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Links 3/16: Rulink Class

New research: toxoplasma’s effects on cats and animals are as creepy as ever, but it probably doesn’t affect human behavior.

New drug nilotinib looks very promising for Parkinson’s disease, may clean up proteins associated with death of dopamine-producing cells. Good news: drug is already approved for cancer and so can be used off-label. Bad news: drug costs $10,000/month.

Vox has a pretty good article on Silicon Valley Democrats. Historical point of comparison: Theodore Roosevelt.

The Atlantic highlights the 1996 Dole/Kemp Campaign Website and the 1996 Clinton/Gore Website. Fricking Clinton/Gore ’96 launched a popup that tried to install Norton Antivirus on my computer. That’s a little more nostalgia than I’m ready for right now.

Ben Goldacre et al’s crusade against outcome switching in clinical trials: “So far, they’ve checked 67 clinical trials. Of those, nine trials were perfect. But among the ones that weren’t, they found 301 pre-specified outcomes were never reported and 357 were silently added.” Related: once the regulatory agencies required that pharma companies pre-register their trials, the positive finding rate dropped from 57% to 8%.

Latest meta-analysis finds homeopathy is effective for 0 out of 68 illnesses. Encouraging after some previous less rigorous studies got some unfortunate false positives in this area.

Wikipedia’s Special: Nearby gives you all the Wikipedia pages about places close to you. I got my local district library, but maybe people who live in more interesting places will get more interesting articles.

Asian cop shoots black victim in high-pressure situation. Black community protests that not imprisoning the cop would be racist against blacks. Asian community protests that imprisoning the cop would be racist against Asians. It’s almost as if turning every incident involving a minority into a morality play about racism can go wrong.

Contrary to previous results, a new study suggests that calorie labeling does make people lose weight, especially men.

Brookings: Declining fluidity in the labor market probably not due to changing population or increasing regulation, possibly due to changes in companies and decreased social trust.

Weird Sun Twitter is now a card game. Warning: card game might not actually be playable, relationship with Weird Sun Twitter unclear.

Nathan Robinson: Sanders would be uniquely good at campaigning against Trump, Hillary uniquely bad at it.

Popehat combines strong free speech advocacy with a strong insistence that private censorship is disanalogous to public censorship – something I sort of argued against here. Now blogger Ken White clarifies and gives a little more subtlety on his position: “I’m increasingly convinced by the argument that [Twitter] has decided to offer a product aimed at a specific political group…[but] I classify Twitter’s action as bad customer service and as private speech I don’t like because of my conservative views…at least I thought those were conservative views. I mean, how can you argue that a bakery shouldn’t have to make a gay marriage cake, but Twitter should have to offer a platform to someone they think (not unreasonably) is a total douche?”

Some good science/statistics blogging about a recent paper against the paleo diet.

Status 451: What Is Neoreaction? Definitely one of the more helpful introductions in this genre, by which I mean it doesn’t obsessively focus on being as controversial/offensive as possible to the exclusion of everything else. Note that the term is still banned in the comments section here, so discuss it over there if you have to.

One plank of Obamacare penalizes hospitals if patients get readmitted with the same disease too quickly after being discharged. There was a lot of concern that this would lead to hospitals fudging things or even going as far as refusing to readmit patients who need it. A study in NEJM finds that the program seems to be going well, that readmission rates are genuinely down, and that it isn’t a result of hospitals cooking the books.

Jeff Kaufman: buses are 67x safer than cars. They’re also underused, partly because they’re annoying, partly because of safety features. There is room to trade off bus safety for bus convenience, which would make people take more buses, which would actually make them safer in the long run. Therefore we should make buses more dangerous.

Futility Closet: 1/a long series of 9s with one 8 in it gives you a decimal representation of the Fibonacci sequence, for some reason.

Gambler’s fallacy in decision-making. Just as a gambler who’s had a long string of losses might be more likely to expect a win next time, so a judge who’s had a long run of innocent people will be more likely to find the next person guilty.

Change of heart: journalist who reported Minnesota county was the worst place in America to live has now decided to move there.

Reddit: what’s the next big thing in terms of trends that will shape our future? Suggestions include lab-grown meat, organic plastics, and CRISPR.

Eroom’s Law – a straight-line, Moore’s law style relationship showing that the average pharmaceutical company dollar buys fewer and fewer new drug discoveries over time. Reason unclear but possibly involving lower correlation between the models on which the drugs are tested and real human bodies.

Interesting weird post-modern papers and articles: World Toilet Day is an example of neocolonialist white supremacy, evidence-based medicine is an “outrageously exclusionary…example of microfascism at play in the contemporary scientific arena”, and geologists need a feminist glaciology framework to make sense of “the relationships among gender, science, and glaciers”.

Despite my concerns to the contrary, generic drug prices are going down.

Big reputable poll of Florida residents finds 10% of them believe Ted Cruz is the Zodiac killer. But remember Lizardman’s Constant. A good thing to keep in mind next time someone finds a poll that says 10% of Donald Trump supporters support drowning puppies or whatever.

How to communicate securely with people on LSD through messages that sober people would not be able to read, just in case for some reason you want to do that. Related: exceptionally weird short story/essay/something-or-other about consciousness.

Pacemakers work better than placebo pacemakers, but placebo pacemakers still work pretty well.

80000 Hours: a summary of the literature on whether money makes you happier. Short version: a little!

When nativists start building walls, migrants start building battering rams. I hope this escalates to moats and trebuchets.

An interesting and balanced piece on unemployment benefits. Finds that extending unemployment benefits does make people submit fewer job applications, but that very fact means decreased competition and greater ability for people who want to go back to work to do so! As a result, extending unemployment benefits doesn’t increase unemployment much.

A lot of people here talk about the Griggs vs. Duke ruling that bans IQ tests in a job interview, but for some reason police can still get away with only accepting medium-IQ people as cops. Bonus: court case is a high-IQ guy angry at being rejected for the force; court tells him to take a hike.

Scientific American: John Horgan interviews Eliezer Yudkowsky. I thought it was a really well-done interview, great answers from Eliezer, and really funny comment from Eliezer’s wife Brienne.

doubleblinded.com is a sort of supplement company that will send you both real and placebo supplements and everything you need to perform a randomized controlled trial on yourself to see if the supplements really help you. Sure, you can probably do it cheaper on your own if you really try, but maybe having someone else take care of the trivial inconveniences will encourage this sort of thing.

Scientists have identified over 20% of the genes involved in autism. I didn’t realize we were that far along with understanding any kind of massively polygenic trait like that.

Lithium: still the best treatment for bipolar disorder.

Study: given identical patient descriptions, therapists were twice as likely to diagnose boys as girls with ADHD. Obvious relevance for all those claims like “Men/women are X times more likely than women/men to have such and such a psych disorder”.

A lot of people ask – is eliminating tropical diseases just band-aid charity? Won’t it just mean more people survive a little longer to be starving and diseased and need help later? The answer has always been that eliminating diseases improves people’s health, employment, education, and possibly intelligence, with lots of positive effects down the road. Here’s a good example: huge economic gains and human capital increases from America eliminating typhoid.

During the Holocaust, Protestants were more likely to rescue Jews in majority-Catholic areas, and Catholics more likely to rescue Jews in majority-Protestant areas. Maybe being a minority makes you more sympathetic to other minorities or less willing to go along with the government in general?

This month in the media: “caucus moderator in Nevada requests neutral translator” becomes “caucus moderator shouts ‘ENGLISH ONLY’ at Hispanics” becomes “Sanders supporters shout ‘ENGLISH ONLY!’ at Hispanics” becomes “Sanders himself attends caucus in Nevada to shout ‘ENGLISH ONLY!’ at Hispanics”. H/t @freddiedeboer, who did good work publicizing this as part of his “media is shilling for Hillary” special interest.

Having a disruptive student in your class decreases your adult earnings by 3%. One possible reason for private school advantage is that they can reject these students or keep them in their own special classes/groups apart from the kids who actually want to learn without getting yelled at. Taken at face value, this is a pretty strong testimonial to the power of education – apparently education is so important that even one variety of disruption to it can seriously impact your adult earnings.

But related: “Cross‐national data show no association between increases in human capital attributable to the rising educational attainment of the labor force and the rate of growth of output per worker. This implies that the association of educational capital growth with conventional measures of total factor production is large, strongly statistically significant, and negative…educational quality could have been so low that years of schooling created no human capital.”

Related-ish: at least in Sweden, starting school before age seven is not helpful and in fact is likely harmful. 2016 presidential candidates react by vowing to triple the budget for Head Start.

When Medicaid stopped covering Planned Parenthood, relevant pregnancies increased 27%.

Google Deep Dream (you know, the AI image filter that creates weird dog-shoggoth mixes out of everything) can be applied to videos now. Unfortunately, they were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.

There’s been some discussion on the subreddit about a 2006 Sampson et al study finding that neighborhood effects explain a lot of crime disparities. But a recent Sariaslan et al study finds that neighborhood effects on crime disappear once you control for genetics. And Jaap Nieuwenhuis finds the neighborhood effects literature to be riddled with publication bias and questions whether the effect exists at all. What I want to know: are neighborhood effects by definition shared environmental effects? Does that mean the whole behavioral genetics literature is telling us they’re not real?

Widely-read econblogger converts to Christianity and goes full creationist. Interesting look at how a self-described rational economist can end up believing some pretty unusual things.

Some fierce infighting in psychology as a Harvard/UVa team including Daniel Gilbert and Gary King denounce the OpenScience project and the replication crisis it highlighted as bogus (paper, popular article). They have two main arguments: first, the “replications” were so different from the original studies that different results are unsurprising; second, that because of the way statistical power and confidence intervals work, OpenScience finding only 40% of studies replicating is consistent with 80-90% of the studies being correct, and in fact another replication attempt that found 85% replication rate would have said only 40% of its studies replicated if they had used the same (incorrect) statistical methods as OpenScience. But the pushback from psychologists and statisticians defending the existence of a replication crisis has been intense and highly convincing. Here’s a 45-author paper published in Science saying that “Gilbert’s very optimistic assessment is limited by statistical misconceptions and by causal inferences from selectively interpreted, correlational data” – but as usual, all the interesting stuff is on random blogs. Brian Nosek on RetractionWatch explains how Gilbert at al seriously exaggerated some of the differences between original studies and replications to the point of absurdity; The 20% Statistician says that “the statistical conclusions in Gilbert et al (2016) are completely invalid”, and The Hardest Science finds that Gilbert’s example of the the 85% replication rate dropping to 40% because of poor methods involves completely inappropriate cherry-picking of metrics. I admit my bias here but AFAICT the Gilbert paper is looking pretty questionable and the replication crisis seems as real as ever.

Very much related: a new very large study of ego depletion finds the effect does not exist. This is a pretty big deal: since its inception, almost a hundred studies have found evidence of ego depletion, and it’s become an entire subfield of psychology with people investigating all the different factors that make it stronger and weaker. If the whole thing just doesn’t exist and the entire literature about it is a mirage, that’s really damning. A Slate article on the issue very kindly links my review of Baumeister’s book where I raised some of these concerns last year. Neuroscientist and ego depletion expert Michael Inzlicht writes an intense soul-searching essay: “I have spent nearly a decade working on the concept of ego depletion…I’m in a dark place. I feel like the ground is moving from underneath me and I no longer know what is real and what is not”. He adds that he suspects his other research area of stereotype threat may be heading in the same direction, and says that “During my dark moments, I feel like social psychology needs a redo, a fresh start.” Some more discussion on Beeminder forums.

Also related: peak-end effect fails to replicate.

Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Jeb, Trump, Trump.

If these aren’t enough links for you, wettrew on the SSC subreddit is collecting his own links roundups.

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1,052 Responses to Links 3/16: Rulink Class

  1. Daniel says:

    I wrote an article about what probabilistic thinking tells us about resting athletes in both the NHL and NBA (influenced by one of Scott’s articles BTW).

    I thought this community would appreciate it.

    http://danfrank.ca/when-should-a-team-rest-their-goalie-or-scratch-their-stars/

    After sharing the article, I was really shocked to find out how many smart people I know that don’t accept/comprehend probabilistic thinking. Even people who work in sport analytics professionally and routinely engage in forecasting. I now believe that despite being so intuitive and such a simple thing to learn, that most people don’t view the future as being probabilistic (which is incredible unfortunate in light of how much it improves our thinking and forecasting).

    Im curious to hear if anyone else on here has any stories that suggest people do or don’t think probabilistically.

    • Jacobian says:

      Yep, sports are an area where people are notoriously horrible at optimizing outcomes using simple math. I wonder if it’s related to the horrible abuse of probabilities in sport cliches like “We have to win all of the 50-50 balls!” and the evergreen “We need to give 110% out there!”

      • sourcreamus says:

        One thing he missed in the NBA late game scenario is LeBron being fouled in the act of shooting. If you foul him outside the 3 point line, you give him three free throws and a 33% chance of winning the game. If you foul him inside the line then you risk him hitting the shot and giving him a free throw to win the game.
        In theory it should be easy to foul him either not in the act of shooting or hard enough inside the line to make him miss. But in practice the refs are absurdly generous about calling continuation and LeBron is incredibly strong and can shrug off most foul attempts on drive.
        In the NFL scenario it is known that Andy Reid is a great coach for the first 28 minutes of a half and an awful one the last two minutes.

    • 27chaos says:

      You use statistics about the overall performance of teams across the season to make an argument about why teams should not rest specific players. That seems really weird and likely flawed to me. You’re using ideas in ways that seem inappropriate. Trying to interpret that blog post is like listening to a foreigner botch English’s grammar and totally failing to understand what they are trying to say. Maybe I am just being an idiot here though.

    • suntzuanime says:

      It’s not clear to me what your argument is for why resting a good player has an equal impact on win-EV regardless of the quality of the team you’re playing against. If, for example, the enemy team is composed of Monstars from outer space, it seems like your win% is going to be 0 no matter what you do, so you may as well let your good players rest.

      • Daniel says:

        You’re right. In a theoretical model, with talent discrepancies that large, the situation you highlighted can arise. However in the NBA, all teams are within a reasonable talent level, making this non-applicable

        • suntzuanime says:

          If the discrepancies are smaller that means the change in impact is smaller, not that it doesn’t exist. Your argument relies on it not existing.

    • Phil says:

      That’s an interesting blog post, do you want to defend it a little bit?

      from a mathematical point, you’re obviously right, sitting Duncan vs Raptors or the Sixers doesn’t change your expected win total over the two games

      but that analysis sort of works on an unlimited sample size, sports are sort of distinct in they work on a limited sample size (it only seems like the NBA season goes on forever)

      if you working on a sample size of 2, it seems like playing him against the Sixers improves your odds of winning ‘at least’ one of the those games, but lowers your odds of winning ‘both’ of them, while playing him against the Raptors does the inverse, raises your odds that you’ll win both, but also increases the odds that you’ll lose both

      it seems like you’re changing the variance, but not the overall expected wins

      am I wrong?

      ———————-

      if I’m not wrong, it seems like you could actually do a lot with this (trading variance between games)

      for example, a few years ago the Spurs rested all their starters against the Heat

      http://espn.go.com/nba/story/_/id/8692304/san-antonio-spurs-sit-4-top-5-scorers-vs-miami-heat

      that looks, to me, a lot like trading variance away from one game they were likely to lose anyway towards, towards different games they had a better chance to win

      ———————-

      for someone who doesn’t write about sports, I’m amazed at how much Scott’s writing impacts my thinking about sports (I should do a better job of documenting examples of this)

    • Anonymous says:

      I think the Sixers example is a bad one, because the spurs would probably still have very good odds of beating them if they played Boban Marjanović at the point.

    • Deiseach says:

      The only sports-related maths I am aware of at the moment is all the jokes about the coefficient after Paris Saint Germain knocked Chelsea out of the Champions League.

      I still don’t quite get it after the explanation but never mind: the important thing is that Chelsea lost 🙂

    • Alex Trouble says:

      I agree with the assessment that maximizing variance when behind is the right move. Similarly, if you have to beat a much better team, you want to try all your crazy strategies in the hope that something works (note: that’s if your goal is to win. If your goal is to improve, the opposite holds).

      “Having a linear relationship between team quality and wins means that any change in team quality will always have the same impact on wins and losses, no matter how good or bad the team initially is.”

      First, I would argue that “team quality” is by definition wins, since wins are valued before point spread, as the author clearly demonstrates later in the article. That’s nit picking though, since there is a real problem: There seems to be an unstated assumption, that “benching” a starting player reduces your chances your differential equally against good and bad teams. If your starter scores a lot less against good teams than against bad, you lose a lot more percentage benching them against a good team.

      • Chalid says:

        I agree with the assessment that maximizing variance when behind is the right move. Similarly, if you have to beat a much better team, you want to try all your crazy strategies in the hope that something works

        this also explains why losing political campaigns often end up doing stupid-looking stuff.

      • Daniel says:

        Well, a starter is likely to be better against bad teams than good teams because… well, they’re bad. But there is no evidence (and evidence to the contrary) that NBA players are disproportionately good against bad teams.

        If there was evidence of this for certain players, it certainly would be a relevant factor.

    • Daniel says:

      sorry for the late responses everyone. I got sick in a third world country and was without access to a computer (and a clear head). I’ll do my best now to respond to everyone.

      Thanks for your support and feedback.

    • Manpanzee says:

      You are assuming that the relationship between point margin and winning percentage is linear. However, the more popular models (for MLB and NBA alike) hold that the relationship is non-linear. Check out the pythagorean expectation model here:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pythagorean_expectation#Use_in_basketball

      I set up a simplified analysis, holding points allowed constant at 100 and varying points scored. Here’s the results for points scored and expected winning percentage:

      120 — 93%
      115 — 87%
      110 — 79%
      105 — 66%
      100 — 50%
      95 — 33%

      For an extreme case like Warriors vs Sixers, you might have an expected point margin of +20, giving something like a 93% win rate. If you were to rest a key player, dropping your expected point margin by 5, your expected win rate would fall to 87%. That’s a decrease of 6 percentage points.

      For a closer case like Warriors vs Thunder, you might have an expected point margin of +5, giving something like a 66% win rate. If you were to rest a key player, dropping your expected point margin by 5, your expected win rate would fall to 50%. That’s a decrease of 16 percentage points.

      Under this analysis, it’s easy to see that resting players in very uneven match-ups has a smaller impact on win % than resting players in more evenly matched situations.

  2. Caturin E says:

    “Sugden et al. examined the Dunedin Longitudinal Study, a sample of over 1,000 people born in New Zealand in 1972-73 and followed up from birth. Sugden et al. tested the participants blood samples, taken at age of 38, for antibodies against T. gondii. Of 837 people who gave blood samples, 28% tested positive, indicating that they were infected with the parasite.

    “Toxoplasmosis was not associated with any personality traits, nor with rates of schizophrenia or depression. There was also no evidence that was linked to ‘poor impulse control’, e.g. criminal convictions, driving offenses, and accident claims on insurance. The one possible exception was that suicide attempts were more common in T. gondii positive people, but this difference was only of trend significance (p=0.06). T. gondii also wasn’t correlated with IQ or other measures of cognitive performance, except on one memory test (the RAVLT, p=0.04).”

    What about liking the smell of cat urine? I thought that was one of the sensational results about toxoplasma.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Infected mice are attracted to cat urine, or at least lose their innate repulsion, but I’ve never heard it measured in humans. Breaking news: toxo makes chimps attracted to leopard urine 1 2 3. Oddly, it’s specific to leopards and not other cats. This is a big deal because it means that toxo has adapted to our close relatives and isn’t just pulling levers in our brains thinking that we’re mice.

      • Squirrel of Doom says:

        Or it means that the predator urine avoidance system has a common part in all mammals, even if the specific urine type detection is separate.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Mice are specifically attracted to cat smells, not uniformly to all predators. Wikipedia cites this article, which did the very narrow forced choice of cat vs mink, rather than mink vs neutral. So it is possible that infected mice are attracted to all predators, just not as strongly as to cats. But it is also possible that it is a narrow effect.

          I said that I had not heard that infected humans were attracted to cat urine. But if I had read the paper I cited, I would have found the citation to this article which found that it affects the perception of housecat urine. But there is a sex-specific effect: men have the expected effect and women the opposite effect. That is, infected women dislike housecat urine even more than uninfected women. The study include the urine of several species as controls, including tigers, but not leopards. So much for the cat lady theory. However, infected mice are attracted to several cat smells, not just urine. The sex-specific result (if it replicates) is definitely not what Toxo wants, so it sounds to me like it is not adapted to humans, but just trying its primate programming, to weird effect.

  3. Frog Do says:

    Not that I use it anymore, but the Twitter thing seems weird to me. One of the most famous things Twitter was used for was organizing revolts by certain subversive groups in certain nations, mostly concentrated in the MENA region, explicitly endorsed by the US government. I guess my question is more to what extent is private vs public even a useful distinction anymore in the United States, especially in tech industires?

    • merzbot says:

      The biggest difference is that the worst thing Twitter can do to you for breaking its rules is ban your Twitter account, at which point you can make a new account or go share your Hot Opinions on a different social media site. Governments can punish you much more severely. This doesn’t mean Twitter censorship has literally no consequences or is always okay, but it’s really not comparable to government censorship.

      • Frog Do says:

        “Twitter was used for was organizing revolts by certain subversive groups in certain nations”

        “the worst thing Twitter can do to you for breaking its rules is ban your Twitter account”

        Or, for a more common example, Twitter very easily allowed for highly coordinated harassment campaigns, doxing, etc.

        • Mary says:

          It’s one thing for Twitter to do things to you and another to do things that may facilitate people doing things to you.

          Especially since its Trust and Safety Committee appears to be a highly coordinated harassment campaign.

      • Adam says:

        The other distinction, and the one I believe Ken is trying to make, is Twitter has owners. Agents of those owners have the right to grant or restrict access to their property as they please more than a third party has the right to use it. The government has no such right. The government is not an agent of any particular private actor; it’s an agent of all its citizens, even those with horrible objectionable views and even those that hate the government.

    • TD says:

      The important distinction is big vs small, not private vs public. Big business tends to either be joined at the hip with the government, or take on government like scope just through its pure size. If everyone is on social media, and the company which runs the biggest network starts censoring of its own accord, then the effect on speech is very similar to government censorship. People might not be going to jail, but their ability to freely spread their message in public is being heavily curtailed.

  4. haishan says:

    The Fibonacci thing has to do with generating functions: 1/(1 – x – x^2) = 1 + x + 2x^2 + 3x^3 + 5x^4 + 8x^5 + …. 99999899999 (or whatever) is just 10^2n – 10^n – 1.

    The same trick works for other generating functions! For instance, 1/4999 = .0002000400080016… gives you the powers of two.

  5. E. Harding says:

    “even in a Republican Party primary where a large share of the electorate believes the sitting president is a Manchurian candidate engineered by the all-powerful Islamic Illuminati.”

    -Turned out to be way more correct than I thought back in Obama’s first term.

    Why a link to the Nevada results? Michigan voted. Shouldn’t that be the much bigger issue?

    And the Jeb! link is just disgusting.

    BTW, true facts: Donald J. Trump (Trump) and Bernie Sanders (Jew) won Dearborn, MI, by larger margins than they did the rest of MI.

    Either the Arab vote doesn’t matter, or most Arabs are Democrat (and are voting for a Jew), or Trump is winning over Arabs.

    http://cityofdearborn.org/images/DbnResults/EL45.pdf

    Meanwhile, half of Israeli Jews support expelling Arabs from Israel:

    http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/03/08/key-findings-religion-politics-israel/

    I am also doing links and political posts at the Marginal Counterrevolution. Seems appropriate on a links post.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Why wouldn’t Trump win over Arab Christians?

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      “Meanwhile, half of Israeli Jews support expelling Arabs from Israel:”

      Wow. I just can’t imagine why an Israeli Jew might support that. Absolutely no recent events come to mind.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Trump’s popularity with Muslims might come from the fact that he’s the only GOP candidate who’s taken a strong stance against randomly toppling the governments of Middle Eastern nations for fun. Arguably it’s kinder to just not send nations into bloody chaos to begin with than to send them into bloody chaos and then accept some refugees fleeing from the horror that their homeland has become.

      • E. Harding says:

        I wouldn’t call it popularity so much as “insufficient unpopularity to make any evident electoral difference”. Trump has taken a strong stance in favor of toppling the governments of the Middle East for profit, though (see his 2011 stance on Libya).

    • FacelessCraven says:

      @E. Harding – Aren’t you banned?

      • E. Harding says:

        From the Marginal Revolution (sorta), Noah Smith’s blog, and various other places. Not from here. I do admit to disagreeing with most, if not almost all, of Scott’s banning decisions, though.

        • TheAltarSublime says:

          Without getting into any of the details of the bannings or bringing up any of the issues related, what does it feel like to be banned from so many places?

        • Scott Alexander says:

          What did you do to get banned from Marginal and Noah? So far I haven’t even had to consider banning you, I don’t think.

          • Urstoff says:

            For MR, endless spamming of his own site (and now endless Trump boosterism spamming under a variety of pseudonyms). Tyler really should just remove comments altogether from MR.

          • E. Harding says:

            Urstoff is 180 degrees wrong. Again. I started spamming the MR with links to the Marginal Counterrevolution precisely because Tyler started deleting my comments. If Tyler stops deleting my comments, after nine days, the Marginal Counterrevolution shall close. The Trump boosterism (which also comes from Just Another MR Commenter, a truly fantastic guy) also post-dates my sorta-ban (Tyler never officially announced it anywhere; he just deletes all my comments and responses to them, regardless of quality). And I never use “a variety of pseudonyms”; in fact, my refusal to do so is what keeps my comments vulnerable to deletion.

            Why was I sorta-banned from the MR? I repeatedly called some dude a bad word. However, I promised to stop using all profanity on the MR after Tyler started deleting my comments, and have kept my word. I also (probably) commented too much. Art Deco and Nathan W were prohibited from linking to their own sites to encourage them to post less, as they apparently post too much for Tyler’s taste. The irony is thick.

            Noah Smith didn’t like my Saileran views on race, so he prohibited me from commenting on it (after I contested his decision to ban me entirely). Later, I exposed his childish behavior in his emails to me to the world, after which he just banned me entirely.

            I’m also banned from the American Enterprise Institute blog (probably for being too redpill on American foreign policy and race, though I didn’t ask) and Adam Lee’s blog (for Saileran views on race).

          • Ed says:

            There’s nothing ironic about a prolific blogger not wanting the same five misfits posting dozens of irrelevant and inane comments each on every single post.

            People with functioning shame reflexes understand my house, my rules ethos and don’t go on posting where they aren’t wanted.

            Finally, the bad word in question was going around calling everyone else ‘fag’ often as a single word response.

          • E. Harding says:

            Finally, the bad word in question was going around calling everyone else ‘fag’ often as a single word response.

            -Only especially inane commenters (by no means “everyone”). I felt it was all the response they deserved. Of course, I apologized to Tyler later.

          • Ed says:

            As part of growing up, most people eventually learn that ‘sorry’ isn’t a magic word that erases the past and heals all wounds.

          • E. Harding says:

            As part of growing up, most people eventually learn that ‘sorry’ isn’t a magic word that erases the past and heals all wounds.

            -Whatever. There were a bunch of things Tyler could have done that would have saved him a lot of labor deleting my comments. Like formally announcing I’m banned, stopping the deletion of my comments, or allowing only pre-approved commenters on the MR.

          • Anonymous says:

            The sheer fact that you decided the best way to protest a ban was to spam his blog kind of shows that it’s better off without you. Tyler has absolutely no responsibility to let you post on his blog, so why act like a completely twat when he decides you’re unwelcome for breaking the rules of decorum? He had no need to announce the ban and you should have realized you were unwelcome after he started deleting your comments

        • FacelessCraven says:

          my mistake, and apologies.

    • Alraune says:

      If Trump’s good to his word and is willing to break our demonic pact with Saudi Arabia, he will be the best president for Muslims, at home and abroad, in a century.

      But of course the Official Muslim Opinion consists exclusively of the voices of the professional rent-seeking class that screams about racism in exchange for appearance fees on news stations, so why pay attention to the voters?

      • hlynkacg says:

        Because voters are stupid and don’t know what the want, duh.

        In all seriousness though, I think the urge to make everything into identity politics leads a lot of people to underestimate these sort of things. I know at least 3 Arab-born Americans who are skeptical of the whole Syrian “refugee” mess, who would love to see the Kingdom of Saud taken down a notch. And while they aren’t exactly Trump they’d vote for him if the alternative is Hillary.

        • William O. B'Livion says:

          > Because voters are stupid and don’t know what the want, duh.

          Which is probably true, but presumes that the elites are *smart* and want what is good for dumb voters.

          Frankly not seeing that.

          (edited to add: Yes, I know you were being facetious)

        • Nebfocus says:

          >Because voters are stupid and don’t know what the want, duh.

          Maybe, but they seem to know what they don’t want.

    • nil says:

      “BTW, true facts: Donald J. Trump (Trump) and Bernie Sanders (Jew) won Dearborn, MI, by larger margins than they did the rest of MI.

      Either the Arab vote doesn’t matter, or most Arabs are Democrat (and are voting for a Jew), or Trump is winning over Arabs.”

      It’s a true fact, but just as meaningless as every other soundbite that has Trump winning some minority demographic in a GOP caucus/primary. Winning a majority or plurality of a very-non-randomized sample of a much larger whole doesn’t provide any important information, imo.

      Most recent polling has US Muslim party affiation at a 4:1 Democrat:Republican ratio and with 7% support for Trump. It’s from CAIR, which I am aware not all people find trustworthy, but it’s at least asking the right question from the right sample.

      • Deiseach says:

        That Nathan Robinson article is unconvincing to me, because he did not strike me as having a balanced assessment of both Sanders and Clinton versus Trump. It was pretty obvious he was a Sanders supporter, and while he did a good job of listing off how and what Trump would attack Clinton over, he merely brushed off the possibility of Trump attacks on Sanders with “There’s nothing there to attack him about”.

        Oh, really?

        she has never been subjected to the full brunt of attacks that come in a general presidential election. Bernie Sanders has ignored most tabloid dirt, treating it as a sensationalist distraction from real issues (“Enough with the damned emails!”) But for Donald Trump, sensationalist distractions are the whole game. He will attempt to crucify her. And it is very, very likely that he will succeed.

        First off, that statement that is not developed or mentioned anywhere else in the article – “the damned emails” – what emails are these? What dirt are the tabloids trying to dig up? And ignoring it won’t work as a long-term strategy, not when Sanders too has “never been subjected to the full brunt of attacks that come in a general presidential election”.

        Everyone has something they’ve done that was stupid at best, really shitty at worst. Everyone. Unless Sanders lived in a sealed box from the time he left college to the time he embarked on his career as a professional politician, he did something dumb in his life. And you can bet a good attack campaign will dig it up, put the worst possible spin on it, and leave it to Sanders’ team to handle it.

        Ignore it? Sounds like you (a) can’t rebut or deny it (b) don’t care enough about people’s opinions to answer their questions

        Answer it? Yeah, that’s the whole point of “And when did you stop beating your wife?” questions, because whatever you say runs the danger of getting you tangled up.

        Maybe a constant drip-drip-drip of silly little allegations doesn’t sound like a big deal, but having to handle every one of them, and the cumulative impression they leave in the public mind, is going to be wearing. Best thing the Trump side could hope for is one of Sanders’ campaign staff (the higher up the better) or best of all Sanders himself to lose his patience and react like a normal person about the final straw – yelling, angry, tripping over your words? Or telling people to shut the fuck up and not ask these questions?

        “And this (indicates red-faced outrage) is the guy who wants you to believe he can stand up to Putin/Syria/pick your choice “.

        I’m not saying Sanders is a better/worse choice than Clinton; I am saying that “Oh, pooh, Bernie can rise above Trump’s tricks!” is sticking your head in the sand.

        None of the sleaze in which Trump traffics can be found clinging to Bernie. Trump’s standup routine just has much less obvious personal material to work with.

        For a start: what job did you ever hold, Bernie? A real job that you earned a living at? No, I don’t mean the various things you tried while living off the support of your first wife – I mean a proper job like most guys who supported their families and didn’t go suckling at the public teat by getting an activist community organiser job. A career in student protests and then running off to Vermont to make “radical film strips” isn’t what most people call Real Work!

        Trump can’t clown around nearly as much at a debate with Sanders, for the simple reason that Sanders is dead set on keeping every conversation about the plight of America’s poor under the present economic system. If Trump tells jokes and goofs off here, he looks as if he’s belittling poor people, not a magnificent idea for an Ivy League trust fund billionaire running against a working class public servant and veteran of the Civil Rights movement.

        One note guy. Broken record. Can only talk about one thing and one thing only, and do his economics work out when you press him on it? (I’ve seen people questioning does he really understand how economics work or what exactly do his policies entail). Very easy to trip your guy up or get him contradicting himself when it comes down to “you have ten minutes to explain where you’re going to get all this free money”.

        Don’t think Trump will sound as if he’s belittling the poor/the working class if he makes jokes about Sanders’ policies; he could easily make them sound like the ivory tower fantasies of a guy who went from college into politics and never succeeded in the Real World (unlike me, self-made man who earned a fortune by my own efforts).

        Against Trump, Bernie can play the same “experience” card that Hillary plays. After all, while Sanders may look like a policy amateur next to Clinton, next to Trump he looks positively statesmanlike. Sanders can point to his successful mayoralty and long history as Congress’s “Amendment King” as evidence of his administrative bona fides.

        I’m wincing here. You really want your guy to stand up and boast “I’m the Amendment King!”? Really? This will only make him sound like a career bureaucrat and paper-pusher, and if Trump can’t rub it in that he’s a long-term Congress desk-wallah who doesn’t know what Real Americans in the Real World have to put up with, he’d be missing an opportunity handed to him on a silver platter.

        Yeah, that’s a slogan to fire up the blood: “Let’s all go out and vote for The Amendment King!”

        Sanders, by contrast, will almost certainly behave as if Trump isn’t even there. He is unlikely to rise to Trump’s bait, because Sanders doesn’t even care to listen to anything that’s not about saving social security or the disappearing middle class.

        And that is where Trump will steam roller all over your guy. Refusing to rise to the bait can be made to look like haughty indifference, that he doesn’t care enough to answer real questions put to him, that he can’t answer them so he won’t try. Banging on about social security and the middle class can be made to sound like “he only wants to hand over your hard-earned tax money to spongers and cheats” and “sure, all the lawyers and college professors want to vote for good ol’ Bernie, he’s one of them, but what about you, Joe Average, who work with your hands and work hard?”

        • Alex says:

          I also found Robinson unconvincing, not because I disagreed with any point in particular (or even read the whole thing!) but just because Sanders really is more leftist than Hillary, and political science says he will have a harder time winning a general election. I am not going to pay attention to arguments that Thing X is going to sway the election unless there is a track record of Thing X swaying elections in the past. Robinson did not seem to show that.

          It would be interesting to know if there is any betting market on a Trump vs. Sanders competition.

        • piercedmind says:

          Sanders saying “Enough with those damned emails” was not about diffusing an attack on him. It was about the whole deal with Clinton’s email server, and Sanders wanting to keep the telvesided debate on real issues rather than what seemed to him as the media trying to dick up some dirt on Clinton.

          • Deiseach says:

            Thanks for the clarification, piercedmind. I think I got confused because of some other article I read about Sanders and his campaign, where the writer said he asked a prominent Sanders supporter/campaign worker about something – there was some question about Sanders’ son – and he was told in a jokey-menacing way to drop it, leaving no doubt in his mind that he should drop it.

            I still think, though, that assuming Sanders can go on being high-minded and refusing to address what he does not consider “real issues” is not going to work the way Robinson thinks it will work against Trump. He may find it statesmanlike, being above such petty mud-flinging, but a lot of potential voters may find it “he can’t answer this/he thinks he’s too good to explain himself” and if that perception of arrogance/refusal to answer gets stuck in the public mind, it will make people think he’s likely to shove through what he wants as president, rather than what the public wants, and that means there’s no point in voting for him as “the people’s choice, the people’s voice”.

          • One of the interesting questions about both Sanders and Trump is whether the things that make them surprisingly successful in the primary campaign are things that only attract support in their party, or more generally. Pretty clearly Trump’s claim, which may well be true, is that the same things that make lots of Republicans vote for him will also make Democrats vote for him. I’m not sure to what extent the equivalent is true of Sanders.

      • Salem says:

        As was implied above, most Arabs in Michigan aren’t Muslim. There’s no contradiction.

        • nil says:

          I’m not saying there’s a contradiction, I’m saying there’s a non sequitur. Trump winning a demographic group in a GOP primary/caucus doesn’t mean he’s “winning over” that demographic so long as a very small proportion of them are voting in that primary caucus relative to the Dems. It was true in Nevada, when 7-4000 Latinos caucused for Trump (out of a total population of ~750,000) and prompted him to misleadingly claim that he was “winning” amongst Latinos, and it’s likely true here whether you’re talking about Arabs including Christians or Muslims in general.

          Trump has some wins, mostly pluralities, amongst the population of certain minorities that identify GOP strongly enough to participate in the nomination process. Good for him, I guess–but don’t try and tell me this is predictive of anything regarding the entire population of those minorities.

