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Links 12/15: Winter Wond-URL-and

The time the government tried to ban encryption of digital communications – specifically, of telegraph messages.

Finance startup Swanluv will pay for your dream wedding, but you owe them all the money back plus extra interest if you get divorced. It looks like they are betting that Inside View exceptionalism will make people calculate that even though the deal is net negative for most people, their love is strong enough that their marriage will never fail. Some possibility that this will keep people together long past the point when they would otherwise have divorced, which different people can interpret as either a good or a bad thing.

Reddit on why Peggy became the nickname for Margaret. Also: People Named Isis: How’s Life Going For You These Days?

Wired originally claimed they’d found Satoshi Nakamoto but now believe it was more likely a hoax. A commenter on r/bitcoin puts the clues together and comes up with a pretty good story for why not-Satoshi would be hoaxing us.

The scariest statistics question you’ll ever see.

Diplomats in Paris reach climate deal. This is really exciting and maybe one of the biggest/most encouraging news events in a long time. But the pessimistic take is that these nonbinding promises aren’t likely to be enough. Related: Thomas Schelling on adapting to climate change.

Also related: Sea level rise simulator. Plugging in the actual expected sea level rise for 2100 (0.5 – 1 meters) is pretty unexciting on this scale. But kind of excited about the San Franscisco Bay Area extending into the Central Valley; they could use the extra building room and it’s not like the Central Valley people were doing much with it anyway.

Dog life expectancy has doubled in the past 40 years. What can pets teach us about aging?

Media cues indicating acceptance for larger body types “resulted in greater actual or intended consumption of food”. But remember first of all that there’s a huge streetlight effect in this kind of ultra-short-term study, and second of all that actively shaming people for being overweight also makes them eat more. We do not yet understand this territory and it is probably more complicated than anyone wants to admit.

Gwern analyzes metformin.

Noahpinion: Academic BS As Artifical Barriers To Entry

A friend used to have a thing where he’d go to various Silicon Valley parties and events, introduce himself as “Bob, founder of [most absurd startup idea he could think of], and see how many people actually believed him. His favorite was “It’s like Uber, but for puppies”. Well, about that…

The difference between r and r-squared continues to be a source of much wailing and gnashing and teeth, but here is a relatively thorough explanation (h/t Pseudoerasmus)

This seems like a pretty big deal: scientists find underappreciated part of opiate system, may now be able to shut off pain entirely. Also, apparently you can temporarily cure Congenital Insenstivity To Pain Syndrome with naloxone – something they discovered in an experiment where they gave naloxone to an adult with the condition and caused them to feel pain for the first time in their life. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall during that experiment.

How much of the modern creative writing scene comes from CIA attempts to fight communism during the Cold War? And how does it affect what we consider “good” versus “bad” writing today? I knew there was something sinister about “show, don’t tell”.

This week in college name-change campaigns: protesters want Lebanon Valley College to rename Lynch Hall (named for ex-college-president Clyde Lynch) because it reminds them of lynching. And Harvard scraps the term “master” for leaders of colleges because it might remind people of slavery. This is your required reminder that Vox wants you to change your browser to auto-replace “political correctness” with “treating people with respect”.

Markets in everything: tiny working engines to power to your paper airplanes

I wrote about Hróbjartsson and Gøtzsche in my post on SSRIs, but I’ve always though they were underappreciated and needed more scrutiny. So here’s DC Science on how most of what we call placebo effect is just regression to the mean.

More AI openness: Facebook will release its new customized artifical intelligence servers. Related: Jimrandomh beat me to the punch of discussing OpenAI’s tactics.

Study: science really does advance one funeral at a time. And related tweet.

Senators (including Ted Cruz) introduce the bill that I and a lot of other people in medicine have been wanting for a long time: any medication approved in another developed country is fast-tracked for US approval. This could save thousands of lives and spur drug development worldwide. If this goes through I wonder if pharma companies will shift their research to whichever country has the quickest approval process.

Poor Francis Bacon. Spends his entire life telling people to use reason and empiricism, then after he dies he gets worshipped as a god by a group who believe he ascended bodily to Heaven.

Some people responded to my review of Hive Mind by asking why, if we’re so concerned about IQ, we don’t care more about increasing it. The answer is: we do care a lot about increasing it, people are already trying this in Third World countries, but increasing it in First World countries is really really hard. The one exception to that is that decreasing lead exposure is really powerful and important. That’s why we should be concerned that, among the many awful things going on with the water supply in Flint, Michigan now, one of them is soaring levels of lead. The city has bungled this so badly that people are calling for them to switch to using the Detroit water system – and you know things are bad when your environmentalist purity campaign is “We should be drinking the water from Detroit”. Related: the research team investigating the water does a Reddit AMA.

Tumblr user worldoptimization reviews some of the evidence around the “mismatch hypothesis” of affirmative action.

Related: British pollster YouGov does a big survey to find out who is prejudiced against whom, only to find out that everyone thinks young white males are awful. And the more complete data is here.

Here are fifty fan theories about Song of Ice and Fire. Warning: spoilers up to current point and (if theories are correct) possibly beyond. Also warning: if you click on the link, you will probably end up reading fifty fan theories about Song of Ice and Fire.

Conventional wisdom: openness to experience is associated with being less prejudiced. New study: openness to experience is sort of like non-conformity, and it is associated with being less prejudiced to unconventional groups but more prejudiced towards conventional groups. I feel like I might have had a blog post sort of like this a while ago.

GiveWell finally starts looking into one of my pet causes: lithium in the drinking water.

Kickstarter for a line of stylish professional-quality tinfoil hats. Alas, not likely to be ready in time for Christmas this year.

Jewish law forbids a divorce unless both parties agree, leading to some complicated situations when one party refuses to consent. Now a New Jersey Orthodox rabbi is sentenced to ten years in prison for hiring goons to beat up Jewish husbands until they agreed to divorce their wives.

We’ve all heard stories about various ways people cheat on tests, but your test-cheating scheme has probably gone out of control when it leads to 2,000 arrests and 40 murders.

I’ve talked before here about the dangers of relying on self-report surveys of drug use. Here’s a cute example: self-report surveys find less than a third as much alcohol consumption as is actually recorded via state sales taxes.

Latest volleys in the can-anyone-learn-to-code wars: Programming Recognized As Core School Subject versus Learn To Code: It’s Harder Than You Think. Key statistic from second article: [some very high number] percent of programmers are self-taught.

The latest discrimination experiments have moved beyond job interviews and housing applications to show that minorities even face obstacles selling items on eBay.

The oft-repeated claim that wine experts can’t tell the difference between white and red wines is mostly false.

Related: the Dunning-Kruger effect as commonly understood is, appropriately, not actually what Dunning and Kruger found and not actually true.

And from the same excellent page: a lot of what we believe about happiness set points is made-up, and no, disabled people do not become just as happy as non-disabled people after they adjust to their disability (original study). Time to go find the nearest blackboard and write I WILL NOT BELIEVE SURPRISING YET HEARTWARMING THINGS WITHOUT CHECKING A PRIMARY SOURCE a hundred times.

Vegetarian Diets Are Worse For The Environment Than Eating Meat versus No They Aren’t, You Idiot. Key claim: eating lettuce is calorie-for-calorie worse for the environment than eating meat, but you have to eat 93 cups of lettuce to get the caloric equivalent of an ordinary serving of meat, so most people who go vegetarian are probably doing something a little less silly than replacing all of their meat with lettuce.

Latest study finds the same thing as every other study: No Impact of Income On Standardized Test Scores. I am 100% sure that this will be the finding that finally puts this claim to rest forever and we will never have to hear about how the SAT just tests how rich your family is ever again.

Almost all good studies on the effects of immigration find that it does not depress the wages of native citizens, with one exception: an analysis of the Mariel Boatlift did find a significant negative effect on natives. Now a re-analysis finds that this was probably a mistake and the Mariel Boatlift didn’t have a big effect on wages any more than any other source of immigration.

Fame without fortune: YouTube celebrities are getting millions of hits, get mobbed by fans when they go outside, and are still living paycheck to paycheck or working day jobs as waiters and cashiers.

The Once And Future Liberalism – a really interesting article that’s hard to summarize. If I had to give it a try: despite the consensus that conservatives “want to go back to the 1950s”, that decade should in fact be associated with the consolidation of the New Deal programs that gave us modern liberalism. These programs – including very high taxes on the rich, big monopolistic corporations that were really cozy with the government, and a heavily unionized workforce – actually worked really well, but we can never go back to them because *mumble*. Now this system is collapsing and we’re fighting over the wreckage.

Results Of A One-Year Longitudinal Study of CFAR. Going to a CFAR workshop seems to produce long-term gains in self-rated life satisfaction, productivity, etc, although the study design cannot rule out response bias. Related: CFAR is holding its winter fundraiser; you can read their pitch here and you can actually donate here.

Also related: MIRI’s winter 2015 pitch, donate to MIRI’s 2015 winter fundraiser.

Still related: in case my post last year didn’t convince you, here’s Ozy, here’s Kelsey, and here’s Alison all talking about why you should participate in Giving What We Can’s 2015 pledge drive and promise to give at least 10% of your income to charity in the new year.

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678 Responses to Links 12/15: Winter Wond-URL-and

  1. Tibor says:

    Keeping land which is below the water level dry is something the Dutch managed several centuries ago. I don’t see the rising water level (within reasonable estimates of the actual level) a big problem in itself. Even the poor countries today have excavators and heavy machinery that was not available to the Dutch (who were also very poor then by today’s standards in ways other than technology) when they started conquering the land from the sea instead of other countries.

    • Tibor says:

      I meant sea level of course.

    • Diadem says:

      Keeping land below sea level dry is indeed something we Dutch have been doing for centuries. It doesn’t require high tech. It does however require a high degree of political stability.

      Water management is very much a part of the DNA of The Netherlands. The Dutch Water Boards predate the country by hundreds of years, and played a very large role in setting up the political system of The Netherlands. A good way to solve the free rider problem is extremely important here. As is long term stability. Land reclamation doesn’t benefit you, it benefits your children’s children.

      For The Netherlands, a significant part of the country lying below sea level is not a problem. But look at a war-torn country like Syria. What do you think would happen there, if large parts of the country were below sea level? What would happen in a corrupt impoverished nation, with a very weak government that has little say in outlying regions.

      • Arthur B. says:

        Wildly speculating here, but is there any chance that the dikes also contributed to political stability by acting like a sobering deterrent to anyone pondering instigating unrest?

        • anon says:

          Well, the dike system was frequently used as a weapon. Typically against “the legal overlords”/foreign invaders. Whoever controls the thing that keeps your homes dry definitely controls you.

      • Tibor says:

        I would say that a country with an ongoing civil war has more pressing problems than whether its coastal areas end up underwater over the course of the next few decades or not.

        However, why do you need the political stability in a way different from the general “more political stability => more secure property rights => more long-term investments” argument which can be applied to basically anything?

        I may be missing the fact thatt the dikes in Holland are probably government-run. But in principle one could built dikes around his own property only (still the political stability applies in the sense that if I am not sure that the property will be mine in 5 years, I will not be as willing to invest a lot of money into it, but as I said, this is true of anything). There may be something about the diking that makes it useless on a individual scale, but I can’t think of anything (admittedly, I don’t know basically anything about diking).

        • Tibor says:

          Well, this is a problem that requires a change of a a single law (also the US is stable enough to be able to simply build it from tax money without changing any laws, even if that would not be my personal favourite solution). Preventing the AGW, which would still possibly mean some sea-level rise due to part of the global warming that is not caused by humans and more importantly, would require a consensus of more or less all the countries (or at least all the industrial countries, most notably China and India) in the world, which is not likely to happen.

        • Anthony says:

          if I am not sure that the property will be mine in 5 years, I will not be as willing to invest a lot of money into it,

          Unless other people recognize the value of the dikes, in which case your resale value will go up for making the investment. Unless the political situation is such that there’s a chance the property will be taken from you without compensation for your property and the improvements.

          • Adam says:

            Spending time in the Army leads to you accumulating a few houses since you move so often, either selling them or renting them each time you leave. I thought this at first, that I should try to improve them while I was there, to up the resale or rental value, but honestly, it largely doesn’t work that way. You just end up with your house on the market longer, hoping for a buyer with a higher price point willing to live in the most expensive house in a neighborhood that isn’t as expensive. It’s very hard, if not completely impossible, to recoup your investment that way. It certainly helps to take very good care of your house, but actually building improvements rarely pays off unless you purchased a fixer-upper to begin with, or the rest of the neighborhood does the same thing and improves with you.

    • Urstoff says:

      That sea level rise simulator has made me less worried about climate change. Sucks to live in Bangladesh, but aside from that, a 1m rise is pretty much nothing. Even the max of that simulator, a 60m rise, would not be The End of Civilization as We Know It.

    • Protagoras says:

      Whether that’s workable is also affected by the underlying geology. I don’t know what the proportion of places where this is feasible vs. where it isn’t, but apparently one of the very much at risk places where it isn’t feasible is Florida, due to the underlying rock being too porous.

      • Tom Scharf says:

        Building codes in Florida are currently to the 100 year (hurricane) storm surge level. For many areas this is 10+ feet over sea level. You will only see very old houses sitting low near the coast. In this way, Florida is more prepared than almost anyone for sea level rise.

        You can’t build sea walls if the underlying rock is too porous and the water just tunnels underneath the wall. However this isn’t really rocket science, you just raise the land up where it is feasible to do so. Miami beach is man made from land fill, for example.

        Climate activists furiously wring their hands over when people should be “forced” to no longer build on the coast and cities should be abandoned (authoritarianism is very strong in green circles). It’s simple, build at your own risk. Home insurance is renewed annually so there is no need to build in 100 year speculative risk projections. Coastal property taxes should reflect the cost of infrastructure. If the costs go up, so should coastal owner’s taxes. People who build near the coast should understand the 100 year projections.

        Oh, and that huge swath of land in Florida under direct threat from even minimal sea level rise, that is called the Everglade swamp. Almost all low lying areas in Florida are unpopulated.

        The SLR threat is almost always greatly exaggerated, and I honor our host here for correctly stating the IPCC estimates, both time and level, he is a 1%’er in climate knowledge from my experience. Even these estimates would require the SLR rate to at least double from where it is today.

        The same Guardian Hansen article he points to here states “The sea level could soon be up to five meters higher than it is today by the latter part of this century, unless greenhouse gases aren’t radically slashed”. To sum it up, this is frickin’ crazy and is typical of climate change propaganda in the media.

        • wysinwyg says:

          (authoritarianism is very strong in green circles)

          Authoritarianism is also very high in libertarian circles, but both groups believe themselves to be immune.

          • Can you define “authoritarianism?”

            It suggests two quite different things. One is believing in ordering people around, or approving of other people doing so. The other is basing beliefs, and expecting others to do so, on arguing from authority.

            Which did you mean? Or did you have another sense of the term in mind when you described authoritarianism as very high in libertarian and green circles?

        • “It’s simple, build at your own risk. Home insurance is renewed annually so there is no need to build in 100 year speculative risk projections. Coastal property taxes should reflect the cost of infrastructure. If the costs go up, so should coastal owner’s taxes. ”

          Those are costs, though. Some anti-GW people, even on this forum, treat the do-nothing option as zero-cost.

        • alexp says:

          I assume there are a lot of things in a modern building that you don’t want in the water supply.

        • Anonymous says:

          So how come we have heavily subsidized federal flood insurance? It can’t be those dastardly environmentalists that don’t want anything built there at all.

  2. Max says:

    Careful with metformin if you are male. It can lower Testosterone and make you die 13% faster

    • gwern says:

      Then why haven’t we seen that in all the human trials…? You really think anyone would be discussing this if metformin was increasing RR to 1.13 in human males in the many clinical trials?

      • Hadlowe says:

        I am a little surprised that appetite suppression is listed as a negative side-effect for metformin. That seems to be one of its strongest qualities – it chemically suppresses liver glucose production, helps your cells prioritize glucose processing over fat storage, and your appetite is decreased so there are just fewer food calories needing to be metabolized overall.

        It is kind of a shame that the FDA does not approve it as a weight loss drug, as it is safer than many of the appetite suppressants currently on the market.

        • Chalid says:

          Thanks for the analysis, gwern!

          You make the simple “few diabetic centenarians” argument for constant reduction of risk versus deceleration of risk. Do you have any ideas on biologically what sorts of things might have constant reduction effects versus deceleration effects?

      • Max says:

        Yep I really think lowering T is alarming and its quite possible it is ignored in human trials. It also quite difficult to get 13% mortality effect showing in humans because we live quite a bit longer. But detrimental effect of low T are well known for male health

        Metformine has effects on endocrine system ,especially male one. Lowering TSH is documented in human trials as well.

        I dont want make it sound like a conspiracy but there is tradition of completely ignoring negative effects if they only affect males (soy milk/products anyone? – still promoted as “healthy”)

        • gwern says:

          It also quite difficult to get 13% mortality effect showing in humans because we live quite a bit longer.

          Even the studies held up as evidence against metformin benefits don’t show that much of a problem… If there genuinely is a problem that big, you should be able to show some evidence, any evidence, from human trials that there is a problem, not rely on 1 incredibly weak animal study which shows an effect which might reduce mortality which might negate the overall effect which might exist in some humans.

          And actually, no, 13% mortality is substantial enough that it would show up as positive RRs in many trials. For example, in a medium-sized trial of fairly young 50yos with a mere 5 year followup, we’d see increased death rates ~70% of the time, if we try out that scenario in the Gompertz simulator I wrote:

          R> df1.13 table(df1.13$RR.observed>1)
          FALSE TRUE
          147 353
          R> 353/500
          [1] 0.706

  3. Alyssa Vance says:

    “British pollster YouGov does a big survey to find out who is prejudiced against whom, only to find out that everyone thinks white men are awful.”

    I think that’s a misinterpretation. The study categories also segment by age. White men in their 20s were the lowest-scoring group, while white men in their 60s were the second-highest scoring group, exactly the opposite.

    The clearest finding seems to be that everyone hates young people. All six of the most-hated groups were people in their 20s, while all six of the most-liked groups were people in their 40s or 60s.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Fixed, thanks.

    • suntzuanime says:

      It also doesn’t measure simple warmth of feeling, it assesses factual claims about people. I think people responding that young people have more sexual partners than old ones doesn’t reflect a prejudice against young people, it reflects a basic grasp of reality. (Attempts to measure prejudice often don’t bother measuring the underlying reality, and it’s ridiculous, but I guess you don’t want to be the one in the position of saying a stereotype is true.)

      • Vegemeister says:

        I think people responding that young people have more sexual partners than old ones doesn’t reflect a prejudice against young people, it reflects a basic grasp of reality.

        Wouldn’t old people actually have more sexual partners than young people, unless promiscuity was rapidly increasing?

        • Creutzer says:

          You messed up your tenses there. Old people may have had more partners (unless promiscuity increased between generations). However, in any given period of time, young people have more partners than old people in that period of time.

    • ad says:

      IIRC, five of the six most-hated groups were men, while five of the six most-liked groups were women. So presumably the second-clearest finding is that everyone hates men.

  4. >Reddit on why Peggy became the nickname for Margaret

    Slavic languages are especially weird in nicknames, as in, little related to the original name. Sasha came from Alexander / Aleksandr in Russian, Basha from Barbara in Polish etc. the winner is probably Jedrek for Andrey in Polish.

    Actually I find them cute.

    For a less cute one: Nazi came not from Nationalsocialist, there is no “z” in that, it came from Ignaz, a popular name in rural Bavaria and thus roughly meant the same as “Bubba” i.e. “typical redneck”. It was a popular nickname for that name before, naturally quickly forgotten after.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Are you sure that’s true? I’m seeing a lot of German sites using the term “Nationalsozialist”, which does have a z in it, and that seems like a much more reasonable etymology. Compare the older “sozi” for socialist. Maybe it was originally because of national socialist but the Ignatz meaning was kind of a funny pun on it or influenced the abbreviation?

      A site I’m looking at discussing the etymology points out that if your theory is true, “Nazi” would be cognate with “nacho”, which is…something.

      • Jack V says:

        FWIW, wikipedia says “the shorthand Nazi was formed from the first two syllables of the German pronunciation of the word ‘national'” by opponents BECAUSE it was a “colloquial and derogatory word for a backwards peasant”. And wasn’t popular by the nazi party itself.

        I don’t know if that’s accurate, but it lists a whole bunch of citations, mostly books, and sounds plausible.

        And if true, also scary, because it reminds me that before they swept to power, people thought of nazis as small-minded backwards ignorant jokes, scary but hopefully also laughable.

      • Tibor says:

        In German (or Italian), the letter “z” is pronounced more or less like “ts” would be pronounced in English. Socialist with a “c” is not a German spelling. It could be that the name Ignaz used to (used to, since nobody would use it today for obvious reasons) have a nickname “Nazi” before NSDAP was a thing, but that does not mean that “nazi” in the sense “national socialist” comes from that. There are many words that sound very similar to something else even though they actually have entirely different roots.

        • Creutzer says:

          Actually, “Socialist” is a dated German spelling variant that you’d find at the beginning of the 20th century. But the relevant “z” is, anyway, in “national” – the “ti” is pronounced “tsy”, and has been for a very, very long time. However, you have to write “Nazi” and can’t write “Nati” because the ti -> tsy rule applies only in latinate morphemes, such as -tion. It’s the same principle by which you can’t write ghoti for “fish”.

      • Sorry, as others pointed out, it was likely both, probably when their opponents first came up with it, it sounded like a great pun to abbreviate it in a way that sounds like peasant’s nickname. At least that is what wiki seems to imply.

        • So in other words, the people we call Nazis did not call themselves Nazis. Interesting.

          • Raph L says:

            Yeah, who’d want to be called a Nazi? That’s a pretty harsh insult in almost any context. When it happened, the National Socialists were probably all like, “geez, Godwin’s law much?”

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            I see what you did there.

          • Tibor says:

            Would you expect communists to call themselves commies? Or libertarians call themseles “neoliberals”, anyone who is not an anarchocapitalist (or at least an arachocapitalist) call themselves “statist” and atheists call themselves heathens or apostates? 🙂

            Actually, these labels are often useful. If I read the world “neoliberal” (this particular word did not always have negative connotations, so it is a bit more complicated, but nowadays it is used almost exclusively as a slur) I can be pretty sure where the biases of the author lie, ditto for “statist”.

          • Tibor says:

            that was supposed to be arachnocapitalist, of course.

        • Deiseach says:

          Like the way people opposed to them call the Tea Party “Teabaggers” for a cheap laugh, which is something I had to look up online (I’m too old to know what the trendy sexual perversions are; for me, teabags mean this, not something you do with your testicles).

          • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

            I still haven’t figured out if that is a thing people actually *do* or not. The only time I ever see it mentioned is in the context of computer games, where sitting on the face of your fallen enemies in facsimile of particularly degrading sexual violation is apparently a thing….

          • Like the way people opposed to them call the Tea Party “Teabaggers” for a cheap laugh

            In the innocent early days of the Tea Party movement, people actually did staple teabags to their hats and such. Only later did they realize “teabag” was a slur.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Larry Kestenbaum:

            They didn’t staple teabags to their hats because people called them “teabaggers”.

            They had teabags because they are bags of tea! Which is where the name of the Tea Party comes from: the Boston Tea Party. Which threw tea (probably loose-leaf, but bags are far more popular now) into the harbor.

            So it is obvious that they would want to carry around tea for the association.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Vox Imperatoris
            They had teabags because they are bags of tea! Which is where the name of the Tea Party comes from: the Boston Tea Party. Which threw tea (probably loose-leaf, but bags are far more popular now) into the harbor.

            Exactly. The Boston Tea Party in ~1776 was a protest against British taxation of the colonies. So ~2008 when the federal government spent a lot of money bailing out some private banks, a group forming to protest it called themselves the Tea Party. Wearing tea bags on their hats was a reasonable quick symbol.

            Since these were pretty socially conservative people, I was quite disgusted when some famous gay newsman joked about ‘tea-bagging’ being gay slang. A very unfair insult; like accusing the TP people of doing that gay practice themselves. Of course the damage was the media and opponents of the TP taking it up.

          • They didn’t staple teabags to their hats because people called them “teabaggers”.

            No, no, no, I didn’t mean that at all. The causation was in the other direction: seeing teabags dangling from their hats led some to use that expression.

            But I certainly do not mean to defend using a contemptible slur like “teabagger” for Tea Partiers. I am strongly opposed to the Tea Party faction politically, but I am fairly certain that, in 60 years of life, I have never called anyone a “teabagger”.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Larry Kestenbaum


            Iirc, ‘Teabaggers’ was a term of their own — easier to say than ‘Tea Partiers’ — till the slur turned up. Certainly it was in use as a neutral term for them before the slur.

    • pafnucy says:

      Jędrek is the diminutive form of Jędrzej. Andrek would be the one for Andrzej (Andrey). Although both names are related, it’s not very common to use them interchangeably (could be a regional thing).

    • Viliam says:

      For a less cute one: Nazi came not from Nationalsocialist, there is no “z” in that, it came from Ignaz

      Is this Nazi cute enough?

    • nydwracu says:

      The German word national is pronounced [natsjoˈnaːl], with -tsj-. Cf. sozial [zoˈtsjaːl].

      Here’s Etymonline:

      1930, noun and adjective, from German Nazi, abbreviation of German pronunciation of Nationalsozialist (based on earlier German sozi, popular abbreviation of “socialist”), from Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei “National Socialist German Workers’ Party,” led by Hitler from 1920.

      The 24th edition of Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache (2002) says the word Nazi was favored in southern Germany (supposedly from c. 1924) among opponents of National Socialism because the nickname Nazi, Naczi (from the masc. proper name Ignatz, German form of Ignatius) was used colloquially to mean “a foolish person, clumsy or awkward person.” Ignatz was a popular name in Catholic Austria, and according to one source in World War I Nazi was a generic name in the German Empire for the soldiers of Austria-Hungary.

      An older use of Nazi for national-sozial is attested in German from 1903, but EWdS does not think it contributed to the word as applied to Hitler and his followers. The NSDAP for a time attempted to adopt the Nazi designation as what the Germans call a “despite-word,” but they gave this up, and the NSDAP is said to have generally avoided the term. Before 1930, party members had been called in English National Socialists, which dates from 1923. The use of Nazi Germany, Nazi regime, etc., was popularized by German exiles abroad. From them, it spread into other languages, and eventually was brought back to Germany, after the war. In the USSR, the terms national socialist and Nazi were said to have been forbidden after 1932, presumably to avoid any taint to the good word socialist. Soviet literature refers to fascists.

      On that last sentence, see John Michael Greer. One of these days I ought to write something about the linguistic influence of Communism on English…

      (Note that Greer’s line about Italian Fascist being incoherently cobbled together, while a popular view until recently, is probably false — read A. James Gregor.)

  5. suntzuanime says:

    Possibly two-thirds of alcohol is diverted to other uses, such as pouring one out for one’s fallen homies.

    • Murphy says:

      I’m pretty sure I drink less than half the alcohol I buy. I’ve got a box full of elderly spirits and regularly have to throw out things like wine and cider when I’ve had a glass and then forgotten about the bottle until it turned to vinegar.

      • Brandon Berg says:

        Why throw out perfectly good vinegar?

      • PhoenixRite says:

        Same here. I bought two bottles of wine a couple of months ago, drank half of each, and threw the other half away. I have bottles of liqueurs that I bought two years ago and still haven’t finished. Though I do feel I am an atypical case, and the more typical case is the habitual drinker underestimating or concealing his use.

      • Anthony says:

        Some time ago, I noticed that a few bottles in my parents’ liquor cabinet had revenue tags from the state near where we’d lived about 30 years prior. (That state had lower liquor taxes than our state of residence at the time.) Yet they were still serving from those bottles. But they were high-proof liquors, not beer or wine.

  6. caryatis says:

    Giving What You Can people: what/when did you decide that you were able to give to charity? It’s hard for me to see when that time would come for me, considering that I need to pay student loans, save for retirement, and make sure I can survive without a job…

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I didn’t start until I had a stable job and good income. I know some people who try to donate a token amount before that just to get themselves into the habit and remind themselves that they’re doing that and feel like they’re part of the group, but I would definitely not encourage people to go overboard spending money they don’t have.

    • Tibor says:

      I don’t exactly give 10%, I try to give 5% of after-tax income and I am a PhD student. I think I would feel the 10% quite a bit already (especially before-tax, taxes are pretty high in Germany), but 5% is something I hardly notice (I have permanent payment orders from my bank account set to the same day my wage arrives so it does not even feel like I am giving anything away…I have to remember soon though, to get the tax deductions). I would say that as long as giving a certain amount feels like a hindrance, then you are giving too much. Too much, because you are unlikely to keep that for long. It is better to give 5% steadily throughout your life than to give 20% for a month, conclude that it bothers you too much and you cannot afford a lot of things you’d like to (or seriously get in trouble with stuff like student loans) and give up.

      I will probably pay a bit more when I get a “real job”. My aim is not 10%, but the Church tax (which I don’t pay, because I am registered as non-religious…in Germany if you register your denomination as Protestant or Catholic, your Church, through the state, collects the Church tax from you), which varies by state but is around 8-9%, slightly less in Bavaria. I don’t know if I am going to stay in Germany after the PhD, but somehow it feels like a good number to stick to. If religious people (technically, only particular Christians, other denominations and religions do not pay the Church tax so I don’t know how much they actually give) are willing to give away that much to their religion (which also probably supports some charities, but probably less efficient ones) then I feel like I should be able to give the same to something like GiveWell and 9% looks less scary than 10%, that’s why all the prices in the stores end with 9s :))

      Actually I specifically give money to GiveDirectly, somehow it feels more sensible to let the people to decide what they spend their money on than to pick something, even if it is something as virtually surely very beneficial, such as malaria nets or deworming. Libertarian biases may also have something to do with this conviction of mine.

      • David Barry says:

        I was curious about the church tax and looked it up. All the sources I saw said that it’s 9% (or 8% in Bavaria) of your income tax. So if your average income tax rate is 30%, then the church tax would be another 2.7% on top.

        I’d encourage the full 9% anyway though. 😛

        • Jon Gunnarsson says:

          This is correct. The church tax in Germany is 8 or 9 per cent of of the income tax (and also of capital gains taxes), not of total income.

          • Tibor says:

            I see, thanks for the correction, guys! I knew I was not going to pay anyway, so I did not research it as much as I should have, I guess. I only saw the numbers 8 and 9% as the choice in an online tax calculator (but I never actually tried clicking on that I pay the tax). I found it strange that people in Germany would be so dedicated to the religion to pay so much (also, it is a bit funny that the Catholic and on average more strongly religious Bavaria has a lower Church tax, but probably there are some historic reasons).

    • Diadem says:

      I really don’t see how an average earning person, even with a steady income, can afford to give 10% of their earnings to charity.

      Of my income about 30% goes to income tax, another 30+% to rent / gas / water / electricity. Another roughly 15% to repaying student debts and then there’s health (and other) insurances and internet. Basically about 15% of my salary is left to cover living expenses such as food, clothes and luxury.

      So giving 10% to charity would slash my effective income by a factor 3. I might be barely possible, if I started living extremely cheaply and gave up on all luxuries, but it would be very tight.

      And I don’t think I’m remotely exceptional. Most people have lower student debt, but the reset of the picture generally doesn’t change much. I don’t see how giving 10% of your income to charity is feasible on a normal salary, without basically dedicating your life to that cause.

      • There are lots of ways to optimize your spending. I, for instance, did the math, and determined it was better to get a slightly more expensive house as close to work as possible than a slightly cheaper one further away, because when you drive to work every day, gas costs and miles add up really fast. Food costs can be kept low by learning to cook and investing in cheap staples (e.g., large bags of rice and dried beans). You can trim a bit off your power bill by adding insulation to your house and swapping any incandescent bulbs for LEDS or CFLs. Learning to sew can stretch your clothing budget. Look at those insurance budgets and do the math on what you’re paying for versus what will actually increase your expected utility.

        But the big gain is the ability to tie your spending to a dollar amount, not a percentage of your income. If you can peg your expenses to being survivable at salary X, and you get a few raises or switch jobs, then you now have extra money.

        Of course are many people who genuinely are living on the bleeding edge of their income. But in my experience, the problem isn’t that the average person can’t go back and re-optimize their spending habits to find extra money to give to charity, the problem is that the average person doesn’t.

        As a note, I live in Charlotte, NC, so my experiences are not necessarily valid for people in other areas with higher taxes, higher cost of living, etc.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          @ Robert Liguori
          Food costs can be kept low by learning to cook and investing in cheap staples (e.g., large bags of rice and dried beans).

          I agree, doubt if large bags of staples make enough difference to be worth the ‘but where do I get 50-lb bags and where do I store them’ factor … compared to the big big difference between a quart of bulk dry rice at Whole Foods, and a frozen entree of mostly rice.

          Also, ‘learning to cook’ sounds intimidating, but getting set up for cooking one’s own bulk rice ($20 rice cooker, read the instructions) saves a big big lot over eating out.

        • brad says:

          This isn’t intended as an attack, but I think there’s a group of people for whom thrift is an enjoyable exercise, a sort of hobby. Which is totally fine, but then many go online and say how easy it is to save money. Well of course it is easy for you, it’s something you enjoy doing. Kind of like how joggers that are addicted to runner’s high can’t understand why other people have so much trouble getting a regular exercise plan together.

          So consider a different way of having more money, instead of making your own lattes and optimizing frequent flyer miles what if you could make significantly more money than you do, but it would mean doing a whole bunch of networking, semi-frequent job hoping, and playing work-politics games. Someone that happened to like that sort of thing might well say look it is easy, it is only a few extra hours a week and you’ll get all this extra money which will allow you to donate more / retire early / whatever. But for you it doesn’t look like a small thing you do for a few hours a week, but a constant unpleasant burden of thinking about things you don’t want to think about, being around people you’d rather not be around, and doing things you don’t want to do — frequently if not for that long total. (Maybe this example doesn’t work for you either, because you also enjoy these other things, but I hope it gets the intended point across.)

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            There are definitely a number of “recreationally frugal” people out there.

            But most people’s spendthrift behavior is not what they have rationally decided will best serve their happiness and interests. It is a combination of ignorance and akrasia, laziness, whatever you want to call it, and it is against their own best interests.

            They don’t rationally trade off the value of having a bigger house vs. the additional years they will be forced to spend working, the terrible commute, and all the other costs. They just act impulsively, in such a way that they themselves would reject if they thought about it.

            Snapping people out of this is, I think, the value of the “pernicious personal finance scolds”. Bourgeois virtues are real and work. Yes, some people just get a positive thrill out of pinching pennies. But no one wants to live paycheck-to-paycheck and endure all that stress because he didn’t choose to think.

            Now, they tell people to save their money—and I say people ought to be saving at least 20% of their income before they give a cent to charity. But of course you can use the same advice to give to charity if you insist. (And even on an altruistic basis, you also have to consider whether investment isn’t more beneficial than charity in the long run.)

          • Psmith says:

            @Vox, I’m a big ERE/Mr. Money Mustache fan, but I thought Brad’s hypothetical was pretty enlightening. And plenty of people do, in fact, reject the advice to live more frugally once they think about it–how many comments on any article about early retirement are people saying, in effect, “I don’t do that, here’s why not”?

            cf “most people’s introverted behavior is not what they have rationally decided will best serve their happiness and interests. It is a combination of ignorance and akrasia, laziness, whatever you want to call it, and it is against their own best interests. They don’t rationally trade off the value of having more ‘me time’ vs. the additional years they will be forced to spend working, the worse work environment, and all the other costs.”

          • That is a very fair point, brad. For me, firing up Mint and poking at my monthly expenses is a fun activity, and I need to force myself to exercise, with distinctly limited success.

            However, I don’t think that my own failure to exercise optimally means that exercise doesn’t work as a health improvement strategy. I will cheerfully report that recreational frugality can be stressful; you need to do your own math, you need to do your own research to make sure your math is operating on the right variables, and you will very often be marching to the beat of a different drummer than the people around you. It can be hard as fuck to, when you’re in a society that demands that people of your social standing engage in a certain level of conspicuous consumption, turn to everyone around you and say “I’m not buying that.”

            But it works. It may not be easy for everyone, but it works.

          • Chalid says:

            I think that part of it is risk aversion. In general, for most people, the frugality strategy has a low but certain payoff. The ‘try to figure out how to earn more money’ strategy has a much higher expected payoff but it has a much higher variance as well; indeed it’s easy to end up with a negative payoff.

          • theboredprof says:

            I love to run, it is basically my whole life outside work and friends. Runners can frame their hobby in moral terms, and even criticize those who don’t find pounding the pavement all that fun. I also bristle at the save-money-on-food crowd, which I suspect is just an involuntary rejection of the weirder aspects of my childhood. Now I can appreciate the parallel. I will work to keep any runtalk free from you-shoulds, and I will be chill with the pennypinchers.

            One small point: In my world anyway, govt. subsidies and currency manipulations keep manufactured electronics and food (especially processed food) very very cheap. I get that frugality can be a way of rejecting these economic and political forces, specifically the consumer culture they give rise to. The flip side of that coin is that for a whole lot of people, the savings to be had in eating rice and beans is pretty minuscule when expressed as a percentage of income, unless you like white truffle on your breakfast cereal. Thus poor people tend towards obesity and many of them have flat-screen TVs.

            The very things that make personal frugality in matters of quotidian consumption (setting aside cars and houses here) a statement and a worthy pursuit will reduce its imperative for many. Relatedly, most running buffs ceased trying to get fit long ago, and if you just like the high your weekly mileage will probably never top 25 or 30. For me it is a form of asceticism and some small resistance to the sheltered and sedentary aspects of my life. That is a personal project and it has precisely nothing to do with health or fitness.

          • “In my world anyway, govt. subsidies and currency manipulations keep manufactured electronics and food (especially processed food) very very cheap.”

            You don’t say where you live. In the U.S., I think government intervention pushes up food costs. The biofuels program converts about a third of the corn harvest to alcohol, which has to push up its price. I haven’t kept track of current farm policy, but as a general rule U.S. farm policy has been designed to hold up the prices of agricultural products in order to hold up farm income.

            Are you in the U.S.? If so, what are the government policies you are referring to?

        • Tibor says:

          I am a bit skeptical about people being able to keep their 10% pledge, if it means optimisation on the level of what food you buy. I think the result is more likely to be that you manage that for a while, then get fed up by eating beans and rice all the time and never going to the restaurant with your friends and give up on giving. I try to aim for something that I barely notice…and 5% with a slightly below-median German salary (so what you get as a maths PhD student) seems to be about the exact level where it does not feel I have to sacrifice anything (there is a difference between maybe not going to a restaurant every other day and thinking whether I can go there with my friends this month and still afford to give the pledged amount). I still manage to save half of my income anyway…this would be different if I had children for example, but the 5% would probably still not change much. Also, I should mention that this is after-tax 5%. But the 10% is not a magical number. If you earn 10k euros on net a month and have no family, you are probably able to give 30% and still not notice it very much (I am not saying that it is your obligation to do so or that you should feel bad if you don’t, just that you probably won’t feel the 30% as much as I would with my wage for example). Similarly, if you just get by with what you have and would have to switch to a diet of beans and rice if you wanted to give even 5%, then you probably should not give any money and try to improve your own situation first.

          As for lightbulbs – buying LED seems to come with zero disadvantages (although I prefer regular lightbulbs for “mood lighting”, they feel “warmer” – by the way they are still available in the EU despite technically being banned, but they just list them as a source of heat for evidence purposes…which I find brilliant), so if you could save money at no cost you’d do that anyway (unless you really don’t like their light in which case it is not at zero cost, is going to bug you a lot and again work against your dedication to the pledge).

          • JBeshir says:

            Managing the food you buy can mean anything from “beans and rice” to “buying the cheaper frozen pizzas instead of the expensive ones most of the time” or “shopping at a cheaper supermarket instead of the one with expensive everything and $5 impulse buy items”.

            You can easily have 3x or 4x spend differences just from whether you buy cheap brands in a cheap place or expensive brands in an expensive place while keeping the same basic “sort” of food, so if your current behaviour is to buy as nice stuff as you can afford I can definitely imagine it being sensible to dial things back for the sake of a pledge, and it taking quite high income before you could pledge without having to do that.

            On the other hand I think you probably shouldn’t be dialing it back to “beans and rice” levels unless you really assign absolutely no value to nice food or are actually good at cooking cheap basics into delicious things.

          • Tibor says:

            @JBeshir: Agreed. Switching to cheap and nutritious foods such as beans and rice was a suggestion of the commenter I replied to. If it comes to having to do something like that to be able to “give enough” then it is not a good idea to do that.

