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Links 6/15: URLing Toward Freedom

Did you know England has one of the highest rates of tornadoes per unit area of anywhere in the world?

Why do some schools produce a disproportionate share of math competition winners? May not just be student characteristics.

My post The Control Group Is Out Of Control, as well as some of the Less Wrong posts that inspired it, has gotten cited in a recent preprint article, A Skeptical Eye On Psi, on what psi can teach us about the replication crisis. One of the authors is someone I previously yelled at, so I like to think all of that yelling is having a positive effect.

The Prescription Drug vs. Tolkien Elf Quiz. I am a doctor and Silmarillion fan, and I still only got 93%.

A study from Sweden (it’s always Sweden) does really good work examining the effect of education on IQ. It takes an increase in mandatory Swedish schooling length which was rolled out randomly at different times in different districts, and finds that the districts where people got more schooling have higher IQ; in particular, an extra year of education increases permanent IQ by 0.75 points. I was previously ambivalent about this, but this is a really strong study and I guess I have to endorse it now (though it’s hard to say how g-loaded it is or how linear it is). Also of note; the extra schooling permanently harmed emotional control ability by 0.5 points on a scale identical to IQ (mean 100, SD 15). This is of course the opposite of past studies suggest that education does not improve IQ but does help non-cognitive factors. But this study was an extra year tacked on to the end of education, whereas earlier ones have been measuring extra education tacked on to the beginning, or just making the whole educational process more efficient. Still weird, but again, this is a good experiment (EDIT: This might not be on g)

Did you know: Russian author Sergey Lukyanenko (of Night Watch fame) wrote a series of sci-fi novels set in the Master of Orion universe.

In my review of Age of Em, I said we were very far away from being able to simulate human brains, and sure enough just a few days later Derek Lowe wrote the fascinating Simulating The Brain? Let’s Try Donkey Kong First. Brain simulation proponents hope that without really understanding the brain we can make simple models of each part and how they connect to other parts and produce things that replicate that activity. But we can test these techniques right now on a much simpler and more accessible object – an old video game microprocessor – and they’re not good enough to do anything useful. See also Simulating The Brain. Sure Thing.

A post-mortem of the National Childrens’ Study, which was supposed to be a gold standard for gathering data on early childhood risk, but fell apart because of politics and administrative incompetence.

80,000 Hours’ career guide for people who hate career guides. Lots of statistics on how often each job-search strategy succeeds and fails.

The Devil With Hitler was a 1940s US wartime propaganda film in which Hell wants Hitler to take over from Satan, and Satan has to trick Hitler into performing a good deed to win his position back.

Related: “The present U.S. official position seems to be that Satan may exist and, if so, might be found in New Hampshire.”

Did you know that the Great Pyramid at Giza actually has eight sides? Kind of a weird site, but seems to check out as per the academic literature.

In the game of callout culture, either you win or you die.

Pssst, wanna buy a 92-house town in a National Radio Silence Zone? Only $1 million!

Related: Craigslist for 20 foot trebuchet

Google’s Larry Page has a flying car startup – and a second, competing flying car startup just to motivate the first one. Or at least he had them before someone wrote this article. I don’t know, if somebody says they’re going to give us flying cars but they might stop if it becomes public, I would think twice before publicizing it. And here’s a profile of the flying car design itself.

If Greece was the least neoliberal economy in the developed world, is it fair to blame its failures on neoliberalism?

Rate of innovation in Norway halved after law changed to give universities more of a share of professors’ discoveries.

Motherboard has an article about how censorship on Reddit – it points out that Reddit moderators heavy-handedly censored discussion of the Orlando shooting in unspecified ways, then goes on to condemn it for Donald Trump memes and anti-Hillary conspiracy theories. But it never mentions the whole point of the story it’s reporting about – that Reddit actually censored any information that the shooter was Middle Eastern or motivated by Islamic terrorism. I’m less worried about Reddit censorship (which eventually lifted) than I am about Motherboard’s own distorted reporting which somehow turns a story about excessive political correctness into bashing Reddit for being right-wing.

30% of people would choose to be the other gender if reincarnated, no difference between men and women.

Sam Altman: Nine years of claims that Silicon Valley is a bubble about to burst.

ScienceNews: Bayesian reasoning implicated on some mental disorders. If you’re interested, I wrote a Less Wrong post on this kind of thing back in 2012.

One estimate says that millions of Russians were fooled by a TV documentary claiming that Lenin was a mushroom. Here’s a paper with a little more information than the wiki article. Key quote: “One of the top regional functionaries stated that ‘Lenin could not have been a mushroom’ because ‘a mammal cannot be a plant.'”

Despite the interest in assault rifles when discussing gun violence, Alex Tabarrok finds that rifles as a category account for only 3% of all gun deaths, and fewer total murders than knives, bare hands, or blunt weapons. The real problem is with handguns, which cause about 20x more deaths than all rifles, assault or otherwise.

New study: schools giving out condoms increases teen births. This is just one study about one specific type of situation, and I can think of a few other studies contradicting it, so I won’t quite retract my previous position that the existence of contraceptives probably lowers unplanned pregnancy. But I’m sure glad I’m not the people who were arguing that the position was so stupid that nobody really held it and it was just an excuse for hating women.

Study of 50,000 people who underwent surgery for obesity finds that they have mortality rates only about 30% of those of similar peers who did not have surgery for obesity. Obesity surgery is a really serious operation, and a lot of doctors are scared of it because the side effects might be worse than the disease, but I think this provides very strong evidence that it is very much worth it. I don’t know whether we should lower the threshhold for who gets obesity surgery or not based on these data.

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919 Responses to Links 6/15: URLing Toward Freedom

  1. Cerebral Paul Z. says:

    Ask your doctor about Fimbrethil.

  2. Tsnom Eroc says:

    Heh, flying cars. There’s no use for them.

    Why? Just look at the market for personal airplanes. Flying cars *can’t* be more economically efficient then them. Sure, jetliners designed to carry 200 people end up better then cars, but no family sized airplanes even designed for efficiency beat cars. And an intermediate machine will be worse than that. A train is the best green option for lots of people.

    Flying cars can’t conform to normal car safety standards in incliment weather(in the air, at least), with air wind conditions infinitely more dangerous.

    Its a doomed project, sans futuristic nanotech/solar tech that replicates “Transformers: Robots in disguise!”

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m not sure what you mean. I think of the “flying car” project as making a personal airplane which is better than existing personal airplanes, eg VTOL, super-safe, and doesn’t need piloting skills.

      • Tsnom Eroc says:

        Yeah, but that’s not different then current avionic research then. Adding the “flying car” moniker then distracts from the understanding of what the research is. Planes X percent more fuel efficiency dosen’t grant nearly the same amount of headlines or news coverage.

        When I hear “flying car” I immediately think of Jetsons devices where you can drive something on the road like a normal car, give it a transformation of some sort and fly like a plane, and I think most people do too.

        • Downspout Route Grout says:

          Another component of the “flying car” idea is widespread ownership and/or use. If only a few ultra-rich people can afford to fly in one, then it isn’t really a flying car, it’s just a private jet that is allowed to taxi along roads.

        • Tsnom Eroc says:

          I guess this adds a point of not to get too excited about composite technology(er, composite material design excluded) like the Musk cars too.

          Both the flying car and the Teslas are dependent on breakthroughs in underlying tech, like lighter materials, better battery, better renewable energy, better AI navigation. The mass of companies in those fields and University R&D are the real creators in those well understood technologies.

