"Talks a good game about freedom when out of power, but once he’s in – bam! Everyone's enslaved in the human-flourishing mines."

Links For September 2014

If he’d posted it here it would have been a Comment Of The Month, but since he posted it on Less Wrong I’m reduced to linking it: Viliam Bur on why Freud is not your strawman of Freud.

Last links post I brought in Sariasan’s research showing that growing up poor doesn’t increase your chances of turning to crime as an adult once you adjust out heritable factors. I wasn’t aware he also has another study showing that growing up in a bad neighborhood doesn’t affect very much either.

One Hundred Actual Titles Of Real Eighteenth Century Novels. Number 25: “Flim-Flams! Or, The Life And Errors Of My Uncle, And The Amours Of My Aunt! With Illustrations And Obscurities, By Messieurs Tag, Rag, And Bobtail. With An Illuminating Index!”

A recent story that went viral on Facebook suggests that one in six French citizens support the Islamic State. I think the attraction might have been a dig at the French Muslim community for being radicalized or something, but the Washington Post points out that, among other problems, far fewer than one in six French citizens is even Muslim, which makes the number somewhat suspect. Their preferred explanation: most people don’t know what “The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” is, so when people hear a question of the form “Do you support…the Islamic State of Iraq…” they think it’s some kind of referendum on the Iraq War or the Iraqi government or something.

Cryptology enthusiast, Bitcoin pioneer, and occasional Less Wronger Hal Finney has passed away of ALS and been cryonically frozen. My favorite mini-eulogy is that of Ryan Carey, who pointed out on Facebook that “he is now the all-time winner of the Ice Bucket Challenge”.

There is an algal toxin, one of whose symptoms is “feeling like cold things feel hot and hot things feel cold.” I wonder if this can be converted to a party trick the same way Miracle Berries were. Probably better not, since “symptoms usually go away after days, but can last for years.”

Possibly the most amazingly trollish scientific study ever: Feminist Activist Women Are Masculinized In Terms Of Digit Ratio And Dominance: A Possible Explanation For The Feminist Paradox. Digit ratio is a measure of the lengths of different fingers that shows how much testosterone one received in the womb and seems to represent by proxy some sort of measure of biological “masculinity” or “feminity” – for example, transgender people have a digit ratio more like that of the sex they transition to. They found a masculinization in the feminist activists that was highly statistically significant (alpha = 0.0005, I think they mean p but I’m not sure why they said alpha) and an extremely large effect size (d = 0.6 – 1.6). In fact, on the right hand the feminists were more masculine even than men. The authors try to use this to explain what they call the “feminist paradox” – which is that feminism purports to be fighting for women but most women do not identify as feminists. I think they’re thinking that feminists are either those women who are so masculinized as to be unhappy with female gender roles, or so masculinized as to be uniquely aggressive about their unhappiness. The most convincing alternative I can think of is that high-IQ people of both sexes tend to have more androgynous digit ratios (so high-IQ women will have more male digit ratios). If feminist activists tend to come from the upper-class college-educated part of the population, then that might be a confounder which would be worth addressing.

Wikipedia: Naturally Superhuman People. “Wim Hof is nearly impervious to extreme temperatures. In 2009, he ran a marathon, wearing only shorts and a cap (no shoes), in -20C temperatures. He owns the Guinness World Record for the longest ice bath (nearly two hours). In 2011, he ran a marathon in 40C temperatures without drinking a drop of water during the run.”

S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe) versus escitalopram and placebo in major depression RCT: efficacy and effects of histamine and carnitine as moderators of response. Sorta-natural antidepressant supplement SAMe comes somewhere between equaling and surpassing first-line antidepressant escitalopram (Lexapro). Just one study, but several others have shown the same. It is starting to reach the point where if I had any say in the matter (which I don’t right now) I would be considering trying SAMe before an SSRI. Needless to say this could (but probably won’t) totally revolutionize psychiatry to a degree unprecedented for several decades.

I may have said some bad things about airport security now and then, but I’ve changed my mind. I love airport security. Airport security is the best. Please keep searching everyone’s luggage as much as possible with no concern for personal privacy.

@newmantras: A theme Twitter that mixes dating site profiles with Hindu verses on the glory of God.

Private companies are starting to invest in nuclear fusion, not that the amount of money they’re putting in changes much in a non-symbolic way.

Human pathos: Wannabe jihadis about to leave for Syria order Islam for Dummies off Amazon.

Cigar Aficionado’s biography of Churchill is 20% boring stuff about the cigars he liked, 80% awesome. Key quote:

While exhibiting great valor in coordinating the escape of many of the troops who were aboard the train, Churchill was captured by the Boers and taken as a prisoner of war. Although treated well by his captors, he later wrote of his time as a POW, “I certainly hated every minute of my captivity more than I have ever hated any other period in my whole life.” He hated captivity above all because it thwarted his ambition for heroic action: “The war was going on, great events are in progress, fine opportunities for action and adventure are slipping away.” So, after unsuccessfully appealing his capture on the grounds that he was a noncombatant, Churchill escaped from prison. Before escaping, however, he left a letter of apology on his bed to Louis de Souza, the Boer secretary for war. The letter began: “I have the honour to inform you that as I do not consider that your Government have any right to detain me as a military prisoner, I have decided to escape from your custody.” It ended: “Regretting that I am unable to bid you a more ceremonious or a personal farewell, I have the honour to be, Sir, your most obedient servant, Winston Churchill.”

As several people have already noted, there is this really weird issue among opponents of better replication efforts in the social sciences, where they are extremely sensitive to worries that there might be flaws in the replication studies, yet fail to draw the obvious conclusion that there might also be those same flaws in originals and therefore replications are indeed needed (see: Beware Isolated Demands For Rigor). Neuroskeptic takes one such argument to task.

Presburger arithmetic is an alternative to normal (“Peano”) arithmetic in which you are allowed to add, but cannot multiply. It possesses some impressive mathematical properties, including being provably consistent, provably complete (no Godel here!) and “decidable”, which means you can automatically prove any theorem you want using brute force alone (though it might take a while). I’m convinced – if we switch to Presburger, not only do we get free proofs for whatever we want, but we don’t have to memorize our times tables either!

Ever wonder what happened to that Honduran charter city idea? It’s still going ahead, but it looks like it’s doing so in the worst possible way – corrupt, opaque, and having kicked out everyone with principles in favor of steamrolling forward. On the other hand, part of the attraction of the idea was that it could work even in worst case scenarios – it’s designed for countries with terrible governments that can’t do anything properly. So at the very least this will give it a fair test on its own terms.

From Taymon Beal: A proof of the Halting Problem in the style of Dr. Seuss.

Things that exist: the go-away bird. This might be my spirit animal.

Scientific American comes out in favor of cryptographic locks on military weaponry.

A heartbreaking article on youth homelessness among gay teens kicked out by their families. Quote: “It sounds so paradoxical, but the kid who’s been abused and neglected from childhood, in this very perverse way, they’re ready for the trauma that’s to come on the streets. But queer youth who grew up in a family where they were taken care of, and there was ice cream in the freezer at night, they face an extra challenge of really not being prepared for the culture of the streets or the foster-care system.” A good reminder why everyone is (rightly) so concerned about homophobia.

Noahpinion: an interesting debate over the validity of those statistics you always hear about how America gets worse health care than other countries while spending much more money. Content note: one instance of fatphobia/insults to fat people.

Cell: Altering The Intestinal Microbiota During A Critical Developmental Window Has Lasting Metabolic Consequences. For example, give someone antibiotics as a baby, and you might kill their gut flora and cause them to be more obese as an adult. We are nowhere near the level of evidence where anyone should be denying a child life-saving antibiotics for a dangerous infection, but FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PARENTS, STOP DEMANDING ANTIBIOTICS EVERY TIME YOUR KID HAS A VIRAL INFECTION THERE IS NO REASON TO DO THIS EVEN IF THEY *DIDN’T* HAVE ALL SORTS OF SIDE EFFECTS *WHICH THEY DO*.

This rebuttal of some common anti-vaxxer arguments caught my eye as a cute use of the Proving Too Much technique. This one is maybe a little less cute, but it had to be said.

@sarahdoingthing, who is either Sarah C or Sister Y or possibly some other Sarah entirely, has been plugging things into a program that purports to tell you what Myers-Briggs type you are by your writing. While this seems likely to be a faulty implementation of a faulty idea, it sure seems to be picking up something. Here’s Less Wrong posts by year, part one and two.

McDonald’s new CEO is a roboticist who, when first recruited by the company, thought he was going to an interview with McDonnell-Douglas. Also an inspiring story of Poor Young Black Kid Making It Big.

This is possibly the most important news story of the decade, although no one else will tell you that: Vasalgel preclinical studies making great progress. Vasalgel is the FDA-friendly, America-marketable version of RISUG, the permanent, easy, cheap, easily reversible contraceptive procedure for men. Once it exists, why not not fund free RISUG for every high school boy (as well as promising to fund the reversal operation) and cut accidental pregnancies down to zero? There’s your solution to fifty percent of social problems right there.