            Also I am not sure whether cooking is that much cheaper. I mean, it is definitely cheaper than eating out all the time, but before I learned to cook, I would usually buy bread and some sausages or cheese or pasta with a tuna can or a piece of pork which I would just roast (those would be the highlights of my cooking then) and I don’t think it was considerably more expensive than when I cook. The main difference is that now that I learned to cook moderately well, I would no longer be satisfied with most of the food I used to eat, it just does not taste as well as what I am able to cook now, but I think that the overall expenses are not dramatically different in either direction. But of course, I am not choosing the recipes based on how much the ingredients cost (but I don’t cook lobsters every day, or in fact at all, either).

      • bluto says:

        I started giving 10% of pre tax right after college graduation. I’m sure it helped that I went through school before student loans were massive, but I graduated with some debt.

        You get some of the taxes back when you start giving 10%, more if you are strategic in timing your gifts (lumping 2 years of gifts into one tax year and itemizing then no gifts in the alternating year and taking the standard deduction).

        I found it much easier to start when I was making very little, than to try to do it now (as others mentioned spending tends to expand to fill your income).

      • JBeshir says:

        In my case, doing a quick count, the figures look something like 25% for tax (inc. local council tax, student loan repayments and effectively health insurance because not in US, as low as it is because of the thresholds below which tax isn’t paid), 28% for rent, 12% for electricity/water/Internet/other insurance, and 5% for a cat, which leaves me about 30% for food, clothing, travel, luxuries, etc.

        Charitable donations claim back some of the tax, so they’re 8% additional cost rather than 10%, and drop that 30% to about 22%, which is a squeeze but feasible.

        I think the difference here is some combination of “some people with similar expenses have 10-15% higher salary, which looks close but as it turns out makes a pretty huge difference to disposable income”, and “some people in a superficially similar situation don’t squeeze expenses very hard, shop around on electricity, buy where stuff’s cheap, cull subscriptions aggressively, and if they had 10% lower salary to begin with they would actually live pretty similarly”, the expenses-rise-to-fill-income problem.

        I think if you feel it’d be a major quality of life hit, but would like to do a thing the thing to do would be to start next time your income goes up if you feel it gives you any room, partially if not completely, but it’s pretty plausible to me that especially for moderately paid people in very high expenses areas things are tight enough to make it a significant quality of life hit.

      • Anthony says:

        Some large number of people are surviving on 90% of your income.

        (This is true at almost any income level.)

        Setting aside a significant chink of your income like that also has the advantage that if your income suddenly drops, it’s easier for you to adjust, because you can drop the set-aside until your income recovers or you completely adjust to the reduced circumstances.

        • The figure I like to quote (from McCloskey) is that the average real income of the world at present is about ten times what it was through most of history–twenty to thirty times in the developed world. It gives one some perspective on the natural human inclination to take for granted the standard of living one is used to.

    • keranih says:

      Give now. You actually can live on less than what you’re pulling in now, and if you absolutely feel you can not – make it up in donated labor.

      (And before anyone starts to protest that no, actually, I can’t live on less money – there are people in your zip code who are. Lot of them.)

      10% is not overboard – but it is enough to notice.

      Having said that – it is better to donate with an open heart and an open hand, rather than to let the money dribble out through clinched fingers. If donating makes you vain, or makes you bitter – something’s not right. Step back and look at what you’re doing.

      (Also – many people I know started at 5-10% of post-tax income, and then crept up from there as they got better at deciding what was most important to them. Don’t feel like you have to match anyone else’s contribution – this isn’t about what they give – it’s about what you do.)

      • Jaskologist says:

        From what I’ve observed, it’s actually easier to start giving 10% of your income when you don’t have much money than waiting until you make more money. Expenses are remarkably good at expanding to fill capacity, and it’s much easier to set aside a small sum than a large sum, even though intuitively it seems like it would be easier when you have more to spare.

        And then, as your income grows, you’re already used to living on 90% of it, so it’s easy to scale up.

        • Alex Z says:

          I don’t donate anywhere that much, but my experience moving my savings to a substantial portion of my income was that is was easiest to increase my savings when I got a raise. I never saw the full raise and so did not have an opportunity to expand my lifestyle to prevent savings.

        • Luke Somers says:

          It’s strange – for the most part, aside from buying a house and getting half-way decent furniture, which are one-time expenses, quadrupling our income from grad-student days hasn’t really increased our outgoes all that much. We just net large amounts of money regularly.

          I find myself having to think about giving a lot more seriously now, because now I CAN give enough money to make a difference, so I can’t just drop a handful wherever and think I’ve done my part.

      • Jiro says:

        And before anyone starts to protest that no, actually, I can’t live on less money – there are people in your zip code who are. Lot of them.

        “I can’t live on less money” doesn’t literally mean “I will starve to death if I have less money”. It means “living on less money will have a disproportionate effect on my quality of life and my prospects for the future”. The existence of people in your zip code who have less money and are not dead is completely consistent with this.

    • Extremely atypical, but I waited until after I had bought a house, since that was a huge expense with a lot of possible variance, but one that would make a big fraction of my expenses much more predictable afterwards.

    • Mike says:

      My personal goal is to start giving at a much higher level after my kids are grown up. This fails if I die early, but I think our number one priority before we start contributing to charity is to make sure we don’t need it ourselves. Note that this only really works if you are still living simply and saving the extra.

      • Jiro says:

        What does “make sure we don’t need it ourselves” mean? Does it mean “make sure we don’t need the money at all” or does it means “make sure we don’t need the money as much as charity cases do”? Because it’s pretty obvious that all the targets of EA need the money a lot more than you do. (If it isn’t obvious, I don’t support EA.)

        • Tibor says:

          The idea that people you don’t know have the same moral value as your close family is one of the few points where I strongly disagree with the EA movement. I think pretty much everyone would rather let 2 people he doesn’t know and never heard of die than let his kids lose a leg for example. I don’t think there is anything about that, that needs fixing. Of course, we are might be talking about “2 people I have never heard of die” vs. “won’t be able to give the new game console to the kid on christmas”. But I think there is a reasonable case to be made for the game console. If giving means reducing your life standard significantly, it is also likely to mean you giving up on giving and over your lifetime, giving less if you worry about every game console you buy and how many lives that would save than if you realize once a year, while doing your taxes “oh, that’s right, I give 5,10, whatever percent of my income to charity”. To do something consistently, it has to be something you feel good and comfortable about. This is especially true of something like giving to charity, where there is no other reward beyond feeling good about yourself* If you don’t, you are probably giving too much.

          * Here I also might disagree with the EA, although it might just be a matter of terminology or emphasizing different things. The EA people often say that the regular charities are more tailored to the donors than to the recipients of the help and so don’t maximize the help done, so if you give to those, you are just buying a warm fuzzy feeling. But how is EA different exactly? I think the difference is, that I cannot make myself feel warm and fuzzy and “oh, am I a great person for helping people” if someone made very good logical arguments for why I am actually not helping people (or not as much as I could). So I have to go with actually doing it, but the motivation has to be the same thing at he end of the day. I mean, you can see it in the way people talk (I don’t think there is something wrong about that), more or less everyone says something like “I can feel like a decent person if I give this much to GiveWell”. So even with efficient charities, you are buying good feeling about yourself…but since you are too smart (or alternatively not impulsive enough) to be able to trick yourself as easily as someone who gives money to someone on the street who collects for Make a Wish foundation, you have to, damn it to hell, actually do the good thing.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            If giving means reducing your life standard significantly, it is also likely to mean you giving up on giving and over your lifetime, giving less if you worry about every game console you buy and how many lives that would save than if you realize once a year, while doing your taxes “oh, that’s right, I give 5,10, whatever percent of my income to charity”. To do something consistently, it has to be something you feel good and comfortable about. This is especially true of something like giving to charity, where there is no other reward beyond feeling good about yourself* If you don’t, you are probably giving too much.

            This kind of argument doesn’t work because it equivocates between two moral standards.

            Are you saying: sure, I won’t donate 90% of my income because I need to feed and clothe myself, as well as stay motivated, in order to do the most for others possible?

            Or are you saying: no, it is not the case that I have an obligation to do the most possible good for others; I have the right to live for myself?

            Because the effective altruists absolutely agree with the former. They think you should spend plenty of money on yourself: treating yourself purely as an instrumental value to the good of others, which is your terminal value.

            As for the latter, well, that is my view. And I simply don’t believe that giving 50%—or even 10% for most people—of your income to charity is the best way to achieve your own happiness and “feel good about yourself”. If you’re that neurotic, go see a therapist. It’s cheaper.

            (Also, I think the “give 10%” movement is a completely arbitrary way for people who feel convinced by altruism yet don’t actually want to be miserable to rationalize an escape hatch from morality. But the concept of an escape hatch from morality does not make sense: its purpose ought to be to guide your actions. If it is not doing that, you are abandoning the power of principle—and I think it will inevitably cause guilt not to act on a principle you accept.)

          • Deiseach says:

            I do think that the warm and fuzzy feeling is also a part of EA, but it’s disguised because EA likes to sell itself as the rational way to donate: we have a pet organisation that grades charities for efficiency so their recommendations are the way to go! We’re using our brains for thinking not feeling, hail our superiority to you peons with your funny little minds this is the charity of the future!

            Well, GiveWell doesn’t even give the time of day to a charity I have recently started making regular donations to (it’s on their list of “charities we are distinctly sniffy about because they wouldn’t bend over backwards to give us the paperwork we wanted”).

            And I don’t give a toss if GiveWell likes them or not, or thinks they’re ineffective, or not as effective as their top four rated recommendations.

            If I’m going to donate, this is the charity I am going to donate to, and GiveWell and EA can kiss my hand about “warm fuzzy feelings” 🙂

          • Tibor says:

            @Vox Imperatoris:

            I don’t feel like I have a moral obligation to do the most possible good for others, I do feel like I have a moral obligation to do some good. How much is some? I don’t know, so I go with “whatever sum makes me feel good about myself”. I know this is not precise or well-argued philosophy, I go mostly with intuition. Then again I am not convinced one can do much better than intuition in moral philosophy.

            But your objection is correct, thanks. The bit you are quoting from me should then start with “If you feel like you are obligated to do as much good as possible then…” I think it still makes sense to try to make yourself feel happy, ergo motivated to give in this case. Then there should be a separate point in case you don’t believe your moral obligation is to do as much good as possible to other people, where still the argument holds that even though feeling good is now a goal in itself, you make yourself feel good by thinking you are doing good and if someone can point out “by doing this, keeping the amount of money given constant, you are very likely doing less good than by doing that”, then I will feel better myself by doing a more efficient thing, because I will believe (and probably correctly) that I am doing more good that way, consequently feeling better about myself.

    • JBeshir says:

      A while after I got a job, not a great paying one but above being poor for a single person living in this area (around ~£22k/$32k gross), I went for 5% after concluding that I didn’t see any quick path to doing something that’d directly make the world better, and I wanted to be at least doing something now.

      Then Scott’s post came along and I decided that it made a pretty good case for considering 10% to be a close enough estimate of how much I cared about altruistic values relative to other things at my income level and the social agreement/reinforcement/reward around it being psychologically pleasant, moved up to the 10% and joined GWWC.

      It required some cutbacks- cocktails once a couple of weeks instead of once a week, avoiding expensive takeaway food, a relatively cheap phone and not having the latest and greatest hardware, but I avoid a lot of expenses other people have (I live close to work and don’t drive, no dependents, etc) which make it very feasible without much lifestyle hit.

      My practical advice would be to try to bring it in next time your income goes up, and if you can’t bring in the full 10% at once, bring in only part of it. What is a “comfortable” lifestyle seems to depend very heavily on what you’re used to, such that if you bring it in on its own it will feel like a lot of pressure whereas if you just make an income rise smaller you’ll barely notice it and still feel pleasantly flush, not having gotten used to being able to order takeaway whenever you like or whatever else that money would otherwise have gone to.

      This “pay rise trick” is also common advice for retirement savings.

  7. So who else here is a self-taught programmer? How did it happen? I was studying Linguistics, took a Computational Linguistics class, decided that I would rather write a program than a research paper for my final project, taught myself Perl in a weekend, etc. So the usual thing.

    My personal experience leads me to believe that the strong aptitude threshold is true, and many people simply lack the skill to become programmers no matter how they’re taught. This, combined with the notion that it’s not acceptable to fail 2/3s of your students, is why we haven’t yet succeeded in making a reliable professional certification for programming. Any meaningful programming certification would have to exclude 70% of the population from the outset, and this is considered poor form in many places.

    (But why? Because it’s undergrad? Some academic courses manage to get by with extremely difficult entry-level courses which are expected to cause many students to fail or change majors. Why not programming? And why not everywhere?)

    • I have a BS in CS, but I still consider myself mostly self-taught. I already had a substantial amount of experience in programming before I started college, and although I enjoyed many of my CS courses, I think lectures are a terrible way to teach programming. They’re okay for theoretical CS, but not actual programming. I think that might play into the high failure rates on comprehensive programming tests for university students. My employer regularly has people with PhDs in CS applying who may be brilliant when it comes to theoretical concepts, but are still unable to write even half-decent code.

      To summarize, I think part of the problem is that we don’t yet know how to teach CS well. That said, I am generally in agreement that becoming a competent programmer requires particular logical capabilities which some people simply don’t have.

      Edit: all of that said, I still support introducing kids to programming in high school, or even earlier. I don’t doubt that there are people out there who would be proficient at programming if they were only introduced to it, but they never were. And even if the majority will never gain professional-level competence, some very basic programming and troubleshooting skills can come in handy in many situations.

      • >To summarize, I think part of the problem is that we don’t yet know how to teach CS well.

        I do. Practice before theory. They teach theory before practice and thus fail, because people have no interest in theory first, they sleep through it, not knowing what it is for. Drill practice, then explain the theory how it worked.

        Get them write code that does useful and hilarious stuff, like sending mail with various excuses if they are hung over. Explain afterward what they were doing.

        Consider all the theoretical bullshit about normalization and Boyce-Codd Normal Form. If CS would not insist on formal defs just show a few real life examples it would really simple and easy to udnerstand.

        • Virbie says:

          I do. Practice before theory. They teach theory before practice and thus fail, because people have no interest in theory first, they sleep through it, not knowing what it is for. Drill practice, then explain the theory how it worked.

          Get them write code that does useful and hilarious stuff, like sending mail with various excuses if they are hung over. Explain afterward what they were doing.

          Please correct me if I’m misunderstanding you, but it sounds like you’re conflating Computer Science with programming, which I personally think is the main part of the problem you’re describing. My impression[1] was always that programming is a fairly basic tool you need to be able to wield in order to learn and moreso apply CS, perhaps in the same way that a given subfield of math may be a tool necessary for learning and applying physics (my ignorance is showing: I know little of what advanced physics entails, beyond college-level courses).

          In the same way that not everyone is suited to or interested in getting a Math or Literature or History or whatever degree, not everyone is suited to Computer Science: conflating the two is where the “programming-is-the-new-literacy” drive falls apart (though as others have mentioned on this thread, it’s possible that perhaps this isn’t feasible). The population of people interested in the subject matter of a CS degree probably resembles the population interested in getting a Math degree, which is IMO quite a bit smaller than the population that would be interested in and benefit from learning programming.

          Consider all the theoretical bullshit about normalization and Boyce-Codd Normal Form. If CS would not insist on formal defs just show a few real life examples it would really simple and easy to udnerstand.

          This statement sort of illustrates my point. Normalization and normal forms are useful and important concepts to computer scientists (in a particular subfield), and your (accurate) claim that they’re unnecessary for people who want to rig up a simple email utility is only relevant if you conflate CS and programming. It’s useful for the former and useless for the latter _because they’re not the same thing_.

          [1] having gotten my Math and CS degrees from a school very well-known for both its Math and CS programs

          • OK, good point. Yes, the problem is conflating them, my defense: it is not me, it is the education establishment… Same how some non-English-speaking countries conflate or used to conflate business administration and economics degrees. A similar conflation of the practical / theoretical. It is as if we trained people who want to work as doctors in biology, not medicine, because it is just applied biology anyway, duh!

            Beyond the education establishment, even the mainstream programmersphere tends to conflate the concept of a sufficiently good programmer with a CSer, which largely comes from taking advice from CS. I mean, if good business managers should listen to economists, if good doctors should listen to biologists, then of course good programmers had to listen to Dijkstra. But they should not really aspire to _become_ Dijkstra. They have a different job.

            So how to keep it apart? I mean, of course a biologist can say “doctors, we just discovered something that makes one of your standard practices look pretty bad” and that is OK and should listen to it. CS can give similar advice to programmers. But how to still draw a proper line?

          • “My impression[1] was always that programming is a fairly basic tool ”

            Programming *what* is basic? That’s like saying building is basic. Building something basic is basic.

          • Urstoff says:

            He meant programming in BASIC

          • Virbie says:


            > Programming *what* is basic?

            I’m using “programming” in the sense of the skill people are referring to when they talk about layman “learning how to program”. People will set the bar slightly differently I’m sure, but the ability to understand the very basics of writing code in at least one language (variable assignment, function calls, simple flow control, maybe recursion, perhaps the details of OO).

            In context, what I said is akin to saying you need to know trigonometry to learn X. You could just as easily say “know how much trig? Be able to derive the definition of each function? Be able to integrate arbitrary trigonometric expressions?”. And while you’re enjoying your nitpicky quest to define a useless bright line, the rest of us have understood what was necessary for the conversation and long since moved on.

          • Virbie says:


            My university didn’t conflate the two very much, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was common in general. I think it’s just a classic case of college being a muddle of learning theory (which is useful for people who will specialize more highly) and job training (useful immediately). The CS program at Berkeley is considered to be one of the best in the world and yet I heard from both professors and industry (after graduating) that industry complains that Berkeley CS kids graduate without sufficient software engineering skills.

            At least the way Berkeley did it, I wouldn’t say the fault lies with the educational institution. It was quite plainly a computer science program where programming was taught as part of the first couple courses, in the same way a deep networks book or course may start with a linear algebra primer. The problem is with the use of such a program as an overly expensive programming-training center. To be fair, there are not many good alternatives for _just_ programming: certification courses don’t tend to be given the same respect as CS programs even when you’re just looking for a programmer (personal anecdote: Google tends to hire new grads only from respected CS programs but for my first two YEARS there I didn’t do anything resembling computer science, including anything from a basic algorithms course. This is not atypical in any large company).

            As far as how to solve it, it should t be difficult for a “CS czar” (as Scott would put it) but I’m not sure the incentives line up. Why shouldn’t Google continue to use CS degrees as a proxy for programming ability for new grads, especially in the absence of established alternatives?

            Tangentially, once you start noticing this conflation it starts explaining a lot of things. The fact that there are so many unemployed programmers yet there’s a talent shortage (I can personally attest to the later: hiring right now I’d Hard) is just one example.

        • onyomi says:

          “Practice before theory”

          I think this is the correct way to teach everything, actually.

          • nydwracu says:


            Right before I started learning SQL, someone tried to explain the theoretical stuff behind it to me. I didn’t get it at all. I went off and learned SQL in a week, and then it made sense.

            Similarly, I had no idea how anyone could write or read LISP programs until I spent a weekend learning Racket and realized that all you have to do is make sure none of your functions are over three lines long. (Which was a useful exercise — it’s made my Ruby habits a lot better.)

          • Tom Scharf says:

            We probably need to recognize people learn better in different ways. I also like “do it first” as stated here. It may be that this field self selects for people who learn better this way.

        • veronica d says:

          I have a BS in CS, but I still consider myself mostly self-taught.

          It seems like a lot of people are saying this, which actually make the “most programmers claim to be self-taught” statistic kind of useless.

          I mean, yes, many programmers learned a fuckton on their own, but if you got a degree in the subject, then you got a degree in the subject. Which is to say, I suspect that many careers have an element on “learning on your own.” They are not all “self-taught.”

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            I got a degree so I’d be employable, not to learn how to program. I’d been programming since I was eight or so, writing fortune cookie applications in QBasic.

            Which is to say, programming is, indeed, different. College taught me… let’s see… about third normal database form (which I have never seen an instance of in the wild after a decade of work with dozens of clients using a dozen or so different databases). Oh yes, and about a strawman used to ridicule rigor in programming called the Waterfall Model. (I suspect the class on compiler theory that didn’t get enough students to make would have been useful for some of my current projects, but, well, counterfactual universe.)

          • Maven says:

            You’re underestimating how much certain self-taught programmers already know when they enter college. The degree curriculum will typically add some theoretical knowledge, but almost a minuscule amount of practical programming knowledge. It would be more disingenuous for this class of people to say that they were taught by university as opposed to self-taught merely because they have a BS.

      • How are people answering these questions? I learnt some coding at school, and self-taught some at the same time (programmable calculators) and I learnt some at university and self-taught some and learnt some after university and self taught some, and learnt on the job and….

        Also, if people are failing to learn coding on CS courses, that would be an argument for teaching coding before university so that people can find out if they can hack it.

        And are these unemployed Cs graduates unemployed per se, or not employed as coders? I used to work with a recent CS grad who couldn’t code to save his life, but he was quite employable because there was a lot of support work going.

        • Adam says:

          It feels like an underspecified question to me. I had exactly two classes with ‘programming’ in the title, Intro to Programming and Intro to Object-Oriented Programming, which also went pretty deep into the weeds on the specifics of how C++ worked. Other than that, you were expected to learn the rules of particular languages on your own time and come to class ready to complete the programming assignments. The courses themselves did not teach that. They taught how hardware works, the core principles and problems of OS design and networking protocols, how to design and analyze algorithms, tools for choosing design patterns and specifying a system architecture, how to isolate bugs and prove program properties. They didn’t spend any more time teaching you to actually write code than math classes spend teaching you how to use a calculator. Much like the TI-83, Ruby, Python, Java, and the rest all come with user manuals. Plenty of lectures ended with ‘I suggest you use XYZ API, so go read the man page.’

          I definitely think this helped me for what I do, but you can very easily program without knowing the nuts and bolts. There are a lot of simple and quick to learn plug and play frameworks out there, plus, as good as the school I went to was, I learned just as much, if not more, of my own accord on my own time just by digging through all those manuals and reading public source code, running it through debuggers and profilers, etc.

    • Daniel says:

      Me. I learned to program my graphing calculators in high school, and also learned C from a book. I think my brother recommended it to me. I don’t know which of those came first.

    • I self-taught Turbo Pascal, kinda studied Clipper (it was far less bad than it looks like, code blocks were clever), formally learned at school some C and Java, forgot it all, then self-taught the modern stuff like Python with a functional-oriented approach or Ruby. I found it easy but with the caveat that I know only some subfields.

      I think there is no such thing as “programming” but there are multiple subfields, and everything is different about them.

      – Technical programming: you have to understand the hardware. Assembly, C. Hard to self-teach. I am clueless about it. What is a register and why the heck should I care?
      – Mathy programming. The evil genii of Haskell. REALLY hard to self teach. I hate recursion. It is an IQ test and I tend to fail it.
      – Standards programming: web, know standards/interfaces like HTML, HTTP etc. etc. self-teachable but usually badly.
      – Scripting: self-teachable
      – Business logic: self-teachable

      The last three are related: you can say Ruby is a scripting language, it is used mostly to implement standards for the web in .e.g. Rails and a web based billing software in it will have business logic. This is roughly the part that yields well to self-teaching.

      People who try to learn programming in a theoretical way find it hard, but people who jump into tutorials, get stuff done, and look up the theory later find it easy as long as they stick to the last three. It is easy to go from nothing to up to speed in Ruby/Rails, one does not really understand what one is doing, but theory is easier to pick up later.

      It is true about everything in life IMHO the education system is SO screwed. Teach people theory before practice and they just sleep through it, having no interest, not knowing what it is for. Drill people in practice how to do X and when it works tell them theory why it worked and they pay attention.

      • Sure learning Haskell is harder than learning python, but it’s definitively possible to learn it outside of any formal context with only “ohh this looks nifty” as motivation. The part about it being an IQ test might be true, in which case I doubt a formal context would be of much help.

        Agree on the practice before theory.

        • Ilya Shpitser says:

          Strongly disagree that Haskell/recursion is an IQ test (or about utility of “IQ” for math subjects, but that’s another story).

          I have yet to hear a coherent story from a Haskell wizard about how one is supposed to debug Haskell without throwing away all the abstraction barriers Haskell erects between you and the underlying von Neumann architecture.

          Which sort of tells me Haskell has the philosophy backwards: life should be easy for us and hard for machines, not vice versa. In particular, Haskell tries very very hard to remove the “program is a causal system” metaphor. But viewing programs causally (e.g. using interventions to find bugs) is one of the few general purpose debugging techniques humans know.

          • Oh, you don’t understand, you never need to debug a puuuurely functional program: you can *reason* about it!


          • Soumynona says:

            Haskell isn’t trying to remove causality from programs. What does that even mean?

            You can insert trace “statements” in a Haskell program:

            A basic way to debug goes something like this: find an input for which your program behaves wrongly. Note how the program is made of parts. Inspect the intermediate state of computation in between those parts (for example by inserting trace statements). Compare those intermediate states with your understanding of how the program is supposed to work. Focus on the part(s) that behave wrongly and repeat until bug found.

            I don’t see why this basic process shouldn’t work for Haskell. Everything else (like fancy-shmancy debugging tools) is details.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            It means I can’t set variables to values (you can’t do state in haskell without monads, and as a consequence lots of haskell programs are organized in a non-stateful way). It also means there is not supposed to be a temporal order to things.

            Debugging is hard, debuggers for production languages are full of features (that all see use).

            Incidentally, traces break one of the abstraction barriers Haskell has — it is not supposed to be any of my business what order things are executed in. But why is that none of my business? This is my point, Haskell’s abstraction barriers are absolutely bizarre — you have to throw them out as soon as something goes wrong.

            Both functional programming and lazy evaluation are extremely helpful and natural for some types of problems. Enforcing them onto the entire language is bizarre.

          • Soumynona says:

            Again, I think that saying there’s no temporal ordering at all in Haskell is hyperbolic and kind of meaningless, just like saying that Haskell programs have no causal structure. Programming is specifying a sequence of transformations to apply to data. You can’t have a programming language that doesn’t describe some (partial, not necessarily linear) ordering on operations.

            But this is all vague and philosophical and we’re probably talking past each other. We might be disagreeing on what is really different about programming in Haskell. I don’t think that it means entering some sort of state of purely functional timelessness or having mystical paradigm shifting experiences or something. There are Haskell advocates who wax poetic about things like that but they sound kind of crazy. I think of the lack of mutable state as a form of programming discipline somewhat analogous to avoiding the undisciplined use of goto instructions. There’s a claim that it makes for more readable programs and it prevents many kinds of bugs and there’s also the fact that it will feel weird and uncomfortable to people who are unused to it. They will have to learn how to translate imperative programming constructs into the new paradigm. But they don’t have to achieve functional enlightenment and forget about the equivalent imperative concepts, just like a programmer in a structural language doesn’t have to forget the concept of control flow and how to express structural programming constructs with goto instructions.

            So I don’t see a big problem with making the order of operations visible. You’re not breaking a fundamental principle or throwing away abstraction barriers. You’re temporarily paying more attention to details, because debugging always requires that.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            “I think of the lack of mutable state as a form of programming discipline somewhat analogous to avoiding the undisciplined use of goto instructions.”

            Yes, a lot of Haskellers feel this way, and I think they are wrong about this. Mutable (in particular intervenable) state is a causal metaphor for programming that is lacking in Haskell (modulo usual monad stuff). This is what makes Haskell hard to understand for people using “native metaphors,” hard to debug, and hard to use. I think this is why Haskell, beautiful as it is, is such a niche language. It just gets the philosophy of programming wrong, by making it hard for people.

            I find functional programming and lazy eval valuable, myself, but I think multiparadigm languages get it right. Insisting on one paradigm just results in your language not being a natural fit for problems that paradigm isn’t suitable for.

            You can disagree about Haskell’s philosophy, and that’s alright (when did philosophy arguments ever get resolved), but the proof is in the pudding, as they say.

      • David Pinto says:

        I love recursive algorithms, but for some reason hated programming in LISP. At the time, LISP was hailed as an AI language, but as far as I could tell in just did all loops with recursion.

        • nydwracu says:

          You should learn Joy. It’s useless, but it’s fun. And you can write quicksort in one line: DEFINE qsort == [small] [] [uncons [>] split] [enconcat] binrec.

          (I’ve looked at Factor, but it looks substantially less fun — some of its implementation details are grey-suit-tier stupid. Then again, the only useful programming language I like is Ruby, because it’s the only programming language that has a proper understanding of aesthetics. I wish I could avoid tuning out as soon as I see signs of ugly shit, but I can’t.)

      • Murphy says:

        I learned a little programming before Uni but was mostly taught.

        I was somewhat lucky that my first programming lecturer had a thing for functional languages and taught recursion before loops etc. It made learning true functional languages later far easier.

        I have a weird relationship with Haskell. On the one hand I find it beautiful and want to write things in it, on the other it’s insanely rare to come across any problem where it isn’t objectively better to use a normal language.

      • Tom Scharf says:

        Technical programming: My experience is that EE’s are much better at this than CS majors. YMMV.

    • Franz_Panzer says:

      I’m not self taught. I studied maths at uni (currently working on my PhD) and we had some courses in programming that are meant to teach us calculate stuff with a computer. So the main focus was on being able to implement stuff in math specific programs, e.g. for my PhD I’m using Matlab for my calculations.
      I have also at some point looked into learning python. It’s different syntax but the main principles seemed to be pretty much the same and I had the feeling that the only thing missing for me to us it was familiarity, which I could get simply by using it.

      Now I have three questions:

      Does what I am able to do already make me a coder according to these articles? Is this the level of skill that 60-70% of people are unable to reach? (if so, I think I’m seriously underestimating myself)

      Related to the first question: If not, what are the additional skills needed to be a coder and tackle more complex problems (and what are these problems that only this small elite can manage)?

      and third: What kind of stuff did you program to teach it yourself? The reason I didn’t continue to teach myself python is that after I found that I understood the basic principles and syntax, I failed to find anything I could use it for. I certainly didn’t need to write something in python, and I could not think of anything cool to do with it. What did you have that kept you interested?

      • What is a coder? Much of programming is about automating work we don’t want humans to do. Domain knowledge is at least as important as algorithmical ability, mathy programmers need to know math, techie programmers hardware, web developers the relevant standards, business logic programmers accounting principles, game devs the math of 3D graphics, because else someone must write a detailed spec and nobody has the time and money for that, it leads to misunderstandings anyway.

        Coders existed in the 1980’s when the average accountant would not touch that shitty pile of COBOL code with a long pole and there was enough time and money to painstakingly translate every single line of the e.g. tax legislation into a spec for payroll software. Today, we just take a bunch of accountants of the smart and computer-savvy kind, those accountants who wrote a Tetris clone at 17 just for fun, and teach them programming in some high-level, easy framework like Wakanda.

        BTW I highly recommend learning Wakanda for traditional business apps, like the kind where users, who are employees, not customers, enter and update records of data.

        • Much of commercial coding is about interacting with other coders in appropriate ways. Bedroom and academic programing don’t teach you that.

        • SUT says:

          I developed an allegory for what ‘a useful programmer’ is: it’s like whether someone would be useful as a truck driver.

          Know that person white-knuckling the steering wheel doing 55 in the right hand lane? Even if they’ve been driving everyday for 20 years, we don’t want them driving a truck professionally.

          But take someone who has never even had a driving license, if they have ‘It’, they will become a much better truck driver in a week than the experienced but timid driver.

          I wouldn’t go as far as saying the ‘It’-factor for professional programming or professional driving is genetic and totally innate. But for both, it does seem to come from personality and cognitive traits that run deeper than the profession itself.

      • Brandon Berg says:

        You’re working on a math PhD and aren’t sure if you’re in the top 30% when it comes to what’s essentially a form of algebra?

        • Franz_Panzer says:

          I have no trouble believing that I’m in the top 30% in various math related categories, including programming. My incredulity was rather that 60% cannot reach even basic programming skills.

          I don’t find basic programming principles substantially more difficult than other maths stuff that is taught in school or early college. Or why the number of people who fail to learn it after being taught a few years in school should be much higher than the number of people who fail to learn maths class.

          So either programming is for me a significantly lower dificulty level (relative to other complicated stuff) than for a lot of other people (hence, underestimating myself), or I substantially overestimate what the average person is capable of (I concede to you that that is not out the realm of possibility 🙂 )

        • Ilya Shpitser says:

          Math is big, people think about math very differently. Different people are good at different types of math. There is no single intelligence number.

      • James Picone says:

        what are the additional skills needed to be a coder and tackle more complex problems (and what are these problems that only this small elite can manage)?

        Writing programs that are too large to fit in your head.

        Any programming problem where you can hold the entire problem and your intended solution in working memory is simple, usually. The difficulty in programming comes in when you need to build a system that is too large for that, and most useful things you’re going to work on will be in that category.

        The solution is usually ‘abstraction’ – building your program by making chunks that all fit in your head individually, and have a well-defined, simple interface, and then gluing them together to give the system-level output. Doing abstraction well is tricky, and it’s definitely something you need experience for.

    • James Picone says:

      Depends how you define ‘self-taught’. I learned to program when I was in school for fun, and then got a degree in ‘software engineering’ later because holy crap people will pay me to do this for them.

      Lots of little steps. After-school care in primary school had an old Amstrad running some variant of BASIC. With a bit of experimenting and some reading of manuals I could get it to print my name! A whole bunch! All over the screen! Continually! Amazing.

      My parents had a 486 (or maybe a 386? Don’t recall) running Windows 3.11, with a copy of QBasic. Had that cool ape-based clone of Bombard. More reading of manuals got me some more fiddling. With a bit of help from dad (who had to occasionally write bits of BASIC for crystal-growth experiments) I managed to get a simple Snake clone running!

      In high school I had a graphics calculator. Programmable, in something resembling a variant of BASIC. I wrote something like six different variants of Snake on it, using different drawing modes and mechanisms for collision detection and so on. Exploring.

      One day Dad came home from work with a download of BYOND, one of those game-buildery software tools, mostly focused on making online MUDs. It’s an interesting language – very straightforward type system that made OO stuff obvious later, a ‘list’ type that’s used everywhere that’s also a dictionary, foreach as a built-in construct, neat embedded-expression-in-string syntax, including magic macros for doing plurals and the like correctly. All common in scripting languages today. Except this thing is from 1996! Spent most of high school screwing around with the tool on the side. Learned some things, made all the classic mistakes, picked up a couple of interests (procedural map generation, for one).

      But enough reminiscing! To the actual point: I’m not sure whether there are people that absolutely can’t be taught to code, but there are definitely a substantial chunk of people who have built-in talent for it, who will learn how to program if you give them a whiff of a chance (and grow up in an environment that allows it), and will have a pretty significant competitive advantage over people who don’t have a similar drive. When I was at uni, there was very definitely a sharp distinction between the people who were learning programming as a calling and the people who were learning it for some other reason, and you could tell which category someone was in in pretty short order.

      I haven’t seen that sharp distinction in actual work, interestingly enough. That might be a result of economics something something if you can’t actually program you won’t get hired, might be a result of the field I work in (C++, distributed, sometimes soft real-time) not really tolerating sloppiness, might be mere anecdote.

    • Forlorn Hopes says:

      I did my mathmatics coursework as an excel program at 16 and I played around in python for a bit as a teenager and configured my own mail server, thus learning Linux.

      However I didn’t do any serious self teaching and learned through university and employment. I’m now a professional programmer at a respected large tech company.

    • Seth says:

      Self-taught. Basically learned by doing.

      While I don’t think coding is a mystic skill, nor an intrinsically gendered one, it’s also not for everyone. Some people’s minds just don’t work that way. We don’t expect everyone to go into accounting, there’s no “learn bookkeeping” campaign. It’s a detail-oriented job with a lot of rigid and inflexible rules which must be followed precisely. There is a zero human influence – as in, you cannot (charm, bully, gladhand, swap favors with, intimidate, etc.) a computer. Either you spend all your time getting things absolutely right according to the complex rules, or your code doesn’t work. And one incorrect statement somewhere can cause major problems. Heck, one mistyped character somewhere can cause major problems. A huge part of coding is figuring out what went wrong and what needs to be changed to correct the problem, within this complicated rule system. That’s definitely not an interest of many people.

    • brad says:

      Self taught here. I took a couple of CS courses in college, but was very bored with searching and sorting by the end of the second one and didn’t take anymore. There was no software engineering major at the university I attended, and even if there had been I was admitted to the Arts & Sciences school not the the engineering one. I ended up getting a job programming during dotcom 1.0 and that’s where I really learned how to do it.

    • Anonymous says:

      I personally am against adding pretty much ANYTHING to the curriculum. It ALWAYS ends up as a bastardization of the original content. It’s not much gain over not covering it at all.

      What we did under (what was supposed to be programming-ish stuff, I assume) this label was tell a turtle to draw rectangles. Then next lesson, flowers. May I say it was incredibly boring? And of course, you could just wait till the solution presented itself on the board, if you wanted, I would be quite surprised if rectangles gave anyone much motivation.

      Of course, this is not unique to programming, computer science, or what have you. The exact same thing happens in PE, where we were supposed to be able to do hand stands. It was more like an evaluation of who can already do hand stands. You can be sure that when told to train the technique, it was talking when our coach was looking away, and kicking like a lethargic pony when he was’nt. Failing after REALLY trying is a big no no, see? And to not fail, you have to try, the problem is, you have to try in everything. We had art classes, which went as you would imagine they would. I later acquired the ability to draw, and all it required was for me to spend more time drawing in a month than the curriculum deemed worthy in all my career in the school system. I mean, that is not that much, but if you add that to the curriculum for all the classes, oh man, you’re gonna live with mommy and dad for a while. Without that all I managed to internalize was that I can’t draw, and can’t do handstands, which seems to be the opposite of what we want.

      I would suggest instead of adding more to the curriculum, maybe we oughta reduce it, and maybe let people sort out for themselves what they deem worthy of investing time in. And it will often be stupid. Kid!Me obviously deemed freeciv more worthy than maths and literature. I still do for the latter. (I mean, I dunno. Learning to write enjoyably is currently pretty high on my list. Learning (as in: this will be on the test, too!) the biography of our national poets, and the list of their important works was pretty much all we did, but I may have an ax to grind there)

      I think more emphasis should be put on just making people aware of the things we know and those we don’t, and where to find out more if somehow you ended up interested, or for some reason need to know. (Like, I am more sold on biology, and I think it is quite a good thing to study. I mean, the stuff that I remember. There were some which at the time seemed weird to include, and which I no longer remember. We also just sort of skipped over the human reproduction system, but maybe because after the mid-year break we were told we were should study for the matura exams on the lessons, cause she understands how important that is, and none of us will take an exam in biology, and she wished us the bests of lucks for succeeding on the exams. (BTW, I also had a creationist biology teacher in another school, he told us how laughable it would be to try to solve a jigsaw puzzle by throwing the pieces into the air, and hoping that they would land solved. He also was probably a troll, and his grading scheme was {you have a notebook:2 ; you write what I say in it: 3; you want better? I ask you two questions, you answer one correctly:4; you answer two corrently;5} where 1 is the failing grade, so I assume he failed the kids who were failing on everything else anyways, just so the numbers seem less odd)… what I wanted to say is: quickly sketching out on the first lesson that the appearance and lifestyle of a reindeer are well known, and are to be found on page 147, but the workings of anesthasiacs-‘well good luck with that’ may pay off better than most things you could do.

      I understand that people may not do things other people think they should of their own accord, (and they may be even right: I assume most here would say their friends/family making efforts at making (with this preferably achieved by making them realize that they have a problem, and from then on being complying patients, but subdermal implants of antabuse are pretty easy to sell to people, too) their alcoholic alteregoes un-alcoholic laudable. Probably fewer would support this if the issue at hand was being a couch-potato, never hurt by the sun’s evil rays. If the problem was ravenously devouring literature, with no time remaining for other things, all bets are off. And if it was parallel-universe-homosexuality-with-a-cure you may be actively against such an intervention, even though in all cases the intervened-with-yourself may be better off. (I was conflicted about placing autism or homosexuality in there. The first would probably be more prudent, but Scott made a post on it, and it may turn out you would NOT be against it))) and you may want to force them to study.
      But you can raise the bar for the minimum social acceptable effort so high, before people get revolty. They may even run out of time. And that bar is unlikely to be enough for anything worthwhile, except for taking away your time.

      The time you maybe wanted to spend on learning to program, but now you spend it on not learning to literature.

      • Anonymous says:

        Cause my freeciv time ain’t the one to go, that’s for sure!