          • Deiseach says:

            The “Trump has surprising success among Evangelicals” is another thing that needs more examination. The impression most people seem to have is that “Trump is getting the backing of the Religious Right” which is very far from the case, if they bothered to ask any actual Evangelicals or those who know them.

            For the serious church-goers and the denominational leaders, Trump has no support. For the “cultural Evangelical”, that is, would identify as ‘Christian’ of a non-denominational kind, but isn’t associated with any church in particular and isn’t particularly devout or active, he’s picking up support – a figure I saw quoted as around 40% of the total ‘Evangelical vote’. The highwater mark of the Religious Right/Moral Majority is gone, and a lot of the stumping at churches is the same kind of lip-service politicians everywhere pay; a sizeable block of people are church-goers or vaguely religious, you turn up and canvass (politicians turning up at black churches is a big deal in this in the USA) and it shows you have “values” of a kind people can approve of, in a vaguely positive way.

            The ‘Evangelical vote’ Trump is picking up don’t expect prayer meetings in the White House, they see a guy something like themselves (yeah, he’s been married three times, so what?) who makes mistakes, backslides, isn’t the kind of goody-two shoes the minister would like, can’t quote the Bible word-for-word but isn’t a bad guy* and best of all, he annoys the hell out of the types who love to represent people like them as redneck illiterate, backwards, Bible-thumpers going around loaded down with guns, terrified of gays, and wishing for the glory days when they could lynch black people without criticism.

            *I’ve probably complained on here before about how so much of modern religious practice, especially when it comes to the idea of Hell, is “I’m a good person; sure, I have faults, but I never did anything really wrong” (where “really wrong” means something like rape and murder, and maybe racism and homophobia for the more liberal side) “And I don’t deserve to go to Hell and I’ll end up in Heaven because why not? I’m not a bad guy!”

      • E. Harding says:

        “Most Arabs are Democrat (and are voting for a Jew)” appears correct!

    • Deiseach says:

      BTW, true facts: Donald J. Trump (Trump) and Bernie Sanders (Jew) won Dearborn, MI, by larger margins than they did the rest of MI.

      Either the Arab vote doesn’t matter, or most Arabs are Democrat (and are voting for a Jew), or Trump is winning over Arabs.

      From a GetReligion post about the media coverage of Sanders winning in Dearborn:

      HuffPo then interviews young Arab-American voters – all 20 or 21 – who say they voted for Sanders for his plans for health care and free college tuition. They talk like this:

      Nasri Sobh, 21, voted for Sanders in neighboring community Dearborn Heights. He is Muslim, and is not particularly interested in Sanders’ faith.

      “It’s not relevant. That’s like the bottom of our list,” Sobh said.

      “We’re living in an environment that’s not friendly to Arab-Americans or those of the Islamic faith,” Yasmeen Kadouh, 20, added. “Saying that we don’t support Bernie because he’s of Jewish ancestry – that would be entirely hypocritical.”

      … Another flaw is that International Business Times and other media seem to equate Arabs with Muslims. (It does acknowledge that some are Chaldeans, or eastern Christians from Iraq; but the article pretty much acts like “they’re all alike.”) That’s an argumentative matter among the Detroit area’s 150,000 Chaldeans (and the Arab American News did run a long debate on the question).

      …The majority of Dearborn Muslims are Shiite, for example — but Shiite Muslims are a minority worldwide, representing less than 15 percent of the global Muslim population. Nationwide, Arab Christians represent nearly half of all Arab Americans; in Dearborn this proportion is much less. Dearborn is also made of a specific set of national identities, primarily Lebanese with smaller groups of Iraqis, Yemenis, and Palestinians. Furthermore, those Arab Americans who identify as either Shiite or Sunni Muslim are not themselves monolithic — like any people of faith, depth and manner of belief will show variation from person to person.

      … The HuffPo and IBTimes stories were amiss in one other way: Dearborn voters also chose Donald Trump. Yes, by a smaller number – 3,153 to Bernie’s 7,126 – but still remarkable when you remember that many articles substitute “The Donald” for “The Jews” as the objects of Muslim/Arab ire.

      But neither result proves anything either way about the Muslim vote, says Tobin Grant at Religion News Service. Simply because we don’t know what percentages of those who voted for either man were Arab or Muslim. Could be all, could be none, could be half, etc.

      “You can’t take overall percentages and infer how they were created,” Tobin points out. “It’s a classic problem that social scientists refer to as the ‘ecological fallacy.’ This is a fallacy [that] occurs when we use aggregate results (like election outcomes) to mistakingly (sic) guess about individual decisions (like how groups voted).”

  6. drethelin says:

    My big problem with busses is not the ride itself but the schedule and availability and whether they go to where I’m going. The one or two railroads along a route affect me FAR less than the fact that I can only grab a bus every half hour (depending on where I am), AND have to wait at the transfer. More busses would help all of these while keeping them just as safe.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Seconded. I would never go without a car in the Miami metropolitan area because waiting thirty minutes to an hour for the bus to show up is incredibly inconvenient, on top of extremely limited routes which require transfers and long walking distances. By contrast, I heavily used the buses at University of Florida because they came along every five to ten minutes and had routes connecting just about every location on campus. Granted, they were free for students, but I might well have bought a bus pass if they hadn’t been.

      • meyerkev248 says:

        This one. Headway trumps everything else.

        That train that comes once an hour is useless, especially if I then need to hook into a bus that comes once a half hour 20 minutes from now.

        /Also, um… run trains late. I’m debating skipping a concert I’ve been looking forwards to for months because my choices are “Spend hour-plus in traffic going 15 miles” and “$70 Uber home”.
        //Or option C: Spend $30 on ticket + $2.25 light rail + $8 Uber home in another city that you happen to be in to see the same concert.

    • Adam says:

      Does Jeff Kaufman live in San Francisco? It’s an extremely small city where bus travel is far less time-consuming due to the fact everything is close. No place I’ve ever lived has been like that, though, and bus travel was not practical.

    • DensityDuck says:

      It’s the old joke about how “if there’s a bus every half hour, then it’s always a half hour until the next bus”.

  7. whatnoloan says:

    The poll results say that only 10% of people actual answered “Yes” to the question about Ted Cruz being the Zodiac Killer, and 28% said they were “Not Sure”. So “38% believe” seems too strong.

    • Deiseach says:

      I don’t take that poll result seriously. Or rather, I don’t take the “Dear God, there are some dumb people in Florida who actually believe this” seriously.

      Given that the “Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer” meme started as a Twitter joke in 2013, I think there’s a very good chance a lot of the respondents were keeping the joke going.

      It is, of course, entirely possible some people do genuinely believe what they see in the media/online social media and have a fuzzy vague notion that this could be true, but I think it’s much more likely it’s people who don’t particularly like Cruz having a joke at his expense. Why would the pollsters even ask that question in the first place, save that they too thought it was a joke?

      • whatnoloan says:

        Oh, I had not realized this was a meme. I think what you’re saying makes sense — even when I first read the poll, the tone around Cruz being the Zodiac Killer felt jocular.

        Also, I love reading your comments! And I noticed you post a lot of them. Why do you think it is that you comment so often?

  8. Jacobian says:

    Re: replication crisis. Andrew Gelman has been writing a lot on this (spoiler: he’s totally on skeptic side), here are some of the latest. He also proposes a great way to think about replications: the time-reversal heuristic.

    Order of publishing shouldn’t matter at all in science, so imagine that the “replication” study actually came first and found zero effect. Then, someone comes along later with a slightly different methodology and a much smaller sample size and finds a p-value under non-preregistered conditions. If that was the case, no one would ever take the second study’s claim of a robust effect seriously. You’d think that either they lucked into significance through a quirk of the methodology or the analysis, or at most that the effect is incredibly fragile and much weaker than they found. If the only reason to privilege the original study is that it came first, that’s no reason at all.

    After being immersed in these stories for the past year, especially with the new issues like ego depletion not replicating, and seeing how easy it is to stumble into a false p-value even without malice, I have to agree with Gelman’s conclusion: 2016 is year zero, anything published in psychology or any field to the softer side of it before 2016 is suspect until replicated.

  9. drethelin says:

    These rational arguments for Christ are one of the more horrifying things to me, because they never hang together when I look at them but their existence implies my brain either already is or could at any time go off the rails of what I now view as sanity.

    claims like “The New Testament reads like an instruction manual by our creator in terms of its helpfulness in this world, consistency with healthful psychology, ethics, and economics.” are so ridiculous that I can’t imagine how someone who read any of the New Testament and had lived in the world could write them. And yet people have.

    • Frog Do says:

      I’ve found it helpful to think of this sort of thing as people speaking a different language, a sort of inverse of TLP’s “if you’re reading it, it’s for you” sort of deal. But then, I also wouldn’t disagree with “The New Testament reads like an instruction manual by our creator in terms of its helpfulness in this world, consistency with healthful psychology, ethics, and economics.” So I could just be a stark raving lunatic, but his argument is definitely filled with a lot of framing and language I immediately recognize.

      That said, I suspect a lot of these beliefs are there to sort of signal in-groupishness, so they are literally like a foregin language. Practically speaking, how much of your life alters if you go full creationist? Not the story you tell about your life, your actual lived experience? I was one of those weirdos in church who actually deeply cared about all that stuff, and let me tell you, most people really don’t care.

      • malpollyon says:

        I also wouldn’t disagree with “The New Testament reads like an instruction manual by our creator in terms of its helpfulness in this world, consistency with healthful psychology, ethics, and economics.”

        Care to unpack that with an example or two? Or at least point to where such an unpacking has been done? Because I genuinely can’t imagine how that could be justified and would be fascinated to see it attempted.

        • Frog Do says:

          Very brief statement that I’m not sure will get anything across, and I would definitely place the blame on me if that is the case. Short version: it does read like that given a certain interpretative framework.

          Obviously when the books of the NT were written, none were written like an instruction manual. Same for the compiling all those years later. People who are rationally converted to Christianity are going to know this, their self-narrative of their conversion is going to be they were convinced by rational arguments. So it’s clearly not a literal statement, and they know what they are doing. The framing of “instruction manual” strongly suggests Evangelical if not fundamentalist Protestantism, and I am strongly resisting the urge to reopen the link to check that (I only skimmed it, this would be a good check to see if I’m wrong). Thus reading the NT is going to also involve reading the OT and having a history of the church. So broadly the NT is going to be more of an index, seen from this perspective, that let’s you short hand reference nearly your entire worldview, which is going to be shaped by joining whichever version of Protestantism you join.

          • 27chaos says:

            This looks like rapid backpedaling to me. Your defense of viewing the Bible as an instruction manual is that it’s a nonliteral instruction manual? Isn’t that a terrible quality for an instruction manual to have?

          • Frog Do says:

            No, my point is “instruction manual” is an idiomatic phrase that only makes sense in context, in the same way you didn’t literally assume I was pedalling (something) backwards rapidly.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Not quite.

            The Bible is not “literal” in the same way that a map is not terrain. That said the purpose of both is to provide instruction as to the lay of the land.

            Edit: That response was directed at 27chaos.

          • 27chaos says:

            I interpreted Mal as saying that bible oriented Christian ethics, economics, consistency with positive psychology are not good. You responded to Mal by saying that it’s not a literal instruction manual and of course no one would believe that, it’s instead an index that contains all of people’s beliefs about those things. To me, that response seems like it is missing the point, although perhaps I have misinterpreted Mal. Prior to having faith, what reasons do people have to find the Bible’s morality persuasive and compelling?

            As a side note, I agree with you that it doesn’t make sense for people to interpret the Bible as a literal instruction manual, but this is poor evidence that people do not believe to be one. People do things that don’t make sense all the time. Actually, that’s the very issue Mal was trying to investigate with their comment.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Your defense of viewing the Bible as an instruction manual is that it’s a nonliteral instruction manual? Isn’t that a terrible quality for an instruction manual to have?

            Isn’t that basically what koans are all about?

          • Frog Do says:

            @27chaos
            I didn’t interpret it as an attack of Christian ethics, psychology, or economics, and am uninterested in having that discussion, because that discussion is fundamentally uninteresting.

            As for “Prior to having faith, what reasons do people have to find the Bible’s morality persuasive and compelling?” well, uh, there’s the entire history of western civilization, to be super glib. The centuries of culture, art, music, literature, peotry, archetecture. The people are often have a reputation for being nice, well-adjusted, good family values. The same reasons anyone likes anything, I guess?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Frog Do:

            What in the world do the products of Western civilization have to do with the contents of the Bible? 😉

          • wysinwyg says:

            well, uh, there’s the entire history of western civilization, to be super glib.

            That is indeed quite glib.

            The centuries of culture, art, music, literature, peotry, archetecture.

            A few (obvious) problems:
            1) It’s not clear why we should credit “the Bible’s morality” for any of this let alone all of it.
            2) Other societies predicated on other religions and even on religious cosmopolitanism have managed to create legacies of culture, art, music, literature, poetry, and architecture, so even ignoring (1), it’s not clear why “the Bible’s morality” would be necessarily superior to, say, the religion of ancient Sumer which laid a template for several thousand years of near- and middle-eastern civilization.

            Just as an example, western literature is essentially all written in alphabets derived from the Latin alphabet. Which was derived from the Greek alphabet. Which was derived from the Phoenician alphabet.

            None of those societies were Christian at the time, but the later accomplishments of Christian societies are predicated on the achievements of earlier, heathen societies.

            And those earlier societies were around centuries longer than western civilization, which if we’re going to be fair has only been ascendant for maybe about 400 years. In contrast, how long was Marduk the patron god of Babylon?

            The people are often have a reputation for being nice, well-adjusted, good family values.

            ? Do they? Among whom do they have this reputation besides themselves? Is it surprising that people value the values they live by already rather than some other set of values, under which their ways of life would not be considered so great?

            The same reasons anyone likes anything, I guess?

            This seems right only if the reason in question is “suits one’s pre-existing biases”.

          • Frog Do says:

            @wysinwyg
            People keep trying to drag this back to discussions of Christian morality, as opposed to psychology, ethics, or economics. The fact this Freudian slip keeps being made makes me think those who do it are operating in extreme bad faith. I understand nearly everyone here violently hates Christianity as The One True Evil Outgroup, to the extent they can violently hate anything, but please, stay on topic.

            You really can’t understand the history and culture of Europe without a deep understanding of the history of Christianity, they are inseperable. This is going to be an interminable argument, because rationalists are usually obstantely, intentionally unfamiliar with world history or any cultures other than their own. There is a lot of written material on psychology, ethics, and economics from this time period; I’m going to have to refer you to any survey course on the history of Europe, European literature, or history of economics for the past two thousand years. Christianity has arguments why it is superior to all other systems, this field is generally known as apologetics, and you can also look that up on your own time.

          • Jiro says:

            Distinguishing between ethics and morality often involves a lot of splitting hairs.

          • Frog Do says:

            @Jiro
            I’m very grumpy because the way this conversation developed makes me feel like I’m on r/atheism. I’m not here to convert people to Christianity, but statements like:

            “What in the world do the products of Western civilization have to do with the contents of the Bible?”

            “It’s not clear why we should credit “the Bible’s morality” for any of this [this being European culture, history, anything]”

            are surely jokes. I mean, really now.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Frog Do:

            What good and important features of Western civilization do you think are attributable to the influence of the Bible and the teachings of either Jesus or Moses?

            My honest opinion is “there are many good features of Western civilization, and a number of features it draws from Judeo-Christian influence, but very little overlap between the two.”

            If you disagree, and I assume you do, please point out where.

            I mean, for instance, you can point to the frescos on St. Peter’s Basilica, and they are indeed beautiful. But the basilica’s architecture was made possible by the achievements of the Greeks and Romans, not by anything in the Bible. If they hadn’t painted scenes from the Bible, they would have painted figures from Greek mythology, which would have looked just as good.

            What is the influence of the Bible here?

            Or take Isaac Newton. He dedicated his life to two things: the exploration of natural philosophy and of mystical bullshit. The former he got ultimately from the classical tradition and its revival in the renaissance. The latter he got from Christianity.

          • Frog Do says:

            @Vox Imperatoris
            This is an interminable argument, there is no point in attempting to explain things to people who have an obvious Fully General Counterargument (though points for giving an honest example of how it works).

            I’d start by reading some Nietzsche, probably the Geneology of Morals, but you might want to read some earlier stuff first. A common problem with people is not understanding how their ideology is embedded in history, you are a fish that doesn’t see the water.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Frog Do:

            obvious Fully General Counterargument

            I think you are abusing this term. I genuinely don’t know what you think my “fully general counterargument” is.

            I want to know what you think the good and important features of Western civilization are, which are attributable to something in the Bible.

            I don’t want to know what Nietzsche thought. I already know what he thought, which is essentially that the good parts we got from Athens and the bad parts we got from Jerusalem. Indeed, I don’t see how that runs up against anything I said.

            A common problem with people is not understanding how their ideology is embedded in history, you are a fish that doesn’t see the water.

            I have read a great deal about the history of ideas and the history of philosophy. I don’t really appreciate general disparaging remarks like this that don’t say anything specific about where you think I’m wrong.

          • Frog Do says:

            @Vox Imperatoris
            Your fully general counterargument is mapping everything good to Greece and Rome and everything bad to Christianity. This is a very stupid argument, thinking that everything is so nice and seperable. Again, this feels very r/atheism.

            I’m telling you to read Nietzsche, not his Wikipedia page. This is why I am being condescending, because you really aren’t saying aything that demonstrates more than a 101/list-of-bullet-points understanding of philosophy, art, or history. I was specifcally referencing works that you are clearly unfamilar with. I don’t know what to tell you: read more, be smarter?

          • “I understand nearly everyone here violently hates Christianity as The One True Evil Outgroup”

            I don’t think that’s correct. I’m sure there are lots of atheists here, but I have not noticed any pattern of hostility to people who are obviously Christian. A number of people here, including Scott, appear to be fans of GKC, who was, among other things, a prominent Catholic apologist.

          • Frog Do says:

            @David Friendman
            I should have used “in this comment thread” to specify “here” (though, I suppose somewhat ironically, I’m not a huge fan of Chesterson myself).

            I’m more frustrated with the fact that people are asking me to defend “I can see why people would say Christianity is a good thing and the Bible is a good guide to behavior” is somehow a completely impossible to understand, totally ludicrous statement. It seems hugely xenophobic.

            I suppose I should also mention my general discomfort with how quick LW and LW-adjacent people are willing to say they “totally don’t understand” things that large parts of the world don’t seem to have trouble with. It’s this enormous lack of charity. Obviously some people are better about this than others, but it is a trend.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Frog Do:

            I can’t and won’t respond to vague insults and an attitude of smug superiority unsupported by any specific examples.

            Also, you are definitely misusing the concept of “fully general counterargument”. Fully general means fully general, not a specific view you have about a certain subject.

          • John Schilling says:

            What good and important features of Western civilization do you think are attributable to the influence of the Bible and the teachings of either Jesus or Moses?

            Frog Do, and pretty much everybody else in the thread, was talking about Christianity. Why were you trying to change the subject?

            And yes, you were, and you knew perfectly well that you were when you composed those sentences when a single word would otherwise have done.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ John Schilling:

            Frog Do, and pretty much everybody else in the thread, was talking about Christianity. Why were you trying to change the subject?

            And yes, you were, and you knew perfectly well that you were when you composed those sentences when a single word would otherwise have done.

            No, I was not consciously intending to “change the subject”. I didn’t realize talking about the Bible was changing the subject from Christianity…

            But obviously Christianity as a historical force is influenced in part by, you know, the actual Bible which is allegedly the word of God—and the Jewish tradition which makes up half of that Bible—and in part by pagan Greco-Roman culture. It would be stupid to talk up the glories of the Greco-Roman parts, since they were around completely independently of Christianity. It would also be stupid to talk up the Judaic parts when you’re talking about the merits of Christianity as opposed to Judaism.

            Aristotelianism, for instance, has been popular among certain Christians. But it is not a distinctively Christian idea.

            If one side is saying that Western civilization is great largely because of Christianity, and the other side is saying that it’s great in spite of Christianity, it doesn’t do any good for the first side to talk about the non-distinctive elements of Christianity.

            If you want to say that the Greeks had some good ideas but that they can best be defended not on their own premises but rather on Christian premises, that’s the sort of argument that would be desired. Because then what you’re saying is that Greek philosophy is not distinctively pagan but only a distorted first grasping toward the real Christian insights.

          • Troy says:

            @Vox:

            What good and important features of Western civilization do you think are attributable to the influence of the Bible and the teachings of either Jesus or Moses?

            Modern science, for one. The scientific revolution was led by committed Christians. And you can’t pull apart their theism and their science in the way you try to do with Newton above; many of these scientists were motivated in their science by their theistic beliefs. Newton’s search for natural laws, for instance, was motivated by his conviction that God had rationally ordered the working of the universe. Much more recently, Georges Lemaître, who proposed the Big Bang theory, appears to have been influenced in his thinking by his belief that God created the universe. Indeed, atheist scientists held up cosmology for several years by their resistance to any theory that implied that the universe had a beginning — it sounded much too creationist.

            On ethics, I would recommend Rene Girard, who argues that the modern concern for victims, arguably the single most important ethical principle in the contemporary world, is a fundamentally Christian idea.

            Maybe you’d reply that these are just Greek ideas that got incorporated into Christianity. I wouldn’t deny the Greek influence on Christianity, but I think it’s a mistake to view (as some contemporary Christians do) Greek philosophy as a foreign importation into Christianity. It was there from the very beginning, when the doctrines of Christianity were being formulated. And while the idea that the universe is rationally ordered is present in Aristotle and the idea that victims have rights is present in Socrates, neither of these ideas were widely accepted in ancient Greece (to put it mildly).

          • Jiro says:

            The problem with pointing out to scientists who are motivated by Christianity is that serious religious believers have a habit of filtering everything through religion. A scientist could claim that he was inspired to science by Christianity, when in fact if he had not been Christian he still would have done the science, he would have just used different labels to describe basically the same motivation.

            As a comparison, you could look at scientists today. They are disproportionately non-religious, yet that hasn’t seemed to reduce the level of scientific inspiration any.

          • Julie K says:

            “It would also be stupid to talk up the Judaic parts when you’re talking about the merits of Christianity as opposed to Judaism.”

            Well, unless you think that Christianity’s primary merit is that it succeeded in spreading ideas that otherwise would have been known only to the small Jewish population.

          • Deiseach says:

            The former he got ultimately from the classical tradition and its revival in the renaissance.

            Vox Imperatoris – you know what the Classical revivalists of the Renaissance were most interested in? Not science and technology – they took over the Greek theorists’ contempt for “artisan” work* like practical experiments – but exactly the kind of “mystical bullshit” you decry in Christianity.

            Take the revamped “Cosmos” and Neil de Grasse Tyson’s martyr of science, Giordano Bruno. He was a Neo-Platonist and way more interested in “mystical bullshit” than astronomy, which he used as a template to hang his notions on. He liked heliocentrism not for its physical truth but because in his philosophical model the Sun represented the highest pinnacle of virtue and achievement, thus it was fitting for it to have the place of honour at the centre of the solar system.

            *One of the reasons the role of the artist was revamped and elevated in status, and why people like Leonardo were so touchy of their status as gentlemen. Artists were considered craftsmen like goldsmiths, and in the same guild. The disdain for “working with the hands” mean artists had to display their education and learning by things like, yes, paintings of Classical mythology and saying “the laurel tree in this painting is a reference to the poetic laurels”, etc.

            Dürer’s self-portrait of 1498 demonstrates this, as he very carefully represents himself as having the status and fame he had won in Italy. He is not a mechanic or an artisan or a craftsman, he is the equal of a gentleman, and he wears the clothing and has the bearing of such.

          • Nita says:

            the Sun represented the highest pinnacle of virtue and achievement

            This doesn’t seem consistent with his view that the Sun is just one of many “suns” (which we call “stars” today):

            There are then innumerable suns, and an infinite number of earths revolve around those suns, just as the seven we can observe revolve around this sun which is close to us.

            (And hey, if Christianity gets credit for Newton’s physics and whatnot, I guess Neoplatonism should get credit for Bruno’s advances in cosmology?)

          • Troy says:

            @Jiro:

            The problem with pointing out to scientists who are motivated by Christianity is that serious religious believers have a habit of filtering everything through religion.

            I’m a serious religious believer, and I think I could point you to parts of my work that are influenced by my religion and parts that aren’t. I don’t think my commitment to probability theory as a logic of uncertain reasoning has much if anything to do with my Christianity, for example. On the other hand, many of my views in ethics are informed by my faith. Historically, plenty of Christian scientists and philosophers can and do separate out inspiration and arguments from Christianity and those from non-Christian sources like Aristotle.

            A scientist could claim that he was inspired to science by Christianity, when in fact if he had not been Christian he still would have done the science, he would have just used different labels to describe basically the same motivation.

            It’s hard for me to see this as anything other than an ad hoc attempt to avoid counting anything as evidence that X is attributable to Christianity. If we can’t trust the actual claims of the scientists involved about their motivations, who can we trust?

            I should note too that the claim that the scientists in the scientific revolution were influenced in their science by their Christianity is completely mainstream in the history of science. See, for example, the work of Peter Harrison.

            As a comparison, you could look at scientists today. They are disproportionately non-religious, yet that hasn’t seemed to reduce the level of scientific inspiration any.

            I’m not claiming that Christianity is a necessary condition for good science in all contexts. I’m claiming that, historically, it was integral to the scientific revolution and to the progress of many individual scientists. Now I do think there are scientific concepts that make a lot more sense within a theistic framework (e.g. — to come back to Newton — laws of nature), and that many contemporary physicists’ resistance to theism is biasing their work on the origins of the universe, but these are further claims.

          • Troy says:

            Take the revamped “Cosmos” and Neil de Grasse Tyson’s martyr of science, Giordano Bruno. He was a Neo-Platonist and way more interested in “mystical bullshit” than astronomy, which he used as a template to hang his notions on. He liked heliocentrism not for its physical truth but because in his philosophical model the Sun represented the highest pinnacle of virtue and achievement, thus it was fitting for it to have the place of honour at the centre of the solar system.

            Similarly, Copernicus’s main original complaint with Ptolemy’s system was that it gave up on the idea on the Aristotelian idea of perfect circular orbits (since the Earth was not really at the center). There was a lot of metaphysical influence on scientists’ thinking historically. They were not pure empiricists.

            (And hey, if Christianity gets credit for Newton’s physics and whatnot, I guess Neoplatonism should get credit for Bruno’s advances in cosmology?)

            Fine by me, but then I like Neoplatonism. 🙂

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Deiseach:

            you know what the Classical revivalists of the Renaissance were most interested in? Not science and technology – they took over the Greek theorists’ contempt for “artisan” work* like practical experiments – but exactly the kind of “mystical bullshit” you decry in Christianity.

            Take the revamped “Cosmos” and Neil de Grasse Tyson’s martyr of science, Giordano Bruno. He was a Neo-Platonist and way more interested in “mystical bullshit” than astronomy, which he used as a template to hang his notions on. He liked heliocentrism not for its physical truth but because in his philosophical model the Sun represented the highest pinnacle of virtue and achievement, thus it was fitting for it to have the place of honour at the centre of the solar system.

            I don’t dispute this. Greco-Roman culture was responsible for many negative things in Western civilization. Neo-Platonist and Pythagorean mysticism among them.

            Moreover, you have to take into account the fact that they were reacting against the dogmaticization of Aristotelianism, which had been turned into the official philosophy of the Catholic Church and become identified with intellectual stagnation. It’s loosely analogous to the way Communist promotion of state atheism was very bad for the reputation of atheism.

            @ Troy:

            Maybe you’d reply that these are just Greek ideas that got incorporated into Christianity. I wouldn’t deny the Greek influence on Christianity, but I think it’s a mistake to view (as some contemporary Christians do) Greek philosophy as a foreign importation into Christianity. It was there from the very beginning, when the doctrines of Christianity were being formulated. And while the idea that the universe is rationally ordered is present in Aristotle and the idea that victims have rights is present in Socrates, neither of these ideas were widely accepted in ancient Greece (to put it mildly).

            I’m not arguing that there is nothing to like in the Christian tradition. I’m not even arguing that Greek ideas haven’t been essential to the development of the Christian tradition.

            I’m arguing that the things to like in Christianity are the Greek ideas incorporated into it from the beginning, and that the validity of these ideas is completely independent of Christianity. Their attachment to Christianity has no doubt played a role in spreading them (although we may counter that with the role Christianity has also played in suppressing and distorting many of them). But if that’s all you can show on the side of the merits of Christianity, then the distinctive aspects of Christianity—such as the belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ and in his ethical teachings—are superfluous in this process and can be excised without any loss.

            On ethics, I would recommend Rene Girard, who argues that the modern concern for victims, arguably the single most important ethical principle in the contemporary world, is a fundamentally Christian idea.

            I agree that this is a significant feature of the contemporary world. Is it a positive feature?

            ***

            Let me draw an analogy to another pair of ideas which I briefly mentioned: Marxism and atheism.

            Atheism is essential to Marxism, not a “foreign importation”. It was there from the very beginning and has formed a very important part of the Marxist program, despite the efforts of a few Marxists to downplay or excise it.

            But the converse is not true: Marxism is not essential to atheism.

            We might be tempted to say: “one good thing about Marxist regimes is that they promoted atheism.” But atheism was doing just fine on its own. The effect of the Marxist regimes was that they connected atheism to a series of absurd political and economic ideas and enforced the package at the barrel of a gun, provoking intense and deserved resentment.

            In fact, it’s not clear that these regimes really did anything on net to promote atheism; it’s quite plausible that the backlash was greater than anything they were able to ram through by force.

            If the only nice thing you can find to say about Marxism is that it promoted atheism, you’re at best damning with faint praise.

          • Troy says:

            @Vox:

            I’m not arguing that there is nothing to like in the Christian tradition. I’m not even arguing that Greek ideas haven’t been essential to the development of the Christian tradition.

            I’m arguing that the things to like in Christianity are the Greek ideas incorporated into it from the beginning, and that the validity of these ideas is completely independent of Christianity. Their attachment to Christianity has no doubt played a role in spreading them (although we may counter that with the role Christianity has also played in suppressing and distorting many of them). But if that’s all you can show on the side of the merits of Christianity, then the distinctive aspects of Christianity—such as the belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ and in his ethical teachings—are superfluous in this process and can be excised without any loss.

            I’m not convinced that “the distinctive aspects of Christianity” can be so neatly excised. The language with which the early Church formulated the idea that Christ was divine, for example, was clearly based on Greek ideas. But let’s suppose that we can neatly separate these things. Then, even supposing that the origins of the ideas we’ve been discussing are Greek, I certainly don’t grant that that’s “all one can show on the side of the merits of Christianity.” We’ve been talking here about the contributions of Christianity to western civilization. I think Christianity has many merits besides influencing the development of western civilization. For one thing, it’s true. For another, it motivates people to act morally.

            But the ideas we’ve been discussing aren’t purely Greek in origin. I mentioned Aristotle above as an early proponent of the idea that the universe was ordered, but while that’s right in a way, that was really too quick. Newton’s idea of natural laws was different from Aristotle, in that Aristotle saw nature as moving about due to internal properties of the objects within nature; Newton, along with Descartes, Boyle, and other early figures in the scientific revolution, saw nature as operating according to God’s control of the world.

            I agree that [the concern for victims] is a significant feature of the contemporary world. Is it a positive feature?

            Yes, absolutely. To be sure, this principle can be and is misused: I’m as big a critic of political correctness as anyone, as my past commenting on SSC attests. But our present ethical norms are still vastly better than ones that countenanced things like the slave trade.

            Moreover, it’s worth asking why the concern for victims is misused in the way it is in our contemporary world. Girard argues that contemporary western culture took that principle from Christianity but then threw away the rest of the moral framework in which it was embedded. In so doing, political correctness (his term) uses an ostensible concern for victims to justify the same kind of scapegoating that has occurred throughout history, opposition to which is at the core of the Christian message. If Girard is right, then contemporary ethical norms go wrong precisely in the place where they don’t follow Christian ethics. In other words, at least with regards to ethics, it’s the opposite of what you say earlier — that “there are many good features of Western civilization, and a number of features it draws from Judeo-Christian influence, but very little overlap between the two.”

          • John Schilling says:

            @ Vox:

            I didn’t realize talking about the Bible was changing the subject from Christianity…

            It’s rather like talking about the Magna Carta when the subject is the government of the United Kingdom.

            But obviously Christianity as a historical force is influenced in part by, you know, the actual Bible which is allegedly the word of God—and the Jewish tradition which makes up half of that Bible—and in part by pagan Greco-Roman culture.

            Regardless of what Christianity is “influenced by”, what Christianity actually is is whatever Christians of the time believe it is. And they mostly get that belief from the words of other Christians – for most of the faith’s history, the bible was deliberately illegible to most Christians. And even the biblically literate Christians have spent about two thousand years both adding to and subtracting from biblical dogma, based on local consensus.

            It would be stupid to talk up the glories of the Greco-Roman parts, since they were around completely independently of Christianity. It would also be stupid to talk up the Judaic parts when you’re talking about the merits of Christianity as opposed to Judaism.

            No, that would be the opposite of stupid. Because ,as Julie K has already suggested, a huge part of what Christianity has been since maybe a decade after the death of Jesus of Nazareth, is a deliberate fusion of the best part of Judaism and the best parts of Hellenism, packaged in a way that would spread beyond either.

            Christianity as it is practiced isn’t based on the teachings of either Jesus or Moses, it’s based on the teachings of Paul. Who turned out to be a big fan of both Jesus and Moses and incorporated what he considered to be the good parts of their teachings in the churches he founded, but it’s not the same church that Jesus founded.

            It is also based on the state policies of the late Roman Empire, which had a bit of a say in such matters at about the time the big doctrinal questions were being settled. And on centuries of Christian thinkers
            between then and now, none of them entirely bound by what had been said before.

            You will, for example, find nothing in the Bible to prohibit slavery, only guidance to maybe treat slaves better than you might have been otherwise inclined to – and that in parallel with injunctions for the slaves to do their jobs and not revolt. But it was Christian priests and ministers, and Jewish ones before them, that spent three thousand years consistently pushing the Overton Window on slavery from uniform acceptance to uniform abhorrence when no one else would – and when it became barely feasible to contemplate abolition across Christendom, it was Christian religious leaders that made it happen while the great thinkers of the secular enlightenment maybe talked about the glories of Liberty for all mankind but never really got around to fighting for the liberties of anyone but white males.

            There’s not much in the Bible that can be taken as an endorsement of scientific truth as a compliment to the scriptural variety. That came from Augustine of Hippo. And for the next twelve hundred years, pretty much every scientist in Europe was on the Church’s payroll, because nobody else could bother.

            The general deprecation of violence as a way of resolving disputes, that’s largely Christianity at work – channeling Moses’s “Thou Shalt Not Kill”, but it wasn’t Judaism that did the heavy lifting there. And it’s not a coincidence that when Pinker wrote the book on the subject, he used Judeo-Christian religious allegory as the basis for the title.

            These, and more, come straight from what Christianity actually is. I’m not going to bother enumerating examples, because really the last two were redundant. If Christianity only gets credit for the abolition of slavery, it still does get full credit for the abolition of slavery. And that’s more than enough to put them solidly on the Good Guys side of history.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            @ John
            Well said.

            @ anonymous
            You aren’t nearly as funny or as clever as you think you are.

          • anonymous says:

            Hlynkacg: the way I see it, your comment was neither kind, necessary, nor true. I won’t report you, but I will ask you to be more civil in the future.

          • Anon. says:

            >a deliberate fusion of the best part of Judaism and the best parts of Hellenism

            Maimonides did that wayyy better than Paul.

          • “If Christianity only gets credit for the abolition of slavery, it still does get full credit for the abolition of slavery.”

            Hardly fair, considering who got blamed for the project:

            http://www.econlib.org/library/Columns/LevyPeartdismal.html

          • Frog Do says:

            @David Friendman
            That article should be called “In praise of blank-slate-ism and WEIRDism in the social sciences”.

          • Jiro says:

            I’m a serious religious believer, and I think I could point you to parts of my work that are influenced by my religion and parts that aren’t.

            You’re probably not as serious as the average person of centuries ago.

            And even then, it isn’t really necessary for my point that believers attribute literally everything to religion even if they’d have done it anyway; just that they attribute some.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Jiro:

            In some ways, they might be more serious – they might be, for instance, far better informed about the history of their religion. Any Christian who’s read a few books has a better understanding of the history of their faith than pretty much anybody a few hundred years ago, thanks to scholarly discoveries.

            And given that literacy is far more widespread, your average believer has better access to the scriptures than they used to.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “Newton’s search for natural laws, for instance, was motivated by his conviction that God had rationally ordered the working of the universe. ”

            The question was “influence of the Bible and the teachings of either Jesus or Moses”. Does “the universe is rationally ordered” fit that?

            “Indeed, atheist scientists held up cosmology for several years by their resistance to any theory that implied that the universe had a beginning”

            How exactly did Fred Hoyle hold up cosmology?

            “On the other hand, many of my views in ethics are informed by my faith.”

            Isn’t that by definition true? I’m pretty sure “ideas that concern themselves with ethics” (religion) overlap with ethics. If you don’t think the inevitable triumph of the workers is the most important thing, then you don’t concern yourself with such issues.