        • JDG1980 says:

          When I hear “flying car” I immediately think of Jetsons devices where you can drive something on the road like a normal car, give it a transformation of some sort and fly like a plane, and I think most people do too.

          I’m not sure this is true. When people think of a “flying car”, I think they have in mind the following characteristics:
          * VTOL capability
          * Compact enough to fit in a parking space
          * Reasonably affordable
          * Reasonably quiet (e.g. not much more noise than a road car during operation; helicopters are way too loud)
          * Decent fuel mileage (helicopters get low single digit MPG; that’s not good enough)
          * Able to be operated by most people without more skill than an ordinary road car and without having to go through excessive government red tape (all aircraft currently fail this requirement)

          Being able to drive on the roads isn’t actually a key feature, because why would you need to?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            “Why would need to?”

            “Last mile” considerations. Think of all of the places it is impractical to fly safely (even in a flying car).

      • John Schilling says:

        …better than existing personal airplanes, eg VTOL

        Those are called helicopters, we’ve had them for over seventy years, and they’re not what you are looking for.

        Presumably because you can’t land one in your driveway, and even the spiffiest Google super-autopilot isn’t going to change that. Neither is much of anything else, because of the fundamental aerodynamics of disc loading. To lift something even the size of a subcompact car, you need either a cumbersomely big Whirling Blades O’ Death assembly, or you need an outrageous amount of power. Or both, but it’s an explicit trade between rotor disc area and power, driven by those pesky conservation-of-energy and conservation-of-momentum things.

        For Zee.Aero’s flying car, if the gross weight is 600 kg (limit for a light sport aircraft), then to get off the ground with even a 25% lift margin would require 480 horsepower / 360 kilowatts. At the 1200 kg curb weight of a Mini Cooper, 1300 HP / 975 kW.

        Even if you can fit that much power into such a compact airframe, without resorting to e.g. batteries that will catch fire five minutes after you go to takeoff power, channeling that much power through that small a disc area will produce noise levels that no urban or suburban population will tolerate, and a downdraft that would likely turn a loose bottle in the landing area into a lethal projectile. We’ve known all of these trades for the better part of a century, and we keep making our helicopters with thirty-foot rotors and restricting their regular operations to proper heliports or remote sites.

        • Urstoff says:

          Just need some JATO, problem solved. Hope there aren’t any noise ordinances in your neighborhood, though.

          • Winfried says:

            The 4th of July and New Years will be the only time you can drive/fly them.

          • bean says:

            The 4th of July and New Years will be the only time you can drive/fly them.
            Actually, no. The FAA tends to take a really dim view of operating aircraft near fireworks. It’s illegal to fly over a display, and once I was on a shoot (I occasionally help out on pyro crews) and we had a medical helicopter fly over and land near our shoot site. We weren’t shooting at the time, but we were near the community medivac field, and our spotters were explicitly warned to be on the lookout for helicopters coming in during the display.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          The use for flying cars would be to bypass traffic jams on main thoroughfares. Once you are done with the jam, you would return to the ground, and drive home nice and quiet.

          Keep in mind I’m really skeptical of flying cars.

          • Urstoff says:

            We’d definitely need complete camera (or radar?) coverage around the plane/car, then, because merging from above/below is going to be tough when the roofs/floors of cars are giant blindspots.

          • John Schilling says:

            Once you are done with the jam, you would return to the ground, and drive home nice and quiet

            Why would anyone do that?

            I understand the root of that particular fantasy, yes. But if you’ve got a “flying car” and you’ve actually taken it into flight, why would you ever land until you’ve reached your destination or nearly so? And really, why would you wait until you’ve encountered a traffic jam before taking off?

            An airplane in cruise flight has better fuel economy than a ground vehicle of comparable size and speed, while being safer and quieter. The various costs and difficulties come mostly in the takeoff and landing phases of the flight – and you are presuming that opportunities for takeoff and landing are so common as to be readily within reach of any gridlocked freeway. So, if one can take off or land reasonably close to anywhere, and if you are willing to pay the costs of a takeoff and landing, why are you not planning to get the greatest possible mileage out of it? What is the advantage of driving that, having paid for an aircraft, you are ever going to drive?

        • Anonymous says:

          we keep making our helicopters with thirty-foot rotors and restricting their regular operations to proper heliports or remote sites.

          Some of us. There’s a surprising amount of variation across jurisdictions. The FAA doesn’t own the ground, so it’s generally up to states/municipalities to make such rules. I’m on the other coast from you, and a coworker recently told me about a helicopter landing on an open hill near a restaurant at which he was eating (close enough to disturb the patrons sitting outside… but apparently, there was more, “Whoa, cool; helicopter,” than, “Somebody should make a law!”). We were rather surprised to hear from our pilot coworker that it was totally legal to do that kind of thing here.

          • John Schilling says:

            I wouldn’t assume from the fact that it was done that it was legal to do, much less that it was legal to do repeatedly. Often the relevant laws have an exception for “occasional” or “temporary” operations. Even if it’s technically prohibited from day one, as you note, the response the first time you do it is “Cool, a helicopter!”, not “I’m calling the cops!” Heck, the first time you do it the cops’ response is “Cool, a helicopter!”

            The third time, someone who is trying to take a nap or just plain jealous of your helicopter, is calling the cops. The fifth time, the cops have a sticky-note in the squad car listing the code violation they’re supposed to ticket you for. The tenth time, the town council has voted an amendment to the local noise-pollution laws where there wasn’t one before, because even with cumbersomely big rotors helicopters are really damn noisy.

          • Anonymous says:

            Sorry, I wasn’t clear. My last sentence was pointing to the fact that I didn’t just assume it. Another guy we work with (CFI… probably would rather be working for the FAA… rather obsessed with the nuances of aviation law) confirmed that it is legal here. So long as you have the landowner’s permission.

          • John Schilling says:

            Legal once, or legal regularly?

            This discussion is seriously handicapped by your unwillingness to identify which state you are talking about. But I’ve checked the codes of the three most populous states on the US East Coast, and in all three if you intend to regularly operate any aircraft from any specific place within an incorporated city or town, you need to license that place as an airport with the state government and/or the city/town government.

          • Anonymous says:

            Maryland. The relevant portion of the regulation that would draw it in says:

            “Designated landing area” means any surface on land, on water, or on a structure which is specifically adapted and maintained for the landing and taking off of aircraft. It does not include a location used only as the point of departure or only as the destination of an aircraft operation.

            It leaves some room for improved drafting, but it wouldn’t capture bare land that you own. If you lay down pavement (or want to land on pavement at work), you’ll at least get to see if you can afford the lawyers to argue that the pavement wasn’t specifically for the landing and taking off of aircraft… it’s just a nice bonus. Anyway, “airports” consist of designated landing areas, and pretty much all of the top-level laws hit airports, specifically. The “specifically adapted” qualification is different than specifying a number of flights, and I’m not aware of a provision which does that type of thing.

            Maryland law also leaves open my favorite loophole. When you’re in a seaplane on water, you’re technically covered by nautical regulations instead of aviation regulations. This is probably the easier way to commute to work… live close to one body of water and work close to another.

