t predict exactly when it will start or do anything to prevent it. The anticipation is fucking miserable.

        • Anonymous says:

          Nancy, wikipedia

          A variety of evolutionary rationales for the syndrome have been offered, including that it is an epiphenomenon due to the selective advantage accruing to other phases of the hormonal cycle, that it leads to “intensification of male ardour during the next onset of fertility”, and that it prompts females to reject infertile males (who cause PMS due to not impregnating the female). “… an infertile male/potentially fertile female partnership would tend to break down, thus allowing a new pair-bond to be formed. The greater the degree of premenstrual hostility of the female, the sooner a fertile mating could ensue.” Any theory would have to account for the persistence of PMS over substantial evolutionary time, as it appears to afflict baboons as well.

          baboons

          • Very interesting about the baboons.

            I’m betting on the epiphenomenon, since I have no reason to think that infertile males are especially annoying. If I were making something up (something I’d never do), maybe the bad temper drives males away to do some hunting.

        • suntzuanime says:

          It’s not that infertile males are especially annoying in and of themselves, it’s that infertile males will fail to impregnate you, causing you to menstruate and become annoyed.

        • Anthony says:

          Nancy –

          Perhaps PMS is the “normal” emotional state, but there’s an evolutionary advantage in being nicer-than-PMSy during the fertile part of one’s cycle?

          First round sanity check: do women who have gone through menopause end up stabilizing emotionally, and if so, closer to their PMS state, or their non-PMS state?

      • Leonard says:

        really does read like an eeeevil patriarchial conspiracy except that it’s, like, written into our biology.

        Most of the eeevil patriarchical stuff is written into our biology. Men are stronger than women: shocking! The general problem here (from a certain POV) is that we have biology.

        • ozymandias says:

          Feminists are aware that men are, on average, stronger than women. Our contention is simply that gender differences are much larger than they would be if no one was socializing people into gender roles, and also we should stop doing that thing.

        • suntzuanime says:

          It seems naively as though you’d want to make gender differences larger, in order to get gains from specialization. Didn’t “diversity” used to be a nice progressive value? It seems to have fallen by the wayside in recent years.

        • ozymandias says:

          Nope! Imagine a toy model where we have four gender traits: “likes pink,” “likes blue,” “likes cooking,” and “likes sports.” In the traditional system, there are two types: “likes pink and cooking” and “likes blue and sports.” In the (liberal) feminist system, there are fifteen possible combinations. Much more diversity!

        • nydwracu says:

          and also we should stop doing that thing.

          Why? Are values that people are socialized into distinct in some way from true values arising from their true inner nature? Or is it just because it’s better for the economy? (That’s an actual argument that I’ve actually heard from people who, at the same time, thought they were radicals taking a brave stance against neoliberalism, Reaganism and all that — that is, against the belief that what’s better for people is whatever is better for the economy.)

        • Oscar_Cunningham says:
          Imagine a toy model where we have four gender traits: “likes pink,” “likes blue,” “likes cooking,” and “likes sports.” […] In the (liberal) feminist system, there are fifteen possible combinations.

          Sixteen, surely? Or are we discriminating against misanthropes?

        • ozymandias says:

          Nydwracu: Well, socializing people into genders isn’t costless: it involves a lot of punishing of gender-non-conforming people. And also people *are* observably born with particular personality traits, and a gender-role system is deeply unfair to people born with personality traits mismatched to their gender roles, even if no one punishes them for it. Ask any shy dude who is expected to ask women out! (There is also the feminist argument that gender roles as currently constructed are inherently harmful to women, but I feel like explaining that idea is probably going to be too long for a comment.)

          Oscar: Indeed! I apologize for erasing the misanthropes. 🙂

        • suntzuanime says:

          Oh, I was assuming that you were recognizing that liberal feminism doesn’t accept women who like pink, don’t like blue, like cooking, and don’t like sports, and this was just a trade-off you were prepared to accept.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          In the (liberal) feminist system, there are fifteen possible combinations. Much more diversity!

          Hm. I’m glad to see you explicitly say this, because, well, while this is what I’m in favor of[0], and this is what I assumed feminists were in favor of before I learned there were different sorts of feminists[0], a number of the things the libfems say seem to contradict this (or, at least, lead to very strange implications when combined with it). My objection is different from suntzuanime’s, though. Basically this position to me seems incompatible with what they say regarding trans people. (Or at least, as I said, leads to some really weird implications when combined.) But I’m feeling lazy right now so I hope you don’t mind if I just don’t bother to elaborate on that right now…

          [0]OK actually, on rethinking it, I think both these things might actually be closer to the position suntzuanime attributes to the libfems, rather than what you describe.

        • I’ve had a notion that the purpose of gender roles is to cripple people in complementary ways so as to force them into pairs.

        • von Kalifornen says:

          From the authoritarian transhuman perspective, this is kind of odd, almost, because gender roles here are clearly artificially biological. But they don’t end up giving people huge limitations, and the controls on them are good enough that they don’t usually clash with socialization.