            “Now I do think there are scientific concepts that make a lot more sense within a theistic framework (e.g. — to come back to Newton — laws of nature),”

            Because there are an infinite number of theistic frameworks. We have one where there are no laws, only the will of God, pantheism, polytheism, etc. The specific framework supported is deism so it is a bit odd to use it to support an interventionist deity.

          • “That article should be called “In praise of blank-slate-ism and WEIRDism in the social sciences”.

            An odd description for an article on the origin of the “dismal science” label for economics. What part of it do you disagree with?

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            “If Christianity only gets credit for the abolition of slavery, it still does get full credit for the abolition of slavery.

            Kind of. But radical Christians were much more important to abolition than establishment types. And almost everyone was some kind of Christian.

            The importance of the Quakers and Nonconformists

            In those early months of the formal abolition movement, the Quakers were vital. They had an active London-based core of individuals with important links to Quakers across the country. In effect, they put their own national organisation at the disposal of the new abolitionist movement. And that organisation was run efficiently, with active local groups, all of them literate, and with publishers in London and the provinces keen to print and distribute appropriate literature.

            Other churches associated themselves with the movement, notably the relatively new Nonconformist chapels. Methodist and Baptist congregations joined the abolitionist ranks, and via meetings held by these religious groups, the abolitionist message reached people normally excluded from conventional political activity.

            Indeed the spread of Nonconformity in the new urban and industrial communities enabled the abolition message to reach large numbers of working people – both men and women – who were traditionally barred from such things. Abolition began to seep into places untouched by active politics, and herein lay the basis for the most striking feature of abolition after 1787: its remarkable popularity, which surprised even those involved

        • Harkonnendog says:

          There actually is an instruction, which is pretty specific to this situation, against unpacking that with an example or two. (I was looking for a couple of examples to unpack and ran across it.) You could pick up a Bible, probably better to get a more modern translation like the NKJV or NIV, and read one or all hof the four gospels. (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John)

          Of course I’m assuming you haven’t read them, much less studied them, which is arrogant. It it hard for me to believe that someone who has studied them can’t at least imagine “The New Testament reads like an instruction manual by our creator in terms of its helpfulness in this world, consistency with healthful psychology, ethics, and economics.”

          As an aside, I recently tried to figure out which translation is “best” and THAT is fascinating. I had no idea how difficult it is to translate from Greek to Latin to English from Hebrew and Aramaic and so on.

          • Luke Somers says:

            Harkonnendog,

            I have read two of them. They have relevant lessons, yes. They do not read like instruction manuals.

            The certainly contain less than I would hope from a creator attempting to give us a guide on psychology or economics. In fact, I do not recall any guidelines, correct or incorrect, on economics, outside of parables which used money as a metaphor for something else (and thus assume economic knowledge rather than attempting to impart it).

          • Harkonnendog says:

            Luke,
            I suppose if you are a believer you redefine what an instruction manual reads like… The Bible becomes the baseline.
            As for whether the Creator imparted enough relevant information on these particular subjects, the more I study the more I learn. To understand the New Testament you have to know the Old Testament, which drives you back to the New and so forth. It is hard to say how much is in there without a passable working knowledge of it all. (Which I am, optimistically, only a couple of decades away from having!)

      • eqdw says:

        > I was one of those weirdos in church who actually deeply cared about all that stuff, and let me tell you, most people really don’t care.

        I also was, and this is why I’m not anymore. I took Christianity seriously, and in the process of learning about it and trying to be the best Christian I could, I looked around me and noted just how many people didn’t give a fuck. Including people you’d describe as ‘bible thumpers’. People whose entire life revolved around their identity as religious but who hadn’t the foggiest idea of what Christianity meant. In one case, a girl I knew, who went to bible college, who’s career aspiration was to be a youth pastor, who admitted to me that she had never read the Bible because “it’s just so long and boring”

        > These rational arguments for Christ are one of the more horrifying things to me, because they never hang together when I look at them but their existence implies my brain either already is or could at any time go off the rails of what I now view as sanity.

        I know that feel, bro, but if you had approached me 2 years ago and told me I’d take seriously (never mind believe) even half of the things that we talk about here, I’d have replied the same way. The apologetics, the rational arguments, etc., that people give to support a conversion story like this always sound completely insane to me. But then again, I’m sure I sound the same way when I try to describe/explain the Cathedral. Hard as it is, I try to give these people benefit fo the doubt

        • Mary says:

          ” I looked around me and noted just how many people didn’t give a fuck. Including people you’d describe as ‘bible thumpers’. ”

          This was a surprise? In light of the parables of the wise and foolish virgins, the wheat and the tares, and the fishing net, it’s what I expect.

          I remind myself that appearances may be deceiving, but OTOH, there’s a reason for the long-standing joke (with updates) about how you can tell the Catholic Church is of divine origin: it’s lasted N many centuries despite the Catholics’ very best efforts.

          • Deiseach says:

            Like the mediaeval joke (I am going on “I’m Pretty Sure I Read This Somewhere” so don’t hold me to it) about – let’s call them Bartholomew and Mordecai, I can’t remember the actual names – who are Gentile and Jewish business partners.

            Bartholomew is always trying to convert Mordecai, with no success. Then one day Mordecai says “By the way, I’m going on a business trip to Rome, so I’ll be able to see how your Church works up close!”

            To which Bartholomew has a reaction along the lines of “Oh crap no, now he’ll never convert” 🙂

            Anyway, Mordecai comes back and says “Congratulate me, Bartholomew! I converted and got baptised and everything!” Bartholomew is delighted, but puzzled. “Yes, but didn’t you see the corruption of the Papal Court and everything? What made you think Catholicism was true after all?”

            “That’s the point!” Mordecai says. “If I ran my business the way these guys run the Church, it wouldn’t last a year! So for the Catholic Church to survive this long, the Divine has to be behind it!”

            🙂

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Aaron and Yitzhak are walking down the street, when they see a sign on a church saying “Convert to Christianity and get $100 free!”

            They decide they might as well get the free money, so they determine that Aaron will go in first and see if this business is for real, and if so they’ll both go in and collect $100 for their “conversions”.

            Aaron heads in, and Yitzhak begins to notice that things are taking quite a long time. Eventually, Aaron comes back out with his hair dripping wet and a crucifix around his neck.

            Yitzhak asks him: “Well, how did it go?”

            Aaron says to him: “I did it! I converted to Christianity!”

            Yitzhak says: “Yeah, yeah, okay, but what about the $100? Did they give you the money?”

            Aaron says, with a look of disgust on his face: “Is money all you people care about?”

          • Harkonnendog says:

            It is a recurring theme in the New Testament, people seeming to care but caring more about seeming. Given how often Jesus, the central figure of Christianity, says not to do that, you would think we Christians would do it less.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            It is a recurring theme in the New Testament, people seeming to care but caring more about seeming. Given how often Jesus, the central figure of Christianity, says not to do that, you would think we Christians would do it less.

            Getting humans not to care about status is about one level below getting clippy not to care about paperclips.

          • John Schilling says:

            …you would think we Christians would do [caring about seeming] less.

            Less than whom? What is your baseline for human caring-about-appearances; what cultures do you think do less of it than the Christians?

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Less than people who identify as spiritual but not religious in a society that is mostly Christian presumably.

          • Harkonnendog says:

            To John,
            I didn’t mean less compared to another group or baseline. I simply meant less than we do, or are currently doing.

            I know someone who rejected Christianity because they believed (fairly or not) the other members of their church were phonies. And a commenter above apparently had a similar experience. My guess- it happens a lot.

          • With the thoughts you'd be thinkin says:

            Deiseach, that story is basically an summary of one of the stories in the “Decameron” by Boccacio.
            http://www.gutenberg.org/files/23700/23700-h/23700-h.htm

          • Mary says:

            “Given how often Jesus, the central figure of Christianity, says not to do that, you would think we Christians would do it less.”

            blink. I would think we Christians would remember that the wheat and tares would grow together until harvest. Which is the end of the world.

            Why would anyone expecting anything else be a Christian? Given that it was Jesus’s explicit teaching that you shouldn’t expect it.

          • Mary says:

            “I know someone who rejected Christianity because they believed (fairly or not) the other members of their church were phonies. And a commenter above apparently had a similar experience. My guess- it happens a lot.”

            My guess would be that, too. Perhaps that’s why the Gospels contain so many warnings against paying so much attention to what those around you are doing.

          • Harkonnendog says:

            “blink. I would think we Christians would remember that the wheat and tares would grow together until harvest. Which is the end of the world.”

            Why would anyone expecting anything else be a Christian? Given that it was Jesus’s explicit teaching that you shouldn’t expect it.”

            Erm… I did not interpret that Christ was teaching that future people would be hypocrites and we should expect it. I thought he was speaking more about the particular groups he was dealing with at that moment. And I thought the tares and wheat referred to believers and non-believers. I am often wrong, though.

            “My guess would be that, too. Perhaps that’s why the Gospels contain so many warnings against paying so much attention to what those around you are doing.”

            Are there so many warnings about that? I recall many about not projecting an image to others, none about not paying attention to others. Loving one’s neighbor implies paying some attention to what those around you are doing.

            Ideally one would become an example to others, perhaps encourage better behavior by pointing out Christ’s words.

    • suntzuanime says:

      IDK, I think there’s a lot to like in the New Testament in terms of psychology and ethics. Economics might be pushing it a little far, it has some weird ideas about how to run a vineyard.

      • Frog Do says:

        “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” is genius.

        • Ghatanathoah says:

          @Frog Do

          What things aren’t God’s?

          I’m not entirely joking. For the longest time I thought the message of that story was that Jesus had appeared to rule in favor of Caesar, but actually ruled against him. Knowing the greater context of the story I now think the more conventional interpretation is probably correct, but for a while I thought the point was that everything was God’s.

      • The Smoke says:

        The vineyard metaphor is basically advocating a minimum wage. Yeah, who would think that’s ever a good idea?

        • suntzuanime says:

          The minimum wage is neither a good idea nor what’s going on in the vineyard bit. The minimum wage is at least sane enough to pay people in proportion to the amount of work they do.

        • Frog Do says:

          In the tradition of “Truth Rising from her well”, we should have Angry Carpenter Lectures Assorted Fishermen for missing the point of a metaphor.

          • Taking the passage literally rather than as a parable, it’s arguing for freedom of contract, not a minimum wage. The employer is entitled to pay each worker what he agreed to work for, even if that results in some workers getting a better deal than others.

          • 27chaos says:

            I don’t see it as arguing for freedom of contract so much as “I am powerful and in charge, so I will do what I want”.

          • Mary says:

            Given that it’s his money, who else would be in charge?

            Also note that in that era, a day’s wages was basically what you need to buy a day’s food, so the owner was saying that everyone who actually worked gets to eat.

          • Seems pretty clear:

            ” “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’”

            He isn’t cheating the workers who worked a full day because he is giving them what they agreed to, and he is free to be generous with the ones who worked only part of a day. Freedom of contract plus property rights.

          • But isn’t that what freedom of contract is?

          • DavidS says:

            Agreed more like freedom of contract than minimum wage. I might be reading it through too much of a (Protestant) lens, but I take the main point to be ‘don’t get annoyed if God gives boons like salvation to people who deserve it less than you – you don’t deserve it much either’.

            I think it’s interesting because it doesn’t exactly work on the basis that a parable makes a weird or unattractive point seem more intuitive. Most people I’ve talked to about it see the vineyard owner as arbitrary and unfair.

          • Deiseach says:

            Angry Carpenter Lectures Assorted Fishermen for missing the point of a metaphor

            My favourite example of that is when Jesus is warning the disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and they talk amongst themselves and decide He is angry because they didn’t bring bread with them 🙂

            If you don’t believe me, Matthew 16:5-12:

            5 And when his disciples were come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread.

            6 Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.

            7 And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have taken no bread.

            8 Which when Jesus perceived, he said unto them, O ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves, because ye have brought no bread?

            9 Do ye not yet understand, neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets ye took up?

            10 Neither the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets ye took up?

            11 How is it that ye do not understand that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees?

            12 Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.

          • Randy M says:

            If Jesus had been a millenial, he would have just blogged a Picard Facepalm meme.

          • John Schilling says:

            He’s got his own version, but it’s got a somewhat different connotation.

        • Deiseach says:

          The employer, the day labourers and the vineyard parable is not about “this is how to set up an economic system”, it’s the same as the elder brother versus returning prodigal son.

          Just because you were there first, you do not get to bar the gates to the latecomers. Yes, you kept all the rules, you were the good son, congratulations! But the whores and tax collectors enter the Kingdom of Heaven before the elders and chief priests and Pharisees.

          You are not to begrudge salvation and mercy through grace to anyone and you certainly cannot say you deserve it more or have earned it when they didn’t. (I struggle a lot with my Inner Elder Son and Inner Pharisee, so I regularly need this kind of reminder).

          • dndnrsn says:

            (Sort of) this.

            As I recall, the general (secular) scholarly interpretation of the Vineyard Labourers parable is along the lines of “humans don’t get to question God’s ways, if God wants to reward all the same when God returns in power to upset humanly order”.

            The Kingdom of God is weird and confusing and upsetting and that’s the point.

          • DensityDuck says:

            There’s also the parable of Mary and Martha.

            The point of which was to directly admonish all the good church ladies who kept their houses neat and ran the bake sale and made sure that everybody in the worship service knew when it was time to stand up, sit down, kneel, sing, etcetera.

            The point of the parable was “when Jesus comes over He is not going to care what kind of cheese you serve”.

            (as a side note: there’s a fun conspiracy theory in comparing this parable to that well-known crafter, Martha Stewart…)

          • The parable of Mary and Martha is also the basis for a Kipling poem. He’s on Martha’s side:

            http://www.online-literature.com/kipling/920/

          • DavidS says:

            Can you directly admonish people who don’t exist yet (and indeed wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for stuff you’re doing and are going to do)? Seems indirect at best.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Who didn’t exist yet?

        • Desertopa says:

          I feel like, if the vineyard metaphor is “basically advocating a minimum wage,” it’s worth asking why it took so long for Christian societies to actually implement minimum wages. If that’s the intended interpretation, it doesn’t seem to have done a very good job conveying it to people who weren’t already primed by familiarity with the concept.

      • Nonnamous says:

        So what do you make of the part about presenting the other cheek?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        As Nietzsche said, modern people need to take a long hard look at how much of their ethics and psychology only make sense if the New Testament is correct.

      • Y’all are talking about the nice vineyard parables. My mind immediately went to the one where the vineyard owner gets to kill the tenants because they wouldn’t pay him (and eventually killed his son).

        • suntzuanime says:

          Well, that one seems like a perfectly sensible way to run a vineyard.

        • keranih says:

          Yeah, there’s that one, too, but my read of it is pretty different.

          It’s a pretty direct rebuke to the sort of person who says that the poor are in God’s good graces, esp when they oppose the rich, and that it is proper for poor people to take the property of the rich.

          I object strongly to the reading that “the owner gets to kill the tenants” – the people in the audience, when asked what is the likely outcome of the horrible murderous behavior of the tenants, reply that “those mofos are going down“.

          The tenants violated the contract, stole from the owner, abused his employees, and murdered his son in the hopes of stealing even more from the owner. Regardless of their station in life, they were criminals.

          Christ and St Francis – both better men than I – would still have figured out how to forgive them.

          • Would they? The standard reading of that parable is that the vineyard owner is God the Father, who sends prophets and eventually his Son to the unworthy stewards, ie. the Jews. They kill the prophets and the Son, and eventually get what’s coming to them. (In the form of: temple destroyed, tens of thousands of rebels crucified, Palestine depopulated, and the Jewish people reduced to a tiny remnant living in perpetual exile.)

          • suntzuanime says:

            Didn’t Christ literally forgive the people who killed him? I would not want to bet against Jesus in a forgiveness match.

          • Anonymous says:

            >Didn’t Christ literally forgive the people who killed him? I would not want to bet against Jesus in a forgiveness match.<

            Could construe the exile of the Jews as their penance.

          • Deiseach says:

            It’s not about money (the poor being in the grace of God and justified in stealing from the rich, even by violence), it’s about rejecting the word of God because you think you have it already figured out. Mai gives the standard reading of the parable, which is influenced by the Old Testament figure of Israel as the fruitful vineyard planted by God which then produces bad fruit instead of the looked-for harvest. Which is part of the wider context of the Prophets rebuking the people of Israel for falling away from faithfulness, either by running after strange gods or foreign kings or being unjust and rapacious to their own when they ruled themselves, under the figures of the adulterous spouse etc.

            Isaiah 5, the Song of the Vineyard:

            1 Let me sing for my beloved
            my love song concerning his vineyard:
            My beloved had a vineyard
            on a very fertile hill.

            2 He dug it and cleared it of stones,
            and planted it with choice vines;
            he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
            and hewed out a wine vat in it;
            and he looked for it to yield grapes,
            but it yielded wild grapes.

            3 And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem
            and men of Judah,
            judge between me and my vineyard.

            4 What more was there to do for my vineyard,
            that I have not done in it?
            When I looked for it to yield grapes,
            why did it yield wild grapes?

            5 And now I will tell you
            what I will do to my vineyard.
            I will remove its hedge,
            and it shall be devoured;
            I will break down its wall,
            and it shall be trampled down.

            6 I will make it a waste;
            it shall not be pruned or hoed,
            and briers and thorns shall grow up;
            I will also command the clouds
            that they rain no rain upon it.

            7 For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts
            is the house of Israel,
            and the men of Judah
            are his pleasant planting;
            and he looked for justice,
            but behold, bloodshed;
            for righteousness,
            but behold, an outcry!

          • Nita says:

            And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.

            I think the metaphorically described measures would improve the behaviour of people about as much as the literally described measures would improve the yield of the vineyard :/

          • Randy M says:

            Then there comes a point when improvement is no longer the purpose.

      • Harkonnendog says:

        There is a lot (well, I find it to be a lot because I focus on it) about not having anxiety about money, about not allowing concern over money take over your life. I’ve found it useful. Also, the idea that one should not store wealth, but grow it, is in there. Again, that is useful for risk averse people like me.

    • Directed Acyclic Wrath says:

      I’d be more worried if these types of posts mentioned things like prior probabilities, and the large degree of evidence needed to accept, say, the modern Roman Catholic Church over traditional Zoroastrianism or the literal thousands of alternatives all compatible with “humans were created.”

      Even if an existence argument proved viable, as far as I can tell, a real christian God would just be an unfriendly super-intelligence, lacking any not-horribly-coercive-and-evil reasons for me to adopt its values.

      • Frog Do says:

        Isn’t this just a request for the Bible/Christianity to be translated to the local idiom? They do have some experience with that.

        • Directed Acyclic Wrath says:

          I’m not sure I understand.

          Any mainstream Christianity makes lots of claims about reality (mostly not falsifiable, but such is life). One can recast ritual and symbolism within certain constraints, but there are large, defining doctrinal differences that necessarily cleave Christian sects—let alone all other hypotheses that have life created by purposeful agents—from one another.

          Going from “I have sufficient cause to reject abiogenesis” to “I have sufficient cause to make all these very detailed claims about the Creator” is a big step, evidentially speaking. Most of the atheist-turned-theists stories that aren’t “God revealed Himself to me” are really lacking on that side of things, and even when they do talk about it (like the article in question), the discussion isn’t *comparative*, or at least not in a rigorous way.

          ——

          Edit: On second reading, I think you mean that I’m asking for a bayesian translation.

          In that case, I suppose that’s true in a sense but translating between epistemological frameworks seems pretty different from other types of cultural adjustments one might make. That is, it’s clear you can identify your creator god with the local creator god by the fact of their being creator gods, you might have to explain all the other traits of their god away as misunderstandings, but you no matter what have that minimal line of commonality. OTOH, there’s no way to make sure there is a minimally viable Bayesian argument for Christianity. Indeed, much in the same way that medieval philosophers might prove God’s existence to show the viability of their logic system, I’d be pretty unimpressed with any epistemological framework that didn’t answer the question of Christianity rather clearly in the negative.

          • Deiseach says:

            OTOH, there’s no way to make sure there is a minimally viable Bayesian argument for Christianity.

            Which only goes to show, I suppose, that the Reverend Thomas Bayes, Presbyterian minister of the Mount Sion chapel, was not a good Bayesian 🙂

          • Directed Acyclic Wrath says:

            Deiseach re: the Rev. Bayes

            While funny to say, I do think that that’s a perfectly viable line of reasoning. A person who makes a fantastic discovery about the world but fails to take it to its logical ends and overcome the culture in which he existed is not exactly a novel story. As far as I know, it’s not clear Bayes was at all Bayesian—just like all the people today who know the theorem and can apply it on the right tests problems, but fail to realize the general applicability.

            (It’s also worth noting that if you take away the last 300 years of science and knowledge of non-European history, Christianity looks a lot more probable.)

          • Troy says:

            While funny to say, I do think that that’s a perfectly viable line of reasoning. A person who makes a fantastic discovery about the world but fails to take it to its logical ends and overcome the culture in which he existed is not exactly a novel story.

            There are many modern-day Bayesians who are Christians. See, e.g., the Christian contributors to this volume: https://global.oup.com/academic/product/probability-in-the-philosophy-of-religion-9780199604760?cc=us&lang=en&#

          • Winter Shaker says:

            There are many modern-day Bayesians who are Christians.

            Okay, but how many are there who aren’t Christians, or theists at all? Robert Aumann says they can’t just agree to disagree 😛

          • Nornagest says:

            Aumann is super, super overrated in rationalist circles. The common-priors assumption might not hold for humans even in principle — priors in people are quite murky — but if it does, in most cases it’d take a prohibitively long time to come to a genuinely common set of them. You’d need to check all the probabilities informing your object-level decision, and if there are any differences then you’d need to align all the probabilities informing those probabilities, and so forth, and before long you’ve touched your entire knowledge graph.

            Which should have been obvious to anyone who’s ever had a real disagreement with a real person.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            Were there any monks living at Mount Sion chapel? I ask because that would have made it a Bayesian priory.

          • Troy says:

            Okay, but how many are there who aren’t Christians, or theists at all? Robert Aumann says they can’t just agree to disagree

            Aumann’s agreement theorem presumes that the disagreeing parties are perfectly rational. Most people are not perfectly rational.

            This might seem to undercut my original point, but I wasn’t saying anything so strong as that the existence of Bayesian Christians is strong evidence for Christianity. I think the strong evidence for Christianity is first-order facts about the world, not the conclusions people draw from them.

            I was simply pointing out that there are many intelligent Christians today who think that there is a “minimally viable Bayesian argument for Christianity,” and have thought through these issues quite carefully. They might well be wrong, of course, and even irrational in their conclusions, but the idea that there’s not even a serious case to be made is just false, as manifested by the work of Richard Swinburne, Tim McGrew, Robin Collins, Alexander Pruss, etc.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            That only follows if you define “serious case” as “put a lot of work into it. Since that doesn’t exclude cranks, that isn’t really useful.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            The mention of Aumann was not intended seriously, but it looks like this website is having trouble rendering the ‘not-intended-seriously’ smiley. But even though people are not perfect bayesians, I still think there’s a sense in which one ought to be concerned that, if a majority of people attempting to apply Bayes theorem to questions of religion end up with a posterior that is against it, it’s more likely that the minority have made a mistake there.

            And likewise, if a majority come out in favour, then that should make me update my own estimate.

            But I don’t know how the numbers shake out – do you have a handle on what proportion of people who didn’t have a firm commitment going in come out in favour of Christianity after attempting to do the probability calculations?

            I’d also be interested what percentage end up with strengthened posteriors in favour of other religions – but my google-fu lets me down (in particular, I get a lot of results about the probability that someone is a terrorist given that they are a Muslim, which is not what I’m looking for).

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “But I don’t know how the numbers shake out – do you have a handle on what proportion of people who didn’t have a firm commitment going in come out in favour of Christianity after attempting to do the probability calculations? ”

            I don’t think that would give you useful results. For starters the people who look into probability are almost certainly motivated to support their own position; it is a bit like looking at defection of major political theorists.

            The better method (and why I don’t take the ‘serious’ studies seriously) is the obvious one when you have two sides disagreeing- third party verification. You find people who have different beliefs and ask them to rank beliefs other than their own. Repeat from as many different groups as possible.

          • Troy says:

            The mention of Aumann was not intended seriously, but it looks like this website is having trouble rendering the ‘not-intended-seriously’ smiley.

            Damn, so that’s what that smiley-face meant!

            But even though people are not perfect bayesians, I still think there’s a sense in which one ought to be concerned that, if a majority of people attempting to apply Bayes theorem to questions of religion end up with a posterior that is against it, it’s more likely that the minority have made a mistake there.

            I tend to think that people’s beliefs about religion, politics, and other controversial areas are usually irrational enough that a majority favoring one view is not very strong evidence for it. However, most people with strong opinions — including supposed experts and including people who are familiar with Bayesian reasoning — have not actually gone through a process of trying to calculate the probability, so it’s hard to tell what the numbers are among that smaller group. Even so, I don’t think I’d make too much of the raw proportions in that smaller group.

            But I don’t know how the numbers shake out – do you have a handle on what proportion of people who didn’t have a firm commitment going in come out in favour of Christianity after attempting to do the probability calculations?

            As above, I’m sure we don’t have good data on that in particular. There are various surveys of the proportion of scientists, philosophers, philosophers of religion, etc. who believe in God, but I’m sure the large majority of those are not trying to do a probability calculation.

            Helen de Cruz has gathered some data on belief change in philosophy of religion. As I recall, she found that, absolutely speaking, more people move from theism to atheism/agnosticism than from atheism to theism/agnosticism. However, the base rate of theists in philosophy of religion is higher (presumably due to selection bias), so relatively speaking, a greater proportion of initial atheists moved towards theism than vice-versa.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “have not actually gone through a process of trying to calculate the probability”

            Because the first hurdle is “are the accounts accurate” and you simply can’t clear it.

    • Deiseach says:

      Reducing the Gospels to “Top Ten Scriptural Tips for Your Best Life Now!” are a horrible either off-shoot or precursor to the contemptible and abominable Prosperity Gospel, and are offensive to believers as well.

      Trying to sugar-coat or soft-pedal religion to people, by reducing it to “Live by these rules and you’ll be happy and successful in your worldly life”, is a travesty (I wonder if the Protestant work ethic notion wasn’t the original twisting of this, driven by old-school original Calvinist despair over predestination – how better to be assured that you were indeed one of the Elect than by achieving success in your worldly endeavours, taken as a sign of God’s blessing upon you?)

      That’s not Christianity, that’s Lewis’ “Christianity And X”, where X is the cause that you really want to push and Christianity is just the wrapper you use around it. “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” – and if your treasure is “helpfulness in this world to get mental peace and economic gain”, then that is not salvation you are interested in, whatever jargon you may wreathe around your message.

      • Randy M says:

        Christianity doesn’t claim it will give you a nice life if you follow it. Closer to the opposite. Rather it claims that if everyone applied it, the world would be nice, but that won’t happen, but do it anyway.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          It (or most versions of it, anyway) claim that practicing it is a good way to have a nice eternal life.

          You’d be pretty short-sighted to trade any finite amount of earthly happiness for the loss of infinite happiness in heaven.

          • Randy M says:

            Yes, of course, and that is another, perhaps more likely source of prosperity heresy than what I was getting at.

      • DensityDuck says:

        ” how better to be assured that you were indeed one of the Elect than by achieving success in your worldly endeavours, taken as a sign of God’s blessing upon you?”

        Which is kind of exactly the opposite of the parable of the rich young man, the point of which was pretty much “you can’t buy your way into Heaven”.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        That’s an interesting and disconcerting passage of Lewis’s. I wonder if this a problem for me: I rarely think about personal salvation, and think a lot about how Good and Beautiful society would be if Truth was hegemonic in it.

      • Frog Do says:

        It’s funny, from the Low Church prespective we’re always accusing Catholics of this, what with their “faith and works” and “indulgences” and “Do these Seven Sacraments” and such. Sola fide causing the Prosperity Gospel would be a clickbait article I would definitely read.

        • Deiseach says:

          Modern Calvinism does seem to be a different beast; a lot of modern Reformed types I interacted with recoiled in absolute horror at the notion of double predestination and said that of course you must preach to the unregenerate and it’s not about reprobation, nobody can have assurance that they are one of the damned (assurance about being one of the elect is a debatable matter).

          So they’ve softened their stance on the matter, at least from the view on this side of the fence 🙂

          I don’t think it was ever formulated consciously as “worldly success equals God’s blessing equals proof of you being one of the Elect”, but it was more along the lines of “worldliness such as drunkenness and luxury are the province of the ungodly whereas the godly man is sober, thrifty, industrious, etc.” And since hard working, sober, thriftiness tends to bring success in its wake, then it’s easy to fall into the attitude that success is the outward sign of a godly, pious household and that this also is the sign of the saved. Which probably did help the psychological pressures which accrued, (as the Reformation cooled down and your local variety of Protestantism became the default, so you no longer had the same sense of “God’s chosen against the kings and powers of Babylon the Harlot, also known as Rome” as a badge of being on the side chosen for salvation), over the insistence on absolute Divine sovereignty and “what is saving faith versus dead faith” if someone whose faith is dead and of no avail can sincerely think they possess saving faith, when in fact they are damned?

      • DavidS says:

        I always thought the idea that Calvinism led to people driving for material success as a sign of elect-ness was completely uncontroversial. Certainly I’ve read it referred to as obviously a thing several times.

        My understanding is that Calvinist communities tended to look a lot for signs in a person’s life that they were saved and that success was a big one of these.

    • Murphy says:

      I know what you mean.

      I was expecting to find out he’d turned to normal Christianity of the type sometimes found in physicists… nope, full on “evolution isn’t real” young earth creationist Christianity.

      You can see where he’s started looking only for confirmation of positions and locked out any evidence pointing in the opposite and the scary thing is that it wouldn’t take much for the same to happen to anyone.

      • DensityDuck says:

        It’s like the Pratchett quote about “someone who built madness from cold hard sanity”.

      • Troy says:

        nope, full on “evolution isn’t real” young earth creationist Christianity.

        From footnote 8 in the essay: “I should note that I am not a young earth creationist, nor a fundamentalist. I think the Bible is filled with metaphors, exaggerations for emphasis, and was written by humans.”

        The author appears to be an old earth creationist, although I did not read the essay carefully.

        • Jiro says:

          He says he isn’t a young earth creationist, but the “problems” he finds with evolution are all straight out of the young earth creationist’s handbook, even if he doesn’t make the final leap.

      • Frog Do says:

        A signal is only effective when it costs something.

    • Nero tol Scaeva says:

      These sort of conversion stories always remind me to be humble.

      Really, you don’t need every single wrong premise to arrive at a wrong conclusion, you just need one. It’s like being a sniper trying to hit a target 1 mile away. The smallest error in your initial positioning will reveal a much larger sin where the target is at.

      One has to wonder what things we think we’re right about, but we are off by 1 degree in our initial position.

    • Muga Sofer says:

      >“The New Testament reads like an instruction manual by our creator

      I mean, the New Testament is full of literal instructions. Not ones that anyone follows, but that’s users for you.

  10. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    Living longer than, say, a googolplex years, requires us to be wrong about the basic character of physical law, not just the details.

    Even if some of the wilder speculations are true and it’s possible for our universe to spawn baby universes, that doesn’t get us literal immortality. To live significantly past a googolplex years without repeating yourself, you need computing structures containing more than a googol elements, and those won’t fit inside a single Hubble volume.

    And a googolplex is hardly infinity. To paraphrase Martin Gardner, Graham’s Number is still relatively small because most finite numbers are very much larger. Look up the fast-growing hierarchy if you really want to have your mind blown, well, eternity is longer than that. Only weird and frankly terrifying anthropic theories would let you live long enough to gaze, perhaps knowingly and perhaps not, upon the halting of the longest-running halting Turing machine with 100 states.

    FUUUUUUUUUUUUUU–

    Just when I think I’ve seen everything that can Shock me. 10/10, Eliezer.

    • Vanzetti says:

      What’s so shocking about the statement that any finite number is smaller than infinity? That’s the definition.

      • Catersu says:

        I think what’s actually shocking is that Yudkowsky didn’t formulate it like you did, but rather pedantically tried to fit every big number he’s heard about to turn a simple idea into three unnecessarily complicated paragraphs.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Eliezer better be careful or he’s gonna get eaten by Dementors.

    • Murphy says:

      Unfortunately a lot of the things he says are phrased in the language of less-wrong. To members of the ingroup it reads eloquently but to anyone outside it just looks like it has a lot of made-up terms.

      also awful awful picture. Why didn’t he use the profile pic from his facebook that looks respectable?

    • Adam says:

      He’s wrong about at least one thing: most finite numbers being larger than Graham’s number. The respective cardinalities of reals both lesser and greater than any chosen threshold are the same.

    • Jesse M. says:

      Yudkowsky’s comment seems dubious to me in terms of the physics–there are plenty of cosmologies consistent with known physics where the size of the observable universe keeps growing forever (also, the observable universe is significantly larger than the Hubble sphere), you just have to have a different value of the cosmological constant, which could presumably be true in a baby universe. Freeman Dyson wrote a paper on how infinite computation could be possible in a universe at the critical density and with the cosmological constant set to zero, for example. And there’s also Tipler’s ideas about how infinite computation involving steps happening in ever-decreasing spans of time might be possible in a universe that collapsed to a Big Crunch, though I’m unclear on how crackpotty his basic physics is (he seems to argue that there’s no need for quantum gravity and that the Standard Model and general relativity are totally compatible as long as you impose the right future boundary conditions, for example)

      • Adam says:

        I think his bigger point there is that the NPV of googolplex remaining years of life and infinity remaining years of life are exactly the same to him, and that will always be true no matter when in the next infinity years you asked him to make the calculation, so immortality is not more desirable than some unimaginably long but finite life. He also seems to think it’s not possible, but that’s kind of a sidebar that doesn’t even matter.

  11. Dormin111 says:

    From “Deconstructing the Evidenced-Based Discourse in Health Sciences: Truth Power and Racism –

    “Consequently, EBHS comes to be widely considered as the
    truth. When only one method of knowledge production is
    promoted and validated, the implication is that health sciences
    are gradually reduced to EBHS. Indeed, the legitimacy
    of health sciences knowledge that is not based on specific
    research designs comes to be questioned, if not dismissed
    altogether. In the starkest terms, we are currently witnessing
    the health sciences engaged in a strange process of eliminating
    some ways of knowing. EBHS becomes a ‘regime of
    truth’, as Foucault would say – a regimented and institutionalised
    version of ‘truth’.”

    If the scientific community, or even the majority of the general population came to accept this paper as true, civilization would end.

    • hlynkacg says:

      It would deserve to end.

    • 27chaos says:

      I think it’s fine if there are multiple notions of what counts as evidence coexisting. I expect many will be useless or harmful, but those won’t be very popular, so who cares?

      • Murphy says:

        They already exist, what that paper is advocating is giving them a say in real medicine.

        If your doctor insists on only paying attention to real science then they’re being part of the “regime”.

        No, your doctor should be required to consider all forms of “truth”. Not just randomised controlled trials but also the results of vision quests and crystal meditation.

        Otherwise they are a racists and exclusionary.

    • Nita says:

      The critical individual must then resort to resistance strategies in front of such hegemonic discourses within which there is little freedom for expressing unconventional thoughts.

      Sounds familiar 😀

      More seriously, they seem to be trying to say something like, “If RCTs become the only thing you are allowed to publish, we will be unable to question the assumptions that underlie these studies.”

      Edit:

      When the pluralism of free speech is extinguished, speech as such is no longer meaningful; what follows is terror, a totalitarian violence. We must resist the totalitarian program – a program that collapses words and things, a program that thwarts all invention, a program that robs us of justice, of our meaningful place in the world, and of the future that is ours to forge together.

      Fantastic.

      • Alex Trouble says:

        ” ‘If RCTs become the only thing you are allowed to publish, we will be unable to question the assumptions that underlie these studies.’ ”

        Sounds like motte-and-bailey strikes again.

    • dndnrsn says:

      I made the mistake of trying to figure out what the authors mean when they kick the question of defining “fascism” over to Deleuze and Guattari.

      Then again, me thinking that fascism need have a definition that actually means something in the context of fascism as it actually existed is probably in and of itself fascism. Or something.

      Also, it is horrifying to see something written in this style quoting Orwell about “Newspeak”.

    • dinofs says:

      I don’t think the claims this paper is making are as anti-science as you seem to be reading them as. Maybe it’s because I’m too comfortable with this prose style, but it sounds more like an observation that “EBHS” is becoming the only institutionally acceptable way to do medicine, which seems obviously true. The tone implies that this is a bad thing, but not because experimentation is bad, just because having any one style dominate is undesirable – which also seems true to me. Questioning the assumptions of the scientific establishment doesn’t necessarily mean rejecting them, just asking for some caution in applying the same method to all problems.

  12. merzbot says:

    A couple good articles: Freddie DeBoer is really freaking done with leftist classism and wild accusations of racism and decries the “cancer that is modern liberalism.” Can’t say I disagree.

    >Popehat combines strong free speech advocacy with a strong insistence that free speech principles should only apply to government

    I disagree? Ken White harshly criticizes people who compare private censorship to government censorship, but isn’t a fan of private censorship either. See: any of his posts on campus political correctness.