            In Not Quite Maryland, remember that guy who landed his gyrocopter on Capitol Hill? Turn out it wasn’t illegal to land there. They’ve had a no-fly zone over DC since not long after 9/11, so you’d think that it doesn’t matter, right? Wrong. Sure, if you break the “special flight rule” zone, the FAA is very stern with you and is likely take your pilot’s license (unless you had a really good reason and also get a bit lucky)… but it’s not a criminal violation. They can’t even fine you! They just take your license. That stops most people. That guy who did it? He didn’t have a pilot’s license for them to take! You don’t need one to fly an ultralight gyrocopter! This guy had to be punished though, right? They scoured the book to find something. What they finally got him on was the fact that he added an extra fuel tank in order to be able to make the full flight with the extra load of the mail he took… that put his vehicle weight just above the limit for ultralights… meaning just into the zone where you do need a license to operate it… and there is a criminal law (with actual jail time penalties) for operating an aircraft without the appropriate license.

          • Anonanon says:

            Can I just say I love this particular Anonymous?

        • JDG1980 says:

          Presumably because you can’t land one in your driveway, and even the spiffiest Google super-autopilot isn’t going to change that. Neither is much of anything else, because of the fundamental aerodynamics of disc loading. To lift something even the size of a subcompact car, you need either a cumbersomely big Whirling Blades O’ Death assembly, or you need an outrageous amount of power. Or both, but it’s an explicit trade between rotor disc area and power, driven by those pesky conservation-of-energy and conservation-of-momentum things.

          A flying car could still be useful for commuters even if it could only hold one person and very little cargo. Would it be possible to design a quadcopter that could hold, say, 350 lbs passenger + cargo (plus fuel and airframe weight) and fit in a standard parking space?

          Regarding noise levels, any chance an active noise cancellation system could reduce this?

          • Anonymous says:

            Quadrotors aren’t optimal for human flight. They’re great for having extremely simple control for small platforms, but at human scale, traditional helicopters dominate. I know people see quadrotors today and think, “How cool would it be if we could make it bigger and transport people?!?” My response is usually, “What are you going to get that you didn’t get out of a Bell 47?”

            If you want to see about the limit of what you can do, here is an example of an ultralight. You probably don’t have quite the range you’d like, and it’s still definitely too big to fit into a parking space. As John said, disc loading is king. That one has an 18ft diameter rotor.

          • John Schilling says:

            Anonymous has got it right. And a quick calculation suggests that replacing the one big rotor with a quad-copter sized system scaled for a typical parking space (eight-foot max vehicle width) would roughly double the power requirement, to 120 horsepower. An empirical fit suggests 93 dB at 500′ lateral distance, which is about the threshold for hearing loss on sustained exposure. At 40′, that escalates to the 115 dB threshold that OSHA won’t allow for any duration, and the acutely painful 125-db level is reached at 12′.

            Active noise cancellation isn’t likely to help because much of the noise comes from turbulent aerodynamic interactions some distance from the aircraft’s surface – those can’t be predicted precisely enough to cancel, and by the time you can measure them they are already racing towards infinity at the speed of sound and with a head start over your cancellation.

          • Anonymous says:

            Re: aerodynamic noise

            “Deep dynamic stall” is the operative phrase. It’s definitely an open area of research (…my team has a facility which is doing flow fundamentals research for this problem, but not quite in the traditional helicopter domain… it’s actually a little bit easier in the heli domain, because you have a periodic cycle). You’re completely right that it’s near impossible to sense after the vortex has shed and respond with active flow control… but you can do passive things. One thing is just adding higher harmonics to the periodic blade angle. It turns out you can even out the disc loading (because it’s never actually an ideally-loaded disc) this way. Perhaps one of the more common things you can do is trip the flow with tape. Turbulent boundary layers can have higher energy and stay attached longer, pushing the onset of deep dynamic stall off to a higher rotor speed.

            The Army has investigated stealth helicopters, and some think that some of these technologies were used in the Bin Laden raid. I don’t have any actual knowledge here (and I obviously wouldn’t tell you if I did), but water cooler talk among people who are better than me in the heli domain (but who also have no actual knowledge of these programs) indicates that the “stealth” properties that they may have accomplished which would be good enough for the military’s purpose doesn’t do quite the same type of thing you would want from a commuter helicopter.

    • Downspout Route Grout says:

      My theory: nobody close to the R&D really believes flying cars are a viable idea. In reality, it’s just a pissing contest between ultra-rich nerds who think they’re Bruce Wayne or Iron Man or whatever and want to see who’ll be first to fund the building of a ridiculous one-man jet-copter the government will actually let them fly around in on a regular basis.

      Flying cars make no sense otherwise.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Given the political difficulty of building bridges (even over insignificant little drainage ditches) in Mountain View, there may be a more practical motivation than mere Tony Stark envy.

        • Downspout Route Grout says:

          I can’t tell if you’re joking. See if you can tell if I am:

          Google is floundering because Larry Page can’t get to work on time thanks to the shortage of paved roads in California. A flying car is clearly the cheapest, most practical workaround to this problem so that poor Larry can stop missing his 9am stand-up meeting.

          Mountain View city council is pledged never to permit the building of a bridge over the drainage pipe at the end of Page’s driveway, but luckily they can be bribed to let him putter over public infrastructure and private houses in his experimental jet-copter.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Larry Page has already managed to bribeconvince the appropriate Federal officials that his flying car is OK. Once the car’s wheels leave the ground, it’s all up to the FAA; Mountain View can’t legally prevent him from flying. And of course his personal car is only the start; he’ll be flying the Google buses onto campus as well.

          • John Schilling says:

            Once the car’s wheels leave the ground, it’s all up to the FAA; Mountain View can’t legally prevent him from flying.

            Mountain View can legally prevent him from taking off or landing; the fact that the FAA has complete jurisdiction after takeoff, won’t save Larry from a ticket or worse for the takeoff itself.

            California Code Title 21, section 3532 (a): “No person may make aircraft takeoffs or landings from a nonpermitted or nonexempt site without first applying for or obtaining a temporary airport authorization from the Department to conduct such operations”. Section 3533 (b) has the exemptions, none of which would apply to ongoing non-emergency helicopter operations anywhere in Mountain View. If Larry’s home is in an unincorporated area, he can at least fly out of his back yard without a permit.

          • The Nybbler says:

            John, the exemptions can be obtained from the State of California without involving Mountain View.

          • John Schilling says:

            The relevant exemptions will probably involve the state of California asking Mountain View, “have you got a problem with this?”, or at least be subject to preemption if Mountain View calls in and says “we have a problem with this”. And really, it doesn’t even take the city government to do that; a lawsuit by local residents complaining about e.g. the noise would suffice. I’ve seen at least one case of that here in Los Angeles, when some bigwig wanted to commute by helicopter.

      • Yehoshua K says:

        It seems to me that lots of things thought impossible were tried by…let us say, unusual sorts…and found to be possible, and later became foundations of our civilization. Probably rather more were confirmed in their impossibility. So long as they’re experimenting with their own money, it’s no skin off my nose.

        • Downspout Route Grout says:

          Sure. I’m not bothered or offended by the flying-car-tinkering per se. I’m more addressing the way the subject gets treated in the press and in the wider society–as if Larry Page really is trying to revolutionize the way you and I get around and not just revolutionize the way he shows off to his billionaire friends.