        (Also, on the quick sketch thing: I’m sure everyone had that time when they realized someone you thought knew everything about some topic. Like, when learning about carbon, after the lesson (I don’t know what’s the protocol, which takes priority: don’t derail the lesson, or don’t take any away from your teacher’s break. Well, maybe it wouln’t have been derailing, but I went with the first, and anyways, she had the habit of not letting us out until we lined up in an aesthetically pleasant manner, so fuck her free breaks) I asked (with my as-then-current understanding of things was: there are those bouncy photon things, which light is made of. If they bounce off something, they obviously don’t pass through, so you can’t see through.) why the hell was graphite black while diamond was transparent, when the first is a mass of atoms, while the second was layers seperated by x distance. Now, I am sure she just wanted to brush me off and not have to give me a lesson in physics, but the answer I got was ‘It..ugh.ehh…it has something to do with how the atoms are arranged’ which is right the unsatisfying way my body moves due to electromagnetic forces. Better answers would have been ‘Light does not work that way’ or ‘Great question! Why don’t you go to the library’s PHYSICS section and make a presentation of that for the next lesson?’. I mean, of course with even my mistaken model I could think of explanations, but…Anyways, I dunno which of ‘Let Me Google That For You’ or ‘You know, we don’t know everything, either’ is more important as a lesson. But I must say, trying to teach something to other people, without preparing for it, the way I assumed teachers could was an eye opening, albeit humbling experience, too. I can’t and neither can they, it turns out. So it’s most important to know where to look when you inevitably need to.)

    • My programming is self-taught, but I’m not sure I count as a programmer since it’s not how I ever made my living.

      A very long time ago I wrote a price theory textbook, and had some ideas for ways in which programs could be used to teach ideas relevant to economics. So I wrote the programs and they were included on a floppy disk (this was about 1986) with the book. They were written in versions of compiled basic for the Mac and PC.

      I had done a little Fortran programming many years earlier (on punch cards) and at some point had played with APL, but it was essentially all self taught. What I learned most from was something called “Program Generator” for ZBasic, a Mac compiled Basic. Seeing how it constructed programs taught me useful lessons about how I should.

      Programming is fun, and some day I would like to do some more, although that would probably involve learning one of the more modern languages. I have more ideas for programs to teach economics ideas that I’ve never implemented. If anyone wants to do them as an Open Source project … .

      • Adam says:

        On a side note, in my first foray through grad school, in which I studied public policy with a budget focus (I used to work in defense budgeting before getting into my current field), your textbook was an optional text in my first class, that I read cover to cover and got quite a lot out of. So thanks for that.

      • roystgnr says:

        Have you ever played with iPython? It’s practically designed for interleaving code into instructional material.

        Including Economics instruction, e.g.:

        (github rendering of iPython is currently non-interactive; to really get something out of iPython materials you need to run your own iPython notebook server, so your students can experiment with the code and see more than one fixed set of results)

    • Nornagest says:

      I have a CS degree, but I was programming long before I got it, and most of the classes for my major — even more than half of those in the CS department — involved little or no programming. (Lots of complexity theory, automaton theory, and discrete math, though, and that has been professionally useful.)

      I was writing stupid little programs on my classroom’s (and later my dad’s) ancient green-screen PC as early as fourth grade, but I started doing serious programming when I took a volunteer staff position for an online game in high school. Everything turned out to be written in an obscure object-oriented language with C-like syntax, kind of like a mutant Java with more warts, a weirder type system, and no documentation to speak of. I started out writing simple static content that didn’t take much fluency, but it didn’t take me too long to start building more complicated features. Ugly, but it served me well when I got to college and all the weeder classes turned out to use Java (the real thing, this time).

      Even after college, that experience turned out to be useful: it turns out that a CS degree doesn’t train you to work on large projects, nor to communicate a spec, nor to debug or expand on other people’s disgusting code. But dealing with a million lines of code written by ADD-riddled Internet nerds with infinite free time and no formal training will.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        it turns out that a CS degree doesn’t train you to work on large projects, nor to communicate a spec, nor to debug or expand on other people’s disgusting code

        Did it fail, or did it not try? A lot of schools have a class called “software engineering” specifically about specs and working in groups. Debugging large projects of bad code is harder to design a class around.

        • Nornagest says:

          Failed. I didn’t take a class specifically about software engineering, but there was a lot of emphasis on specs and communication in the introductory sequence; until I got into upper-division courses I don’t think I wrote a line of college-mandated code without first writing a spec for it.

          But these specs were graded by academic computer scientists (or, more realistically, grad students), and of course the students didn’t know what they were doing, so they barely resembled the stuff I’d later see in industry. Two things especially stand out to me in retrospect: first, the emphasis on the software’s internals rather than its user-facing behavior (which is what you’re being graded on and so leaves no latitude for design; but which is practically all you’ll be describing in a real-world functional spec); and second, the lack of acknowledgement that design is an iterative process and that you’ll often have to come back and revise one as new requirements come up.

        • JBeshir says:

          I had a class specifically called Software Engineering back when I was in university, and it was pretty worthless.

          My impression is that the people who go into academia generally have little experience in engineering software, engineering software is changing rapidly and they’re way behind, and the usual “the university is selling you education, but providing it by asking a bunch of researchers who don’t really care about it to do it in gaps between what they actually want to do” thing means no one is trying very hard.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      it’s not acceptable to fail 2/3s of your students, is why we haven’t yet succeeded in making a reliable professional certification for programming

      Isn’t it acceptable? Isn’t it normal? Doesn’t the typical school convince half of the freshman majoring in engineering to switch out? I don’t know the details: Maybe they don’t fail that many people, but rather convince them that the hard work that they put in for a C freshman year isn’t going to produce a C sophomore year.

      And maybe there’s an interplay with an external certification that prevents grade inflation — the school has to weed the students out because it would be embarrassing for them to fail later. Whereas the lack of external certification allows grade inflation in CS.

    • TheNybbler says:

      Also a self-taught programmer, who later got formal training (BSCS). Started (as did many of my generation) with BASIC on an 8-bit (Apple ][ in my case), then on to Pascal and assembler, later C on a Mac. And yeah, I agree with the strong aptitude threshold. You can train some people without that aptitude to manipulate the symbols in a way that sort of works without them really knowing what they are doing, and these are the “code monkeys”.

    • Deiseach says:

      I don’t know what the situation in America is, but here in Ireland anyway, the government is making big push for STEM in schools and getting more pupils to study STEM subjects and go on to do STEM courses in university.

      Programming is part of that, since this is viewed as “the wave of the future where jobs will be created”. As an economy we are heavily dependent on direct foreign investment, and announcements such as Microsoft creating jobs are big deals.

      So on a cynical view of it, training organisations and academic courses etc. are not going to fail two-thirds of their classes because (a) this cuts their funding from central government for running courses to churn out programmers (b) it bursts the rosy bubble of government that everybody will be working in technical jobs in the future so solving unemployment is simply a matter of making sure kids learn programming in school and not (say) metalwork or art.

      • TheNybbler says:

        Same in the US. Two pushes going on at once — one for more STEM (and computer science in particular), and another for more women in STEM (again, and computer science in particular). However, schools are perfectly capable of turning out people with degrees who cannot program (and it’s not just they they get the theory but not the practice), and this has been true for longer than the current push has been going on.

    • Tom Scharf says:

      Since I graduated in 1985, I was pretty much self taught. I have had only minimal formal computer programming classes and found them quite unchallenging. I self taught myself on an Atari I bought with paper route money. I shutter to think what that code would look like today, I wish I would have kept it.

      I’ve been programming embedded systems for decades now and it isn’t hard to tell who the good programmers are in short order. There is plenty of useful work for the lesser skilled programmers out there, it’s not all Goggle search algorithms and the like. In fact, most programming is what I would call “grind it out” code, just a matter of effort and 75% of marginally competent programmers could complete it successfully, some taking longer than others. Most programming tasks are simply not that hard.

      There are natural programmers, just like there are naturally skilled athletes. I am able to hold complex systems and complex sequences in my head and work them through better than most, but I will forget your name 5 minutes after you tell me. Some of these skills cannot be learned easily, if at all.

      Some people are just pre-wired better than others for this stuff.

    • Anonymous says:

      Here’s my experience as someone who teaches programming:
      *We _do_ know how to teach it. Lectures are a terrible format, so we don’t do them, but instead it’s almost all lab. Functions are still a hurdle, but, well, some things are hard to grasp
      *Self-taught programmers can write some pretty scary code. All variables one letter long, no functions, no local variables, no comments, hell on earth to maintain.
      *…and may fail at things that a more conventional programmer finds easy. Before I had programming classes myself, I was trying to write flood-fill. In BASIC. Which lacked functions. Now I know I could have used a stack or queue to manage it, but I didn’t know it then.
      *This applies less to scripts (short ones, anyway). PERL looks like that. It’s OK.

      • brad says:

        Self taught no longer means ‘figured out on our own in qbasic and maybe a magazine or two’. Or at least that’s not how I hear self taught being used. In common usage it seems to mean anyone who learned how to program outside of: a formal university degree program or a bootcamp.

        With MOOCs, open source code to look at, forums to ask for help from, etc, etc, self taught needn’t mean lacking all sense of professional style.

    • Maven says:

      I was self-taught. I was 13 and I wanted to learn how to make my own video games, so I just hopped online and started learning. This was back in 2005, so the resources weren’t quite as good as they are now, but they were still good enough that I was able to teach myself. I also have a BS in CS now, but outside of a couple specific classes, that didn’t really teach me much.

      I’m always a bit perplexed when people talk about “barriers” to the tech industry. Anyone with an internet connection and a computer could have done what I did. I’ll throw another vote towards the “natural aptitude” side of the debate as well. More than any other subject, many people just seem to hit a wall early with programming, and can’t progress past it. Not even math exhibits such a strong divide between the cans and can’ts in my experience, and math is famous for being difficult.

      • Murphy says:

        There is a barrier, it’s just a very minor one. Right at the beginning, to start learning there’s a modest hump you have to get over getting to the point where you can actually start compiling and running programs. Many people get over it on their own but lots of people need a little help, I maintain that it’s possible to get anyone reasonably bright past that point in a couple of hours, mostly just setting up an environment for them and walking them through their first few hello-worlds.

        There’s also a later paper-barrier created by HR-drones which can be a problem for people without degrees where your CV goes in the bin if you don’t tick the right boxes.

  8. Sniffnoy says:

    It’s probably worth mentioning that Gwern co-authored the first of those Wired articles and contributed to the second.

    Edit: Also, if you recall the “Jewish Law” chapter of “Legal Systems Very Different from Ours”, beating up the husband until he agrees to a divorce is entirely within tradition! I mean, y’know, illegal for good reason, but within tradition.

  9. Alyssa Vance says:

    “Still related: in case my post last year didn’t convince you, here’s Ozy, here’s Kelsey, and here’s Alison all talking about why you should participate in Giving What We Can’s 2015 pledge drive and promise to give at least 10% of your income to charity in the new year.”

    I think a lot of people are overly focused on funding gaps compared to talent gaps. I’ll leave the details to Ben Todd’s excellent article here:

    • Linch says:

      Hmm, first of all I think Ben is overly pessimistic about the mechanism in which money can translate into fulfilling talent gaps (eg, by paying competent NGO execs or Master’s in Global Health upper middle class salaries).

      More importantly, giving 10% is not synonymous with earning-to-give. The Giving What We Can Pledge is intended as a nice Schelling point for decent human beings interested in making the world a better place, not a saintly Herculean task for people obsessed with devoting their entire lives to altruism.

      Ben Todd writes about this too:

      (I don’t check SSC as much as I used to, but people interested in learning more about the pledge are free to hang out on the link below or message one of the organizers:

  10. Professor Frink says:

    That explanation of r vs r^2 doesn’t seem to be thorough at all. It complains (rightly) that r^2 is sometimes a bad summary statistics, but that is because r (and r^2) are summary statistics which don’t tell the whole story (see Anscombe’s quartet).

    I don’t think reading that post is going to do anything to clarify things for anyone. Why do we want to square r to get “variance explained” in some cases? Not answered at all. Instead, the post is mostly just a lot of assertion that r is the better measure because that is the effect size “in the real world.” But that is a meaningless statement- anyone who understands how to do a regression can switch between r and r^2 no matter which is reported, and both are telling you something interesting about “the real world.”

    If you measure how important a correlation is in the real world, you see a correlation of 0.3 or so and you think “ok, as a linear relationship that isn’t super weak, but it’s not really strong either. Lets call it a weak-to-moderate correlation” or something like that. Then you go and square it and it’s 0.09 (let’s round to 0.10). So you say “ok, I’m explaining 10% of the variance. So I’d need 10 independent variables with this sort of correlation to really explain the data set. Ok yeah, that seems weak-to-moderately important.” Guess what? Both numbers are telling you the same thing.

    That post, I think, is just saying “we should use the bigger numbers instead of the smaller numbers so we can possibly confuse lay people.” If you are talking to lay people, just scatter plot your data, don’t bother with the summary statistics that they won’t understand either way.

    • Daniel says:

      Can I stick an explanation I thought of here?

      First off, you need to know the basics of standard deviation. If you add two random numbers together, the randomness can counter out instead of adding together, so it doesn’t double the amount of randomness. It just multiplies it by sqrt(2). You have to add n^2 together to multiply it by n. So adding 100 together makes it distributed 10 times as much.

      Imagine you flip 100 coins and add them together. The total is a function of 100 variables. It can be anywhere from 0 to 100, but it will tend to be somewhere around 45 to 55. They vary by ten. Now imagine you look at just the ones where the first coin landed on heads. Now they are 45.5 to 55.5. But if it landed on tails, they vary from 44.5 to 54.5. If the first coin lands on heads, then it’s one higher than if it lands on tails. It makes up a tenth of the variation in output even though it’s only one one hundredth of the variation in input. Since most of the randomness counters itself out, anything you fix has a disproportionate effect. The correlation of that one coin is 0.1, but the square is 0.01.

      As for which to use when explaining it to laypeople: First explain that entire thing to them. If they understand it, then it doesn’t really matter which you give since they can convert. If they don’t understand it, then just vaguely say about how important it is. If you can’t understand what the numbers mean, there’s no point in seeing them.

    • 27chaos says:

      “So I’d need 10 independent variables with this sort of correlation to really explain the data set”

      I think I finally understand r squared! Thanks.

  11. >Diplomats in Paris reach climate deal. This is really exciting and maybe one of the biggest/most encouraging news events in a long time.

    Ugh, Scott, you still believe the climate scam? How many credible skeptics you need? Ex-NASA engineers? Weather Channel founder? Ex-Greenpeace guy?

    OK they are not scientists, but they all are on the periphery of climate-expertise. Either there is a broad corporate-financed conspiracy of all these people against truth, or a government-pushed conspiracy by scientists using public grants.

    • Rowan says:

      Or there’s various social/psychological/personal reasons people tangentially connected to climate-expertise would come to be proponents of theories that contradict the scientific consensus.

      • But even the term “scientific consensus” automatically implies a very high level of reliability. In reality only a relatively limited number of scientists have really relevant consent, in the sense of went through all the data, and the rest approve it out of courtesy, out of trusting their colleagues.

        • Franz_Panzer says:

          I always thought “scientific consensus” is already restricted to those who actually deal with the problem in question. When someone says that there is a scientific consensus that evolution is real, I interpret that to mean that this is the opinion of biologists who study that kind of thing and the opinion of the nuclear phyisicist is in this instance irrelevant.

          And with climate change I thought the statement is always that 100-epsilon% of “climate scientist” say that climate change is happening.

          Or is your claim that climate scientist is to broad a category and includes people who don’t deal with the data?

          • Alraune says:

            I expect his claim is the opposite: Climate Scientist is too narrow. (100-epsilon)% of Climate Scientists believe in global warming because the dominating clique prevents heretics from becoming Climate Scientists.

            I do not personally endorse this theory, but it’s exactly the sort of scenario “one funeral at a time” exists to describe.

      • And ditto in the opposite direction. The social pressure to agree with an orthodoxy is generally a lot stronger than the pressure to disagree. Consider that it took 33 years for the initial incorrect count of human chromosomes to get corrected.

        For the particular case of climate, see:

    • E. Harding says:

      I don’t think climate change is a scam; I do think, given the past twenty years, that total warming will be less than expected by the scientific consensus and that nothing realistic can be done by governments to substantially change the outcome. I also think that Paris is about as meaningful as Kyoto.

      Scott should read Murphy on this:

      • Thomas Jørgensen says:

        This is wrong. There are highly effective things governments could do to reduce carbon emissions drastically. Proof by example: France has a lot, just really a lot, lower carbon emissions than typical first world countries because their government decided to go all-in on nukes. The high-speed trains probably also help a bit in keeping the amount of domestic flying down, and were also the government.
        Once electric cars take off, France will, to a first approximation, have carbon emissions of “Fuck all”. So there, that’s a solution, by a government, that requires virtually no changes to the way people live.

        The problem is that this particular solution violates the ideology of vast tracts of the political landscape – A “Switch to nuclear in a decade” drive is completely technically and economically possible, but it is dirigiste which makes it anathema to the right, and nuclear power has been very successfully demonized on the left, largely due to the original sin of nuclear weapons.

        • Nuclear power is also, so far, considerably more expensive than fossil fuels. The French government was willing to bear that cost, but it isn’t clear how many others would be. If the motive is preventing CO2, solar and wind provide ways of spending money trying to achieve that objective that don’t face the ideological prejudice against nuclear. Whether they work as well is not clear, at least to me, but governments mostly have short time horizons, so that may not be an important issue.

          • Ant says:

            You are sure about this ? France provide the second cheapest source of electricity in Europe, because it made the choice of nuclear. The wikipedia page on energy cost mark it as costing more than coal but not much more.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            It’s not more expensive to a government that also gets saddled with the health care costs from the pollution from coal inflicts. Heck, given the savings from serial build of a standard design, it is cheaper than coal straight up if you have to import it at market rates. Note that French electricity is pretty darn cheap.

          • Creutzer says:

            Well, I don’t know. Electricity is more expensive in France than in the other western/central European EU country I’ve lived in. Although maybe that’s because France, unlike that other country, has a de facto monopolist supplier.

    • Daniel Kokotajlo says:

      “Ugh, Scott, you still believe the climate scam? How many credible skeptics you need?”

      Just cause there are credible skeptics doesn’t mean it’s a scam.

      “Either there is a broad corporate-financed conspiracy of all these people against truth, or a government-pushed conspiracy by scientists using public grants.”

      …or it could just be a messy, complicated, politicized issue with smart people on both sides, like lots of other issues…

      • One problem with the whole climate argument is that “critics” and similar terms are applied to quite a variety of different positions. There are people who don’t think global warming is happening–that the data have been fudged. There are people who think it is happening but the cause is not human CO2. There are people—including respectable scientists in the field—who think it is happening, that increased CO2 is probably one cause, but that the system is complicated enough that we can’t be sure how much of it is caused by what, let alone what will happen in the future. That then morphs into people who think the main cause is probably CO2 but the IPCC has overestimated sensitivity, so that future warming will be substantially less than they project.

        Then there are critics, myself among them, whose criticism is not of AGW but of CAGW, of the claim that warming on the scale likely to happen by 2100 can be expected to have large net negative effects.

        People defending CAGW naturally prefer to treat all skeptics as if they are denying AGW, since it’s an easier argument to win.

        • Tom Scharf says:

          Exactly. How much CO2 is responsible for warming is an uninteresting academic whizzing match until someone says it will cause catastrophe. It is not unintentional that objecting to the overwrought speculative predictions of temperature increases and their affects is conflated with denying the earth has warmed. That “C” argument of CAGW is weak.

          Go look at the science behind large sea level increases, rates of melting at the poles, animal extinctions based on 2C changes, extreme weather increases both present and future, climate refugees, economic impacts, climate sensitivity, and you will find a lot of contradictory evidence that the term scientific consensus is probably not a good description for.

          A lot of the difference in opposing sides comes down to risk tolerance and tribal loyalty.


      False. We have this, so either way “consensus” or not we have a good reasoning for precautionary measures, this applies to climate change.

      • E. Harding says:

        That doesn’t even account for the costs of transition, or whether transitioning would even be effective. And that paper is ridiculous. Is this satire?

    • ” How many credible skeptics you need? Ex-NASA engineers? Weather Channel founder? Ex-Greenpeace guy?”

      “Here’s a list of scientists who disagree with evolution”

      “Here’s a list of scientists who think 9/11 was an inside job”

      “Here’s a list of scientists who think the Moon landings were faked”

      Notice the pattern?

      • Samuel Skinner says:

        That he mentioned people with relevant expertise and you didn’t mention what kind of scientist at all? You can’t dismiss ‘there are objections by some scientists’ by pointing out some scientists object to stupid things; you need to show the amount of scientists is similar (numbers and expertise) in both case. It weakens his point if he can’t pony up the numbers, but unless data is provided for the relevant sizes it tells us nothing.

        • James Picone says:

          Behe. Intelligent design advocate, biochemist. Already more expertise than anybody in Dividualist’s list (none of whom are scientists, if you pay attention).

          Clarence Little is another good example. Genetics researcher, was pretty sure smoking didn’t cause cancer.

          • Allen Wallace was a statistician, smoker, never convinced of the evidence on smoking, or at least wasn’t long after my father (also, among other things, a statistician) was convinced and quit. A better example, since evidence on smoking was largely statistical.

            I believe the man who discovered retroviruses was never convinced of the link between HIV and AIDS. A better example still.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          I explicitly stated some scientists object to stupid things. I’m not sure how pointing out a list of scientists doing that is relevant.

          If your argument is ‘these individuals have more expertise than Dividualist’s list’, I’m not sure how you think biochemist makes you an expert on evolutionary theory. Fighting antedotes with antedotes is pointless.

  12. Carinthium says:

    On “The Once and Future Liberalism”- is Scott Alexander implying that it should be possible to go back? The article seemed pretty convincing demonstrating that we can’t.

    EDIT: Somebody please clarify this for me. What is Scott implying when he used the term “*mumble*”.

    • Virbie says:

      All I took from the part with “*mumble*” is that he considers the arguments to be poorly articulated (or perhaps unconvincing). I don’t think anything was implied about whether he believes we can feasibly go back.

      • This is what I took as well. The suggested reasons we have passed the Political Event Horizon are not clear. Re-reading the work:
        1. Increased Foreign Competition erodes rents of domestic oligopolies.
        2. Increased Competition in general erodes rents of domestic oligopolies.

        These two right here suggest that the Iron Triangle of Big Business, Big Labor, and Big Government, cannot succeed. However, modern liberals would disagree with the logical conclusion: the Big Business leg of the triad got destroyed by competition and therefore had to weaken the Big Labor leg of the triad.

        This comes to 3:
        3. Private sector workers, who no longer have lifetime employment and good pensions, will not defend the pensions of public sector workers.

        See: Pension battles everywhere. I know it seems we’ve always been arguing about pensions, but the stock market collapse after 2000 destroyed the balance sheets of public sector pensions, and we’re on a ticking time-bomb before states go belly-up.

        We are richer than ever but we need to find a new way to distribute wealth, and cannot rely on the old Iron Triangle method of organizing society, and government needs to adjust its pension obligations before it taxes us into oblivion.

        There is little suggestion of what this “New Society” will be, but the discussion needs to move beyond “Big Business needs to provide for its employees,” because that’s never happening again in an era of massive corporate turmoil and massive competition. See: Big Three Automakers.

    • ReluctantEngineer says:

      It hasn’t been possible to go back to the 1950s since the collapse of the DeLorean Motor Company.

    • nonymous says:

      It is harder to go back to the nineteen fifties than it is to find michael jackson in the phillipines with a major expeditionary force *today*

  13. Sniffnoy says:

    “Learn to code” link is broken; it’s missing an “http://”. Correct link here.

  14. Rachael says:

    ” protesters want Lebanon Valley College to rename Lynch Hall (named for ex-college-president Clyde Lynch) because it reminds them of lynching”

    That reminds me of the time The Register did an interview with Mike Lynch, then-CEO of Autonomy, about how immigrants were really good for the tech industry. But the page’s filename was unfortunately something like “lynch_immigrants.html”.

  15. Carinthium says:

    Historical question from those who’d know more than me (as well as appropriate philosophical analysis): Is it really fair to say that there is a consistent trend which movements described as “liberal” historically have in common, whether this trend continues to the present day or ended in the way that “The Once And Future Liberalism” claims? Given how practically every ideology gets to get distorted over time and is usually a slave to circumstances more than not, the claim sounds very suspicious.

    • Galle says:

      I admit I’m not much of an expert, but the historical trend across the various ideologies calling themselves “liberalism” seems pretty clear. A case can be made that they aren’t different ideologies at all, but the same ideology being applied in increasingly more principled and less hypocritical ways. The American Civil Rights movement is clearly implicit in the Declaration of Independence, even if that document’s authors would have opposed it.

      • TheNybbler says:

        Certainly it’s easy enough to get from “all men are created equal” to “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” If you look at some of the stuff excised from the Declaration of Independence, it’s even easier. Jefferson was a bit of a firebrand in his younger days.

        I think it’s considerably harder to get from either of those to redistributive taxation and central planning, which the article makes central features of “liberalism 4.0” and “liberalism 4.1”.

        • Sizable parts of what is now called liberalism are in direct conflict with classical liberal principles, most obviously the abandonment of freedom of contract/freedom of association. My father quit the ACLU over their support for either fair housing or fair employment law, I no longer remember which, on the grounds that they were now opposing civil liberties, not supporting them.

          The “it’s illegal to refuse to bake a cake for a gay wedding” case is a more extreme example of the same principle. That’s “liberalism” in support of slavery, even if only a tiny bit of slavery.

          “I’m still a liberal. It’s those people who aren’t liberals.”
          (GKC on the Liberal party, by memory so possibly not verbatim)

        • LeeEsq says:

          Liberals really don’t believe in central planning despite libertarian and conservative criticism that we do. During the 1880s, a split developed in liberalism because of socialist criticism of liberalism. The socialist criticism was that free market principles were leaving a lot of people behind and creating some real misery in the forms of slums, landlessness, and that all the freedom and liberty liberals talked about were useless to people wondering where their next meal would be coming from or had to choose between working long hours in an unsafe factory for low pay or prostitution for higher pay.

          Liberals who thought that this criticism was groundless became the Classical Liberals or as they latter called themselves Libertarians. The Modern Liberals still thought that socialist ideas about communal ownership of the means of production were dumb and thought the economy should still be run on private grounds for the most part. However, they did agree that poverty and freedom are incompatible and that a base material standard of living was necessary for people to really be free. FDR put it as a “necessitous man is not a free man” in his Second Bill of Rights speech. The modern liberals began to take a more activist approach to government in order to create the base material standards and prevent the worst abuses of business people.

          • Galle says:

            Essentially, “left wing” liberals believe that an absolute, laissez-faire approach to economic freedom produces results that are incompatible with liberalism’s core goals, and that therefore it’s worthwhile to sacrifice a bit of economic freedom for the greater good. This isn’t an unprecedented position – if we start calling all government intervention in the economy “slavery”, we wind up in peculiar situations like insisting that the American abolitionist movement was pro-slavery and their literal slaver opponents anti-slavery. Poverty isn’t as obviously anti-liberal as slavery, but the case can still be made.

            “Right-wing” liberals insist that no, that’s stupid, we should stick to pure economic liberty. Left-wing liberals regard the right-wing liberals as clinging to an older, less principled and more hypocritical version of liberalism, while right-wing liberals regard left-wing liberals as going off in a dangerous direction.

          • Anthony says:

            Liberals really don’t believe in central planning

            Yes, they do. They don’t believe in State ownership of the means of production, and that is a big difference in practice, though less so in theory.

          • g says:

            Anthony, which liberals and what sort of central planning?

          • “FDR put it as a “necessitous man is not a free man” ”

            That sums it up nicely.

          • LeeEsq says:

            Galle, that is correct. Left Liberals like myself do see economic freedom as important but believe that taking economic freedom and property rights too seriously can contradict other liberal goals the ability of people to more or less live how they want. When you live life to close to the bone and wondering about your next meal, your not free in any meaningful sense. For Right Liberals, any interference with economic freedom or property rights is going to take you down the socialist rabbit hole fast.

            I think that there is room for a meaningful debate on whether there is an “elephant in the room” element to Left Liberalism. The power of government to do good and supply services comes from the same place as the power of the government to do bad and take away civil liberties and rights whether Left Liberal acknowledge this or not. A lot of the disputes among the Center Left people that identify as Liberal as opposed to Progressive let alone those further to the Left have to do with the fact Left Liberals are more into procedural correctness, due process, and rule of law as important in themselves. What is not helpful is calling all forms of Left Liberal economic ideas central planning and socialism. It is an accusation that produces more heat than light.

  16. God Damn John Jay says:

    Once and future liberalism seems to be arguing that we can no longer afford to run social services programs because of foreign competition, but that seems to ignore that fact that US GDP has basically increased. Similarly it would be hard to argue that the U.S. is living in a shortage of raw materials since consumer goods are if anything cheaper (excepting oil). The prices that seem to have eaten into peoples income seem to be things like housing, education and healthcare.

    “This is why public schools are increasingly expensive and yet do not provide improved services”
    I recall reading that a massive spending sink is on resource education for kids who were severely intellectually handicapped, often to the point of giving them individualized care workers.

    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      Oil is cheaper, too, I think.

      The idea that the “times have changed” and that we can no longer afford the standard of living to which we were accustomed is absurd. Not only are we actually better off now than we ever were, but we could be living a lot larger if it were for government policies undermining capital accumulation.

      But really I think the reason people are unhappy is bad ideas, the absence of ideas, and the cultural/philosophical malaise they produce.

      • Mary says:

        The problem is that if you offered people the standard of living of the prior era, they don’t like it. At best. At worst, they regard it as stupid, misanthropic, and meaningless to point out that people living in homeless shelters must, by law, enjoy amenities that royalty of three centuries ago did without.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        Typo: were not for government policies undermining capital accumulation.

        I blame government policies undermining my negator accumulation.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        The idea that the “times have changed” and that we can no longer afford the standard of living to which we were accustomed is absurd. Not only are we actually better off now than we ever were

        Are you talking in general terms, such as the last century having the greatest standards of living in history? Or do you seriously think that millennials are better off than the baby boomers?

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          They / we are.

          And they will continue to be, in all likelihood. Unless the country just completely collapses, and I doubt that it will.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            I’ll just link to Old Economy Steve.

            Again, being able to buy cheap plastic crap and shiny gadgets from China is much less important to a man’s quality of life than plentiful jobs, cheap rent, and stay-at-home wives.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            I forgot that women aren’t people. How silly of me!

            (Seriously, look, if you want to argue that women are happier in the kitchen too, there’s a case. But come on: obviously you come off as indifferent to women’s happiness here. If you don’t want people to take that interpretation—and maybe you do—don’t make it sound like that is your view.)

            As for housing, it’s not really up that much (if it is up) if you control for quality. Americans used to live in much smaller houses, and frankly they weren’t very nice. Maybe you live in San Francisco or something where government insanity has, I concede, prevented rational housing construction.

            And even if it is up, everything else is down. It is easier than ever to lead a comfortable middle-class life. The problem is people trying to live beyond their means: and certainly far beyond the means of people in the 50s.

            As for unemployment, it is a serious problem and one of the most severe ways in which the government is undermining progress. But hardworking, reasonably talented people can still pretty easily get a good job. (Now, even lazy, untalented people ought to be able to get jobs easily—but that’s the government’s fault.)

            And anyway, if I had to choose in a Rawlsian sort of way, I would prefer this generation to any previous generation. However, we shouldn’t think of ourselves as lucky: it would have been even better to have been born in a future generation.

          • Randy M says:

            “I forgot that women aren’t people. How silly of me!”
            How about “options in family/work arrangements, rather than a near necessity of two incomes?”

            Also, can I note a bit of irony on how there’s a general consensus here that we need increasing productivity, automation, and GBI to free people from the drudgery of work, and also that it is empowering for women to join men in the workforce?

          • Psmith says:

            “if you want to argue that women are happier in the kitchen too, there’s a case”

            There certainly as hell is:

            (Honestly, I thought this was part of what you were referring to with the bad ideas/malaise stuff.).

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            How about “options in family/work arrangements, rather than a near necessity of two incomes?”

            Two incomes are less necessary today than they ever were. Besides, women did not just stay at home and do nothing. Until the late 1800s / early 1900s, they spent all day doing drudge work which has been automated by technology to a far greater extent than men’s work.

            The 50s get the reputation for “bored housewives” because it was the transition period between: “women have to work in the home” to “women no longer need to work a full day at home, and are able to work in industry”.

            In any case, if a woman wants to sit at home all day and do nothing, she is better able to do that now than at any time in history.

            What is not possible is live the lifestyle of the upper-middle-class of the 2010s on the salary of one lower-middle-class man. But it is possible to live a lifestyle greater than that of a 1950s household on the salary of one 2010s man.

            Now if in general your neighbors are living above their means, you’ll be ruined trying to keep up with the Jones. But the fact that everyone else is doing something unwise is not a good reason to join them.

            Anyway, I was mostly objecting to the outrageous tone of his comment, which suggested: “People are less happy today because men are less happy because women do not stay at home.” That obviously leaves something out.

          • Adam says:

            All of which raises the question of what exactly the point of life is. I suppose they may be completely separate groups of people here, but we have large groups of commenters on one post saying women should ignore their desires to do what they feel they want to do with their lives and do what will empirically give them a better shot at happiness, but then on another post, everyone is terrified of a potential future in which they are involuntarily wireheaded into permanent bliss.

            Also, if we go back a little further than the 1950s, not only the husband and wife worked, but the kids, too.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Psmith:

            There is certainly not an airtight case that, if women’s happiness has gone down, this is because they would today be best-off in the kitchen. There is a hypothesis.

            There are many alternate hypotheses. It may even be as simple as the suggestion that, due to the change in expectations, women are given conflicting messages and don’t know what to do. Maybe women are just hit harder by our cultural atmosphere of chaos and no objective values.

            That doesn’t imply that we should go back to bad values that were rejected the first time.

          • Randy M says:

            “What is not possible is live the lifestyle of the upper-middle-class of the 2010s on the salary of one lower-middle-class man. But it is possible to live a lifestyle greater than that of a 1950s household on the salary of one 2010s man.”

            Eh, frankly this matches my experience at the moment, so I won’t argue, although I don’t know how much it generalizes.
            In any case, this is echoes of the discussion from when Scott reviewed Warren’s book, isn’t it?

          • Psmith says:

            “There is certainly not an airtight case that, if women’s happiness has gone down, this is because they would today be best-off in the kitchen. There is a hypothesis.”
            Agreed. I just don’t think confident whiggishness is warranted here.

            “we have large groups of commenters… then on another post….”
            Thanks. That’s a damn good point.

          • Protagoras says:

            I’m really suspicious of self-report data on happiness, which seems to be one of the main sources for the study cited. The study itself mentions a lot of possible reasons for the result other than that women are actually worse off, and one that occurs to me in addition is a point made by Amartya Sen; people who are better off will, at least in some cases, complain more than those who are worse off, because there’s a greater chance someone will pay attention to them. The worse off sometimes try to cope by rationalizing that their situation isn’t that bad, because they don’t think there’s anything that could be done about it. I don’t know how big this effect is (which is itself part of the problem), but add it to the various confounders the paper itself mentions and the general difficulty of social science research, and I’m just very skeptical of any happiness result.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Protagoras
            “I’m really suspicious of self-report data on happiness, which seems to be one of the main sources for the study cited.”

            I’d look at the context of the self-reporting. Who is asking you the question, what are you comparing your current state to, have you experienced the alternative state or is it just something that sounds good in theory or that your culture is pushing, etc.

            If the questions were asked and answered before Women’s Lib (early ~1960s) women in some contexts would think about their relationship with their family; ‘would I be happier in a career’ would not occur to them. To say No, might seem a criticism of their spouse.

          • Two incomes are less necessary today than they ever were.

            By what definition of “necessary”?
            I am currently sitting on a $700 Lazy-Boy recline. Okay. Don’t need that.
            $1200 couch. Okay. Don’t need that.
            40-inch LCD screen, with 2 game systems attached. Okay, agreed.

            Down the street is my local middle school, which is full of children who speak English at home and come from 2-parent stable families.
            That’s a premium product and buying that takes 2 incomes. That’s not “optional” to my Wife and I, so 2 incomes are a necessity.

            We could’ve afford a much cheaper home elsewhere, but the majority of students do not speak English at home and come from “non-traditional” families.

          • In response to the argument that two incomes are needed in order to live in a good school district …

            If your wife wasn’t working, you would have the option of home schooling. Or home unschooling, which was the option we took.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            @David Freeman,

            The emphasis on good school districts isn’t primarily about the quality of public schools so much as that of the community as a whole. I had friends growing up who were in private schools or were (briefly) unschooled but their parents still made every effort to move into good neighborhoods.

            If you live in a bad neighborhood, you are exposing your kids to a great deal of criminality even if you avoid sending them to public schools. The risks may be small on paper but most parents judge them to be unacceptable.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ A Definite Beta Guy:

            I agree that public schools are often terrible, but:

            a) People vastly exaggerate the effectiveness of schooling in general. But sure, let’s say you’re more worried about your kids feeling unsafe or getting bullied.

            b) You can homeschool your children, which is easier than ever. There’s a big homeschooling movement, along with lots of resources available on the internet. It is possible to do this even with two working parents.

            c) If you don’t want to do that, you can send your children to private school. This is a significant expense, but it is by no means unaffordable or requires parents to work like slaves to afford it. Also, school choice is more popular than ever, so you can move to a place where you get a check from the government to send your children to private school.

            d) If you still don’t want to do that, you can move to a place in the country where housing is less expensive and the schools are full of white children. This is (like it or not) not hard because neighborhoods and therefore schools tend to be de facto segregated. So you can move to somewhere like Alabama or Mississippi (which I promise you has actual jobs and is not a savage wilderness), move to the “right neighborhood” (which still has cheap housing and low property tax), and send your children to public school.

        • Randy M says:

          You’ve got smart phones, so what if you are still living with your parents?

          (purely annecdotal based jest, I realize)

          • Speaking as a parent two of whose adult children are living with him, I object to the stereotype that views that as evidence of failure.

            My view is that one way to get adequate roommates is to produce them yourself.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Speaking as a parent two of whose adult children are living with him, I object to the stereotype that views that as evidence of failure.

            Unfortunately, the vast majority people don’t, and status is one of those things that depend entirely on what people believe, much like the value of the dollar or the identity of the president.

          • Anonymous says:

            What a bizarre comment. What does status have to do with the conversation at hand?

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            What a bizarre comment. What does status have to do with the conversation at hand?

            “Failure” = low-status. Duh.

          • Randy M says:

            @ David: I don’t know your circumstances, but I will venture to say the circumstances of your children differ from traditional American ideal, where children move out and start their own households.
            It is rare that someone would prefer to live with their parents rather than in their own domicile, all else being equal. I’m not saying they should necessarily put as much distance between them as possible, but the fact that you are making this trade-off is evidence that home ownership is more difficult than in the past.
            I say this as someone who lived with his wife’s grandmother for the first three or four years of our marriage, both to help her and help us; but it was an accomplishment when we moved to our own small apartment.

          • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:


            I think you will find that the “traditional American ideal” is a much more recent invention than you think, and is a product of the same historically unprecedented (and unreproducible) circumstances circa the 1950s. To the best of my knowledge all of my great grandparents lived in multigenerational homes. And this was not necessarily an arrangement from need; in at least one case all the adult generations were successful business owners or executives. In another, moving out resulted in their being cut from the will for the sizable estate.

            Historically, multigenerational cohabitation has been the rule rather than the exception. It is no wonder that if you get over the very recent taboo, it turns out to be a very satisfactory way to live.

            (Trivia question! How many of the British royal family live in multigenerational establishments? They certainly could afford to go live on there own. Do they?)

          • “but the fact that you are making this trade-off is evidence that home ownership is more difficult than in the past.”

            Actually it isn’t–we’re reasonably well off and our children could afford their own apartments if they wanted them.

            It’s true that the circumstances of our children differ from the norm. Judith Harris, in The Nurture Assumption, argues that the adult personality mostly comes from the personality developed in interactions with the peer group, not the personality developed in interactions with the family. She mentions the rare case where the family is the peer group—I think her own case as well as mine and one or two that she describes in the book.

            It’s the case for our children as well. They were home unschooled for roughly the equivalent of high school. When our daughter went to college, she encountered what was to her an alien culture—roughly my experience when I went to college as well. She ended up making adult friends but not friends her own age.

            The reason they live with us is some combination of their being more comfortable in the environment of our household and our enjoying having them as part of that environment.