    • Frog Do says:

      After reading his twitter fight with Jeet Heer, Freddie is not being very charitable himself, dare I say as usual. I like him, and TNR is obviously in the tank for Clinton (as is Vox, most other liberal media sites, most neoconservative media sites, etc), but for someone who focuses on trying to win and the need to win over people who disagree with you he sure enjoys picking fights with the center left.

    • Held in Escrow says:

      This election cycle has just broken Freddie. He’s right that the media is very much in the tank for Hillary, but this blinds him to real faults of Sanders that fall outside his worldview. It’s as if you found out that the NSA really is spying on everyone, therefore they’re also covering up aliens. Just look at his recent ravings about how nobel prize winning economics and wonks are all wrong, evil, and hippy punching because buzzwords.

      He came in with a set of biases and when some were shown to be true he assumed they all were

      • Chris says:

        Freddie isn’t a Sanders supporter.

        • Held in Escrow says:

          Never claimed he was. Freddie’s probably voting Green or something this election. But look at his whole rant about how liberal economists were “hippy punching” when they called out Sanders’ economic plans. Freddie didn’t know anything about the economic analysis and just lined up behind Sanders while accusing others of being mean.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Freddie deBoer is an interesting case. Whenever he lays out his vision for What Must Be Done, it’s radical in the real sense of the term: it would involve massive and fundamental social changes. In contrast, “radical” is often used incorrectly as a slur or as a self-identification. In the former case, a classic example is right-wingers calling liberal feminists “radical feminists” for wanting stuff like paid maternity leave. For a more contemporary example, you’ve got people calling sites like Jezebel “radical feminists”.

      In the latter case, you’ve got left-wing student activists who call themselves “radicals” (and sneer at “liberals”) demanding nothing radical – look at all the campus protests where part of what they want is a few million for the Martian Student Centre, a few million for the Martian Studies Program, more tenure-track positions for Martian Studies profs … and the activist leadership is made up of Martian Studies majors and grad students who stand to be hired as Martian Student Centre staff and Martian Studies profs in future.

      He’s a legitimate radical but there’s no place for him because there’s a strong strand of left-wing activism where genetic fallacies (especially the ad hominem) are viewed as positive (and bringing up logical fallacies is viewed with suspicion, because rules of logic in debate serve the status quo and were come up with by hated oppressors), where attempts to find tactics that work externally instead of internally (to appeal to those who don’t already agree) and to self-correct on other issues are viewed as “concern trolling”, and where social group membership is really important. Maybe this isn’t the most charitable view, but I find the norms of discourse among the sort of people DeBoer seems to have set himself against very messed up.

      What fascinates me is that he realizes all of this, but he continues to say “guys let’s do things my way” and grump about how liking Primus doesn’t make him less right than liking Beyonce. He’s like the uncool kid in grade school who thinks he can convince the cool kids in his group project that they should do the diorama his way. Even if his way is better, it’s not gonna happen.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        He’s a legitimate radical but there’s no place for him because there’s a strong strand of left-wing activism where genetic fallacies (especially the ad hominem) are viewed as positive (and bringing up logical fallacies is viewed with suspicion, because rules of logic in debate serve the status quo and were come up with by hated oppressors), where attempts to find tactics that work externally instead of internally (to appeal to those who don’t already agree) and to self-correct on other issues are viewed as “concern trolling”, and where social group membership is really important.

        Logocentric thinking is the strongest tool of white supremacist discourse. People of Color have intuitive knowledge. Race being a social construct, white people were once the same until they constructed themselves as logocentric oppressors with the invention of formal logic by Aristotle to justify his pupil Alexander’s imperialism.

      • stillnotking says:

        He’s like the uncool kid in grade school who thinks he can convince the cool kids in his group project that they should do the diorama his way.

        He’s more like the kid who conspicuously gets up and leaves as soon as somebody rolls a joint. Freddie is a larval curmudgeon, a real-life Hermione Granger. That’s probably why I like him.

        • dndnrsn says:

          I suppose that I agree with him on the problems with a lot of left-wing discourse, although I don’t agree with him on his ideal political program – I am not a radical. I do agree that his cranky persona is very amusing, especially considering that he’s, what, late 20s, early 30s?

          However, I find it really odd that he recognizes that the sort of left-wing activists he decries like the methods they use, because beyond (as they see it, at least) advancing their objectives, they also get social status. He thinks that how they’re doing things isn’t really advancing those objectives – whether he can convince them or not is one thing. But it’s kind of weird that he can expect them to give up the tools and way of seeing the world that give them social status.

      • Kevin C. says:

        “there’s a strong strand of left-wing activism where genetic fallacies (especially the ad hominem) are viewed as positive (and bringing up logical fallacies is viewed with suspicion, because rules of logic in debate serve the status quo and were come up with by hated oppressors)”

        I read this, and immediately thought of Andrea Nye’s “Words of Power: A Feminist Reading of the History of Logic“, which argues that logic is “abstract forms of language spoken by men”, whose promotion as unitary, transcendent, or anything more that one form of thought amongst other equally valid modes is part of patriarchal and racist oppression. Not only is it loaded with ad hominem and the genetic fallacy (along with emotive personal anecdotes), she openly admits so in her concluding chapter, going on to defend these on the grounds that they’re only “fallacious” according to the very logic whose universiality she rejects, and are thus perfectly valid arguments in more “feminine” modes of discourse.

      • Deiseach says:

        I don’t know the guy but the bits I’ve read (from the recommended blog posts) have me caught between sympathy and schadenfreude.

        Yes, and what did you think would happen? This is the fruit of your liberalism and progressivism as nurtured in academia. This is the slippery slope you and yours liked to mock conservatives for believing in. We said that there were no limits, no brakes, that what was formerly seen as moderate would come to be seen as on the right, and that the constant pursuit of ever more fine-grained oppressions would never stop, that there was no “it’s about tolerance” but would devolve into “you must approve, even in your secret inmost thoughts because we are Right and Good and you are Wrong and Evil”.

        Look at the French Revolution, which had real grievances to address, and how it ended in the Terror and the rise again of the Strong Man (in the form of Napoleon) to take control and put a stop to endless denunciations and executions. It might be pushing it to say that by the very logic of the Revolution, it could end in nothing else, but once the principle of constant oppression, constant revolution was established, it was very hard to stop and the sword turned in the hands of its wielders and struck them down also.

        Now it’s all gone too far, when it’s you being scourged for insufficient revolutionary zeal and for being a reactionary? Sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander, my friend!

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Spoken like Joseph de Maistre.

        • Hlynkacg says:

          @Deiseach:

          My thoughts exactly.

        • Walter says:

          One of the few pleasures of being on the right. Your left leaning friends, who sneer down their noses at your bigotry and evil, will one day find themselves exiled for these same witchcrafts. Cold comfort to confront them on that day, as one heretic to another and say.

          “Don’t you understand that this was always the plan? The grave that you dug was only ever for you. The tower you built you were always to swing from.”

        • BBA says:

          This isn’t quite what he’s saying, though. His usual line is that he’s been an activist for years, protesting the Iraq War and the WTO while his contemporaries dismissed him as naive and shrill. Now those same contemporaries dominate the media, and they mock him as a right-wing misogynist because he’s opposed to call-out culture and he doesn’t praise Amy Schumer enough or something. From his perspective, these people still vote for warmongers like Clinton and support trade deals that’ll offshore American jobs, so how the hell can they call him conservative?

          In short it’s a conflict between the economic left and the identity-politics left, with both insisting they’re further left than the other.

          • anon says:

            Nope, that’s exactly what’s going on.

            Yes, the identity left doesn’t emphasize what the economic left would like to emphasize but if you say that the identity left is destructive then you still oppose the left and for (some of) the same reasons that the right does. To the left, that puts you on the right – a standard he understands fully when he gets to be on the holy leftist side.

          • dndnrsn says:

            That’s a really good way of describing how deBoer presents himself. Arguably, better than deBoer does.

        • Troy Rex says:

          To outrageously mix metaphors, you say that any move to the left on the political spectrum disturbs a previously stable and righteous equilibrium, and sets us sliding down the slippery slope, so that we have no one to blame but ourselves for any craziness that thereafter ensues. Nonsense. There was no such equilibrium; there have been many slides to the right as well and how would you like an historical appeal to Franco or whoever; even if the slippery slope is true, present craziness does not mean past tolerance was a bad thing; abuse of an argument does not take away correct use, which is to say there’s no inconsistency with appealing to tolerance but then disagreeing with identity politics. DeBoer in particular has this great old-school emphasis on material outcomes as the leftist standard.

          Your schadenfreude is fun to read but not a good argument.

          • Erik says:

            In the historical appeal to Franco, what (if any) would you say were the further slides right in that case? Because I think one can accept “There was no such equilibrium” and still hold that slides left precipitate further slides left in a general way that slides right do not precipitate further slides right — there is no specific equilibrium, but there is unidirectional inertia.

          • Troy Rex says:

            Erik, I didn’t mean to imply there were any slides further to the right of Franco. I understood Deiseach to be saying that slides to the left may lead to indiscriminate use of the guillotine, and was just playing ping to her pong.

            On unidirectional inertia – deBoer, for one, would probably strongly contest that Western society has moved all that far left, politically and economically. Britain and the Scandinavian countries have pulled back sharply from socialism, in favor of a welfare state backed by capitalism.

            Now, unidirectional social liberalising, I agree (and not nearly fast enough). But even for that, think of China and other countries, which remained socially conservative for millenia. There’s no mysterious malign force inevitably pushing us leftward, down into the darkness of fallen humankind. I think it’s the result of democracy, prosperity, relative military safety. These can change.

    • johnny tesla says:

      DeBoer simultaneously claims that ‘BernieBro’ phenomenon isn’t real and cries bitter tears that his Weird Twitter pals are getting suspended because their immunity to harass people on Twitter is revoked.

      ‘Tis a sport to see leftoids undone by identity politics

      Kill DeBoer, kill the farmer

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Administrative warning: I understand the pun thing you’re trying to do with that last sentence, but given The Way The Internet Works I would prefer to avoid talking about killing people, even in jest.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Freddie hasn’t pointed to the obvious way that the media is “in the tank” for Clinton.

      I’m not saying I don’t believe it. I do believe it. But because I don’t like Clinton, I am all too willing to believe it. I should be more skeptical of things that confirm my priors.

      • Frog Do says:

        His argument is that media outlets trade exclusive access and interviews in exchange for guarunteed favorable coverage. It’s in his blog posts, and there was a recent Gawker (I know, I know) expose of the same thing.

      • Good general point.

        It’s the reason why, when I wanted to make sense of traditional Somali law, I looked for a book not written by a libertarian.

    • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

      What’s remarkable to me is how, despite his correct diagnosis of leftist classism, DeBoer still manages to see “a lot of scared people who are allowing their fear to push them towards demagoguery and nativism”. Surely one of the main things Trump is doing for those Neanderthals in western Massachusetts is giving them a way to say “We despise you right back, assholes”?

      • Alex says:

        This. Absolutely, positively this. Any time the subject of Trump’s popularity comes up, I try to explain to people that the rural poor are sick of being disparaged by the wealthier, better-educated urban elite, and know that voting for Trump /really pisses liberals off/.

        On a side note, people like DeBoer really frighten and confuse me. People who can look at a world where suggesting that maybe you should just look in your pants to figure out what gender you should identify as can get you fired, and thinks that Republicans are in control of everything, don’t seem in touch with reality.

        • wysinwyg says:

          On a side note, people like DeBoer really frighten and confuse me. People who can look at a world where suggesting that maybe you should just look in your pants to figure out what gender you should identify as can get you fired, and thinks that Republicans are in control of everything, don’t seem in touch with reality.

          It’s a matter of perspective. I could say that it scares me that anyone could look at the ratio of Republican congressmen and governors to democrats and the tendency towards deregulation and other neoliberal policies becoming more popular and conclude that liberals are in charge of everything.

          But really, it doesn’t surprise me. It’s exactly what I expect. Conservatives think their established way of life is under attack by liberals, and conservatives liberals (thanks Edward Scizorhands) believe their established way of life is under attack by conservatives.

          In fact, I’m not sure how anyone could participate in political discussion on the internet and not find it obvious that which side is perceived to be triumphing is completely a function of the anxieties and biases of the party doing the perceiving.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Exactly.

          • Nonnamous says:

            Rabbi Altmann and his secretary were sitting in a coffeehouse in Berlin in 1935. “Herr Altmann,” said his secretary, “I notice you’re reading Der Stürmer! I can’t understand why. A Nazi libel sheet! Are you some kind of masochist, or, God forbid, a self-hating Jew?”

            “On the contrary, Frau Epstein. When I used to read the Jewish papers, all I learned about were pogroms, riots in Palestine, and assimilation in America. But now that I read Der Stürmer, I see so much more: that the Jews control all the banks, that we dominate in the arts, and that we’re on the verge of taking over the entire world. You know – it makes me feel a whole lot better!”

          • transparentradiation says:

            I keep expecting Scott to notice his people dancing around the golden calf of political bias.

            How many people just jumped into that leftist effigy kicking session?

            Is it just me or did the spirit of intellectual fairness, self-critique, and good faith efforts to avoid demonizing others end here a year or so ago?

            And Deiseach….your hatred is eating your brain.

      • This is the entire reason that I find Trump exciting. Forget policies; I don’t even know what Trump’s policies, and honestly don’t care. But he makes liberal and center-right journalists weep bitter tears, and that’s all I really want from a candidate.

        I support Bernie over Clinton for similar reasons, but I don’t think that Bernie is going to make it (while Trump probably will).

    • BBA says:

      Even when deBoer is right about something, he tends to be so obnoxious and disagreeable as to alienate people who’d otherwise agree with him. He undermines his own arguments.

      I’d refer to this as “Dan Bernstein syndrome” but fortunately Bernstein has mellowed out enough that it isn’t really applicable to him anymore.

  13. Theo Jones says:

    Jeff Kaufman: buses are 67x safer than cars. They’re also underused, partly because they’re annoying, partly because of safety features. There is room to trade off bus safety for bus convenience, which would make people take more buses, which would actually make them safer in the long run. Therefore we should make buses more dangerous.

    As a frequent bus rider, the types of issues discussed in the article don’t really line up with my experiences of how bus transit can go wrong. The main issue isn’t so much speed, as scheduling and reliability. Namely there are relatively few bus times, and bus drivers will sometimes do something like intentionally skip a stop for their convenience. This creates a dynamic where to get to a place on time with confidence, I have to 1)pick target a bus time that already gets me there early (because that is the only one) , and 2) because of the reliability issues I have to pick one bus before that. This means that I usually get at my location way before I need to, as a way to insure against the the problems of the bus system.

    A bus system where there were more, smaller buses (or even something like the “jitney” system seen in developing nations), would get around some of these issues (but this probably would be more expensive).

    • Nita says:

      bus drivers will sometimes do something like intentionally skip a stop for their convenience

      That’s… not how it’s supposed to work. Come on, Americans. You can do space travel but you can’t do public transportation?

      • Frog Do says:

        Racial issues.

      • Murphy says:

        Had this problem in a european country too.
        It’s normally because the bus is full and nobody wants to get off at that stop.

        Sometimes it’s simply due to perverse incentives where the driver is penalized for being behind schedule but not for bypassing stops.

        • LHN says:

          I wonder if it happens as often now that buses have GPS and are tracked on widely available smartphone bus tracker apps as well as (presumably) by the transit agency. If skipping a stop is obvious and capable of generating immediate public complaints, I’d expect to see less of it.

          • John Schilling says:

            Truck drivers already have GPS jammers to avoid this sort of micromanagement. This is a problem. Please let’s not manufacture a perverse incentive to expand the problem.

            Generally speaking, technological solutions to the “my workers are not doing their jobs” problem ought to be a last resort, are probably only going to be marginally effective, and may be a sign that you’re in the wrong line of business and/or recruiting from the wrong labor pool. People who don’t feel like doing their jobs can put a surprising amount of effort and creativity into not doing their jobs. Or they can join the civil service. If your problem is civil servants who don’t feel like doing their jobs, you’re done for.

          • LHN says:

            In the case of buses, GPS tracking isn’t primarily an employee management tool. It vastly increases the utility of the system (a user can go to the stop when a bus is N minutes away, instead of relying on a published schedule that’s always wrong), it helps prevent bus bunching due to propagated delays, etc.

            Since the bus tracker app works really well, at least in the systems I’ve used it in, I infer that GPS jammers aren’t a major problem. Possibly because buses are pretty micromanaged by their nature (short, rigid routes with lots of riders and tight schedules) in a way that long-haul truckers historically haven’t been.

            I suspect it would be a lot more immediately obvious if one driver’s buses were disappearing off the grid regularly, and harder to plausibly deny when a dozen other buses came through during the same time period without doing so.

          • John Schilling says:

            I expect that bus tracking apps work well because they aren’t being used to single out bus drivers for discipline. Bus drivers have a range of reasons for skipping stops, with varying degrees of legitimacy. If instead of A: trusting them or B: evaluating missed stops on a case-by-case basis, a bus service C: implements GPS-enforced zero tolerance for skipping a stop, there will be more than just one driver with a jammer. And, as with truck drivers, there’s plausible deniability in numbers – “It wasn’t me that was using the jammer; it must have been someone else on the same block, maybe not even a bus driver at all, could have been one of those damn trucks…”

          • LHN says:

            Sure, but my idly wondering if bus tracking makes skipping stops less likely doesn’t equate to zero-tolerance enforcement.

          • Murphy says:

            With bus drivers you don’t need GPS to know when they’re skipping stops. The customers can be on your company site with their phones lodging a complaint that the bus passing Stop X at 16:20 skipped it.

            Which will tend to narrow it down to one or maybe 2 drivers pretty easily.

            TFL in london has a particularly easy process for making this kind of complaint.

          • John Schilling says:

            @Murphy: That’s a much more sensible way of addressing the issue, because it immediately rebuts about one and a half of the legitimate reasons for not stopping – that there was nobody waiting, and that the bus was absolutely full (the latter might or might not be verifiable from a phone video). It has the disadvantage of requiring more effort to implement, half of which has to be provided without pay by civic-minded citizens and half by civil servants who have their own (lack of) incentives. So I can see the bureaucracy gravitating towards the stupid way of automatically writing up a violation if the GPS shows a skipped stop.

          • LHN says:

            Re phone cameras, you may be underestimating the modern panopticon. In Chicago, at least, buses have twelve surveillance cameras on board. How full or empty the bus is at a given time is presumably easy to determine.

            (I don’t know if there’s also a direct measure of passenger loads. They certainly know how many people are boarding, but whether they detect and count people as they leave I’m not sure.)

            All the stops probably don’t have cameras yet. (The downtown ones with shelters almost certainly do, but not the ones that are just a sign at the corner. I think.) Given the ongoing push for cameras everywhere, though, I’d guess that’s a matter of time.

          • John Schilling says:

            Re phone cameras, you may be underestimating the modern panopticon. In Chicago, at least, buses have twelve surveillance cameras on board.

            And if those cameras are being used to generate automatic disciplinary action for bus drivers who skip stops when their busses are algorithmically only 90% full, they are going to mysteriously exhibit a vastly accelerated failure rate. All those meddling kids’ fault, of course, sticking gum over the lenses, pity the angles were never right to catch them in the act…

            It’s the camera in the pissed-off commuter’s hand that the driver doesn’t control and might really threaten him. But even that takes effort on both his part and the bureaucracy’s; unless you really do automate the whole process with crowd-mapping software, adding the bus’s internal cameras just increases bureaucratic workload. Just tossing it over to GPS is going to be so much easier…

        • Julie K says:

          I’ve seen that happen. Not much point stopping when the bus is too full to admit another passenger.

        • keranih says:

          Day before yesterday, empty bus, me at a mandatory stop, where I’d been waiting nearly half an hour –

          – bus blows right on through.

          I hate our buses.

    • Alex says:

      “A bus system where there were more, smaller buses would get around some of these issues.”

      Walk that gradient long enough and you get, surprise, a car.

      • Anonymous says:

        Walk that gradient even further and you get loops of many motorcycles riding from cyclebus stop to cyclebus stop without any passengers.

    • eccdogg says:

      I think transit planners are comming to realize this. Houston’s bus sytem was redesigned with frequent service and high ridership as a goal and Raleigh, NC is likely following a similar path.

      I live very close to a bus stop and have taken it on occasion with my kids into downtown. We missed the bus by a few minutes and then had to wait 20 minutes for the next one and on the return trip the bus only came every hour during lunch time.

      The plan is to inrease service to 15 min intervals all day everyday within the core of the city which will make it way more usable.

      I also think having uber as a backstop should make busses more viable, I took the bus to work a few times but the downtown bus station could be a bit scary at night if Ihad to work late. Knowing that I had an Uber backstop would have really helped.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Maybe I’m coming in high off of the Freddie DeBoer article concerned about liberals more interested in classism than helping people, but bus systems seem to be built around this model:

        1. Build a bus system, then
        2. Harangue people into using it.

        This puts the whole thing on its head. Buses should be built so that people want to ride them. Even before Uber it was possible to imagine building a much more demand-responsive bus system that goes from and to where people want, but with Uber demonstrating how well on-demand transportation works, it should be even better.

        • eccdogg says:

          I agree, but I think it was a question of priorities and resources.

          If you only have a fixed amount to spend you have choice between frequency and coverage. Many places the bus system was mainly a fallback for the poor to give then some type of transportation option. This lead to low frequency high coverage systems so that almost everyone could get some form of bus servcie even though it was really crappy.

        • BBA says:

          Especially in smaller cities, that’s exactly the model they use. They’ve got federal grants to keep a bus system running, and by gum they’re not going to say no to free money from Uncle Sam. Whether anyone actually rides the bus or how it could be improved is practically an afterthought.

          (Note: the existence of subsidies doesn’t mean transit should simply be abandoned. Every form of transportation loses money and gets subsidized, even roads.)

        • Aegeus says:

          Bus systems are (and should be) built for reliability, not on-demand service. I want to look at my phone, see that there’s a bus that takes me where I want to go in the next 15 minutes, walk a block or so, hop on. I ride the bus because of cheapness, reliability, frequency of buses and ease of access (I.e., stops are in places I want to go).

          I don’t want to look at my phone and see “There may or may not be a bus arriving, depending on if there’s enough demand in your area.”

    • Nero tol Scaeva says:

      “The main issue isn’t so much speed, as scheduling and reliability”

      I know! I grew up in NYC and went to undergrad at NYU. After the bars closed at 4am, I really didn’t feel like waiting a drunken hour for a train to get home; you could forget about a bus!

      This was around 2004/2005 so things might have changed since then…

    • BBA says:

      I forget where I saw this, but somebody described dividing transit between “arteries” that quickly move large numbers of people longer distances but only serve hubs and “capillaries” that are slower, lower capacity but cover far more territory. This distinction is more apparent in large cities with both rail and bus systems. Thing is, most buses run in capillary mode, even in cities where there is no rail transit.

      It’s possible to run buses as arteries – some Brazilian cities have buses with rail-like efficiency – but most American transit planners lack the foresight or influence to even try that sort of thing. And often the advantages get lost in implementation, as with the Select Bus in New York or the Silver Line in Boston, neither of which is particularly better than a standard local bus.

  14. Jiro says:

    “I’m increasingly convinced by the argument that [Twitter] has decided to offer a product aimed at a specific political group…[but] I classify Twitter’s action as bad customer service and as private speech I don’t like because of my conservative views…”

    Falsely claiming to be neutral and not being neutral isn’t just poor customer service; it’s fraud. I would think even the libertarians here oppose fraud.

    (And if you object that it’s not fraud because you’re not paying, you are paying, just not with direct cash.)

    • Protagoras says:

      A huge number of news organizations (of all stripes; not naming names because that’s not the point) would be guilty of fraud under this standard. Do you advocate prosecuting them, or encouraging lawsuits against them?

      • Anonymous says:

        >A huge number of news organizations (of all stripes; not naming names because that’s not the point)

        I would be more interested in the list of the ones that don’t (either by not being partisan, or by being openly so)… No major news site/paper/channel that I can think of has the tagline “Giving the right/left-wing spin to the facts that you so desperately want (even when you claim you don’t)”.

      • Muga Sofer says:

        >A huge number of news organizations (of all stripes; not naming names because that’s not the point) would be guilty of fraud under this standard.

        I mean, yeah. Of course flat-out lying to people so they’ll engage with you is going to fall under any reasonable definition of fraud.

    • Part of the problem with calling it fraud is that “neutral” isn’t well defined–it depends in part on what the person using the label considers the range of reasonable opinion. A truly neutral source on political systems would be neutral between my version of anarcho-capitalism and Rothbard’s version. No need to include those crazy minarchists.

      • suntzuanime says:

        Content-neutrality is fairly well defined in the US since it’s important to First Amendment jurisprudence and there have been a lot of cases fought over it. You can say “oh obviously I didn’t mean it like that, I meant neutral except for things I don’t like, obviously, come on”, but there is a standard that could at least theoretically be applied.

      • Jiro says:

        We normally understand a claim by a source to being neutral to mean “this source is trying in good faith to be neutral, but may screw up”. This is different from claiming to be neutral in bad faith.

  15. Pku says:

    Reading the Eliezer interview somewhat reinforced my notion of him as a crank, but it’s interesting that he still has a much better handle on a lot of these ideas than the interviewer – I guess it can be too easy to forget that a lot of people really are bad at picturing things outside their everyday experience.
    In general, reading Eliezer is kinda like listening to a christian sermon for me. There’ll be a lot of general stuff I agree with and wish people did more of, but there’s also this incredibly annoying unshakable confidence that everything he says is the pure truth nonbelievers are afraid to admit. And the occasional crazy bizarre story.

    • Frog Do says:

      He’s referrencing philosophers to support his points now instead of dismissing the entire field to support his point, an encouraging development.

      • Directed Acyclic Wrath says:

        Is that a reflection of a change in underlying views or just figuring out better rhetoric for speaking to an audience that will give more credibility to a position if it’s couched in some notable philosopher’s beliefs?

        The problem with philosophy isn’t that there aren’t lots of great ideas scattered across the field. The problem is that studying philosophy is a horribly inefficient way of capturing just the good ideas. Even the postmodernists make really solid arguments once in a while, but putting up with their prose and all the embarrassingly bad arguments isn’t worth the payout.

        • Frog Do says:

          That comment was mostly snark, but it means he’s actually trying to be understood by a larger group of people, which I do genuinely think is a good thing. It’s really hard to talk to LW and rationalist-adjacent people outside their extremely specific language, even for someone like me who (I think) is relatively used to translating between online and offline subcultures. I mean, that’s part of the reason why western philosophy is the Great Conversation, because ideally everyone can be understood. Even the postmodernists acknowledge they write in the style they are famous for deliberately and with purpose.

          • Directed Acyclic Wrath says:

            EY at his most jargon–y and context–is–assumed is far more readable for the uninitiated than Hegel.* Not that that’s a high bar, but there’s nothing inherently more difficult about understanding LW as a philosophical school than most any other philosophical movement. The only difference, in that respect, is that it’s nascent and very far removed from the taste-makers (or “loci of knowledge production,” if you’d like) of the field.

            *(Not to mention Baudrillard, Foucault, Heidegger, etc., etc., etc.)

      • TheAncientGeek says:

        Bu the named dropped Hume instead of Ryle.

        Hard not to make pedantic comments about someone who has an air of unshakeable confidence.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      He definitely gives the same impression of having his shtick down, in the sense that the interviewer asks him something and he searches his brain for Answer To Dumb Question Number #341 and then recites it from memory.

  16. suntzuanime says:

    Apparently there are a bunch of random houses in my area on a national register of historic places? If a house’s claim to fame is that an artisan lived there in the 19th century, it probably doesn’t need a Wikipedia page IMO.

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      They probably don’t need one, but then Wikipedia doesn’t really need a very high barrier of entry either. Adding pages that aren’t strictly necessary doesn’t seem like it’d get in anyone’s way.

      • suntzuanime says:

        … unless you use Wikipedia’s “Nearby” feature and have to wade through a bunch of pointless crap.

      • cbhacking says:

        While I feel like they are both somewhat arbitrary (even in theory) and very widely abused in practice, Wikipedia does have “notability” guidelines for a reason. That reason feels less critical now than it may once have, as both storage and bandwidth keep getting cheaper while search (ostensibly) keeps getting better, but other aspects like a limited number of moderators, ever-growing disambiguation pages, and a concern for reputation still argues for *some* degree of standards.

        In practice, WP’s notability rules are really skewed in certain ways. An example from some years back was having an individual page for every single damn pokemon but deleting pages for even very popular and widely-read webcomics on grounds having something to do with the barrier to entry for a webcomic being too low for them to qualify as published works and thus notable, or something like that. Apparently, each item on the national register of historic places qualifies as sufficiently notable, which seems logical until you realize how low the NRHP’s standards are…

  17. suntzuanime says:

    Popehat comparison to the Gay Cake Case again glosses over the distinction between between the proper way to behave in society and the proper things for the government to ban. I think it’s wrong to force bakers to bake gay cakes at gunpoint. I also think it’s wrong for bakers to refuse to bake gay cakes. I think it’s wrong to force Twitter to unban conservatives at gunpoint. I also think it’s wrong for Twitter to ban conservatives. This is not an inconsistency and the point he’s making does not seem any more subtle or nuanced than before, just more wordy.

    • The Smoke says:

      If one baker refuses to deliver to a gay wedding, that’s something and if there exists the general right to deny service, then this is just an instance. If all bakers in your wider area refuse, then I think you should have some way of getting your cake with a state intervention if necessary.
      Since Twitter has a quasi-monopoly, it’s basically the second case here, so they should be under much more legal obligations to neutrality (unless they are upfront about their service catering to some specific political demografic).

      • Pku says:

        I think twitter’s wrong here, but I still don’t think it’s a case for government intervention – if it doesnt and twitter keep banning conservatives, conservatives just start leaving twitter. Which isn’t ideal, but seems preferable to government policing social media.

      • suntzuanime says:

        I don’t think my right not to bake a gay cake should depend on whether or not other people are willing to bake one. Also, if Twitter has a quasi-monopoly that’s a problem in itself and should be solved.

      • John Schilling says:

        If all the bakers in your wider area refuse to bake gay wedding cakes, then you live in an area where there is such overwhelming anti-gay sentiment that it is unlikely you will be allowed to have a gay wedding at all and need to be more concerned with whether or not you are going to be thrown in jail for sodomy – and, should you manage to hold a gay wedding anyhow, with whether the local police would even bother to investigate when it turns out the baker mistook rat poison for flour. Or possibly you live in an area with a bare majority of anti-gay sentiment but this has turned into Gay Jim Crow laws such that even the bakers who would be happy to take your money are not allowed to. Either way, state intervention is unlikely to work in your favor.

        If there’s a baker who is actually advertising themselves as being gay-friendly but that’s just a ruse to spoil gay weddings by cancelling the cake one day before the event, state intervention at the level of enforcing contracts and anti-fraud laws might be helpful. This may be a reasonable analogy for the Twitter case; I’m not sure how they advertise their services.

        • Either way, state intervention is unlikely to work in your favor.

          Well, yes, that’s why the President federalizes the National Guard and orders them to stay in the barracks. Then the 82nd Airborne moves in and enforces order.

          At that point it’s up to the Governor: does he really want to start Civil War 2.0 over gay wedding cakes?

          • John Schilling says:

            Correct. State intervention works in your favor iff you are a minority living in an area where your kind is nigh-universally despised but which is embedded in a state with a strong central government and a population that is generally supportive of your kind, and if you can’t just move to the place where the people who like you live.

            This is roughly equivalent to, “state intervention is unlikely to work in your favor”, but requires far more words.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ John Schilling:

            That has historically described a great number of people, so it’s odd to say it’s “unlikely”.

          • Mary says:

            “Great number of people”? You have figures?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Mary:

            3,521,110

            Just one famous case.

          • John,
            I feel it’s an important distinction to make, given the American experience. State intervention supported Jim Crow, but Federal intervention ended it.

          • John Schilling says:

            That has historically described a great number of people, so it’s odd to say it’s “unlikely”.

            Compared to the sum of people who are considered a despised minority throughout the sovereign nation in which they live, and people whose despised minority status goes unnoticed outside their local communities? And people who are being oppressed by privileged minorities and all the rest?

            A million is great number, if you are counting people, but a million out of a billion is still unlikely.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ John Schilling:

            A million is great number, if you are counting people, but a million out of a billion is still unlikely.

            Clearly, we’re using “unlikely” in different senses. For instance, it’s unlikely that any given person you meet will be transgendered. But given the size of a typical city, it’s nearly certain that it will contain at least one.

            Compared to the sum of people who are considered a despised minority throughout the sovereign nation in which they live, and people whose despised minority status goes unnoticed outside their local communities?

            Well, as I see it, the basic thesis here is the people who are despised everywhere are screwed anyway; not much we can do to help them.

            On the other hand, if there is some kind of objective moral truth and society is moving closer to it over time, we’ll see groups move from being despised everywhere to being despised only in a relatively few recalcitrant holdout areas. At that point, the majority of the larger society can intervene to speed the process along and help this minority achieve legal and social equality “ahead of schedule”.

            At the same time, of course, local areas ought to be free from national interference when they themselves are on the “frontiers of progress”. So local areas have the right to say, grant women the vote before the whole country gets around to it, but once it’s been granted local areas don’t have the right to take it away.

            As for people’s despised status being unnoticed by society at large, that’s why it’s important “raise awareness” of their plight, in order to generate the public pressure to do something. So we have everything from Uncle Tom’s Cabin to documentaries about anti-transgender discrimination.

            That’s basically the progressive idea about the role of the national government in regard to minorities. I think some people take it too far, but neither do I wholly disagree.

            And people who are being oppressed by privileged minorities and all the rest?

            People being oppressed by privileged minorities is combated in the same way. In the South, of course, many areas were majority-black and those often saw the worst oppression because the whites were conscious of the danger of black uprisings.

            Or in general, if some locally privileged Boss Hogg is lording things over people, outside oversight can get rid of him.

          • Mary says:

            “Just one famous case.”

            Try providing another. Given that there have been billions of people.

          • Being less optimistic about moral progress than Vox, I see the logic of the situation the other way around.

            There is no way of giving the federal government only the power to do good. The question is whether legal rules that are relevant to the welfare of a minority that some are prejudiced against are decided at the state or federal level.

            If practically everyone shares the prejudice, it doesn’t much matter–the minority is in trouble either way.

            If a majority but not an overwhelming majority share the prejudice and the decision is made at the state level (situation A), there will be some states that don’t oppress the minority, and members of the minority group in states that do may be able to move. If the decision is made at the federal level, the minority is in trouble (situation B).

            If only a minority share the prejudice and the decision is made at the federal level, the minority is fine everywhere (C). If at the state level, fine most places but oppressed in some states (D).

            B is worse than A. D is worse than C. But the difference between D and C is less than the difference between B and A, because in both D and A the members of the minority who are being oppressed have the option of moving to a state where they are not, while in B they don’t.

            This obviously isn’t a rigorous argument–that would require a much more detailed model. But I think it is at least a rough sketch of one. To make my claim a little more precise, I am arguing that if you are a member of the minority you would be better off with a coin flip between D and A (state decision) than with a coin flip between B and C (federal decision).

            A similar but stronger argument suggests that the minority is still better off if the relevant decisions are made at the individual level instead of by either the state or federal government.

          • John Schilling says:

            Clearly, we’re using “unlikely” in different senses. For instance, it’s unlikely that any given person you meet will be transgendered. But given the size of a typical city, it’s nearly certain that it will contain at least one.

            Yes, and it is unlikely that you are that one.

            I am using “unlikely” in the sense of p<0.5 for the defined population.
            The CIA tries to narrow that down to 0.2<p<0.4, with middling success.

            If you are a member of the defined population “oppressed minorities within Western civilization”, then with 0.6<p<0.8 you will not be the one who is on the balance helped by government intervention into individual social or economic decisions.

            Is this sufficiently clear? Is there a different definition of “likely” that you think is more relevant? Because it looks to me like you are confusing “lots” with “likely”. There are lots of four-leaf clovers; it is unlikely that a clover has four leaves.

      • Mary says:

        If all bakers refused, the state isn’t going to be willing to help you because you are badly outnumbered.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          It is quite possible, as other people have pointed out here, that all the local bakers refuse, with the support of the local government (or at its command), but that the national government is on your side and willing to overrule the local government and compel the bakers to provide you service.

          That being pretty much what happened to Southern establishments that continued to refuse to serve black people after the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

          • Mary says:

            It’s also entirely possible that the local government will support you but the national one will force them to force you.

      • Cadie says:

        Well, the simplest way to get your cake would be to do it yourself or have a friend make it for you. Or order a fancy cake to specifications, not say who it’s for, and stick your own two-guy or two-girl cake topper on it after you’ve paid and received it intact, at which point they have zero say in what you do with it. Lie about who the couple is and don’t put names on the cake, or say it’s for your mother’s 50th birthday and she really likes lacy designs or something.

        I don’t like the idea of them refusing to make a cake for someone because they disapprove of the couple, and would definitely bitch about it on my blog if someone refused service to me for that reason, but this hardly seems difficult to route around and get the service anyway.