H/t Vipul Naik: Quora: what are your options if a restaurant demands exactly pi dollars? Some clever answers, as well as some groaners.

Saving the best for last: Steven Pinker – The Ivy League Is Broken And Only Standardized Tests Can Fix It. Starts with a review of the same book (Excellent Sheep) that I linked to a savage review of last month. Pinker re-tears it apart, then talks about how so-called “holistic” admissions perpetuate the advantages of the upper class, then goes over some of the research showing standardized tests are a fair and unbiased assessment of merit, then demands that colleges switch to a more SAT-centric admissons policy (the opposite of the current trend) in the name of fairness for the poor. I’ve been making this same argument for years and I’m glad to see it finally get the respect it deserves.

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183 Responses to Links For September 2014

  1. Matthew says:

    More marvelous bird species here

    Spoiler: The Invisible Rail is not actually invisible.

    Other favorites include the Predicted Antwren (Never on Predictionbook; I call foul!)

  2. Multiheaded says:

    @sarahdoingnothing is Sister Y’s “edgy” twitter account, where she seemingly talks about how females are inferior or something, I dunno, I still can’t even.

    I first encountered her wonderful writing in a very different context, and having exposed myself to her NRx-loving side, I’m just like, whyyyyy.

  3. Sniffnoy says:

    I may have said some bad things about airport security now and then, but I’ve changed my mind. I love airport security. Airport security is the best. Please keep searching everyone’s luggage as much as possible with no concern for personal privacy.

    But millipedes are so friendly! If they were centipedes, then I’d be worried…

    The most convincing alternative I can think of is that high-IQ people of both sexes tend to have more androgynous digit ratios (so high-IQ women will have more male digit ratios). If feminist activists tend to come from the upper-class college-educated part of the population, then that might be a confounder which would be worth addressing.

    Confounder… or the same effect? Maybe high-IQ people are honestly more androgynous! Maybe feminist activists come from the upper-class college-educated part of the population because of this. 🙂 (I have no idea whether or not this might be true, but I thought it was worth throwing out there.)

    By the way, if people want to know more about theories of the natural numbers resulting from changing the primitive operations/relations, there’s a good survey here.

  4. AR+ says:

    Given that people ARE so concerned w/ homophobia, how is it possible for so many gay teens to be homeless? Shouldn’t there be some kind of national gay-militant religious order dedicated to adopting vulnerable youths and radicalizing them as Gays Templar in the fight against this sort of thing?

    Or something?

    • Vaniver says:

      I would imagine that the people most interested in housing homeless gay teens would be established gay adults, but the potential for problems or abuse there seems pretty huge.

    • Vulture says:

      Shouldn’t there be some kind of national gay-militant religious order dedicated to adopting vulnerable youths and radicalizing them

      I think this “should” happen in the same way that I think there “should” be a war on the moon – i.e., normatively it would be terrible, but in a certain narrative sense it would just be cool as hell.

      • RCF says:

        “on” in the sense of “war on drugs”, or “on” in the sense of “immediately above”?

        • Vulture says:

          I was thinking, like, on the surface. Although depending on how colonized it was, a War on the Moon could lead to at least some ground fighting on the surface of the moon…

        • taelor says:

          “on” in the sense of “war on drugs”, or “on” in the sense of “immediately above”

          Admiral Zhao says the former.

        • Bugmaster says:

          Why not both ?

      • MK says:

        I think there “should” be a war on the moon – i.e., normatively it would be terrible, but in a certain narrative sense it would just be cool as hell.

        You may like Stanisław Lem’s “Peace on Earth” novel which features this idea. (Or maybe it’s already a reference to it? Can’t tell)

    • Jaskologist says:

      You’re assuming that the numbers are real, and not inflated by activists looking to stir the pot.

      The Federalist was casting doubt on those numbers the other day, but I’m not sure they’re comparing like with like:

      According to a report by the Department of Housing and Urban Development – which calculates homeless data by using numbers from U.S. shelters, which report on how many people are staying in their facilities and how many were turned away –there were 610,042 homeless on any given night in the United States in 2013… within that 610,042 homeless, 222,197 were members of a family unit staying together. So if we were to simply take the assertion offered in Rolling Stone without context, we would have to accept that nearly every unattached homeless person was an estranged LGBT youth.

      They’re comparing against daily numbers, but on the other hand saying there “are” 400,000 sure make it sound like a current, daily reality. I suspect tinkering with the definition of “homeless” and time scales, myself.

      • Multiheaded says:

        Holy shit, this website is somehow worse than I expected from an American mainstream right-wing source. Here is a sample article; “Catfight” in the title is actually the least horrible thing about it.

        (Please refrain from further discussing this particular article; it’s technically “gender”.)

        • Vulture says:

          I wish I could comment on the article you linked, but since that would be gender commentary I’ll just say that I really liked [this piece about being pro-life](http://thefederalist.com/2014/09/08/not-just-the-pretty-babies/).

          • 27chaos says:

            That article doesn’t provide evidence that “barbarism” fails to increase happiness. It provides no grounds for distinguishing between barbarism and legitimate moral reform. And its slippery slope argument was just offensive – child pornography makes literally no sense as a consequence of abortion rights.

            Also, many pro-lifers really do believe in the pretty babies. The article can’t make that go away just by asserting that it’s a “misunderstanding” by those observing the evidence.

          • lmm says:

            I think the article takes it as read that killing is bad. That’s the argument against “barbarism”.

            I agree that the fully extended slippery slope is silly.

            That there are superficial people on the pro-life side is not an argument against it. Reversed stupidity is not intelligence.

          • RCF says:

            “Barbarians respond to the world’s brokenness by doing what seems necessary to protect either themselves personally or their group as a whole.”

            What an inane comment. Doesn’t pretty much everyone do that?

          • Vulture says:

            Obviously the article wasn’t written to convince outsiders to be pro-life; I just thought it was good because it was well-written, and it gave me a better picture of an un-straw/weak-manned pro-life philosophy.

          • 27chaos says:

            I think the argument advanced there is actually weaker, though more rhetorically compelling. The argument is somewhat similar to “we agree it would be better if some babies never existed, but trying to do good things and/or killing is immoral despite that”. That is a bolder and more contrarian stance, but not stronger in the logical sense.

    • Jai says:

      (Intended tone: friendly)

      Almost everyone here is going to suffer from availability heuristic problems due to their social circles being in no way similar to a representative sample of the American public (or any public, for that matter). This will be extra bad for us since SSC readers are meta-nerds – we’re probably at least two levels of weird removed from the median citizen.

      As a fun exercise, try to find how many things are at under 50% consensus in the US but at over 80% consensus on your Facebook friends list (or this comment section). Or compare the LW survey results to the census?

      • Ialdabaoth says:

        Not sure about that – I’m stuck in the middle of rural Idaho, and not at all surrounded by nerds at any meta- level.

      • Matthew says:

        My Facebook friendlist had zero other people from the explicitly rationalist cluster in until last week; it now has exactly one.

    • @JohnWBH says:

      They are, but its difficult for a homeless teen to access those sorts of resources

      • I’m a little surprised there isn’t more lobbying to improve the resources– or maybe the lobbying exists and I haven’t heard about it.

        See this (posted by swf) for some details of the problem.

    • Mike Blume says:

      My understanding is that this is a “our society treats children as subhuman” problem. Running away from home is illegal, the state feels that these children *should* be under the roofs of their abusive parents, and it is a felony to house one for more than 24 hours. D:

      • Ialdabaoth says:

        My understanding is that this is a “our society treats children as subhuman” problem.

        Yes, precisely. I’m not certain how much I can elaborate on this without descending into incoherent rage.

        • Nornagest says:

          I was probably… oh, eleven or twelve when I first learned the details of the American legal system’s treatment of children. I was in school, a cop had come in to answer legal questions posed by one of my classes, and after about twenty minutes I was angry enough at the injustice of it all that I would have been willing to start stringing people up from lampposts.

          I’ve come to appreciate some of the reasoning more since then, and I’ve gotten a lot more skeptical of radical solutions in general, but our particular solution still strikes me as a horrible clanking abomination that needs to be burned to the ground.

      • RCF says:

        Can you give some more information regarding what the laws are regarding taking in children? One thing I’ve wondered about is the definition of “kidnapping”; abduction of a competent adult is presumably a simple matter of consent (taking them somewhere with their consent is not abduction, taking them somewhere without their consent is), but with children, I would assume that the issue of consent is more complicated.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        And yet the only minor in the Rolling Stone article was housed by a LGBT shelter for a lot more than 24 hours.

      • anon1 says:

        Don’t runaway laws stop applying once the abusive parents have actually kicked the kid out?

  5. Dan says:

    Why would you not choose the bare-faced go-away-bird?

    Other elite bird names here, including the pale-eyed pygmy tyrant.