        • ozymandias says:

          suntzuanime: no, liberal feminists are the kind of feminists *other* people keep yelling at for our hippy-dippy choosey-choice “it’s okay if you stay home with your kids as long as that’s what you genuinely want!” ways. For instance, this comic is fairly typical of liberal feminists.

          Sniffnoy: I tend to go with a “transness is characterized by discomfort with one’s primary or secondary sex characteristics” theory of transness rather than a gender identity theory of transness. I agree that the gender identity hypothesis combined with liberal feminism gives one weird fucking results.

          • I tend to go with a “transness is characterized by discomfort with one’s primary or secondary sex characteristics” theory of transness rather than a gender identity theory of transness.

            That needs a bit of fine-tuning. I’ve talked with someone who seemed to be very uncomfortable with being biological– presumably not happy with their current sex characteristics, but wouldn’t be happier with a different biological set.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          I tend to go with a “transness is characterized by discomfort with one’s primary or secondary sex characteristics” theory of transness rather than a gender identity theory of transness. I agree that the gender identity hypothesis combined with liberal feminism gives one weird fucking results.

          I am glad to hear you say this! Sometimes I think I must be nuts because, like, this seems obvious but nobody says it.

          It’s not really clear to me whether your proposed replacement can be made to work, but then, this is your field of study, not mine! So I’m not about to nitpick there.

          I am still worried though because it still seems like strongly gendered people do exist and it seems like this would seriously interfere with the whole libfem program? (Which I do, after all, broadly support?)

          That needs a bit of fine-tuning. I’ve talked with someone who seemed to be very uncomfortable with being biological– presumably not happy with their current sex characteristics, but wouldn’t be happier with a different biological set.

          I’m not sure that really needs to be grouped in with this. We don’t consider body identity integrity disorder to be a gender issue. (But then, if Ozy is right, maybe we should consider transness to be a body identity issue, if not a “disorder”.)

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Ozy, regarding the pie comic: So, let’s say we reject the notion of “By choosing this part of the pie you are oppressing other women!” (Which is a possibility I would actually worry about if we accept the idea of “gender identity”, but since maybe we can just not accept that idea, I’m not going to worry about it.)

          Then we’re left saying, OK, you’re free to have whatever part of the pie you want. The question then becomes, what do we mean by “you’re free to”? Because it’s not very meaningful to just say that you’re free to do X without also providing some protection against retaliation for doing X. And the question then becomes, what needs to be protected against, and what’s legitimate? Because depending on how expansive this protection is, it might start infringing on other people’s legitimate interests, and you have some actual negotiation that you need to do.

          So where I start getting nervous is when I encounter the seemingly-common idea that any disapproval of someone’s choice of pie piece is unacceptable retaliation. I mean, maybe I think some parts of the pie really are better than others — either better morally, or better instrumentally for the person taking it, or just better aesthetically or whatever — and (so long as my standards are not of the double variety) I think I ought to be free to take the attitude of, “Really? You’re taking that part of the pie? Well, I guess that’s your right… loser.” (Or stronger forms of disapproval as appropriate.)

          Maybe this idea is a lot less common than it seems. But, y’know, up until recently I generally felt obligated to obey all feminist dictates, so…

          There are maybe some things I am leaving out but I think this caputres the essence of it.

    • Randy M says:

      “The menstruation thing was awesome”

      One of the least likely string of english words to be repeated.
      (Well, barring some performance art review, I suppose)

    • Vilhelm S says:

      I feel it was awesome but ultimately a bit unsatisfying—it seems it boils down to “Because humans have hemochorial placentas. But nobody knows why we do”. All the selfish-fetus stuff in the middle is really cool, but it doesn’t distinguish humans from other animals.

    • Peter Scott says:

      Speaking of cosmic horror, your movie description sounded surprisingly similar to the chapter in Uzumaki with the placenta mushrooms and the vampires of the maternity ward. (Eventually everything that can be written will be, and there will truly be nothing new under the sun. Until then, we’ll just end up thinking similar creepy thoughts about sinister placentas.)

  11. Oligopsony says:

    Amusingly, universal human values are probably a good deal more Radishcal* than the local values of the typical Radish reader. (I do not intend this as a partisan comment; its irony affects everyone.)

    Steven Pinker and the like seem mostly to be in the good old tradition of claiming the authority of the natural sciences for your own particular brand of Geisteswissenschaften. Look at the founders of sociology, for an obvious example, from Comte to Marx to Spencer to Durkheim. (But then I haven’t read the article, so shame on me.)

    *Unless we reserve such a term to describe Slavoj Žižek’s values.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I don’t understand your first paragraph, and just barely understand your second after looking up Geisteswissenschaften.

      • Randy M says:

        I think he would mean if you look at the average person (ie, non-WEIRD) they tend to be more in-group focused and traditional than even Western Reactionaries. This is especially ironic since it is the liberals who tend to be celebratory of other cultures, who may actually tend to share more values with right-wingers than the progressives.