        This doesn’t solve the meta issue of when can a business decline service to someone who isn’t behaving illegally or disruptively. That’s a thornier and bigger problem and I’m not sure where the line is. Gay wedding cakes are IMO a poor example because it’s a luxury service and there are multiple ways of getting the cake other than calling a specific bakery and telling them the full truth.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          @ Cadie
          Well, the simplest way to get your cake would be to do it yourself or have a friend make it for you. Or order a fancy cake to specifications, not say who it’s for, and stick your own two-guy or two-girl cake topper on it after you’ve paid and received it intact, at which point they have zero say in what you do with it.

          Heh. This sounds like what I suggest on a lot of problems. But utility-wise I don’t think it works here.

          Having a traditional ‘wedding cake’ kind of wedding, is a celebration of a gay partnership now being legal, respectable, open, to be supported and celebrated. Having to use a home made cake, or non-professionally alter a professional cake — could rather take the edge off the celebration emotionally.

          Otoh, if the person who actually puts the icing on the cake is a creative artist who puts her heart into the work and emotionally celebrates each wedding event from afar — then forcing her to put a pro-gay picture on a cake for an event she sincerely thinks is damaging her vision of marriage is a bad experience to put her through.

          But this describes a pretty rare decorator, and anyway she could call in sick. For most decorators it wouldn’t be a big deal, or a deal at all. So the greater dis-utility would fall on the gay couple by having their wedding day marred.

          • Mary says:

            If that’s a pretty rare decorator, how is their wedding day marred by having to find another decorator?

            (Especially given that finding one would be much simpler than suing, which is what they resort to.)

          • Nita says:

            They did not sue. They submitted a consumer complaint using an online form.

            (Then the DOJ emailed the bakery, and the baker posted the email on Facebook, which started the incredible hurricane of publicity that hurt both the bakery and the couple.)

          • Jaskologist says:

            Talk about your first world problem. I got my wedding cakes at Costco. I don’t even remember if I ate any.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Who is “they”? The Oregon bakers were fined $135,000 and slapped with a gag order, so obviously this went a bit beyond a complaint. Whether or not that is technically “suing” is going to be immaterial to most people.

          • Nita says:

            Apparently, typing some text into your smartphone and hitting Send can set pretty large wheels in motion in 21st century America.

            The (now married) couple insist that all they wanted was an apology.

          • “Having a traditional ‘wedding cake’ kind of wedding, is a celebration of a gay partnership now being legal, respectable, open, to be supported and celebrated.”

            You seem to be saying that the fact that someone disapproves of what they are doing is an injury to them, with the implication either that people should be punished for disapproving or that people who disapprove should be punished for not concealing the fact.

            Is that a correct reading of your position?

            I don’t think I have any rights over the inside of your head, nor any right to believe things that are not true–for instance that everyone approves of me when some people don’t.

          • Randy M says:

            Careful with how you phrase that, David. You certainly have every right to believe any wrong thing you find compelling, but you have no right to have that belief reinforced by others. Like you can believe in any deity you just made up, but you cannot enforce any anti-blasphemy laws when I ridicule it.

          • Anonymous says:

            >Talk about your first world problem. I got my wedding cakes at Costco. I don’t even remember if I ate any.

            Talk about your first world problem, we don’t even have Costco around here.

          • Mary says:

            “The (now married) couple insist that all they wanted was an apology.”

            Then it was childlishly irresponsible of them to start the proceedings without knowing what they would issue in.

            Especially since they are not entitled to an apology. Certainly not at law.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            And you’d expect them to do what instead? Going through legal channels and filing complaints is what normal people are expected to do.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Nita
            (Then the DOJ emailed the bakery, and the baker posted the email on Facebook, which started the incredible hurricane of publicity that hurt both the bakery and the couple.)

            Ah. I thought $135,000 would be an incredibly high fine. On a quick Google first screen, Snopes and other sources say it was damages awarded to the couple for, among other things, being doxxed. I wonder what, if any, would be the fine for the simple refusal to serve.

          • Frank McPike says:

            The Oregon statute doesn’t actually specify a fine. Whoever hears the case is empowered to do two things: award actual damages to the complaining party and issue an injunction requiring the business to stop its discriminatory treatment. Actual damages include both economic losses from the denial of service and compensation for noneconomic harms, like emotional damage. I’m not sure what the ordinary level of damages would be, and it would probably be somewhat variable (the economic damages weren’t high in this case, but it’s not hard to imagine situations where they might be).

            The main enforcement mechanism isn’t the award of damages, but the injunction, which directly requires the business to change its behavior. Elsewhere in the thread, some commenters have suggested that the businesses are given the choice between serving everyone or paying damages, but that simply isn’t the case. Regardless of whether there are actual damages, the statute provides that a business will be ordered to serve everyone.

            EDIT: After reading some of the relevant statutes more closely, it looks like a fine of up to $1000 can also be imposed, in addition to the other remedies. That wasn’t done in this case, though.

          • Mary says:

            “And you’d expect them to do what instead? Going through legal channels and filing complaints is what normal people are expected to do.”

            When they want an apology? When was the last time you did that because you wanted an apology?

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            That is seriously a horrible response. It contains no content but incredulity. “They couldn’t have really hoped for it to work because”… well there is no because.

            Shockingly, since I’m not them, I can’t tell you how they expected it to work. Maybe they thought the people didn’t realize what they did was wrong and so wanted a higher authority to show them that. Maybe they were working on autopilot. Regardless, none of it justifies doxing.

        • Anonymous says:

          You seem to implicitly assume that “a bakery not providing a cake for a gay wedding” means “gay couples being unable to get a cake for their wedding and having to go to great lengths to obscure what they’re doing in order to do so”.

          I don’t understand why you would think this scenario is remotely close to reality. As I’m sure you’re aware, there is a term used to describe a situation in which one business controls almost all the market share and so can dictate what consumers are able to buy. The term is ‘monopoly’. Do you think the baking industry is a monopoly? If you don’t, then I’m not sure how you expect the scenario you describe to occur.

          On a slightly different note, would a world in which some bakeries did not supply gay wedding cakes, while others specialized in them, upset you? Are you similarly upset by the specialization that businesses do at the moment – for example, that a shoe shop will sell you shoes but a bakery will not – and if not, why not?

          (Remember that shoes are no use to someone with no feet, and cakes are no use to someone who doesn’t like sweet foods – neither of which are characteristics that are entirely within a person’s control.)

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Anonymous March 12, 2016 at 12:48 pm

            Which ‘you’ are you addressing?

            A traditional wedding cake is not easy to ship very far. In some areas, there may be only one bakery at all in reasonable distance (ie they deliver it, or you pick it up from them) — which is a de facto monopoly.

            Both conditions (a one-bakery county, and a county with many people anti-gay marriage) are likely to coincide in rural counties.

      • Sastan says:

        I like how baking a cake is this arcane process that we need government enforcement of. As if a private citizen could bake their own cake! Such a thing has never been heard of!

        On a more serious note, I have a real problem with the concept of positive rights, the idea that we have a right to the things of others. My worldview permits only negative rights. We have the right to not be interfered with unless what we do harms others. So, if I want to talk, no one should be able to silence me, but no one has to listen, either.

        The idea that someone has a “right” to a cake made by someone else, or the “right” to heath care paid for by someone else, or a “right” to anything, really, is anathema. I am sympathetic to arguments that postulate that a given action should be part of the privileges of being a citizen of country X, or even of being a human being. But a right? Never.

        There are things that we provide to others because it is the decent thing to do, help in an emergency for instance. But those people have no right to our time, effort or cash. That is the whole point. Charity and decency mean nothing if it is only the fulfillment of an obligation.

        • Mary says:

          You can certainly have positive rights. You just can’t have any by dint of existing.

        • Stefan Drinic says:

          Positive rights? Like the right to vote? The right to remain silent? The right to have a trial? A child’s right to education? The right to run for office? There’s people who disagree with a whole bunch of these, but I’d be very surprised if you didn’t prefer for at least one to stay around.

          • The right to remain silent is a negative right. The right to have a trial is part of the mechanism to enforce a negative right–the right not to be punished for a crime you did not commit.

          • Sastan says:

            I actually don’t think there is a general right to vote. It’s a privilege, extended to some, denied to others.

            Remaining silent is a negative right, it is the right to not be compelled to give evidence against oneself.

            The right to a trial is a part of a negative right, as David says.

            No child has a right to an education. It’s a great thing, and I think it’s a privilege we should extend to most kids, but there is no right in it.

            There is no right to run for office. There is no right to hold office. There is no right to rule over others. We may decide, for the good of the polity, that we need certain people to do certain things, but we can limit who can do this any way we like, because there is no equal right to rule. It is a political privilege.

            Ask yourself this: If you were alone on a desert island, would this right be possible? If not, it’s not a right. No one could imprison you, or torture you, or shut you up. But you’d have a hell of a time voting or getting an education. The lack of facilities or technology cannot impinge a true right. Otherwise we are all denying billions of people education, food, shelter and medical care, and we should all be stripped of nonessential goods and cash to pay for it.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            The way I’d been taught about positive and negative liberty is that positive liberty is phrased as rights to something, and negative liberty is defined as freedom from things. I can see how having the right not to be jailed for a crime you didn’t commit would be negative freedom, but I can similarly phrase freedom from censure as being positive: it’s obviously the right TO publish your thoughts instead.

            Edit:

            Sastan:

            Rights and privileges in general are used interchangably enough that I’m feeling like you’re moving the goalposts more than anything at this point. Privileges were medieval rights that could be bought off or earned in certain ways, rights are our ways of talking about somewhat similar things now.

            And, as I said earlier, reframing a lot of these things as one or the other is easy enough that you can shift things around a bit and still come out looking plausible. Freedom of religious persecution is not a negative right, as it is the freedom to believe whatever instead.

            And if you want to argue that rights exist independently of the means to enforce them, I’m not going to call you wrong on that account. I’m certainly not going to call you right either, though; it simply isn’t a paradigm I happen to adhere to. You can have your definition of rights, and I can have mine.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Positive rights were explained to me as things someone else had to go out of their way to provide for you if you requested it, while negative rights were things that someone else wasn’t allowed to go out of their way to deny you.

            So, the right to remain silent is a negative right, as someone would have to go out of their way to make you speak (deny your right to be silent). The right to healthcare as portrayed by Sanders is a positive right – someone would have to provide you care.

            This means that free-market advocates tend to like negative rights, because they align well with the incentives at play – if I decide to go out of my way to deny your right to something, then anyone else tends to have a lot of leverage in stopping me. Conversely, FMAs dislike positive rights, because of the uphill battle they pose against incentives – if I have to go out of my way to provide you with something, it will take a lot of effort to force me.

          • Sastan says:

            @Stefan,

            I largely agree with your first statement of positive and negative.

            As to your criticism in the second part, I agree that there can be some shuffling to try to make positives seem like negatives or vice versa. That’s why I think my “desert island” thought experiment works well as a dividing line.

            Human rights should apply to all humans, in all places as well as all times.

            So, for instance, you couldn’t have a right to health care before we invented medicine. It would be strange to claim that one was denied a right because ones species had not progressed enough. On the other hand, the right to speak freely has a long history if a checkered one. And it applies just as easily to a caveman as it does to someone today.

          • Frank McPike says:

            @Sastan:
            I’m not sure I understand the significance of the distinction between a right and a privilege as it’s made here. If an American state guarantees in its constitution a right to public education (and some do) then what does it mean to state that this is in fact a privilege, not a right? A citizen would seem to be equally entitled to both the rights and privileges of citizenship.

            The distinction you seem to draw (and a pretty typical one) is that rights are universal whereas privileges are conditional upon something else. Thus there would be no rights exclusive to citizenship, only privileges of citizenship, just as there are privileges gained through contract. If that is the distinction, I would worry that, within the context of an existing state, universal entitlements and entitlements conditional upon citizenship of that state are generally indistinguishable, to the extent that the word “right” is routinely applied to both. More broadly though, it is often difficult to distinguish between privileges and contextual realizations of a right.

            For example, John Locke thought that individuals should not be subject to the arbitrary will of another, and he took this freedom from arbitrary, absolute power to be a right. On a desert island, being free from the arbitrary power of another is essentially guaranteed, so it passes that test. But if we move to a societal context we find that being subject to a government that has absolute power over you is a violation of that right (this is true, for Locke, regardless of whether that government in fact interferes with your other rights; having a benevolent master is no less an impingement on one’s freedom from arbitrary power that a cruel one). If so, then a government needs to possess certain features not merely as mechanisms to safeguard other rights, but as direct realizations of the right not to be subject to arbitrary power. What those features must encompass might be arguable, but a right to vote seems a reasonable place to start (and one Locke himself seems to endorse).

            Or you might hold, as many natural law thinkers did, that you do have a right to the reasonable assistance of those in your community.* On a desert island, you are free from possible violations of this right. In an especially poor society, even modest assistance might be unreasonable to expect, and violations would be rare. In a wealthy society, realization of that right might even encompass education.

            There is also the issue of rights given up when entering society. For example, Locke (among many others) holds that you have a right to punish those who violate your rights. True enough on the desert island (or at least, none could deny that right to you). But in a civil society, that right has been given to the state in exchange for other benefits (at least, that’s how the natural law contractarian tradition puts it). So either that right is not really universal, and hence not a right at all but merely a privilege of desert island/state of nature inhabitants, or it is a right and it persists, but now it is realized through the state’s enforcement mechanisms. I.e. you do not have a right to injure someone who injured you, but you do have the right to sure him for the damage caused. And if that’s true, tort law is not merely a privilege, but a direct realization of a right. (Note that while the right to be free from injury is merely safeguarded by this mechanism the right to punish is directly realized by it; it would not be endangered or threatened were the mechanism taken away, it would be nonexistent.)

            *I may be cheating by smuggling in something that would be a positive right under most frameworks. But, in my defense, (a) my other examples are probably also cheating, if more subtly, and (b) natural law entitlements to positive actions of others have a long history. E.g.:
            Gratian (12th century): “By it [natural law], each person is commanded to do to others what he wants [a glossitor suggests this should be interpreted as “ought to want”] done to himself and prohibited from inflicting on others what he does not want done to himself”
            Pufendorf (17th century): “Among the duties of men in general to others in general, and those which are to be practiced for the sake of the common sociability, the third place is taken by this: that every man promote the advantage of another, so far as he conveniently can.”

          • Mary says:

            “And, as I said earlier, reframing a lot of these things as one or the other is easy enough that you can shift things around a bit and still come out looking plausible. ”

            All you have to do to straighten that out is ask whether the right would be respected if you were stranded on a desert island.

            For instance, you would have the right to free speech, so it’s negative. You would not have the right to medical care, so it’s positive.

          • Anonymous says:

            On the topic of negative VS positive rights, I like Mary’s formulation, but think there’s another aspect of the question that it misses. One complaint I’ve seen regarding positive rights is that they are not specific obligations that one person has to another, but obligations to a person from the universe in general.

            “I have the right not to be killed” places a separate obligation on each person, with regards to what they owe you. If your right not to be killed is violated, we can point to the person who committed the violation. “I have the right to healthcare” does not specify any particular obligation that any one person has. It’s much more nebulous. Is everyone responsible for providing their share of your healthcare and nothing more? Is it adjusted by means? If you don’t get healthcare, is everyone equally responsible for plugging the gap?

            You could have a positive right that applies a per-individual obligation – “I have the right to have every person give me $5 every year”, for example. I’m not sure if you could have the opposite, though – a negative right that places an obligation on the universe in general. Any ideas?

            EDIT: actually, thinking about it more, it’s trivially easy. If “I have the right not to be killed” is taken to mean everyone is responsible for my staying alive, that would be a negative right imposed on the universe. If it’s taken to mean what I described above – each person is obliged to not kill me – then it would be a negative right imposing a specific obligation on each individual.

          • Sastan says:

            Thanks Mary and Anonymous for your contributions!

            @ Frank McPike

            I agree many people seem to have trouble distinguishing the two, usually because people are very good at not understanding things when a benefit to themselves or their ideology is contingent on their lack of understanding. Perfectly intelligent people can become total morons when that happens. But I do think that the distinction is important. If we loop around back to the original topic of gay marriage, I had a discussion with my (very religious) father which cooled his opposition to the concept.

            When framed as a “right”, he was fully in opposition. My argument was that it was not a right, because no one has a right to get married, gay or straight. It should be easy to see why. However, in the US, there are certain privileges that we assign to people who get a government sanctioned marriage (tax stuff, the right not to testify in court against ones spouse, etc.). And as the constitution guarantees equal status under the law, these privileges should not be denied based on sexual orientation. One can believe that gay marriage is morally wrong without thinking it should be illegal. Much like adultery of straight people.

            I don’t know how much of it he bought, but the volume of hysterical e-mail forwards dropped precipitously afterward.

            More broadly, human rights are those things we can rightly hold other nations accountable for failing to uphold. It would be truly obscene if we were to say, impose sanctions on Papua New Guinea because they weren’t providing health care to all their citizens. But we might if they were systematically denying their citizens basic human rights on a large enough and damaging enough scale.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            ‘Human rights should apply to all humans, in all places as well as all times.’

            This discussion is going off the rail,s in the way this sort of discussion tends to. The problem is straining after some natural or objective set of rights. No one had ever detected a right in nature. The question of whether we have a right to X Y or Z entirely boils down to whether we would want one, not whether it pre-exists as some kind of entity.

          • Anonymous says:

            @TheAncientGeek

            Then why bother with the ‘rights’ formulation to begin with? Why not just say “I think everyone should get X provided for them”?

            I think the reason people use this phrasing is that saying you want something is a lot less convincing than claiming you have a right to it.

        • nil says:

          I don’t see the distinction between purportedly positive and negative rights as being very clear or helpful. What are property rights without the corresponding entitlement to call on law enforcement and/or the judicial system to remove people from your land or punish those who violate it?

          • I would say that my having a property right in my land means that you are acting wrongly in trespassing on it without my permission. It doesn’t mean that someone else is obliged to stop you from doing so.

            If someone wanted to come by my house at night and throw a rock at my window, breaking it, he would be violating my property rights–even though, as a practical matter, there is no mechanism to stop him from doing so.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Exactly, the right to property is not the same thing as the right to police protection (which is a positive right).

            Indeed, the courts have held that you don’t have the right to police protection.

          • nil says:

            Maybe it’s just my aversion to natural rights and my overall non-cognitivism, but I don’t think a right can be separated from its method of enforcement.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            I’m not seeing what enforcement has to do with it.

            Property would exist even in the absence of police. Example; someone breaks into a home and tries to make off with grandma’s pills or the family silver but get’s mauled by fido, or maybe catches a round of buckshot for his trouble.

            Who’s side does the rest of society take? Do they punish the residents for injuring the burglar, or do they tell the burglar that he shouldn’t have been trying to steal other peoples stuff?

            One could argue (and many have) that nipping these sort of conflicts in the bud, before the burglars’ family kills the residents in retaliation or vice versa is the Raison d’être for having a concept of “law” or “rights” in the first place. If everybody, including the burglar’s erstwhile allies, can agree that he got caught fair and square the violence stops there and the Hobbesian war of all-against-all is averted.

            The police and judicial system are a service industry that allow you to outsource your violence/risk to a third party. They are not a “right”, and your rights exist independently of them.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            “Property would exist even in the absence of police.”

            …I’m willing to say this isn’t quite the whole truth. It doesn’t require police, sure, but it does require at least some sort of framework of recognition, in some cases. If I see a house somewhere, and it appears well-kept, I can reasonably assume someone is treating it as property. If I happen upon a parcel of undeveloped land with no fences, I might not know if anyone has declared it their property. And in both cases, I wouldn’t automatically know who the owner is.

            I forget whether Friedman’s TMoF addresses property disputes in light of an ancap regime, where there’s no central framework for recording who has what property. But I suspect it’d work analogously to rights enforcement agencies; they’d record their customers’ property, and if there’s a dispute, arbitrators would come in, etc.

            Whether it’s ancap, minarchism, republic, etc., I would expect some form of record to be necessary, and agreed to by all parties at some point; dunno if you’d call that enforcement.

    • Anonymous says:

      >I think it’s wrong to force bakers to bake gay cakes at gunpoint.

      I agree.

      >I also think it’s wrong for bakers to refuse to bake gay cakes.

      I disagree.

      >I think it’s wrong to force Twitter to unban conservatives at gunpoint.

      I agree.

      >I also think it’s wrong for Twitter to ban conservatives.

      I disagree.

      • nope says:

        That was a well-reasoned and illuminating comment.

      • “wrong” can mean a variety of different things.

        In my view, Twitter is entitled to ban conservatives. It’s not wrong in that sense. But doing so would both make me less willing to use Twitter (supposing that I did) and lower my opinion of the people running it. In that sense it’s wrong.

        • onyomi says:

          ““wrong” can mean a variety of different things.”

          Not to be glib, but can it? I ask because I used to think I could get around biting utilitarian bullets like “is it wrong to steal when you’re starving or kill one person to save the whole world?” with answers like “well, stealing and killing are still wrong, but it’s reasonable to do something wrong in such a case,” or “if you care about living more than being right, then stealing is the right thing to do,” etc.

          But then I read something by Michael Huemer somewhere (think it was on his website, but don’t recall where, exactly), basically arguing that there isn’t more than one kind of “right” and “wrong.” There may be (I think?) questions to which there is no “right” or “wrong” answer, like “should I buy chocolate or vanilla ice cream?” but arguably it makes no sense to say “well, you might be right to steal from your customers if your goal is maximum short-term profit, but it’s still wrong to do so.”

          In other words, it may not make sense to say something is “right from this perspective” or “wrong from that perspective,” at least assuming one is a moral objectivist, as I am, and Huemer is.

          I realize this is a bit of a tangent and not exactly what you meant, but I’ve thinking about it for a bit and thought to bring it up. I do think it might be more rigorous to say something like “I think it is right that the government allow Twitter the legal right to censor conservatives, but I think it would be wrong for them to exercise that right.” That is, I’m not sure there’s any sense of “wrong” for which I’d say it’s not wrong for Twitter to censor, even though I do think they should have the legal right to do so.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            Moral objectivsm means that there arent multiple valid answers to moral issues that depend on individual perspective alone … it is not-subectivsm. It doesnt mean there can’t be multiple perspectives arising from something impersonal, such as a conflict between deontolical and consequentialist thinking, which is what underlies the kill Hitler and loaf of bread cases.

            (An absolutist deontologist would say there is no conflict, but absolutism is hard to defend because almost everyone has some consequentialist intuition)

    • DensityDuck says:

      “the distinction between between the proper way to behave in society and the proper things for the government to ban. ”

      Heh. What if “the proper way to behave in society” is to not have gay weddings?

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        Then in that case, the proper thing to do would be to refuse to bake gay wedding cakes—but that doesn’t suffice to show that the government should force people not to bake them if they want to, or keep them from holding the weddings in general.

        Or if you think the government should make gay marriage illegal, in that case there is no distinction but surely you think there are other examples of things that are proper but shouldn’t be legislated by the government. For instance, having correct religious beliefs.

        • suntzuanime says:

          It’s not even clear to me that that follows. Even if gay marriage is wrong, they can probably find another baker, or even just buy a regular cake and gay it up themselves. Not clear that it’s worth violating the cherished principle of bakerly neutrality to put them to such a minor inconvenience when it’s unlikely to actually deter them.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            It surely doesn’t follow automatically. It depends on how bad you think gay marriage is.

            If you think it’s just a little bit bad, I can see how you would just shrug it off.

            But if you thought it was as bad as some kind of “pedophile wedding” between a forty-year-old man and a six-year-old girl, I can see how you’d want to have nothing to do with it, even if they could find another baker elsewhere.

    • DavidS says:

      I think it’s wrong to gloss over the distinction between the proper way to behave in society and the proper things for the government to ban. I also think it’s wrong to use ‘force (not) to do at gunpoint’ and ‘ban’ as if they’re interchangeable.

      On the specific instance, I think the question about banning discrimination relies on empirical issues about the level of said discrimination and its effects, amongst other things.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        I also think it’s wrong to use ‘force (not) to do at gunpoint’ and ‘ban’ as if they’re interchangeable.

        They are interchangeable.

        If you don’t do it, maybe you get a fine. If you don’t pay the fine, eventually you get arrested or someone tries to take your property. If you resist, you get shot at. Even if you do pay the fines and you keep doing the thing, eventually you run out of money and you get arrested, so same thing.

        They don’t have to actually flash the guns to compel you to do something by force, which is ultimately backed up by those guns.

        • Muga Sofer says:

          That’s not at gunpoint, though.

          If you attacked me, I’d probably fight back, and eventually the police might intervene and you could potentially be killed.

          That doesn’t mean that I’m “holding you back at gunpoint” whenever I interact with you. You’re not under threat of immediate violence, and you’re perfectly free to pursue other activities.

          If you assume all laws are enforced “at gunpoint”, you get nonsensical ideas like “forced to park within the lines at gunpoint” – yes, you could potentially be fined, and could potentially be sent to prison if you don’t pay the fine, and could potentially face violence if you refuse to go to prison, but that’s not the same thing.

          (For the record, I think the government should force you to sell wedding cakes to gay people, but not to produce “gay wedding cakes”.)

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            You are forced to park within the lines by the threat of the application of bullets to your cranium.

            If you weren’t, you’d park where you damn well please and ignore the fines.

            You’re forced at gunpoint not to break into my house and steal my TV. If you did, I’d call the cops, and they would bring guns.

            Saying that you’re forced to do it at the barrel of a gun is not an argument against it. It’s a statement of fact about the nature of the situation.

          • DavidS says:

            The threat of a fine. If you want to focus on guns, I guess at a push you can say ‘forced to park in the lines at your choice of a fine, a court case or gunpoint’.

            Say someone’s going on a trek in the desert – I leave before them a note on their bag saying ‘really sorry, shop was closed when I left – I took your water bottle, you can get one from the shop, here’s $5’. I’m obviously imposing death by dehydration on them! I mean, they could have the minor inconvenience of going to the shop, or indeed not go on the trek. But they could decide to act in a sequence of bizarre ways that led to their death and then blame it on me!

            In any case, do you think there’s anyone who’d accept the ‘at gunpoint’ version as fair/accurate who doesn’t already agree with the conclusions? Because if not it’s giving up on argument for just signalling to your own side.

          • Jiro says:

            DavidS: By that standard even many conventional threats at gunpoint don’t count as threats at gunpoint. If I tell you “give me your ice cream cone or I shoot you”, giving me an ice cream cone is a relatively minor inconvenience, and I could say that if you refuse to give it to me, you’ve “acted in a sequence of bizarre ways that led to your death”.

            Of course, the passive voice is misleading–I’d be the one killing you–but the same applies to the government telling you to do things–the government would be killing you if you resist enough.

          • Nita says:

            A: Don’t touch me!
            B: *grabs A*
            A: *hits B, runs away*

            1. Did A attempt to impose their will on B using an (implicit) threat of violence, and then used actual violence when B refused to comply? Yes.

            2. Would most people say that A was wrong to do so? Probably not.

            3. Is this kind of interaction what people usually mean when they talk about “using threats of violence to get your way”? Probably not.

            So, whether we consider an implied threat worthy of condemnation (which is what “forcing at gunpoint” tries to invoke) depends on whether we consider the demand legitimate.

            E.g., I think parking rules are a legitimate means of ensuring a better driving environment for everyone. Therefore, to me, comparing them to robbery seems absurd.

          • Dirdle says:

            Saying that you’re forced to do it at the barrel of a gun is not an argument against it. It’s a statement of fact about the nature of the situation.

            okay, so since it clearly applies to pretty much all situations conceivable, why would you ever bother to say it? You’d know it’s just an empty phrase. “I’m being forced at gunpoint (not) to bake the gay cakes” would just be met with a blank stare, the sort you get for saying things like “this computer is forcing me to input commands using a keyboard” or “urgh, this food has to be eaten using your mouth?”

            It certainly seems like there’s a lot of emotional impact to saying “forced at gunpoint.” It conjures up an image of stern-looking men in suits and dark glasses pointing guns at a baker, who weeps while he pipes some more fabulousness onto the Gayest Cake. Sure, that’s not what anyone actually meant by saying “forced at gunpoint” – you’re happy to agree that you’re forced to drive safely at gunpoint, forced to not use industrial waste in fast food at gunpoint, forced to pay taxes at gunpoint, etc. But that’s the image it connotes, deliberately or not.

            So one option for reasons to use the phrase is to invoke an emotional reaction. A better (but still, I think, bad) reason to do so is to be a crucial reminder that all government action is done under Threat of Force. This seems like a less manipulative (and more preachy) use of the phrase. However, it still has the same effect, which is to reframe the debate in favourable terms. Consider someone who insists on referring to nuclear power plants as “doomsday devices.” Accurate under a sufficiently long path of reasoning to redefine the notion away from common usage, and an important reminder about safety and the threat of nuclear war. Nonetheless, the debate is still being rephrased in an unpleasant way. You don’t want to just say “well under that definition, there’s nothing wrong with building doomsday devices” any more than people want to say “well if we put it like that, there’s nothing wrong with forcing people to do things at gunpoint.” Sure, as it happens, in the sense you’ve expressed the phrase, there is nothing wrong with forcing people to do things at gunpoint, but hopefully it’s clear why you shouldn’t try to put people in the position of having to say that.

            Either saying “forced at gunpoint” does something, in which case it seems like the thing it does is something we’d rather avoid doing in polite conversation. Or it does nothing.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Dirdle:

            So one option for reasons to use the phrase is to invoke an emotional reaction. A better (but still, I think, bad) reason to do so is to be a crucial reminder that all government action is done under Threat of Force. This seems like a less manipulative (and more preachy) use of the phrase. However, it still has the same effect, which is to reframe the debate in favourable terms. Consider someone who insists on referring to nuclear power plants as “doomsday devices.” Accurate under a sufficiently long path of reasoning to redefine the notion away from common usage, and an important reminder about safety and the threat of nuclear war. Nonetheless, the debate is still being rephrased in an unpleasant way. You don’t want to just say “well under that definition, there’s nothing wrong with building doomsday devices” any more than people want to say “well if we put it like that, there’s nothing wrong with forcing people to do things at gunpoint.” Sure, as it happens, in the sense you’ve expressed the phrase, there is nothing wrong with forcing people to do things at gunpoint, but hopefully it’s clear why you shouldn’t try to put people in the position of having to say that.

            Well, yes, the whole point is to remind people that, at the end of the day, when we pass a law proscribing some behavior, we’re forcing people to do things at gunpoint.

            So we should have a really good reason, the same kind of reasons that would be sufficient to make it okay for someone to literally march in with a gun and start giving orders. I am 100% in favor of gay marriage and think people ought to bake the damn cakes. But I don’t think they ought to be forced to do so at gunpoint; there’s not a good enough reason.

            Similarly, I don’t think people ought to be forced at gunpoint to pay for the War on Drugs, or for that matter forced at gunpoint not to use or sell drugs.

            On the other hand, I have no problem whatsoever with people being forced at gunpoint not to break into houses at night. Because I would have no problem with the owner himself pulling out that gun.

            As to your example, if people were in the habit of constantly understating the dangers posed by nuclear power plants, calling them “doomsday devices” might be a very useful and appropriate strategy. “This isn’t some kind of harmless solar panel; this is a doomsday device that could really kill thousands of people! And we’d better have some really damn good safety measures before we allow it to be turned on.”

          • Randy M says:

            The libertarian rhetoric about all laws being backed by threat of deadly force was shown to be less than hyperbolic by Eric Gardner’s death for selling single cigarettes.

          • Jiro says:

            okay, so since it clearly applies to pretty much all situations conceivable, why would you ever bother to say it?

            It doesn’t apply to all situations conceivable, it applies to situations involving laws. Not all situations involve laws.

          • DavidS says:

            “DavidS: By that standard even many conventional threats at gunpoint don’t count as threats at gunpoint. If I tell you “give me your ice cream cone or I shoot you”, giving me an ice cream cone is a relatively minor inconvenience, and I could say that if you refuse to give it to me, you’ve “acted in a sequence of bizarre ways that led to your death”.”

            Nope, thzt’s someone demanding your icrecream at gunpoint because you have to choose between icecream or death (shades of Eddie Izzard here). In the cake example the thing being demanded and being shot are NOT the only options. In fact, being shot is only very tortuously an example at all (in that we don’t punish people for non-compliance with lower level laws by shooting them so you’d have to somehow push law enforcement to fire. Which if you’re that desperate to do, you can do without getting involved in the cake business at all

          • Jiro says:

            Nope, thzt’s someone demanding your icrecream at gunpoint because you have to choose between icecream or death (shades of Eddie Izzard here). In the cake example the thing being demanded and being shot are NOT the only options.

            In the ice cream example your choices are hand over the ice cream or be shot. In the cake example, your choices are make the cake, do a long series of actions which ends with you giving in and making the cake, or do a long series of actions which ends with you being shot.

          • DavidS says:

            No, it isn’t. People don’t get draft letters through their doors saying ‘make a gay wedding cake or we will start a process towards shooting you’. You have plenty of other options between being shot and baking the cake. Like
            1. Not being a baker
            2. Paying a fine
            3. Going to prison rather than resisting arrest and getting shot

          • Jiro says:

            You could just as well argue “if you don’t want to get mugged, don’t walk in bad neighborhoods. Therefore, when a mugger says ‘your money or your life’ at gunpoint, it doesn’t really count as being at gunpoint”.

            Adding the extra option “or don’t bake cakes at all” doesn’t change whether it’s at gunpoint.

          • Frank McPike says:

            Two points. First, the statute in question here is meant to be enforced through injunctions, not fines. The money paid in this case was for damages to the complaining parties, but in addition to that the business was issued an order to cease and desist from denying service on the grounds of sexuality. They don’t have the option of paying a fine and continuing their behavior. If they refuse to comply, it’s more likely that the business would be shut down than that they will be shot, but there’s no questioning that there’s a direct order enforceable by state violence.

            (I would note that there are ways of enforcing laws that do not, even ultimately, involve physical violence against the party the law is being enforced upon. Modern states typically do not use those, but I think it is possible to distinguish, at least in principle, between a ban and a threat at gunpoint.)

            Second, as has been pointed out previously, that’s not really exceptional. Vox Imperatoris, above, notes that any time we pass a law we invoke the threat of violence (and I agree that this is important to keep in mind). Similarly, any time you have a contract with someone, that’s also enforceable by state violence (even in situations where you will not be forced to perform the specific terms of the contract, you will still be required to pay damages). Any time you direct your landlord to the fine print on your lease, and indicate your intent to hold him to it, you are invoking a mortal threat. We can refer to business negotiations as a series of disputations over who guns should be pointed at, and under what circumstances. I don’t deny that there is some truth to that, but in most circumstances that truth outweighs an often misleading rhetorical thrust. Many things I have contracted for are indeed petty, especially compared to the threat of death, but I’m not sure that on that ground it is immoral for me to enforce those contracts.

            (Contract, of course, is distinct from public law in that it is entered into voluntarily, and generally with foreknowledge of the full consequences of any future range of actions you might take. But the same seems true with respect to vendors and laws particular to vendors. There are other differences, but I’m not sure that any are salient.)

        • Randy M says:

          No, it wouldn’t be compelling behavior by force. It would be making advice, and then collecting a tax by force based on whether or not the advice is followed.
          Totally different.

        • tern says:

          They are not interchangeable. It is easy to imagine a situation in which one might compel someone not to do a certain action when in fact the action is not banned at all. And if your local law enforcement does not use guns, then you will have to find another phrase – perhaps “under pain of death.”

          Vocabulary nitpicking aside, I’m a little confused by your logic with the fine here. In a less controversial application of the “gunpoint” phrase, theft is prohibited ultimately under pain of death – if you steal something expensive, you either go to jail or get shot. I’ll accept this characterization for the sake of argument.

          But if you extend the chain of logic to mere fines, as per parking tickets upthread, then suddenly eating fruit is prohibited under the same penalty! The logic runs thus; to take and eat fruit I did not grow, I must pay for it. If I keep eating fruit, I will one day run out of money. At that point, if I continue eating fruit, someone will visit violence upon me. If I resist successfully enough, they will kill me (otherwise I will be bruised and in jail).

          Now, perhaps one might say “ridiculous, I have enough money to eat several tons of fruit a month, but nowhere near the ability or desire to do so”, but: 1 – other, poorer, people exist, and 2 – some hypothetical baker might have the same objection; “I could afford to deny thousands of gay couples cakes a month!”

          A less-straw-filled objector might say – “ah, but you could eat fruit if it just happened to fall from the sky, or if you grew it yourself. What we’ve really ‘banned’ is buying, or maybe acquiring fruit.” To which I say fair enough, but the example was hard to follow to begin with, if this is really the point of disagreement we can clarify further.

          So then is there some trivial fine for which we say the ban is no longer enforced “at gunpoint”? Do we accept that eating/buying fruit is banned “at gunpoint”? What if I palette-swap the example to be about paid parking; is there a principled distinction one can make between setting a price for parking in a firelane and fining someone for parking there?

          • Jiro says:

            But if you extend the chain of logic to mere fines, as per parking tickets upthread, then suddenly eating fruit is prohibited under the same penalty!

            Because you’re using “eating fruit” to describe several different instances of eating fruit, some of which are prohibited under pain of death and some of which are not.