  6. Protagoras says:

    The SAM-e study said it was giving people 1600-3200mg daily. The stuff seems to be sold in pills of up to 400mg, and they’re not super cheap; 4 to 8 of them a day looks like it would add up to a substantial cost. Are there any recommended cheaper/higher dose suppliers than those I found with a quick search?

  7. Charlie says:

    Last links post I brought in Sariasan’s research showing that growing up poor doesn’t increase your chances of turning to crime as an adult once you adjust out genetic factors. I wasn’t aware he also has another study showing that growing up in a bad neighborhood doesn’t affect very much either.

    This is not necessarily about genetic factors, I think. It is about heritable factors – everything that siblings have in common due to their parents. For example, if your parents give you and your sibling the same sense of what speech and dress patterns are your in-group, that is a 100% legit heritable factor.

    • Anonymous says:

      No, heritability is defined to be genetic, though people may be using it wrong or may be mistaken about what they are measuring.

      • 27chaos says:

        Not what I was taught, I agree with OP.

        • Anonymous says:

          Try wikipedia. Do you have any reference that disagrees?

          • 27chaos says:

            I misunderstood what you were saying. Thought you said genetic causes, when you didn’t.

            I do think Charlie has a valid point although his terminology is somewhat incorrect.

          • Anonymous says:

            Charlie’s good point was that Scott shouldn’t use the word “genetic,” because the study doesn’t address that. But Scott followed Charlie’s advice and switched to “heritable,” which means the same thing. Now “from context” people will learn the wrong meaning of the word and dilute the value of jargon. The paper says “familiar confounders,” so Scott could copy that. Or “family effects.”

      • MugaSofer says:

        As I understand it, things like foetal malnutrition are also “hereditable” – it isn’t defined in terms of genetics, as such – but being raised around particular styles of clothing would be considered “environment”.

        Source: the opening of various fascinating twin studies.

      • Charlie says:

        It’s totally reasonable that e.g. in biology you’d only use it to mean genetic inheritance. However, in this case one can pick up from context that the relevant sense is “capable of being inherited.”

        This category of factors is important in social science because genetic data is rare. Sariasan et al. control for who your parents are, but they are unable to separate this into genetic and other factors.

        • Anonymous says:

          What do you mean by “in this case one can pick up from context”? Sariasan doesn’t use the word! There is no context! We’re not arguing about what he meant. You came along and insisted that we should use this word and that you had the correct definition (“100% legit”).

          I suppose it is plausible that the word would mean different things in biology and psychology, but plausible is no excuse for confabulating falsehoods. It’s pretty obvious from wikipedia that the usage is the same in psychology. Or try google. Every one of the top hits defines it as genetic, including several psychology ones.

    • Creutzer says:

      I highly doubt that parents are usually the source of children’s sense of which dress patterns are in-group. Unsure about speech.

  8. Arceris says:

    The Vasalgel link seems to be broken. I’d be very interested in hearing more about that, if the link can be repaired.

  9. RCF says:

    “alpha = 0.0005, I think they mean p but I’m not sure why they said alpha”

    p is the probability of getting a result as “extreme” or more as the result you actually got (I put “extreme” in quotes as there are actually some subtle points in the definition of “extreme” that are often glossed over). Alpha is often described as being the largest p for which one is stilling willing to reject the null hypothesis, although technically, the more general definition is that it’s the probability of being in the rejection region. So alpha is set before the experiment (“I’m setting the significance level at 5%”), while p is an empirical value calculated from the measured statistic. If you’re told that the results were statistically significant at alpha = 0.0005, that means that p was no greater than 0.0005. I don’t know if your confusion was due to not knowing the above, or for another reason, but hopefully at least one person will find it informative.

    • Anonymous says:

      Right, they are defining “highly statistically significant” by “alpha = 0.0005.” But they didn’t actually make that definition before the experiment and the convention for such ad hoc statements is “p < 0.0005."

      • RCF says:

        I just skimmed the article, so I don’t know whether that is the case, but if so, there are severely abusing the term “alpha”.

  10. RCF says:

    “This rebuttal of some common anti-vaxxer arguments caught my eye as a cute use of the Proving Too Much technique.”

    Is it pedantic for me to point out that it’s the anti-vaxxer argument that is Proving Too Much, not the rebuttal?

    Also, a comment on the Proving Too Much thread that I can’t post there because the thread’s too old, and this is an open thread, so I’ll put it here:

    If Person 1 makes an argument, and Person 2 says “That Proves Too Much”, Person 2 is basically saying “In situation A, you claimed that X implies Y. But here’s some situation B in which if X implies Y, that’s manifestly absurd. Therefore, your claim that X implies Y is false.” Often, the response to that is that Person 1 identifies some factor Z that is present in situation A, but not in situation B, and argues that Person 2 is ignoring that difference. But now Person 1 is simply engaging in further fallacy. Person 2 did not claim that “That Proves Too Much” shows that the claim is false; Person 2 is simply pointing out that the argument is false. By saying “There’s this factor Z that is important”, Person 1 is now arguing that X and Z together imply Y. Person is engaging in a bait and switch, first presenting the argument “X implies Y”, and then, when that argument is shown to be false, substituting the argument “X and Z implies Y”. This is another Dark Arts tactic: get someone to present a counterargument to one of your arguments, and then switch to a different argument, and point out that the counterargument does not address this new argument, while pretending that that was your argument all the while. If you can pull it off, the audience won’t even notice that you’re faulting the rebuttal for failing to address a point that you didn’t even make until after the rebuttal was presented.

    In “What’s So Great About Christianity”, Dinesh D’Souza engages in this tactic with a version of the cosmological argument for God, starting with the premise that everything must have a cause, then proceeding to engage in an argument that ends with the conclusion that God exists. He then anticipates the rejoinder “Well, what caused God?” by saying that only material things need a cause. But the entire argument was based on the premise that everything needs a cause, not just material things.

    • BenSix says:

      If that was his argument it was immensely foolish. The cosmological argument has never relied on such a premise.

      • Protagoras says:

        Well, apparently D’Souza’s version did, so you are incorrect that no version of it ever has. And in general I’d say Feser is much too quick to interpret some very unclear sources as always presenting exactly the argument he thinks they should have. I’d call it charity, but since I don’t think Feser’s arguments work, I don’t know that interpreting others’ arguments as being the same as his is in fact doing them any favors.

      • 27chaos says:

        In general, he is jumping around between various versions of the cosmological arguments and using the strong points of one to defend the weak points of others. But not all these arguments are compatible with each other so this approach is dishonest.

        Also, often he doesn’t even defend the arguments he mentions, he just asserts that they’re being ignored. But IMO if you want an argument to be paid attention to you need to justify it, because insisting each atheist address every argument ever made is an unfair burden.

        3 is flat-out wrong. If a cosmological argument doesn’t assume that the universe came into existence, then it can’t provide evidence that favors the existence of God over the existence of other always existing explanations.

        4 is stupid because Acquinas’ arguments about why a prime cause requires personality are total garbage and so are everyone else’s along those lines. “Intelligence can only come from intelligence” is akin to asserting that food is sentient.

        Asserting that there are no arguments is incorrect, true, but it at least encourages the debating opponent to pick a specific argument that can then be addressed. Since all the arguments are garbage, ignoring their existence is practically charitable. 🙂

        7 is incorrect in that there aren’t any metaphysical proofs of the idea that a cause is necessary for all material things that come into existence. If you say that all materials that have come into existence have had a cause attached you’re relying on current empirical knowledge. But maybe our current empirical knowledge is just incomplete and sometimes stuff can jump into existence – if nothing else that seems a simpler hypothesis than God, who is literally infinitely mysterious and in addition has the power to make stuff jump into existence through similar though apparently distinct means.

        Anscombe’s objection is stupid because it doesn’t distinguish between “no proof for” and “proof against”. Hume was arguing for the former claim, pointing out the unjustified assumption of Christian proofs, not the latter, arguing that Christian proofs are demonstrably incorrect because the assumption has been disproven.

        The comments on that blog get interesting around page 2. Also terrifying – in response to a claim about causality not existing in quantum physics there are some people claiming that empiricism is irrelevant to questions of the universe’s beginning and/or causation in general. What can be done when faced with an audience so biased?

        • Mary says:

          “3 is flat-out wrong. If a cosmological argument doesn’t assume that the universe came into existence, then it can’t provide evidence that favors the existence of God over the existence of other always existing explanations.”

          Please be more explicit about what these other “always existing” explanations are, and how they differ from the “God” one — bearing in mind that the argument is for a Being with one attribute, namely necessary existence, so any being with that trait is “God” for this purpose.

          • 27chaos says:

            Suppose that the universe has always existed, with planets and stars flying around in the exact circles they are now forever and always. That view of the universe doesn’t seem to involve God or creation (unless you’re a pantheist I guess, maybe).

            Or, suppose we’re in a universe that caused itself. Same thing.

          • RCF says:

            1. It’s rather disingenuous to deliberately choose a word that most definitely does not refer merely to necessary existence, and then claim that you are not asserting anything other than necessary existence. It’s like saying that you’re going to prove that unicorns exist, and then saying “Step One: define ‘unicorn’ as ‘quadruped with a horn’.”