            The status point that someone else made is a legitimate one, but it again assumes something closer to the cultural norm than applies. Our son has written one novel, is working on other writing projects. If he becomes a successful writer as I, perhaps over optimistically, expect, that will provide him status in the relevant community that does not depend on where he lives.

            With regard to WhoWouldn’t…’s historical point. I wonder if that reflects a past pattern closer to ours–the extended family being more the reference group, the wider society less, than at present.

          • Randy M says:

            Very well, both of your points conceded. Can I ask David if you have grandchildren? Having two parents with two grown children is one thing, but having two parents with their two grown children and their two spouses and 3-5 grandchildren implies a much nicer residence than is common in my experience (those with very sizable estates and the royal family excluded, if I need to say so).

          • I have two grandchilden, but they are the children of the son of my first marriage, who does not live with us. They do, however, come over for dinner once a week most weeks.

            My guess is that if my elder son and his soon to be second wife wanted to live with us we could, given some time, expand the house to make it possible. But it would make more sense for them to buy one of the nearby houses, ideally one adjacent, and treat two houses with a common yard as a single estate.

            That would probably work, but I don’t know if they would prefer it. It would certainly have some attractions. Free child care for them, not just from us but from our daughter.

            I’m not sure if Patri and Brit would approve of Bill’s idea of childcare for Tovar, which involves two computers and one of several games—they don’t seem to object when they visit, but I think Patri and his brother have different views on the proper role of computer games in the life of the young.

        • nonymous says:

          Anyone who presents the image of the king who trades his treasures for a five dollar credit card calculator in the course of trying to convince others that life is somehow EASIER is…….inexperienced in life. It’s childcare, education, medical. banking, college, transportation, housing, insurance, eldercare…..

          You can’t just run away with a gameboy, some lincoln logs, your blankie and an omlette maker and build
          a special economic zone in a libertarian glen in a koch-owned dell, filled with low hanging fruit trees and a lot of people whe can’t laugh at themselves working out
          plans for imagined laters built on the shifting sands of the probably not gonna happen. .

          • Psmith says:

            1. ” It’s childcare, education, medical. banking, college, transportation, housing, insurance, eldercare…..” You think these things are worse and/or harder to obtain now than they were at some previous point? College I can just about see if I squint, but the rest?

            2. Are you John Sidles?

    • eponymous says:

      > I recall reading that a massive spending sink is on resource education for kids who were severely intellectually handicapped, often to the point of giving them individualized care workers.

      That may be part of it, but the main driver of education costs is just teachers’ salaries, because teacher productivity doesn’t increase much over time (you need about as many teacher-hours per student as ever), but the salaries of educated workers have increased greatly.

      • Mary says:

        Baumol’s cost disease

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          I have no idea why this is referred to as a “disease”. This is the mechanism by which general wages and living standards improve. It is the greatest economic fact there is—except perhaps the recognition that insofar as wealth is productively invested, it has no special benefit to the owner, only a general benefit.

          Tablewaiting technology has not improved much, if at all, in the last 300 years. The reason waiters do not make the same wages as they did in the 18th century is that employers in industries which have productively improved need workers and compete against restaurant owners for labor. As a result, the restaurant owners have to raise wages.

          This is literally why we don’t live in Marx’s vision of capitalist hell.

          • eponymous says:

            You’re right that it depends on the baseline. It’s a disease relative to the case that productivity across all sectors rises approximately uniformly.

          • Adam says:

            Productivity can’t rise uniformly across all sectors. It will always rise faster in capital-intensive industries than in labor-intensive. This is also the central reason why government spending always tends to increase as a percentage of aggregate income as municipalities grow wealthier. Most of what government does is employ teachers, police officers, and soldiers*, and those happen to be extremely labor-intensive industries, at least for now. We do seem to finally be succeeding at least a little bit at automating education and warfare.

            *Municipal governments, of course. Most federal spending is just transfer payments, though soldiers are still expensive, and dwarf the rest of the defense budget.

          • Mary says:

            Because terminology is sticky. The mere fact that folklorists have learned that oral story tellers habitually recombine tales and lift motifs from one to put into another does not change the terminology invented when they thought proper tales remained unchanged for millennia — and so it’s still called “contamination.”

      • brad says:

        What about the number of teachers, or better yet total education employees, per pupil over time? I imagine it is has been rising and if so that’s an effect that has nothing to do with Baumol’s.

        • Adam says:

          NCES fast facts says 22.3 pupil/teacher in 1970 to 16.0 in 2011. Says nothing about administrative staff. Most of that happened in the 70s, though, and it’s been fairly stable since 1985.


          • brad says:

            I wasn’t so much thinking of administrative staff as the “teacher’s aides” that seem to accompany each mainstreamed special needs child. I’m not sure how NCES would count them. Though now that you mention it, I wouldn’t be surprised if non-teaching staff is up too.

            In any event, thanks for the link.

    • nonymous says:

      what happened in the seventies
      powlll memo———————————–>koch, cato, mercatus, alec——> SSC =97% GOP webelos

      Corporations in the years following powell”s memo
      totally changed strategy. Decided to rejigger the capital labor split
      without telling anyone the endgame was gonna be lower wages, less benefits, broken shifts, no bargaining power, sickdays, drugtests, arbitration to sign your rights away

      like mrs. olsen on litte house on the prairie.
      of course , the wicked witches epicene suitor.
      teddy cruzeveldt . haughty and sadistic.
      power animal: pterodactyl

      econlog of tears for the downtrodden.

      1. a company decides to layoff 5000. life. free to choose blues.
      cyanide’s legal now, here, get me back later.
      2.a mc donalds lays off a girl who’s gonna get rehired down the street
      at the new minimum wage and youre gonna get up there and perform autistic highroad simulation.
      down here at the sunset grill …….no no no your not.

      “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”
      ― Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations

      “The interest of [businessmen] is always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public … The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order … ought never to be adopted, till after having been long and carefully examined … with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men … who have generally an interest to deceive and even oppress the public”
      ― Adam Smith, An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Volume 1 of 2

      “In regards to the price of commodities, the rise of wages operates as simple interest does, the rise of profit operates like compound interest.
      Our merchants and masters complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price and lessening the sale of goods. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.”
      ― Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations

      • God Damn John Jay says:

        I am not sure if this is computer generated or human generated.

        I am also not sure which would be more impressive.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      @ God Damn John Jay
      The prices that seem to have eaten into peoples income seem to be things like housing, education and healthcare.

      Prices of stuff you buy at the grocery store are going way up.

  17. Scudamour says:

    I’m thinking that Swanluv startup has incentives to finance really elaborate bachelor/bachelorette parties as well as honeymoons in Las Vegas. And encouraging the couple to Write their Own Vows. And I imagine this startup, in order to get publicity, will cheerfully ask its clients if they would be interested in having their wedding preparations filmed for reality TV. Wouldn’t that be fun?

    • brad says:

      My biggest concern would be underwriting. You need to thread the needle between finding people that aren’t going to stay married but are going to pay you back.

  18. egoburnswell says:

    Who eats a cup of lettuce?

    • Randy M says:

      Does that seem low to you or high to you?
      When I eat lettuce, it’s probably at least that much, although that isn’t a daily occurance, largely because making an appetizing salad, including stocking fresh produce, takes a while, and salads at restraunts seem rather pricey often.

    • roystgnr says:

      For that matter, what *is* a cup of lettuce? How can you accurately define lettuce by volume? Even with flour a recipe can’t safely specify volume instead of mass without clarifying “sifted”. And that’s an industrially-refined homogeneous powder, not a biologically-generated set of curly manifolds whose size, thickness, shape, and elasticity are highly random variables from distributions which vary greatly from subspecies to subspecies. Hell, I bet I could get 50% variation in density just by tearing lettuce pieces exclusively from the tip vs the base of a head of romaine.

      • Chris Conner says:

        If you follow the link from it leads here, where a cup of lettuce equates to 36 grams. 93 cups therefore totals 3,348 g of lettuce, or about 7 and a third pounds. Bon appetit.

        I doubt your estimate of 50% variation in calorie density between parts of the head of lettuce, just because lettuce is already so poor in calories to start with. But I have no numbers to back that up.

  19. Jack V says:

    “Now a New Jersey Orthodox rabbi is sentenced to ten years in prison for hiring goons to beat up Jewish husbands until they agreed to divorce their wives.”

    I seem to recall that before, I’m not sure if it’s the same case now trial completed, or a completely different case. IIRC, in Israel, people are arrested for refusing to grant a divorce, and mostly cave, but there’s one guy who sat in prison for 20 years to spite his ex-wife.

    What SHOULD happen (and I think some denominations do), is put in the marriage contract that if there’s a secular divorce or some other conditions, the husband automatically grants a religious divorce too. Well, what I personally would do is ignore the rules that say adultery is super-super bad for women, and their descendants, specifically, but if people want to find another way round that, making sure the issue never comes up works.

    If there’s no legal recourse, I find it very hard to say the “beat up and torture” approach is worse than not doing that (even though it’s clearly bad).

    • anonymous says:

      > What SHOULD happen (and I think some denominations do), is put in the marriage contract that if there’s a secular divorce or some other conditions, the husband automatically grants a religious divorce too.

      Google “halachic prenup”, that’s a real thing more or less.

  20. AR+ says:

    The guy in Flint who has always distilled his family’s drinking water to avoid “chemicals” is probably feeling pretty smug right now.

  21. Markus Ramikin says:

    “Poor Francis Bacon. Spends his entire life telling people to use reason and empiricism, then after he dies he gets worshipped as a god by a group who believe he ascended bodily to Heaven.” – Cool. Now us Warhammer 40k fans can pretend this is where the inspiration for the Emperor of Mankind came from.

  22. >How much of the modern creative writing scene comes from CIA attempts to fight communism during the Cold War?

    How much about modern American imaginations of Collapse / Zombie Apocalypse / prepping / survivalism / Fallout comes from the US Gov pushing this back then as a defense against nuclear war? I mean, I’ve read Farnham’s Freehold from Robert Heinlein, 1964, and its first part sounds like a contemporary attitude to prepping, collapse, and all that, but it is totally about nuclear war survival and sounds at least semi-officially government-pushed. I mean, the interesting part is that prepping is usually associated with anti-government attitudes, would be interesting if it turned out it came from Washington due to the Cold War nuclear stuff.

    • On the other hand, my impression is that a lot of the “nuclear war means the end of the world” stuff, popular in fiction and elsewhere, came from people on the left campaigning against nuclear weapons. Some of it may even have been produced or financed by the Soviets, who had an obvious interest in persuading people in the West that nuclear weapons were bad.

    • roystgnr says:

      When was the US Government pushing Civil Defense? They were so far into MAD that while the Soviets had their ABM system set up to protect Moscow, we had ours set up to protect our missile silos. Got to make sure everybody understands that we’re not planning to survive a retaliatory strike and we’re not planning to let you survive one either.

      • Jiro says:

        When was the US Government pushing Civil Defense?

        Ever heard of “duck and cover”?

        • roystgnr says:

          Of course I have. It’s obvious evidence for my case. We had plans to build fallout shelters under every freeway overpass; instead we told kids to hide under their desks.

          • CatCube says:

            Huh? There were civil defense shelters all over the place; you can still see the signs in some places.

            Hell, one of the Columbia River dams had a CD shelter, and we just got rid of some of the supplies for it last year.

          • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

            My school *was* the fallout shelter. You couldn’t pick a better place to hide under your desk.

            Also, haven’t we previously established here that nuclear weapons actually don’t do nearly as much damage as popularly supposed? If you’re closer than a few hundred meters, you’re fucked no matter what you do. If you’re further away, hiding under a desk is a perfectly effective strategy to avoid getting hit by flying debris or a massive dose of radiation.

          • John Schilling says:

            Huh? There were civil defense shelters all over the place; you can still see the signs in some places.

            Yes, but that’s all you can see, and about all you could ever see. American-style “civil defense” mostly consisted of identifying the sturdiest basements already in existence, putting some canned foof & water and a geiger counter in a closet, and putting up the signs to let everybody know that you have Taken Civil Defense Seriously.

            I’ve seen what it looks like when a government takes civil defense seriously, e.g. Seoul. And as roystgnr already pointed out, there was low-hanging fruit in the form of the urban freeway overpasses being built at the time, which could have been modified to include truly hard shelters at low marginal cost. What we got in the United States was a government deciding not to take civil defense seriously but, oh, look, over there some Republicans who will paint us as “soft on defense” so here’s a few hundred million dollars for canned food and signs. And, since this is the United States, a whole lot of privately-built shelters ranging from worthless to quite impressive.

            Also, wwwtba, we have established that nuclear weapons “don’t do nearly as much damage as popularly supposed” in that they cannot plausibly cause the extinction of the human race. If you are within 5-10 km of a nominal one-megaton thermonuclear weapon, the building you are in will either collapse on top of you or be literally blown away with all of its contents. And in either event the wreckage will be on fire. It is not impractical to build a shelter that can protect against this, but “hiding under the desk” isn’t it.

        • Anthony says:

          Pretty much until the late 60s/early 70s.

  23. Froolow says:

    At the risk of incurring the wrath of the SSC spam filter, could someone take a look at the study below?

    It seems to imply – in Table 2 – that patients who currently have a colostomy bag are happier (by some measures, such as the TTO) than members of the general population and patients who have had their colostomy reversed, and by almost any measure they are not substantially more unhappy. That contradicts the study Scott links on how disabled people have a strong negative and long-lasting QoL decrement. The literature on this phenomenon is pretty well developed, although admittedly the colostomy bag example is often cited because it is the ‘most’ surprising – disabled people are almost never as unhappy as people think they will be, which has some pretty profound policy implications whatever the reason for this disagreement (be it hedonic adaption or something else).

    What is the take-away from this? Are one or both of the study designs so flawed they are producing the reverse of the true result, or is there maybe some unexplored explanatory factor for why *some* disabilities don’t seem to have much effect at all on happiness?

    • baconbacon says:

      I don’t know if it relates to this study, but there is a big difference between treatments for chronic issues and for accidents. If you are paralyzed in a car accident you go from healthy to a wheelchair quickly and you end up spending not much time in between. If you have bowel cancer that ends in a colostomy bag you probably have a period of months to years of symptoms, followed by diagnosis, lots of stress, and various treatments. If you get to the point where you are answering surveys about your colostomy bag things are probably looking up compared to the last 2-3 months of your life.

    • Frank McPike says:

      As I understand TTO, that’s a measurement based on how many months of their life they would be willing to trade (out of a total possible lifespan of 10 years) not to have a colostomy. For colostomy patients, this number is 19, which seems to suggest that they think that having a colostomy is a serious detriment to their life. The number for both patients who have had the colostomy reversed and the general public is a bit over 40. It seems odd to interpret this to mean that colostomy patients are happier with their lives than the general public. The correct interpretation seems to be that the general public overestimates the detrimental effect of colostomies. They’re bad, but about half as bad as you’d assume before you have one.

      The more puzzling difference is that between those who had their surgery reversed and those who didn’t. The obvious explanation would be a kind of selection effect – if people who had a negative experience with their colostomy were more likely to have the procedure reversed, then that would handily explain the difference. The study addresses this by noting that patient choice is not typically a motivating factor in colostomy reversals, but that’s not the only mechanism that would cause a selection effect.

      On one of the two metrics that actually measure life satisfaction, colostomy patients are a few points lower than the general public, and the difference is statistically significant. On the other, there is no significant difference. This does not seem especially inconsistent with Scott’s position. However, I wouldn’t put too much faith in this section of the study, regardless of your position. The samples for colostomy patients and the general public were generated using different procedures and, based on Table 1, are demographically quite different. The demographic information reported in Table 1 (age, sex, race, and income) was all controlled for. But if the groups differ substantially on the demographics they did measure, they probably also differ substantially on a lot of things that weren’t measured (e.g. level of education, marital status, religiosity, other health conditions), many of which are also likely to affect life satisfaction. The authors note that this is the weakest portion of the study, and I don’t think it should be taken as strong evidence of anything.

      • Froolow says:

        Thank you, this is extremely insightful analysis

      • AnonCoward says:

        This editorial (and the referenced data) may be interesting to those involved in this discussion. (The full article requires academic journal access, unfortunately.):

        “Treatment decisions are difficult when outcomes are highly uncertain. Many life-saving interventions produce a variety of outcomes and no one can predict precisely where a particular patient will end up. It is also impossible to predict exactly how patients will evaluate outcomes that leave them with fewer abilities than they once had.

        In Long-term survival with unfavourable outcome: a qualitative and ethical analysis, Stephen Honeybul and colleagues present some surprising information about patients’ adaptive capacities.1 The analysis describes the results of semistructured interviews with patients who had life-saving surgery (decompressive craniectomy) following severe brain trauma. Patients suffering traumatic brain injury are incapacitated, and so the surgery decision must be made by clinicians and family members.

        Decompressive craniectomy yields a range of outcomes, including full recovery, mild, moderate or severe disability, and death. The authors interviewed patients in the severe disability outcome group. In all, 11 of 13 patients said that they would have consented to the surgery even if they had known its outcome. The patients expressing this view were either fully or substantially dependent on others for care. None were able to engage in activities like shopping and riding public transport on their own. Despite their limitations, they approved…”

  24. atreic says:

    Stats question> Oh. Oh. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Please pass the brain bleach. Also, please promote questioner to be manager’s manager.

    On the other hand, some of the comments are good for restoring ones faith in humanity again. It very seldom works that way round. I particularly liked the magically increasing water, the we can make old people really tall, and the ffs, I made up some data to deliberately have no pattern, look how this gives it a completely untrue pattern! one

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Honestly, at first I thought this was some esoteric statistical method I simply never learned. How can anyone possibly be that…erm…foolish? Sort data independently?

      Not even a new trainee in my outsourced accounting team would think that smart.

  25. Virbie says:

    > The difference between r and r-squared continues to be a source of much wailing and gnashing and teeth

    Minor edit: I think this should end “much wailing and gnashing of teeth”. Though I’m totally down with trying to make “a source of teeth” a new idiom for something causing distress.

  26. Virbie says:

    Conventional wisdom: openness to experience is associated with being less prejudiced. New study: openness to experience is sort of like non-conformity, and it is associated with being less prejudiced to unconventional groups but more prejudiced towards conventional groups. I feel like I might have had a blog post sort of like this a while ago.

    Interestingly enough, I just read an article (about something sort-of unrelated) that criticized the “openness to experience” measure on somewhat-similar grounds.

    We’ve got people measuring a purported fundamental personality trait of Openness to Experience by asking participants “I see myself as someone who…”

    … is ingenious, a deep thinker.

    … values artistic, esthetic experiences.

    … is inventive.

    … is sophisticated in art, music, and literature.

    … likes to reflect, play with ideas

    You’ve got to be kidding. These items are obviously grounded in – and biased in favor of – academia. This core personality trait of “openness” is measuring intellectualism and urban sophistication. These items are invalid on their face, and should not have lasted this long.

    How are people in rural communities going to show up on this scale? How about people in developing countries? How would they express their openness to experience? Where do we give them a voice? They don’t have opera houses, symphonies, and gallery openings with which to express their “sophistication” in art, music, and literature. They’re structurally excluded and marginalized here. The items are not situated at the level of analysis necessary for a valid underlying human personality construct that is commensurable across cultures and backgrounds. We’re not even speaking their language. I guarantee that many people in rural communities would be embarrassed to say that they are “ingenious” or “sophisticated”. It would be unseemly to them, narcissistic and snobby. They might never use words like esthetic or inventive, not because they’re stupid, but because they live in a different world and don’t necessarily have use for the same terminology that contemporary intellectuals use.

    • Anonymaus says:

      So… how did they decide again that “openness” is one of the fundamental dimensions along which human personalities tend to vary? Maybe the fundamental trait is actually something in the direction of likes-to-be-anti-mainstream?

      • Anonymous says:

        If I am not mistaken it was by factor regression.
        (Multiple times, I think) they find that some characteristics (e.g answers to the questions: ‘I like opera’ and ‘I like paintings’) cooccur a lot, collapse them into different variables (e.g the two before to ‘I am the kind of person who likes opera and paintings’ and ‘I don’t like paintings’). You decide on a number (usually by metrics, (e.g however many it requires to to explain 80% variance, or looking at them and seeing that the factor with the third most explanatory power explains 10%, and the fourth 1%, decide to cut it off there) but still somewhat arbitrarily) (think of the milky way, with most variance on two dimensions, and the the third insignificant in comparison. Even though we don’t know which are the fundamental geometrical axes on god’s computer, we can comfortably make our own.) and discard the rest.

        And then post-facto, you give them names that seem to match what they measure.

    • Should be possible to test this practically? offer the testee food thar has been died blue or something.

  27. Forlorn Hopes says:

    A nice little link for you all. A pew research study on gaming and gamers. Sadly it does not include hours played per week or preferred types of game.

  28. Carl says:

    Of course political correctness is just treating people with respect. Why else would the bad people be so upset by it? The bad people are those who wish to treat people with disrespect, particularly those who can’t handle disrespect e.g women, blacks, homosexuals. I mean, come on! These groups aren’t robust like straight white men, who are the bad people. I always knew that I was uniquely compassionate and sensitive and the bad people just wanted to treat people with disrespect. To disagree with me is to show disrespect.

  29. swarm of unreason says:

    I consider basically everything that comes out of the “rationalist” communities to be varying degrees of absurd, but effective altruism (when its practitioners don’t marry it to the standard LW-style mistakes like *moral* utilitarianism and considering Eliezer Yudkowsky an “effective charity” – and that stuff has been getting rarer, to your credit!) is the exception that goes to show that no one can be completely wrong *all* the time.

    Fellow anti-rationalists, please consider – if not actually joining GWWC, I won’t for various reasons – considering “effectiveness” when making charitable contributions. These guys’ epistemology may be terrible where they’re loudest, but it’s turned out to be a pretty good match for charitable giving (and probably other things we have yet to discover).

    • Anon. says:

      Why would a non-utilitarian consider EA a good thing?

      • gattsuru says:

        It’s not too hard to imagine a way someone can come into EA from a virtue ethics or even divine command morality. This is even easier if we’re only talking about moral utilitarianism.

      • JBeshir says:

        GWWC had a blog post called Christianity and Giving from a member who joined up because they felt it was the best way to accomplish the moral values they were called to possess as Christians.

        It’s interesting, especially as someone who is non-religious, and I found it kinda heartwarming.

      • Kaj Sotala says:

        For EA to be a good thing, you don’t necessarily need to accept something like “the best action is the one with the greatest expected value when impartially considering everyone” as the only intrinsic moral rule, like utilitarians do.

        A lot of non-utilitarians (I would suspect most) are still willing to accept that, everything else being equal, helping more people rather than fewer is still better. They just don’t want that to be the only moral principle.

      • Linch says:

        Here’s a deontological perspective:

        (I’ve chatted privately with the writer and he has since given to SCI).

      • Earthly Knight says:

        A better question– what led you to conclude that utilitarians have a monopoly on charity, or effectiveness? The main difference is that most competing ethical systems will consider giving to charity (perhaps beyond a certain percentage of income for those able to afford it) to be supererogatory rather than obligatory.

        • Anon. says:

          In most traditional ethical systems, the effectiveness of the charity is pretty much irrelevant.


          >Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.

          To the effective altruist this is a bizarre notion — obviously the rich people did more good. The Christian is charitable regardless of effectiveness, she is charitable because moral law comes down to us by divine command, and it says you should be charitable.

          The virtue ethicist views the situation very similarly. The issue is whether you’re charitable or not. Perhaps by extension, how charitable you are (what % of your money you give). The effectiveness of said charity never figures in the reasoning.

          The disparities arise because of the fact that the entire notion of effective charity is fundamentally consequentialist.

          And in any case, even if the abstract idea of EA were compatible with the above, in practice EA is filled with Singerites, etc.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            To the effective altruist this is a bizarre notion — obviously the rich people did more good.

            1. You are conflating two distinct questions here:

            (1) should we ensure that our charity dollars (shekels) do as much good as possible?
            (2) is the goodness of an act a function of gross donation or percentage of income donated?

            It’s an affirmative answer to (1) which makes you an effective altruist, but the Bible passage concerns only (2).

            2. It’s entirely possible that Jesus is speaking to the character of the widow rather than her action (I am not sure he had the conceptual resources to divorce these two types of evaluation, but we do). Many people hold that the goodness of a generous action depends at least in part on its consequences, while the character virtue generosity depends on what percentage of income is donated.

            3. The “offering box” is the temple treasury. It is not clear that the function which relates (money donated to God, merit) will be the same as the function which relates (money donated to the poor, merit). God may only care about how much you’re willing to sacrifice for him, because he doesn’t actually need the money. Poor people do.

            The virtue ethicist views the situation very similarly.

            According to whom? Aristotle believed that it was impossible for poor people to be virtuous precisely because they lacked the wherewithal to practice liberality or magnificence.

            In most traditional ethical systems, the effectiveness of the charity is pretty much irrelevant.

            Here is a quotation you will see in many Methodist churches (typically misattributed to John Wesley):

            “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

            Generally speaking, you will be hard-pressed to find anyone, with the possible exception of Kant, who does not think it good to help more people rather than less, all else being equal. It may be that few moral systems place as a high a premium on effectiveness as utilitarianism, but all or virtually all will value it to some degree.

          • Deiseach says:

            I am not sure he had the conceptual resources to divorce these two types of evaluation, but we do

            How blessed I am to sit at the feet of those smarter than the Second Person of the Trinity 🙂

          • Earthly Knight says:

            We know that IQ scores have increased at a rate of approximately 3 points per decade since 1930. Extrapolating backwards to 33 AD, by my calculations, there’s a 99.7% chance that our Lord would have had an IQ no higher than -450.

          • John Schilling says:

            Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.

            Sudden insight: EA seems to be most popular among young nerdish types, who are intelligent and highly educated but not (yet) as rich as they feel they ought to be given their talent. All they have to live on is their intellect. EA allows them to devote their intellect to charity, by putting a few copper coins and a whole lot of brain cycles into the bowl.

            This feels virtuous. Arguably this is virtuous, even if it is less effective than a millionaire tossing 2-3% of his income at a few random high-profile charities.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            @Earthly Knight, Deiseach, Linch, : I am reminded of Eliezer Yudkowsky’s “Tsuyoku Naritai! (I Want To Become Stronger)”:

            In Orthodox Judaism there is a saying: “The previous generation is to the next one as angels are to men; the next generation is to the previous one as donkeys are to men.” This follows from the Orthodox Jewish belief that all Judaic law was given to Moses by God at Mount Sinai. After all, it’s not as if you could do an experiment to gain new halachic knowledge; the only way you can know is if someone tells you (who heard it from someone else, who heard it from God). Since there is no new source of information, it can only be degraded in transmission from generation to generation.

            Thus, modern rabbis are not allowed to overrule ancient rabbis. Crawly things are ordinarily unkosher, but it is permissible to eat a worm found in an apple—the ancient rabbis believed the worm was spontaneously generated inside the apple, and therefore was part of the apple. A modern rabbi cannot say, “Yeah, well, the ancient rabbis knew diddly-squat about biology. Overruled!” A modern rabbi cannot possibly know a halachic principle the ancient rabbis did not, because how could the ancient rabbis have passed down the answer from Mount Sinai to him? Knowledge derives from authority, and therefore is only ever lost, not gained, as time passes.

            When I was first exposed to the angels-and-donkeys proverb in (religious) elementary school, I was not old enough to be a full-blown atheist, but I still thought to myself: “Torah loses knowledge in every generation. Science gains knowledge with every generation. No matter where they started out, sooner or later science must surpass Torah.”

          • “Thus, modern rabbis are not allowed to overrule ancient rabbis.”

            I cannot speak to current orthodox practice, but that is the opposite of the traditional position in rabbinic law.

            halachah k’batrai, (“the law is according to the last, i.e., most recent, authorities”)

            The most recent authorities are, of course, supposed to be familiar with the views of the ancient authorities—but it is the view of the current generation that rules.

    • Jiro says:

      I consider effective altruism to be yet another of those things with varying degrees of absurdity rather than an anomaly.

      Nobody really cares about all humans equally. It’s an absurd premise and if taken to its logical conclusion would lead to absurd results–typically either giving away as much as possible (if you don’t put limits on it) or murder offsets (if you do).

      • Psmith says:

        I think that the underlying meta-ethical premises of EA are pretty goofy.

        On the other hand, I also think it’s pretty goofy to put zero weight whatsoever on QALYs/dollar.
        “Man, there are a lot of criticisms of EA out there, some of which I think are pretty good, some of which, um, I’ll withhold judgment on… but given that we live in a world in which the 40th-richest person in America spends $700 million to put up a bunch of billboards essentially going “Isn’t confidence great?!” it sure as hell seems like EA is at least in the direction we should be dragging the Overton window.”

        • Deiseach says:

          I’m not disagreeing that evaluating for efficiency is a good idea.

          It just seems to me that there is a huge push for malaria nets (or this is the simplified version of it) and very little thought afterwards. So you happily commit yourself to donating 30% of your income to malaria nets charities, which is great.

          But if the goal is to get everyone as much as is feasible donating rationally, and the highest-recommended charity is malaria nets (because ‘we have scientific method proofs’) and so everyone is donating to malaria nets, what about other charities which are lower down the list but just as vital?

          I know this was addressed by “Well, when we hit the 100% funded malaria nets charities can’t use another cent, then donations will switch to different emphasis” and I see that, but in the meanwhile what do you do? Providing reliable source of clean water, for example, is a very important part of helping health and quality of life, but I see nothing about it on GiveWell’s list of Top Four charities.

          And if you’re going to be rational, then you’ll probably donate to the Number One ranked charity. But what about the need for water? I think perhaps if there was a way of measuring “Well, malaria net charities are X amount funded, so I can give to a water provision charity without triggering guilt over killing children*”, then EA would be helping people really make rational choices.

          *Again, I see some guilt-tripping over “By making a donation of X amount, you can provide Y number of nets which will save the lives of Z children!” with the implication that by choosing not to do this, you are directly responsible for those deaths, you inhuman monster. Mostly by the very scrupulous who worry over this kind of thing, but it is an element.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            There is obviously only one best charity to donate to at any time. (It is not obvious which one it is.)

            You take your best guess at which one it is and donate all your money to that. It’s that simple.

            There is no point in hedging. The reason you hedge with real investments is the possibility of catastrophe. You could bankrupt yourself by putting all your money in the best stock. You can’t, like, bankrupt altruism.

            If you think malaria nets have too much money and actually water could use a little more, you give everything to water. The only time you don’t do this is if you are Bill Gates or something and can single-handedly fulfill all the demand.

          • Linch says:

            There’s a difference between marginal analysis and what everybody should do if you wave a magical wand and could command them to do the same thing.

            Effective altruism is refuted by the categorical imperative (since if everybody gave to the most effective causes, eventually we’ll live in a world that’s less INSANE, people and societies will have plentiful opportunities and can take care of themselves, and there will no longer be the necessity for charity). I obviously do not think of this as a particularly large problem, and I have trouble understanding those who do.

          • Anaxagoras says:

            I don’t think it’s necessarily the case that there’s one best charity to donate to. To use a contrived example, supposing that every child born in Mali faces the Test of Spikes and the Test of Bears. They will only survive if they pass both tests, and passing each of the two tests requires a $10 and $20 donation respectively from a GiveWell Top Charity. If we have one charity for each of the tests, donating all to the (twice as efficient) Spike Survival Group and nothing to the Against Bears Foundation is a terrible strategy, and will save absolutely no one. You’d need to adopt a mixed strategy to be effective.

            Again, this is a very contrived scenario, but not necessarily an unrealistic one. It seems plausible that donating to AMF actually increases the number of people dying of, say, tainted water. Sure, people should at some point switch over to donating to clean water charities, but GiveWell doesn’t exactly update its recommendations in realtime.

            You’re still right that at any given time, there’s only one charity that provides more marginal lives saved, but even then, dividing donations is still not ruled out, if your goal is to make sure you do some minimum amount of good, rather than risk having all your money go to waste.

            Of course, it’s worth considering how homogenous people’s views will be. If you think that 50% of people will consider Charity A the best, 40% Charity B, and 10% Charity C, then your split may already be done for you. Since your donations are (probably) a tiny proportion of total donations, the charities are still getting money in proportion to how relatively effective people think they are. On the other hand, a charity that everyone considers second best kind of gets screwed over here. Do we need polling theory?

          • JBeshir says:

            Worth noting that GiveWell has in the past suggested mixed strategies to donating, and is only justifying refraining from doing so right now on the basis that their recommendations to Good Ventures already executed a mixed strategy, and they don’t think enough donations motivated by their recommendations will happen to reach the point where switching to another charity again would be justified. (They have a blog post about this here.)

            If they thought they were controlling everyone’s donations ever they would probably propose something way more mixed.

      • Earthly Knight says:

        Nobody really cares about all humans equally. It’s an absurd premise and if taken to its logical conclusion would lead to absurd results–typically either giving away as much as possible (if you don’t put limits on it) or murder offsets (if you do).

        Neither of these claims follow. Here, for instance, is a consistent moral theory:

        1. All human lives are equally valuable.
        2. Humans have a right to pursue their own self-interest and the interests of their families (at least to a certain point of comfort and security) before worrying about helping others.
        3. It is not permissible to murder others (unless, perhaps, doing so would avert a moral catastrophe).

        A moral theory can be egalitarian without licensing the worst excesses of maximizing consequentialism.

        But there’s a bigger problem: even if humans were congenitally incapable of regarding one another with perfect impartiality, this would still be no barrier to viewing it as a moral ideal, or encouraging others to strive towards that ideal.

        • Jiro says:

          #2 contradicts “cares about all humans equally”.

          It may not contradict your #1, but I didn’t say #1, I said “cares about all human lives equally”. And I’m not even sure #1 is coherent–what does it mean to think all human lives are equally valuable but to pursue one’s self-interest anyway? Isn’t that contradictory, unless you treat it as a case of not living up to your beliefs?

          • Earthly Knight says:

            It may not contradict your #1, but I didn’t say #1, I said “cares about all human lives equally”.

            This is my attempt at a charitable reconstruction. In point of fact, no moral judgment about what we ought to do or what is valuable can contradict “caring about all human lives equally”, because the former are normative claims while the latter is a description of a mental state.

            And I’m not even sure #1 is coherent–what does it mean to think all human lives are equally valuable but to pursue one’s self-interest anyway?

            You might think that all human lives are equally valuable in virtue of being endowed with the same suite of rights and privileges, or having an equal position at the bargaining table behind the veil of ignorance. You are reading “all human lives are equally valuable” as “I should take up the interests of all human beings as equal in importance to my own”, but this is just to beg the question in favor of consequentialism.

      • Kaj Sotala says:

        Nobody really cares about all humans equally.

        I’ve never seen any EA claim otherwise, so I’m unsure of what the relevance of this point is.

      • rsqit says:

        > Nobody really cares about all humans equally

        Of course not. EA is an attempt to use reason to work around this defect in human moral intuitions. 🙂

  30. Anonymous says:

    I wish the flood simulator included a “meanwhile, the temperatures rise by +X C” output. Because that much water level rise is likely to require making most of the world uninhabitably hot.

  31. Spudfella says:

    I guess this is as good a place as any to ask how research into income disparity controls for racial disparity and vice versa. I’ve tried googling it but the answers are pretty evenly divided between Nazis and regrets that I didn’t take a stats course in college.

  32. eponymous says:

    > Latest study finds the same thing as every other study: No Impact of Income On Standardized Test Scores.

    So they just run OLS, and find that including other variables makes income non-significant? I don’t find that very convincing.

    Who are the authors? Honestly, the paper looks like it could be from an undergraduate econometrics class.

    • Adam says:

      This one kind of got me, too. I taught SAT math bootcamps throughout grad school as well as Kaplan courses for the GRE, GMAT, and LSAT, and we pretty consistently raised peoples scores, and the courses were pretty expensive. I’m sure there weren’t enough people taking these courses to show a population-level effect, though, and obviously just giving us money doesn’t raise your score. You still have to do a lot of work, and a dedicated person could easily do the work without the guidance of a class or a teacher.

      • zluria says:

        Yes, this result just makes no sense to me. How could a higher income NOT have an effect on standardized test scores?

    • Adam says:

      Also, someone else posted a link somewhere in the comments and the paper is, in fact, from an undergraduate econometrics class.

      • PSJ says:

        I don’t know if this is really appropriate, but I feel like it would be nice to have some standard place to put reviews of studies posted here. I feel like a lot of really good analysis gets stuck in the comments, and this seems like the type of place that would be great for crowd-sourced peer review.

        • ShemTealeaf says:

          Talk to the people who run the companion subreddit; I’m sure they could put together some sort of repository of study reviews.

    • Frank McPike says:

      Yes, Scott’s summary of the study is seriously misleading. The study offers no evidence in favor of the conclusion that parental wealth has no effect on SAT scores.
      1. The study distinguishes between aptitude tests and achievements tests (like the SAT), and intentionally concerns itself only with the former.
      2. As you say, all they show is that income fails to achieve significance when other variables are controlled for. The study has an n in the low 30s. It is not strong evidence for income having no effect (it is good evidence that the variables that do attain significance have an effect).
      3. The reason it has an n of 30 is because it isn’t about the causes of individuals’ success on aptitude tests at all. Rather, it examines the effect of a /county’s/ racial composition, mean household income, etc. on the county’s average scores. To infer facts about the causes of individual performance on the test is to commit an ecological fallacy.
      4. The test examined in the study was administered in public schools in Georgia. If wealthier parents are significantly more likely to put their children in private school (and thus their children are less likely to be measured by the test at all), then any increased test performance due to parental wealth will be largely hidden from studies using this kind of methodology.

      Based on the fact that the authors are not academics, and the fact that the document title is “Econometrics_paper_final(12)”, expecting it to be the last word in the debate over income and test scores seems a little premature, although I imagine it’s no more error-ridden than the average econometrics final paper.

    • I think it would be a big mistake for anybody to update their opinions based on this study. Josh Falk made some good points below and others have pointed out that it has a small sample, is using county-level data not individual data, just does OLS on a bunch of highly correlated variables and was done for an undergraduate econometrics project.

      Other problems:
      *The authors say they use data “from the 36 reported Georgia counties.” Georgia has 159 counties as well as some cities that appear to report their scores separately from counties. What happened to the other counties and is there selection bias in what was included? I’m not an expert on this data and could easily be missing something but, fwiw, a quick Google got me to a dataset that seems to include scores for all 159 counties as well as 21 other entities. (; 2014 State Summaries).
      *A very rough and error-prone check found counties with average scores as low as 807 but their minimum is 823. This is at least suggestive that some of the worst performing counties were excluded.
      *The authors’ average income data has an average of $66,000 and ranges from $45,380 to $107,088. According to the Census Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates, the highest median household income county in Georgia is Forsyth County at $86,000. I couldn’t easily access mean household income for counties, which might be what they’re using, but that would be an unusual choice.
      *As far as I can tell they do nothing to account for the fact that county level estimates from the ACS are very imprecise, which adds tons of error into their independent variable. For many counties the ACS only publishes estimates using 3 or 5 year averages (to get more data). I have no clue how the authors dealt with this.
      *I can’t figure out what they are reporting in parentheses in Table 5 and why they are different from what’s reported in the parentheses in the regressions.
      *Assuming that what’s being reported in parentheses in regression III are standard errors, their results are consistent with the possibility that a $10,000 increase in average household income leads to more than a 2 point increase in average test scores.

    • Richard says:

      The questions about the quality of the paper are fair, but even disregarding those questions, I don’t think it’s making the claim Scott is. To quote the end of their conclusion:

      In the final multiple regression model, the relationship between the average household income of
      the county and average test score is not statistically significant at all. This result is consistent with Dahl
      and Lochner’s findings. Employing instrumental variable estimates and simple dynamic models, their
      study of income increases over time suggests that current, or contemporaneous, income has a significant
      effect on achievement, while past income yields a smaller effect, with larger impact on children from
      more disadvantaged backgrounds.
      We conclude that average income can have some impact on standardized test scores, yet it may
      not be the main influencing factor. This could be due, at least in part, to the variables examined. Our
      dataset consisted of county aggregate data, as opposed to individual performance data and demographics.
      Therefore, using individual scores may generate more statistically significant relationships.

      (Bolding mine)

      Beyond the first sentence of that, this does not at all support the claim “No Impact of Household Income on Standardized Test Scores”. In fact, it appears to say the exact opposite in the bolded section.

  33. David Pinto says:

    Thanks for the link to the sea-level rise map. We own a rental property near the water. A nine meter rise wipes out all the snooty people with big houses, and puts my property closer to the beach. I’m going to clean up on rents when that happens! Let’s burn some more coal!