            Now, perhaps one might say “ridiculous, I have enough money to eat several tons of fruit a month, but nowhere near the ability or desire to do so”, but: 1 – other, poorer, people exist

            If someone was so poor that the only way for him to eat fruit would be to steal it, and if men with guns go after people who steal, then eating fruit *is* prohibited for that person under pain of death.

            and 2 – some hypothetical baker might have the same objection; “I could afford to deny thousands of gay couples cakes a month!”

            The objection would be that most people can afford as much fruit as they want, and so probably would never get from the non-penalty-of-death instances to the penalty-of-death instances. This objection would not apply to the cake baker; refusing to sell a gay wedding cake is prohibited starting from the very first instance.

          • tern says:

            The objection would be that most people can afford as much fruit as they want, and so probably would never get from the non-penalty-of-death instances to the penalty-of-death instances. This objection would not apply to the cake baker; refusing to sell a gay wedding cake is prohibited starting from the very first instance.

            Interesting. However, for the hypothetical rich baker, this is not true – the fine on record was something like $130k, right? If you can afford to pay the fine, you can refuse to bake the cake. It isn’t prohibited on pain of death / at gunpoint, the price is just higher than one would want to pay.

            For most offenses that generate a fine, the fine is more than people want to pay (which is why they don’t break the regulation), but ultimately affordable. I don’t want to pay $500 for parking in front of a fire hydrant, but I could.

            So I infer that your position, Jiro, is that for an individual person, any market transaction or fine which they actually cannot pay counts as “forbidden on pain of death”, and other transactions do not, even if they would rather not pay.

            If this position is accurate, then I would further ask: don’t you think it’s more reasonable to say instead that “theft/nonpayment of debts is prohibited under pain of death, and the government has set a very high price on refusing wedding cakes to gay couples at your bakery”?

          • Jiro says:

            If you can afford to pay the fine, you can refuse to bake the cake. It isn’t prohibited on pain of death / at gunpoint, the price is just higher than one would want to pay.

            The fine is intentionally designed such that people can’t or won’t pay it. If people who paid the fine rather than baking the cake was common, the fine would be raised until it was not.

            And how does that make a difference anyway? If the choice was bake a cake or be shot, you’d say they are baking the cake at gunpoint. If the choice was pay $130K or be shot, you’d describe the $130K as being collected as gunpoint. So if you combine them together so the choice is bake a cake, or pay $130K, or be shot, then it’s still at gunpoint.

          • tern says:

            The fine is intentionally designed such that people can’t or won’t pay it.

            I acknowledge that this is the purpose of fines. And yet I don’t think it’s reasonable to describe people’s aversion to littering as being a decision made “at gunpoint” because it might cost them $25.

            And how does that make a difference anyway? If the choice was bake a cake or be shot, you’d say they are baking the cake at gunpoint. If the choice was pay $130K or be shot, you’d describe the $130K as being collected as gunpoint. So if you combine them together so the choice is bake a cake, or pay $130K, or be shot, then it’s still at gunpoint.

            So then if your set of options for any decision includes “get shot” at any point down the line, you’re making the decision at gunpoint? I don’t see how that distinction is very informative. In a world where all contracts are enforced at gunpoint, and every free market transaction and most personal interactions are also conducted at gunpoint, is it really remarkable at all that the baker’s decision is, too?

          • Jiro says:

            So then if your set of options for any decision includes “get shot” at any point down the line, you’re making the decision at gunpoint?

            It would be fair to say that your decision to do the maximal set containing the cases where you don’t get shot is done at gunpoint. For instance, today I could watch TV or rob a bank. The decision *specifically* to watch TV is not made at gunpoint; but the decision to do something other than rob (said something including watching TV) is done at gunpoint.

            It would also be fair to say that for a set smaller than the maximal set if the set is smaller than the maximal set because it excludes cases that are very undesirable on an absolute level. For instance, if the choice was to not rob a bank, to rob a bank and get shot, or to rob a bank and get beaten to death, the decision not to rob the bank is still made at gunpoint because the additional option is undesirable.

          • tern says:

            I agree. It’s fair to say there is some coercion at work when you reduce a set of options by attaching negative consequences to some of them. But here the phrase “at gunpoint” is inaccurate and misleading because it gets used to stand in for all of the means of coercion in play – and, to me at least, some of those are worse than others.

            That is, the unacceptable option that is closest to your consideration seems most relevant – in the same way a choice to watch tv or go to the mall was free of the “don’t rob banks” coercion, we screen off the “don’t violently resist government agents collecting fines” option from the baker’s choice and are left with [“bake cake”, “pay $130k”]. This consequence is serious and qualifies as coercion, but only “on pain of large fine,” no guns involved.

          • Jiro says:

            The fine is itself collected at gunpoint, so adding the fine to “bake the cake at gunpoint” doesn’t change whether it’s at gunpoint.

            (“Or go to the mall” isn’t analogous because unlike the fine, it isn’t specifically at gunpoint, even though the class that includes it is. It has the same characteristics as the TV choice that you’re adding it to and for the same reason isn’t “at gunpoint”.)

          • tern says:

            I’m afraid I don’t understand. Of course it’s true that on pain of death/imprisonment/etc you can no longer not bake the cake and also not pay a fine and still run a bakery, but the specific action of baking the cake is only forced by the prospect of paying a ridiculous sum of money.

            To me it seems like you’re taking a decision tree [A or B; if B: C or D; if D: E or F); where options monotonically decrease in desirability from A to F] and collapsing it to say A is chosen “on pain of F”, as if the remaining set were actually [A or F], not [A or C or E or F].

            (Additionally, comments upthread have informed me the real-life bakery was also served with an order to stop their discriminatory practices or, presumably, be closed down. If that’s the source of confusion here, and parking tickets would be different, I apologize. This post lives in the hypothetical world where a fine is the only punishment)

          • Jiro says:

            the specific action of baking the cake is only forced by the prospect of paying a ridiculous sum of money.

            The prospect of paying lots of money is itself only enforced at gunpoint.

            If “bake the cake or be shot” means baking the cake is forced at gunpoint, adding a second forced at gunpoint choice doesn’t change whether the first choice is being forced at gunpoint.

            If a robber tells you “give me youir wallet, or your jewelry, or I shoot you” and you give him your wallet, it’s still at gunpoint, even if giving him the jewelry would have made him leave you alone. We would not describe that as “being forced to give your wallet under penalty of losing your jewelry”, we would still describe it as “being forced to give your wallet under penalty of death”. At least I would describe it that way, and I suspect most people would.

            In order for your reasoning to actually work, it would have to be some weird scenario like the government being made of ninjas who’d magically take the money and disappear. And even then, I don’t see how such a distinction would be useful.

          • tern says:

            So you accept that you are collapsing the decision tree as described? Do you admit infinite levels of recursion here?

            If you have to choose between red and blue, and if blue leads you to a further choice of left or right, and if you choose right someone will shoot you, are you then forced at gunpoint to choose red? Why is the option “left” considered irrelevant? If you have to choose “right” about 50 times in a row to get shot, does it still hold?

          • Jiro says:

            I’ll replky to that with a question: If you were told, “give me your wallet, or your jewelry, or I shoot you”, and gave up the wallet, would you call that “the wallet is being taken under threat of being killed” or “the wallet is being taken under threat of losing your jewelry”?

          • tern says:

            Very well. I would reply that I have been robbed at gunpoint (as both choices involve robbery), but not specifically robbed of my wallet at gunpoint. In fact, I gave up my wallet to spare my jewelry.

          • Jiro says:

            In that case, your position is a consistent definition of “at gunpoint”, but is also at odds with what most people mean by that.

          • tern says:

            That may be so, but I would like to know if the definition you have given is consistent. That is to say, do you collapse the decision tree as I previously suggested, and is there some limit to how the tree may be collapsed?

            I see no principled distinction between the removal of “pay the fine with no trouble” and “go to the mall” – both are options the hypothetical subject did not choose because they preferred another. I think you can see my definition produces “on pain of fine/mall” respectively, but I do not see how your definition can avoid using “at gunpoint” for both.

            You suggest paying the fine has some intrinsic quality of being “at gunpoint”; to me this seems either to refer to the decision set collapse or else question-begging.

            Am I talking on the wrong wavelength here – is it not actually about decision sets?

            I don’t mean to be combative, it just seems that there’s some implied premise or point in your definition that I’m not seeing.

            EDIT:

            I admit that given most decisions are taken on essentially infinite sets it can at times be useful to combine different options – that is, if you have the choice of being giving your money or being shot in the hand, in the knee, etc. you may wish to simply say “at gunpoint”, or similarly you may wish to discount options that would likely fail or count such options by their expected value. Just because the mugger might miss we wouldn’t say “on pain of having to dodge a bullet”. But neither of these seem to apply in the case of fines because fines are not similar to being shot, and are usually less painful, and in this hypothetical unerringly applied – no uncertainty about it.

          • Jiro says:

            If the options are “at gunpoint” specifically and on their own, when they are combined, each one is still “at gunpoint”. “Bake a cake” and “pay the fine” are both specifically at gunpoint on their own. Neither “watch TV” nor “go to the mall” is.

            You suggest paying the fine has some intrinsic quality of being “at gunpoint”; to me this seems either to refer to the decision set collapse or else question-begging.

            “Pay the fine” is at gunpoint because the person would not choose it if he had to choose between it and nothing, but would choose because he has to choose between it and being shot.

            “Go to the mall” in this example is less preferable than watching TV but more preferable than nothing.

          • tern says:

            I think I see what you’re saying. To rephrase my understanding: We enumerate all possible choices – BAKE (value = -1), FINE (-130), GUN(-999). If all options are negative-value, we say it’s made “at gunpoint,” since GUN is the worst option. (This is isomorphic to a decision-tree structure, incidentally). We can further stipulate “knifepoint”, “on pain of imprisonment”, etc to work in the same way.

            This is consistent, thank you. Interestingly enough, it rules out the possibility of being forced to do something positive, like have a snack, “at gunpoint.” But if we drop the negative-value constraint, we hit the TV problem, even if we require more than one non-negative option.

          • Jiro says:

            If you can only understand human communication by assigning mathematical values to situations, you have already failed at understanding human communication.

            Interestingly enough, it rules out the possibility of being forced to do something positive, like have a snack, “at gunpoint.”

            I didn’t supply an exhaustive list of reasons why something is at gunpoint. You can be forced at gunpoint to do it rather than something else of higher value. However, this does not produce the TV problem, because the need for the “rather than something else of higher value” precludes combining it with another option that is of higher value.

          • tern says:

            If you think math cannot help one’s understanding of human communication, then you are sorely mistaken.

            You have failed to solve the problem (not that it necessarily needs to be solved; I doubt one could come up will a fully complete theory of “at gunpoint” without a great deal of careful thought), and I believe you have made it worse. If indeed robbing the bank without getting shot is more desirable than watching TV, you are now watching TV at gunpoint. Here “watching TV” stands in for “The action you would most prefer besides ones that will get you shot.” I find it highly plausible that many people would prefer to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars at no personal risk or exceptional effort to most or all of their legal choices. In fact, if this is not the case then we are certainly wasting a great deal of money on police and armed guards.

            In other words, with this additional criterion, almost every decision everyone makes is at gunpoint.

          • Jiro says:

            Even if robbing the bank and getting away with it is preferable to watching TV, watching TV is still preferable to nothing. Because it is preferable to nothing, it is not being done at gunpoint, although a class that includes it may be said to be done at gunpoint.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ tern:

            Yes, the decision not to rob people or otherwise violate their property rights is made at gunpoint. Are you disputing that?

            To say that means “almost every decision everyone makes is at gunpoint” is an equivocation. In one sense, it is true because people do implicitly decide not to violate property rights because of the threat of force.

            On the other hand, most people don’t consciously even consider those options. The alternatives they consider are in the manner of: “should I go to Wal-Mart or Target?” And that decision is not made at gunpoint.

          • Frank McPike says:

            To expand on that, the relevant distinction seems to be between decisions that are made at gunpoint and those that feel as though they are made at gunpoint. The latter seems primarily to be a question of habit. It’s true that most people don’t think about violating property rights at all under most circumstances. But in a country that had only recently instituted property rights, or to a visitor with no conception (or a different conception) of property rights, the option of violating them would be more routinely considered (if, perhaps, only to be quickly rejected for fear of the consequences). Only after some habituation to the new norm would that cease to be a consciously considered alternative.

            Similarly, in a country with strong norms (or strong pre-existing laws) against discriminating based on sexuality, people would be less likely to contemplate the option of so doing, and naturally limit their consideration to the options where state violence is not a relevant consideration (namely, serving gay customers or not running a business).

            In a state where all laws were known and constant, and no citizen seriously contemplated their violation, then no one would ever feel that a decision was made at gunpoint. But that is different, I think, from the question of whether the threat of violence would be a factor in their decisions.

          • tern says:

            Jiro:

            Yes, that is the case without the further criterion that being denied a better option by threat of violence is also “at gunpoint.” You added that criterion so that the hypothetical having to eat a snack or be shot would be at gunpoint. Just as “watching TV” is better than nothing, so is “eating a snack.” Either the “no better option denied” criterion applies or it doesn’t.

            Vox:
            I wouldn’t blame you if you haven’t read this entire thread, but no, I’ve granted that for the sake of the argument.

            (My initial question about your logic, which we have moved far afield from, was that in particular the logical step from “If I pay the fine enough times to run out of money, then my choices are X or gunpoint” to “all instances of X instead of fine are forced at gunpoint” permits “If I buy enough Y I will not have any money and will be forced to choose between not Y and gunpoint” to transform into “All instances of not Y are forced at gunpoint, even when I can afford Y”)

            My statement of the consequences of Jiro’s theory of usage is not equivocation just because your theory of usage is different. Jiro’s definition (to my knowledge) does not require the option be seriously considered. I am happy to hear your own explanation of the “gunpoint” phrase and/or disagreements about what Jiro’s explanation actually entails, but please don’t confuse the two.

            It sounds as though you would say a decision is made “at gunpoint” if one of options people seriously consider would involve the threat of force (or lethal force only?). This is also consistent, and fairly reasonable, but I don’t think it actually applies to the cases you and others suggest it does. For instance, most people would never begin to contemplate behaving in such a way that parking against regulations would cause them to be killed by state actors. And we get an empirical hint that this is the case because many people do not even contest their parking tickets, and very few indeed, when they lose or refuse to pay from the first, go on to have shoot-outs with the police over the ticket.

            Frank:
            Thank you for making that distinction, I think there may be some confusion here.

            It is perfectly fine to describe a situation as something that would make you feel like you were making a choice at gunpoint. You can also appeal to intuition to try to make that case for “most people would feel this way”, or provide a specific example where the chooser in question said they in fact felt that way. If someone disagrees, you can then have the usual argument about who is and isn’t allowed to feel certain ways, and who must be lying about their feelings, but everyone involved knows that they are having an argument about who would feel a certain way in situation X, not whether situation X in point of fact involves a literal or figurative gun in a particular way that we’ve defined as “at gunpoint.”

            It is also okay to have a definition of “at gunpoint” that does simply ask whether a gun (figurative or literal) is involved in a particular way. It is even okay to have one that means most or all decisions in today’s society are made at gunpoint. I would just point out that using such an expansive definition to say a particular choice was forced “at gunpoint” doesn’t mean very much in particular, and certainly doesn’t mean that people would actually feel like the decision was made at gunpoint. If you want the emotive force of “feels like there’s a gun to your head,” you have to actually make and support that claim. Additionally, if you argue that we should not do X because it would add situation Y to the gunpoint set by such a definition, you should demonstrate Y does not already belong to it as well as why the gunpoint set is bad.

            To me, it sounds that ideas like “all laws are enforced at gunpoint” or “people park according to regulations at gunpoint” or “people pay fines at gunpoint” (not literal quotes, but paraphrases of Jiro, Vox, and others in the comments here) are claiming the emotive force of the first and being backed up with logic that does not imply most people would feel that way. That’s why I’d like to know if there’s a different definition that makes the phrase more meaningful but still applies to cases like the parking ticket.
            Alternatively, if the phrase “at gunpoint” is not intended to carry the implication of having an actual gun to your head, I would like to know what it is supposed to imply, which also requires a reasonably clear definition.

            [Edit: mistaken plural changed to singular]

  18. suntzuanime says:

    So if Disease X is more prevalent in population A than in population B, aren’t you just being a good Bayesian if you diagnose it more readily in population A based on the same facts?

    • Nita says:

      No, because you would be double-counting the evidence.

      If you already know that Alex has symptoms X, Y and Z, then “boys are more likely to have symptoms X, Y and Z” doesn’t add more information relevant to Alex’s diagnosis.

      • suntzuanime says:

        But then doesn’t the same reasoning apply at the level of diagnosing symptoms? It seems like the only way to get around it is if there are no judgment calls in diagnosis, and then you wouldn’t see the effect to begin with.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        I think suntzu is right.

        For example, suppose a young man and a young woman are both vomiting every morning. You’d be more likely to order a pregnancy test for the young woman, because even though the symptoms are the same, the prior probability of a woman being pregnant given symptoms consistent with morning sickness is much higher.

        (this is true even if you count transmen and say that 0.01% of men or whatever get pregnant – it’s not just about “men never get pregnant”, it’s about much lower probabilities).

        For the same reason, if a smoker and a nonsmoker both have a persistent cough, you’d be much more worried about lung cancer in the smoker.

      • Nita says:

        The definition pregnancy (lung cancer) involves having an embryo attached to your insides (a bad growth in your lungs), regardless of any outward signs of it. Most mental disorders, on the other hand, are defined as clusters of symptoms.

        Therefore, it makes sense to say “despite having all symptoms of pregnancy, David is not pregnant”, but it does not make sense to say “despite having all symptoms of ADD, David does not have ADD”.

        Of course, there are more complex cases. E.g., Alex has X and Y, you’re unsure about Z — how much weight should you give to the fact that Alex is male? Knowing that people, including medical professionals, struggle with interpreting routine test results correctly, I doubt their ability to intuitively do a proper Bayesian update in more complex cases.

        Another issue is that the differential prevalence statistics depend on the diagnoses, creating a positive feedback loop.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Ah, sorry. I didn’t realize that suntzu was talking about the ADHD thing or that the conversation was limited to psychiatry.

          On the other hand, the inter-rater reliability of DSM psych disorders is atrociously low. There’s a lot of leeway in translating a patient’s statements and complaints into a particular DSM checkbox item.

          I tend to think of the diagnostic process as involving using symptoms to predict whether people have a (currently unknown) physiological quirk that is associated with medication response. It’s possible that a certain group with symptoms qualifying for DSM depression is more likely to have physiological-quirk-corresponding-to-depression and more likely to have response to antidepressants than another group – although as far as I know this has never been studied.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      What is this in reference to?

    • JK says:

      Yes. Another way of thinking about it is regression to the mean. Symptoms are fallible indicators of ADHD. If a boy and a girl have the same set of symptoms that suggests ADHD at time point 1, at time point 2 the boy is more likely to still have the same symptoms. (This assumes that the real prevalence of ADHD is higher in boys, which seems reasonable.)

      • nope says:

        On the other hand, if boys are likelier to display externalizing symptoms of ADHD (such as class disruptions and the like), and girls likelier to display internalizing symptoms (such as simply being incapable of focus), which, hint, they are, then boys are much likelier to be recognized as having ADHD (or, worse, be spuriously diagnosed with it when they just have unrelated behavioral problems) during the prime time of diagnosis: school years. I believe that recent Australian study found that ADHD prevalence in adulthood displayed no gender difference. The prior may, in fact, be wrong.

        • Cadie says:

          Agreed in part. There’s also the odds of other disorders that mimic the symptoms, though; if boys and girls have ADHD in equal numbers but girls are more likely to have something else with some symptom overlap, though, any given boy with those symptoms is more likely to have ADHD than any given girl.

          Made-up numbers: 10% of girls have anxiety disorders causing poor focus and distractibility, and 5% have ADHD. 2.5% of boys have this subtype of anxiety and 5% have ADHD. If a girl comes in with a symptom cluster that could go either way, it’s 1-in-3 that she has ADHD; if a boy comes in with those same symptoms, it’s 2-in-3 for him. You will, however, have this situation only half as often with boys.

          That’s very oversimplified, and there are ways to tell the disorders apart. What it means is that if disorders with similar superficial symptoms are more common in women and girls, it makes sense to consider those other things more likely than if the patient was a man or boy. But one ALSO needs to delve a bit more deeply into symptom history and details to confirm.

          The problem for girls isn’t so much going undiagnosed as being misdiagnosed, AFAICT. That was my personal experience and from both articles and other personal stories I’ve read, it’s common. When symptoms don’t resolve enough on standard anxiety/depression/soft bipolar/etc. medications, we go on the medication merry-go-round for years instead of the original diagnosis being revisited and deemed wrong or incomplete. My depression was almost entirely resistant to medication and anxiety only partially controllable. 25 years (!) after symptom onset, ADHD was added to the dx list, and with treatment added I’m doing markedly better.

    • Ilya Shpitser says:

      Depends on relative frequency of symptom in two subpopulation, but I think in this case yes. Say the model is B independent of C given A (makes sense if disease screens symptom from population type, often the case).

      A=1 is disease, two populations, B=1, B=0. Then if p(A=1|B=1) > p(A=1|B=0),

      p(A=1,C|B=1) = p(C|A=1) p(A=1|B=1) > p(A=1,C|B=0) = p(C|A=1) p(A=1|B=0)

      whether p(A=1|C,B=1) is bigger than p(A=1|C,B=0) depends on relative frequencies of C in two populations, but I think in this case probably sensible to assume p(C|B=1) is about the same as p(C|B=0).

      You guys like Bayes theorem, right?

  19. Dennis Ochei says:

    No one’s geeking out about Alpha Go beating Lee Sedol here?

    • Pku says:

      It’s destroying my sleep schedule. Stupid Eastern timezone.

    • Frog Do says:

      It’s why I’m commenting a lot, anyways.

    • 27chaos says:

      WHAT? Only the first game apparently, but wow. Didn’t expect that.

    • Adam Casey says:

      MAN. That’s a hell of a thing.

      It’s kind of hard to appreciate properly because of how inscrutible high level go is. I mean, I can look at Deep Blue v Kasparov and not “get” most of it, but I know who’s winning and by how much. Without commentary I couldn’t say any points where Lee was clearly ahead or behind.

      If Alphago is as conceptually simple as it seems to be from the press (a big if) that’s kind of impressive. This is clearly a meta-strategy that applies to basically anything gamelike with a long history.

    • Alan Crowe says:

      I’ve just finished looking at the second game. Lee Sedol seems to be playing very well. I think black has captured white stones, then I realize that they can escape because of a forcing move Lee has played earlier. But I’m only a 4kyu and not confident that I can work out a pro-level end game accurately enough to see for myself that he is a few points behind and might as well resign.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’m a beginner at Go so I can’t really tell, but watching the first two games, AlphaGo gives a scary impression of being so much better than humans that the pro commenters can’t actually tell why it’s winning. A user watching one of the streams compared this feeling to an amateur who’s playing a pro, is feeling like they’re doing ok, then is suddenly losing “out of nowhere”. However, in the press conference Google did say that AlphaGo rated its chances about even in the mid-game of game 2, so maybe that’s overstated. Until we see AlphaGo actually lose a game we won’t be able to tell for sure.

      • tcd says:

        Part of this can be explained by what exactly AlphaGo was designed to optimize: the probability of winning the match. The commentators have at several points been stumped by AlphaGo’s decisions to not aggressively push lines of play which would likely result in large possible points swings in its favor. AlphaGo pursues lines that grant 99% probability to win by 1 point over 90% probability to win by 10 points.

        I have not watched the second match yet, but I have read that they brought in one of the team members during the English commentary to shed some light on the issue.

        • DensityDuck says:

          That’s actually a really good point. In games like Go that have finite numbers of points, when a possible point is removed from the game then it’s effectively given points to the leader. One scored point plus an entirely dead bored is a win.

          …although it’s also a terribly boring game. Which is where the problem comes in. Maybe what happened is that AlphaGo broke Go; nobody who wants to Win The Game will ever do anything other than turtle now that AlphaGo showed us it’s the optimal strategy.

          Note that a lot of the rules in professional sports are there specifically to prevent turtling. The icing rule in hockey, or the shot clock in basketball, that sort of thing. It would be interesting to see what AlphaGo would do if there were a rule like “if no point has been scored in so-many moves, a random stone on the board flips to the other color”.

          • Luke Somers says:

            You can’t actually score just one point, especially in Chinese scoring where the stones themselves count for points.

          • Protagoras says:

            AlphaGo doesn’t play boring games, or at least his games against Lee Sedol have involved lots of conflict. No doubt partly because Lee Sedol is an aggressive player, but AlphaGo often responded with counter-attacks and played plenty of aggressive moves itself.

        • Troy says:

          That’s really interesting. I’m a Go amateur, but I often have to resist the urge to give after a big prize with 60% probability when my probability of winning with the status quo is 80%. I’m sure the best players don’t fall into they kind of trap, but I wouldn’t be surprised if even the best players can’t distinguish between 90% and 99% probabilities as well as AlphaGo.

        • Muga Sofer says:

          Density: AlphaGo couldn’t possibly play that game, because there’d be no body of previous games to learn from.

          The only way it could be done would be to simply use the current dataset, I think, which would mean it would play exactly the same way it does now (and probably lose.)

          • Oscar Cunningham says:

            By the way, DeepMind think that they could now train AlphaGo without any dataset.

            Actually, the AlphaGo algorithm, this is something we’re going to try in the next few months — we think we could get rid of the supervised learning starting point and just do it completely from self-play, literally starting from nothing. It’d take longer, because the trial and error when you’re playing randomly would take longer to train, maybe a few months. But we think it’s possible to ground it all the way to pure learning.

            http://www.theverge.com/2016/3/10/11192774/demis-hassabis-interview-alphago-google-deepmind-ai

    • Adam says:

      Not here, but in my Georgia Tech group, yeah, a lot of us are geeking out.

    • Noge Sako says:

      Its clearly one of the largest news of the century event.

      This, and Watson’s win at jeopardy mark the most important observable events in AI to a casual observer.

    • onyomi says:

      http://www.chosunonline.com/site/data/html_dir/2016/03/11/2016031100881.html

      I don’t play Go, but for those who can read Japanese, this article provides an interesting perspective.

      Basically, the professional Go commentators had to apologize to the spectators because Alpha Go made so many decisions that were inexplicable, based on their experience–things that looked for all the world like a series of blunders but which eventually turned out to be brilliant moves of the sort a human pro, apparently, would never have thought of. In other words, for the people with a ton of experience watching Go, it wasn’t just like watching a really unusually good person playing Go; it was like watching someone who didn’t seem to be very good yet who inexplicably won every time.

      What is interesting and a bit scary about this to me, a non-Go player, is just that it confirms some of my suspicions about AI: that being really smart or good at a thing doesn’t necessarily imply being like a smart human but smarter. To put it in Yudkowskian terms, it seems like the space of potential mind architectures is greater than we would tend to imagine.

      That is, the super Go playing computer is better than any human, but not in the way a really good human would ever be (imagine the new Bobby Fischer of Go is born today: even if he turned out to be way better than Lee Sedol or, indeed, Alpha Go, the sense I get is that he wouldn’t likely have been good in the way Alpha Go is good).

      This is scary because it implies a super AI may turn out to be very unfathomable to us not just in the way the mind of Einstein is unfathomable to a person of average intelligence, but maybe even more fundamentally than that.

      One positive thing: assuming AI doesn’t advance so far, so rapidly as to make human reasoning and skill wholly irrelevant, one can imagine that the opportunity to interact with “minds” as smart or smarter than us in some or all fields which yet are very different from our minds in structural terms might actually help spur human creativity and alert us to our own blind spots. My guess is that human Go players will be better 10 years from now than they ever were before, assuming they can eventually make sense of Alpha Go’s unorthodox play style. It’s the closest thing we might soon get to meeting an intelligent alien species capable of telling us what humans look and act like as seen from a non-human perspective.

      • null says:

        I think you are being too optimistic about what this means for human Go progress. Has there been a significant advance in chess skills as a result of computer dominance, or even an incorporation of computer chess tactics in human play? I don’t think this is the case. The games in computer vs. computer matches are visibly different than games played between humans, even years after chess computers routinely beat humans.

      • Chalid says:

        being really smart or good at a thing doesn’t necessarily imply being like a smart human but smarter. To put it in Yudkowskian terms, it seems like the space of potential mind architectures is greater than we would tend to imagine.

        Not having religiously followed LW debates on AI for years, I have to ask – is this actually controversial among rationalists? It was one of those things that seemed very obvious when I read the relevant Sequence.

        • onyomi says:

          It seems obvious, yes, though it is still interesting, to me, at least, to have such a concrete example of a “mind” which is better than the best humans at a thing, but in a very “non-human” way.

          • I don’t find it particularly surprising–different humans already think in different ways. As best I can tell, I think in series and Richard Epstein thinks in parallel.

          • Noge Sako says:

            Very obvious examples in humans, and one oft quoted in the blogosphere, is the firm difference in people in the fields of verbal capabilities (vocab, verbal reasoning, long passage comprehension) and spatial intelligence(object recognition, spatial manipulation)and and memory capacity(those considered savants who can perfectilly recollect long passages with a tenth of the time to memorize), and even complex and simple reaction time.

            Its not horribly uncommon to see splits with certain people having 90th percentile verbal and 30th percentile spatial, with 60t percentile memory capabilities, and vice versa.

            There are people who can write long, lurid prose who ace the LSAT who would make only average electro-mechanical engineers, and vice-versa.

          • onyomi says:

            @David Friedman,

            Can you elaborate on what you mean by thinking in “series” as opposed to “parallel”?

            One difference I think is pretty real and noticeable in my experience is visual vs aural processors. I am a pretty strongly aural processor. I easily and comfortably absorb information that is read to me. I love audio books and podcasts. I hear the words silently in my head when reading. I mostly think in sentences, not images.

            I definitely know people for whom the opposite is true. I even recall someone who claimed to see a kind of “text crawl” in her mind’s eye when people were talking.

          • In explanation of my series and parallel metaphor:

            Richard is making an argument of the form A->B->C.

            I point out that actually B doesn’t imply C. Instead of disputing that, Richard replies with A->D->E->F->C.

            It feels to me as though he is running multiple lines of argument in his head, and when one of them gets blocked he just shifts to another running in parallel and uses that to get around the blockage. Where I’m running one line of argument at a time.

      • tanuki says:

        Basically, the professional Go commentators had to apologize to the spectators because Alpha Go made so many decisions that were inexplicable, based on their experience–things that looked for all the world like a series of blunders but which eventually turned out to be brilliant moves of the sort a human pro, apparently, would never have thought of. In other words, for the people with a ton of experience watching Go, it wasn’t just like watching a really unusually good person playing Go; it was like watching someone who didn’t seem to be very good yet who inexplicably won every time.

        That is, the super Go playing computer is better than any human, but not in the way a really good human would ever be…

        My interpretation (as a very amateur go player) is quite different.

        The slack moves (“blunders” is too strong a term) were in the second half of each game, after AlphaGo had already established victory (or defeat in the case of game 4). It’s a case of choosing not to sprint to the finish line, but instead amble, knowing that you’re far enough ahead that you can afford to give up some ground.

        In the earlier match against Fan Hui, many commentators were surprised by the human-like style of AlphaGo’s play. Looking at the moves, I certainly couldn’t tell which player was the computer. When computers first drew level with top humans at chess, it was much easier to tell: the computers were more naive in terms of the “intuitive” side of play (strategy and long term planning), but their superior calculating ability was enough to compensate. But with AlphaGo, my first thought on seeing those games was that in a sense it’s now passed the Turing test.

        In the current match, it’s sometimes playing good moves that take the commentators by surprise–but top human players sometimes do that as well!

        To my mind, the most significant thing about AlphaGo is the way that it’s been trained. In a sense it’s watched humans making a bunch of decisions, and then learned to make its own judgements as to what constitutes a “good” decision, and how to make decisions with a lower rate of mistakes than the humans it learned from. DeepMind have stated very clearly that they expect the same type of learning to work for other subject areas.

  20. Alraune says:

    RE: Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump…

    Has one presidential candidate ever managed to become the default context for all news before? He’s achieved the office of National Protagonist or something, and it seems rather unprecedented.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Antagonist, surely? At least if you’re reading the news?

    • onyomi says:

      Honestly, I think the biggest element of his success is just his ability to get so much free publicity. Beyond pure name recognition, where he already had an advantage, I think people naturally start to take someone seriously as a candidate if they see him on the news all the time, regardless of what he’s actually saying. If you get ten times as much coverage of Trump as of any other candidate the optics becomes not “are you going to vote for Trump or Cruz or Kasich or Christie,” but instead “are you going to vote for Trump or non-Trump?”

    • Randy M says:

      I’d say yes, but all my examples other than Washington are second out later terms.

    • Noge Sako says:

      Since half of what his opponents have to say to “win” the game of politics and toe the party line are ridiculous, he is debating on easy mode.

      And I think Scott Adams theory of the Cage Match president has more predictive power then his master persuader hypothesis. Could Arnold run as Vice President?

      GG no re dems.

  21. ilzolende says:

    Scientists have identified over 20% of the genes involved in autism. I didn’t realize we were that far along with understanding any kind of massively polygenic trait like that.

    Holy shit we’re so screwed, there’s effective altruism but where do I find people effectively promoting having high-functioning autistic kids, our birth rate is going to sink like a brick and [expletives deleted].

    (I’m pretty sure society will live without significant numbers of us, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      By the time we know enough to create non-autistic kids, we’ll know enough to do things so much more interesting/potentially horrifying than that, that the autistic/allistic distinction will seem irrelevant.

    • 27chaos says:

      Gene editing will cause there to be more high functioning austistic people, if anything. Maybe you could get additional intelligence without as large handicaps to social intuition, for example.

    • Murphy says:

      I’m not so sure. If both parents are already carrying many of the risk genes and are likely somewhat autistic themselves then they’re going to have some context for their choices.

      What would you do if given the information as an expecting parent?

      • ilzolende says:

        I’d want an autistic or autism-adjacent kid, of course. But I’ve heard from wildly unreliable sources that even 2 autistic parents have bad chances of getting an autistic kid? And pre-implantation selection is … probably necessary anyway, I have a 50% chance of being a carrier for color blindness, but throwing away too many embryos sounds unpleasant.

        But for me, the real question is what my parents, who tested for Down’s syndrome and weren’t particularly well-informed about autism at the time, would have done with the option to use an autism test.

        And I don’t want to force people to carry any fetus to term because that leads to problems, but requiring some kind of informative material about any condition before offering a prenatal test would … be a terrible idea because it would be the same people who keep the JRC open determining what “informative” means, but I wish it were workable!

        • Anonymous says:

          I’m wondering how you feel about the claim “what makes someone a parent is their relationship with the child; shared genes are entirely irrelevant”. Last time I brought this up here I think everyone who replied agreed with the claim. Would you say you disagree with it?

          • I can’t speak for anyone else, but I disagree with it. I think at least three things are relevant:

            The relationship
            The shared genes
            The belief of the parent that the child is biologically his or hers.

            The second and third affect the first. My children have quite a lot of characteristics in common with both me and their mother. On the whole they are characteristics I approve of, and even when they are not, their sharing my faults helps me identify with them. I suspect those characteristics are largely genetic.

            I have never donated to a sperm bank and do not intend to—I am in that respect a traitor to my genes. The reason is that I feel a connection to my biological children, a responsibility I do not have towards other children. Hence I would not want to have my biological children being reared by random parents. So my belief that my children are biologically mine affects my relationship to them.

          • ilzolende says:

            I’d guess that sometimes shared genes are necessary for the parent to have a parental relationship with a child? Certainly, lots of people would prefer to have children they share genes with.

          • I don’t think “have a parental relationship with” is a binary variable. The relationship can be more or less parental.

    • gwern says:

      Look on the bright side: because autism is a relatively rare trait, the incentive to do selection on it is much less than for other traits like intelligence. When you do embryo selection on multiple traits, things like autism get much lower weights than the others and so much less effective selection against. You might find interesting my discussion & modeling of doing embryo selection based on a composite score of multiple polygenic scores: http://www.gwern.net/Embryo%20selection#multiple-selection

    • DensityDuck says:

      The other nightmare scenario is Brave New World. What if high-functioning autistics are encouraged to breed because they produce really good technical staff and scientists?

      • Adam Casey says:

        Is BNW actually that bad? Almost everyone has fun, and those that don’t get to enjoy the delights of miserable iceland just as they want.

        • Jiro says:

          Versions of utilitarianism based around happiness often have no way to reject blissful ignorance and wireheading.

          Brave New World, of course, is full of both of those (with Soma being the wireheading).

          If you can’t reject those, then Brave New World rates as a pretty good society. If you can, it rates a lot lower.

          • Acedia says:

            I’ve never really understood what the problem with consensual wireheading is (assuming no significant negative externalities).

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Acedia:

            What’s consent got to do with it?

            The whole idea of wireheading is that the morally relevant thing to maximize is your mental state of happiness. Once you’re plugged in against your will, the machine can just make you think you wanted that all along, so there’s no mental suffering caused by it.