            2. Saying “I’m defining ‘God’ as the Being with necessary existence’ ” smuggles in an unstated premise, namely that “Being with necessary existence” is a unique Being.

            3. It seems obvious to me that if A necessarily exists, and A necessarily leads to B, then B necessarily exists. Therefore, we must conclude that either the universe necessarily exists, or that that God does not necessarily lead to the universe. The latter means that there is some factor other than the existence of God that caused the universe to exist.

          • J_Taylor says:

            1. This is traditional.

            2. Two necessary beings are probably the same being. I have no favored method regarding reasoning about necessity, but there are valid arguments for this, given certain rules of modal logic. I am uncertain.

            3. God is necessary. The universe is contingent. God has free will, and could have not created the universe.

            (Note: I am not a theist. However, this is what a theist would say.)

        • BenSix says:

          …if you want an argument to be paid attention to you need to justify it…

          He defends these arguments in his book Aquinas (well or badly I have yet to decide).

          • 27chaos says:

            He should be responding to any criticisms of his book that missed the point, then. Not to arguments which did not have anything to do with his book.

            I am doubtful the argument in his book is so complex that it cannot be summarized. Doing that would be a much better way of criticizing atheists’ arguments / promoting his book than simply listing assumptions which are not universally accurate.

            Straw men are bad, but at least they’re followed up by arguments. Descriptive claims with snide implications are worse than straw men since they’re harder to criticize but feature less content.

      • RCF says:

        So, apparently No True Cosmological Argument has every relied on such a premise, and No True Philosopher has made such a claim, and it is somehow dishonest for me to respond to the actual argument I have actually encountered in my daily life, rather than learning Latin so that I can read the original Aquinas, free from all those No True Philosophers who have corrupted him with their No True Translations.

        • BenSix says:

          If you took my post to be a criticism of your own I apologise as that was not my intention. It was fair to criticise the form of the argument that D’Souza promoted and I was marvelling at the foolishness of apologists who rely on such premises rather than sniping at you.

          What I would say, though, if you are responding to the blogpost, is that while it would not be dishonest to criticise a form of an idea as a form of an idea it would be dishonest to suggest that one’s criticisms are applicable to all forms of the idea. It would not be dishonest to criticise, for example, the belief that a cold snap proves that the Earth is not warming (or, indeed, that a hot spell proves that it is) but it would be dishonest to argue as if this is the most respectable form of the position.

  11. Anonymous says:

    So, yeah, “holistic” admissions are pretty troubling. But “fair” tests can also easily perpetuate group advantages (or distort them beyond group “merit”), even if the tests provide unbiased estimates of merit regardless of group membership! I actually have no idea what the best solution looks like. So many tradeoffs.

    • Anonymous says:

      But “fair” tests can also easily perpetuate group advantages (or distort them beyond group “merit”), even if the tests provide unbiased estimates of merit regardless of group membership!

      Not quite seeing how; can you expand on this?

      • Auroch says:

        The standard reasoning is that the designers/evaluators of the tests will judge ‘fair’ by their cultural context, which is biased, and generally biased towards upper-class norms. And this will tend to make the test biased towards upper-class norms.

        Additionally, even if the test measured the relevant qualities perfectly (could be ability to take classes, could be IQ, could be work ethic, could be some combination of the latter two), it is possible (and indeed likely) that side features of being upper class will incidentally advantage the upper class. (Higher likelihood of stable, caring family, better nutrition, etc.), which would legitimately affect merit in a culture-independent way but which would still be unevenly distributed.

        • Anonymous` says:

          The first paragraph doesn’t seem to be addressing the interesting “can unbiased tests still distort group advantage” question, and the second… seems like a Wrong Place problem. If the upper class legitimately has more merit, they’re legitimately better candidates, and even if you’re unhappy about the lower class’ plight, addressing it by lying to yourself about their merit seems extremely unhelpful (in a treating-some-symptoms-while-ignoring-the-cause way). Upstream interventions would be far better.

          Now time for the only-partially-connected rant I’ve had bubbling up for a few years.

          I currently go to a state school, and get told I’m brilliant by many of my professors for embarrassingly simple things, because of the contrast between my ability to follow basic descriptions of systems and almost everyone else’s*… lack of that ability. This isn’t brilliance, this is just basic competence! Real brilliance would be creating or discovering things; you just need the “understand systems” ability to have a prayer at accomplishing those. But our society lies to itself about what people are capable of, and so all the incompetent people are kept around, to the point where you get Biology juniors and seniors who still don’t really have transcription and translation down and bog down upper-level classes with incredibly confused questions. I’m doing an Economics minor too, and it is *SO MUCH (EVEN) WORSE* in those classes.

          I remember reading in multiple places (I think including Less Wrong, but in more hacker-mainstream places first) that computer programming is an extremely stratified-ability field, where one person could be multiple orders of magnitude more effective than others. I think far more fields (even outside of science/math/tech) are like this than people are willing to realize, and the “basic competence” line is already multiple orders of magnitude past most people’s ability level (and magnitudes and frequencies of abilities seem to follow something like a power law). The vast majority of students in each field right now are *never* going to be any good whatsoever in that field, no matter what their teachers try. It would be far nicer if they were actually allowed to fail out (anything lower than an B+ in most classes represents a serious failure to understand the material; F is a ridiculous enough failure cutoff when it means ~60%, but becomes absolutely ludicrous when classes are on a strict curve and it merely means bottom tenth-or-so of the class–in these classes people quite often pass with a 30-50**), actually weeded out by SAT scores, etc. so that the teachers could stop wasting time, resources, and class-tailoring-decisions on them and maximize their efficiency at teaching the people who have an actual chance of getting something out of the classes in the first place.

          *I’m not from a particularly upper-class background, and by “almost everyone else” I mean almost everyone else of every race and class and gender.

          **Alternate hypothesis: nobody learns the material because the standards are so low that they can pass anyway, and they’re not interested in the material enough to spend any time on it/most don’t have much in the way of scholarships to maintain with A grades. This seems obviously right, now that I put it that way, but on the other hand… much of this material is still so simple that it’s troubling they can’t pick it up just by sitting in class (many don’t come to class, yes, but the ones that ask stupid in-class questions/give horribly stupid in-class answers… do).
          Alternate alternate hypothesis: my habit of actually taking rephrased, with-my-own-commentary/further musings, material-complete notes, which almost nobody else does since slides are available for most classes, is massively effective and they would see similar results if they started (i.e. it’s not so much an innate IQ difference as an instrumental engagement difference).

          I’m thinking that of the portion of causes I’ve figured out (i.e. the “unknown causes” portion has an unknown size, which I know is lazy and unnecessary from a Bayesian perspective but I’m Done Writing Now), the mess is something like 60% due to innate ability difference, 30% due to low grade pressures, and 10% due to notes and my other methods (which don’t really take much of my time either (in non-science (yes, including math as non-science for these purposes–not nearly as much bookkeeping there as in biology or chemistry) classes I can pretty safely cut my studying to 30 minutes per exam, and even in science it’s usually less than 5 hours per exam (homework/assigned reading not included in either count); nobody probably actually does it but professors suggest crazy multiple-hours-a-DAY study times), but they take slightly more than they would if I was shooting for a B/C instead of an A every time).

          • a person says:

            I sort of agree but I want to add that I have a 147 IQ and I pretty much consistently got b minuses in math in high school. I usually understood the system at some point, but not necessarily by the day of the test and not necessarily well enough to solve all the problems without making mistakes. On the other hand when I took a more theoretical math course my senior year (it was 3d vectors and matricies and stuff, not sure what the official name for that field is) I was good at it and my teacher told me that I had a profound gift for mathematical thinking or something like that. So I think that getting less than a b plus is not always an iq thing or an inability to understand systems but could also be a mix of lack of motivation, poor study skills, laziness, having other stuff on your plate, etc.

            I think some nerds have a typical mind fallacy where they put their heart and soul into their schoolwork and don’t understand that others don’t. Personally, my brain prioritizes the elements of my life sort of like 1. Personal growth and development, 2. Social relationships, 3. Physical fitness, 4. Schoolwork. This may it may not be rational but it’s how I am. So if I have a lot of other stuff going on I might choose not to completely understand a system and instead learn just as much as I can to pass the test. For a lot of college students, doing homework is just something you do in between getting drunk, not the other way around. (That sounds like a condemnation but I don’t mean it that way, I’m probably like this myself.)

            Disclaimer: I think I went to an unusually difficult high school and I go to a prestigious college.

          • Nornagest says:

            it was 3d vectors and matricies and stuff, not sure what the official name for that field is

            Linear algebra. In a high school context, though, it’s likely to be covered as part of another course; my high school lumped (the rudiments of) it into Algebra II, but I’ve heard of it being covered in high-school calculus classes too. Despite the fact that it doesn’t naturally feed into calculus until you start getting into partial differential equations, usually a couple years into a college curriculum.