    • Anonymous says:

      This is the fun thought experiment I’ve run with my academic friends. I’ve worked with a lot of Indians, and India isn’t particularly lacking in terms of land area (neither is the US). However, some cities are near the coast. “What happens to, say, Mumbai?” they ask. Well, in fifteen years, perhaps the hot real estate area moves a little bit east of where it is right now. Fifteen or twenty years later, the most desired area is east of that a little bit. Some people gain; some people lose; that’s the way of the world since time immemorial. Is the world really going to end if people treat “beachfront property” as a depreciating asset? “Oh no! My luxury house is like my luxury sports car! The end is nigh!”

      The actually difficult situations are small countries that are smashed in near a coastline. They’ll need to either pursue Netherlands-like policies or have other international political solutions. Nevertheless, this is a political problem… and political problems run on timescales which are much faster than the timescale of climate change.

      • CatCube says:

        Beachfront property can, in some places, be a depreciating asset already. If your beach house is in a tsunami-prone area, you have to balance the gorgeous view with the fact that the ocean is right there.

        For example, Ocean Shores, WA is on a peninsula. The topography is such that if you’re near the southern end, there is no time to evacuate in the event of a Cascadia-event earthquake. Roads will probably become jammed with cars quickly, leaving foot as the only practical evacuation method. With a reasonable walking speed, it will take 30 minutes to reach safe ground by foot. However, the tsunami might arrive as soon as 15 minutes after the ground stops shaking. If you’re in one of those areas, you should try to evacuate in the event of an earthquake, but make your peace with God while doing so as you’re probably going to be meeting him soon.

        • anonymous says:

          If you are going to be meeting him soon wouldn’t it make sense to wait and hash out your differences face to face?

        • Vaniver says:

          My parents used to live by Calvert Cliffs, which are just dirt and so are steadily falling into the bay, sometimes at a rate of three feet a year.

          And people built homes on top of the cliff! Some of those homes are for sale, and are about 30 feet away–at which point one does the math and says “hmm.”

          • Adam says:

            One of the things I remember from being a kid is that some combination of wildfire and rain seemed to cause Malibu clifftop mansions to fall into the ocean pretty predictably year after year, yet it didn’t seem the property values ever dropped.

          • Error says:

            @Adam: I’m somewhat curious how many of their owners died that way.

          • CatCube says:

            That sounds like some sort of Bottle Imp story in progress.

    • Brn says:

      I have to wonder how accurate it is, since it shows that with a rise of 0 meters, then a good bit of the island of Abu Dhabi is under water, including some places I just went this week:,54.5431&zoom=16&m=0

      • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

        The simulator evidently looks at whether or not a location is less than +x meters above sea level, without regard to whether there’s any way for seawater to get there. I’m just a bit skeptical of its claim that a 1m rise would flood Death Valley.

  34. tr00586 says:

    The Harvard thing is interesting. I’m an undergrad there and it’s very clear that most people range from apathetic to mildly annoyed by it, but that just pales in comparison to the select few for the change who claim that it’s the second incarnation of slavery.

    Recently, the administration distributed a “placemat for social justice” in all the dining halls (not joking here) which basically told all the students what to think about the issue, claiming that the word master was inextricably related to slavery. sThey actually DID apologize for that one, but only after a couple dozen complaints. I know this isn’t exactly new insight, but it really does seem like a lot of “political correctness” or whatever operates under the principle of only fighting battles they know they can win, largely because anger >> apathy regardless of the numbers, but they’re also definitely winning the war, as seen by how devoid Harvard is of intellectual discourse surrounding these issues.

  35. sabril says:

    Isn’t this one of the blogs which popularized the “motte and bailey” concept?


    1. Global surface temperatures have increased over the past 100 years.

    2. Mankind’s activities, particularly CO2 emissions, have probably had some impact on this increase and are likely to cause future warming.


    1. Mankind’s activities, in particular CO2 emissions, will trigger a positive temperature feedback which will cause catastrophic warming, i.e. warming which will cause serious harm to mankind. Unless Something is Done promptly to reduce CO2 emissions.


    That’s why whenever I debate global warming with anyone, I usually ask them to lay out their position with reasonable precision. Perhaps unsurprisingly, most warmistas are unable to do this. It seems that most people who adopt motte and bailey thinking are not consciously aware of what they are doing. Evidently the attempt to pin down their position causes cognitive dissonance which often results in evasions and lashing out at their opponent.

    • eponymous says:

      How about just, “We’re conducting a massive uncontrolled terraforming experiment on the only planet we have, and we don’t know what the outcome will be. This doesn’t seem like a good idea.”

      Also, I would advise against making up your mind based on what people say on the internet. The IPCC reports combine the input of literally thousands of scientists who are actually experts in relevant fields.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        We also knows that the human cost of stopping or slowing this “massive uncontrolled terraforming experiment” will be vast. It will reduce the amount of energy available, slow economic growth, kill millions who could otherwise have lived, and at the very least prolong the existence of suffering and poverty on the planet.

        Alex Epstein’s The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels is wonderful on this.

        Look, sure, maybe it’s possible that global warming is a huge threat that will kill us all unless we do everything to stop CO2 emissions. But this is not a one-sided tradeoff. we don’t get to just say: oh what the hell, why not stop this “uncontrolled experiment”; better safe than sorry!

        If we have to impose restrictions, our attitude should be one of extreme regret at losing the benefits of fossil fuels. We should approach it with the same gravity as if someone were to argue that the United States should obliterate Russia with nuclear missiles in order to save the rest of the world. That type of scenario is conceivable, but we should think long and hard before we pull the trigger.

        • eponymous says:

          I agree that there are tradeoffs, and the solution is likely to be in the interior of the set [do nothing,do everything possible].

          The comment I was responding to was arguing that catastrophic global warming was an indefensible position. Your argument (loosely, “it may be happening, but mitigation is too expensive”) is one step further.

        • sabril says:

          “We also knows that the human cost of stopping or slowing this ‘massive uncontrolled terraforming experiment’ will be vast”

          I completely agree with this, but I would add one thing: Conceptually, the choice is NOT whether to stop (or slow) CO2 emissions. The choice is whether to implement policies which may or may not result in stopping (or slowing) CO2 emissions.

          China is now the world’s CO2 emitter and realistically there is a good chance that it would cheat or otherwise not abide by any CO2 emissions agreement. If Western countries limit CO2 emissions, the net result might be to push a lot of manufacturing into places like China which would then ship goods to the West, resulting in more CO2 emissions than would otherwise have taken place.

          • Anon says:

            This comment reveals a great deal of ignorance of the relevant politics. China is one of the countries pushing hardest for carbon restrictions and one of the countries which has done the most to restrict their emissions in recent years, and is in general regarded as being firmly on the limit-CO2 side of the debate.

            It is better to not have an opinion than to have an uninformed opinion, I think. At least if you’re going to go around having them out loud.

          • sabril says:

            “This comment reveals a great deal of ignorance of the relevant politics. China is one of the countries pushing hardest for carbon restrictions and one of the countries which has done the most to restrict their emissions in recent years, and is in general regarded as being firmly on the limit-CO2 side of the debate.”

            So you are very confident that China would abide by and not try to cheat on any CO2 emissions limits?

            I myself trust China on CO2 emissions about as much as I trust Iran on enriching Uranium. I am open to evidence otherwise, but the two articles you cite don’t sway me much. One is based on China’s own claims that it has reduced coal consumption. Another is based on China’s promises regarding future behavior.

            “It is better to not have an opinion than to have an uninformed opinion, I think. ”

            I agree, and my opinion is based on (1) my knowledge that China is a big CO2 emitter; (2) my knowledge that China is quite corrupt; and (3) my knowledge that people and nations in general have a tendency to cheat and renege on their promises when it’s in their interests to do so.

            Keep in mind that my opinion is pretty mild: Realistically there is a good chance that China would cheat or otherwise not abide by any CO2 emissions agreement. I didn’t say this is sure to happen.

            By contrast, your opinion seems to be that this is extremely unlikely to happen. What information is your opinion based on? I have a feeling it’s mainly based on ignorance and wishful thinking, but I am willing to consider your evidence.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            It seems reasonable to expect Chinese emissions to go down just from a selfish perspective. Coal and the associated smog has become a massive public health concern and, more importantly, a national embarrassment.

            Given that China is looking to increase the proportion of nuclear power relative to coal anyway it makes sense to scoop up western goodwill by emphasizing the green aspect.

          • On the issue of China’s CO2 emissions …

            It’s true that smog in big cities has become a serious issue, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that results in a shift away from coal fired generators near big cities. But as long as coal is the cheapest power source, I would expect it to be used elsewhere.

            The projections of Chinese energy use I have seen show coal consumption continuing to rise for quite a while and solar and wind as a trivial share for quite a while. That’s from a few years ago and it is possible that plans have changed a lot since, but I wouldn’t count on it.

          • sabril says:

            “It seems reasonable to expect Chinese emissions to go down just from a selfish perspective. Coal and the associated smog has become a massive public health concern and, more importantly, a national embarrassment. ”

            I’m skeptical of this since the obvious self-interested solution is to move the coal-fired generation plants to rural areas and then transmit the electricity via high voltage power lines. Besides, why would China be different from other industrialized nations like the United States which emit large amounts of CO2?

            Is it in every country’s self-interest to reduce CO2 emissions? If so, there’s no need for deals and no cause for concern even among warmists. If not, then why is China different?

        • stubydoo says:

          OK Vox, you seem to have all the details figured out. Millions of deaths, etc. etc., sez you.

          Please do regale me with the specifics of just how we’ll run into such a monumental effing disaster by switching from coal to natural gas – that is, after all the likely impact of a straightforward carbon tax at this point (at least until somebody comes up with a cool solar innovation or something, or alternatively someone figures out how to cut through the NIMBY equilibrium on nuclear).

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @studyboo – right back at you: global GDP in 2014 was estimated at 77.27 trillion dollars. How much of that is going to have to be diverted from its current usages to reducing carbon emissions?

            [EDIT] – Just to be clear, this is a serious question. I have no idea what the answer is, though my off-the cuff guess would be “a significant amount of it, probably > 10%”. …At which point, it seems possible to me that the cure is actually worse than the disease. At least it’s an empirical debate at that point, though.

          • stubydoo says:

            @FacelessCraven: If 10% is diverted from current usage then that would be the gross loss. If the use it got diverted to was 95% as productive, as measured by market prices, then the net loss, as measured by market prices, would then be 0.5% of world GDP. If we then also account for externalities (i.e. the specific externality of climate change), then that would (by my reckoning) get the new productivity level above 100% and the net loss negative.

            Getting a final net gain would be mathematically guaranteed given some reasonable assumptions about people’s behavior, if the measure used to cut carbon was a simple carbon tax, if the tax level was set equal to the externality cost of the carbon emissions (and the measurement and collection costs for the tax did not materially exceed those for the alternative revenue source which would have been used instead of a carbon tax, which is reasonable to expect).

            My best guess is 20% gross diversion, 1% GDP loss by market prices, 10% GDP gain with externalities accounted for – with the long term looking better than the short term due to an accelerated pace on related innovations. With some part of the externality being a (small) possibility of total civilizational collapse due to climate change, it’s kinda hard to properly account for it in these numbers.

            Note: My numbers are not based on any professional expertise of mine.

      • sabril says:

        “How about just, “We’re conducting a massive uncontrolled terraforming experiment on the only planet we have, and we don’t know what the outcome will be. This doesn’t seem like a good idea.””

        This argument, which I would call a “Pascal’s Wager argument” certainly doesn’t suffer from the motte and bailey problem I described. It does suffer from the usual problems of a Pascal’s Wager type argument though.

        Edit: I misunderstood your point a little bit. I gather now that you were attempting to offer a defense for the Bailey Position. There are actually two problems with your point:

        First, you sidestepped the actual empirical issue and changed the subject to one of policy.

        Second, as I alluded to above, your argument boils down to “We don’t know for sure that the Bailey position is wrong.” Which is correct, but it’s an extremely weak defense.

        “Also, I would advise against making up your mind based on what people say on the internet. The IPCC reports combine the input of literally thousands of scientists who are actually experts in relevant fields.”

        I basically agree, and I have studied the IPCC reports in a lot of detail (as well as arguments on both sides) before coming to the conclusion that Bailey Global Warming is just that.

        • eponymous says:

          I wouldn’t say it’s Pascal’s Wager. Pascal’s Wager is an infinitesimal probability of an infinitely bad outcome (which is going to really depend on how you take the limits).

          My point was simply that there’s a lot of uncertainty about what will happen, but there’s a decent case for the bad scenarios (including some *really* bad ones), and so it makes sense to take some steps to reduce the probability of such outcomes.

          • sabril says:

            “I wouldn’t say it’s Pascal’s Wager. Pascal’s Wager is an infinitesimal probability of an infinitely bad outcome (which is going to really depend on how you take the limits).”

            Well that’s a matter of semantics. Your argument (as far as I can tell) for the Bailey position is that there is at least a very small chance of a very bad outcome. I think it’s reasonable to use the phrase “Pascal’s Wager” to characterize this argument. But whatever you call it, it doesn’t change the fact that your argument boils down to “You don’t know for sure that the Bailey position is wrong.”

            “My point was simply that there’s a lot of uncertainty about what will happen, but there’s a decent case for the bad scenarios ”

            That didn’t come through in your post. Here’s what you said:

            “We’re conducting a massive uncontrolled terraforming experiment on the only planet we have, and we don’t know what the outcome will be”

            To me, this means that the probability of a bad (or very bad result) is non-zero and nothing more. When you say “decent case,” it implies that the likelihood is more than just very small.

            Of course, “decent case” is too ambiguous for me to be sure if you are in the motte or the bailey, but I will say this: I have studied the evidence for Bailey Global Warming, and it is shockingly weak.

          • eponymous says:

            > I have studied the evidence for Bailey Global Warming, and it is shockingly weak.

            Taking the IPCC report as articulating the mainstream view, they assign non-trivial probabilities to very bad scenarios. What arguments lead you to believe they are wrong? (And, appealing to the outside view, why do you trust your judgment over theirs?)

            I have also investigated AGW (I was once a skeptic), and was mainly persuaded by outside view considerations (it seemed all the non-crankish scientists were on one side of the debate).

          • sabril says:

            “Taking the IPCC report as articulating the mainstream view,”

            I’m not sure what you mean by “mainstream view,” but I am skeptical that the IPCC reports represent any kind of consensus. It’s possible for a small group of people to set the agenda for a large organization or entity.

            ” they assign non-trivial probabilities to very bad scenarios. What arguments lead you to believe they are wrong? ”

            I laid out my arguments in a series of blog posts back in 2008. You can find them here:


            “I have also investigated AGW (I was once a skeptic), and was mainly persuaded by outside view considerations (it seemed all the non-crankish scientists were on one side of the debate).”

            Can you give me a few examples of “non-crankish” scientists?

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            sabril –

            I suggest you challenge eponymous to a game of rationalist taboo on the word “crank.” It should prove entertaining.

          • eponymous says:


            I’m pretty unlikely to read your whole blog without some further evidence that it’s worthwhile. Is there one post that summarizes your arguments well, or that might convince me to read further?

            As to who I consider non-crankish scientists writing about AGW: anyone with a PhD in a relevant field who is actively publishing in top journals. For example, the contributors to

            @orphan wilde:

            Some signs of a crank are (1) advances claims critical of mainstream science, (2) is working outside their area of expertise, (3) does not engage opposing views, (4) does not publish in mainstream outlets, (5) believes their work represents a fundamental paradigm shift, and (6) believes there is a conspiracy to suppress their views.

            Not all skeptics are cranks, but a lot of them are in the neighborhood. When I’ve watched presentations by (e.g.) Fred Singer and Willie Soon, they set off a lot of crank alarms. Roy Spencer seems more legit, but when I tried to read his book it was rather heavy on the conspiracy theory type stuff. (Also he’s a creationist, which made me a little concerned.)

            Is there someone else I should be reading?

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            eponymous –

            The issue is that you’re talking about people who are, by the definition of the word, cranks – and you’re using the fact that they’re pattern-matching as cranks as evidence that they’re wrong, to such an extent that you explicitly stated that this was the single piece of evidence that convinced you.

            My advice to sabril, with respect to convincing you, is: Don’t bother. You’ve already admitted your position on the matter wasn’t based on effective arguments, so effective arguments would be wasted on you.

            Of course, it’s entirely possible you were just subtly casting aspersion on sabril, implying he was a crank by association, while elevating your status relative to him as somebody who once-believed-as-you-do-until-I-learned-better.

          • eponymous says:

            @Orphan Wilde

            I like how you’re using my changing my mind about this very subject as evidence of my blinkered closed-mindedness.

            I think that using outside view considerations is a perfectly legitimate way to decide about something. In fact, I think it’s how most people decide about things most of the time; and this is fine (when done right), since realistically nobody is qualified to synthesize all the evidence on their own about more than just a few controversial topics.

            And reasoning from “this person lacks relevant expertise, is claiming to overturn conventional wisdom, and claims there is a conspiracy suppressing them” to “they are probably wrong” isn’t circular. The word “crank” is just a useful word for the empirical observation that there is a set of people who tend to do all of these things.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            eponymous –

            I implied rather the opposite fault than closed-minded, actually.

            And however you rationalize it, you’re arguing for a proposition you’ve effectively admitted to believing only because of who is arguing against it.

            The part about your beliefs isn’t the remarkable part. The remarkable part, which compels me to respond to you, is that you have decided that your claimed ability to tell cranks apart from non-cranks gives you sufficient authoritative knowledge on a subject which I guess you know nothing about otherwise to try to tell other people they’re wrong. (In the weakest possible terms, granted, relying on an endless fallacy of the gray.)

          • SUT says:

            Take the case of a Sweet Meteor of Death skeptic. He says, “Don’t worry, when the meteor gets close enough, the moon’s gravity will slingshot it away! A space mission to intercept the meteor is too expensive, free riders, blah blah…All we need to do is wait and see”.

            So you wait.

            And watch as the meteor becomes bigger and bigger every night. Then one night it appears larger than the moon. It has past the moon without changing direction. “Oops!” says the skeptic. The next day the planet has been destroyed.

            What would happen if the climate-change-skeptic had an “oops” moment? Within a decade, it would mean a +.3C average temperature, and 2 inch sea level rise! Are you starting to see the difference? For context, remember that 1900 – 2000 saw a full 1C rise in temperature and 1 foot sea level rise, but would a time traveler from the 18th century even notice this? No they would be overwhelmed though by literally every. other. thing. in the 21st century.

            Climate change is a really weird risk where you have to keep denying decade after decade of intensifying damage until you even approach ruin. In terms of Pascal’s wager, AGW is like a bet you can hold off placing until after you get to interrogate St. Peter at the pearly gates. Unless you’re Richard Dawkins, you’re probably going to make the right call with the updated information.

          • sabril says:


            Here is a post which summarizes what I believe to be the evidence for the CAGW hypothesis. It is very short, shorter than the post I am responding to:


            And here is an excerpt from a subsequent post:

            The main “evidence” for the CAGW hypothesis is that there exist climate simulations which (1) assume great sensitivity to CO2; and (2) are consistent with past temperatures. The problem with this is that in the universe of possible climate simulations, there must exist “false simulations,” i.e. simulations which are consistent with temperatures of the past 50 to 100 years, but do so by coincidence and are not accurate climate simulations. Such “false simulations” can be expected to diverge from reality and cannot be relied upon to accurately predict the future.

            One can see that this is true by observing that there are many climate simulations in use out there with very different assumptions about climate sensitivity, and yet they all track past temperatures pretty well. Clearly at least some of these simulations are “false simulations.”

            The fact is that it’s very difficult to simulate complex systems accurately. This is true because different elements of the system interact in many different ways, building up uncertainty at each step and making it increasingly difficult to accurately simulate the system over longer amounts of time. The classic example of this is predicting weather, which is very difficult to do more than a week or so in advance. So the default assumption should be that a simulation is unreliable.

            Ok, so how do you know whether you have a false simulation or a good simulation? The answer is very simple: You test it. You have the simulation make predictions. If most of those predictions come true, then you can start having some confidence in the simulation.

            Unfortunately, the simulations which have been used to predict CAGW have not been tested in this way. Instead they are tested by seeing how well they compare to past data. But this is silly. It’s very easy to make “predictions” with the benefit of hindsight.

            So it turns out that the CAGW hypothesis is mainly based on simulations which are unreliable and untested. This is weak evidence at best.

            “As to who I consider non-crankish scientists writing about AGW: anyone with a PhD in a relevant field who is actively publishing in top journals. For example, the contributors to ”

            Would you consider Richard Lindzen to be a non-crankish scientist?

          • eponymous says:

            @Orphan Wilde:

            > you’re arguing for a proposition you’ve effectively admitted to believing only because of who is arguing against it.

            And because of who believes it.

            And what’s wrong with that? Do you disagree that if nearly all of the relevant experts are on one side of a debate, then it’s very likely that’s the correct side? Do you disagree that this is the case with AGW? Do you have another explanation for this pattern besides the expert side being correct? Do you know of some particular argument you consider sufficiently powerful to overcome the weight of expert opinion?

          • Jiro says:

            SUT: And what if you asked the same question, only instead of “meteor of death” or “global warming”, you have “destroy the economy by restructuring it to reduce carbon usage”?

          • sabril says:

            “My advice to sabril, with respect to convincing you, is: Don’t bother. You’ve already admitted your position on the matter wasn’t based on effective arguments, so effective arguments would be wasted on you.”

            I do think the position of eponymous has a certain circularity to it. He rejects the authority of global warming skeptics because they are cranks; he knows they are cranks because they go against the apparent position he sees as mainstream.

            But there are a couple other issues here. First, groupthink can take place in any subculture, which includes scientific research. Perhaps more importantly, if you take a close look at the warmist position, it really doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

            Last, we come back to the old motte and bailey problem: What exactly is the warmist position anyway? I doubt that eponymous is able to lay out his position on global warming and summarize the evidence which supports his position.

          • James Picone says:

            Our CO2 emissions now lock in warming for a couple decades.

            That is, if our emissions dropped to zero tomorrow, we’ll get ~two more decades of warming as the system rises to equilibrium.

            We can’t quite reverse course instantaneously if it turns out that it’s as bad as the scientists said it would be all along (or worse, a possibility that seems to get consistently ignored. Sure, there’s plenty of uncertainty. Why does everyone implicitly assume the uncertainty is in one direction?)

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            James –

            Good question. What if the world is -better- as a result, rather than worse at all?

        • Murphy says:

          Would you place the statement “Mankind’s activities, particularly CO2 emissions,are likely to cause even more warming if we continue to increase our CO2 production Unless Something is Done to reduce or stabalise CO2 emissions” under the Motte or the bailey?

          • sabril says:

            “Would you place the statement ‘Mankind’s activities, particularly CO2 emissions,are likely to cause even more warming if we continue to increase our CO2 production Unless Something is Done to reduce or stabalise CO2 emissions” under the Motte or the bailey?”

            Definitely Motte — it’s a very defensible position. Unless by “even more” you mean to say that all of the recent warming is due to mankind’s activities. Or you are implying that mankind’s activities have already caused dangerous warming. Neither of these points is that defensible.

        • eponymous says:

          > your argument boils down to “We don’t know for sure that the Bailey position is wrong.” Which is correct, but it’s an extremely weak defense.

          Hmm, it seems my analogy was pretty unsuccessful.

          I was actually attempting to make an analogy (terraforming) that I thought would be useful as an intuition pump.

          One purpose of the analogy was to move us away from a politicized debates with established opinions, and look at things from a different perspective. Lots of techno-libertarian AGW skeptic types are science fiction fans who think that terraforming a hostile planet to become more Earth-like (a dramatic change in livability) is quite plausible. That’s a useful belief to reference, since I think it’s correct to think of emitting greenhouse gases that change our atmosphere as a similar experiment (in reverse).

          A further use of the analogy was to make you think of emitting lots of greenhouse gases as a disruption to the status quo, rather than the baseline case. This gets at status quo bias, which I think underlies some AGW skepticism.

          This particularly relates to the question of uncertainty. One argument some AGW skeptics use is “there’s a lot of uncertainty about the effect of emitting GHGs, so let’s not massively disrupt the status quo based on such uncertain beliefs.” But of course, if you adopt a different status quo, this argument cuts the other way.

          • Jiro says:

            Drastically doing things to the economy is also like terraforming: it’s a huge change to a poorly understood system of which our lives all depend on the intimate details. Just because the economy isn’t “environment” doesn’t mean that doing things to it isn’t as drastic as terraforming.

            If you frame it as “environmentalists are so afraid of one kind of terraforming that they want to institute another kind of terraforming” it doesn’t sound so pro-environmentalist any more.

          • eponymous says:

            >If you frame it as “environmentalists are so afraid of one kind of terraforming that they want to institute another kind of terraforming” it doesn’t sound so pro-environmentalist any more.

            I wouldn’t call them both terraforming, because one of them is manifestly more similar (really it just *is* terraforming). But I agree that we can frame it was “disrupting one complex poorly understood system that we rely on to reduce the degree to which we’re disrupting another complex poorly-understood system we rely on.”

            But shouldn’t the optimal policy be somewhere in the middle?

            (Incidentally, I think there’s a lot more uncertainty about the effects of emitting greenhouse gases. We have a pretty good idea what the effects of a carbon tax would be.)

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            But shouldn’t the optimal policy be somewhere in the middle?

            No, that’s completely fallacious.

            If the most cigarettes you can smoke is 10 packs a day and the least you can smoke is zero, it does not follow that the optimal policy is 5 packs a day.

            If the least government you can have is Mad Max and the most government is 1984, it does not follow that the optimal amount is France or something.

            This is the “golden mean fallacy” (though Aristotle himself at least understood that the golden mean is not the arithmetic mean but the just right amount—leaving the theory not very useful to determine what that is).

          • The cigarette analogy isn’t analogous. There are costs to global warming, there aren’t costs to not smoking.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ TheAncientGeek:

            Sure there are costs to not smoking. Smoking is fun. It improves productivity. It helps you lose weight. If you’re Ayn Rand, it allows you to imagine yourself as Prometheus, waving captured fire at your fingertips.

            Those benefits just don’t necessarily argue for smoking at all, let alone the arithmetic mean between most smoking possible and least smoking possible.

          • sabril says:

            Just going by intuition, your argument still seems pretty weak to me. Basically the unspoken assumption is that the environment has been at a precipice for millions of years waiting for someone to nudge it over.

            I’m not a libertarian, but I am a science fiction fan and I do believe terraforming is plausible. But — again going by intuition — I doubt it will be a matter of pushing a planet’s climate enough to trigger a positive feedback loop which will then move the planet into an Earth-like climate.

            Instead, I think it would be more like building a bridge or a skyscraper. i.e. a huge amount of effort followed by endless maintenance to keep the system from falling apart.

          • Mary says:

            “There are costs to global warming, there aren’t costs to not smoking.”

            Smoking is an antidepressant. The costs of depression can go up to your life. So, no, there are costs to not smoking.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            I suppose everyone’s got their favorite metaphor. Mine is: Yes, it could be cancer, and it’s a scary thought. But not so scary that I’m going to rush into a radical course of radiation and chemo without waiting for the result of the biopsy.

      • Anonymous says:

        The IPCC reports combine the input of literally thousands of scientists who are actually experts in relevant fields.

        Right, and they’re very good at modeling the climate. They’re not so good at modeling the effects of the climate, and with good reason! I’m an “expert in the relevant field” of dynamical systems and control, FWIW (yes, PhD and everything; currently doing basic research in the field). The fact is that the timescales are the wrong way round for us to be able to make any sort of meaningful damage/cost prediction. Essentially all of the damage functions that are used are just made up out of thin air. And that’s because the timescales are the wrong way round! You hold the slow system constant and step through the fast system, not the other way. This is a pretty fundamental limitation from basic dynamical systems theory.

        • moridinamael says:

          Even professional climate scientists will, unless totally blinkered by ideology, state flat out that their models are highly complex, ridden with nonlinear dynamics, and full of assumptions. And they will explain why those assumptions are good ones, and why they believe that global temperatures will probably continue to increase, but the good, careful scientists will emphasize their uncertainty.

          The problem is that people who emphasize their uncertainty aren’t the same people who publish books and op-eds.

          Take the Clathrate Gun Hypothesis. Given the right assumptions, you can construct a model where the methane clathrates all dissociate at the same time and destroy all life on earth. A partisan will grab onto any study like this and try to publish it in every newspaper they possibly can, even if they know on some level that the assumptions in the study were contrived to deliver that exact conclusion. It’s classic Arguments Are Soldiers thinking. Can’t possibly voice any skepticism of any finding whatsoever, if it’s in support of AGW – that would be giving aid and comfort to the enemy.

          • James Picone says:

            Most of the stuff I see is skeptical of clathrate gun. Realclimate certainly is, they’ve had a number of posts about it. Here‘s one, for example, where they conclude that a plausible worst-case scenario ends up roughly equivalent to 750 ppm CO2, i.e. not an utter calamity.

            These are actual professional climate scientists, though, so *shrug*.

      • Orphan Wilde says:

        You realize that stopping the emission of CO2 is just as much a terraforming experiment as continuing?

        • JBeshir says:

          I’m not convinced that making no change is as much an experiment as making a change is.

          There’s important differences in expected outcomes, and the former is usually a lot less uncertain in outcomes, which is what people usually mean to imply when they describe something as an experiment and is the part we actually are concerned about.

          (This is distinct from object-level stuff based on… all the actual work in the area, or even dismissing all of that, the sensible first guess based on the known small-scale physics of the gases in question plus the knowledge that people have looked into whether there was any reason to think they’d be neutralised at scale.)

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            In a counterfactual universe (let’s call this universe our Control Case ETA: except I failed entirely to so this is moot) in which we never emitted any CO2 or other pollutants, what would you expect climate to be doing over the next hundred years?

            Is your certainty about this counterfactual universe weaker or stronger than your certainty about the universe in which you live, and why?

          • JBeshir says:

            Yeah, I’d have a much lower probability of large changes to worldwide temperatures, and of large changes in general.

            I’d expect it to do roughly what it’d been doing the previous thousand years, to much higher probability than if any potentially significant changes had been made.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            Consider: We can be pretty much 100% certain that, in this universe, there have not yet been any catastrophic changes in climate. What is your certainty that there were no catastrophic changes in climate by today’s time in the control case universe? Say, an ice age which CO2 emissions may have delayed in our own universe?

          • Adam says:

            Didn’t Venus have a catastrophic climate change? I mean, not catastrophic because nothing lives there, but it would have killed anything that did.

          • JBeshir says:

            Less than “pretty much 100%” (although still pretty high).

            This doesn’t change my first answer. It’s the difference between asking whether you expect an active group to have higher chances of a reported severe side effect than the placebo group before you’ve seen the data, and asking it after you’ve seen that there were no reports for the active group.

            In the former case, the answer is yes. In the latter case, the answer can only be no. But it doesn’t change your views on future risks, or make “not giving someone the drug” as much of an experiment as giving it them.

          • TheNybbler says:

            There have been SEVERAL catastrophic changes to Earth’s climate in this universe. Most are believed to be impactor and/or volcanism related. At lest one is believed to be biological in origin; the Great Oxygenation Event. With continued sequester of carbon (what would have happened if we never managed to burn fossil fuels, if there were also no increase in volcanism), the climate would have changed in a way we wouldn’t like, though this would have been extremely gradual rather than catastrophic.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            JBeshir –

            That lower certainty should give you a little bit more pause than that. It means “World without additional CO2” would be – well, an experiment. We don’t know what we’d see.

            If you have less certainty of the history of a universe, you should be very cautious about asserting greater certainty about its future.

      • Tom Scharf says:

        We also know:

        We’re conducting a massive uncontrolled terraforming experiment on the only planet and so far it has been a very, very, good idea.

        Please compare the world before and after the industrial revolution. This type of statement implies burning fossil fuels was never a good idea.

        Also please go further than vague hand waving about what will happen. The temperature rose 1C over the past century and compared to 1915, I’m seeing a better world out there, maybe you disagree.

        All things being equal, it will be better to use clean energy than fossil fuels. All things are not equal. India is in poverty. Energy will help. If you make $1 a day, paying $0.05/day more for energy is big deal. The best plan is to make clean energy cheap and reliable, in fact as I see it, it is the only viable plan.

    • keranih says:

      I gave up on asking open-ended questions and just ask if the person had written their electric company (or their senator) to lobby for more nuclear power plants in their state. It’s pretty apparent from the answers that the folks aren’t actually that invested in decreasing fossil fuel use.

      • eponymous says:

        That sounds like a selective call for rigor. Whenever someone advocates for a policy, do you always require that they demonstrate that they also support all other policies that might plausibly be more effective at accomplishing the same ends?

        (Incidentally, I’m completely in favor of nuclear.)

        • keranih says:

          Whenever someone advocates for a policy, do you always require that they demonstrate that they also support all other policies that might plausibly be more effective at accomplishing the same ends?

          Only if I’m trying to figure out if they really want the means or the ends.

          If I was inquiring about the promotion of vegan diets, organic food, or other sacred cows, I’d have other questions.

          And in the case of nuclear power, it’s not “might plausibly be more effective” – it’s the path that is demonstratively, right now, and for the last forty years, clearly a way to drop the use of oil & coal for power generation through the floor.

          When the top talking heads on climate change call down on the environmentalists who oppose new nuclear power plants with the same venom that they use on “Big Oil”, then I’ll know that those talking heads really do believe that there is a crisis brewing. They aren’t, and haven’t been – so either there isn’t actual actionable evidence of climate change, or the people promoting it are willing to screw over the planet in order to hold to their dogma. Either way, not worth my time.

          • eponymous says:

            This behavior could just be the way political alliances shake out, plus concern about the safety of nuclear power. It seems strange to first reach for the explanation, “All these scientists/activists/politicians don’t really believe in global warming, but are just faking it to advance the great anti-capitalist conspiracy” or whatever you’re trying to say.

        • Tom Scharf says:

          I think it is valid to ask someone who believes catastrophe is coming whether they support nuclear power or not, and to explain the contradiction. This is a way to evaluate whether they really believe in the catastrophe or not, whether they are “true believers”. People such as Hansen are true believers.

          There is a not insignificant portion of climate activists out there who are co-opting this for their own side agendas. They believed in the policies they are promoting as a solution to climate change before climate change existed, they have a conflict of interests for their preferred policy. This, of course, goes both directions.

          There are valid answers to not supporting nuclear, like it is too expensive in its current form. Most people don’t say this, or they say this but don’t support research into making the next generation reactors safer and more cost efficient.

          The point is that if you aren’t willing to take any risk on the safety of nuclear power and yet believe a world wide catastrophe will result if fossil fuels aren’t left in the ground, that is not a very coherent argument. Greens are generally very science blind on the safety of nuclear energy. You cannot understate the irony of environmentalists being responsible for killing nuclear power. If we had discovered nuclear power today, I bet they would embrace it.

      • Murphy says:

        This sort of makes assumptions about other views that the person might hold.

        It’s like saying that you ask pro-lifers if they’ve handed out free condoms. It assumes a consequentialist viewpoint and that the person doesn’t have separate issues with birth control.

        • keranih says:

          No, the analogy you’re looking for is “Are you going to adopt my baby, then, if I don’t abort it?” Which is something that I’ve actually been asked.

          Because the person assumed that when I said “I don’t think you should have an abortion,” I meant “I think you should have to change your entire life and commit to becoming an adult capable of raising a child.” Which was clearly too much to ask of anyone.

          (What I meant was, “I don’t think you should kill your baby,” and what I said in response to the question above was “yes.”)

          When a climate-change-talking-points-repeater tells me that “We must take steps now, today, to permanently change our use of fossil fuels,” and refuses to lobby for approval of the already-planned nuke plants in the area, in lieu of promoting research into offshore wind farms, they’re not serious.

          • Murphy says:

            personally I agree that nuke plants are the sensible option but again, you make some big assumptions about their views on nuke plants.

            If someone attaches a ridiculously high badness-weighting to nuclear waste vs everything else as many greens do then it’s perfectly possible to be utterly against nuclear power even if you’re very concerned about CO2.

            The reason I used the example of condoms is because many pro-lifers are hardcore catholic and wouldn’t consider handing out the birth control to be acceptable even if you show them the math saying that it will reduce the number of abortions more than equivalent investment in screaming at women outside abortion clinics.

            as such it wouldn’t be fair to assume that any pro-lifer who was also against handing out condoms wasn’t really serious.

      • g says:

        Because no one could possibly think that fossil-fuel power is a bad idea while simultaneously thinking that nuclear power is a bad idea for other reasons.

        (I am strongly pro-nuclear myself and I think the arguments against nuclear power are weak. But being convinced by a weak anti-nuclear argument is not at all the same thing as not really caring about decreasing fossil-fuel use/

        • keranih says:

          No, those aren’t the same thing – but they have not, in my experience, been shown to be different in effect.

          Climate-change alarmists advocate for catastrophic changes to the economy and lifestyle of other people – by disrupting transport, increasing the cost of basic goods (including food and water), raising taxes and reducing material comfort – yet will not change their own priorities (no nukes! no nukes!) in order to effect change in a way that reduces the misery that will accompany the kind of fuel source change they claim to see as vital.

          These people are pushing an agenda for their own self-interest, not that of the planet or their fellow humans.

          Also? Advocating wind and solar over nuclear power clearly fails basic research into the relative environmental impacts. These people hate wildspaces as well as clean energy.

          • g says:

            These people are pushing an agenda for their own self-interest, not that of the planet or their fellow humans.

            Their expressed reasons (which of course might not always be sincere) for opposing nuclear power are about the public good, not their own personal self-interest: they worry about catastrophic accidents, about increasing cancer risk for everyone near the power stations, etc.

            Actually, I’m having trouble thinking of (actual or alleged) downsides of nuclear power that could be a matter of individual self-interest. (Other than, e.g., holding a lot of shares in oil companies, but presumably nothing like that explains the opinions of the majority of anti-nuclear people.)

          • Jiro says:

            I could equally claim that creationists aren’t pushing creation out of self-interest, and that would be literally true. Creationists do, after all, think that creationism is true and therefore that promoting it has positive effects.

            But it’s still dishonest to disguise “I believe it’s true because of X:” as “I believe it’s true because of Y” when you know very well that even if X is as convincing to yourself, it’s not as convincing to other people.

          • nonymous says:

            In a conflict, is one side more open to answering and addressing questions and concerns?

            They’re lying.

            Is one side led by people who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of riches through the offloading of negative externalities onto society.

            They’re telling the truth.

        • Randy M says:

          One can’t think that fossil fuels will destroy the planet but that if switching to nukes is the most likely compromise position, well, we’ve had a good run–not and be credible.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I know a number of people very serious about global warming who are perfectly fine with nuclear power.

            Unfortunately they are a minority.

        • Are there climate change advocates who aren’t alarmist?

      • Adam says:

        I’ve never lobbied either my legislators or service providers for anything at all, which seems to suggest I should never express an opinion regarding optimal policy decisions. To be clear, I mostly don’t, but it still seems entirely defensible to hold a position without caring whether or not it is ever actually realized.

      • JBeshir says:

        My view on this has recently shifted from being straightforwardly “pro nuclear” to “we should have gone nuclear in the 90s if not sooner, we’ve now been stalled long enough that solar is plausibly cheaper, given safety standards, so we may as well just lean on that, let’s just hope the results of that delay don’t hurt too many people”. I know the UK government is having trouble finding investors in new nuclear power stations and has had to commit to very high guaranteed electricity prices to make them happen.

        Either is better than doing nothing, though.

        I think deciding that people who don’t engage in lobbying don’t care is perhaps a little far.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          The problem with solar and wind is that they are completely unreliable. They are virtually parasitical forms of power production because you have to have all capacity in the form of actually reliable power. So you have to build, staff, and run both, and you raise the costs.

          • Held in Escrow says:

            No, that’s not how it works. At all.

            First off, there is a capacity factor for solar and wind, the level of which you can rely on at any time which tends to be around 5-15%. You also have storage which complements variable generation perfectly and is on the up and up in terms of being economic.

            In addition, the peaker plants which are there for when your variable generation isn’t up to snuff are actually really cheap because you don’t have to constantly run them (keeping costs down), they use a cheap fuel source (natural gas), and they can ramp really fast (saving you from having to run baseload plants even when the power isn’t needed).

            The issue with solar and wind right now is that right now they still require heavy subsides to be economic and that each new instance of solar reduces the value of the rest of the solar, leading to problems such as the duck curve. The capacity factor problem isn’t one of those because it’s already accounted for when we’re figuring out LCOE and grid balance.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Nothing you said conflicts with anything I said.

            If the peaker plants are so cheap, why don’t we just run the whole country on them and scrap the wind and solar? The argument that they are cheap undercuts itself.