          Obviously there’s a chance that if he succeeds in impressing his billionaire friends, that could lead to technology advances (or whatever) that eventually lead to you and me having flying cars, but I think it’s obvious that this is extremely unlikely, and it’s silly that the subject is treated as though it is not so unlikely–as if every advance Larry Page makes toward riding around in a flying car equals an advance for us to ride around in one.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            “as if Larry Page really is trying to revolutionize the way you and I get around and not just revolutionize the way he shows off to his billionaire friends.”

            You seem to be confusing likelihood of achievement with end desire here.

            I mean Elon Musk really does want to make electric cars available to the masses, but he started out by producing something for the wealthy, and he may yet fail to actually make electric cars available to the masses.

            Certainly, if Tesla had failed 5 years ago he would look a lot more like your characterization of Page.

            And then there is the issue of the idea that people like trying to accomplish the impossible as a means of advancing human capability and just “doing something really cool”. Maybe Page isn’t looking to create anything for the mass market, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t dreaming of flying cars like we did as kids.

          • Downspout Route Grout says:

            Being in the kind of situation where you can consider a Tesla for your next car isn’t terribly uncommon.

            Private jets are on another order of “not being for the masses” above Teslas, and flying cars on another one above that.

            Anyway, your last paragraph contains my point. I think Larry page is definitely just “doing something really cool” A.K.A. living out his childhood dreams because he can afford to A.K.A. signaling his “cool” billionaireness to other billionaires who maybe aren’t having their exciting pet projects written up in tech magazines. Which is fine, but it seems like most of the reporting about it ends up being about how he’s “advancing human capability.” That’s what irks me.

            Personally I’m skeptical that flying cars will be any more practical in 2116 than they were in 1916, and I’m also not sure I’d want them to be:

            With every cool new gadget that our society adopts, we also give something up. But unlike a normal transaction, new tech adoptions are ones where you don’t know the price or even the currency you’re paying in until after you’ve bought the thing you want.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Doing something one has actually dreamed of doing is not the same thing as signalling.

            If he was doing it to signal, his primary objective would be to gain status among the cohort to which he is signalling. If his primary objective is to have a flying car, it’s not signalling.

    • It's 1984, where is my flying car? says:

      Insane theory: If TSA rules keep getting any more insane, and if planes remain the only way to travel long distance in the US, then there is a market for flying Uber.

    • Chalid says:

      There are commuter helicopter services into Manhattan – obviously very expensive, but the convenience is worth it to some people. I could definitely see a market for a flying car here.

    • John Schilling says:

      Why? Just look at the market for personal airplanes. Flying cars *can’t* be more economically efficient then them

      What definition of “economically efficient” are you using, and what happens when you apply that standard to the question, “can passenger automobiles in a city ever be more economically efficient than busses”? I’m getting a hint of the usual Econ 101 failure of “proving” that a thing is economically impractical because the ratio of $$$ to [single easily-quantified metric] is too high.

      A flying car will sell bignum units if, and only if, it can be routinely operated by an average person between takeoff and landing sites that are within easy walking distance of average peoples’ homes and places of business. If it can do that, the cost per passenger-mile can be substantially higher than for either automobiles or airplanes, and the market will still go for it.

      Technically, that’s an incredibly tall order for reasons discussed elsewhere in this thread.

      • I routinely have to drive from my house to rehearsal locations. My house is in a sleepy, basically traffic-free neighborhood of Seattle. Rehearsals are all over Seattle, but typically in similarly sleepy locations.

        I inevitably have to drive through gridlock downtown to get on the highway to make it there. Usually, and this would be funny if it wasn’t punch-through-windshield-infuriating, the gridlock is to get onto a different highway going the other fucking direction; my highway, my source, and my destination are all empty. Basically, I tend to be reverse-commuting relative to traffic, but Seattle is so poorly designed that every major road anywhere _near_ the commute trends shuts down from 5:30 to 7.

        I would be happy to drive 2-3 miles in the other direction to more rural areas to find takeoff sites for a hypothetical flying car, as it’d save me huge amounts of time if I could jump over the Mercer Mess.

        Also I’d like a unicorn with a likes-to-clean-houses-for-free cutie mark, while we’re making unreasonable requests.

      • Tok Nok says:

        >the cost per passenger-mile can be substantially higher than for either automobiles or airplanes

        Cost per mile more or less equals gasoline + road maintenance and safety fees with an additional sunk cost to develop the roads and the car itself whos cost per mile goes down over time.

        Sure, the market would go for it. And techies would do it since it seems futuristic, and your average dude would totally do it. But we still have not solved the renewable resource question. Even if the tech could exist, it shouldn’t without the others being solved.

    • Error says:

      I would imagine the point of flying cars isn’t economic efficiency, but time efficiency. Sitting in traffic sucks. A vehicle that’s not beholden to the roads gets around a lot of that.

      At least until the sky fills up, too.

    • NN says:

      From what I’ve read, apart from powered paraglider vehicles like the SkyRunner, all of the “flying car” prototypes that have actually gotten FAA certification (the most recent example is the Terrafugia Transition) were basically designed as airplanes that can turn into street-legal vehicles, rather than cars that can turn into aircraft. The intended market seems to be wealthy people who fly for recreation and might appreciate the convenience of being able to drive their plane home from the airport.

      Aside from that, I agree that Fifth Element style flying cars used by everyday people to commute to work and such will remain a fantasy due to noise and safety issues, among other things. The closest thing that has even a remote chance of becoming a reality would be compact and maneuverable VTOL vehicles that could be used by police and other emergency services in places and situations where helicopters would be impractical and/or unsafe.

  3. hipmanbro says:

    Hi, can you give a link to the study from Sweden on IQ and education?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Aack, my mistake! It’s up now.

      • hipmanbro says:

        Awesome, thanks!

        Sifting through the study, it seems like the reason why the lower-SES class had more IQ gains was that the mandatory extra year made it more likely that they took an extra year of schooling. Whereas the majority of the higher-SES class students would have gone to their 9th year regardless of the new mandatory status. The average increase in education years for kids from a farmer SES class was .7 years, whereas the increase in the ‘High non-manual workers & professionals’ SES class was .16 years.

        So I’m being a bit nit-picky, but it’s not that “an extra year of education increases permanent IQ by 0.75 points, especially in lower-class people”. We don’t know the effect of ‘extra year of education’ in higher-SES class people because the majority of them were not affected by this new mandatory extra-year of education reform.

  4. anond says:

    Scott, what about this link which you posted just over a year ago (in Everything But the Kitchen Link):
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15539346
    It seemed to support the more fecund siblings hypothesis. How would you understand them in relation to each other?

    • anond says:

      Wait, actually, on further reflection the study you just posted is a bit odd. All they showed was that the mothers of homosexual males were not more fertile. But this is largely irrelevant to the theory. Concluding based on this study that “homosexuals’ non-gay relatives are no more fertile than anyone else” actually doesn’t seem right, especially in light of the earlier study.
      So I’d say it seems like to whatever extent you believed the theory beforehand you probably shouldn’t believe it any significantly less now.
      Or am I misunderstanding something?

      • Scott Alexander says:

        That’s a good point. I’ve deleted the link until I can learn more about this.

        • anond says:

          Please update us when you do!
          I actually first learned about the theory from that link a year ago and have been wondering about it since!

      • Douglas Knight says:

        When two studies contradict each other, it’s usually because one of them is wrong.

        Mothers are not irrelevant to the theory. Both papers claim to be testing a genetic theory and that means that closer relatives are more relevant. Mothers are as close as it gets, while the other study included aunts and even cousins. Sisters are just as closely related as mothers, but they may not have completed their fertility. Also, they are not independent samples.