      • Oligopsony says:

        I don’t understand your first paragraph,

        Randy summarized it pretty well, although I suppose I was thinking more in terms of time than space (as the NRx themselves are,) and “local values” refers to more to birth environment (i.e., the vast and evil work of Cathedrulhu or whatever) to the particular positions they’ve staked out individually. Also there’s the irony that it’s one of their more distinct ideas that 19c New England ideals are Literally The Devil.

        and just barely understand your second after looking up Geisteswissenschaften.

        The whole thing of going “hey guys! instead of all this humanistic stuff how about we try this bright new idea: science!” is itself something with a long history among public intellectuals. It’s okay to align yourself with this, of course, but the claims of novelty (when they appear, which, to be sure, they don’t always) can be embarrassing. The worst has to be Dennet’s claim in “Breaking the Spell” that he and some of his friends were breaking Bold New Ground by trying to understand religion as a natural phenomenon.

    • Ghatanathoah says:

      It depends on what you mean by “universal.” From what you’re saying I gather you mean “common among the majority of humans.” If that is the case I have no argument with you, Radishcal values are depressingly common.

      However, it seems to me that the sort of parochial values held by a large portion of the human race are in some sense not true universal human values. Rather they are warped versions of universal values that have been twisted and perverted by various types of irrationality, or instrumental values that have been mistaken for terminal ones.

      What evidence do I have for this belief? Mainly the fact that holding the sort of universalist liberal beliefs that are prized in Western first world cultures is highly correlated with intelligence, rationality, and wealth. It seems like things like we are being “held back” from realizing our “true” values by stupidity, madness, and poverty, and that as we get smarter and richer our real values shine through.

      • A.N. Onymous says:

        “What evidence do I have for this belief? Mainly the fact that holding the sort of universalist liberal beliefs that are prized in Western first world cultures is highly correlated with intelligence, rationality, and wealth.”

        Hmmm, the smartest, “most rational” (I’d like to see that correlation please), and wealthiest people in a society claim to value the things which that society prizes… nope, I can’t think of any other possible reason these things might be related, we must have finally found objective universal human values.

        Seriously, you could this exact same non-argument to say that the USSR’s or the Aztec Empire’s or some Congolese Pygmy tribe’s values are universal human ones because the people at the top of a social hierarchy generally don’t get (or stay) there by being antisocial.

        If you just want to blow the trumpet about how great and all-wise and eternal Progressive values are, fine, that’s what it’s for after all. But don’t imagine you’re the first to make that claim, or the last.

        • Oligopsony says:

          The people at the top of the USSR’s hierarchy were actually the most enthusiastic about dismantling it (although the particulars there don’t really cut against your general point.)

  12. AndR says:

    The forbes climate change link is broken – there’s a ‘<br />’ at the end that shouldn’t be there.

  13. gattsuru says:

    And I’m still confused about how hard or easy it is to get a minimum-wage job – from the news it seems very hard indeed, yet some of my psych patients keep getting fired and then re-hired by someone else a couple of times a year.

    According to the BLS (pdf warning), ~35% of the unemployed were unemployed for more than 27 weeks. Urban numbers (pdf warning, probable bias) says that long-term unemployment is roughly even across all age groups, which wipes out a few possible explanations.

    Also, their survey is very different from for example Medscape’s compensation reports, which find that 66% of internal medicine doctors (the most common and “typical” kind of doctor) would choose medicine again as a career.

    That a recommendation for others is different than for yourself isn’t terribly surprising, especially in a field that self-selects for those who favor non-monetary compensation in exchange for long hours and high-stress situations.

    ((On the other hand, the obvious solution to a problem of long hours and high-stress situations involves increasing the supply of medical workers, which… doesn’t seem very popular, to say the least.))

    First, Popehat lambasts Republicans for trying to ban insurance from taking gun ownership into account when deciding on risk and policy cost, noting (I think correctly) that it goes against everything they believe about letting the market connect actions to natural consequences without government interference just for the sake of striking an object-level blow for guns.

    You’ve got a spare tag on the end of the popehat.com link.

    The Republican party is not a monoculture, and indeed the deep libertarian ideology is a relatively small portion of the larger group, especially in Florida. Contrast Federalist and mild libertarian arguments, which often denigrate Randian and Randian-descended political philosophy. Even among deep libertarians, you’ll see as many minarchists as anarchists: people can hold a meta-level political position about the importance of free-market philosophy without it being their /ownly/ meta-level political position.

    At a deeper level, as a society we’ve already decided that these sort of restrictions are not only acceptable but desirable in other contexts. Medical doctors have their freedom of speech restricted in a wide number of ways related to the privacy of their patients, it’s very hard to prohibit people from entering a public parking lot, and insurance providers are forbidden from considering a pretty wide array of topics.

    At an even deeper level, then there are more complicated arguments which can hold the two positions consistently. In a completely free-market world, doctors should be able to ask patients about their guns, property owners should be able to tell gun owners to not take guns into their parking lots at any time, and insurers should be able to set insurance values based on all metrics. In the current world, though, doctors face liability for not acting irrationally aggressively toward perceived threats like gun ownership and may be required by law to disclose information to police, and property owners likewise can face liability for not ejecting gun owners.