            As to grades and IQ, I don’t think it’s particularly controversial to say that grades capture conscientiousness and willingness to work with institutions as much or more than they capture raw intelligence. That’s not to say that they’re useless, though; conscientiousness is also strongly correlated with later success.

    • Wulfrickson says:

      I’m not sure what you mean. Would this be a fair paraphrase? (I’m trying to be as precise as possible in defining “fair” and “merit.”)

      “Let’s assume that the goal of college admissions is to choose the students who will most likely succeed academically. Now suppose that there exists a college admissions test that is completely unbiased in the sense that the regression lines correlating scores on this test to performance in college are the same for every demographic group we care about. It is still entirely plausible that upper-class groups will do better on both for reasons unrelated to innate ability, e.g. better childhood nutrition, better education, stereotype threat, et al. [Yes, I know that each of these can be disputed empirically; just accept them for the sake of argument.] And because college serves as a class gatekeeper, reliance on this test will tend to preserve class distinctions more strongly than in the case we will take to be ideal, in which opportunity has been completely equalized and differences in academic merit depend solely on differences in innate ability.”

      I’m more sympathetic to that argument than I suspect most people here are, though that’s mostly a function of my low opinions of (certain forms of) genetic determinism, and we’ve had that argument far too many times already.

      (All that said, “holistic” admissions really does need to go die in a hole.)

      • AR+ says:

        Even that being the case, isn’t it still better to get the student’s most capable of succeeding? If you want to “fix” the “problem” of some groups not doing well enough, the way to fix it in a way that doesn’t sabotage the academic process (such as it is) would be to intervene in the earlier life stages, and then measure your success by how many of the resulting young adults do well by meritocratic measures.

        Well, if we’re seriously talking about college in particular, I think there’s a lot of low hanging fruit in the form of abolishing the school system. But my point is, giving away valued slots for the possibility that, a generation from now, their descendents will do better, is misguided regardless. Work on the children alive now and you can get your results in half a generation.

        • Wulfrickson says:

          Where did I say that I disagreed? I think you’re completely right.

        • social justice warlock says:

          Even that being the case, isn’t it still better to get the student’s most capable of succeeding?

          Depends what you’re trying to maximize. There’s the question of allocating human resources to sectors of the economy and the separate-in-principle (but not in practice) one of allocating access to ruling class institutions to people (and in particular people embedded in different prior networks, &c.) If you care about both then it may be Pareto-efficient to simultaneously make MIT more strictly meritocratic while making Harvard less, say.

          • Wulfrickson says:

            Are you thinking of the old conservative argument that “meritocracy” would deprive the lower classes of their natural leaders, and a quasi-hereditary upper class with a monopoly on the elite institutions would work out the best for them?

            (I almost wish that we still heard that argument; it seems to have dropped out of our discourse along with the rest of our ability to think about social class. Though I have heard a similarly-structured argument that the First World should ban Third World immigration on the grounds that the Third Worlders who would have emigrated would be better employed fixing their home countries instead, which is so much less malicious than the usual arguments against Third World immigration that it’s almost charming.)

          • social justice warlock says:

            Actually the implicit model I had in mind was a sort of representation model where e.g. African American elites are at least somewhat friendlier to African American masses than White elites (even if this is also simultaneously a process of cooptation, which is, for the reasons you point out, probably why White liberals support it to the extent that they do.) But it could also be that, or the traditional ruling class desire to pass down status to their children, or whatever – my broader attempted point is that whatever your political beliefs (assuming they’re not some horrible unreflective LWy technocratic thing) you probably care about more than just getting the Smartest Guys To Do The Smartest Things.

          • AR+ says:

            Right, I get that. But if the current generation of prospective students wouldn’t get in on their merits then the failure has already occurred. Now you’re just throwing good money after bad. Try again on the next generation.

          • AR+ says:

            …my broader attempted point is that whatever your political beliefs (assuming they’re not some horrible unreflective LWy technocratic thing) you probably care about more than just getting the Smartest Guys To Do The Smartest Things.

            I do. But why does deliberately sabotaging the process (as opposed to the implicit self-sabotage which the current process carries out itself) of getting The Smartest Guys Doing The Smartest Things constitute a solution for anything other than helping this or that group jockey for status by non-meritorious means?

            I suppose I can’t say that I’d have a problem with mostly whites, for example, having all the good jobs IF whites did indeed turn out to be the best at those jobs, even if the reason is something like childhood nutrition and community access to libraries. Such reasons would be arguments in favor of improving nutrition for poor children and funding libraries, but the reasons do not change who is actually, currently the best at something, and so shouldn’t be considered when deciding who to give the job (or training slots for that type of job).

            I can recognize wanting to promote a particular ethnic group, such as one’s own. Still, the legitimate way to do that should be to improve their merit, not try to degrade the concept of merit itself because your preferred group doesn’t have as much of it. I won’t claim that the system, as is, is meritorious. (Even universities themselves make it a selling point that they aren’t.) But it should be, and I’m prepared to accept that this would, not leave some groups behind, but rather, accurately reflect the extent to which they have already been left behind.

          • social justice warlock says:

            I do. But why does deliberately sabotaging the process (as opposed to the implicit self-sabotage which the current process carries out itself) of getting The Smartest Guys Doing The Smartest Things constitute a solution for anything other than helping this or that group jockey for status by non-meritorious means?

            Funge, not sabotage; power, not status.

            (I actually have a theory that almost all conversations in places on the Rationalism map could be improved by tabooing “status,” but that’s another conversation.)

          • AR+ says:

            I’m afraid I don’t know what “funge,” means, and searching it didn’t help.

            But ok, power. So it’s just a power play by a group that doesn’t feel like it has enough of it. It’s the same, right?

          • Anonymous says:

            The thing is that one group or another making obvious power plays like this tends to lead to others thinking the same way, making politics become zero or even negative sum. Pure meritocracy on the other hand can function as a schelling point and, if it works correctly, provides no incentives for inter-group conflicts beyond raising the academic abilities and achievements of your group which is beneficial to everyone.

          • dublin says:

            The trick, of course, is to swing it so that your group is allowed to make blatant power plays and other groups aren’t.

          • Mary says:

            “Are you thinking of the old conservative argument that “meritocracy” would deprive the lower classes of their natural leaders, and a quasi-hereditary upper class with a monopoly on the elite institutions would work out the best for them?”

            Conservative?

            “teachers have themselves generally absorbed uncritically the notion that social justice—meaning little more than an equal distribution of income—is the summum bonum of human existence. I have heard two teachers expound the theory that, as social mobility reinforces the existing social structure, it delays the achievement of social justice by depriving the lower classes of militants and potential leaders. Thus to encourage an individual child to escape his heritage of continual soap opera and pop music, tabloid newspapers, poverty, squalor, and domestic violence is, in the eyes of many teachers, to encourage class treachery. It also conveniently absolves teachers of the tedious responsibility for the welfare of individual pupils. ”

            Yet another quote from — and link to — a Theodore Dalrymple article other than the only one anyone ever links to:
            http://www.city-journal.org/html/10_3_oh_to_be.html

          • Mary says:

            “African American elites are at least somewhat friendlier to African American masses than White elites”

            Assumptions, assumptions — the civil rights movement prohibited whites in leadership positions on the grounds that their intentions might be the purest, but they did have a conflict of interest. Until we get rid of Affirmative Action, black elites have a conflict of interest. Sasha and Malia Obama WILL get Affirmative Action, even though their own father has publicly admitted its ridiculous. Therefore, black elites have a stake in keeping black masses as poor and miserable as possible, to continue justifying Affirmative Action.

          • Army1987 says:

            http://www.city-journal.org/html/10_3_oh_to_be.html

            Trigger warning: strawmanning of linguistic descriptivism.

          • RCF says:

            “Trigger warning: strawmanning of linguistic descriptivism.”

            I don’t think that the term “descriptivism” is refers to a coherent enough concept to justify an accusation of “strawman”.

          • Army1987 says:

            It totally does. See e.g. http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/001843.html for a description of non-straw descriptivism. (By the same guy who wrote the proof of the Halting Problem in the style of Dr. Seuss!)

          • Yes, in an article that I largely agreed with, the unjustified swipe at descriptive linguistics was the main thing that bugged me. Though, to be fair, I don’t think that the error is entirely Dalrymple’s: to a lot of non-linguists, including, plausibly, the educators and bureaucrats that Dalrymple interacts with, that is what descriptivism implies, even though no linguist would cop to that definition.

        • 27chaos says:

          What fruit do you see and why?

      • apt get says:

        There’s also concern about the considerably smaller ratio of true positives to false negatives in low-scoring groups.

        • whales says:

          Why are people ignoring this? It seems more interesting and important than talking about “power plays.”

          • lunatic says:

            Maybe it’s because it’s not good response-bait.

            That’s a very interesting comment, apt. Can you provide more details?

      • Nornagest says:

        It is still entirely plausible that upper-class groups will do better on both for reasons unrelated to innate ability, e.g. better childhood nutrition, better education, stereotype threat, et al.