        Anyhow, this is a quantitative subject and claims of statistical significance rather than effect size are irrelevant.

        • Too Late says:

          @Douglas Knight

          Sisters are just as closely related as mothers

          Unless I misunderstood you, this statement is wrong. Mothers have 50% in common with their children, sisters have 25% on average.

          • Luke Somers says:

            No, they have 50% on average. They will share half from dad and half from mom. But it is only on average – you could (in principle, even barring being twins) get the same exact things as each other, or the opposite.

          • Too Late says:

            @Luke Sommers

            Argh! Thanks, you’re right.

          • Julie K says:

            My sister and I got the opposite genes for every visible trait. She has my father’s hair color, hair texture and body type and my mother’s face shape, skin type and eye color, while I have pretty much the reverse. (I only realized this recently, though. When we were kids everyone just said that I looked like our father and she looked like our mother.)

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Actually, mothers are special because they are selected for fertility. Not a big deal because it is comparing mothers to mothers.

          There are two popular theories that say that the mothers of gays should have elevated fertility. One is the antagonistic selection theory, which these studies purport to test. But the other is the older brother effect. That effect means that the mother’s fertility causes her son’s homosexuality. So if the study found that mothers of gays had high fertility that would provide evidence for the disjunction of the two theories, while sisters or aunts would isolate the antagonistic selection theory. But the study found the opposite, so it provided evidence against both.

      • nyccine says:

        All they showed was that the mothers of homosexual males were not more fertile. But this is largely irrelevant to the theory.

        How is it irrelevant? Unless the gene was de novo to their offspring, the gene was passed to them from their ancestors, so if it in fact led to greater fecundity, we should expect to see this enhanced fecundity in the women in the genetic lineage, going back to its origin. If we don’t, that’s good evidence that the supposed fecundity value doesn’t exist.

  5. We can’t simulate the brain of C. Elegans, a very well studied roundworm (first animal to have its genome sequenced) in which every animal has exactly the same 302-neuron brain (out of 959 total cells) and we know the wiring diagram […]

    So the obvious question: why not? What specifically goes wrong? Naively, it seems straightforward enough.

    (Do we just not understand the behaviour of individual neurons well enough?)

    • Enkidum says:

      I’m sure plenty of people here know the specifics of this problem better than I do (I’m not exactly a neuroscientist by training but I work in a neuroscience lab), but one issue is that not everything is encoded in action potentials. Neurotransmitter activity is incredibly important (not the least because it modulates action potentials), and we don’t even know that we’ve identified all the neurotransmitters, never mind what they do and precisely how they work. Also we do not have anything like a complete understanding of how and why synaptic weight changes occur, meaning that we can’t specify how current electrical (action potential) activity is going to change the architecture that it is acting over, which will change future activity.

      I’m not sure if either of those are the specific problems that those involved in these simulations have in mind, but they’re the first two that come to my mind (and they basically mean simulation is impossible, at least for the time being).

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Pretty much what Enkidum said.

      Neuron people love to talk about circuits, but we’re constantly finding that the glia are directly involved in signalling in odd ways. When I was in an oligodendrocyte lab, we were always stumbling across papers where OLs were playing other unexpected roles like modulating dopamine reuptake in the prefrontal cortex or determining neural plasticity / learning. Just looking at it as a question of “wiring” is a fundamental mistake because it’s not actually a circuit board but rather a complex chemical soup like the rest of the body.

      • Peter says:

        The rest of the body isn’t a soup, just like the insides of an orange aren’t orange juice; yes, they contain orange juice, but there’s a lot of important stuff besides that.

        Connectivity isn’t everything, I’ll give you that, but it isn’t irrelevant either.

      • TheAncientGeek says:

        Sooo many people have been misled by the wiring metaphor.

      • Agronomous says:

        1) So, bird’s-nest soup?

        2) “OLs were playing other unexpected roles” — what are OLs? Oligodendrocytes?

        3) “When I was in an oligodendrocyte lab” would make an excellent name for a Jonathan Coulton song. And he’d find a good rhyme for it, too.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      It is just not true that we know the wiring diagram. We may know that neuron A touches neuron B, but we do not know if A triggers B or vice versa.

      Enkidum and Dealgood say that we don’t understand individual neurons well enough. That may well be true, but we cannot test whether the very simplest model provides an adequate simulation of, say, the nematode, without a wiring diagram that specifies all the parameters in that model.

      • Nicholas says:

        Actually… the anatomy of a neuron is directional, there’s an “in” side (the dendrites) and an “out” side (the synapse). If you know that two neurons are touching, you know their direction of communication. In a 302 neuron brain, it’s pretty easy to list “neuron 4 has dendrites touching neurons 24, 56, and 108, and synapse touching 23 and 88”. The trouble comes in when you realize that 88 is touching 99 and 99 is touching 24. The wiring diagram is spaghetti, and having it, outside some interpretational model improvement, hasn’t done us any good.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          OK, maybe they know the direction for 80% of the connections, but that’s a pretty small number.

          • Enkidum says:

            Why don’t they know the direction for 100% of connections? Axons and dendrites are not ambiguous, and if you know where on the cell body the synapse occurs you ought to have perfect knowledge of directionality, no?

          • TD says:

            So has anyone tested what happens when you create a simulation with 80% of the connections then? It’s going to go wrong, but if we know how it goes wrong, then that will give us more clues as to how neurons work.

          • Vitor says:

            Just to give a sense of scale, if 80% of the directions of connections are known, using the ridiculously weak lower bound that every neuron has at least one connection, there are still at least 60 unknown directions! This allows for more than 10^18 different wiring configurations matching the 80% of known data.

            Combinatorics is not your friend…

        • Peter says:

          This still doesn’t tell us whether a synapse is inhibitory or excitatory, nor how strongly inhibitory or excitatory. Like a circuit diagram which has resistors and capacitors but doesn’t tell you how many ohms or microfarads each resistor or capacitor has… or whether the transistors are NPN or PNP.

          There are some nematode simulation studies that go to all the trouble of finding out which neuron connects to what and in which direction, but when it comes to saying what each synapse does, they use machine learning to pick weights to get the appropriate behaviour. This tells us little about how actual nematode brains work.

          With artificial neural networks, people tend to use very simple topologies (e.g. “everything in layer 1 connects to everything in layer 2, which in turn connects to everything in layer 3”, maybe an extra layer or two if you’re into deep learning), and all of the clever work goes into getting weights for the “synapses”.

          • they use machine learning to pick weights to get the appropriate behaviour […] this tells us little about how actual nematode brains work

            I’m missing something again. Do the resulting simulations work, or not? That is, having (presumably) used recorded information about the observed behaviour of a particular brain to produce a model of the behaviour of each neuron, do the simulations successfully predict the future behaviour of that brain, at least in the short term?

          • Peter says:

            The simulations “work” in that the overall behaviours they produce (e.g. swimming the right way, if I recall right) are lifelike. I don’t believe there are detailed multi-neuron (EDIT: maybe multi-neuron, but I don’t think all-neuron) recordings for them to test their model against in detail.

          • Ah. I feared as much; how disappointing. Well, I suppose the technology will get there eventually.