    Insurance providers are second only to banks in their tendency to be used as puppets by a state regulatory regime attempting to ban undesirables — state action and power even in the absence of laws or police action. Removing the power of the state to use these organizations for such politically desirable purposes makes it politically easier to eventually remove the state power entirely.

    • It would not surprise the hell out of me if there are some people who are unusually good at finding and getting jobs (even if not at keeping them), and (now that I think about complaints about co-workers) that those talents aren’t strongly correlated with psychiatric status.

  14. Swimmy says:

    Re: Giant corporations and climate change, they possibly support worldwide global warming legislation for the same reason many of them support minimum wage increases: They can afford the higher cost of business such laws mandate, their smaller competitors can’t. It’s socially-conscious-looking protectionism.

  15. Sarah says:

    The *reason* the framers of the Constitution didn’t want the government to outlaw free speech is that there was a basic classical liberal presumption that open discussion made for better societies. An environment where people speak freely is a good thing. The same motivation for setting up governments to permit free speech is a reason to set up private institutions to permit free speech.

    Open discussion is a value. It’s not the *only* value. I don’t want a lively debate in an airport ground crew; I want them to land the plane safely. But if you want to live in a community where people have a chance to speak up and dissent, then that probably doesn’t only apply to what you want in your nation, but also what you want in your workplace, school, and friend group.

    • Anonymous says:

      My slogan on this topic is “Free speech: it’s not just the law, it’s a good idea.”

    • nydwracu says:

      no, no, the first amendment developed in a total cultural vacuum and people who appeal to freedom of speech are big dumb piss babies who can’t say anything better about their actions than that they’re not illegal yet. actions have consequences!!!!!! ps the hollywood blacklist was one of the worst things to ever happen in america

  16. Andrew says:

    The menstruation article was fascinating to me, in part because I made an interesting what-if connection.

    So I was a huge baby, something like 12 pounds. I’m well above average in intelligence and I suspect I’m above average in health too.

    At some point my parents told me how my mother had several miscarriages before having me (I’m an only child and I’m pretty sure they only wanted one), with the explanation along the lines of my mother is “more acidic than usual”. Now I sit here and wonder whether that means her endometrium was simply much more hostile than usual, which then resulted in me effectively getting several rerolls on my stats before keeping a set sufficiently high, so to speak.

    Which then turns into wondering whether the first step towards really effective genetic engineering will be to simply administer drugs or something to increase the hostility of the endometrium.

    • anodognosic says:

      The relevant question would be whether the “fetal survival” stat, so to speak, correlates at all with other higher stats.

  17. Vilhelm S says:

    Re the rooftop solar thing, the principles cited by Tell Utilities Solar Won’t Be Killed are that net metering is a “fair policy that allows solar customers to be credited at full retail value” while “the utilities are trying to hold onto their monopoly and continue to make you buy centralized power”. Meanwhile, Americans For Prosperity says that net metering is “not market based and is an unfair giveaway being paid for by non-solar ratepayers” which is an example of “years of increasing mandates and subsidies to prop up the renewable energy industry”. It is not clear to me that one of these principles is more meta than the other.

    Meanwhile, I’m guessing that TUSK is made up of people who own rooftop panels, while AFP is made up of people who own power utilities—these are rather object-level concerns.

  18. Michael Keenan says:

    Some other things purported to have multi-trillion dollar benefits:

    * Open borders ($70 trillion)
    * Eliminating trade barriers (3% of GDP)
    * Self-driving cars ($5.6 trillion)
    * Kidney-trading might be a candidate. It’d save a few tens of thousands of lives a year, so if you value a life at more than $1 million it’d work. But it wouldn’t directly increase GDP by that much because kidneys would trade for a few tens of thousands each.

    • MugaSofer says:

      *whistles through his teeth*

    • Carl Shulman says:

      Those are annual gains. I think the FDA gains in the OP are over many years. So they are relatively much bigger in an apples-to-apples comparison against the FDA efficiency estimate.

  19. Wesley says:

    I suspect the Amazon thing is that regular Amazon employees aren’t quite so hellishly treated. Most of the furor about warehouse jobs that popped up last fall and into the Christmas shopping season was about _temps_, people who went in to try to do those jobs without being prepared, or being physically fit enough to deal with the shifts.

    I suspect their regular employees are treated somewhat better, if only because once you train someone to the point that they _can_ maintain X items/hour, you don’t really want to lose them if you can avoid it. Those jobs really are less about churn for most of the employees. My dad has a similar job – less walking, more time spent in front of an extruder making rubber parts. He gains “seniority” all the time, because about 30-40% of the employees at the place are high-churn, and the rest are lifers. Most of the people who get turfed are flakes; the company is looking for reliable, steady, quiet, hard working employees, and when they get them, they do their best to hang onto them.

  20. If you just read the middle three sections… you will get most of the value and avoid almost all of the racism.

    kitteh says: but den u will miss teh point

    which is

    dat lovecraf is a smart and right about “racissness”

    • Oligopsony says:

      I’m almost as glad that the ideas making the substance of this post are dying as I am that the form in which they’re expressed is.