        I’m having a hard time thinking of a definition of “innate ability” that doesn’t at least partly capture things like childhood nutrition. It’s not like we’re D&D characters, born with a random INT score rolled on 3d6 that’s only later affected by conditional modifiers; our adult ability is the sum of a whole mess of factors, each one more or less variable.

        Some of these are going to be class-linked, at least at the extremes. That means that there’s some bullets we’re going to have to bite no matter what option we choose. We could reasonably dispute which bullets we’re willing to bite, of course.

    • Hainish says:

      While this is true, the “fair test” problem is IMO more easily solved than the holistic admission problems. Worst case, the cultural background knowledge that earns you a higher score just becomes part of what the test-taker must learn.

  12. caryatis says:

    “Once it exists, there is zero reason the government should not fund free RISUG for every high school boy (as well as promising to fund the reversal operation) and cut accidental pregnancies down to zero. There’s your solution to fifty percent of social problems right there.”

    Except that we have effective, safe, reversible contraception for women and somehow we still have a lot of unwanted pregnancies.

    Why would the reasons women fail to use contraception (not thinking they’re going to have sex, poverty, ambivalent desire for a baby, lack of understanding of biology, whatever else) not apply to men? I mean, anecdotally there are a lot of men out there who avoid condoms.

    • social justice warlock says:

      If nothing else, you get an additional filter to pass through. But also:

      1) this technique, unlike the pill or (especially) condoms, is one-time, so it can’t be used improperly, forgotten, or abandoned for short-term reasons,
      2) boys are more likely to want to signal promiscuity to their peers, not chastity, and
      3) while there are some boys with residual desire to have children too, the ones least interested in it are precisely the ones we want to enable to opt out of having them.

      • caryatis says:

        1) See the IUD.
        2) Makes sense. But of course, some boys and men get sense of status from paternity.
        3) The ones least interested in having kids are already using condoms. Something more effective than condoms would decrease their chances of getting pregnant, but I wouldn’t expect a dramatic effect.

        • Anonymous says:

          IUDs are great, but they didn’t catch on and often you just have to wait for a new thing to come along to create a bandwagon.

        • anon1 says:

          IUDs are great but you have a choice of (a) a hormonal one which can mess with your head in some unpleasant ways (not as much as the pill, but it can still do lovely things like worsen depression) or (b) a copper one that makes your periods twice as long and twice as painful. I have the latter and I like it overall, but twice as painful for me is still not that bad and I certainly couldn’t recommend it for everyone.

        • naath says:

          1) IME health care professionals are *extremely* reluctant to provide long-term contraceptive methods to teenage girls – I don’t know why. I’m not sure whether this reluctance would extend to prescribing long-term contraceptives to teenage boys. (IME health care professionals are happy enough to prescribe teen girls the Pill; so it’s not a generalized dislike of prescribing contraception to teens) .

          3)long-term methods of contraception that don’t require frequent attention from the user are *vastly* more reliable in typical-use than methods that do – people-in-general are kinda crappy at doing things consistently perfectly.

      • I’m willing to bet that every method has side effects, at least for some people– there are going to be quality of life reasons to opt out.

    • drethelin says:

      “effective, safe, reversible” you forgot extremely painful which RISUG doesn’t seem to be.

      • caryatis says:

        What contraceptive is extremely painful?

        • Anonymous says:

          Supposedly reversing a vasectomy is painful. Probably the better way to look at it is that it isn’t reversible, but that extracting sperm is painful.

        • drethelin says:

          IUDs

          • Caryatis says:

            …are not overly painful for most. But i’m sorry if you’ve had a bad experience with them.

          • anon1 says:

            Caryatis: a common reason for choosing IUD over the pill is that hormonal methods have too many side effects. In which case the only real option is the copper variety, which makes periods really substantially worse for a large fraction of people.

          • drethelin says:

            Of the two people I know who have them and I have talked to about getting them in both said it was the worst pain they’d ever had.

          • caryatis says:

            To get away from extrapolating from our own/our friends’ experience, Wikipedia says “Substantial pain that needs active management occurs in approximately 17% of nulliparous women and approximately 11% of parous women. In such cases, NSAID are evidenced to be effective.”

            So a minority of women experience *some* pain. (I don’t know what “substantial” means, but it can’t usually be that bad if Tylenol takes care of it.) So it may be that drethelin’s friends actually experienced the worst pain ever from an IUD, but they were not the typical case.

          • Jaskologist says:

            11-17% is a pretty high percentage, from a risk-taking perspective.

          • anon1 says:

            “Evidenced to be effective” means NSAIDs make the pain enough better to statistically beat not taking them. It does NOT mean that they “take care of it.” Wikipedia also states that NSAIDs are “effective” for ordinary menstrual cramps, which should make it pretty clear to, well, some decent fraction of commenters that “effectiveness” is a really fucking low bar for a drug to meet, and on an individual level hard or impossible to distinguish from placebo.

            I wouldn’t say that the day after insertion was the worst pain I’d ever had. It was somewhat worse than walking with a broken toe, but not as bad as sitting on a broken tailbone. Not a lot of fun, though.

          • Anon2 says:

            From the source article: “A systematic review found non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents (NSAID) to be effective in reactively treating post-insertion pain, but no benefit was found with prophylactic use.”

            I’ve had three insertions. The only thing that worked for me was having a local anesthetic injected into a particular part of the cervix (and finding an ancient doctor who knew how to do it, because it’s not a common procedure, apparently).

            (By “worked for me,” I mean it reduced the severe pain I’d previously experienced during insertions.)

          • Sniffnoy says:

            I’m going to nitpick here and point out that Tylenol isn’t an NSAID. (Yes, I realize this has no bearing on the point of the discussion, I just don’t want people thinking Tylenol is an NSAID. 😛 )

          • caryatis says:

            Sniffnoy, I did not realize that. Thank you.

    • Scott F says:

      Three reasons why RISUG for all boys will cut unintended pregnancies to near zero where a long parade of contraceptives for women failed:

      One, it is the first safe, effective, side-effect-free, default-on contraceptive for any gender. IUDs and hormone implants are default-on but have side effects. The pill and the minipill are safe, effective, and there are enough formulations (estrogen and progesterone, progesterone only, high doses, low doses, you name it) that a side-effect free option can be found for nearly every woman, but there is a reason that the typical user of the pill has a 1 in 10 chance of pregnancy in a given year when the perfect user of the pill has a 1 in 1000 chance: compliance is hard. Condoms are worse than default-off: they are introduced at the initiation of sex and make sex less enjoyable[1], a bad incentive structure if I ever saw one.

      Two, you are giving an extremely effective pregnancy prevention tool to the gender that most wants to prevent pregnancies; I have yet to hear of a man sabotaging birth control to produce a pregnancy that he believes will solidify the relationship or at least entitle him to share in the woman’s wealth. With so little incentive to misuse the pregnancy prevention tool, rates will be much closer to perfect use.

      Three, as coverage approaches 100% you see much greater improvements. This probably has a technical name like ‘accelerating returns’ but I prefer to think about it in terms of stat investment in MMO/RPG characters. The +1% blocking chance buff that takes you from blocking 0% of attacks to blocking 1% of incoming attacks reduces your damage taken by one-hundredth. That same +1% buff, if it takes you from blocking 98% of the time to 99% of the time, reduces your damage taken by half.

      Up until now we were limited to a hard cap of 50% blocking rate (all women on birth control). With the introduction of default-on birth control for men, we have raised the hard cap to 100%.

      1: If you use condoms and are even slightly bothered by them, I suggest you should strongly consider purchasing Okamoto Crown condoms. They are very, very good.

      • caryatis says:

        Good points on 1 and 3. But why do you think men are much more likely to want to prevent pregnancy? In Kathryn Edin’s work, men were about as likely to be happy with an unplanned pregnancy as women. And men sabotaging women’s birth control to keep the relationship going is far from unheard of.

        Men miss out on some of the benefits of having children, since women are more likely to have custody–but on the other hand for the same reason they don’t incur as much of the cost.

        Plus, the same reasons that lead women to say they don’t want a baby and yet fail to use effective birth control apply to men–religion, ambivalence, poverty, ignorance, or just a disorganized life.

        I mean, if male birth control actually works with no side effects it would be a great thing, and for the reasons you state in 3 it would cut unwanted pregnancies. But men are human, and we shouldn’t expect them to be any more responsible or better at implementing their declared preferences than woman have been.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Men miss out on some of the benefits of having children, since women are more likely to have custody–but on the other hand for the same reason they don’t incur as much of the cost.

          Child support is pretty costly, from what I hear.

        • Scott F says:

          Yeah, 2 is badly phrased and probably incorrect as I have stated it (although I truly haven’t ever heard of a man sabotaging birth control).

          Something more like “men who least want pregnancies (and thus are disproportionately driving the ‘unwanted pregnancy screws up your life’ effect) will now be able to opt out rather than rely on a partner who may not abhor pregnancy so much.”