            Now, if you just mean “In practice, this would be abused,” fine. But the interesting question is whether someone who really had the right motives and knew what he was doing would be justified in plugging you in against your will.

            From any standpoint in which wireheading would be considered at all good, it’s hard to see how you could critique it on the grounds of being non-consensual.

          • suntzuanime says:

            What’s consent got to do, got to do with it
            What’s consent but a sweet old-fashioned notion
            What’s consent got to do, got to do with it
            Who needs a will when a will can be broken

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ suntzuanime:

            I was thinking of the same song when I wrote that.

        • Murphy says:

          I always thought that brave new world was far from the worst of all possible worlds.

          The fact that they intentionally made people stupider knocks it’s score down a lot for me but it’s a hell of a lot better than most dystopias.

          Even it’s wireheading was of a Least-bad kind with soma supposedly being neither physically or mentally addictive.

          If totally non-addictive wireheadding was on offer such that I knew I’d still have the real choice to stop once starting then I’d give it a try.

          I’d have no more problem with autistics being encouraged to have kids to produce good technical staff than with tall people being encouraged to have kids with each other in the hope of producing good basketball players.

          • DensityDuck says:

            ” totally non-addictive wireheadding”

            Good luck making that work.

          • Saint Fiasco says:

            The world government also tried policies that *reduce* soma use, like deliberately refusing to automate the kind of jobs Gammas like.

          • Adam Casey says:

            With half-decent tech you can abolish most of the deltas and all epsilons. With decent tech you can abolish the deltas entirely.

            So I expect if we go back to that world a couple of generations later nobody has their intelligence reduced.

          • Anonymoose says:

            Adam, that missed the point that I think in the story the epsilon’s jobs are ALREADY irrelevant. They kept them around because the deltas/betas are too smart to handle being on the bottom of the social ladder, and hierarchy is necessary for society.

            There was a section where the antagonist describes a society of just Alpha+ individuals which collapsed due to a lack a solid hierarchy. You can argue this fictional world doesn’t accurately describe reality, but the books DOES offer a reason to not get rid of epsilons and deltas, even with decent tech.

          • Mark says:

            “non-addictive wireheadding”

            If it’s possible to go back to your regular life after trying wire-heading, I’d say you tried a pretty shitty version of wireheading.

        • Anonymous says:

          It’s not, that is both a big part of the book’s point and why it has aged better than 1984 (IMO).

          • Urstoff says:

            I have almost the exact opposite impression; 1984 was such a dead-on take of authoritarian police states. In contrast, BNW seemed much more fantastical and much less focused. As people mention above, it really doesn’t seem that bad for most of the people in the society. At least the people in BNW are happy in some form or other, even if it’s the most superficial and fleeting kind of happiness.

          • Anonymous says:

            That’s exactly what makes it more interesting, I may be recalling incorrectly, but Huxley isn’t attempting to build a dystopia, but rather show where he thought the world was trending, and why, despite this world being perfectly fine, with a pretty benevolent government, it would still feel “wrong” to the people of his time.

            The fact that we find Brave New World increasingly “not bad” is to Huxley’s credit.

          • Urstoff says:

            I’m doing the minimal amount of research, but quoting from Wikipedia: “Huxley referred to Brave New World as a “negative utopia”‘. It seems like Huxley was lampooning actual utopic writing by writing in glowing terms about a dystopia.

            I still think 1984 has aged better stylistically and thematically, but Orwell may have had a leg up given that he actually had authoritarian states to draw from.

          • Murphy says:

            For anyone who liked big brother, Charles Stross wrote what amounts to a continuation fic which will make anyone working in software giggle a little.

            http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/fiction/toast/toast.html#bigbro

            It’s been the Year 99 for thirty-three months now, and I’m not sure how much longer we can keep it that way without someone in the Directorate noticing. I’m one of the OverStaffCommanders on the year 100 project; it’s my job to help stop various types of chaos breaking out when the clocks roll round and we need to use an extra digit to store dates entered since the birth of our Leader and Teacher.

            Mine is a job which should never have been needed. Unfortunately when the Party infobosses designed the Computer they specified a command language which is a strict semantic subset of core Newspeak—politically meaningless statements will be rejected by the translators that convert them into low-level machinethink commands. This was a nice idea in the cloistered offices of the party theoreticians, but a fat lot of use in the real world—for those of us with real work to do. I mean, if you can’t talk about stock shrinkage and embezzlement how can you balance your central planning books? Even the private ones you don’t drag up in public? It didn’t take long for various people to add a heap of extremely dubious undocumented machinethink archives in order to get things done. And now we’re stuck policing the resulting mess to make sure it doesn’t thoughtsmash because of an errant digit.

            That isn’t the worst of it. The Party by definition cannot be wrong. But the party, in all its glorious wisdom announced in 1997 that the supervisor program used by all their Class D computers was Correct. (That was not long after the Mathematicians Purge.) Bugs do not exist in a Correct system; therefore anyone who discovers one is an enemy of the party and must be remotivated. So nothing can be wrong with the Computer, even if those of us who know such things are aware that in about three months from now half the novel writers and voice typers in Oceania will start churning out nonsense.

        • Muga Sofer says:

          Brave New World was intended as a send-up of utopias of the time, which is why it’s almost a utopia and most of the problems are rather forced.

      • Noge Sako says:

        Er, I am going to interject a bit of a counter-point. Its not so much that high-functioning autistics produce great scientists so much, more so that if a person has an IQ above average, yet contains the social deficits, and perhaps motor deficits that go along with autism, that individual will simply “tend” to introverted positions that still involve a large brain.

    • Adam Casey says:

      If you’re willing I’d be interested in understanding your reaction better here. If not please ignore the below.

      When I read this comment I interpret it as “I feel personally threatened by this”. With the logic being “this is an attack on a class I belong to, and hence it puts me at risk”. Is that how it feels? Or am I misinterpreting?

      • ilzolende says:

        (Note: I don’t like having extended discussions in SSC comments, so if you’d like to continue after this response, my about page on my Neocities lists some different ways to contact me.)

        A prenatal test isn’t a personal threat to me. A cure would be, because people designing tools specifically for making me into not-me is gah, but a prenatal test is a threat to my ingroup’s future.

        Um. I can’t tell from your first few blog posts what groups you identify with, but, uh, picture me acting like I have an evangelist religion that I’ve just been banned from promoting or something?

        A prenatal test isn’t going to steal my money or punch me, it’s just going to make the rate of people who are like me sink like a stone. And that’s going to be unpleasant for me, but also “making NT parents have kids they don’t want” is pretty inappropriate.

        The Shakers got banned from adopting kids at one point, and maybe this is a bit like that if it actually leads to results? IDK.

        • Adam Casey says:

          Thanks, that makes it clearer. I appreciate you taking the time.

        • “it’s just going to make the rate of people who are like me sink like a stone. And that’s going to be unpleasant for me”

          I wonder how true the second sentence is. Given the modern world with the internet, improving VR, good inexpensive transportation, is there a big difference between being in a 2% minority and in a .2% minority? Either way most people selected at random are not like you. But either way there are hundreds of thousands of people who speak your language who are like you.

          In the context of this discussion I’m part of the majority, but in other contexts, including ones having to do with how people think, I’m in a minority considerably smaller than .2%. I still find people to interact with. I even found someone to marry.

    • NN says:

      Holy shit we’re so screwed, there’s effective altruism but where do I find people effectively promoting having high-functioning autistic kids, our birth rate is going to sink like a brick and [expletives deleted].

      You can find them protesting outside every abortion clinic in the US. The US Pro-Life/Anti-Abortion movement already opposes abortion of fetuses with Down Syndrome, and has managed to get laws passed banning abortion solely because of Down Syndrome in Indiana and North Dakota. Presumably they would feel the same way about a hypothetical pre-natal autism test. That may not be the answer that you want to hear, but it’s the truth.

      Though I have my doubts that an autism test could ever be remotely as reliable as the current Down Syndrome test. If, as the linked article claims, a lot of autism cases are the result of first-generation mutations, doesn’t that mean that new autism genes will be appearing all the time?

  22. Zakharov says:

    If the Lizardman Constant is around 5%, why do 10% of Floridians think Cruz is the Zodiac Killer?

    • Wency says:

      I had the same thought.

      1. Noise in polling.
      2. Variability in the Lizardman Constant across populations.
      3. The Lizardman Constant only fully applies to accusations that blatantly contradict the underlying nature of reality.

      Someone, after all, is or was the Zodiac Killer. Perhaps you can get another 4-5% on top of the Lizardman Constant by suggesting things that could have happened, albeit absurd after any amount of analysis.

      “This guy’s accusing him of murder, murders happen all the time and accusations of murder are usually right, so I guess Ted Cruz is a murderer.”

      As opposed to: “This guy’s saying something about lizardmen, I don’t think that’s a thing, I’ll say ‘no’, or at least ‘maybe’.”

      Perhaps if the question had noted that Ted Cruz was born after the Zodiac Killer started killing, and asked if he hijacked the DeLorean from Back to the Future to become the Zodiac Killer, we’d see our 4-5%.

      • Rowan says:

        4. “Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer” is an internet meme, giving any internet-savvy responders an extra temptation to give lizardman answers.

    • nil says:

      I think it’s a fair and safe bet to double the Lizardman Constant when polling in Florida.

    • Nadja says:

      I think some people who oppose Cruz might find it funny to say they believe it.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Personally, I think that Lizardman Constant is closer to 20%. And a pollster who wants to can easily get that up to 30%. Given that this is a PPP troll poll, they probably wanted to.

    • Matthias says:

      Perhaps Lizardman Constant is higher in Florida?

      They have alligators after all.

  23. Sam says:

    In honor of the Lee-AlphaGo match, I submit the following link as a particularly fine example of internet content expertly tailored to the cognoscenti:
    http://senseis.xmp.net/?B2Bomber

  24. Megafire says:

    After reading those three articles, I once again find one of my beliefs reaffirmed:

    Post-modernism is freakin’ weird.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I should admit that “post-modernism” was my impression of the category, and I don’t know if any of those articles would self-identify as post-modernist.

      • Taradino C. says:

        Although the texts of the articles clearly border on the popular perception of post-modernism, they do not explicitly self-identify as post-modernist, thereby leading the reader to question his notion of post-modernism. By conveying this message through the absence of declaration, the articles introduce the question in the reader’s mind as if it were his own original thought, exploiting society’s model of post-modernism in order to attack the very same model. Indeed, these texts provide a stunning example of post-modernism, which is to say they are not post-modernist, which is to say they are post-modernist when read in the context of the assertions they are not, and thus are, making.

  25. Oliver Cromwell says:

    “Related: once the regulatory agencies required that pharma companies pre-register their trials, the positive finding rate dropped from 57% to 8%.”

    Some conclude from this that drug companies are a fraud, but I think I rather conclude medicine is a fraud.

    Basically most medicines do nothing – probably about 85% of those approved by regulators.

    Sensible level of spending on medicine might be $1k/capita/year and a sensible salary for a doctor might be $50k. Everything about that is chasing diminishing and possibly non-existent return.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Note that the rate of new medications succeeding in studies is likely much less than the rate of old medications being effective; succeeding in a single study is a lower bar than being used and studied for fifty years without anyone catching on.

      • DensityDuck says:

        “failure” has many definitions.

        A medicine that was 100% effective for its primary indication but also had major side effects might be reported as “failed” even though it worked.

        Aspirin wouldn’t be approved in the modern risk-averse regulatory environment, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.

        • Murphy says:

          Penicillin wouldn’t ever make it to the stage of testing on sick people in the modern environment. A few people would go into anaphylactic shock during the testing on healthy adults and it would be promptly binned before anyone could ever find out how effective it is.

          Hell, if you tried to get peanuts through the existing system, even if they genuinely worked to cure some disease they’d never make it through.

          • gwern says:

            A few people would go into anaphylactic shock during the testing on healthy adults and it would be promptly binned before anyone could ever find out how effective it is.

            Our problems are bad enough without exaggerating. WP says the allergic reaction rate is 0.03%. The probability you’d hit anyone with an allergy (much less that allergy be enough to single-handedly kill drug development) in a normal Phase I safety trial of 30 people is 99.1% You could even get through a Phase II trial of 200 people with 94% probability, at which point you have good evidence for efficacy (after all, presumably you’re comparing antibiotics here with placebo). Even in the Phase IIIs with 2000 patients you have even odds of hitting someone with an allergy, and have much more evidence it works.

          • DensityDuck says:

            It’s not about efficacy, dude, it’s about the severity of adverse events. A drug that might make you go into anaphylactic shock is not a drug that is going to be approved for use in humans.

          • gwern says:

            It’s not about efficacy, dude, it’s about the severity of adverse events. A drug that might make you go into anaphylactic shock is not a drug that is going to be approved for use in humans.

            Of course it’s about efficacy. All drugs have some level of side-effects, the FDA is well aware of that. A miracle drug like penicillin will be approved if the worst anyone can come up with is a 0.03% risk of an allergic reaction (vs, you know, near-certain death from some infections). And this allergy side-effect would in all probability be discovered after the efficacy is established, so Murphy’s scenario wouldn’t’ve happened then or now.

    • DavidS says:

      I’m not sure your conclusion follows from your premise. If 85% of medicines do nothing (and they’re reasonably evenly spaced) presumably there are still multiple drugs for most conditions?

  26. Anonymous says:

    The Eliezer interview was good – he’s got some of his arguments down to quite a nice concise level. The only major thing I’d disagree about is that I do think AI is more hardware limited than software limited, partly because software progress is itself dependent on fast hardware for faster feedback cycles.

    • Noge Sako says:

      I would like to argue against that. There’s plently of examples in computer science where finding a more clever way of attacking a problem yield results that can never be done with even a million times the hardware costs. And of course, ways of doing a problem that are simple after the fact, but were literally impossible before. It just happened to be the case that plenty of brilliant people worked on so many CS issues in the 60’s and 70’s that we take a good amount of results for granted.

      I think that at this point in time, its simply having enough cleverness of finding the correct algorithms. With this giant internet, and all its computing power*, there is probably more then enough spare hardware lying around. Taken as a whole, its much more powerful then the human brain.

      But the human brain is inefficient! The brain just found algorithms with billions of years of evolution. It happens to work well enough, but there’s no reason to believe that the current wet-ware has found the most efficient algorithms of visual processing, verbal processing, anything.

      https://justin.abrah.ms/computer-science/big-o-notation-explained.html

      *Most of the best algorithms with probably involve some version of massive parallelism, or more fantastic types of computing. With the right type of hardware, that perhaps is based a bit off the current wetware, asking about computing power becomes…not the right question. That might be the current downfall of computing, The correct amount of massive parallelism hasn’t been done yet.

  27. Good news: drug is already approved for cancer and so can be used off-label. Bad news: drug costs $10,000/month.

    These price tags are almost meaningless. The insurance company foots the bill, as well as taxpayers. http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/P1-BV833_LEUKEM_16U_20151223145105.jpg

    Jeff Kaufman: buses are 67x safer than cars. They’re also underused, partly because they’re annoying, partly because of safety features. There is room to trade off bus safety for bus convenience, which would make people take more buses, which would actually make them safer in the long run. Therefore we should make buses more dangerous.

    As others noted, the safety is to some degree offset by the risks of walking to and from the bus stops, as well the risks of waiting at the bus stop.

    Futility Closet: 1/a long series of 9s with one 8 in it gives you a decimal representation of the Fibonacci sequence, for some reason.

    The explanation has to do with the geometric series of the base10 infinite series of the Fibonacci generating function https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fibonacci_number

    A lot of people here talk about the Griggs vs. Duke ruling that bans IQ tests in a job interview, but for some reason police can still get away with only accepting medium-IQ people as cops. Bonus: court case is a high-IQ guy angry at being rejected for the force; court tells him to take a hike.

    So does the US military

    This is pretty funny http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304244904579278442014913458

    and http://lesswrong.com/lw/3g6/study_shows_placebos_can_work_even_if_you_know/

    makes you wonder how much money could be saved using placebos

    • Anatoly says:

      The price tags are all too meaningful when you don’t have insurance or your insurance plan won’t cover the drug. Don’t forget that non-Americans exist, too.

      (personal experience: a family member is on a new promising cancer drug that costs $12,000/month. The country has a socialized medicine system that includes a nationalwide registry of subsidized drugs. Very expensive drugs are not on it, especially new ones. Some workplaces offer additional insurance that covers out-of-registry drugs, but it’s relatively rare for people to have it).

    • Scott Alexander says:

      “These price tags are almost meaningless. The insurance company foots the bill, as well as taxpayers. ”

      It’s really tough to get an insurance company to pay for a very expensive drug. You have to jump through a lot of hoops and prove that you’ve tried absolutely everything else first. This is harder than it sounds because if there are ten other drugs patients usually aren’t going to cooperatively sit still for ten months while you try each drug for a month and then taper it off appropriately.

      In this case, though, the big problem is that it’s not approved for Parkinson’s yet, so insurances don’t feel any obligation to cover it for that. So if you’re someone with Parkinson’s who wants to take advantage of this cancer drug off-label, you’ll have to pay for it yourself.

    • Jiro says:

      Refusing to hire someone because of high IQ isn’t going to have a disproportionate impact on blacks. I would imagine that in practice, the courts would be much less likely to declare a test illegal if it has disproportionate impact on whites. So this doesn’t prove that tests which do have a disproportionate impact on blacks would be permitted by Griggs.

      Of course, if you assume that courts are not doing results-oriented jurisprudence, a disproportionate impact on blacks and a disproportionate impact on blacks would be equally illegal. However, results-oriented jurisprudence is common.

      (Also, it’s not even clear the guy claimed any disproportionate impact, either because he isn’t white or just didn’t think of claiming it.)

    • Adam says:

      The military doesn’t restrict what a high ASVAB scorer can do. It only restricts the low scorers.

  28. Anon. says:

    >Taken at face value, this is a pretty strong testimonial to the power of education – apparently education is so important that even one variety of disruption to it can seriously impact your adult earnings.

    I don’t think so. The signaling view is consistent with the findings as well. The disruptive student simply hurts your ability to signal. Path dependency takes care of the rest.

    • Lupis42 says:

      It could also be that 1 bad/disruptive student shifts a small percentage of marginal students (through social pressure, or by being a bad but attractive role model) into an unhealthy relationship with drugs or institutions, and the long term effects follow.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      How? Assuming you still do well enough to get the degree, the signaling value should be the same.

      I guess that if, for example, the disruptive student prevents you from learning about Moby Dick, it impedes your ability to talk about Moby Dick in an impressive sophisticated way, but I had the feeling that the signaling theory meant you could talk about your degrees and such, not use your learning itself to signal. If it’s using your learning itself to signal, that at least acknowledges that learning is going on, which is still pretty impressive and means we just have to turn that learning to good ends.

      • Anon. says:

        Everybody “gets the degree” from high school, therefore it’s useless as a signal. Disruptive student -> lower GPA -> worse university -> you know the rest.

      • Deiseach says:

        It depends what you mean by “disruptive student”. The school where I worked, this could range from “having full-blown meltdown including throwing chairs at the teacher” to simply messing about; arriving in class five minutes late, making a huge production of taking out books, etc., “Miss, Miss, I haven’t got my textbook, I need to go to my locker/I need to use the bathroom”; “I haven’t my homework with me” and a ten minute argument if the teacher falls for it about “But I did do it/But that’s not fair/But why do I have to do it again?” etc., and they can easily eat up fifteen to twenty minutes of a forty minute class period simply riding herd on them, which does not leave much time for actually teaching.

  29. Deiseach says:

    Wait, wait, wait: the foundational ego-depletion study was done on “solve a puzzle after eating radishes versus after eating chocolate chip cookies”?

    And nobody decided to test if the different results were because the sugar and chocolate gave the first group an energy bump so they stuck at the problem? Whereas radishes are high in roughage and take a lot of digestion, so they maybe were using up energy?

    I realise I may be falling into the Sherlock Holmes trap of “I fast during cases because I can’t spare the blood going to my stomach for digestion instead of to my brain for thinking”, but that conclusion does sound like “You’re more alert and better able to focus when you drink coffee, so plainly not imbibing caffeine causes ego depletion!”

  30. onyomi says:

    I’ve had the very same, very strong impression about Trump v Bernie versus Trump v Hillary. It’s also just the optics and interpersonal dynamics angle: next to Trump, Hillary comes off as a shrill, nagging, wet blanket; next to Bernie, Trump comes off as a blustering neophyte.

    This is not to say Hillary is inherently inferior as a candidate to Bernie: I think if the Dems knew there opponent were going to be Cruz they’d be right to pit Hillary against him. Against Cruz, Hillary seems reasonable and measured while he looks cloying and extreme. Against Bernie, however, Cruz gets to grandstand about capitalism versus socialism, etc. Plus you are pitting an evangelical Texan against a New England Jew.

    So in the rock-paper-scissors game, Trump beats Hillary and Hillary beats Cruz, but Bernie beats Trump and Cruz beats Bernie.*

    *Nothing but my personal, subjective guesses about their personalities, campaign styles, and likely interpersonal dynamics.

    • onyomi says:

      That said, I’ve been following the prediction markets the past few months, and as the probability of a Trump nomination has gone up, the probability of a GOP general election victory has gone down, so there must be a fair number of people in-the-know who think a Clinton-Trump matchup will work out favorably for Hillary. Unless they just think Trump is bad for the GOP regardless of whom he’s pitted against.

    • Deiseach says:

      I’ve thought about this a little, and I think I can visualise Bernie Sanders as a credible Democratic nominee versus whatever Republican (and is it really looking like Trump all the way?) is put in place, if I think of him as the American version of our Michael D. Higgins.

      Some spooky coincidences there, actually: did Bernie ever indulge in writing poetry? Wikipedia said he made and sold “radical filmstrips” to local schools while he was living in Vermont, does that count as artistic creativity? 🙂

      More seriously – older politician known for his Socialist commitment, ran with the less-than-enthused support of his party, had to do some finely-honed juggling to get even that amount of backing, and wiped everyone’s eye in the end so that – despite the doddery grandpa public image – he won the Presidency of Ireland and thus was a much sharper cookie when it came to knowing how to run a political campaign than he’d been given credit for.

      I know there’s a huge difference between the American and Irish presidencies, but if I think of Sanders as the Yank Michael D., my assessment of his chances goes way up 🙂

      • onyomi says:

        Just in terms of appearance and style, they are kind of weirdly similar. The difference might be that, initially, at least, I don’t think Sanders was running to win. I think he was running a Ron Paul-type campaign: “it would be nice if I won, but the main thing is to get my ideas out there and maybe pull the winning candidates more in my direction.” I think he got more traction than he was expecting and since tried to morph into more of a serious candidate, but the US Overton Window is still well to the right of that in Ireland and Europe in general, so someone who might be a viable candidate there probably will remain a protest candidate here.

        I also find Higgins to be more eloquent and sharp-tongued than Sanders in a way that probably wouldn’t fly well in US politics. Higgins strikes me as someone willing to go for the jugular to win in a way Bernie largely hasn’t against Hillary (though might if pitted against Trump).

        So, I think it’s an interesting comparison made different as much by the differing contexts as the actual politicians.

    • stillnotking says:

      I don’t think Sanders can win a general election under any circumstances. The socialist label would kill him in battleground states. He polls well only because the GOP hasn’t attacked him yet. Nor will they, unless he somehow gets the nomination. Republicans are praying for that to happen. Six months of negative ads would have the good people of Ohio convinced that Sanders is a Maoist who wants to give all their money to bums and send their kids to re-education camps. It would be McGovern all over again.

      Trump probably beats Bernie, but definitely doesn’t beat Hillary. He’ll be leading a badly divided GOP against a candidate who, while not enjoying the most stellar of reputations, nevertheless has colossal name recognition, an impressive resume, and broad support among key non-white-male demographics. His shock tactics worked in a multiway primary among the mostly white Republican base, where the most important thing was to stand out from the pack; in a head-to-head general election, those tactics will backfire. Every shocking thing he says will motivate as many people to vote against him as for. Sanders supporters who swear they’d rather have Trump than Clinton will change their minds by November, just like the PUMAs did in ’08. (That’d probably be true even if the Republican weren’t Trump, but if he is, it’s a mortal lock.)

      • onyomi says:

        I think this all makes a lot of sense based on pure fundamentals. But I think any race with Trump in it is going to have a lot more psychological/wild-card element than most. I agree Bernie has a tough time winning any general, and also that most Bernie supporters will grit their teeth and pull the lever for Hillary sooner than see Trump in office.

        I don’t, however, think Trump’s shock tactics will necessarily backfire in the general. I don’t really see why they should. The people who would be turned off by Trump’s rudeness are already turned off. But he might succeed in tarring Hillary with various scandals in ways that wouldn’t stick if it were anyone else making the accusations. He might succeed in getting would-be Hillary voters to stay home in disgust at the two bad options.

        Maybe more importantly, he will get the blue collar white people who stayed home for McCain and Romney to actually show up in a way they might not have had Bernie managed to deflate his ego in a way Hillary likely can’t. What’s more, he might get more crossover from that demographic than would any other GOP nominee–union members who would definitely have voted for Bernie, for example.

        • stillnotking says:

          Yeah. I’m not totally comfortable predicting a race with Trump in it, because the guy has confounded my expectations repeatedly. But I’m also not quite on board with the Scott Adams “Trump is a Wizard” thing. Just because he’s defied gravity so far doesn’t mean he can keep doing it through November. The #NeverTrump people strike me as pretty serious. (Including my seventy-six-year-old father, who, if Trump is nominated, will be voting third party for the first time in his adult life, having pulled the lever for every Republican since Eisenhower.)

          Besides, the demographics are almost insurmountable. Unless Trump does a lot better among minorities and women than it looks like he will — and if I hear one more Trump supporter brag about a few dozen Hispanic Republicans in Nevada, I’m gonna scream — the votes simply are not there for an electoral college majority. He can make Hillary look as dumb as he likes on the debate stage, get in zingers that will play on YouTube for twenty years, and still lose.

          His path to victory probably involves sweeping the Rust Belt and the New South by a combination of white working-class anger and low turnout among traditionally Democratic constituencies, but that’s a long shot. A lot of things would have to go his way, even more so than in his admittedly improbable primary win.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            His path to victory probably involves sweeping the Rust Belt and the New South by a combination of white working-class anger and low turnout among traditionally Democratic constituencies

            Ill grant that it is far from certain, but that doesn’t strike me as “a long shot” at all, especially if Hillary is the Dem’s nominee.

          • stillnotking says:

            Both those areas have been trending blue. He’d need to be the first Republican to win Ohio in 12 years, and the first to win Michigan in 24. He can write off Florida altogether, which means he’d need Virginia and North Carolina for sure. VA is 20% African-American. MI is 14%. Those voters mostly love Hillary and mostly hate Trump. There’s also the question of ground game: He’ll be up against a very well-organized Democratic machine, probably without the benefit of whole-hearted GOP establishment support.

            Like I said, I’m not going to count him out, but he’s swimming against a strong current.

          • onyomi says:

            I agree with the general notion that the electoral college is currently stacked against Republicans, as Congressional districts are stacked against Democrats, but why would he write off Florida?

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        @ stillnotking
        a candidate [Hillary] who, while not enjoying the most stellar of reputations

        That depends on whether you’re counting times she was investigated or counting times she was cleared, which are equal, actually.

        Carol has been investigated and cleared of X, Y, and Z. Bob has never been investigated at all. So we know that Carol has never done X, Y, or Z but Bob’s behavior is unknown. So the best bet for honesty, is Carol.

        Al Capone was investigated by police. Hillary was investigated by political opponents.

        thedailybanter.com/2016/01/hillary-gop-smears/

        correctrecord.org/

        • Hlynkacg says:

          Hillary was investigated by political opponents AND police which is where having friends in high places comes in handy.

          😛

  31. Muga Sofer says:

    >New drug nilotinib looks very promising for Parkinson’s disease, may clean up proteins associated with death of dopamine-producing cells. Good news: drug is already approved for cancer and so can be used off-label. Bad news: drug costs $10,000/month.

    Am I the only one who thinks “binitolin” sounds much more like the name of a real drug? Like they just took the name of a drug and reversed it?

    More proof we live in the mirror universe.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      It’s deliberate use of notarikon – all drugs whose names end in “-tinib” are tyrosine kinase inhibitors. See this handy chart.

    • DensityDuck says:

      “If oi was t’go around proclaimin’ my Parkinson’s cured just because some moistened bintolin lobbed a couple o’pills at me, they’d put me away!”

    • Am I the only one who thinks “binitolin” sounds much more like the name of a real drug? Like they just took the name of a drug and reversed it?

      You’re not the only one. The word “nilotinib” waves frantic red flags of “this is something spelled backwards”, like “Ellivelddiw” (from Mr. Widdle and the Sea Breeze) or “Serutan”.

  32. It looks like doubleblinded.com hasn’t been updated in a while. Anyone know whether they actually ran their first trial, if so what happened, and if they’re planning to run another one? Also, Scott, you might want to mention this in the post, since it’s easy to read the site without realizing that it’s out of date.

    • gwern says:

      They shipped the first one on theanine; I know because I have it sitting on my desk waiting for me to stop massively procrastinating on it.

  33. Muga Sofer says:

    >Related: once the regulatory agencies required that pharma companies pre-register their trials, the positive finding rate dropped from 57% to 8%.

    !

    >Wikipedia’s Special: Nearby gives you all the Wikipedia pages about places close to you. I got my local district library, but maybe people who live in more interesting places will get more interesting articles.

    The castle around the corner popped up above the college I’m currently browsing this in, so … good to see spooky website voodoo can’t find my location *too* accurately.

    Interesting things:

    A battle in this town during one of our interminable revolutions, which was was led by a “brogue-maker”, which I’m pretty sure is just a shoemaker. Actually pretty interesting: four revolutionary contingents swept through the town along the four main streets, converging in the Potato market (because of course an Irish town has a potato market in the center.)

    But the local military leader had anticipated all of this, and had hidden a bunch of cannon and gunmen in various houses and government buildings. As the rebels celebrated their “victory”, concentrated in the town centre, they were cut down in swathes. The survivors fled … into another ambush, prepared by the bridge. And then the town caught fire.

    Five hundred dead. There were no reported losses to the military.

    Also the castle was blown up by a guy trying to remodel it into an asylum, by himself, using dynamite, in the 1800s, which is responsible for it’s now-ruined state. I already knew that story, though.

  34. James Babcock says:

    The study claiming toxoplasma gondii doesn’t affect human behavior proves no such thing. If you do a study with a sample that’s too small, you can get a null result even if there’s a real effect, and that’s exactly what they did. They found an odds ratio of 1.31 for schizophrenia (95% CI 0.55-3.12). This confidence interval includes the odds ratio (2.73) found in the first meta-study on toxoplasma and schizophrenia that I checked (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3329973/).

    • suntzuanime says:

      Yeah, this is perhaps the biggest problem with the tendency to report null-hypothesis-test significance rather than bayes factor; people misinterpret a negative result.

    • lambdaphagy says:

      If the effect of toxo on these outcomes were negligible, then we’d expect to see the odds ratios centered around one. But the odds ratios in the table seem to tend in the same direction, towards toxoplasma making people crazy.

      If you aggregate the outcomes and just count how much bad stuff in total happens to infected vs. non-infected cases, you find that there are 0.92 bad outcomes for per infected case vs. 0.69 per non-infected case. [Do these numbers seem really high to anyone else?] On the assumption that all of the bad outcomes are independent, which is dubious but good enough for internet math, this difference is easily statistically significant.

      My informal gloss of this table is that if you survey about a thousand people and ask them how their lives are going, the toxo-positive people will seem slightly but noticeably more messed up.

  35. DensityDuck says:

    Eroom’s Law – a straight-line, Moore’s law style relationship showing that the average pharmaceutical company dollar buys fewer and fewer new drug discoveries over time. Reason unclear…

    Reason identified, I should think:

    “Ben Goldacre et al’s crusade against outcome switching in clinical trials: “So far, they’ve checked 67 clinical trials. Of those, nine trials were perfect. But among the ones that weren’t, they found 301 pre-specified outcomes were never reported and 357 were silently added.” Related: once the regulatory agencies required that pharma companies pre-register their trials, the positive finding rate dropped from 57% to 8%.

    Well, yes, if you make it ever more expensive to perform a clinical trial, and insist that you can’t accept serendipitous outcomes as valid, then no shit you’re gonna get fewer useful results from trials!

    Under the present methodology for the design and acceptance of clinical trials, we would have never “discovered” penicillin. It wasn’t something anyone was looking for, and–per Goldacre–we therefore should never have accepted it.

    • gwern says:

      Under the present methodology for the design and acceptance of clinical trials, we would have never “discovered” penicillin.

      This was not exploratory laboratory research. These were intended to test specific treatments for specific problems. Pre-registration does not prevent penicillin. You are perfectly free to report a bunch of serendipitous secondary endpoints and propose followup trials on those… what you aren’t free to do is to pretend that random subgroup analyses you pulled out of your ass were your original primary endpoint & what you were testing all along and should be taken 100% seriously.

      • DensityDuck says:

        “You are perfectly free to report a bunch of serendipitous secondary endpoints and propose followup trials on those…”

        ah-heh. So, no, not permitted to say “hey turns out our drug works for this other thing pretty well” and start using it for that thing. I’m required to go back to square one with this interesting but, according to doctrine, totally unproven idea that I’ve got.

        Meanwhile we get all these HuffPo cries about how we sent people to to the Moon but we haven’t cured cancer yet, must be ‘coz America is run by racist homophobes.

        • Anonymous says:

          Jesus, dude, HuffPo is garbage, but that last sentence came completely out of left field.

        • gwern says:

          So, no, not permitted to say “hey turns out our drug works for this other thing pretty well” and start using it for that thing

          Under current statistical practices, no, and for excellent reason: because anyone claiming such a post hoc result and engaged in endpoint switching against their original registration probably data-mined and p-hacked and took their way through a garden of forking paths to reach that result, and between the much smaller sample size and the multiple-testing it’s almost guaranteed to be a false positive. Do we really need to rehearse all this stuff about failed replications and the inferential meaning of p-values and low base rates? No, if it’s really so super-awesome, then – just like penicillin did in what was a landmark clinical trial – your super-new drug can prove its worth in a real trial with real primary endpoints, which will be easier since you’ve already shown safety now.

          (In an ideal world where everything in medical trials is done the right way according to Bayesian decision-theoretic procedures to optimize health & wealth and governments allocated optimal levels of funding, then you absolutely could if the cost-benefit with informative priors worked out, and if it didn’t like it probably wouldn’t, then the VoI of something like penicillin is so high a followup trial would probably be funded anyway.)

          • DensityDuck says:

            Yes bro we know you read the LW wiki a whole lot and know all the words.

            The claim is that clinical research has oddly, mysteriously, unexplainably started producing fewer results, both as an absolute and as a relative (per-input) measure. I’m claiming that it’s not actually odd or mysterious or unexplainable. It’s more expensive because “we” (or, at least, the FDA) have decided that it ought to be.

            I guess if you want to say “well they should have been doing it this way all along“, that’s fine, but let’s not act like there aren’t costs that come from insisting on that degree of rigor.

          • gwern says:

            Yes bro we know you read the LW wiki a whole lot and know all the words.

            Was this true, nice, or useful to say?

            The claim is that clinical research has oddly, mysteriously, unexplainably started producing fewer results, both as an absolute and as a relative (per-input) measure. I’m claiming that it’s not actually odd or mysterious or unexplainable

            And I am claiming that poor research practices that will predictably produce far more false positives because they are data-mining noise is neither the historical reason why discovery rates went down nor a solution to our declining rates. With lots of false positives, huge amounts of time and resources are wasted, positive harm is done, complacency sets in as one feels like ‘progress’ is being made, and so on. Historically, questionable research practices seem to steadily increase (the literature becomes p-hacked worse every year), yet, all these free-spirited and unrigorous researchers with their beautifully small p-values do not seem to have undone Eroom’s law. Almost like there’s a connection in the other direction…

          • DensityDuck says:

            Given my and my family’s experience in this area, I can confidently state that the rigor required of clinical trials has not gone down, and that the FDA is entirely willing to deny approval if they don’t feel the statistics warrant it.

            ****

            “poor research practices”
            “data-mining noise”
            “time and resources are wasted”
            “positive harm is done”
            “questionable research practices”

            You seem to be very confident that the results published (and used to approve the drug, and officially permit doctors to prescribe it for a particular indication) are lies based on garbage.

            This is the part where you link to your evidence that the statistics supporting the reported outcomes are actually bad, rather than just assertedly bad.

            No, “here is a link to the Compare Project website” is not sufficient. It is not my job to do your arguing for you.

          • gwern says:

            Given my and my family’s experience in this area

            How nice for you.

            the rigor required of clinical trials has not gone down, and that the FDA is entirely willing to deny approval if they don’t feel the statistics warrant it.

            I agree. The FDA, for all its problems, has also done good things in holding peoples’ feet to the fire.

            You seem to be very confident that the results published (and used to approve the drug, and officially permit doctors to prescribe it for a particular indication) are lies based on garbage.