            Sure, it costs more to run them at full capacity than low capacity. But one set of plants at full capacity is more expensive than two sets of plants, neither of which ever run at full capacity.

          • Held in Escrow says:

            Except you’re not really doubling up for a large amount of the power generation! You build your generation based on your assumed capacity factors, which is the reliable level of power you’re getting. You can then fairly easily find what your 1 in 3 year, 1 in 5 year, and 1 in 10 year failure points are and figure out how much backup you need to fit whatever 1 in X year criteria you find useful.

            Peaker plants are there because the solar peak doesn’t coincide with the end of day peak and because it lets you play fast and loose with capacity factors; normally you’d need X amount of variable generation to hit the 1 in 10 years level, but with some peakers you can use X-2 and still hit your clean generation goals and be cheaper than aiming for more baseload generation.

            Basically you can’t just run baseload generations because it can’t deal with ramps. You can’t just run variable generation for the same reason. You can’t just run peaker plants because they are more expensive if you have to run them all the time (the fact that they only run on the peaks massively keeps down O&M). So you want some combination where you can always meet demand but also minimize costs.

            As you can see, solar/wind are no more parasitic than baseload generation; they both need peaker plants and you can’t only run peaker plants due to cost. Solar and wind are more palatable because of environmental concerns and once storage technology gets more economical (probably within a decade) we’ll actually be able to start phasing out peakers.

          • JBeshir says:

            Things are a bit more complicated because there isn’t some fixed level of “capacity” you’re obligated to provide. Instead, you try to provide whatever people try to use. That said, I think the basic point that intermittent power sources can’t be taken on a simple cost per MWh model is a good one.

            I don’t think in any country, the grid can actually tolerate every home drawing the maximum possible amount from the grid at once- even in Western countries, electricity can be thought of as being very oversold, because having the capability for everyone to use it at its limit at once would be way more expensive than it’d be worth.

            You could deal with this by setting some amount of capacity as your “actual” capacity, and generating this all the time. But it is cheaper to provide some much lower, actually consistently used 24/7 baseload generation, couple it with peaking power generation (which is more expensive than baseload) you keep turned off much of the time, and power storage (mostly pumped storage, which has an efficiency of 70-80% but costs to run) to deal with large spikes. You also make electricity cheaper at night in an effort to smooth demand a bit, increase baseload relative to the other two.

            Your limits on usage in this kind of setup would be now expressed, rather than in terms of a single maximum capacity, in terms of how long you can manage to run at various levels of usage, before storage runs out, and additionally in terms of expense for you at various levels (since peaking power is more expensive).

            And you’d set these levels based on how likely you thought a level of usage was, for how long, to bring the probability of a brownout low enough to be acceptable. I think, actually, power companies can cut off some cheap bulk business users to free up power for higher-price paying consumers, per existing processes, but you can safely consider that as a brownout anyway.

            Given this setup, unreliable power generation becomes useful. Especially in the presence of storage, it can make it much less likely for you to have a brownout for a given level of available non-intermittent power generation, and so let you have less other power generation for a given level of risk.

            The other thing is that not all power stations are made equal. Nuclear is expensive, compared to fossil fuels. The reason we don’t want to use fossil fuels instead of nuclear is due to environmental concerns. It’s plausible that solar + storage + fossil fuel emergency fallback could do cheaper than nuclear + storage if solar keeps getting cheaper, while allowing the same power guarantees, if the expected rate of emissions was low enough for us to tolerate it.

          • This is like the problem of water supply.

            The city of Ann Arbor’s water system uses about 75% surface water and 25% ground water. Why have two sources requiring two systems?

            Because processing the water is the bigger expense. Ground water is clean but “hard” (high mineral content), whereas surface water is soft but (relatively) dirty. Mixing them neutralizes both problems and minimizes the expense of processing required.

          • Mary says:

            “I don’t think in any country, the grid can actually tolerate every home drawing the maximum possible amount from the grid at once”

            When power comes back on after it was off, everyone’s refrigerator turns on at once, pumping the heat back out, instead of their coming on at different times.

            The effect of that can be substantial.

            So can that of AC, which also tends to concentrate demand.

          • JBeshir says:

            It can, yeah. The UK in particular has the threat of the mass synchronised teabreak (no, really) which I think has to be my favourite example of the phenomenon.

            This is exactly when power storage, facilities like Dinorwig, brought online if possible right before the demand spikes, come into play, so no one need notice that someone is turning millions of kettles on at once.

            For AC I think you’d probably be using peaking power stations, because it’s relatively long duration demand, although if solar is in your mix it probably helps that solar is usually at its highest when AC is most in use.

            I don’t think any of these strategies would work if homes all suddenly went to using as much as they could at once, though- it’d require, what, ten times, a hundred times, a thousand times the supply to cope with a single appliance coming on in maybe half the homes? I’d be surprised if the infrastructure could carry it, let alone the generation capacity exist.

            But it is a beautiful reflection on human civilisation that in response to/anticipation of millions of people turning their kettles on at once, massive amounts of water begins flooding through 16km of pipes, driving generators which in total go from 0 MW to 1800 MW in 18 seconds, to accommodate the demand and without anyone needing to know a thing.

          • Held in Escrow says:

            I’m super simplifying this because Vox doesn’t seem to have a background in the grid or the economics of the situation, but that’s what the whole 1 in X is for JBeshir. The term for “cutting off” is “demand response” where you actually have firms bid into the market a certain amount they’re willing to get cut off and then get paid for it.

            With the price of storage looking to fall off a cliff I really do expect us to be heading towards a renewable + storage + backup peaker future

        • The fact that a particular person is both concerned about AGW and anti-nuclear isn’t evidence that his concerns are not genuine. What is disturbing is that anti-nuclear views seem, at least by casual observation, to correlate positively rather than negatively with AGW concerns. That suggests that both are driven by a common ideology, which I find it hard to describe in detail but think I have a pretty clear feel for.

      • stubydoo says:

        Come on keranih, you know perfectly well that such people are vastly more likely to simply have a Garbage-In, Garbage Out situation on their nuclear risk calibration than be hypocrites about global warming (and likely enough a similar GIGO on the parameters for using a wind/solar reliant grid, and possibly if they happen to be super-clueless, maybe something like corn-ethanol too).

        By all means if you want to help out with clearing all that Garbage, then great. It beats flinging around false accusations.

        And if your beef extends to those who support nuclear but merely do so as lukewarmly as the average person supports everything they support, well then at that point you’re doing nothing more nor less than making a damned fool of yourself.

    • g says:

      a positive temperature feedback which will cause catastrophic warming, i.e. warming which will cause serious harm to mankind

      This is a more specific claim than I usually see being made, and a stronger claim than seems needed to justify action. Specifically, “serious harm” is indeed a common claim but “catastrophic” isn’t (though you do quite often hear things like “we can’t be sure of the consequences and they might be catastrophic”, which doesn’t seem outrageous to me).

      So I’m not convinced there’s as much motte-and-bailey going on as you suggest. But I have a more general concern about the “motte and bailey” objection: namely, that the motte-and-bailey phenomenon is so near ubiquitous that “proponents of position X have been known to do the motte-and-bailey thing” is absolutely no argument against position X.

      (Similarly: I bet most proponents of any position have difficulty laying out their position with precision. And, if you’ll pardon my putting it this way, I bet that difficulty is only increased when the challenge is to do something that someone on the other side of the argument accepts as laying out their position with precision.)

      Now, for sure, if you find someone engaging in the motte-and-bailey move, so much the worse for them. But that’s not what’s happened here. Scott posts some comments indicating that he thinks climate change is real and deserves vigorous action, and you say “But ‘warmistas’ engage do the motte-and-bailey thing!” as if that means Scott should have different opinions. I don’t think that works at all.

      • sabril says:

        “This is a more specific claim than I usually see being made, and a stronger claim than seems needed to justify action.”

        I would have to disagree with this. As far as I know, pretty much all of the bad predictions rest on the assumption that warming due to CO2 emissions will be amplified.

        “Now, for sure, if you find someone engaging in the motte-and-bailey move, so much the worse for them. But that’s not what’s happened here. Scott posts some comments indicating that he thinks climate change is real and deserves vigorous action”

        Not exactly, but I admit that I pretty much assumed from his post that he uses the typical warmista playbook. So I was out of line. My apologies.

    • For a simpler version of motte and bailey:

      Motte: Humans contribute to global warming.

      Bailey: Humans are the main cause of global warming.

      The Motte is what the much quoted 97% figure from Cook et. al. 2013 actually represented. The Bailey is what many people quoting it think, or at least say, it represents–including Cook himself, in a later paper.

      I don’t have a term for the expanded Bailey, which is the version that adds in “and it will have terrible effects.”

      • g says:

        I think that in that post you mischaracterize what Cook is doing, and as a result your criticism of his honesty and/or competence is (maybe) unfair and (definitely, if I’m right) directed at the wrong part of his work.

        Specifically, I take the central claim of Cook et al (2013) to be as follows: “Let P be the statement that the climate is warming mostly as a result of greenhouse-gas emissions caused by humans. Then of the papers we looked at that give any indication of whether their authors agree or disagree with P, 97% seem to agree rather than disagree.”

        In particular, I think that Cook takes his categories 2 and 3 — “explicit endorsement without quantification” and “implicit endorsement” — not as endorsement of a proposition weaker than P but as weaker endorsement of proposition P. Proposition P is, I think, what Cook takes the central AGW claim to be.

        Note, e.g., that according to the classification scheme of Cook et al (2013), if a paper says explicitly that humans are responsible for some global warming but also explicitly says that the amount is or might be not so large then it goes in category 4b or category 5. And see the first paragraph of Cook et al (2013): “to determine the level of scientific consensus that human activity is very likely causing most of the current GW (anthropogenic global warming, or AGW)”.

        So then when Bedford and Cook (2013) say that Cook found that 97% of papers whose position on global warming one can discern endorsed proposition P, they are not lying or crazy; they are reporting what they take Cook et al (2013) to have found.

        Of course, the evidence is what it is, and the claim in Bedford and Cook (2013) is what it is, and the more interesting question (I think) is not “do B&C misrepresent what C et al found?” but “given the actual evidence, how reasonable is the claim made by B&C?” or — more or less equivalently, if I’m right about what the authors of C et al understood themselves to be claiming — “given the actual evidence, how reasonable is the claim made by C et al?”. And there, looking at C et al, it seems at least plausible that they have failed to distinguish “endorses somewhat-anthropogenic warming” from “endorses mostly-anthropogenic warming”, and if so then that’s a real failing in their paper. But that, I think, is where any failure lies.

        • Take a look at the example for category 2:

          ‘Emissions of a broad range of greenhouse gases of varying lifetimes contribute to global climate change.’

          Compare that to your proposition P:

          “Let P be the statement that the climate is warming mostly as a result of greenhouse-gas emissions caused by humans.”

          “Contribute to” doesn’t imply or even suggest “mostly.” The definition in the paper is (I think deliberately) ambiguous, but the example is not.

          At only a slight tangent … . In your interpretation, in which I gather Cook is an honest man, why did I have to go to the webbed data and count articles to find out how large Category 1 was? They had separate figures for each category. Yet they report the data by lumping Categories 1-3 together, giving the famous 97% and not mentioning the 1.6%.

          To my eye that’s a smoking gun–a standard way of hiding unfavorable data. Cook’s later claim that the 97% represents what the 1.6% actually represents is then the second shoe dropping.

          • g says:

            That’s why they call their category 2 “endorsement without quantification“. (And the fact that such “endorsement” is only dubiously evidence of support for P given other options like “human activity explains a substantial minority of warming” is why I say that they would have done better to distinguish more carefully.)

            But, actually, let’s take that specific example that you cite. It appears to come from a paper by Solomon et al; it’s the first sentence of the abstract. Here are the first two sentences of the paragraph after the abstract:

            Carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and other greenhouse gases increased over the course of the 20th century due to human activities. The human-caused increases in these gases are the primary forcing that accounts for much of the global warming of the past fifty years, with carbon dioxide being the most important single radiative forcing agent (1).

            So the paper itself is a very clear example of category 1. Perhaps they were influenced by that when classifying its abstract? Or perhaps other things in the abstract indicated to them that the authors probably accept proposition P? (It’s not obvious to me what other things, but they appear to have arrived at the right answer somehow.)

            As for why they didn’t report disaggregated figures for categories 1-3 in the paper itself: I don’t know, but one possible answer consistent with Cook’s being an honest man is that a 3-way division (“oppose”, “no position”, “support”) is easier to make sense of in graphs and tables than a 7-way or 8-way division.

          • @g:

            I don’t think it is clear that the example abstract is in category 1, given “accounts for *much* of the global warming of the past 50 years.” But even if it were, the authors chose what part of the abstract to quote in giving an example for Category 2, so the clear implication is that the quoted passage justified the classification.

            As to your explanation of not giving separate numbers for the categories, they could easily enough have given both the separate numbers and the sums. You don’t find it suspicious when they pool 1.6% with two other numbers, report the 97% sum, and then the lead author in another paper describes the 97% in terms that fit the 1.6%?

          • G says:

            David: I also don’t think that paper’s *abstract* belongs in category 1; I was suggesting that the obvious category-1-ness of the *paper* may have influenced the classification of the abstract. (I hope it didn’t.)

            I’m trying to think how any single sentence could be a clear-cut exemplar of category 2. I’m not sure it’s possible: how do you demonstrate that you think most global warming is caused by human activity without actually saying so, within so short a space? I reckon the best you can do is to judge from the abstract as a whole, and any single sentence they could have given as an example would be subject to criticism like yours.

            I agree, they could have given both coarser-grained and finer-grained figures. In fact they did, which is how we’re able to have this discussion — but they could have made the finer-grained figures more prominent. But I find I feel the same way about most “data-based” papers I read, so I don’t see it as evidence of special perfidy on the part of Cook et al.

          • “I agree, they could have given both coarser-grained and finer-grained figures. In fact they did, which is how we’re able to have this discussion — but they could have made the finer-grained figures more prominent. ”

            Hard to see how they could have made them less prominent. They didn’t publish the numbers anywhere–merely a list of thousands of abstracts with how each was classified. To get the number, a reader had to locate the webbed data and count articles.

            You seem to be assuming your conclusion–that category 2 consisted of papers that claimed that human causation were greater than even. Are you assuming that every category 1 abstract actually gave a number for the probability? If you assume that, you could go look. If you find one that doesn’t have a number, will you concede that my interpretation is correct?

            “Greater than fifty percent” is quantification. Nothing in the paper says that human causation means majority human causation, category 1 explicitly is majority human causation, what they quote for category 2 clearly does not imply majority causation.

            And Cook then claims that the 97% is for majority causation. And when I call him on it he accuses me of dishonesty by lying about what I said.

            You are an extraordinarily trusting sort.

          • g says:

            I hadn’t realised that they didn’t provide those figures at all. (I’d thought they were in the supplementary data.) I agree, not doing so is bad — though limitedly so, since it’s maybe five minutes’ work to load the data for into a spreadsheet and get it to do the counting.

            I didn’t at all mean to suggest that category 2 is for abstracts that explicitly say human activity causes more than half the warming, nor that category 1 is for ones that cite a specific figure. My interpretation is as follows. 1 means there’s an explicit statement from which one can infer that human activity is responsible for more than half the warming. 2 means there aren’t but there is something from which one can infer that human activity is responsible for some of the warming, and that (in some unspecified fashion) it looks as if the authors probably do accept that it’s more than half.

            My impression is that the idea that many people might think a substantial fraction but not a majority of the warming is anthropogenic wasn’t even on Cook et al’s radar. They saw the live options as “anthropogenic warming” and “basically non-anthropogenic warming”, with the possibility that some people taking the latter view might concede that human activity might be responsible for a small fraction of the warming.

            Again, I think you have a wrong mental model of Cook et al — you’re interpreting them as trying to answer the question “what fraction of warming is thought to be anthropogenic?” and I think they were trying to answer “is warming thought to be anthropogenic?”. The former is probably a better question, I agree.

    • stubydoo says:

      I believe Scott made the pun at some point about mottes and motes/beams.

      On the climate debate:

      My side overwhelmingly is agnostic on climate feedback effects.

      My side overwhelmingly would love to take a sober assessment of the costs of global warning, acknowledging the inherent uncertainty.

      My side overwhelmingly is ready to consider the costs and other effects of proposed mitigation efforts, and weigh these against the climate effects.

      My side overwhelmingly wants to proceed with all such debates, and to base it on real data to the extent possible.

      A very large and very influential contingent of your side prefers to avoid such debates. And their preferred tactic for avoiding such debates is to keep the idea circulating around that global warming is a “hoax”.

      That is your bailey.

      It is vastly more influential than our alleged bailey.

      Most likely you’re now objecting to being pinned to that bailey. But then consider what you just did to me…
      (well, at least to your real life interlocutors as proxies for me – I can see it now: my unwillingness to step into the technical weeds of a scientific field which is not mine = your “evasions”; then my objections to that characterization = your “cognitive dissonance”. I’ve had that discussion many times, maybe even with you!!!).

      It is probably the case that for every sizable political faction there exists some motte-bailey pair. But when the position that the other side wants to call our bailey is actually not so commonly found (your probably manipulative argument tactics notwithstanding), well then it just might be an indication that this time around we’re the good guys.

      • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

        “My side overwhelmingly would love to take a sober assessment of the costs of global warning, acknowledging the inherent uncertainty.”

        Whatever could be stopping you?

      • FacelessCraven says:

        your side sounds pretty nice. maybe if it actually represented some appreciable percentage of the existing public debate, we wouldn’t be in this problem.

        instead, we get this:
        and this:

        and plenty more where those came from, non-stop, for decades. I’m in the process of updating from being a pretty strongly-entrenched AGW skeptic. James Picone’s posts here have been a big driver for that. the problem is, I’ve had something like two decades of not-james-picone data still in backlog, so the process is somewhat slower than it might otherwise be. So even if your side is the good guys this time, it’s still in your interest to shut out the people on your own side actively discrediting your message, like for example the people pushing the “denialist” label.

      • “My side …”

        How do you define the membership of the sides? I’ve argued climate issues a good deal on Facebook. I think I have encountered between one and five reasonable people arguing for doing something about AGW–people actually interested in thinking about arguments against their position and reasonably knowledgeable. There were a few more who were civil but strikingly ignorant. Many more, I would guess a sizable majority, who are certain their side’s position is correct, lump all who disagree together as ignorant, unscientific, probably religious, treat the whole thing as cheering for their football team. Many of them are confident of enormous costs–one gentleman I have just been arguing with, admittedly a good deal worse than the average, claims that millions of species have already been made extinct by human action, presumably (although it wasn’t clear) global warming. He also insists on the “Gaia theory” and that “life” has gotten the climate to where it ought to be and we are now meddling with it.

        There are lots of nuts on the other side as well, of course. But if I judge by the Facebook discussion, most of “your side” are scientifically ignorant, arrogant, and many of them at least mildly nutty.

        On the other hand, from time to time something comes out from scientists who pretty clearly would like to argue for doing something about AGW but would also like to tell the truth. The IPCC in its latest report retracted the claim of a link between drought and AGW. A recent piece from NSA concluded that total volume of Antarctic ice had been going up, not down. A recent NOAA piece not only blamed the California drought on natural variability, but suggested that AGW had perhaps made it a little milder. I have to balance that against pieces, including one recent one in _Nature_, that I see as propaganda masquerading as science.

        Or in other words, how you evaluate each side depends a whole lot on who you select to represent it. James Hansen is, as best I can tell, an honest and intelligent man, although I think his views are mistaken. Mann is, as best I can tell, a flake.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          We should expect Antarctica’s ice to increase as the temperature rises; it is a desert so the increase in temperature provides more moisture for ice to form.

        • stubydoo says:

          “civil but strikingly ignorant” – well sure, but there’s no shortage of scientific ignorance around wherever you look, right, left or otherwise. And given the uncertainties of climate science even the actual proper specialists are ignorant of the specific actual future. We’re all much more ignorant than the jackass who carried a snowball into the U.S. Capitol imagines himself to be.

          And the stuff you keep running into on facebook etc., terrible as it no doubt is, probably doesn’t exactly fit into the idea of the “bailey” described in sabril’s parent thread. When you run into some idiosyncratic nonsense produced by a moron, you haven’t discovered the other side’s “bailey”, just some idiosyncratic nonsense produced by a moron.

        • James Picone says:

          There are lots of nuts on the other side as well, of course. But if I judge by the Facebook discussion, most of “your side” are scientifically ignorant, arrogant, and many of them at least mildly nutty.

          David, from my point of view, there are extremely few ‘skeptics’ that know what they’re doing. There’s probably a 90%-of-everything-is-crap thing going on here, to some extent.

          If you limit it to just the luckwarmer end of things, my perception is more dishonesty than ignorance. Ridley, Lomborg, Curry, etc..

          Zwally2015 (the ice loss study) contradicts pretty much every other study in the field. It’s interesting, but you’re being The Man With A Single Study here. Your use of Tol’s stuff is similar – Tol is, AFAIK, the only estimate that shows net postive effects from climate change.

          • “If you limit it to just the luckwarmer end of things, my perception is more dishonesty than ignorance. ”

            While you are determined to deny it, I have offered clear evidence of deliberate dishonesty by someone on your side–lying in print about the content of an article of which he was the lead author. Others here, in particular people on your side who are less willing to convince themselves that two plus two equals five if needed to avoid believing what they don’t want to believe, may find it of interest:


            Can you offer anything comparable—someone convicted of lying about his own work by evidence webbed by him and his coauthors—for the people you charge with dishonesty?

            For a much milder sort of dishonesty, see:


            “David, from my point of view, there are extremely few ‘skeptics’ that know what they’re doing.”

            There are few people on either side of the debate who know what they are doing, unless you limit it to the serious professionals. There are a bunch of videos online of various versions of an experiment that supposedly shows CO2 to be a greenhouse gas–and only works if you don’t understand the greenhouse effect. One of them is sponsored by Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the Clean Air Conservancy.


            And while we are on the subject of dishonesty, let me again remind you that you wrote, in a comment on this blog:

            “The takeaway here is that David Friedman is quite happy to commit the same ‘dishonesty’ he’s accusing Cook of, by conflating the category “Does not think climate change is principally human caused” and “Does not specifically indicate climate change is principally human caused in the abstract of their paper.”

            I pointed out in response that I not only did not conflate those categories, I explicitly distinguished them. I challenged you to either retract the claim or support it. Your response offered no evidence that I had conflated the two categories–you instead changed the subject.

            If you can support that claim, do. You are welcome to search my blog, which has most of my writing on the subject, to find where I implied that the fact that only 1.6% of the abstracts said that humans were the primary cause of warming implied that only 1.6% of the authors believed it.

            I quote from my post on Cook, which you have read:

            “That Cook misrepresents the result of his own research does not tell us whether AGW or CAGW is true. It does not tell us if it is true that most climate scientists endorse AGW or CAGW.”

          • James Picone says:

            Can you offer anything comparable—someone convicted of lying about his own work by evidence webbed by him and his coauthors—for the people you charge with dishonesty?

            Lomborg has a literal book written about all the lies in his book. Pretty much any time he opens his mouth, you can assume he’s lying. Mostly this consists of citing things that don’t support or outright contradict the claim he’s making.

            Here is an interesting analysis of an article by Matt Ridley and Benny Peiser. Obvious untruths, like approximately every time he quotes the IPCC as predicting something. The best part is when Ridley/Peiser quote the climate sensitivity range as the range of temperatures at 2100, and then ignore that the range of temperatures at 2100 depends on what emissions scenario we take, and they are arguing for no action, implying a high emissions scenario. They should know that, making me rather suspicious that they’re just playing ClimateBall. Actually, I’m just gonna come out and say that accusing huge swathes of scientists of deliberate dishonesty for political ends without presenting a shred of evidence is on its face clear ClimateBall. Also he owns a coal mine. How often do you see that conflict of interest declared when Ridley writes things? Finally, statements like

            (The best part of Ridley, of course, is that a bank he was chairman of triggered a run and went under as a result of risky investments coming up red. As above, so below…)

            Judith Curry. Read the comments. She’s exceptionally selective in the evidence she presents to congress, and in a couple of cases flat-out says things that are not true and that she should know are not true. Also, y’know, she argues that scientists shouldn’t be ‘political activists’ while being pretty much as much of a political activist as Hansen.

            There are few people on either side of the debate who know what they are doing, unless you limit it to the serious professionals. There are a bunch of videos online of various versions of an experiment that supposedly shows CO2 to be a greenhouse gas–and only works if you don’t understand the greenhouse effect. One of them is sponsored by Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the Clean Air Conservancy.

            So why specifically say that “But if I judge by the Facebook discussion, most of “your side” are scientifically ignorant, arrogant, and many of them at least mildly nutty.”. Reads as an implied claim that there’s more on my side than yours.

            [injured honour stuff]
            For those playing at home, my response is here (and you might need to search for it because I’ve been told by several people that the comment anchor doesn’t work for them). I quote David as saying:

            97% of articles expressing an opinion on the cause of warming hold that humans are at least part of the cause, but only 1.6% hold that humans are the principal cause.

            And note that the paper was actually about abstracts, and then say “Pedantic? Yep. Meaningless? Yep. Roughly the same scale as the complaint you have about Cook? By my lights, yes.”

            (For further pedantry, papers that implicitly or explicitly minimise anthropogenic contributions are not part of the 97% Friedman is referring to, even if they hold that humans are ‘part of the cause’)

            Notice the scare quotes around ‘dishonesty’ in my original quote. They kind of matter.

            Here is a realclimate post about the AR5 attribution statement (i.e., how much of the recent warming they think is anthropogenic). Here‘s the PDF. I argue that Cook’s 97% is a good measure of papers that support a >50% warming is anthropogenic consensus because the view that 50%. Exactly how many papers do you think are going to disagree with that without explicitly calling it out in the abstract?

          • I asked James to offer examples of the people he claims are dishonest that demonstrate it it as clearly as Cook did–publishing something making an assertion about the contents of an article of which he was the lead author which is demonstrably false. That does not involve any arguments about what is or isn’t true about climate, how to interpret evidence, and the like–you can check that his statement is false by simply reading the first paper, which is webbed, and paying attention to the distinctions among the first three categories it sorts abstracts into. James’ examples of dishonesty appear to be ones where someone on one side argues that what someone on the other side says about the issue they disagree on isn’t true. That’s a very different category.

            James’ claim about me was that I conflated the number of abstracts that said humans were the main cause of warming with the number of authors who believed it—something I took care not to do. If you look at what he has now quoted from his response, he is accusing me of referring to what articles said when I should have referred to what the abstracts of the articles said. It’s true that I failed to make that distinction, although I think it was obvious in context, but that isn’t the charge he made and I asked him to support or retract.

            Why does all of this matter? It isn’t a question of defending my honor. It’s a question of whether James is an honest man.

            That matters because he is intelligent, well informed, and on the opposite side of an important issue from me. That would make him valuable to me if I could be reasonably sure that when he said something it was probably true, and almost certainly something he reasonably believed to be true. But I now have two cases in which, after repeated interactions, he has refused to accept something that I believe is not only true but obviously true—obvious to him as well as to me, for reasons that have nothing to do with our disagreement on the issues.

            He insists that John Cook was not being dishonest in claiming that Cook 2013 found that 97% of the abstracts that took a position on the causation of warming found humans to be the main cause—when, as he can see by reading the paper, the 97% was for abstracts that held that humans were a cause, and the figure for main cause (category 1, “primary cause”) is 1.6%. He isn’t bothered by the fact that the paper only reported the sum of categories 1-3 (97%), thus hiding how tiny category 1 was—I had to go to the webbed data to find that out. He insists that when Cook accused me of dishonesty for attacking him, and did it by attributing to me an argument I never made and entirely ignoring the argument I did make, that was merely a natural mistake—no suspicion that it was because he had no defense to the argument I actually made.

            And, finally, when I have asked him repeatedly to either support or retract the claim that I conflated what people believed with what their abstract said, his response is to instead point at an entirely different minor error in something I wrote.

            The only conclusion I can reach is that he is either deliberately dishonest—realizes that he is wrong but won’t say so—or sufficiently dishonest with himself so that he can convince himself of the equivalent of two plus two equals five if it is necessary in order to avoid recognizing something he doesn’t want to recognize. It isn’t even a matter of avoiding evidence that his beliefs on climate are wrong–merely evading the evidence that one prominent figure on his side is a liar.

            Which, getting back to the post I am responding to, is why I am not planning to investigate his claims of dishonesty by people who disagree with him. If he offered the equivalent of my blog post on Cook—a demonstration from someone’s own writing that he had lied about something he had to know, a charge I could verify with confidence in half an hour—I might read it. But I have spent enough time in political arguments to know that claims such as “Lomborg has a literal book written about all the lies in his book” tells me no more than that there are people who disagree with Lomborg, unless made by someone I have good reason to trust. Actually going through the book attacking Lomborg, checking each time for responses to the accusation by Lomborg or his supporters or researching the case myself, would be an enormous amount of work.

            What I like about my old blog post on Cook is that checking that my accusation is true does not require a lot of work–and is even easier now that Cook has responded, since anyone who has read my post can see that Cook is lying about what I said, which is at least suggestive. All the evidence is up on the web, put there by Cook and his coauthors. No need to trust my honesty or judgement.

            What I find frustrating and depressing is the unwillingness of even intelligent supporters of Cook’s side of the argument to face the fact that he lied. I had the good fortune to grow up in a bubble of rational argument among honest and reasonable people, and it is always depressing to be reminded of how far most of the world is from that.

            For any interested, my old blog post on Cook:


          • James Picone says:

            I was a tad sleep-deprived when I wrote my reply above, that’s why it’s a little disjointed. Sorry for the inconvenience.

            @David Friedman:
            The vast majority of the Lomborg stuff is him citing things that don’t even remotely support the things he’s citing it for – you know, the thing you’re saying Cook is doing?

            The link I gave for it gives a couple of examples, with links. One of them is Lomborg citing studies on polar bear populations to claim that they have soared, when in fact the study describes declining birth rates. You could verify this in half an hour if you clicked through the links and had the relevant text from Lomborg available, I think.

            For a clear Ridley example, the criticism of the Ridley article I linked to quotes them as saying: “But scientists disagree: They say there is great uncertainty, and they reflected this uncertainty in their fifth and latest assessment for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It projects that temperatures are likely to be anything from 1.5 to 4.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 to 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer by the latter part of the century—that is, anything from mildly beneficial to significantly harmful.”. Here‘s what appears to be the article it’s about, with that line in it.

            The IPCC does not project that temperature range for the latter part of the century. They predict 0.3c to 4.8c depending on the concentration pathway taken (Wikipedia has a nice table). None of the specific RCPs have that range, too. Arguably that’s just a ‘mistake’, not a deliberate falsehood, but if you’re aiming for precisely zero analysis it’s difficult to demonstrate an explicit lie.

            Most of Curry’s dishonesty is in what she doesn’t say. She very deliberately cherry-picks research to present to Congress, and this is difficult to just off and demonstrate to someone without any kind of analysis or background. You must concede, however, that she regularly criticises “scientist-advocates” (see, for example, this article), and she’s simultaneously an extremely political scientist, who regularly works with political pressure groups, speaks at political events, advocates for particular political positions, etc.. That’s pretty clear hypocrisy.

            I still disagree about Cook, and the fractured sentences in my reply were trying to get at why. It’s this PDF for attribution of recent warming to anthropogenic causes, from the IPCC. If you’re writing a paper and you disagree with that PDF you’re going to put it in your abstract, and then you’re ‘implicitly or explicitly minimising anthropogenic contributions’ and you don’t end up in categories 2/3.

            Look, if you’re regularly finding out that Everybody On The Other Side, even people who seem intelligent and well-informed, disagree with you about something that you think is obvious, then maybe /it’s not actually obvious that it’s what you think it is/. I think what you’re running into is that you either haven’t seen that PDF or don’t understand why it has to look like that, and most of the people on the GW side either have seen it and understand it, or talk to a lot of people who do. Cook certainly has. Professional climate scientists certainly have.

            The argument that Cook was playing statistical games seems to not play well with him including the data in the paper, fundraising to make the paper open access, and arranging for a tool to be made that you could use to do your own rating process to verify the paper. If he’s trying to deceive people, he picked a surprisingly all-there-in-the-open way to deceive people. Maybe you think he’s also incredibly stupid, in addition to dishonest.

            Frankly, when it comes to climate science, I agree that you’re living in a bubble, but I don’t think it’s a rational, honest one. The feeling I get reading your writings about it is that you don’t have a good whole-picture view, and you don’t know what the actual evidence base looks like, but you still feel like you have the expertise required to evaluate it. This thing about the proportion which is anthropogenic is a good example.

            Let’s do some maths. Preindustrial CO2 is ~280 ppmv. Current CO2 is ~400 ppmv. Radiative forcing for a given delta CO2 is 5.35 * ln(C/C0) W/m**2, or 1.9 W/m**2 forcing accumulated since preindustrial. Earth has gotten ~0.8c warmer since preindustrial (See, for example, this graph), and although the trend is pretty clearly nonlinear, it’ll do for this Fermi estimate. Let’s imagine half of that warming is due to the 1.9 W/m**2 forcing, so 0.4c.

            Tdelta = lambda * RFdelta, so 0.4 / 1.9 = lambda = 0.2. That implies a TCR (NOT ECS, we’re not at equilibrium!) of ~0.77c. Well not quite, because TCR is defined as what you get if you double CO2 by increasing it 1% per year, and I’m not sure that quite matches how fast we’re emitting CO2. Probably doesn’t break it that much.

            You can’t really go from TCR to ECS, but there’s a range of ratios that it’s unlikely to be outside. this blog post has a histogram of that ratio for a bunch of climate models. The largest value is ~0.8. So let’s assume it’s that, multiply out, and we get an implied ECS of 0.77/0.8 = 0.96.

            That’s negative feedback territory. Not even remotely physically plausible. Ice ages become impossible (Minima of the last ice age is what, 4c, 5c under today? With ECS = 1, that’s a forcing difference of ~14.8 W/m**2. I.e., about 10% of total solar insolation. Not plausible).

            This is all Fermi-ish, of course, and I may well be making a serious mistake somewhere in that process. This isn’t my field, I’m only an interested layman. If you see a horrible mistake, please point it out. The big spots are that I’m not sure how much the difference between the 1%-a-year scenario and the actual CO2 forcing history matters, and I’m not certain about the TCR-to-ECS ratio step being very meaningful. But I’m reasonably confident in the actual conclusion, that the delta in CO2 forcing corresponding to a delta of half total temperature increase is very inconsistent with what we know about climate.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @James Picone:

            The vast majority of the Lomborg stuff is him citing things that don’t even remotely support the things he’s citing it for. […] One of them is Lomborg citing studies on polar bear populations to claim that they have soared, when in fact the study describes declining birth rates. You could verify this in half an hour if you clicked through the links and had the relevant text from Lomborg available, I think.

            Did you yourself verify the Lomborg stuff? Because when I look at this study referenced for “soaring polar bear population” I find it shows exactly that.

            Here’s the study. Look at the BOTTOM part of Figure 6 (page 3/19). Eyeballing that chart of “population size (1981–97)” it looks to me like the population size in 1981 was around 500 and the population size in 1997 was stable above 1000, so the polar bear population has more than doubled over the period studied. So how does that reference not count as supporting a claim that the polar bear population “soared”?

            (for more good news, look at “cub survival rate” – that’s also much improved.)

            I suspect Lomborg’s critics were so eager to find something wrong (and so easily misled by negative spin in the abstract) that they neglected to notice this study showed exactly what Lomborg said it did. They read looking for bad news – smaller bears having fewer cubs – and thereby missed the bigger picture.

            (FWIW, here’s one of Lomborg’s responses to Friel.)

            James, if you’re going to claim other people are lying, you need to check the facts to make sure that the people you’re listening to aren’t the ones who are lying.

            P.S. More up-to-date bear population data is here; those Hudson Bay bears are apparently still doing fine numerically despite about 50/year being legally hunted by the locals.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @James Picone
            Okay, now I’ve spent WAY more than “a half hour” on this stuff but I can give more context. What happened was: Some doom-and-gloomers had claimed as an example of GW-related Bad Stuff that there were declining polar bear populations in Hudson Bay due to declining ice coverage due to local warming. Lomborg looked into it and determined the claim went back to a report that claimed a decline since 1985. But we have relevant bear survey data going back to 1981 which tells a different story. So Lomborg found a peer-reviewed published paper that includes a plot of that bear population going back to 1981 and gave it as a reference in his book.

            Doom-and-gloom stories sell, so if you just read the ABSTRACT of the paper you might get the impression it only shows things are going badly for the bears. The abstract focused on only the bad-news metrics while it ignored any good-news metrics including the one he was most interested in. WHICH IS LOMBORG’S WHOLE POINT. Lomborg’s general shtick is to look past the negative spin and see if things are really as bad as people say. Often he finds exactly this sort of disconnect between what a study actually says and what is said about it. Even what is said by the study authors themselves, in their own abstract, is suspect compared to THE DATA.

            Which means you need to read his references CAREFULLY to determine if they support his claims. Just skimming the abstract is not sufficient.

            In my experience, this is a pretty typical example of what happens when looking into Lomborg’s claims.

            (errata: I said the “Figure 6” chart was on page 3 but it’s actually on (printed) page 302 or (pdf) page 9).

          • James Picone says:

            @Glen Raphael:
            Hadn’t clicked through to the study. Looking at it now. Agree that the graph shows a low in ’81 of ~300-675? to a peak of ~975-1950? in 85, followed by roughly stable values until `97 at ~975-1275? (Reading off the graph).

            Some quotes: “Throughout study period, the size of the population remained unchanged (Lunn et al., 1997).” and “For about the last 12 years, estimates of population size have remained relatively constant (Lunn et al., 1997; this study)”. Lunn et al., 1997 is “LUNN, N.J., STIRLING, I., ANDRIASHEK, D., and G.B. 1997. Re-estimating the size of the polar population in western Hudson Bay. Arctic 50:234 – 240”. Here‘s a link. Starts in 1985, though, not 1981. Has much larger error bars on its values than the Stirling study, too. I assume this is the 1985 report you’re referring to.

            No table of values in Stirling, unfortunately, and I’m not going to bother digitising that graph in order to do stats on it. But just looking at the graph, I’m not confident you can pull a significant trend out of it. Certainly the Lunn graph has no trend. Taking a paper that specifically says that population has been “relatively constant” for the last 12 years and arguing that it shows populations ‘soaring’ because the first point is lower than every other one is not what I would describe as honest.

            I feel confident concluding that were this temperature data, you would describe it as a pause.

            (Friel’s counter-counterargument. Here‘s another good one, Lomborg playing games with discount rates.)

          • Douglas Knight says:

            James, you might also want to read what Lomborg actually said about polar bears. Your sources condemn him on the basis of a two words quote “has soared.” What do you put at the odds that Lomborg does exactly what you say he should do with his source?

            Or, perhaps, you don’t want to do that.

          • James Picone says:

            Have a link? I’m sure as hell not going to buy Lomborg’s tripe, not even by spending my time to find it in a library.

            Intriguingly, at least one fisking-style page suggests that a graph Lomborg uses of the polar bear count uses the largest value in the uncertainty range for each point and leaves out the error bars, which would do some interesting things to that polar bear population data given the significant uncertainty for 1985.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Does google books work in Australia?

          • James Picone says:

            “No eBook available”. No obvious way to look inside, not even a preview. Does offer to put me in touch with a place to buy it from.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            I just used Google Books to search on “Hudson Bay” to find this. Page 6 of Cool It:

            “The best-studied polar-bear population lives on the western coast of Hudson Bay. That its population has declined 17 percent, from 1,200 in 1987 to under 950 in 2004, has gotten much press. Not mentioned, though, is that since 1981 the population had soared from just 500, thus eradicating any claim of a decline. Moreover, nowhere in the news coverage is it mentioned that 300 to 500 bears are shot each year, with 49 shot on average on the west coast of Hudson Bay. Even if we take the story of decline at face value, it means we have lost about 15 bears to global warming each year, whereas we have lost 49 each year to hunting.
            The polar bear story teaches us three things. First, we hear vastly exaggerated and emotional claims that are simply not supported by data…”

            That is where the phrase “had soared” came from. You managed to find TWO sources that failed to notice that the exact claim made by Lomborg (that the population “had soared” between 1981 and 1987) was supported by the exact reference he gave, and you repeated their mistake. You ought to take this as evidence that some of your sources are being at best extremely careless and uncharitable. I don’t want to follow you on a Gish Gallop through a dozen more examples of this sort of thing, so let it suffice to say: the fact that you can find somebody who disagrees with Lomborg (or Curry or McIntyre or…) does not bring him/them down to the level of John Cook. Even if they disagree a lot and with great vehemence, it still matters whether your sources are fundamentally interested in truth-seeking or just point-scoring. If you want to credibly claim Lomborg is a liar, you probably have to actually read what he wrote. You can’t farm that task off to Eli, or Cook, or even to the guy who “wrote a book” on the subject – they’re all too ego-invested.