      • white power! ^_^

        p.s. if you believe “the ideas are dying”… hoo boy you ain’t been paying attention have you

        • Multiheaded says:

          He means among serious people on a reasonably large timescale, not among a tiny bunch of loser nerds on the internet. Admit it, things like Marine Le Pen are still a far cry from your preferred fare.

        • Said Achmiz says:

          I don’t think the ideas in question are dying on any timescale large enough to reasonably extrapolate (without invoking trends like the swimming direction of Cthulhu, the precise effects of which are far less predictable than the overall trend, and which still allow for the possibility of local counter-trends, where “local” could span decades).

        • von Kalifornen says:

          You don’t get it, of course. You can’t bring back Anno Domini. Nobody moral wants to. But people will stop the Long Drift. You should try looking to the present once.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      You’re not funging “people who will read those chapters” versus “people who will read the whole article”, you’re funging “people who will read those chapters” versus “people getting offended and not reading it at all and missing lots of interesting stuff”

      • People will always get offended by the truth when it contradicts their religious beliefs.

      • Said Achmiz says:

        It seems to me that using the word “funge” as a verb decreases the comprehensibility of your writing rather than increasing it.

      • Noumenon says:

        Thirding the complaint about “funging” — even after I read your definition of it a few weeks ago. Something about how it takes two objects, one with “against”, makes it bad for communicating.

  21. MugaSofer says:

    “Second, Fredrik de Boer points out how the new xkcd-approved leftist orthodoxy that free speech means absolutely nothing except that the government can’t arrest you borrows from the worst parts of libertarianism and is about as anti-leftist as you can get. Libertarians are the ones who say that “rights” mean only that the government can’t take something away from you – that there can’t be a “right to health care” except in the very strict sense of “the government should not ban you from getting health care”. Democrats have prided themselves on a more nuanced understanding – that you also have to create the kinds of conditions in which meaningful exercise of the right is possible – like creating a climate in which people can afford health care if they want it. If the government won’t arrest you for getting free speech, but there’s a climate in which people without complete financial independence are afraid to speak freely and so in practice free speech is impossible for all except the rich, that’s a state of affairs only the most callous straw man of a libertarian could be happy with.”

    In other news, some guy called Donald Sterling was apparently complaining about his girlfriend’s habit of posting pictures of herself with attractive black men on her Facebook page. In a private conversation with her. Which she recorded and reported to the relevant authorities.

    He has apparently been fined millions of dollars and permanently banned from his line of work for this ambiguously-racist PRIVATE CONVERSATION.

    But hey, maybe he was a teacher, or a CEO, or a politician, or somebody else whose private opinions might conceivably have impacted nope he had a football team.

    • It was a basketball team. Your inability to distinguish between varieties of sportsball disqualifies you from having an opinion.

    • Berry says:

      Let’s get some facts straight: Owning an NBA team is as much a line of work as owning a yacht is a line of work. Sterling remains a member of the State Bar of California. Further, he displayed unambiguous racism during the conversation, which may or may not have been recording at his request. His private opinions could have conceivably impacted any number of controversial HR decisions he has made for the Clippers organization over the years (see Baylor, Elgin.)

      • nydwracu says:

        Read the transcript—Sailer posted some, but there’ll be more on Theden tomorrow. Most of the coverage doesn’t mention it, but it sounds like Stiviano set him up.

        From what I heard of the tapes, it sounds to me like Sterling was pissed about the effect Stiviano’s association with… this is fairly speculative but I’m guessing Magic Johnson… was having on his reputation.

        He’s complaining that people are making comments to him about her Instagram, so she goes, alright, I’ll take down all the black people, I thought Kemp was okay since he’s mixed, hitting the race thing over and over and Sterling gets mad at her for it but ends up accepting the frame.

        Then this gets jumped on because 1) Sterling was totally incompetent and everyone knew it, 2) Magic Johnson [probably] wants the team, 3) it’ll bring in clicks.

        • Berry says:

          Was this comment meant to show that Sterling wasn’t being outright racist during the conversation? Or that it is excusable given that she was, pretty clearly, baiting him? Because neither are true. In fact, his worst parts are almost volunteered, not provoked (the Black Jews bit, for example.)

          Further, I would never have made that comment earlier had I not already listened to the tapes, so there’s no need to read the transcripts…

        • nydwracu says:

          Of course he was “being outright racist”, and of course she was baiting him. I don’t see how anyone can listen to the tapes and not think there’s a good chance she was baiting him. He says “a certain person” and specifically mentions Magic Johnson later; she says “black people” and brings up Matt Kemp, and then compares him to the Nazis.

          Say you’re Donald Sterling. Old man, probably not a hell of a lot of energy, and Jewish. And your mistress, who you’ve bought however many Lamborghinis for, doesn’t care that she’s hurting your reputation, even though [it’s implied in the tapes that] you’ve discussed that with her before. She brings up race, starts talking in mangled campaign slogans, and then compares you to the Nazis. At that point, you’ll be willing to say just about anything in order to get the problem resolved. Wearing people down to get them to say what you want them to — that’s a well-known tactic, and it’s what that tape looks like.