            I am very confident that results published based on small p-hacked unblinded or unrandomized unpreregistered trials are, by and large, lies based on garbage, and that this is why so many old medical beliefs have been debunked by proper RCTs, and also that the small studies and experiments being lies based on garbage is why so many drugs fail in the larger FDA-regulated clinical trials where they mandate minor little things like primary endpoints, and this failure rate is part of why we know they are lies based on garbage, because if doctors were routinely serendipitously discovering miraculous cures based on post hoc analyses that Big Statistics Doesn’t Want You To Know, there would be a lot more succeeding. Penicillin doesn’t stop working if you choose ‘cured of infection’ as your primary endpoint, anymore than it stops working if you flip a coin to decide which patient to give it to!

            This is the part where you link to your evidence that the statistics supporting the reported outcomes are actually bad, rather than just assertedly bad.

            Why would I do that? From your arguments, you’re clearly aware of all the evidence for this stuff.

          • DensityDuck says:

            “From your arguments, you’re clearly aware of all the evidence for this stuff.”

            It is not my job to do your arguing for you.

            Note that you’re actually agreeing with me, here. My assertion is “the insistence on statistical rigor and strict adherence to previously-declared endpoints is the primary driver for the reduction in number of new drugs brought to market and the large increase in average cost per new drug.” You aren’t actually refuting that statement.

            I go on to suggest that this rigor is of questionable value–like, if the endpoint was superiority but the study data shows noninferiority, the drug doesn’t get approved even though it’s not inferior?(*)–and you respond with some sort of bureaucrat-worship where what the FDA decides is correct because they’re the FDA.

            (*) the fun part here is how the FDA decided, and stated outright, that they wanted to try to get the industry to advance the state of the art in this particular treatment and so they were going to force us to accept superiority as an endpoint. Studies shooting for noninferiority would be non-accepted, because after all we already have drugs that do the thing. They do it about three times as expensively as need be, have to be delivered by IV instead of orally, and need to be refrigerated and formulated by a specialist pharmacy before administration, but we do have ’em.

  36. Jaskologist says:

    I gotta give the media a partial pass on the “English Only” thing. Dolores Huerta and America Ferrera were there, and explicitly claimed that it happened, which was the origin of the story. Those who passed it on were merely assuming that those two weren’t outright lying, which is a pretty standard way for media members to handle sources, albeit not a great way to bet when dealing with Hillary.

    It’s been fun watching Sanders fans see him get treated like a Republican. Just keep this in mind when you see similar claims about a Trump/Cruz/whoever rally, and any time in the future you see any claim at all by the aforementioned activists.

    • cbhacking says:

      I haven’t followed this story – I’m paying attention to the primaries in general, but staying as well clear of the mudslinging as I can short of just not looking at anything but pure numbers – but I’m curious how well-supported your claim is.

      If it’s true – that is, if two people of any notability whatsoever appear to have deliberately lied about an event in order to cause reputational harm to a political candidate – can they be sued for libel (or defamation, depending on how the false assertions were made)? I’m curious about this both from a legal perspective (is there some kind of protected-class-of-speech thing here regarding political persons) and from a practical one (would such a case have any chance to prevail, and would it be worth pursuing in any case)?

      Obviously, most of us are not lawyers and I’m not looking for legal advice. However, I am really curious about all this. The degree to which politicians – Sanders included – get away with stating factual falsehoods appalls me.* However, the degree to which “the media” (anybody with the ability to easily influence a widespread group of the public, which can include sufficiently-trusted sources for what is generally perceived as “the media”) can get away with falsehoods is very nearly as bad. The major difference is that, in the case of the media (and possibly their sources, but I’m less sure there) spreading lies about a specific person or organization with intent to cause them harm, I *know* we have laws against it.

      * I genuinely feel that there ought to be something along the lines of “before you are permitted to participate in this debate, you need to publicly set the record straight on these established facts which you have previously stated incorrectly in ways that support your political positions”, though I’ll grant that I don’t have the solution to deciding *how well* established a fact must be before it counts (though some things, like mis-stating specific poll results or whatever, seem like they’d be easy) or to avoiding abuse by privileging favored candidates (I think some political debate moderators do genuinely try to be neutral, but I doubt any have ever succeeded). I’d be curious to hear people’s thoughts on the subject.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        @cbhacking – I genuinely feel that there ought to be something along the lines of “before you are permitted to participate in this debate, you need to publicly set the record straight on these established facts which you have previously stated incorrectly in ways that support your political positions”

        That is a remarkably pleasant fantasy.

  37. DensityDuck says:

    The Silicon Valley Democrat attitude is easy to explain. “I am smart, and I’ve thought about things, and therefore I know what is the best thing for everyone. Since I’m already doing it, the government should leave me alone–and they should A) make everyone else leave me alone as well, and B) make everyone else act the way that I think they ought to.”

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Warning for comment that’s of the sort that might get you banned in the future. If you object to something, argue against it, instead of just saying “I bet people who disagree with me are pompous and self-important”

      • DensityDuck says:

        I should think that the argument I’m making is obvious, but apparently it isn’t.

        A key aspect of the technocrat’s philosophy is the idea that they personally doesn’t need to change anything because they’re already acting in the optimal manner. And the people who run technology firms are, understandably, technocrats to the bone.

        It’s quite telling that Ferenstein brings in Teddy Roosevelt, who in recent years has become a progressive hero for reasons I can only ascribe to another common intellectual flaw: looking at past events with modern attitudes. People talk about how TR was this awesome anti-business crusader, but it’s more along the lines of him being mad that businesses wouldn’t shut up and do what he told them.

        Furthermore, the kind of government action they advocate is…odd…more like “there should be a law passed saying that you can’t ban Uber”, “there should be a law passed saying that you can’t make me pay taxes on the free buses that Google uses”, “there should be a law passed saying that you can’t pass laws saying you can’t kick everyone out of their apartments and sell the building to a condo developer”, sort of thing. Not exactly the kind of Heavy Intervention that comes to mind when you say someone is pro-government.

        • DensityDuck says:

          “they are pro-anything that lets them use their wealth to help the common good”

          😐

          So, yeah, the idea is that A) the richer I get, the larger the crumbs that fall from my table, and B) what I want is for some neutral third party to handle charity for me so that I can justify being hands-off with it. Like, if I give someone money, then I feel some degree of obligation to make sure that they’re doing something meaningful with it and not just blowing it on weed. But if my charity money goes into a big laundry that spits out untraceable dollars, then it’s not my fault if it all gets spent on weed, right?

        • Scott Alexander says:

          I’m still not sure why you think this refers to Silicon Valley more than anyone else. Leftists, liberals, rightists, etc all seem to think that they personally are doing the right thing and don’t need to change anything but the government needs to protect their interests and make other people more like them. It sounds like you’re taking an insulting character flaw and saying people in Silicon Valley are the only ones guilty of it, without explaining why it fits their philosophy better than anyone else’s.

          • DensityDuck says:

            “I’m still not sure why you think this refers to Silicon Valley more than anyone else. ”

            …because that’s who the article was about?

            The article claims that there’s some weird contradiction in these tech-company leaders who say libertarian things but also support government actions. I’m saying it’s not actually hard to understand once you look at who’s doing the asking and what they’re asking for.

          • Anonymous says:

            It seems like an abundant, pernicious character flaw that people should be made more aware of. The claim that DensityDuck claims that only Silicon Valley is doing it doesn’t seem to arise from DensityDuck’s actual statements; rather, DensityDuck seems to be talking about it in the specific context of “Silicon Valley Democrats” only because that is the salient context.

            Nor does the ubiquity argument seem salient. “Don’t point out flaws everyone has” when held as a principle of discourse encourages a culture to become dogmatic about its weaknesses. This isn’t the right way. It’s not even the only way. There ARE pluralists in politics. Archipelagoans and classic liberals are believers in diversity of thought, among others.

          • tenshal mungafe says:

            >The claim that DensityDuck claims that only Silicon Valley is doing it doesn’t seem to arise from DensityDuck’s actual statements

            Except for his first sentence.

    • BBA says:

      Every so often I remind myself: “You are not as smart as you think you are.”

      But humility doesn’t get you funded by venture firms, I guess.

      • hlynkacg says:

        All I know is that I know nothing and I’m not even sure I know that.
        -Michel de Montaigne

  38. Graft says:

    Given the logarithmic relationship between income and happiness, I am wondering if this latent “hedonic discounting” of extra income that humans seem to have has any impact on observed income inequality? Like, for a company to attract talent at higher and higher levels, the change in income required to have a hire place a large enough EV on the added happiness a new job will give her needs to be increasingly large. The highly skewed distribution on income, then, may in part be a rational response by firms to this human characteristic.

    Example: someone making 50k gets an offer at 60k. Given the position on the “happiness discount curve” that’s a respectable bump in the EV of future happiness, and that offer likely gets accepted. Someone making 500k gets an offer at 510k, that delta in the EV of happiness doesn’t even register, so, sorry, no deal.

  39. gwern says:

    The typhoid paper: https://www.dropbox.com/s/0hrs8bljkkoatbk/2016-beach.pdf

    “Typhoid Fever, Water Quality, and Human Capital Formation”, Beach et al 2016:

    New water purification technologies led to large mortality declines by helping eliminate typhoid fever and other waterborne diseases. We examine how this affected human capital formation using early-life typhoid fatality rates to proxy for water quality. We merge city-level data to individuals linked between the 1900 and 1940 Censuses. Eliminating early-life exposure to typhoid fever increased later-life earnings by one percent and educational attainment by one month. Instrumenting for typhoid fever using typhoid rates from cities that lie upstream produces results nine times larger. The increase in earnings from eliminating typhoid fever more than offset the cost of elimination.

  40. onyomi says:

    Re. Trump anxiety, the article says people have grown up learning “to not ostracize people based on their skin color.” It is taken for granted that Trump is doing that, so far as I can tell, by the magic of: said something bad about illegal immigrants–>hates Mexicans–>wants to ostracize people on the basis of their skin color.

    Other than his failure to denounce David Duke fast enough, is there any evidence that Donald Trump is actually racist, other than the above chain of transitive racism? And if not, isn’t the above chain kind of the whole problem, as well as the answer to the mystery of why Trump gets away with it? That is, some people have refused to stop doing the mental math which goes “tough on immigration=hates Mexicans=hates black people and everyone with a different skin color for pure racial reasons”?

    • Murphy says:

      Wanting to ban all muslims refugees from entering the country is a candidate.

      But I don’t personally think he’s particularly racist or to be more exact I don’t think he genuinely has strong feelings about race, he’s just a massive populist. He’ll say anything to win support and that includes winning the support of racists.

      • Frog Do says:

        Muslim isn’t a race, Arabs and geographically similar people are structurally classed as white by the USG.

        • Randy M says:

          True as that may be, Murphy was addressing the question of people’s perceptions and opinions of Trump. Disliking people based on identity pattern matches to being a racist.

          [edit: I see now that that wasn’t what Onyomi actually asked, my mistake]

          • Adam says:

            It’s also largely undesirable on its own to the same people who hate literal racism. It’s not like they approve of hating Guatemalans because Guatemalans are not a race.

          • Frog Do says:

            What racism is vs what racism pattern matches to is a very important distinction, see also the endless debates on the use of the word fascism. Racism more or less pattern matched to anti-establishment now, IMO, in a way that is entirely unhelpful, unless you’re in the establishment.

            In this case, speaking of specifically about USG policies, wanting to ban Muslim refugees from entering the country is structural religous bias.

          • onyomi says:

            “What racism is vs what racism pattern matches to is a very important distinction”

            Exactly.

            Racism has now expanded to mean “not sufficiently forward thinking on issues of socio-economic-religio-cultural inclusivity.”

          • Randy M says:

            I agree racism is incoherent as currently used.

            In this case, speaking of specifically about USG policies, wanting to ban Muslim refugees from entering the country is structural religious bias.

            Actually doing so would be putting into law a religious bias, yes but wanting to do so may not necessarily mean he is “biased” meaning either hateful or unreasoned. The reasoning that as a group at this time they would bring net negatives to existing citizens compared to a comparable number of other groups could be a reasoned argument from a position of neutrality.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Randy M says: Actually doing so would be putting into law a religious bias.

            I disagree. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 governs the rules for seeking political asylum in the US which includes those fleeing religious persecution.

            The solution is simple. Christians, Jews, and other non-Muslims living in or near ISIL controlled areas are obviously under greater threat and thus should be given top priority.

            Once you’ve taken care of them you can start screening Muslim asylum seekers on case-by-case basis.

            Wahhabist Muslims would of course be denied asylum on the grounds that they are not actually facing religious persecution. If they want to immigrate they have to do it the old fashioned way, by moving to Mexico and crossing the border applying for a green card 😉

          • Derelict says:

            Racism has now expanded to mean “not sufficiently forward thinking on issues of socio-economic-religio-cultural inclusivity.”

            It’s not racism specifically — it also encompasses sexism, classism, etc. as you mentioned in the giant hyphenated word.

            But otherwise, you’re right. That’s pretty much the line of thinking behind the “minimum standard of human decency”. The people who spout that line consider themselves to be acting just barely good enough to be acceptable, and everyone who doesn’t act exactly as good as them to be despicable and subhuman as a result.

          • Anonymous says:

            The minimum standard of human decency seems to rise much faster than the minimum wage.

          • Tatu Ahponen says:

            “The solution is simple. Christians, Jews, and other non-Muslims living in or near ISIL controlled areas are obviously under greater threat and thus should be given top priority.”

            Aren’t Shia Muslims under *at least* an equally great threat?

          • nil says:

            @Tatu Ahponen

            Undeniably so. Few things make me angrier than right-wingers who walk about how important it is to “name the enemy” and proceed to name it as “Islam” or “radical Islam,” ignoring the fact that America hasn’t been hit by Shia terrorism in at least 30 years, and that Shia Muslims constitute both the most common victim of and often the front-line fighters against Salafist/Wahhabist Sunni terrorism.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            Equal maybe, but not greater. Tolerance/Amnesty for Shia is at least on the table among “liberal” Sunni. Can’t say the same for Jews.

            Even so, my point is that there is a legal precedent for religious/ideological immigration test and it’d be hard to argue against it without arguing that the concept of “asylum” itself is unconstitutional.

          • JDG1980 says:

            But otherwise, you’re right. That’s pretty much the line of thinking behind the “minimum standard of human decency”. The people who spout that line consider themselves to be acting just barely good enough to be acceptable, and everyone who doesn’t act exactly as good as them to be despicable and subhuman as a result.

            I think these kind of impossibly high standards are a legacy of Protestant Christianity. But the difference is that in Protestantism, it’s understood from the start that the high standards are actually unattainable by any ordinary human, and the whole point is that we all fall short and need Jesus to save us. On the other hand, it’s not unusual for modern ideologies, especially those connected with “social justice” and related topics, to move these standards from the sacred to the secular realm, thus putting on the necks of people “a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear”.

          • NN says:

            The solution is simple. Christians, Jews, and other non-Muslims living in or near ISIL controlled areas are obviously under greater threat and thus should be given top priority.

            (emphasis added)

            I’m pretty sure that the only Jews living anywhere near ISIL controlled areas are in Israel. Well, okay, there is an ISIL franchise in Afghanistan, so it is theoretically possible that ISIL is a threat to the one Jew living in that country.

            Regardless, under those standards, couldn’t Syrian Sunnis also claim that they are facing religious persecution from the Assad regime and its allies? Iraqi Sunnis might also be able to make similar claims.

            Undeniably so. Few things make me angrier than right-wingers who walk about how important it is to “name the enemy” and proceed to name it as “Islam” or “radical Islam,” ignoring the fact that America hasn’t been hit by Shia terrorism in at least 30 years, and that Shia Muslims constitute both the most common victim of and often the front-line fighters against Salafist/Wahhabist Sunni terrorism.

            Agreed. They also ignore the fact that it is absurd even to say that the US is at war with Radical Sunni Islam, seeing as how the US has been allied with the governments of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan for decades.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            I think these kind of impossibly high standards are a legacy of Protestant Christianity.

            The ultracalvinist hypothesis?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @JDG1980: On the other hand, it’s not unusual for modern ideologies, especially those connected with “social justice” and related topics, to move these standards from the sacred to the secular realm, thus putting on the necks of people “a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear”.

            Don’t try to immanentize the eschaton! We warned you that only leads to the Terror!

            (Spellchecker tried to change the first sentence to “Don’t try to immanent the charleston”.)

    • Earthly Knight says:

      Other than his failure to denounce David Duke fast enough, is there any evidence that Donald Trump is actually racist, other than the above chain of transitive racism?

      Have you forgotten that Trump first rose to prominence in national politics by promoting conspiracy theories about the president’s place of birth?

      If you’re wondering why the media treats Trump and his supporters as contemptible racists, that might be a good place to start.

      • What does that have to do with racism? The argument was not about Obama’s race but his place of birth and thus his claim to citizenship.

        Was his mother a U.S. citizen at the time? If so, even if he had been born in Africa he would have the same claim to citizenship that Cruz does. Of course, Trump questions that, and although the dominant legal view seems to be that “natural born citizen” doesn’t require birth within the U.S. borders, there are some who take the position that it does. A minority position but not a crazy one.

        • Earthly Knight says:

          You seem to be reasoning from the premise that the only way a claim can be racist is if the content of that claim concerns a person’s race. This premise is obviously false, as with, for instance:

          “Netanyahu feeds on the blood of gentile children at night.”

          “Obama is an ape who likes fried chicken and watermelon.”

          Just as the birther conspiracy theories superficially dealt with Obama’s “place of birth and thus his claim to citizenship”, these claims superficially concern (respectively) Netanyahu’s nocturnal activities and Obama’s phylogeny and food preferences. They are still, for all that, transparently racist. So were the birther conspiracy theories, whose sole motivation was the belief or attitude that a non-white with an exotic name couldn’t possibly be a real American.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            The claim “birther conspiracy theories sole motivation is a belief or attitude that a non-white with an exotic name couldn’t possibly be a real American” looks like the weak point in this argument to me. It might even be begging the question.

            One possible control case for this would be whether someone with a more Western-sounding name, like, say, George or William, might be viewed as a foreign candidate if there was record that he spent a large part of his life outside the country.

          • John Schilling says:

            Ted Cruz, John McCain, Barry Goldwater, and George Romney (yes, Mitt’s dad ran for president) were all born outside of the United States; Marco Rubio and Bobby Jindal were born in the US to noncitizen parents. In every case, the question of “…are they really eligible?” was raised, quickly dismissed with “Yes, don’t be stupid”, and any conspiracy theories beyond that got approximately zero traction.

            That Barack Obama, born in one of the United States to a US citizen, gets repeated demands for his birth certificate from otherwise-respectable sources, is a conspicuous anomaly. It is reasonable to suspect that the black skin and the foreign-sounding name may be responsible for the difference.

          • onyomi says:

            I don’t think the Ted Cruz thing has been summarily dismissed. I’ve seen it come up pretty regularly. And if he were a democrat running for president who looked like he was going to win, I’m sure Republicans would be making a bigger deal of it than Democrats currently are. Because the GOP is, in fact, the more xenophobic party. Doesn’t mean it’s the more racist party.

            I mean, when Republicans raise questions about the family background of a Democrat with a Muslim-sounding name who grew up in Indonesia and happens to be half black it must be his race that really bothers them? Would these same people have complained if Colin Powell were running on the GOP ticket? For that matter, did any of these racists try to raise doubts about the family origins of Ben Carson?

            Imagine two theoretical candidates for president: a lily-white Democrat named Abdul Hussein born in Hawaii to one American and one non-American parent, who spent much of his youth in Iran, and a dark-skinned African American Republican named Bob Jones born to two conservative Christian African American parents in Georgia, where he grew up. Which of these two would the Red Tribe try to disqualify with questions about family background?

          • BBA says:

            Goldwater was born in the United States, just not in any state. Arizona was still a territory at the time, but under the Insular Cases it was “part of the United States” in a sense that Puerto Rico and the Philippines weren’t. (The Insular Cases are still good law – I don’t know why.)

            Did anyone claim Al Gore, born in Washington DC, was ineligible?

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ John Schilling
            That Barack Obama, born in one of the United States to a US citizen, gets repeated demands for his birth certificate

            But his parentage and place of birth was just the question that needed a birth certificate to confirm. Sfaik, none of the others (McCain etc) hesitated to offer their documents for examination.

            Trump’s point was that Obama’s failure to produce a birth certificate suggested that there was none, or that something was wrong with it, or that Obama was playing political games to make the ‘Birthers’ look silly.

          • John Schilling says:

            @houseboat:

            Barack Obama didn’t hesitate to release his birth certificate either; this led only to a Gish Gallop of requests for other birth certificates and supporting documentation, unsubstantiated claims of forgery, etc, etc.

            Whenever a white male presidential candidate is born under questionable circumstances, the question is asked, answered, and dropped except by the lunatic fringe. Barack Obama got a very different treatment, in spite of overwhelming evidence that he was US citizen from birth, jus soli and jus sanguinis. One data point can not prove racism, but it can suggest it – and if the defense is “but he really looked guilty”, then no, he didn’t and so you do.

            @onyomi: You’re countering real cases with hypotheticals and demanding that we accept your assessment of how people would act in those hypotheticals. I do not agree with your assessment.

          • But his parentage and place of birth was just the question that needed a birth certificate to confirm. Sfaik, none of the others (McCain etc) hesitated to offer their documents for examination.

            Even before he was elected, Obama DID provide his birth certificate (a modern document from Hawaii that simply attested to his birth). However, since it didn’t provide the “long form” details, it was unconvincing to the “birthers”.

            Unfortunately for Obama, perhaps, the old-fashioned long-form birth certificate is, in most places, no longer available from registrars, even to the individual whose birth it documents. New regulations have inhibited or prohibited the release of that information.

            I was born in Chicago in 1955. The last time I ordered a copy of my birth certificate from the Cook County Clerk, it was not the detailed long-form birth record, but rather, a bland modern certificate with zero inessential information. It was exactly the same kind of document as the one the Obama campaign originally provided in 2008.

          • Andrew G. says:

            The “long form” of Obama’s birth certificate was eventually published (years after the election) by special request; see here.

            Naturally, the publication of this document only served to increase ‘birther’ belief.

          • Jiro says:

            Whenever a white male presidential candidate is born under questionable circumstances, the question is asked, answered, and dropped except by the lunatic fringe.

            Since there haven’t been any serious female or Asian presidential candidates born under questionable circumstances, restricting this claim to white males is arbitrary and only serves to accuse your opponents of being sexist and racist without evidence.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Andrew G.
            The “long form” of Obama’s birth certificate was eventually published (years after the election) by special request*

            Yep. In 2011, he finally got around to asking HI to send him the long form — and released it on wide screen at a White House Correspondents’ Dinner to roast Trump (who took it rather calmly, iirc). I suspect Obama’s several years’ delay was trolling.

            * https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2011/04/27/president-obamas-long-form-birth-certificate
            Therefore, the President directed his counsel to review the legal authority for seeking access to the long form certificate and to request on that basis that the Hawaii State Department of Health make an exception to release a copy of his long form birth certificate. They granted that exception in part because of the tremendous volume of requests they had been getting.

          • NN says:

            There are clearly undercurrents of bigotry in the Birther movement, but I think it may be less racism and more xenophobia due to Obama’s “foreign sounding” name and cosmopolitan background. Think about it: are accusations of not being American really a common aspect of American racism against black people? Even in the South during the days of Jim Crow, I don’t think that black people were ever commonly suspected of not being American. Similar accusations have been a big part of prejudice against Asians (especially Chinese in the 19th century and Japanese during WWII), Hispanics, Irish, Muslims, and even Jews, but not black people.

            An analogy might be drawn to the accusations leveled at John F. Kennedy that he would be loyal to the Pope instead of the American people because he was Catholic. That sounds ridiculous today, but a little over 50 years ago a sizable part of the US population really did consider Catholicism to be “foreign” to the American way of life. Nowadays having Hussein as a middle name and spending much of your childhood in Indonesia hits that trigger.

          • onyomi says:

            @John Schilling:

            “You’re countering real cases with hypotheticals and demanding that we accept your assessment of how people would act in those hypotheticals. I do not agree with your assessment.”

            Not just hypothetical. Why were no questions raised about Ben Carson or Herman Cain?

            Also, are you actually saying that people would raise more questions about the background and eligibility of black, Republican, native Atlantan Christian Bob Jones than white Democrat, Hawaiian, Abdul Hussein of one foreign parent who grew up in Iran? Really??

            The birth certificate thing was xenophobic, sure, Islamophobic, maybe. Racist? No.

            Not that the birther thing was legitimate, any more than 9-11 conspiracies are legitimate. Doesn’t mean it was racist. Not that there isn’t a small lunatic fringe of actual racists in the Red Tribe (as there are in the Blue Tribe as well), a few of whom probably bought into the birther theory. There are, I’m sure. Doesn’t mean the theory is inherently racist or fueled primarily by racist sentiment.

            A certain part of the Blue Tribe on some level secretly loves the birther conspiracy because it confirms what they already knew and what they were salivating to prove from the moment they nominated a black candidate: that Republicans are all racist bigots.

            Failing to find any serious evidence of that, they’ll take an example of a lunatic fringe’s xenophobic conspiracy theory and make it racism by a transitive property. A transitive property, I might add, by which many have tried to construe any criticism of a black president as inherently racist.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            @onyomi

            It can be racist and xenophobic. Compare the hypothetical reaction to a white Democrat, Hawaiian, Abdul Hussein of one foreign parent who grew up in Iran, to the actual reaction to Obama. I would suggest that part of the reason Carson and Cain weren’t the subjects of conspiracy theories is because the people likely to make those theories are Republicans. I agree that xenophobia is the more important factor (I think Obama – foreign would probably experience more birther theories than Obama + white) but that doesn’t mean race is irrelevant.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            One possible control case for this would be whether someone with a more Western-sounding name, like, say, George or William, might be viewed as a foreign candidate if there was record that he spent a large part of his life outside the country.

            It’s a nice try, but Trump (and most birthers) were explicitly promoting the conspiracy theory that Obama was born with his father in Kenya, and it is surely no evidence for this that he spent his childhood with his stepfather in Indonesia. Obama’s youthful peregrinations are irrelevant.

            But his parentage and place of birth was just the question that needed a birth certificate to confirm.

            By the time Trump joined the fracas, Obama had long since released his official (“short-form”) birth certificate, and notices of his birth had been located in the Honolulu Advertiser and Star-Bulletin. At that point, no reasonable person could have doubted that Obama was born in Hawaii. The birther movement was always fueled by irrational animus, and it’s hard to believe that it would have taken off if, for instance, Obama had been a white guy named Trump with a Scottish-born mother.

            Also, please read up on the issue before commenting to avoid sounding like a conspiracy theorist.

            are accusations of not being American really a common aspect of American racism against black people?

            No, but they are a common feature of racism against non-white immigrants and their descendants (see: the Japanese internment). Second and third-generation Wangs and Estevezes and Obamas are viewed as suspicious and un-American by the sort of person who would support Trump. In a way that Americans with foreign-sounding names like Perot are not.

          • onyomi says:

            “I would suggest that part of the reason Carson and Cain weren’t the subjects of conspiracy theories is because the people likely to make those theories are Republicans.”

            Yeah, exactly. It’s partisan, first and foremost. And xenophobic second, partially, indeed, because the GOP is the party with more xenophobic tendencies. Still don’t see how it has anything to do with race.

            If a large percentage of Republicans were genuinely racist we’d expect them to try to keep non-whites out of their party. We not only don’t see that, we see something of the opposite: because fewer blacks tend to join the GOP, those who show an interest in doing so receive, if anything, a warmer welcome than a white person of equivalent qualifications would, in the same way atheist communities especially welcome people from intensely religious backgrounds.

            I think people like Ben Carson, Herman Cain, Allen West, and Mia Love, get more well, love, than an otherwise identical white candidate would get because their presence helps undermine the “Republicans hate black people and black people hate Republicans” narrative.

            Today in the US, my general impression is that partisan affiliation trumps culture/regional identity, trumps gender, trumps race. If it didn’t, feminists would love Ayn Rand and Margaret Thatcher.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            If a large percentage of Republicans were genuinely racist we’d expect them to try to keep non-whites out of their party.

            Do you seriously think that Jim Crow-style segregation is the only shape racism could possibly take? I find the idea that every social interaction is riddled with thousands of covert microaggressions as ludicrous as anyone else, but the delusion that racism is nowhere can be just as pernicious as the delusion that it’s absolutely everywhere. Maybe worse, because it is the pushback against political correctness that’s created the Trump-monster.

          • onyomi says:

            “Do you seriously think that Jim Crow-style segregation is the only shape racism could possibly take?”

            I didn’t say anything like that. I didn’t say racism doesn’t exist, just that I don’t see it at work to any significant extent in the “birther” conspiracy and that I don’t think it prevents black members of either party from getting ahead in politics today–if anything, being black kind of helps.

            On a very subtle level, racism will always exist so long as there are distinguishable races, as there is a pervasive human tendency to take notice of the degree to which someone is or is not “like me.” That said, it’s hardly the only, nor, I would argue, most important bias in today’s US society. The vast majority of white Americans will root for a black player playing for their home team (even if he doesn’t come from their home town) ahead of a white player playing for the visiting team.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            I didn’t say anything like that.

            You said: “If a large percentage of Republicans were genuinely racist we’d expect them to try to keep non-whites out of their party.”

            Which entails that the only way it is possible for someone to be racist is by demanding the exclusion of non-whites from any political organizations they belong to, i.e. Jim Crow-style segregation.

            It is true that if this is the only type of racism you are capable of recognizing then you will indeed have trouble detecting it among birthers. Back in the real world, though, it’s entirely obvious that subtler forms of racism can and do exist.

          • onyomi says:

            “It is true that if this is the only type of racism you are capable of recognizing then you will indeed have trouble detecting it among birthers. Back in the real world, though, it’s entirely obvious that subtler forms of racism can and do exist.”

            This is both ad hominem and reflects either not having read what I just posted above, or else ignoring it for the convenience of your soap box.

          • I agree with Onyomi that the birther thing is/was xenophobic and partisan rather than specifically racist.

            I remember in 1992, when a big deal was made of the fact that Bill Clinton, as a student in the UK, participated in some kind of antiwar demonstration, which (because it took place outside the U.S.) was defined as some kind of treason.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Earthly Knight March 13, 2016 at 10:18 am

            Your comment contains several unattributed quotes. I only wrote this one: “But his parentage and place of birth was just the question that needed a birth certificate to confirm.”

            / continues walking away /

      • onyomi says:

        I agree with David Friedman that it’s not justifiable to make the leap “questions about place of birth and eligibility=racism,” since, after all, people right now are asking similar questions about Ted Cruz for largely ideological, not racist reasons. Again, this is precisely the problem: people who see subtle racism everywhere to the point that there is not just a short distance, but seemingly no inferential distance between “I think we should restrict immigration” and “I hate dark-skinned people.”

        That said, I had actually forgotten that that was one of the first issues he made a big deal of. Remembering this fact strengthens my sense that there is a lot of method and strategy to Trump’s madness: at the same time as he was putting out trial balloons and teasing the media about a possible run in ’12, he was testing out nativist issues of this kind to see how people would react. For better or worse, he found a lot of latent appetite for what he was serving, though, again, I think that’s more nativism and blue collar-red tribal nationalism than racism.

        • onyomi says:

          Related, just saw this news story on my Facebook:

          http://www.cnn.com/2016/03/12/entertainment/john-legend-donald-trump-racist-feat/index.html

          Which I post not because it is particularly interesting, but precisely because it is so, so common place. “Movie star/musician calls GOP politician racist.” Yawn, okay, and how’s the weather? Until there start being some kind of negative reputational repercussions for casual, unjustified or unsupported accusations of racism, the anti-PC message of the likes of Trump will keep finding more and more resonance with people who are fed up with this superweapon.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Shades of a comment I made on Facebook just today:

            If you see something concerning, you’ll be concerned; that’s fine. If you see it while someone else tells you it’s racism, you’ll be more concerned. Maybe skeptical.

            If you then are shown one incident after another, by the same person who showed you the first, they now don’t even have to tell you it’s racism; you’ll think it. You might still be skeptical, but “racism” is one of those magic words where if you even express skepticism, you’re considered one of them. It’s a Kafkatrap.

            The result is that almost no one expresses skepticism, which *then* means everyone sees an incident and no one questioning it, which looks like everyone agreeing it’s racism. The first person to make the accusation has a very, very easy job from there.

        • Earthly Knight says:

          Do you really think that Trump would have bothered with the birther attacks on Cruz had he been named Ted Johnson? Really? But Cruz, at any rate, was actually born in Canada. Obama is as American as any president before him, and had proved it beyond a reasonable doubt by the time Trump cast his lot with the birthers. So we must ask ourselves why a long succession of American-born white presidents named Bush, Clinton, Reagan, etc. never had any aspersions cast on their eligibility, while as soon as an American-born black guy named Obama takes the oath of office it becomes imperative that his birth records be scrutinized in minutest detail.

          You might be able to get away with claiming you can’t hear the dog-whistles, but these aren’t dog-whistles so much as foghorns.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            While we’re at it, can we ask why other American-born black guys like Herman Cain, Alan Keyes, Allen West, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Ben Carson have *not* had their birth records demanded and scrutinized? And why that isn’t considered a foghorn by your standards?

          • The Nybbler says:

            > So we must ask ourselves why a long succession of American-born white presidents named Bush, Clinton, Reagan, etc. never had any aspersions cast on their eligibility

            This sentence is false, and so the argument fails.

            http://blog.constitutioncenter.org/2016/01/five-other-presidential-birther-controversies-from-american-history/

          • Earthly Knight says:

            While we’re at it, can we ask why other American-born black guys like Herman Cain, Alan Keyes, Allen West, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Ben Carson have *not* had their birth records demanded and scrutinized?

            The claim is that (a) being a black guy, and (b) having an exotic-sounding name jointly (NOT severally) provoke birther attacks against serious presidential candidates. As evidence for this claim we have the examples of Perot and Kasich, both of whom meet condition (b) but not (a) and have never had their citizenship questioned.

            You are trying to show that condition (a) is irrelevant. This means that counter-examples must take the form of either (1) a serious white presidential candidate with an exotic-sounding name who was unequivocally born in the US but still faced birther attacks, or (2) a serious black presidential candidate with an exotic-sounding name who was unequivocally born in the US but did not face birther attacks. None of the examples you have produced meet the exotic-name criterion (additionally, West was never a presidential candidate, and Keyes, Sharpton, and Cain were never altogether serious).

            This sentence is false

            Would you kindly specify in what way you think the sentence is false?

          • onyomi says:

            “The claim is that (a) being a black guy, and (b) having an exotic-sounding name jointly (NOT severally) provoke birther attacks against serious presidential candidates.”

            By this logic I could claim that (a) being a woman and (b) keeping official e-mails on a private server jointly (NOT severally) provoke attacks about mismanagement of classified info. Therefore, accusations about Hillary’s e-mail server are sexist unless and until you can produce examples of male politicians getting in trouble for private e-mail servers (though even if you can, that’s not the point, of course–it could just as well be people with initials “HRC” getting in trouble for private e-mail servers).

            In politics, it doesn’t make sense to attribute to racism or sexism (or anti-HRC-ism) what is adequately explained by partisanship. Maybe we need some kind of new version of Hanlon’s Razor.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The sentence is false (at least in what it implies with ‘etc’, if not literally) because at least one white President with a non-exotic name (Chester A. Arthur) and several serious white Presidential candidates with non-exotic names (unless Goldwater counts as “exotic” because it sounds Jewish) have indeed had “birther” attacks on them.

          • Protagoras says:

            While I was admittedly not alive for some of the alleged examples of white politicians with birther controversies, I don’t recall the McCain controversy being anywhere near as prolonged or having anywhere near as many advocates as the Obama controversy, and it is my impression that this is also true of the other cases.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @The Nybbler

            You are right that if you change the middle part of the sentence from “a long succession of American-born white presidents” to “all white presidential candidates ever” it comes out false. So it is fortunate that I said the true thing that I actually said rather than the false thing you imagined me to have said.

            Romney Sr. was not born in the US. Arthur may not have been. Obama was, and we have had overwhelming evidence that this is the case since 2008. That’s the difference.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            By this logic I could claim that (a) being a woman and (b) keeping official e-mails on a private server jointly (NOT severally) provoke attacks about mismanagement of classified info.

            Huh? Do you have examples of male presidential candidates who kept official emails on a private server but have not been criticized for it? If you did, that would suggest that attacks on Hillary might be motivated by sexism. If you don’t, the case is not analogous: white presidential candidates with exotic surnames who were unequivocally born in the US– I’ve given the examples of Perot and Kasich, but I’m sure I could find others– don’t face birther attacks. Obama did. The differences is the blackness.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Earthly Night says:The difference is the blackness.

            Are you suggesting that John McCain is black? Because that the only way your argument makes any sense.

          • Everyone seems to be ignoring one of the things that encouraged birther attacks on Obama—the fact that he was born immediately after his mother returned to the U.S., which raised the possibility that he was born a little earlier and the birth post dated.

            That would be a reasonable grounds for suspicion if there was some reason why his place of birth would have been important at the time, but I can’t see that there was—if, as I gather was the case, his mother was a U.S. citizen.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone. Whether a man who was born in the Panama Canal Zone counts as a natural-born US citizen is a non-trivial question of law. There was no question of law for Obama. Nor, as it happens, was there ever any question of fact.