          • James Picone says:

            @Glen Raphael:
            I don’t get Cool It when I search for that in google books. Tried several things, only thing it would give me is the summary page. This might actually be a regional thing; maybe the fulltext is only available in the US?

            Anyway, Lomborg’s bullshitting. A single study that doesn’t discuss population in any way, doesn’t discuss how they got their estimates, doesn’t mention it in their conclusions, has huge uncertainties on their data points, describes populations as “relatively stable”, and points to a different study on population (which doesn’t include data prior to 1985), and he concludes that the population has soared from a single low value right at the start. This is deceptive. There’s almost certainly a reason the studies look like that. My suspicion is that the data that early on are known by researchers in the field to be highly uncertain, uncertain enough that that conclusion can’t be drawn.

            According to that fisking I linked earlier, there’s a quote from Stirling Lomborg got as a personal communication. Bottom of page 3, named “note 26 to figure 1”. Could you grab that and post it here? According to fisking site, it’s Stirling saying that there are large uncertainties in the data concerned. Same site claims that the early data didn’t include the full area. The Lunn paper has some language that seems to back that up:
            “We set the starting year for this analysis to 1984, the year
            that Kolenosky et al. (1992) initiated a three-year mark-recapture study along the Ontario and eastern Manitoba coasts, because this was the first year in which sampling took place throughout the combined study area.” but that might be referring to something else, just prior to that it notes: “For comparative purposes, we estimated the size of the population from two data sets: all bears handled in the combined Churchill and Cape Tatnam study areas (i.e., between Churchill and the Manitoba-Ontario border), and a subset of bears that were handled only in the Churchill study area”.

            Here‘s another paper, Derocher & Stirling 1995, “Estimation of Polar Bear Population Size and Survival in Western Hudson Bay”. No fulltext, but the preview page includes enough to know that:
            – They discuss the actual population model, the data covers 1977-1992.
            – No clear trend.
            – “Population size showed no clear trend with estimates between 537 and 1,268 bears and a mean of 1,000 bears of all ages in autumn 1978-92”

            The picture I’m getting here is Lomborg grabbing a population graph from a paper that wasn’t about population and didn’t do the statistical work required to accurately estimate population, completely ignoring any of the other papers that actually were about population in the area and did do the statistical work, because they didn’t include the result he wanted.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            That fisking site is terrible. Half the objections have the form: “Lomborg optimistically said X, but he didn’t use THE VERY LATEST DATA which would have shown Y which is SCARIER”…but it’s been ten years since that was written and when I look at even LATER LATEST DATA Lomborg’s claims look fine again.

            Lomborg indicates the WWF claimed polar bears were on track to completely stop reproducing by 2012. Fisking site admits they said that but claims WWF only meant the ones IN HUDSON BAY #notAllPolarBears. Regardless of whether that’s true, Lomborg’s reference pointed to the ones IN HUDSON BAY showing a stable population. And as of TODAY, which is AFTER 2012, even that subset of bears are STILL doing fine. No sign that they’ve stopped reproducing.

            If the latest data says polar bear populations are merely stable, that is perfectly adequate to support the point Lomborg was trying to make. Paranoia about disappearing polar bears was rampant in the media at time of publication, he called BS on it, and he was right to do so. Regardless of how reliable the 1981 population estimate may or may not have been, the alleged SCARY DECLINE was not sustained.

            Are you really going to shift the goalposts this far? You said the reference didn’t back up his claim. You were wrong; it did. If you want to argue that there exists some BETTER reference Lomborg could have used to make the point he was trying to make…perhaps you ought to read the book first, not just reverse-engineer what you think it might have said based on the criticisms people are making of it.

            Also perhaps you could change your frame from “Lomborg deliberately lied and gave a reference that didn’t back up what he said!”
            to something more like
            “Lomborg made a claim he honestly believed and gave a reference in support of it, yet there still exist a few people – most of whom refuse to read his book – who are not convinced his claim is correct!”

            (Following the link Douglas Knight gave, I can read and search the book but the interface won’t let me select and copy text from it – I have to transcribe anything. Couldn’t find any “note 26”.)

          • James Picone says:

            @Glen Raphael:
            Unfortunate. Site suggests that note isn’t present in the American version of the book, maybe that’s the version in Google Books.

            I can’t speak to any/all of that sites arguments. I can’t look up the text of the book without fucking around with VPN stuff. But on the polar bear stuff, I think it’s right. Lomborg has gone digging for a paper that will support his predetermined view, and is ignoring papers that actually did try to estimate populations (rather than including some unexplained data as part of investigating something else), over the same or longer period, and came to a different conclusion. This is man-of-a-single-study stuff; morally equivalent to cherrypicking.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @James Picone:

            Lomborg has gone digging for a paper that will support his predetermined view […]This is man-of-a-single-study stuff

            Sorry, but no. After a bit more research I’m pretty sure I did figure out what made that study salient. Lomborg had been checking out the (dumb) WWF claim that polar bears in warm areas were in the process of dying out and were likely to stop reproducing by 2012; that paper was a primary source the WWF had relied on and Lomborg seems to have noticed in passing that it contained several pieces of overlooked good news alongside the bad. So he gave it as ONE OF his references when those bits of good news were relevant to his argument. And it’s not a “single study” – it was one of THREE references given for that particular line.

            Lomborg’s books contain hundreds of references. An honest adversary might check how the references relate to the FACTUAL CONTENT presented in the sentences of the book, especially the content most key to the overall arguments being made, but Nitpicker-Nemesis Fog seems happy to instead focus on tiny bits of rhetoric like the phrase “had soared”. Fog also doesn’t seem to understand how references work – one gives references to peer-reviewed articles to (a) prove you didn’t invent your facts out of whole cloth and (b) provide a STARTING POINT for tracking down where specific referenced numbers come from. It is not necessary that rigorously defending the numbers you used is the explicit FOCUS of a referenced article – if it were, nobody would ever have time to finish writing this sort of book.

            Google lets me read for free from the American edition of Cool It but not all of it – large sections are excluded. Fog tries to make it seem nefarious that “note 26 to figure 1” (whatever that note actually says) isn’t in the American edition, but it looks to me like the “figure 1” itself is ALSO not in that edition so it’s not surprising that notes for it were left out too.

            (Part of why the lomborg-errors site is so weird is that much of the content of this debate seems to have been translated from Danish – I especially suspect the phrase “groundless derogation” might read better in the original language. 🙂 )

            Lomborg is pretty optimistic and when he finds reasons for optimism in the published literature he’s willing to say so. Many other researchers are pessimists so if you look hard enough for it you can probably find somewhere a more pessimistic take on any subject Lomborg has written about, but THAT DOES NOT MAKE HIM DISHONEST. It doesn’t even make him WRONG.

            To recap: You originally thought Lomborg had NO studies that were relevant, because you hadn’t read past the abstract of the ONE study your sources had pointed you at. After I made you read the study and you saw that it was relevant, you’re calling him a “man of ONE study”. So if I now tell you there were three studies referenced for that line, what’s your next move? 🙂

            (I was willing to look into this because I’d read Lomborg’s earlier book skeptical environmentalist which had generated the same kind of low-quality missing-the-point objections from many of the same people. So far as I can tell the man is better informed and more honest than most of the people he argues with. But you’d have to read what he writes to know that – reading only what his enemies write about him is not sufficient.)

        • nonymous says:

          Mr Friedman,


          You’ve said: “I know myself well enough to allow for the consequences of my own irrationality.”

          I think one of the consequence of indulging bias is the loss of the right to credibly do the work of accusing the other side of being biased. You just have to work on other projects.

          But you may have created a bubble for yourself where those consequences dont penetrate to do the work of calibrating our immodesties and persuading us to forgoe heavy reality sculpting when getting in eachother’s faces. And certainly not peacocking about. Not down here at the sunset grill. no sir.

          Say it. Hey, i’m biased. I lean to extremes and I dont budge. I accept it.

          Funny idea. Your son comes home for the holidays.
          You pick him up at the airport. Before you put the car in gear you turn to him and say, “Patri, i gotta tell you something…im bi….your mother knows….yep….a guy on the internet made me see it…. im bi as hell….:gee dad i”…….IM BIASED. ha ha! BIASED patri! IM BIASED! The last shot, the freshly applied bumpersticker as you pull away.
          “My bias is private, but it’s no secret!”

          • To accuse the other side of being biased I don’t have to be unbiased myself, because the accusation is not based on the fact of my belief but on the evidence I offer.

            Bias and dishonesty are not the same thing. I offer the best arguments I can for my views–and what arguments I manage to find in part reflects what I want to believe. Other people can then evaluate those arguments for themselves–they don’t depend on trusting me to be unbiased. If there are things wrong with my arguments that I am unaware of, possibly due to my bias, there should be someone else, probably with the opposite bias, to point them out.

            In this particular case, feel free to do so.

    • Chalid says:

      The motte is supposed to be something that most people agree on. But of course many people disagree with what you are calling the motte. And motte/bailey generally seems to depend on equivocating over exactly which one you mean.

      What you have described is just a plain multistep argument with people disagreeing at various points. Obviously, as you go further down the chain, you lose more and more people.

      • Chalid says:

        Also: I feel like there is way too much criticism of scientifically illiterate “normal people” here. Granted there are certainly tons of morons who argue that AGW is bad for stupid reasons. We get it! But there are tons of morons arguing the opposite position for equally stupid reasons.

        I don’t want to say the incidence of this sort of thing should be zero. It is of course important that we remain aware that most people are scientifically illiterate. But overall, I feel like we could do with a lot fewer stories about how dumb the typical person who disagrees with you is.

        (I also think that SSC leftists do this sort of thing way less than SSC rightists, at least on the global warming issue, but perhaps that is my own bias talking.)

        • So far as scientific illiteracy on both sides … . There are a number of youtube videos showing an experiment that is purported to demonstrate that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. The demonstration only works if you don’t understand how the greenhouse effect works. I discuss it at:

          Someone linked to one of the videos on the FB climate group. I pointed out the problem. As best I can remember, nobody else on either side of the argument appeared to understand it. There were one or two on the critical side who might have, but it looked more as though they were agreeing with me because I was on their side.

    • James Picone says:

      I genuinely tried not to be Global Warming Guy today, but /goddamn it/.

      Would everyone here who is skeptical of global warming actually consider reading some of the goddamn science? And not just the parts spoon-fed to you with ready-made commentary on WUWT, but a decent cross-section? You can get it by skimming the IPCC reports. Commentary on this stuff from actual scientists is often pretty good, too, if you don’t want to skim what is a very large document (what with it summarising a huge number of interconnected fields of research you’re all blithely assuming are manned by complete idiots). Spencer Wearts The Discovery of Global Warming is pretty good. Realclimate, a blog run by some climate scientists, is pretty good when it actually posts things (i.e. not much lately, but go through the archives). Tamino‘s blog is angry and shouty and probably sufficiently blue that it will turn you off, but he often does some interesting statistics stuff. Skeptical Science is pretty obviously a PR outfit, but their list of ‘global warming myths’ and some of their posts when it concerns science are often reasonable, and it’d probably be a good idea for you to check what’s been said about your new Whiz-Bang Argument Against Global Warming there, because you’re going to run into essentially that rebuttal and you’ll want to be prepared. For example, Sabril here seems to be skeptical of the idea that there’s a positive feedback (I think, it’s hard to tell because the way he’s using the term seems to indicate that he doesn’t actually know what it means in the GW context). The tarted-up non-insane version of that claim is that climate sensitivity is low. Here is SkS’ low-climate-sensitivity page, and look, there’s references to several different mechanisms for calculate climate sensitivity, and papers using that mechanism to get a number >1c, i.e. positive feedback. Alternately, you could go see what the IPCC says. Conveniently, AR4 is webbed, and here is a page containing tables and graphs and huge numbers of studies, with close to all of them having their 5% lowerbound for sensitivity >1c! (One study has a 5% lowerbound of 1c. It has a 95% of 9.3c).

      This leads in to a second problem that I would have thought people posting here would be better at understanding: Uncertainty does not mean safe! Uncertainty means ‘we don’t know’! If you think everything is so uncertain, why do you think that makes it safer? It just means that the probability for really genuinely extremely unpleasant outcomes is higher than the IPCC estimates! Oh, you think the mean is lower too? But it’s incoherent to doubt the mean and not increase the variance; if you think the problem is sufficiently confusing or corrupted that the research the IPCC has collated has collectively concluded high, why do you think that with less expertise, less time, and less data you are correct in concluding that your uncertainty range doesn’t include their upper-bound? Doesn’t include higher than their upper-bound?

      Remember CFCs? Remember how the research community was surprised by the ozone hole, because it turned out they’d been too optimistic? What probability do you assign to a similar mistake being made in climate science? What if the clathrate gun people are right? I don’t think they are, but it’s not ridiculously implausible. Maybe 1%. What if Hansen is right when he claims that ice sheets are incredibly unstable and will disintegrate in a century or two as we warm? I don’t think he is, but maybe there’s a 1% there too.

      That’s where the precautionary principle argument comes from. We have expert estimates that global warming will be Unpleasant But Not Catastrophic. The uncertainty ranges from “Minor agricultural benefits” to “Well, I didn’t want to live near the equator anyway”. And then there’s maybe 1% chance that there’s a systemic mistake, something missed, and it’s really, really bad. You look at that, you see both a negative expected value, and the potential for something Really Bad in a context where we really want to be risk-averse, and you say “Probably shouldn’t do that”.

      Yes, there’s probably a 1% chance of systemic mistakes that mean it’s actually really good. But the risk isn’t about the expected value, it’s about risk aversion. You don’t gamble your life’s savings on a coin flip.

      Yes, there’s a chance that action-on-global-warming will have unexpected negative consequences. I assess the risk of a carbon price leaving us shivering in the dark substantially lower than the risk that global warming is a Really Big Problem. Certainly just straight-up banning all fossil fuels would be extremely bad, worse than the problem, but I don’t see any serious policy talk around there and I don’t see scientists advocating for that position. You might have a different assessment. I would argue that you are wrong; we’ve had oil shocks before and society didn’t explode, carbon prices should be less impactful than that, and besides we’ve got better alternatives now, meanwhile we have examples in the geological record of climates much hotter than today, and we have some evidence that mass extinctions have occurred when climate shifted rapidly.

      • TheNybbler says:

        Once you throw the precautionary principle in there, you’re playing with infinities. Very powerful, can be used to blow away any standard risk analysis. But subject to the usual Pascal’s Wager counterargument: What if Larry Niven’s Falling Angels scenario is right, and current greenhouse gas production is the only reason we’re not spiraling into a glacial period? Now there’s an infinity on the other side of the equation. And it doesn’t matter what the probability is, for the same reason it doesn’t matter what the probability is of a catastrophic event caused by greenhouse emissions; as long as it’s possible you’ve got an infinite negative expected value scenario.

        • James Picone says:

          “Well sure, there’s a risk that if I bet my life savings on this thing, I’ll lose it and it’ll be bad. But there’s also a risk that if I don’t bet my life savings on this thing, the mafia will beat me up and take my money because I didn’t bet on their thing”

          This is not a Pascal’s Wager argument. This is just bog-standard risk aversion. I’m not arguing for infinite expected value.

          • I have no objection to trying to include low probability/high cost scenarios in your calculation, as best you can. I do object to doing it in only one direction.


            But the precautionary principle, as I have seen it described, is not an expected cost approach. It holds that as long as you cannot reduce the probability of a very bad outcome from doing something to zero, you should not do it. That has the interesting consequence that in many cases it forbids both doing something and not doing it.

            Consider nuclear power. The precautionary principle requires you to ban it because a reactor might blow up and do enormous damage. The precautionary principle forbids you from banning it, because banning might be the thing that pushes CO2 above a critical level with horrendous consequences.

            Do you have a different definition of the principle? If not, perhaps you ought not to have brought it into your argument.

          • James Picone says:

            The definition I’m going on is “When considering actions with world-scale potential consequences, be risk-averse”.

            I don’t think a Pigovian tax on CO2 emissions in the range of SCC estimates the IPCC produces has anything like the risk that GW has. I don’t think a 1% risk of a really bad outcome – say, noticeable chunks of equatorial countries ending up with wet-bulb temperatures too high to support human life in summer – is too high for GW. Clathrate gun being real or surprisingly high ECS gets you there.

          • James writes:

            “The definition I’m going on is “When considering actions with world-scale potential consequences, be risk-averse”.”

            Googling around, I find various statements of the precautionary principle, none of which amount to simple risk aversion. One pretty clear one, from EU law:

            “However, in the case of an action being taken under the precautionary principle, the producer, manufacturer or importer may be required to prove the absence of danger.”


            I take “prove the absence of danger” as corresponding to my zero probability.

            “Risk aversion” is a technical term that, like many others, sounds self-explanatory but isn’t. What it means as a technical term in economics is declining marginal utility of income, with utility defined in the Von Neumann sense. I don’t know if James knows enough economics to realize that or is using the term in a looser sense.

            In that technical sense, James’ statement makes as much sense as “When considering actions with world-scale potential consequences, be rational,” since risk aversion is an element of rational choice in any context.

            To explain:
            We are considering lotteries, each a set of possible outcomes with associated probabilities. We maximize our utility by choosing that lottery with the highest expected value of utility. Since the utility of gaining two thousand dollars is less than twice the utility of gaining one thousand dollars, a lottery giving a fifty percent chance of two thousand is worth less than one giving a certainty of one thousand, and similarly more generally. That’s risk aversion.

            In the climate case, the implication is that, in considering possible outcomes, we should weight them by utility not by dollars, recognizing that the utility of a dollar change is lower the more dollars we have. If that is what James means, I don’t see why it is especially relevant to actions with world-scale consequences rather than to all choices. If not, what weighting rule is he proposing?

            My usual example of a low probability/high cost consequence of preventing global warming is the end of the current interglacial. That would have consequences for humans even more serious than the consequences of the extreme warming he offers as a low probability/high cost consequence of not preventing global warming.

          • James Picone says:

            @David Friedman:
            Maybe ‘precautionary principle’ wasn’t the best term, then.

            “Risk aversion” is a technical term that, like many others, sounds self-explanatory but isn’t. What it means as a technical term in economics is declining marginal utility of income, with utility defined in the Von Neumann sense. I don’t know if James knows enough economics to realize that or is using the term in a looser sense.

            I know very little economics, certainly not enough to know the technical definition of risk aversion. If there’s a technical sense that makes what I’m saying incoherent, that’s unfortunate. I’ll try to unpack.

            My claim is that when considering actions which action to take, it is sensible, in some circumstances, to not take actions for which the worst plausible outcome is substantially more negative than the expected value.

            I see your argument that we are highly uncertain about the outcome of warming to imply that your expected value of warming is ~zero. I see an unexpected very bad outcome (hansen, clathrates) as ‘plausible’ in the sense that I assign maybe 1% probability to them. I’m assuming you agree that “60m sea level rise over ~150 years” or “unstoppable march towards quadrupling CO2e + 4c sensitivity = wet bulb threshold exceeded during summer in equatorial countries” are very bad scenarios.

            I see carbon pricing mechanisms in the world where warming isn’t a problem as being weakly negative (that is, I don’t think they lead to us shivering in the dark). I don’t see plausible catastrophes there.

            So I conclude that it’s better to take the expected-weakly-negative choice rather than expected-zero-but-1%-very-negative choice.

            Alternately, consider a game like the following:
            You put up your stake, and then choose one of the following:
            – Lose 1% of your stake.
            – I roll a d100. If I roll 100, lose 20%. Otherwise, we’re done.

            Say your stake is $100 (and that’s not a significant amount for you). Expected value for the first choice is -$1. Expected value of the second choice is -$0.2. Obviously the second choice is better.

            Say your stake is your entire life savings. The expected value for the first choice is still less than the expected value of the second choice, but I’d still take the first choice.

            If that maps to ‘risk aversion’ in the technical sense, then great. If not, what is the correct term?

            My usual example of a low probability/high cost consequence of preventing global warming is the end of the current interglacial. That would have consequences for humans even more serious than the consequences of the extreme warming he offers as a low probability/high cost consequence of not preventing global warming.

            I rate that one well below 1%. We’re pretty sure we know what causes glacial/interglacial cycles, and we’re not due for some time.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            I want to hear more about how the sort of modest carbon tax that’s being urged on us here is going to allow us to categorically rule out any threat from clathrate guns or Hansen ECS. Or, failing that, why the small-but-nonzero threat from these things with a carbon tax is acceptable, while the small-but-nonzero threat of these things without a carbon tax is not.

          • James Picone says:

            @Cerebral Paul Z:
            Reduces the probability. This should be obvious.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            So evidently what’s objectionable in the second version of Picone’s gambling scenario is not the mere existence of a die roll that causes you to lose your life’s savings– it turns out that both versions have a die roll, but in the first version it’s, I don’t know, 100 on a D100 followed by 6 on a D6, in addition to the certain 1% loss. What Prof. Friedman is surely trying to get at is how you decide which die rolls you can live with. That the probability is lower in one version than the other is obvious, but it doesn’t answer the question.

          • James Picone says:

            @Cerebral Paul Z:
            I’m not sure a full mathematical treatment of utility is necessary here. In situations where losing your shirt is an option, the probability of losing your shirt should dominate over fixed costs; in situations where losing your shirt is not an option, go with expected value. I think Friedman’s stuff about utility is getting at that, with utility being nonlinear in money making losing your shirt the most relevant figure in the expected utility calculation.

            I feel like it’s somewhat obvious that climate change is in the domain where this is relevant, beyond the case for it also having a significant fixed cost larger than the cost of solving it.

            The case where you take steps and then there’s a surprise isn’t as bad as the case where you don’t take steps and then there’s a surprise, incidentally, because there’ll be less CO2 in the air and you won’t have to wind down CO2 emissions as fast (assuming that once a surprise arrives winding down CO2 emissions real soon becomes a politically viable goal, in case there are more surprises and/or people don’t want to make it worse).

          • A few points in response to James:

            1. I also rate the chance that the current interglacial will end in the next century or two if we prevent AGW at less than 1%. On the other hand, the end of the interglacial is a very large cost.

            2. Von Neumann demonstrated that, if human choice under uncertainty met a few fairly simple conditions, you could explain it by assigning a utility to each outcome and making the utility of a lottery–a set of probabilities and outcomes with probabilities summing to one–equal to the expected value of the utilities of the outcome. Doing that made utility a cardinal measure (up to linear transformations) rather than an ordinal measure.

            Risk aversion is then the pattern, when choosing among lotteries with payoffs in money, of having a higher utility for a certain payment equal to the expected value of a lottery than the utility of the lottery–preferring the sure thing to the uncertain thing with the same expected value in money. It follows directly from declining marginal utility of income.

            If you think about it, you should be able to see that in order to make any precise sense of the idea, you need to have a cardinal measure the utility of whose expected value you can compare to the utility of the gamble with that expected value. In one of my books I offer an example of someone who is risk averse in the ordinary sense but risk preferring if you switch from dollars to years of life.

            3. After someone else did what I declined to do–examined in detail a criticism of Lomborg–are you any less certain that your view of the controversy is correct rather than a product of choosing to believe the people who agree with you?

            I may be out of this conversation for the next day or so for medical reasons—I’m about to go in for (not very risky) surgery.

          • James Picone says:

            I don’t mean to say that a mathematical treatment is unnecessary in general, merely that in this particular case I’m not sure it changes the argument.

            If I read you correctly, then the way to do the mathematical treatment would be to define some function f(x) that takes dollar loss and converts to utility, calculate the expected value in utility, and take the larger (least negative) outcome.

            ‘risk aversion’ is when the function increases slower than linear for positive values (I.e., big wins are not as desirable as lots of small wins adding up to the same amount) and decreases faster than linear for negative values (I.e., big losses are not as desirable as lots of small losses adding up to the same amount)?

            I think this is the kind of ‘risk aversion’ I mean here; I’m arguing that the 1% case hurts badly enough that its utility is two orders of magnitude larger than the expected utility of a carbon price.

            3. After someone else did what I declined to do–examined in detail a criticism of Lomborg–are you any less certain that your view of the controversy is correct rather than a product of choosing to believe the people who agree with you?

            No. Picking a single graph out of a paper that isn’t about population, doesn’t discuss the population numbers in detail (or their method of generating them), refers to them as ‘relatively stable’, has huge uncertainty, and points to a different paper that doesn’t contain data < '85 for population as indicating populations have 'soared' is deceptive. More in that thread.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @James Picone
            I’m having a hard time taking you seriously.

            Lomborg gave a reference backing up this bit of text: “Not mentioned, though, is that since 1981 the population had soared from just 500…”. The reference he gave showed the population was 500 in 1981 – you confirmed this yourself by reading the chart. You appear to think it’s “deceptive” because Lomborg used the word “soared” and the paper referenced didn’t explicitly say “soared”. But: what makes you think the point of that reference was to support the word “soared”? What makes you think the word “soared” needed a reference at all? “500 in 1981” was the part of that sentence that needed a reference, and it got one.

            Would you consider it less “deceptive” had Lomborg used the word “risen” instead of “soared”? Or would that be deceptive too unless it pointed to a paper that explicitly said “risen” in the abstract?

            Lomborg spent a decade as a statistics professor – if he wants to say in print that a population that looks to have doubled in under 5 years “soared”, can’t he do that on his own recognizance? The “lomborg-errors” dude claims the 1981-1987 increase wasn’t “statistically significant” but the dude didn’t specify a model and anyway “soared” isn’t the kind of term that has a technical definition…

            When you’re in a hole, stop digging. If climate science isn’t a religion, it can survive people occasionally admitting to a mistake.

      • I agree that looking through the IPCC report–the scientific sections not the summary for policy makers–is useful as well as interesting. So far as, if you use it for information follow the links and see what the articles actually say instead of relying on what it says that they say, which is what most people seem to do. I’m pretty sure I remember it linking to the same “threatens human nutrition” piece I recently discussed—as evidence that increased CO2 concentration reduced food supplies.

  36. Mary says:

    Gee, I’ve seen a lot of leftists touting the 1950s to the sky, and a lot of rightists calling them on it. That’s hardly new.

  37. Urstoff says:

    For some reason, I thought that people that were born without the ability to feel pain didn’t usually live to adulthood because of major joint and tissue damage.

  38. AlphaGamma says:

    Regarding the college masters at Harvard:

    I am a member of a Cambridge college where the head of the college is called the Master (this is the case even if she is female, which the current one is). This isn’t the case at all Cambridge colleges- there are 20 Masters, six Presidents, two Principals, a Warden, a Provost and a Mistress. The last is the head of Girton College, which was founded as a women’s college- it has been mixed since the 1970s, but all its heads have been women. Precedent seems to suggest that if they appointed a man he would still be called the Mistress.

    (Oxford, incidentally, has six Masters, thirteen Principals, seven Wardens, six Presidents, three Provosts, two Rectors and a Dean. The title of Dean exists at pretty much all Oxbridge colleges but only at Christ Church is the Dean the head of the college, because Christ Church’s college chapel is Oxford Cathedral.)

    I can sort-of understand why some people might find it strange/unpleasant addressing the head of their college as “Master”, which still happens. But the solution to that isn’t to throw the baby out with the bathwater and get rid of the title. On the other hand, if the holder of the title wishes to change it, I am more inclined to take their wishes into account.

    Relatedly, a few years ago I remember seeing motions from the NUS conference (home of jazz hands) about degree titles. One group wished to abandon the titles of “Bachelor” and “Master” due to their sexist connotations. Another thought this didn’t go far enough and wanted to abolish degrees altogether…

    • My family spent a year in Cambridge, England when I was about nine. The school I went to (Perse) had women teachers. We were instructed to address them as “Sir.” The theory seemed to be that at a later stage we would have male teachers, and needed to get in the habit now.

  39. Technically Not Anonymous says:

    Somewhat relevant: How do you guys feel about general education requirements in higher education? I find them frustrating. I study CS and I could probably be triple majoring with math and statistics (living the AI dream!) with no additional workload if I didn’t have to take all these goddamn history and humanities and social science classes. Admittedly, a few of them are useful; professional writing and public speaking are important skills for pretty much anyone. But you can fit that into one class, and the rest feel like a waste of time and money.

    The standard counterargument is that these make you a “well-rounded person.” I dislike this argument for several reasons. For one thing, who actually remembers more than 5% of the things they learn in those classes? But more importantly: who cares? The value I’d get out of studying what I want outweighs the value of being a “well-rounded person.” If I want to learn about music or philosophy or sociology, I can (and do!) do it on my on time.

    A slightly better counterargument is that making people take classes is many areas exposes them to fields they may not have considered. But to defend this, you’d have to have numbers on how many people switch their majors because they took a required class outside their major and it was cool. And those numbers would have to be pretty damn high. So I don’t find either of these counterarguments convincing.

    • ReluctantEngineer says:

      I think they’re potentially important, but in my experience they aren’t designed around accomplishing what I think they can/should accomplish. The goal (in my opinion) should be to force you to practice certain skills that you aren’t practicing in your CS classes, rather than to make you study the history of a random foreign country or something.

    • dndnrsn says:

      How many did you have to take?

      I was in the humanities, and the across-the-board rule was that everyone had to take a full (two semester) course or two half (one semester) courses in each of the other two fields – they broke it down at the time into humanities, social sciences, and sciences. Later on the university adopted a more complicated system involving prerequisites from several different categories.

      It basically ended up with me taking a course on the sociology of something I had already studied (wasn’t super impressed – it seemed like what I had already studied but with weaker factual basis plus some iffy theorizing), a really basic science course (which was actually pretty interesting), and a course specifically designed to fill two or three prerequisites, so non-science people could do a course about science, and science people could do a course with science in it (I was amused when the first paper, 4 pages or so, caused a bunch of science and engineering students to drop it).

      Overall, it seemed rather pointless to have to do four semesters outside of what I wanted to do. I learned some interesting stuff, but nothing I couldn’t have gotten by reading a book. Four semesters wasn’t enough to really teach me different methods from what I was already getting, and more than that would have limited the amount of time I had to focus on what interested me.

      It kind of seems like the “become a well-rounded person at university” thing is wishful thinking by universities. People are mostly either there to learn a particular skill or set of skills (CS, some kind of engineering, etc) or to get a piece of paper that lets them either get a (probably unrelated) office job/advance to professional school and become a doctor, lawyer, or businessman/advance to grad school.

      It also seems like complaining about required courses is a very science/engineering thing. Not that I object: if I’m on a bridge, I would prefer that whoever designed it spend as much time as possible learning how to build a bridge.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        if I’m on a bridge, I would prefer that whoever designed it spend as much time as possible learning how to build a bridge

        What will actually lead to this? I suppose you could simply legislate it. That seems to me a terrible idea. Let us substitute the more important “know most about” for the proxy “spend as much time as possible learning.” How do you find such people? Perhaps teaching bridge builders a little about sales or teaching salesmen a little about engineering will help promote the best salesmen getting together with the best bridge builders.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Perhaps, but as it is, having a breadth requirement leads to the bridge builders taking ENG100: Books You Read in High School, and the salespeople taking AST100: Astronomy With the Naked Eye.

          Teaching bridge builders about management and managers about bridge building with the hope of avoiding situations where either bridge construction drags on forever and gets nowhere and becomes a white elephant, or unsafe bridges are built to save time and costs, would be ideal.

          The thing is, this wouldn’t lead to breadth or general education requirements, just to a slightly more diverse list of required courses.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Almost any purpose is better fulfilled by a system in which students have less choice. That is practically a tautology. I agree that school-wide or in-major requirements would better fulfill most goals attributed to breadth requirements. But that does not address the question of whether breadth requirements do some good compared to focus on the major. Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

            Most existing breadth systems can be abused to the point of eliminating all value, as in your examples, but I think that the median engineering student does not do that and does get value out of breadth requirements, simply by getting writing practice.

          • God Damn John Jay says:

            “but I think that the median engineering student does not do that”

            I think the percentage of students who figure out how to game the marks system is surprisingly high.

            I am constantly reminded of dropping art in High School despite enjoying and being rather good at it for the sake of my average, in retrospect a silly move but one I imagine is done a lot. I would imagine courses that are mind expanding enough to be useful are marked harshly enough that few people take them. In my CS department a lot of students joked about taking Natural Disasters.

          • Cadie says:

            Douglas Knight: I don’t think the argument is that breadth requirements do no good, but that the amount of good they do most students isn’t enough to justify forcing them to take those courses and consequently increasing their workload and educational expenses by a lot.

            This is especially marked with non-traditional/older students who are more likely to know what we want to do and have less time to spend on academics for the sake of academics, but applies to the more typical young adult in college as well. I’m sure I’d learn something by taking a history course (for example), and it would give me benefits greater than zero. I’d get more benefit out of the money and the time that the class would cost me, and getting the degree I want earlier. Or by taking a major-related class instead, and learning more that’s going to be directly useful. The benefits of taking classes in unrelated areas are often smaller than the opportunity cost.

    • Murphy says:

      My Uni didn’t have any fluff requirements. We had that crap at 2nd level education. At 3rd level you were free to pick 100% of modules from your own department and I think it worked out pretty well. I’m pretty sure the course could have been more demanding or faster anyway but it was satisfactory.

      If you want well rounded people then properly fund college clubs and societies while encouraging students to take advantage of them. Requiring everyone to study sub-aqua-basket-weaving doesn’t seem to do much to turn people into balanced individuals while on the other hand giving everyone the chance to do cool, fun and unusual things which they can talk about or even gain a lifelong interest in seems much more valuable.

    • bluto says:

      From undergrad work in college I use on a regular basis, about 3 technical lessons from my major, the appreciation of music class (some friends and I took this as a lark), and lessons from both World Politics and Japanese Politics (that were outside of the main subjects of the classes). Granted the teacher of those last two made all the difference.

      In my experience there was a much wider range of teaching styles and knowledge in the humanities classes than in STEM fields and most students preferences (an easy grade) weren’t good for finding the classes I enjoyed most. Today, I would try to see if you can get some more information about the professors before you choose the classes.

    • Orphan Wilde says:

      You think it’s for the benefit of the students?

    • Adam says:

      They suck, but ten years later you’ll barely remember them and will have had plenty of time to get deep in the weeds with math and stats. Or you could have just tried going to a purer engineering school. My wife went to RPI and somehow got away with taking video game design and photoshop as her humanities courses while doubling up EE/CE.

    • > general education requirements in higher education

      Us thing.

    • Anonymous says:

      On one level, I understand the complaint. I really do. As an engineer, it can seem like required humanities courses are fluff. That being said, it’s usually a self-fulfilling prophesy. The humanities courses that STEM majors take are fluff because STEM majors look to take fluff courses for their humanities requirements. I can’t tell you how many people I know who told me all about how they found the absolute easiest courses to fulfill their humanities requirements. Meanwhile, I took challenging courses that I thought I could learn something from.

      With that backdrop, it seems as though we could go two different routes. We could go the easy route of just not requiring humanities courses (…which would render many STEM students even worse off when they try to engage with anything even slightly outside their domain of expertise) or we could write the humanities requirements in a way that forces students to actually work on something and build skills/knowledge that are meaningful. I’ll wait for a load of attacks on this latter path before commenting any further.

    • Held in Escrow says:

      I’m all for increasing the gen ed requirements and taking away courses like “math for people who still count on their fingers.” Being able to understand the basics of economics, history, and English are really important for being a well functioning citizen otherwise it makes you far easier to get caught up by good sounding yet bullshit rhetoric.

    • Anonymous says:

      All right, I’m sore about this at the moment.

      I go to a tech school. They have a confusing and somewhat arbitrary set of general education standards, involving separate but interlocking requirements for courses designated ‘communications’, ‘humanities’, and ‘social science’.

      I am in favor of liberal-arts education! I have a broad range of interests and above-average rhetoric and writing ability! I loved my freshman philosophy course, and I don’t even like philosophy! I would like nothing better than to fill up all available time in my schedule with the many interesting classes not needed for either of my STEM majors, including a substantial number of non-STEM courses.

      And I can’t, of course—they don’t qualify. Either they’re not the right kind of liberal arts (the required first-year humanities course has effectively locked me out of all the history courses I’d like to take), or they’re upper-level classes I can’t take without their prerequisites—and because everybody in the school has to take two or three of about four intro social science courses, the quality of instruction is abysmal. I took “Research Methods in the Social Sciences”, in the hope that it would involve a lot of spirited arguments about confounders, from a professor who understood neither research (repeatedly assigned papers he either had not read or had not understood), nor society (was surprised to learn that you can be arrested without being charged), nor science (did not understand the difference between significance and effect size).

      Unless the intro economics wait list opens up, I will be taking intro psych next semester. I have seen my classmates’ coursework for intro psych. I will get an A, and it will make me die a little more inside.

      In conclusion, bureaucracy sucks

    • 27chaos says:

      I’m sympathetic to the notion that pursuing a broad education is a good thing, but I don’t think what schools deliver deserves to be considered broad. I want to round myself on my own time, in ways that I think are important. “Roundness” usually is anything but. My school had minimal math and science requirements, but required multiple shallow courses on ethics and literature; these requirements made me less rounded, since I know a lot about ethics and literature already but was less able to rectify my math and science deficits.

      I also think if someone isn’t adequately rounded or prepared to be a good citizen or whatever by the time they’re entering college, that’s a problem with our high schools and should be fixed at that level. Only one third of the population makes it to college in the first place, and interventions to fix society should probably have broader targeting. Also, a college class or two is unlikely to broaden people’s interests in any way that lasts, so requiring them serves no purpose except signalling virtue.

  40. Big Valley says:

    “But kind of excited about the San Franscisco [sic] Bay Area extending into the Central Valley; they could use the extra building room and it’s not like the Central Valley people were doing much with it anyway.”

    I’ll just assume you meant “it’s not like the Central Valley people were doing much with it anyway, that probably couldn’t be done just as well elsewhere.” 😉

    • Randy M says:

      I’m going to assume it was tongue in cheek, since after his water-you-doing-California post, he surely has an idea of the agriculture in the valley.

      Also, doesn’t San Francisco have very strict land use and zoning laws that somewhat artificially drive up apartment/home prices in exchange for more open space?

      • meyerkev248 says:

        It’s not even open space.

        2/3rds of the city is zoned for single-family housing. If say, the average high-rise replaces 5 homes with 200 apartments, then you could get quite a lot of open space out of in effect letting people build mid-rises, and then NOT have to live out in Antioch/Brentwood/Tracy/Stockton.

        Yes, there’s definitely land preservation and open space and all that, but since most of that is reasonably questionable mountains that I’m not really sure how you’d run large quantities of infrastructure to, there’s really something to be said for in effect banning new houses on the really pretty mountains and instead building lots of apartments on Caltrain/BART.

        The failure mode is that they’re doing land preservation AND low-zoning (There’s probably a term for this, but I don’t know what it is).

        • Mark Atwood says:

          The failure mode is that they’re doing land preservation AND low-zoning (There’s probably a term for this, but I don’t know what it is).

          Well, back when I was hanging out with some muni growth / zoning wonks, they called it “the San Francisco problem”.

  41. g says:

    That income-versus-standardized-tests thing surely can’t tell us anything about what happens at the individual level (whether “the SAT just tests how rich your family is”) because they look only at income and test results aggregated by county.

    Also possibly concerning (but I haven’t looked carefully enough to know how concerning): it looks as if they did several different regressions, adding in more independent variables until they found a set of independent variables that made the coefficient for “average income” come out very small, and then stopped. Their earlier regressions all had that coefficient large and highly significant.

    Also worth noting: this is an undergraduate research paper. Of course that’s perfectly consistent with its being excellent in every way, but it doesn’t get as much benefit-of-the-doubt as one might give if it were a paper published in a high-quality journal by known experts.

  42. eponymous says:

    Nobody tell the protesters about Lynchburg, VA.

  43. NN says:

    Is the 1 meter figure the global average, or specific to one location? [The ocean is not flat](, and a regional fall may be part of a global rise.

    • I’ve wondered about that. How much of the difference is the ocean not being flat, and how much of it is the land subsiding or rising?

    • roystgnr says:

      Predictions of climate change induced sea level rise are all global averages. Reports of “sea level rise” *try* to be global averages but may be subject to measurement bias.

      Sea level rise vs. the Central Valley is not just a problem of global averages, though, its the same problem as New Orleans: land subsidence is easy to induce when you build on a delta where the very definition of “land” is a little foggy.