          If I wrote for Slate, I’d take the position that the real story in the tapes is that Sterling thinks the entire society in which he lives is racist. That seems like a bigger story than some sleazy old lawyer caring more about his own reputation (which everyone already knew he cared very much about) than, as Stiviano so eloquently put it, “taking a stand for what’s wrong”. But his real reputation is that he is the worst team owner in all of sports, so who wouldn’t take the opportunity to get rid of him?

  22. Ken Arromdee says:

    The comments on that Popehat gun post include:

    Actually, that isn’t how the bill reads as passed. Insurance companies would be forbidden to charge different rates for people in the same actuarial classes simply because they have guns. The bill does not forbid the industry properly researching firearms ownership and creating an actuarial table for firearms risk, and then charging extra (or less; should research show as it so often does that areas with fewer restrictions on honest people have lower violent crime rates).

    Someone else posts a link which elaborates on this:

    http://www.westsidelateshift.com/2014/04/guns-insurance-companies.html

    Furthermore, this was done in the context of politicians announcing an intention to use the insurance industry to make guns infeasible to own. That’s inherently government interference, not free market.

  23. Said Achmiz says:

    The menstruation thing requires a signup to read. Does anyone have a link to an ungated version?

  24. Lucia Dremsly says:

    Now I am curious about what you build in Minecraft…

  25. Matthew says:

    Here is another game theorist’s take on the Amazon buyout policy.

    If it’s correct, I’d sort of argue Amazon is employing Dark Arts.

    • suntzuanime says:

      I dunno, you’re getting rid of hypocritical bitching by people for whom the job is thousands of dollars better than the next available alternative. Seems like having the opportunity to put your money where your mouth would lead to greater clarity.

      In my more cynical moments I sometimes suspect the Light Arts/Dark Arts distinction is controlled by the hypocrites, and Dark Arts are any arts that weaken their cherished hypocrisies.

  26. The Anonymouse says:

    //And I’m still confused about how hard or easy it is to get a minimum-wage job – from the news it seems very hard indeed, yet some of my psych patients keep getting fired and then re-hired by someone else a couple of times a year.//

    Admittedly, my schedule only really allows me to get my domestic news from NPR, but you’re right, from the news it does seem very hard indeed to get any job. Of course, all of that news does seem to be in the context of someone who has a vested interest in making it sound as though it is impossible to get any job (e.g., a desire to extend unemployment benefits).

    And, like you, this conflicts with my lived experience (anecdata alert). I have found that it can be difficult to get a new job if you are looking for one that matches your schedule, pays the same or better as your last one, in a field that provides pleasant work/psychic benefits. (The Grandma’s Lamp problem, basically.) But just getting a job, that you can live on? Doesn’t require a couple years of searching. Might require a couple weeks of searching.

  27. Anonymous poster says:

    Steven Pinker may not be perfect, but if it really is true that TED talkers have replaced the likes of Jaques Derrida as the new “intellectual superstars”, this surely says something wider about society: It says that we are taking small steps in the right direction, away from organized sophistry and trolling disguised as intellectual discourse.

    And really, if TED had any causal role in this change, should we really use the word “fault” to describe it? This sounds almost like asking whether it is Reagan’s fault that the Soviet Union collapsed.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Mostly agreed, but I tend to use “fault” as a value-neutral term because I can’t think of a better one.

    • von Kalifornen says:

      I don’t know. Some of the great Deconstructionist (very much not using Derrida’s definition) intellectuals had very substantial and important ideas, and I am less than impressed with the new crop — at times they seem to have an obsession with “ideas” that divorces itself from true substance, and substitute the failed attempt of the deconstructionists to escape bourgeoisie chauvinism, with a failure to even try.

  28. Anonymous says:

    i love this blog series. NEVER STOP DOING IT.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      The problem with the new trend where spambots praise you to fit in is that I become suspicious all compliments are coming from spambots.

      • Eli says:

        Actually, you’re still one of the few blogs I bother checking on a regular basis instead of just reading Reddit. Keep it up.

  29. Josh says:

    “asked why the market hasn’t priced in the effects of climate change on things like coastal properties yet”

    In my home state of North Carolina, if you price in the predicted effects of climate change, you are breaking the law. http://abcnews.go.com/US/north-carolina-bans-latest-science-rising-sea-level/story?id=16913782&singlePage=true

  30. ozymandias says:

    I wonder how much of the issue is the difference between the short-term unemployed and the long-term unemployed. The long-term unemployed are much much much less likely to be rehired. Interestingly, the long-term unemployed don’t seem to be less employable than the short-term unemployed, at least according to 538– employers seem to just have a preference against them for some reason. But if we assume a high employer preference for short-term unemployed people, that explains it being relatively easy for most short-term unemployed people to get a new job, while still having the unlucky long-term unemployed sticking around and driving up the unemployment rate.

    • My impression is that employers are so swamped with applications they’ll grab at any vaguely plausible excuse to not have to make so many decisions.