            Even so, being able to reproduce lifelike behaviour sounds like quite an achievement. Anything learnt from the model might or might not actually apply to a real brain, but it’s at least possible.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            I probably confused excitatory/inhibitory for upstream/downstream. But the number 80% I just looked up. I think that Janelia claims to have measured weights in 2012.

            Could you point to these studies that use ML to pick weights? I’ve talked to people who thought that they could use ML to extract accurate weights from observational data (and maybe a little optogenetics), but they failed because their microscopes weren’t good enough. Are you saying that some such people have succeeded? But your negative slant makes it sound like you are saying something else, like that they optimized weights to get macroscopic behavior like swimming? That is, they created an artificial neural network with superficial similarity.

          • @Douglas, I would guess that the point is not that the simulation is necessarily only superficially similar, but that it isn’t known how similar it is at the microscopic level.

          • Peter says:

            Towards the bottom of http://www.artificialbrains.com/openworm there’s “Virtual C. Elegans project at Hiroshima University, Japan”.

            Apparently the relevant behaviour was swimming away from a poke in the head.

        • vV_Vv says:

          Actually… the anatomy of a neuron is directional, there’s an “in” side (the dendrites) and an “out” side (the synapse).

          You mean dendrites and axons. While this is the most typical type of synapse, there are also synapses between dendrites, which may be unidirectional or bidirectional.

          It seems that in biology for every rule there are exceptions.

          • caethan says:

            The standard failure mode for engineers trying to do biology – and a not uncommon one for biologists trying to do biology – is to find something interesting and go “Aha! Now I know what this bit does!” A good rule of thumb is that nothing in biology does just one thing.

            So when I hear the worm guys talking about how they’ve got this awesome neuron model and they can’t actually measure all the parameters, but they’ve done some fitting and guessed at what they must be to get this behavior that’s really close to lifelike, and surely the simplest model must be right then my response is hysterical laughter.

          • Samedi says:

            @caethan

            The Bird and Layzell experiment to create an oscillator through evolution provides a fascinating example of your point. They were puzzled how their device could pick up radio signals when it didn’t have an antenna. Then, “they discovered that the software had stumbled across the strategy of employing the printed circuit board tracks as an antenna.” Evolution is so delightfully weird and lazy.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I remember reading about using an evolution strategy to create printed circuit boards that were best at, I can’t remember what, probably moving around an obstacle course.

            When they looked at the “best” board at the end, it was depending on some kind of interference between two circuits on the board.

            Yeah, evolution is a mad genius horde of poop flying monkeys which does things no one would ever think of, but it works out.

          • Clockwork Arachnid says:

            @HeelBearCub

            I think this is the circuit board experiment you were thinking of. It was used for audio signal analysis, and wouldn’t work if loaded onto a different FPGA.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Clockwork Arachnid:
            That could very well be it. It’s certainly illustrates the concept. Thank you.

          • Samedi says:

            @HeelBearCub,Clockwork Arachnid

            Great example. I like how evolution said, to hell with your binary logic I’m going back to analog. It’s clear from these cases and others that evolution does not share our design aesthetic. It seems to be better at out-of-the-box thinking than we are. Maybe our nice, clean categories limit our thinking?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @ Samedi:
            We are constrained in our thinking when creating these things because we want them to be identical at the end. Mass replication of identical units is our desired end, but isn’t the product of evolution.

            Also, I really like Henry Petroski’s formulation that in design “form does not follow function, form follows form”. To some extent what happens is evolutionary. We take some extant form and repurpose it, rather than designing from a blank slate. This is also a limit on creativity.

  6. Enkidum says:

    I’ve been lurking here a few weeks and thought I’d throw something out there. Scott mentions the finding that relatives of gay people are no more fertile (at least in the modern world), which isn’t consistent with one of the dominant theories of why genetic origins for homosexuality would be preserved.

    Which doesn’t surprise me in the slightest, because I think the entire saga of research into the genetic (or epigenetic) origins of sexual orientation is a case study in how not to do science (or at least how not to report science). What we find with twin studies, for example, which has now been replicated numerous times, is that 5-15% of the variance in female sexual orientation is heritable, while the numbers are 15-40% for males (I may be a little off, but not by much). Which means, to put it another way, that 85-95% of the variance in female sexual orientation is not heritable, along with 60-85% of the variance for males.

    When I bring this up the standard response is to note the other well-replicated finding in this literature (and to my knowledge, it’s the only other well-replicated finding in it) that every older brother a male has increases his chances of being gay by roughly 30% (relative to his original chances of being gay). And the only explanation of this finding that is ever given has to do with balances of various chemicals in the uterus being changed by previous male births, in a way which magically produces gay babies. Which… just seems an insane explanation to me (and one that has never been tested at all, so far as I know). No one ever brings up what seems a far likelier explanation to me: during early childhood, when we know that our sexual personae are forming, boys with older brothers are, on average, much more likely to spend a fair bit of time naked and engaged in proto-sexual play with other boys that they respect and love. This is far more in line with what we know about the development of other aspects of sexuality, such as fetishes.

    From what I understand, Scott and the readership here tend to lean pretty hard on genetic accounts of behavioural differences, I am relatively skeptical of most of the stronger claims I’ve ever heard. That’s not to say that the development of sexual orientation, like all other human characteristics of interest, doesn’t have strong genetic influences (clearly it does, give the 5-15% and 15-40% figures I noted above). But experience is going to matter a whole hell of a lot, probably more than simple genetic factors. In which case it’s hardly surprising that one supposed reason for homosexuality being selected for doesn’t really hold up, because there’s no reason to suppose that there is any simple gene (or complex of genes) to select for.

    That’s about it, thought I’d toss it out here and see what y’all make of it.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Adoption studies cast doubt on this. It doesn’t seem to work on adopted older brothers, and it does seem to work on people whose older brothers were adopted at birth and never interacted with them.

      There are lots of weird effects that carry over between pregnancies – for example, Rhesus Disease usually happens during the second pregnancy of an Rh-negative woman, because the first pregnancy sensitizes her and the second one causes the problem. See here for a possible relation to homosexuality.

    • Alphaceph says:

      I like Cochrane’s parasite theory.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      What we find with twin studies, for example, which has now been replicated numerous times, is that 5-15% of the variance in female sexual orientation is heritable, while the numbers are 15-40% for males (I may be a little off, but not by much). Which means, to put it another way, that 85-95% of the variance in female sexual orientation is not heritable, along with 60-85% of the variance for males.

      I was told, and have told other people, that sexual orientation was thought to be around 80% genetic.

      Have I been repeating bullshit all this time?

      • Enkidum says:

        I think so? I am not an expert in this stuff, but I’m pretty sure those numbers I gave are pretty accurate.The wikipedia article on this is, I think, reasonably accurate.

      • linker says:

        Enkidum is correct.

        I don’t think anyone ever seriously claimed such a high number as 80%. I don’t see it in wikipedia. The best studies are the Australian and Swedish studies which attempt to reach all twins in the country, both of which are discussed by wikipedia.

        Why were you talking about the number at all? Many people care about the slogan “born that way,” but that is a much weaker claim. Male orientation probably is biological and determined at a young age, even though it is largely not genetic.

        • Enkidum says:

          “Male orientation probably is biological and determined at a young age, even though it is largely not genetic.”

          Hmmm… obviously I agree with the second clause, but what do you mean by “biological and determined at a young age”? I interpret that as “experience has little or no relevance, and it is fixed by age X”, where I’m guessing you’d put X at something like 2 or earlier. That about right?