          Another thing I just thought of: once this becomes available, moral opposition to abortion stops being a rule-out criterion for men who don’t want pregnancies.

          • Joel says:

            although I truly haven’t ever heard of a man sabotaging birth control

            Exhibit A: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-26488425

          • Scott F says:

            Thanks for that link! It’s especially helpful to learn that he did it precisely to keep her in the relationship, which until now was filed under “something a woman does” in my head. I guess I was typical-mind-ing and assuming all men have my cost/benefit analysis of pregnancy.

            (There’s a whole MRA thing about how when he sabotages it, he gets 18 months jail; when she sabotages it … he gets 18 years wage garnishing. But that would be me moving the goalposts, since what I said was ‘I have never heard of a man doing this’.)

          • Joel says:

            Another reason why men might do it less is simply less opportunity. The men who are most likely to want children (I would think) are ones in more serious, long-term relationships (you don’t want your one-night stand getting pregnant); and in those relationships I would expect that usually if the couple is using birth control it’s the woman who is using it.

            I am inclined to agree with you about the severity of the punishment in this case.

          • caryatis says:

            Scott, according to a CDC survey, some 5% of women have had partners who tried to get them pregnant without their consent (although there may be reasons other than trying to preserve the relationship). This rarely comes to the attention of the authorities, and according to Wikipedia is not even a crime in the U.S. If you haven’t heard of this, you must not read a lot of feminist blogs. Which is understandable.

          • Anonymous says:

            Coercion is a wider category. The original point was sabotage. I interpreted sabotage as secret, as in the link (though there is some literature that distinguishes sabotage from coercion without requiring secrecy).

      • Matthew says:

        Note that while actual universal implementation of RISUG would remove the birth control burden from women, not-quite-universal implementation would not. Since the burden of pregnancy falls on women, one should expect a certain amount of reluctance to trust men who claim to be infertile, except in the case of a stable long-term partner.

        • caryatis says:

          Good point. Prudent women would have to continue using BC until marriage or a relationship with an equivalent level of trust.

          I would also worry that RISUG would make it easier for men to get out of wearing condoms–women would have one fewer argument in favor of condoms, and it’s harder to say “I think you might have an STD” than “I don’t want to get pregnant.”

          • Matthew says:

            To be honest, from a hedonic-utilitarian standpoint, I think we should just subsidize to make STD-testing much cheaper and enncourage a norm of everyone getting tested with high frequency to remove the stigma, and then anyone who’s together for more than just a one-night-stand would have no excuse when a partner suggests testing.

            I gather that people’s experiences of this vary widely, but for me, the difference between sex-with-condom and sex-without-condom is absolutely enormous (Emotionally, it’s obviously better, but physically, I’m not even sure I’d consider sex-with-condom more pleasurable than masturbation). If I had access to RISUG, I’d rather submit to the discomfort and expense of constant blood tests than wear condoms.

      • grendelkhan says:

        On point two, here’s the starting point on Wikipedia. I think you’re considering that if you’re male, reasonably middle-class and very much don’t want to have children, there’s not much you can do with a high degree of certainty short of abstinence or a vasectomy, whereas women have implants, Depo-Provera and IUDs. It’s not so much that the market is only there for men, it’s just that the market is terribly poorly-served for men.

      • naath says:

        Oh, on 2 you are just so so wrong. Sabotaging birth control is a distressingly common behavior of abusive men following the “logic” that a woman with a baby is more likely to stay in an abusive relationship that offers shelter and food than leave and risk homelessness for not just herself but her infant.

        Of course it allows men who don’t want children who are with women who do want children to ensure that they do not father children; which is useful. Reduces the need for men to trust their partners to take care of contraception. In more high-trust situations it gives couples more choices, which I don’t think can possibly be bad.

        At a tangent, it is great for poly women who want to get pregnant by a specific male partner without having to abstain from sex with other male partners ;-p

        I guess the main downside is that if the majority of both men and women are using fertility suppressing contraceptive methods many fewer will be using condoms to prevent pregnancy; which might lead to higher rates of STD transmission.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Everybody is saying “yay, no more unintended pregnancies!” and maybe you’re right and this time will be different, but really all I can think is “Oh goodie. Way, way more STDs. Probably new and exciting and antibiotic-resistant ones, even. I’m sure that won’t bring a whole new host of social problems.”

      • AR+ says:

        Well, it’s not like those people wouldn’t have had sex and gotten STDs anyway. Now they just wouldn’t get pregnant, as well.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Risk compensation is the magic phrase here. People adjust their behavior based on what they perceive the risk to be, which is probably why ever more available contraception has, if anything, coincided with an increase in unwanted pregnancies. Do you really think these boys, once they’re being told that they can never ever get a girl pregnant by accident, aren’t going to change their behavior?

          • Nornagest says:

            ever more available contraception has, if anything, coincided with an increase in unwanted pregnancies.

            [citation needed]

          • grendelkhan says:

            [citation needed]

            Here are unintended pregnancy rates every six years or so since the early 1980s. Unintended pregnancy has only risen for women under 200% of the poverty line.

            Also, the majority of unintended pregnancies occur in women who are not using contraception at all. The vast majority happen in women who are not consistently using contraception. (Hence the push to subsidize and provide long-acting reversible forms.)

            If there’s risk compensation going on, it’s in the latter group, but it’s fixable by making contraception foolproof.

          • Jaskologist says:

            While I admit we don’t have good direct data (I do not think 1980s is a nearly early enough starting point; the pill came out in the 60s), I think out of wedlock births gives a pretty good approximation. Take your pick of graphs.

            For a related data point, the abortion rate in NY is around 40%. That’s a whole lot of uninded pregnancies, in a place that’s hardly lacking in contraceptive access or progressive ideology.

          • grendelkhan says:

            Percentages of births which are out of wedlock–most of those graphs–conflate “married couples are having fewer children” with “unmarried couples are having more children”. (For example. Note the birthrate for married black women dropping precipitously since around 1990. Sorry, the data only goes back to the late 1960s.)

            I think I may be reiterating a point Scott made last year, but it’s entirely possible that earlier methods of contraception are fallible enough for risk-compensation to make up for it, but more reliable methods (“long-acting reversible contraception”) are so reliable that people simply can’t have enough sex to overcome their efficacy, which is why current attempts are to push and subsidize LARC.

            Most unintended pregnancies happen to people who are not using contraception. Most of the remainder happen to people who are inconsistently using contraception. This is why the idea is to get more people using contraception which can’t be used inconsistently.

          • Jaskologist says:

            It is also influenced by an increase in the number of women having children out of wedlock. If you reduce the OOW birthrate from 6 to 3 kids, but double the population of women having children out of wedlock, you haven’t made progress. (from the other side, if only one woman has kids OOW, but she has 12 of them, you’re probably doing great). The percentage of your population being raised OOW still seems like the most important statistic.

            Anyway, my original concern was STDs, not pregnancy; pregnancies were just a proxy for compensatory risky sex. This time may very well be different; maybe more contraception will finally deliver on the promised reduction in unwanted pregnancies.

            But if you aren’t using condoms, you are basically a plague vector. And given the actual-usage failure rates of condoms in preventing pregnancies, I’m not sure they’re even that great at the disease prevention.

          • caryatis says:

            I completely disagree with the assertion that out of wedlock births = unintended births. Don’t know where that is coming from.

  13. swf says:

    A much stronger article on the gay homeless, IMO. The writer, Rachel Aviv, has written a number of New Yorker articles on esp. mental health that might be of interest.

  14. Alyssa Vance says:

    “Private companies are starting to invest in nuclear fusion, not that the amount of money they’re putting in changes much in a non-symbolic way.”

    Scott, I love you, but this is Very Wrong.

    The first priority of scientists in government fusion labs is to get lots of grant money. This has four consequences:

    – First, the scientists tell everyone that fusion is inherently super-expensive, and developing it has to cost eleventy bazillion dollars.

    – Second, the scientists explain any failure, or delay, or lack of progress, by saying they don’t have enough money.

    – Third, the scientists repeat the first two statements, to the media and to the influential, as loudly and as often as possible.

    – And fourth, even when it’s obvious to the experts that a given approach is hopeless, the scientists can’t admit this, because that would mean losing the grant money.

    Thinking about the situation in terms of money contributes (however infinitesimally) to the problem where the government throws piles of money at fusion, and it predictably doesn’t work; and meanwhile others with more promising approaches don’t bother trying, because everyone tells them fusion must cost eleventy bazillion dollars. It’s largely the same as the situation with pharmaceuticals (http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/08/16/an-iron-curtain-has-descended-upon-psychopharmacology/), where everyone thinks finding drugs is terribly expensive and requires huge grants and big charity fundraisers to make any progress at all, and meanwhile there are all these people no one notices doing really cool things that might work on less than 1% of the budget.

  15. Nornagest says:

    While this seems likely to be a faulty implementation of a faulty idea, it sure seems to be picking up something. Here’s Less Wrong posts by year, part one and two.