    • suntzuanime says:

      538 appears to only be looking at extremely broad categories like race, sex, age, and education. It’s actually illegal to discriminate in hiring based on three of those categories, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised when they turn out not to have any effect on length of unemployment?

      What 538’s broad categories won’t capture is idiosyncratic reasons for unemployability, such as a tendency to wave a knife around during interviews, or a resume done in crayon.

      • ozymandias says:

        The thing I was pointing to was 538’s claim that “It’s also possible that the best candidates find jobs more quickly, and the long-term unemployed are people who were undesirable to employers in ways that don’t show up in the data. Most studies, however, conclude that this “unobserved heterogeneity” explains at most a small part of the low job-finding rate among the long-term unemployed.”

        I don’t speak economics enough to make heads or tails of the study cited though.

    • The Anonymouse says:

      I’m not sure it’s so inexplicable. I have heard hirers (warning, anecdata) express the view of, “Well, I have two candidates, one who’s been unemployed a short time, and one who’s been unemployed for a long time. I’d be a fool not to hire the one who looks like a go-getter over the one who, for all I know, has been sitting around for a year.”

      Now, there’s a whole lot of assumption packed into that sentiment. How do you know that it’s not just a timing issue, and the guy who is recently unemployed isn’t just a bum with good timing? How can you know the legitimate hurdles the long-term guy has had to face? How do you know it ain’t just random luck?

      My friend runs one of those manufacturing small businesses that politicians love to talk about. His thought process is, as he’s explained to me, “If I got two people, the long-term guy, for all I know he’s just been sitting on unemployment eating up benefits. Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t, but it’s a nonzero possibility. The guy who’s coming over from another job, well, I can be certain he’s not just sitting around pulling down checks; I know he wants to work. So that’s who gets hired.”

      Right or wrong, I’m sure this sort of thinking is at least part of the differences in hiring rates.

      • suntzuanime says:

        Yes. The problem of statistical discrimination is that even if most members of a given group are not problematic, the fact that the group’s problematicity rate is slightly higher than that of another group will mean a substantial difference in their treatment by people who have to make large decisions based on little evidence. This will cause distress in Group A’s many non-problematic members, who feel as though they are being treated badly on account of their group membership, rather than any personal problematicity. And they’re right, but it’s also true that the decider is making the optimal choice from their perspective.

        I’m not sure what to do about this problem. It seems like a phenomenon that causes spontaneous generation of unfair treatment all over the place, and I’m not sure what the principled solution could possibly even look like.

        • The Anonymouse says:

          Agreed. It does seem terribly unfair to the majority who are not problematic. If you’ve been out there pounding the pavement hustling for work, and you still don’t have a job, it has to feel catastrophic to run into a company which won’t hire you because they think you’ve been sitting around waiting for your benefits to run out before you start looking, or that you’re (what we call nowadays) “discouraged” and are just phoning it in.

          But on the flipside, I can see it from the employer’s perspective. You have some very expensive decisions to make; you thank goodness that we still have some vestiges of at-will employment in the law;* and you have both limited information and candidates who have a motivation to, well, not be entirely candid with you. So you have to make hard decisions with limited data. I can see the urge to look for discriminators to help guide you toward the best decisions, even if those heuristics only apply some of the time. And if that’s hard for a big company, it’s many times worse for small ones, where the choice between hiring a couple good employees versus a couple bad ones could spell the difference between keeping your doors open or not.

          I don’t know what a principled solution is, either. But I know that the much-bandied question of “why do the long-term unemployed have a harder time finding work?” is not so inexplicable as many would have us believe.

          *Amusingly, to me at least, my aforementioned manager-friend (who certainly does not listen to NPR) recently echoed to me something I heard a French businessman say on NPR the other day: “If I can’t fire you, I can’t hire you.” I guess businessfolks really do all speak the same language. 🙂

  31. nydwracu says:

    If Every US State Had A Surname For Bastards, Like Game Of Thrones, What Would Each State’s Name Be?

    Briefly imagined the bitter battles that we’d get here between the Constitution (or Taney?) faction and the Justice faction*, with the Catholics sitting off in the sidelines going, “what the hell, wasn’t this place ours a minute ago?”

    * I once met a guy who had the last name Justice—when I was in college, he was the RA for the floor above mine. In reality, this faction would just pick the name of some obscure government bureaucrat. Which, naturally, would mean all-out war among all government agencies. Or not, but that’s one hell of a mental image.

    And then it ends with PG County killing everyone else so that they can make the name Soulja or Hype or something, after which the capital gets moved to Boston.

  32. Doug S. says:

    I found something interesting after following a link trail.

    http://protein.bio.msu.ru/biokhimiya/contents/v78/pdf/bcm_1061.pdf

    The author argues that, based on the results of several cited mouse experiments, aging is a pre-programmed process caused by signals found in blood plasma, and that replacing the blood plasma in an old mouse with that of a young mouse should substantially reverse the old mouse’s aging. Is this nonsense or is there something to this?

  33. Jayson Virissimo says:

    If the new intellectual superstar is really more like Steven Pinker and less like Jacques Derrida, I may have to have to rethink my skepticism about moral progress.