          So…. what evidence do we have for either of those two claims (the non-relevance of experience on orientation, and its early determination)? I’ve never seen anything, although I should have been more up front about my ignorance, given that I hadn’t seen the adoption studies that are more than a decade old.

          • linker says:

            By comparing concordance rates of identical vs fraternal twins, you can compute the contribution of “shared environment.” At least one of the two papers does this and finds it to be about zero for males and nonzero for females. Shared environment is a technical term and it might not be what you want.

            As for the rest of my beliefs, I am more interested in convincing people that genetic isn’t the same as biological than arguing for a specific claims.

          • smocc says:

            The notion that biological is not the same as genetic is new to me and I would like to understand how that could be. I’m having a hard time imagining what that even means.

            Are there any easy examples of something that is biological but not genetic?

          • God Damn John Jay says:

            Malnutrition would be the obvious example.

            Lead leading to low IQ would be another.

          • Enkidum says:

            @linker – Thanks for the clarification. Shared environment is definitely part of what I had in mind, I’ll have to dig further into the papers before getting too much out of it.

            @smocc – I shouldn’t speak for linker, but take the older brothers making boys more likely to be gay effect. This is not genetic, in the sense that Huntington’s chorea is genetic (i.e. there is a gene or complex of genes that reliably produce a specific phenotypical trait). But it is biological, at least if the standard explanation (something to do with immune reactions to chemicals produced by having male fetuses in the womb) is true. In general, epigenetic effects would qualify, I think, for biological but not (simply) genetic, although I’m not sure if that’s what linker has in mind.

          • linker says:

            People love to do brain scans and claim that they can tell gay from straight brains. If such claims were true, I would describe homosexuality as being “biological.” But we already know that it is not much genetic.

            Many people claim that having older brothers causes homosexuality. Some claim more specifically that it is prenatal hormone exposure. I call that as biological but not genetic.

          • People love to do brain scans and claim that they can tell gay from straight brains. If such claims were true, I would describe homosexuality as being “biological.”

            Not necessarily. It’s possible that being gay has biological effects, without having a biological cause. It makes sense that certain patterns of thought will some parts of the brain more or less active, which over a long period of time would have an effect on their structure.

          • NN says:

            By comparing concordance rates of identical vs fraternal twins, you can compute the contribution of “shared environment.” At least one of the two papers does this and finds it to be about zero for males and nonzero for females. Shared environment is a technical term and it might not be what you want.

            Wait, doesn’t this contradict the (as far as I can tell) extremely well established Older Brother Effect? Whether that effect is due to social or prenatal environment, it should be Shared Environment for twins (even if it doesn’t impact each twin equally, there should be a correlation). The only explanation I can think of is that, since the study in question was conducted in a fairly low fertility country (Sweden), maybe there simply weren’t enough twins with older brothers in the sample?

          • linker says:

            Yes, the birth-order effect is shared environment. Actually, it violates the assumptions of the model, so different measurement techniques classify it differently. The comparison of identical to fraternal twins does count it is as shared environment.

            There are two measurements of the size of the birth order effect. One is RR, claimed to be 1.3. As fertility falls, this stays fixed but the error bars on our measurement grows. The other metric is the proportion of variance due to this effect. As fertility falls, this metric falls. If there are no older brothers, there are no gays caused by older brothers, but there are still gays caused otherwise. The birth order effect is compatible with zero contribution from shared environment if the birth order does not actually vary.

            Anyhow, the birth-order effect is probably false.

          • NN says:

            Anyhow, the birth-order effect is probably false.

            According to Wikipedia, the Older Brother Effect has been repeatedly replicated in a variety of samples:

            The fraternal birth order effect has been demonstrated in diverse samples such as homosexual men from different races,[22] different cultures,[23] and different historical eras.[24][25] The effect has also been demonstrated in homosexual men from convenience[13] and representative, national probability samples.[26] Two groups that are attracted to males but differ most strongly from typical homosexual men are androphilic MtF transsexuals (also called “homosexual transsexuals”) and men who are sexually attracted to physically immature males.[27][28] The fraternal birth order effect has been observed among male-to-female transsexuals: MtF transsexuals who are sexually interested in men have a greater number of older brothers than MtF transsexuals who are sexually interested in women. This has been reported in samples from Canada,[29] the United Kingdom,[30] the Netherlands,[31] and Polynesia.[32] Fraternal birth order has also been found to correlate with same-sex attraction in pedophilic men.[28] In one study, homosexual-bisexual male pedophiles had a later general birth order than heterosexual male pedophiles and this late birth order was primarily due to the homosexual-bisexual group being born later among their brothers than later among their sisters.[33] However, authors of this study have stated that the results may have been affected by selection bias.[28]

            If that summary is at all accurate, it seems far more reasonable to suggest that there were some sort of issues with the Sweden twin study that prevented it from detecting this effect.

    • Jessica says:

      Why wouldn’t that affect happen for older brothers too then? Also what about boys who wrestle with friends more than the average boy? Also if you could provide citations with quantifiable results for how fetishes develop and the idea that boys play more with their brothers and that uniquely effects younger brothers that would be great.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Why do some schools produce a disproportionate share of math competition winners? May not just be student characteristics.

    They look at high achievers on the AMC. At my (decent) public high school I had to bug the administration to even offer the AMC. So it seems obvious to me that there are large “school effects,” as the paper puts it.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      I didn’t even know the Putnam existed until halfway through my senior year of high school.

    • urpriest says:

      Yeah, regardless of whether math *teaching* is appreciably different between schools, math *coaching* almost certainly is.

  8. The Nybbler says:

    The left wing media has found that the more they bash on Reddit for being right-wing, the more left-wing favoritism Reddit applies. They’ve gone from being a bastion of free speech to explicitly denying they ever were such. So, mission accomplished, I guess.

    Mostly I hang out at the ant farm on reddit; we’ve been watching this for quite some time. Usually it’s us who gets a big boost when there’s a new censorship measure. This time, it was r/The_Donald, which of course is exactly what reddit didn’t want, and they had to scramble to change their r/all algorithm to put The_Donald back in its place. Tyranny tempered by incompetence.

    • Johnjohn says:

      Just to make the view a little more balanced: r/The_donald was abusing the all algorithm by stickying posts so they could be mass upvoted quickly. Giving a skewed view of how popular the subreddit really is.
      The new all algorithm, while implemented for less than savory reasons, is vastly superior than the old one.

      • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

        Not being able to sticky self posts is very inconvenient, though.

      • Zorgon says:

        You understand that pretty much every subreddit did much the same thing, right?

        I mean, it’s basic and obvious tactics within the system the way it was. SRS did it, SRC did it, even r/news at times.

        It’s not just unsavoury because it was implemented in response to r/The_donald, it’s unsavoury because it was never previously implemented until that point.

        • Held in Escrow says:

          Nobody else was dominating r/all with annoying low quality posts though. It was an actual issues because nobody else had abused the system to such lengths

          • Tsnom Eroc says:

            Exactly. It was getting really really bad.

          • Ken Arromdee says:

            Nobody else was dominating r/all with annoying low quality posts though.

            People rarely think their political enemies’ posts are high quality.

          • Tsnom Eroc says:

            >People rarely think their political enemies’ posts are high quality.

            Oh, they had good humorous points with some of their posts highlighting the hypocrisy and inconsistencies of modern liberalism. Its worth subscribing to and I still enjoy it. But it got out of hand. Half the posts on r/all were them, all due to /pol/ spammers.