    I feel obliged to point out that this commits the unpardonable sin of having bar graphs that aren’t zero-indexed.

  16. Erebus says:

    It’s actually called the go-away-bird because its call sounds like “go away”. Check this out:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBexB-c8_rI

  17. Doug S. says:

    The Scientific American website isn’t working right now. 🙁

  18. knb says:

    I posted this on LW too, but I’ll put my response to Viliam Bur’s Freud comment here as well.

    As someone who has actually read a few Freud’s books long ago (before reading books by Ariely, Ridley, etc.), here are a few things that impressed me. Things that someone got right hundred years ago, when “it’s obviously magic” and “no, thoughts and emotions actually don’t exist” were the alternative famous models of human psychology.

    This is a completely inaccurate depiction of Psychology as it existed during Freud’s time. You list Jung, one of Freud’s victims, as the only example of a “rival.” I think perhaps this is standard continental Euro-Chauvinism. Could it be that you are really unaware of Francis Galton’s development of psychometrics or William James’ monumental Principles of Psychology? James is a good example of someone who was a predecessor/contemporary of Freud who studied the same topic but did not go utterly off the rails into Crazy Land the way Freud did. He took a naturalistic view of the human mind, drawing upon introspection and empiricism. Galton’s contributions were vast and showed actual mathematical rigor.

    Freud’s biggest contribution was probably his attempt to invent Psychopharmocology. (The short-term outcome was getting a lot of unfortunate people addicted to cocaine, but the basic idea had merit.) As for his theory of the human mind, it is worthless and set Psychology back by decades.

    Sadly Freudian Psychoanalysis is Religion and Big Business now, and still practiced heavily in Mitteleuropa and parts of South America.

    • lambdaphage says:

      Don’t forget Fechner, Weber, Mach, Helmholtz, Wundt et alia who inspired James and Galton.

      In any case, psychology was not in such terrible shape before Freud was done with it. When I was reading Edwin “Heterological” Boring’s history of experimental psychology, I couldn’t help but wonder how things would have turned out in the 20th century if the primary popular association with the field had been Fechner rather than Freud. I think that might have made more than a just noticeable difference.

  19. Douglas Knight says:

    I think that the three greatest contributors to psychology are James, Skinner, and Freud, in that order. Can’t we all just get along?

  20. Human pathos? Sounds more like human bathos.

  21. David says:

    Without getting into the pros and cons of having a remote deactivation device for weapons, calling it a ‘kill switch’ feels wrong somehow. There’s a sense in which all working guns have a ‘kill switch’ already 🙂

  22. Well-Manicured-Bug says:

    Churchill. It seems as though he lived his whole life so that he can write about it later. Like Feynman.

  23. Brian Potter says:

    Last links post I brought in Sariasan’s research showing that growing up poor doesn’t increase your chances of turning to crime as an adult once you adjust out heritable factors. I wasn’t aware he also has another study showing that growing up in a bad neighborhood doesn’t affect very much either.

    I’m normally pretty skeptical about drawing conclusions from single-study social science research, is there any reason I shouldn’t be here? The sample size is pretty enormous, but I’m not sure how much that alone should shift my judgment.

  24. Andrew G. says:

    If you want complete, consistent, decidable arithmetic with multiplication and division (and even square roots!), there’s always first-order real closed fields (or, equivalently, first-order Euclidean geometry).

  25. Deiseach says:

    I don’t know about the Myers-Briggs tests in general, but the ones I’ve taken come out ISTJ. That Typealyzer thing (on two separate blogs of mine) said I was ISFP – “The Artists”.

    I did a nine-month art/craft/design course back in the mid-90s and conclusively proved to myself that I don’t have a creative bone in my body.

    It also says The gentle and compassionate type.. I definitely am not gentle and compassionate. So my opinion? This analysis site is for the birds.

  26. Eric Rall says:

    My understanding of Freud’s major contributions to Psychology:

    1. He framed a lot of his ideas as testable hypotheses. So even though his theories were almost all wrong, they were useful as a starting point for iterative refinement.

    2. He wrote down everything and encouraged other psychologists to do the same. The latter part especially (Freud has been accused on fudging his records rather badly to force them to fit his theories, but those who followed the example of what he claimed to be doing were better behaved) produced a rich body of data against which to examine hypotheses.

    3. He stumbled onto and aggressively popularized some therapeutic techniques that turned out to be very useful, even though they weren’t useful for the reasons Freud thought they were.

    • Can you say more about point 1? Post-Popper, Freud is generally treated as a poster child for ‘bad at generating risky predictions’. Are there good quotes of Freud talking about possible observations that would falsify his models?

      • Eric Rall says:

        #1 is the one I’m the fuzziest on and most likely to be mistaken about. I don’t really have an understanding of specifics here, just a general impression that psychologists who came after Freud attempted to apply his theories, discovered falsifying evidence, and iteratively improved on them.

        I might be entirely off base here, or I might be supposing it has to do with the type of hypotheses he generated when it’s really just a combination of Freud’s very effective self-promotion (so many others try to apply Freud’s theories) and point 2 (so well-documented cases that contradict Freud’s theories are readily discovered).

  27. Alexander Stanislaw says:

    I wasn’t aware he also has another study showing that growing up in a bad neighborhood doesn’t affect very much either.

    Well this is kind of depressing. At first glance “familial factors” ,which is the main confound, looks suspiciously like “whether your parents are Swedish”. I’d like to see the same study done leaving out the parental factors and only including whether the person is of immigrant descent.

  28. Regarding the poetic proof of the undecidability of the halting problem (“Scooping the Loop Snooper”), the author, Geoffrey K Pullum of Language Log fame, has a corrected, official version of his poem here:

    http://www.lel.ed.ac.uk/~gpullum/loopsnoop.html

    I adore it but the ending bugs me, for what to this crowd will be obvious reasons. So I wrote this additional stanza:

    Or so you might think… but before you get smug,
    There’s one last loop to throw you for, speaking of bugs.
    It’s a Turing tape parade so I hate it to rain,
    But the whole preceding argument applies to your brain!

  29. Anonymous says:

    I may have said some bad things about airport security now and then, but I’ve changed my mind. I love airport security. Airport security is the best. Please keep searching everyone’s luggage as much as possible with no concern for personal privacy.

    I appreciate the humor here, but you realize that there’s a difference between ridiculous screening of passengers on airplanes, and US Customs and Border Protection which screens mail coming in from other countries?

  30. lmm says:

    >growing up poor doesn’t increase your chances of turning to crime as an adult once you adjust out heritable factors.

    Including factors that people don’t like admitting ate heritable? Including factors where there is an overall difference between the poor and non-poor populations?

  31. suntzuanime says:

    Somehow nobody is talking about this RISUG thing as a step forward for men’s sexual autonomy.

    • no one special says:

      When the terrible internet feminists* take a day off, the MRAs run out of fuel for their outrage machine. At that point they start complaining about how outrageous it is that RISUG wasn’t just copied straight over from India. Once that outrage dies down, they’ll talk about how important getting non-condom birth control for men is for their sexual autonomy. Then one of the terrible internet feminists will start talking again, and it will be forgotten in the outrage storm.

      *Terrible internet feminists is the subset of feminists who are terrible and on the internet. What portion of feminists this is doesn’t matter, only that the raw group size is large enough to provide continuous outrage, which it is.

    • grendelkhan says:

      People only talk about it as evidence of a vast feminine conspiracy. Good news about it getting tested and approved in the United States doesn’t fit that narrative. What are people going to say–oh, hey, men will no longer have to live under the threat of spermjacking? If we had any dyed-in-the-wool feminist types here, I’d expect to hear “finally, we can stop endlessly hearing about spermjacking”, but apparently we don’t.

    • nydwracu says:

      There was some stuff on Tumblr when RISUG was first announced about how clearly the fact that a nigh-untested form of male birth control that was just beginning to be rolled out in India and that had serious-sounding worries about side-effects at that time hadn’t already been adopted large-scale in America was due to the Eeeeevil Patriarchal Conspiracy that wants women to take birth control pills that are even suboptimal for men and also condoms aren’t real.

      Thankfully, Tumblr has the attention span of a flea.

  32. Ryan says:

    Possible solution to the feminist paradox:

    They just have it all wrong. They think the problems of lesbians in particular are the problems of women in general, when they’re just not.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      This comment has several problems. Firstly, most (female) feminists in general are not lesbians? And if we read you a bit more charitably, and replace “lesbians” with “atypically masculine women”, then you’re just reporting (one version of) the hypothesis that was in the original post, not actually adding anything. As such, regardless of whether you intended it, your comment basically comes off (to me, anyway) as saying “Hahaha feminists are gay.”

      (Personally, I have to wonder, as I mentioned in my comment above, whether higher-IQ people also tend to be more androgynous in general, meaning the “confounder” Scott mentioned is actually the same effect, but that’s another matter.)

  33. Matthew says:

    Vox is skeptical of RISUG. Hard to tell if that’s ideological or evidentiary.

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