    • Tom Scharf says:

      There is a difference in predictions of GMSL (global mean sea level, satellite altimeters) and RSL (regional sea level, basically tide gauges). The IPCC and so forth mostly make predictions of GMSL and only say RSL will vary based on many factors, subsidence and so forth.

      The satellite altimeters show a lot of the sea level rise occurs out “in the middle of nowhere” and the coasts rising slower.

      What matters to society is RSL, not GMSL, and as far as I can tell RSL is rising at ~2 mm/year and GMSL is estimated at ~3mm/year. I haven’t figured out this conflict yet and I couldn’t find it in the IPCC Chapter.

      What seems important is whether there are signs of acceleration of sea level rise. There are of course differing opinion here, but if we were to get to 1M by 2100 it needs to change by 3x tomorrow and stay there to reach this plateau. In any event not much is expected to happen in the next several decades.

      I am a bit wary of “the knee of the curve is 25 years away but we must take (my preferred) action today” arguments. It is a bit dishonest to highlight areas that are having major subsidence problems such as Bangladesh as poster children of climate driven SLR.

  44. S. Franc says:

    As somebody who (with a little shame) has worked teaching SAT and ACT classes for a big test-prep company, I’d be surprised to hear that there was absolutely no correlation between parental income and test performance. In my experience the gains were modest – maybe 100 points or so on the 2400-point scale or worse – but the kids almost always got some improvement for their parents’ 700 bucks.

    So I looked at the study, and turns out it doesn’t have anything to do with SAT scores; instead, it’s about state achievement tests that measure what students have learned in school rather than aptitude tests like the SAT. Not saying the SAT is a good test – it isn’t – but this study doesn’t say anything about it one way or the other.

    • Adam says:

      Yeah, I did that too, and posted a comment higher up before reading yours. The greatest improvement I ever had was a full 600 points. Our course was pretty intensive, though. It was eight weeks, hours a day, most of the summer, with nightly homework and demonstrating work on the board the next day, and it cost over 7 grand.

    • Anon. says:

      You make the implicit assumption that income relates to test prep. It doesn’t:

      This is also worth skimming:

      Also, interestingly, test prep reduces racial differences.

      • Adam says:

        It’s hard to tell what that article is supposed to be teaching us when it’s behind a pay wall and the abstract says:

        Despite significant national attention to test prep, we know little about who participates—apart from emerging research supporting popular opinion about income inequalities in access to prep classes and tutors.

        That sure reads as if higher income does in fact lead to a higher likelihood of taking classes that cost extra money (the ‘popular opinion’), yet you seem to be saying it does not.

        • Deiseach says:

          Well, if the study says “paying for private tutors and grinds won’t get your little darlings extra marks” then that would be an interesting result and a heck of a lot of grind schools would go out of business 🙂

          (Emphasis mine in the following quote)

          For 47 years, The Institute of Education’s Christmas Intensive Revision Course has been preparing students for their Leaving Certificate and helping them to improve their exam grades.

          So this is all ballyhoo? Income has nothing to do with test results, you can’t buy improvements by paying for Ava and Carson to do extra study after school and on weekends?

        • Deiseach says:

          The likelihood of prepping increases for each grade, with 42% of 12th graders but only 8% of 9th graders participating. Black non-Hispanic students are more likely to participate in test prep, and there are also significant interaction effects of race and grade level on prep, with black 11th graders having the highest predicted probability of prep.

          Okay, that is something that we need to read the full article for. You could say it is likely that black students go to schools that are so bad, parents get them extra tutoring to make up for it, or that parents who have ambition and aspiration also engage in getting extra tutoring to make sure their children succeed in getting into college. If you’re convinced a college degree will get your child a better life and more opportunities than you had, you might well push hard on education.

  45. Jiro says:

    Supposedly although the 1950s did have big tax rates, they also had high usage of loopholes which meant that in practice the tax rates were not that high.

    • Orphan Wilde says:

      Effective tax rates barely shifted at all; the high tax rates largely existed to reinforce the existing class structure, as the upper classes knew how to avoid those taxes, whereas potential upstarts would not.

      The big thing was that many tax deductions were worth more than they cost. (For a nearly-modern example, cars being donated being worth their original MSRP for tax deduction purposes, rather than their current value or even purchase price).

  46. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    Ozy’s post reminded me of Eliezer Yudkowsky’s reaction to carving table legs: I could see myself donating enough money to save one child, maybe, if it would help me feel like a hero and have something nice to think on my deathbed. But not 37.

    • Deiseach says:

      Mmmmm. I can see his point about carving one hundred and sixty-two thousand, three hundred and twenty-nine table legs – I think I’d be running out of enthusiasm myself around Number One Hundred 🙂

      But equally, the dismissive “I could see myself carving one table leg, maybe, if it was something new to teach me” reminds me all too much of a family member asking me why I was re-reading a book: “But you already know how it ends!”

      There are people who can spend their lives carving table legs, painting pictures, making jewellery, cooking meals, embroidering, and other tasks. Maybe the five-hundredth Yorkshire pudding they make teaches them nothing new about making Yorkshire puddings that they didn’t learn when they attained the absolutely perfect Yorkshire pudding recipe at their thirtieth go making one. But they can still enjoy the process, and particularly consuming the result 🙂

      Just as it is possible to re-read a book more than once and to enjoy it even when you know “how it ends”, it is possible to enjoy carving more than one, ten or even fifty table legs. For a start, there is nothing there to say those 162,329 table legs are all identical in pattern or technique or material or tools used.

      • Acedia says:

        I can’t believe you missed an opportunity to quote Chesterton.

        Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony.

        It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.

    • FacelessCraven says:

      @Jaime – “Ozy’s post reminded me of Eliezer Yudkowsky’s reaction to carving table legs…”

      …from reading the first part of that, I’d hazard a guess that neither you nor Eliezer have ever tried your hand at woodcarving. I have. It is not particularly hard to imagine enjoying the two hundred thousandth table leg as much as you enjoyed the first, any more than it’s hard to imagine enjoying the 200,000th painting, or the five billionth brush stroke. you and he (and perhaps the author he quotes) are letting the numbers blind you to the actual experience of the doing of making. You are doubtless familiar with the concept of speedrunning a videogame, and why this is something that people find pleasurable to both perform and watch. Consider that speedrunning SMB1 is many, many, many orders of magnitude less complex of an experience than carving a chair leg. If you think a well-executed run through world 4-2 is fun, just imagine what a perfect cut with a good chisel is like.

      audio-visual aides:

      Apologies if I sound like john sidles here. I very much think the linked passage, and even the greg egan text he quotes, is falling victim to sloppy, reductionist thinking. Humans can find it pleasurable to walk the length of the Amazon, and painful to walk to the mailbox. Boredom is, to a very great degree, a mixture of choice and habit.

      …And to get to your actual point, I am fairly sure that as the NES is to table legs, table legs are to actual humans. Perhaps that is just sentimentality on my part, but I rather think not.

  47. dndnrsn says:

    On the Noahpinion piece:

    While he’s added it in an edit at the end, it seems odd to me that he says there’s more theory, jargon, etc in the humanities than in social sciences. It would be interesting to see how he divides the two. While some fields in humanities (literary criticism, for instance) are heavy on theory, some fields (a lot of history, for instance) have a lot less of the sort of thing he’s criticizing.

    What he’s writing about – language that looks like it came out of the Postmodernism Generator – is something I would associate with literary criticism in the humanities (that’s where it originated, I think?) and anthropology and sociology (especially fields relating to gender, race, and sexuality) in the social sciences.

    • Deiseach says:

      In the piece of jargon quoted, I did find some germ of a meaning, even if it was draped in the requisite terms of art (“I conclude too with the provocation”? Urgh!) After all, when we speak of “the urban” or “urban living”, what exactly do we mean by that? Take the Bay Area, which is the Happy Home of Aspiration for the budding techno-rationalists on here 🙂

      Part of the appeal there is notional, the idea embedded in the concept of the “urban” – but meaning what? What immediate impressions or connotations arise when we contrast urban versus rural (and if “Blue Tribe versus Red Tribe” leaps to mind, that is part of it too). The tension between the idealised rural past and the equally idealised urban modernity of Bengal, referenced in that “spectacular final paragraph”, is a very pertinent question for “how should we live?”

      Even if the urban evokes reactions of “Theatres! Museums! All the latest hip’n’happenin’! Cocktail parties with sophisticated people! Universities! Modernity!” as the positives of urban as contrasted with rural, nobody thinks of “urban living” as “expensive bedsit beside noisy, dirty alleyways where you have to travel via public transport to your mid-level office job in the city centre or, increasingly nowadays, industrial parks on the outskirts of the city” which is much more likely to be the reality of urban life for the majority of people not important, wealthy, or famous enough for high-end modern design penthouse life 🙂

      Then you still have the tension between the “leafy groves of Academe” and “cutting-edge research” in the very idea of the university as signifier of urban modernity.

      I was amused how he took a jab at the humanities for meaningless jargon and academic BS but the sciences were different, because they use maths when generating dense paragraphs of technical jargon 🙂

      • Adam says:

        Just to be clear on what he was doing, he was positing that humanities professors use indecipherable gibberish as a barrier to entry preventing amateurs from achieving credibility in their field, in the same way economists use math as a barrier to entry, even though extremely successful empirical models largely do not require it. It was meant to be disparaging to both, not just to critical theorists.

        • My friend and colleague Gordon Tullock used to refer to “ornamental mathematics,” meaning math included in economics articles whose only function was to demonstrate the mathematical sophistication of the author.

      • dndnrsn says:

        I suppose I’m just sticking up for the humanities – I am, of course, biased, but impenetrable pseudo-scientific jargon is something I tend to identify with particular social sciences (and lit crit in the humanities – and I have no particular loyalty to lit crit).

        I realized at one point in grad school that for-professors-by-professors articles and books in the field I was studying were often more readable than low-level stuff in some social sciences.

  48. Joshua Falk says:

    I don’t think your description of the SAT study is really a fair characterization of the result. All the study did was run a linear regression with four highly correlated predictor variables, and found that income was not significant in that regression. But the high degree of collinearity makes it very difficult to reason about individual predictors. The study has extremely low power, such that even if income and education have equal effects, it still has a decent chance of finding no significant effect of income (1 in 4 chance in my admittedly crude model below). If income has one-third the effect of education, we would expect not to see it come out significant in the model.

    The following R code implements a crude estimate of power by using the correlation values from the original paper, but the coefficients were arbitrarily chosen as 1 for marriage and education, 0.1 for race (since it seemed to have a small effect in the paper), and the coefficient for income is up to the user. All predictor variables are just standard normals. The error term is also a standard normal, which was initially chosen out of convenience but gives similar R^2 values to the original paper, so I doubt it’s too far off from the actual error variance. Anyone should feel free to make the set-up slightly more faithful to the paper, but I think it’s good enough to give a sense of the problem.

    statistical_power <- function(effect_size) {
      n_samples <- 36
      Sigma <- matrix(c(1,0.7416,-0.0813,0.3356,0.7416,1,0.1142,0.5630,
      n_iter <- 500
      hits <- 0
      for(i in 1:n_iter) {
        predictors <- mvrnorm(n_samples,c(0,0,0,0),Sigma=Sigma)
        data <- data.frame(score_avg=response,race_white=predictors[,1],house_married=predictors[,2],
        data$score_avg <- 0.1*data$race_white+data$house_married+data$edu_collegeplus+
        x <- summary(lm(score_avg~.,data=data))
        if(x$coefficients[5,4] < 0.05) {
          hits <- hits + 1
      power <- hits/n_iter

  49. The Anonymouse says:

    Assuming the “ineffectiveness of fat-shaming” study is true:

    Anyone got any solid theories on why fat-shaming is ineffective, while in the US, cigarette-shaming has been quite effective?

    • dndnrsn says:

      @The Anonymouse:

      No actual evidence here, but thoughts:

      1. It is much easier to present cigarette smoking as something that directly harms other people, by second-hand smoke – being significantly overweight at most harms others indirectly. Further, laws and regulations regarding second-hand smoke (against smoking indoors, against smoking near building entrances, etc) have made being a smoker inconvenient: it is unlikely laws will be passed against eating unhealthy foods in restaurants.

      2. What is an unhealthy food? Nutrition science seems to be much less clear than the science about the health impact of smoking, or at least, of cigarette smoking. Do you shame someone for eating a lot of sugar, potatoes, white rice, bread? Or do you shame someone for eating a lot of meat, cheese, butter?

      3. The choice between cigarettes or no cigarettes is much starker than the choice between healthy food and unhealthy food, beyond the question of what food is healthy and what is unhealthy. “Don’t smoke, it will kill you” is a lot less complicated than “don’t eat unhealthily, and don’t eat too much, it will kill you”.

      4. Food is more linked with comfort due to childhood associations. Few people would seek comfort in a cigarette, just like Mom used to roll.

      • Randy M says:

        Amusingly enough, my brother recently said that he likes the smell of cigarette smoke due to his mother and (a different) brother smoking when growing up.

        Also, it is possible to quit smoking cold turkey. But not eating. (Although you can eat cold turkey. And you can eat smoked turkey.)

        • Deiseach says:

          Funnily enough, I hate cigarette smoke for that reason. My parents smoked (my father was able to give it up, my mother never could, and it killed her) and my grandmother smoked, so I’m used to the smell of smoke and it disgusts me.

          Probably why I never picked up the habit and was never tempted by it – I thought cigarettes stank and the idea of inhaling this foul-smelling reek into my lungs nearly made me throw up.

          Though oddly, I do like the smell of pipe tobacco, which is much more fragrant even in the block or leaf than cigarette tobacco.

      • Deiseach says:

        Deep fried potatoes taste a lot nicer than deep fried cigarettes 🙂

    • Adam says:

      It’s probably easier to instill the shame in potential smokers before they start smoking. Potential fat kids catch a sweet tooth before they can even form permanent memories.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Diminishing marginal returns. Cigarette-shaming arrived abruptly and the effects are obvious. Experiments only show the effect of small changes in the level of fat-shaming around a high baseline.

      Added: The effects are obvious only if you know history. I am talking about the first wave of cigarette-shaming c1970. You can also see diminishing effects in the efforts since then. Urstoff, Adam, and dndnrsn give examples of people putting lots of effort into cigarette-shaming, but that is because they have exhausted the low-hanging fruit.

    • Urstoff says:

      It’s probably actually easier to quit smoking than to lose weight. There is no weight-loss equivalent of nicotine gum.

      • dndnrsn says:


        I wonder if that’s true.

        Initial thought: it’s clearer how to quit smoking (there seem to be 2 options, taper down or go cold turkey), while there are so many methods as to how to lose weight, involving both diet (High fat? Low glycemic index? Low carb? How often to eat, when to eat, what to eat when, etc.) and exercise (How often? How long? Weights? Low-intensity cardio? High-intensity cardio?).

      • Randy M says:


      • Mark Atwood says:

        There is no weight-loss equivalent of nicotine gum.

        There is. Speed pills. You used to be able to buy them OTC for weightloss. I remember seeing them advertised on TV in the 1970s.

    • Mike says:

      No one is taking fat shaming far enough.

      When the fatties have to out in the cold to have their snack breaks at work, can’t eat inside with their friends at bars, and get hassled for taking up too much space in a public line, then maybe we’ll see some real progress.

    • God Damn John Jay says:

      Gladwell claimed that widely distributed antidepressants made smoking for self medication less common.

      I thought it intuitively made sense, and made even more sense when I noticed how many Asian students (2nd generation immigrants largely high achiever under incredible stress) used them. It became even more intuitive when I noticed how family and acquaintances in elite programs took up vaping.

    • Protagoras says:

      There are so many differences. Some have already been pointed out; related to one of dndnrsn’s points, but perhaps not quite the same, it can be much easier to just not do something at all than to do less of it, as bright line rules are easy to follow. But another one I imagine is quite important is that the smoker immediately escapes shame as soon as the smoking ends, whereas the fat person has to keep up a practice of diet/exercise for a long time before there’s any change in the amount of fat shaming they’ll be subject to. Instant gratification is often more motivating.

  50. aesthete says:

    “very high taxes on the rich, big monopolistic corporations that were really cozy with the government, and a heavily unionized workforce – actually worked really well, but we can never go back to them because *mumble*”

    If I can substitute my own bit for that mumble, being one of the only economies not horribly mangled by WWII might have something to do with that. IIRC, Sweden briefly had the 4th-largest GDP in the *world* after the war; having to rebuild the world with less people made for a special circumstance.

  51. gattsuru says:

    Conventional wisdom: openness to experience is associated with being less prejudiced. New study: openness to experience is sort of like non-conformity, and it is associated with being less prejudiced to unconventional groups but more prejudiced towards conventional groups. I feel like I might have had a blog post sort of like this a while ago.

    While less well-sourced, this discussion brings this blog post to mind. It’s very important to remember that the label-for-a-thing isn’t the same meaning as the-thing-in-itself, and a lot of labels-for-a-thing select names based on desired affect than what makes most sense to you.
    ((Even more interesting take-away from that blog post: even someone with a fairly strong academic background can easily misread a significantly reported survey and study to pick a weak problem in the study, rather than the more serious issues.))

    … no, disabled people do not become just as happy as non-disabled people after they adjust to their disability (original study). Time to go find the nearest blackboard and write I WILL NOT BELIEVE SURPRISING YET HEARTWARMING THINGS WITHOUT CHECKING A PRIMARY SOURCE a hundred times.

    Yep. There’s some evidence of a hedonic treadmill, but it very very clearly doesn’t apply for disability — it, unemployment, and chronic disease all very reliably have serious long-term negative impact on happiness.

    Fame without fortune: YouTube celebrities are getting millions of hits, get mobbed by fans when they go outside, and are still living paycheck to paycheck or working day jobs as waiters and cashiers.

    This is interesting, though it’s a little hard to tell how novel things are, or whether we’re just recognizing ‘celebrity’ at a lower level. A popular local musician would be in the same boat back in the 1950s, just that we’d talk about performing at a dozen clubs instead of “hundreds of thousands of subscribers”.

    That said, there probably is something under it, between dropping costs of purchase and increasing interconnectivity.

  52. youzicha says:

    The inverse of “beating up men until they divorce”: Groom kidnapping.

  53. Hal Johnson says:

    Lord Macaulay, who was prone to weird bouts of hating things when he wasn’t being super-tolerant-for-a-Victorian (he couldn’t stand William Penn, for example), had a lot of bones to pick with Francis Bacon. In his essay (“Lord Bacon,” which is worth reading in its entirety), Macaulay accuses Bacon of judicial corruption, being one of the last Englishmen to (legally) torture a countryman, and, essentially, the betrayal and murder of a friend.

    “The moral qualities of Bacon were not of a high order” is a typical Macaulayan understated opening to a thorough evisceration. “The difference between the soaring angel and the creeping snake,” he goes on, “was but a type of the difference between Bacon the philosopher and Bacon the Attorney-General, Bacon seeking for truth, and Bacon seeking for the Seals.”

    So what I’m saying is, if Macaulay was right (he wasn’t always), the contradiction between Bacon’s teachings and their real-world neotheosophist application, may be an extension of the contradictions he embodied in life.

  54. Held in Escrow says:

    On the Youtube celebs: I feel bad that they get mobbed at their place of work, but otherwise the whole article is summed up when they say they’re too proud to put up a donation button, Patreon account, or other hipster welfare mechanism. The solution to your problem is right there; don’t get pissy that people call you a sellout (because, just like almost everyone in the entertainment industry you are one and that’s nothing to be ashamed of if you keep some level of quality control), just put up ways for people to give you money.

    Granted, I’m not really a big consumer of youtube celebs (I believe that site is for low quality music streaming and film trailers generally) so I don’t have much sympathy here, but there’s a reason that HWMs have taken off so well in recent years. People who are invested in your content can show that monetarily; it’s the basic whale method of making money.

  55. Deiseach says:

    protesters want Lebanon Valley College to rename Lynch Hall (named for ex-college-president Clyde Lynch) because it reminds them of lynching

    Producing new generations of educated ignorance.

    Re: the metformin study. That was surprisingly reasonable. I say “surprisingly” because I went in expecting either a foam-flecked rant on how drugs will make us live forever! list of “items you should be ordering off dodgy websites and consuming in industrial quantities and to hell with the FDA saying this will make your liver explode” or an equally ranting attack on the kinds of fools who believe you can live forever by taking industrial quantities of chemicals.

    My apologies to Gwern 🙂

    Re: Sir Francis Bacon – I have no sympathy for him because he was a hard-nosed political operator in the Elizabethan and later the Jacobean courts, which if not quite the snake-pit the court of Henry VIII had been, were still not a vicarage tea-party either.

    Re: sea level rising – it would need to go up by 7m before I would have beach-front property 🙂

    you have to eat 93 cups of lettuce to get the caloric equivalent of an ordinary serving of meat

    Which is why people eat meat in the first place – you don’t have to spend all day grazing in order to get enough calories to live.

    • Vaniver says:

      Note that lettuce is particularly nutrient-poor. I’ve eaten enough sweet potatoes to get my daily calories a few times, and while it’s not a fantastic experience I could live that way. Rice and beans are also reasonable, as are (unsurprisingly) regular potatoes.

    • stillnotking says:

      I don’t eat meat, and I consume the standard 3 meals a day, occasionally only 2. Very little snacking.

      Legumes have about the same caloric density as lean meat, and bread/pasta/etc. have much higher. (“Bread makes you fat?!”) It was pretty silly of them to compare lettuce with meat; that’s clearly apples and oranges.

      Also, I hate lettuce. Arugula is OK.

  56. Urstoff says:

    Should have done the vegetarian study with tofu/soybeans instead of lettuce given that that tends to be the primary source of protein.

  57. Deiseach says:

    Have a poem:

    What Then?
    by William Butler Yeats

    His chosen comrades thought at school
    He must grow a famous man;
    He thought the same and lived by rule,
    All his twenties crammed with toil;
    “What then?” sang Plato’s ghost. “What then?”

    Everything he wrote was read,
    After certain years he won
    Sufficient money for his need,
    Friends that have been friends indeed;
    “What then?” sang Plato’s ghost. “What then?”

    All his happier dreams came true –
    A small house, wife, daughter, son,
    Grounds where plum and cabbage grew,
    Poets and Wits about him drew;
    “What then?” sang Plato’s ghost. “What then?”

    “The work is done” grown old he thought,
    “According to my boyish plan;
    Let the fools rage, I swerved in naught,
    Something to perfection brought”;
    But louder sang that ghost, “What then?”

    I have been grumbling (mildly) over on Tumblr at Ozy and others over EA, because it strikes me that there is little follow-up. Great, you’ve crunched the numbers and determined mosquito nets are the most wonderful thing in the known universe, so you donate to a mosquito net charity.

    But what next? Once – hurrah! and I mean that sincerely not sarcastically – people in a small lakeside village are not contracting malaria and their kids are not contracting malaria, what do you do next? Sure you can keep on donating to malaria net charities (there are always more places still malaria-ridden) but once the people have been helped to avoid malaria, what do you do for/with them? There seems to be this assumption that no malaria and then *mumble mumble* happy well-off people, but while poor and hungry and malaria-free is definitely better than poor and hungry and sick with malaria, maybe charities that help with the “poor and hungry” part (development aid that works with the locals, not imposes outside notions on them of what they need) which don’t score as high on the number-crunching for “most QALYs” as malaria nets also need support.

    Ozy replied to me that development was hard, and I agree. But if it’s going to be more and more and more cases of malaria nets getting delivered to your small lakeside village, never mind that people are asking “Hey, maybe we could have fishing nets instead?” – well, “What then?”, sang Plato’s ghost.

    I see people scourging themselves into agonies of scrupulosity over not being able to donate every penny to GiveWell recommendations or pledging 100% to Giving What We Can, but my fear is that EA could devolve into a means whereby it is the donors that derive most benefit, because they have the warm glow of virtue (re-inforced by “this is a scientific method of deciding what the most effective method of donating is, unlike all previous charities which were less effective and more emotional-reaction driven”) and if malaria nets are Most Life-Saving By Our Metrics, then malaria nets it is (never mind if the locals don’t want malaria nets, or re-purpose the malaria nets for fishing because they are trapped by short-term need to earn income which means they neglect their health in order to get money for other necessities or even things they want that are not necessities) – you’re not going to ask the locals what they want/need, as you have the results given to you by an independent body doing really scientific mathematical measuring that This Thing Is The Best Cause.

    • Orphan Wilde says:

      I’m not really into the EA thing, but… well…

      Repeat after me: If I want to engage in Effective Altruism, I will engage in Effective Altruism. If I don’t want to engage in Effective Altruism, I won’t go around telling everybody how sometime in the future Effective Altruism won’t be effective anymore and this therefore justifies my not participating in it right now when it is.

      • Adam says:

        I don’t think her criticism is wrong in the abstract, which is to say if every charitable person in the world actually gave to the same single cause, it would just overwhelm that cause and ultimately not achieve much as every other piece of the puzzle got starved out. On the other hand, that isn’t happening. The justification for giving solely to AMF is basically the justification for littering. Sure, it’d be horrible if the entire world did it, but they’re not and I’m not a Kantian.

        • Linch says:

          Wait…what exactly do you mean by “littering?” Because I’m pretty sure a single person littering is also bad.

        • Orphan Wilde says:

          GiveWell, at least, sets funding caps on donations. But that is beside the point; her argument wasn’t that a given charity could be overfunded in a given year, her argument was that, after a given problem was already solved, EA would keep pushing the same solution anyways. (Once malaria is fixed, the villagers would want fishing nets, and EA would keep sending them malaria nets, because… reasons?)

          • Linch says:

            Yeah I’m really confused about the line of logic as well.

          • Jeremy says:

            “But that is beside the point;” I don’t even think it’s besides the point. Givewell explicitly calculates the benefits of marginal donations, and that’s exactly the reason why they have funding caps. So, no, the idea of donating to already serviced causes (not just already serviced organizations) is already explicitly addressed by the people doing EA.

          • Deiseach says:

            Okay, the example everyone (including Scott) trots out about EA is malaria nets. Save a child! Save thirty-seven children! Save gazillions of lives measured in QALYs with malaria nets!

            But if you look at GiveWell’s page, and dig a tiny bit in, after their #1 rated charity being AMF, they admit that, um, actually when they did some follow-up they’re not entirely precisely sure it’s able to use all the money it’s getting:

            Major unresolved issues include:

            * Though we now have increased confidence in AMF’s ability to find new partners and countries to work in, there is still significant uncertainty as to its ability to scale up.
            * AMF has completed only five large distributions, the type it aims to focus on in the future. Additionally, it has only worked with two different distribution partners on its large distributions. Its track record of collecting the data it seeks from these distributions is good so far but limited due to the small number of distributions. Many of the distributions AMF hopes to fund are in countries where it has never worked, which may present unforeseen challenges.
            * Recently, AMF has been slower to share documentation from some distributions. We believe this documentation is important for monitoring the quality of AMF’s distributions.
            * The best evidence for nets was collected before they were widely used and there is some evidence that mosquitoes have since adapted to the insecticide used in nets, possibly making them less effective. Further research is needed to determine how important of a problem this may be. We discuss this issue in more detail in our page on this topic.

            Now, while I’m glad GiveWell are re-evaluating their recommendations, still on the front page, AMF is Number One with a big orange “donate” button longside it.

            How many people who are getting the ” become an EA! sign up to the pledge! use GiveWell! commit to 10%!” message are going to be satisfied with the simple notion that “Well, all the smart and ethical people are telling me malaria nets are the thing and GiveWell is the way to find out the most effective charity, and GiveWell recommends AMF as Number One so I’ll bung AMF some donations on a regular basis. Sorted!”?

            I rather fancy quite a few are likely to do that. So that’s part of what I’m saying: don’t just take the mantra of malaria nets as the be-all and end-all. Consider things not on the Top Four that are not getting the “You can save 37 lives!” treatment, like water and education and infrastructure and small markets and the like.

            And EA should – if it is not already – be keeping a closer eye on flexibility. Maybe it is flexible but that is certainly not the impression I am getting.

            You’re all clucking at me that GiveWell/EA is conscious of marginal donations and funding caps and the danger of pushing the same solution, but that’s not what I’m seeing on GiveWell’s front page (big attention-grabbing orange donate button) or the EA supporters pushing malaria nets all the time 🙂

            I would say, based on GiveWell’s own evaluation, consider another malaria net charity than AMF for the time being or indeed another type of charity altogether.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            Deiseach –

            If that’s the best argument you have to offer, well, my job is done here.

      • Deiseach says:

        Repeat after me: If I want to engage in Effective Altruism, I will engage in Effective Altruism. If I don’t want to engage in Effective Altruism, I won’t go around telling everybody how sometime in the future Effective Altruism won’t be effective anymore and this therefore justifies my not participating in it right now when it is.

        And now brethren, let us all turn to page sixty-three in the hymnal and join in a rousing chorus of

        I’ll give where I want to give
        I’ll give to whom I like
        I really don’t care a damn
        About guilt-tripping rationalists
        Telling me they’ve cracked the problem
        Of how to donate charitably
        I’ll give where I want to give
        I’ll give to whom I like
        Just stop telling me
        10% or I’m a murderer

    • sptrashcan says:

      I feel like you’re being a bit unfair here. As I understand it, GiveWell takes into account the possibility that eventually money put toward a particular purpose stops being useful, and specifically looks for charities where there’s a long way to go before that point is reached. And their recommendations are not etched in stone, but can change from time to time as the measured benefit of any particular charitable effort decreases. Trying to get somewhere by going in one direction forever is not going to work, but I don’t think that’s what’s being recommended either.

      > you’re not going to ask the locals what they want/need, as you have the results given to you by an independent body doing really scientific mathematical measuring that This Thing Is The Best Cause.

      First, I agree that any proposed measurement of effectiveness that doesn’t at least take into account the advice of the people whose lives you’re trying to improve, or check the actual effects of what you’ve done, is not a good measurement. But one of the other GiveWell-recommended charities is Give Directly, which is basically “we find some really poor people, and then we give them money, and they buy whatever they want, and then we ask them if that helped and how much.” Does this meet your objection?

      Edited to add: I do agree that nobody should be making themselves miserable about not donating enough to EA-approved charities – but also, nobody should be making themselves miserable about not donating enough to non-EA-approved charities. Really, nobody should be making themselves miserable, and I for one am willing to grant everyone dispensation to not be miserable about their charitable giving levels.

      That said, I do plan to give some money to Give Directly, because I want to help people, and because I trust poor people to use money effectively.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        To be honest, I simply think Deiseach has a gut objection to the whole concept of using reason to plan one’s actions. “We murder to dissect” and all that.

        Now, I’m against altruism as such, or utilitarianism, or any creed that tells you that you don’t have the moral right to live for your own happiness. But I’m not against the fact that, having a goal, people desire to implement it efficiently.

        • Deiseach says:

          I’m not against the use of reason per se but I am very resistant to something being shoved down my neck on the basis of “This is reason, this is better than traditional charities because we’re rational, we don’t operate on sentiment” when oh yes the hell you do, you’re engaging in emotional blackmail guilt-tripping arm-twisting: “over the course of your working life if you donate X money you can save the lives of 37 children”, with the heavy implication being if you don’t give to this one particular charity you are responsible for the avoidable deaths of children, you heartless monster.

          EA promotion is a little too self-satisfied that it has cracked the problem of best use and best results and that it is smarter than the average bear. I think there are a lot of avoidable pitfalls that it could stroll right into simply because it thinks it is doing something new, something better, and something the past was too dumb to think of.

          • Tibor says:

            I share the impression of the overall atmosphere around the EA, actually even about the rationalist community. When I read something from Yudkowsky, if feels like reading Nassim Taleb, including the various made-up terms the rationalist community uses almost like a tribal identifier (I recognize that it is useful to sometimes say “this catchy phrase means that 5 page argument from that article”, but it still feels strange if you standardize it like the rationalist community does, this, and calling a series of essays “Sequences” is probably what makes people conjure up the cult imagery…having a list of “rationalist virtues” to follow just seems plain silly to me). The narcissism is more subtle, or maybe it is not narcissism at all but it is again this style of “listen to me, I know how things are done and I am o so wise”.

            All that said, the arguments actually are often good. I think your and mine distaste with the form is mostly a question of style, but the content may still be worth it. I think the reason at least I dislike it is that if it is framed in the way “this is the most rational think to do”, it paradoxically might make a lot of people stop thinking about the arguments and questioning them (and I know that probably the rationalist people stress out that this is exactly the opposite of what you should do, but if you build up the “holy aura” around yourself at the same time, it does not help). It also makes the rationalist look pretty smug (again here I see similarities between Taleb and Yudkowski), even though one of their ten stated virtues is humility.

            So it is definitely bad if someone reveres the GiveWell as a the ultimate authority on what they should give and follows that without thinking. It might be the case of some people. It does not mean that GiveWell is bad per say. The best way is to read what they have to say and then decide by yourself. I think a lot of what they have to say is at least worth considering but I do not agree with 100% either.

            On the other hand, if a charity refuses to supply data for evaluation, it is something to be a bit concerned about. There could be sensible reasons for doing that I suppose, but also many more reasons that would make me not want to donate to that charity. I don’t think that GiveWell not rating someone based on that should automatically mean “never these guys”, but it is an argument against them. If there are better arguments for them, then go for it.

            I mostly use GiveWell as a filter because I think that while there may be good charities they do not rate, or do not rate well because of their chosen criteria which do not 100% meet mine, I can be pretty sure that those that they choose as their top 5 or “other notable charities” are ones that do something that is probably sensible and also do it well. It is one (although quite a strong one I think) argument for a charity when the GiveWell choose it to be among the notable ones (and one should of course always read why they do so, and generally look at them more closely than “oh, they are the 1st in the GiveWell list”), there might be stronger arguments for something else. If someone who tells you that “you are wrong because you are supporting a charity that is not in the GiveWell’s top 5” and that is his only argument against your charity, then that someone is doing the thinking wrong.

    • Tibor says:

      Even if I assume “everyone gives money to malaria nets charity” as a premise (I don’t think it is a true assumption – for one, I like a lot, although not all, of the EA ideas and I don’t give anything to malaria nets – instead I give money to GiveDirectly, partly for the reasons included in your post – I feel like it makes more sense to just find the people who are completely miserable and have 1000 problems that can be drastically improved with a bit of cash and let them decide which ones they see as the most pressing), I think that you are making a serious error at one point – the EA people also try to research how much funding potential the reviewed charities have. So, if everyone in the developed world suddenly starts buying malaria nets so that everyone in Africa now has one and also a fancy one for Sundays, the GiveWell people will say (actually probably a little bit before that happens) something like there does not seem to be more funding potential for this charity and so please support these other charities here which also do a great thing and now that malaria is not such a pressing concern, their contribution is more reasonable. I am a bit skeptical about “QALYs” too by the way, although I have not researched them properly enough to have a definite opinion on them.

      But I think that particularly the GiveDirectly charity is very robust in terms of “do these people need exactly that”? Having more money is always better (citation needed) and I think it is not that hard to identify the people who are most miserable and just give them the money so they can figure out for themselves what makes them the most miserable (observing how they use the money is also good for feedback and for perhaps improving the method of choosing the most worse off). It could be that people would rather buy fishing nets than malaria nets (I am also a bit skeptical about saving lives this way because it could be that they are simply lost during the next famine, partly caused by them surviving in the first place…so maybe it could be better to help people get over the famine danger first and then try to deal with malaria – but best to let those people decide for themselves, I think). But if you just give them money, they buy what they think they need, which is likely to be what actually is the most useful thing for them. It is not impossible that I know better what is good for you than you do, but it is not very likely. Especially if I come from an entirely different culture and have no actual experience with your daily life.

      So, to summarize, there might be a case to be made against Malaria nets, but it is much harder to make a case against something like GiveWell as a whole, because the idea that is is just a group of people who say “according to our calculation, Malaria is the biggest problem in the world, everyone spend all your charity money on against malaria foundation!” is a caricature or at least a gross oversimplification of what the thing really is.

      • JBeshir says:

        The deprioritising of AMF in fact has already happened once; I’ve tended to donate to SCI, because at the time I got interested in EA, GiveWell had deprioritised AMF because they weren’t convinced AMF could do more with more funds.

        They just came back up in priority now they have ability to distribute more widely.

      • g says:

        In at least one earlier discussion on SSC, Deiseach has raised the “wouldn’t it be awful if everyone gave to the AMF so that there was nothing left for any other cause” argument and it’s been pointed out (by me and others) that organizations like GiveWell explicitly consider room for funding and have in the past deprioritized AMF on exactly those grounds. This appears to have made no impression.

        Other objections Deiseach has raised against GiveWell in the past: (1) GiveWell just pick whatever charity they think will do most to improve the world, rather than having more specific principles; (2) GiveWell have a pet cause, namely anti-malaria nets, and are plugging it despite not having good reason to think it’s best. Astute readers may possibly detect a little tension between these two objections. (And between #2 and reality, if they happen to have read any of what GiveWell folks have written about their selection of charities.)

        My impression is not quite the same as that of Vox Imperatoris who thinks she just objects to trying to make decisions rationally; I think Deiseach sees an organization saying “we’ve thought about this very carefully, and we think you should do X” and immediately feels “how dare they tell me what to do??!!?” and casts around for any possible objection.

  58. Andrew says:

    I went from giving nothing to giving some to taking the GWWC pledge this year due to ideas presented by you and Kelsey. Keep up the good work.

  59. ThrustVectoring says:

    >If this goes through I wonder if pharma companies will shift their research to whichever country has the quickest approval process.

    The obvious governmental response is to shorten the drug approval process in order to compete for pharmaceutical research. Given that drug approval times are currently far too long, this seems like a major win.

  60. willy says:

    Does anyone have any links to articles or book recs that discuss categories of IQ (verbal, mathematical, spatial) and personality traits (as measured by the Big 5) and what occupations they correlate with?

    I’m someone with a reasonably pointy (very high verbal, high mathematical/logical, above average spatial) IQ who is looking for career advice that is at least somewhat evidence-based.

  61. Anne Onymous says:

    Also related: Sea level rise simulator. Plugging in the actual expected sea level rise for 2100 (0.5 – 1 meters) is pretty unexciting on this scale. But kind of excited about the San Franscisco Bay Area extending into the Central Valley; they could use the extra building room and it’s not like the Central Valley people were doing much with it anyway.

    I, too, would be excited about SF getting flooded off the map

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I feel like this kind of comment should not be acceptable here. Not kind, unnecessary and not even particularly true.

      • Richard says:

        Also, they didn’t even click the link. SF is quite hilly, and other than SoMa and Bayview, it looks like water doesn’t move in by more than a block or so unless you get into the double-digits of meters. My house seems to be above-water even in the 60M scenario. It’s the central valley that ends up in trouble here.

  62. Alraune says:

    >These programs – including very high taxes on the rich, big monopolistic corporations that were really cozy with the government, and a heavily unionized workforce – actually worked really well, but we can never go back to them because *mumble*.

    Too lazy to scroll through and check if this is a repeat, but *mumble* = “America’s unprecedented-in-all-history global dominance in production capacity.” You wanted a TV postwar, you needed to either buy it from America or build your own TV factory. And if you wanted to build your own TV factory? You were buying the factory from America too.

  63. Chris Conner says:

    On the environmental impact of vegetarian diets, both the press release from Carnegie Mellon and Erik Marcus’ response on are crap. And of the two, the response is by far the crappier.

    The press release is crap because it tries to make a point about a vegetarian diet when a vegetarian diet was not even considered by the study, and also because it highlighted the technically-true-but-spurious point that lettuce is much worse than bacon in greenhouse gas emissions on a per-calorie basis. But at least the press release gave some idea of the study’s findings: switching from a typical American diet to a diet that follows USDA health recommendations results in more GHG emissions, energy use, and water use, even after lowering total calorie intake. A misleading headline and emphasis on an irrelevancy are about typical for a press release, so this is just the normal kind of crappiness you’d expect.

    The response on, on the other hand, focuses entirely on the spurious bacon-vs.-lettuce claim, and somehow concludes that this is the entire basis of the study. A glance at the abstract and the freely available supplementary information shows that this is not true. Nothing that Marcus wrote suggests that he even looked at them, much less read the entire study. (You’d think if he had looked, a writer for would have pointed out that diet scenario 3, which follows USDA guidelines at lower calorie levels, still gets more than 14% of its calories from meat, poultry, and seafood, and over a third from all animal sources combined.) This is dumbness piled on dumbness.

    And the study itself? It’s available here, but I’m not willing to splash out the 40 bucks to read it, so I have no idea whether it’s crap or not.

    Disclosure: I have been a vegetarian for a couple of decades but I have never been a vegan.