  34. Douglas Knight says:

    The Forbes article doesn’t quantify what it would look like for global warming to be priced into the market. I clicked through to some other posts by the author and in one of them he is careful to say that the market thinks global warming will be cheap, but that could mean disbelief or could mean that mitigation is cheap. That seems like a pretty simple answer. New York is a very rich place. It wouldn’t take much to build walls. Also, the official predictions about global warming are small and slow and discounting the future takes a big bite out of present values.

    I doubt that it’s possible to buy more than 10 years of hurricane or flood insurance, so global warming is irrelevant.

    Alternative hypotheses: we are not good at long-term time-discounting

    What does that mean? time-discounting as in NPV? By “we” do you mean the journalist? the intuition that global warming should show up in current prices? An alternate interpretation, which doesn’t seem to match the words much, is that nothing about future decades is priced into anything, so global warming isn’t special. I certainly endorse that claim.

  35. The Tabarrok FDA paper has serious methodological problems that you do not need to be an economist to evaluate. Just read it with the same skepticism that you would use on any scientific study that was paid for by a drug company. (The Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development gets much of its money from the pharmaceutical industry. This does not mean the authors are wrong, but it is a sign of possible implicit bias.)

    Start with the $4 trillion benefit claim. From the summary:

    From 2000 to 2011, life expectancy increased by 0.182 years annually. Assuming that half that increase is due to new pharmaceuticals, the value of the increase in life expectancy created by the drugs is about $4 trillion a year.

    Do you believe that half of all life expectancy gains in the US in recent years come from the pharmaceutical companies? I do not, and I have not seen any independent researchers make this claim. There are many aspects of public health and medicine that would improve life expectancy, like lower crime, better pollution control, better clinical practices, new surgical techniques, new medical devices, etc. I would guess that new pharmaceuticals are responsible for between 0.5% and 5% of the observed increase in life expectancy. This means that their benefit estimates are overstated by one to two orders of magnitude, even if the rest of the paper is sound.

    Now, read their comparison of FDA divisions the way you would read an epidemiological study of different populations. Keep in mind that each FDA division is responsible for a different type of drug (Oncology, Psychiatry, etc.). There are many reasons to believe that reviewing the safety and efficacy of a cancer drug will (and should) involve a different type of analysis than reviewing the safety of an antidepressant.

    One reason is that when dealing with drugs for life-threatening illnesses, you might worry about side effects a lot less. If a drug causes 0.01% of people who take it to commit suicide, this is basically irrelevant if it is a drug given to people with a rare late-stage cancer, but it is a huge problem for an antidepressant that gets pushed onto a significant fraction of the US population. So when you review a cancer drug, you spend a lot less time looking for problems like that.

    Another reason is that for serious illnesses, the clinical endpoints are much clearer. The patient dies or lives. When dealing with psychiatric drugs, the clinical endpoints are much fuzzier and more subject to experimenter bias, which demands closer scrutiny of studies.

    Also, the molecular pathways and effects might be much better known for some kinds of diseases and drugs than others, which makes it easier to evaluate claims about what exactly the drug is doing.

    In short, the different type of drugs being reviewed will generate a lot of confounders when trying to compare the efficacy of different divisions. The authors claim that they correct for task complexity and safety, so let’s look at what they use to correct for these confounders:

    Thus we … settled on the final set of workload factors as: INDs per staffer; NDAs per staffer; whether the compound received a priority review rating; whether the compound was designated for a special program (accelerated approval or fast track); whether an advisory committee was involved; whether a clinical hold was placed on development of the drug; whether a black box warning was included on the product label; the number of post-marketing requirements; and the clinical development time.

    Do you, as a medical doctor, believe that this is a full and complete list of the factors that might influence the time it takes to determine the safety and efficacy of a new drug?

    This paper shows that the FDA approves antiviral and cancer drugs significantly faster than neurological, cardio-renal, and psychiatric drugs. The authors claim that this is due to productivity differences in the different divisions involved. The alternate hypothesis is that some types of drugs do, and should, take longer to evaluate than others.

  36. Sniffnoy says:

    Here is your go-to article for responding to anyone who says the SAT is useless and tests don’t measure real intelligence.

    Personally, I think this article does a better job arguing for “No, intelligence tests are not bullshit”, but I guess Slate is, uh, a more respectable source… 🙂

    (Or maybe I should just point people to the Wikipedia article on g, but it’s maybe not the most readable, and also it’s Wikipedia…)

  37. Mitchell Powell says:

    At least in my neck of the woods, how hard it is to get a minimum-wage job depends on what you’re willing to do. If you’re willing to work twelve-hour night shifts three or four nights a week in a somewhat hot environment involving manual lifting, you could literally be a homeless person who just got fired from a string of jobs and land a $30k a year job piece of cake even bothering to shower or change clothes regularly. I just saw it done recently (by a woman who unfortunately lost the job to some of the same dysfunctional behaviors that got her homeless, but still). On the other hand, if you’re looking to work 9-5, Monday thru Friday, and you don’t have any marketable skills, you may have trouble.

    TL;DR “getting a minimum-wage job” means different things to different people.