          • Outis says:

            Nobody else was dominating r/all with annoying low quality posts though.

            What abour r/pics? r/funny? A whole lot of r/all is “annoying low quality posts.”

          • Held in Escrow says:

            No other sub had close to the number of posts on the front of R/all that the donald had at it’s peak. And yes, they were low quality; often just inside memes for the campaign and board. It made for a much worse browsing experience for a large amount if the user base and thus required a change

    • M.C. Escherichia says:

      Wait what’s the ant farm? r/antfarm doesn’t look politically involved, so you must mean something else, but Google’s not helping me…

      • Julie K says:

        google “reproductively viable worker ant.”
        (This is why we need a FAQ.)

        • vV_Vv says:

          Or just tell them it means /r/KotakuInAction

        • Sean Meal says:

          So wait, what does that lead to? With the implications about the type of unsavory fringe political stuff that’s involved I’m quite sure I don’t want to do that here at work but even so I’m quite curious, so if you could just tell me what he’s talking about … (and yes, it does seem a FAQ would be quite useful).

          EDIT: Oh in the meantime somebody’s already posted an answer to the question so nevermind.

        • Nicholas says:

          Look! It’s a dogwhistle! Tom implied.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            I’m really Tyrion Lannister operating under an assumed name,” Tom implied.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            I would upvote that, if I could, which really reinforces the fact that upvoting mainly rewards low-effort puns.

      • moridinamael says:

        I immediately got what “ant farm” referred to but then felt sad that there wasn’t a thriving ant farm subreddit.

    • Tsnom Eroc says:

      Oh, like Johnjohn is saying, r/The_Donald was spamming the life out of the place. Tens of thousands of no-life 4chan /pol/ trolls were upvoting every stupid post on there in mass.

      Its not tyranny by any means, and it got so bad there were multiple competing subreddits titles things such as “stoptheDonaldSpam” just showing that plenty of reddit was annoyed by it.

      I really think a change in the algorithm was warrented due to that. I mean, before its accused of right-wing censorship, remember that r/politics, the Bernie-Spammers and Snowden-Sniffers leftist/anarachist site was booted out of the default subreddits.

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      Alternatively, Occam is right, Hanlon is wrong, and a lot of media types everywhere just like their mudslinging because it gets them money. That Reddit happens to cater to the people doing so is simply an added bonus.

  9. Dr Dealgood says:

    The whole thing with flying cars reminds me of this bit from Better Off Ted.

    Phil: This jet pack project is gonna be so exciting. Jet packs are the ultimate dream of every scientist: skies teeming with ordinary citizens strapped to rockets.

    Lem: Flying through the air at 60 miles an hour in any direction.

    A lot of people are going to die.

    Even assuming it’s totally autopiloted, we’ve already had midair collisions with just a handful of jets in the air at any given time. Putting aside deliberate acts of terrorism or people trying to buzz the tower like in Top Gun, you’re going to see a ton of deadly crashes if flying cars became mainstream.

    • Aqua says:

      Quadcopters have achieved some impressive coordination / swarm behaviour.

      Maybe for flying vehicles we can skip manual piloting completely and go straight to automated. Should be less far fetched once uber is purely self driving.

    • Anonymaus says:

      I can see the economics argument against flying cars (and hope that progress in autopilot software, materials, electric motors and batteries will offset them at some point), but “won’t happen because there would be crashes” seems to be an argument against non-flying cars just as well. Also, motorcycles.

      • Ken Arromdee says:

        Non-flying cars crash on streets. Sometimes they go a limited distance before crashing and can end up off a street but near one. Flying cars can crash anywhere and can travel large distances from the beginning to the end of the crash.

      • Randy M says:

        I’ve seen the argument that automobiles would never be permitted in our modern risk adverse environment.

        • Lumifer says:

          I’m pretty sure if motorcycles were invented only now, there is no way they would be street legal.

          • Snodgrass says:

            Segways were invented quite recently, are pretty clearly safer by any metric than motorbikes, and are not yet street-legal in the UK despite Segway tours being routine in European cities and not yet having given rise to nine kinds of doom. That the British owner of the brand died driving his off a cliff is possibly not auspicious.

          • Randy M says:

            That’s like Dr. Atkins dying of a heart attack. They didn’t claim it would eliminate all danger, but it’s sure bad PR.

        • anon says:

          I wish they were not permitted.

          That would make a lot of sense.

  10. Peter Donis says:

    Regarding the study from Sweden, is 0.75 points of IQ significant? It’s only 1/20 of a standard deviation. That result looks to me like a negligible effect. (So does the 0.5 points of emotional control, for that matter.)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      It’s statistically significant. As for whether it matters, keep in mind that this is just one year of education, so probably many years of education give a higher boost. It’s also conceptually important to know this kind of thing matters at all – the educational difference between two kids in Sweden is probably less than the difference between Sweden and the Third World, so if we know for sure the two kids in Sweden have a real difference, we can suspect this causes some of the Sweden-Third World differences.

      • Peter Donis says:

        It’s statistically significant.

        Looking at Table 1 of the paper, I don’t think it’s that simple. Only three out of eight subpopulations have P-values indicating statistically significant IQ gain. What’s more, the other five subpopulations have P-values that are not only not significant, they aren’t even close (except for one at 0.175).

        The subpopulations with significant P-values for IQ gain are the three with lowest socioeconomic status, so an obvious hypothesis (discussed in the paper) is that they are the ones that were more affected by the change in mandatory schooling–the higher SES subpopulations were going to go to school the extra year anyway. Unfortunately, looking at the gains in time in school by subpopulation, I don’t see anything like the sharp discontinuity that is there for the IQ gain P-values. All of the subpopulations have statistically significant gains in total years in school. The gains are smaller for higher SES subpopulations, but they’re still there, so if additional time in school were the primary cause of the gain in IQ, one would expect all subpopulations to have statistically significant gains in IQ, just smaller ones for higher SES. That is not what the data shows, at least not to me.

        this is just one year of education, so probably many years of education give a higher boost.

        If we assume this is the case, what about the negative effect on emotional control? Is, say, a half standard deviation increase in IQ over many years of schooling worth a third of a standard deviation decrease in emotional control?

        • Ruben says:

          Since the reform included abolishing the lower levels of school, it presumably gave low-IQ kids a bigger change in schooling, but not so much for high-IQ kids. Not surprising and definitely not a reason not to consider the effects significant.
          The study also explicitly talks about decreasing discrepancies for kids of farmers and manual workers and that the reform affected them differently. One of the goals of the reform was making things fairer.

          > The reform’s impact on years of education suggests that a majority of sons of farmers and manual workers would not have studied during the year between 15 and 16 years of age, had it not been mandatory. For these cohorts, jobs were readily available even at age 15. If the extra mandatory year in school typically replaced a year at work, the reform’s positive effect on intelligence and negative effect on emotional control may reflect that work, for these boys, was on average a worse promoter of intelligence but a better promoter of emotional control. Perhaps work provided a more structured environment than school.
          > For sons of entrepreneurs, non-manual workers and professionals, in turn, the reform had no clear effect on intelligence, but we found suggestions of a negative effect on emotional control. The results on years of education suggest that without the reform, a majority of these boys would have been studying anyway, but in another type of school: the old junior secondary school. The signs of a detrimental effect on emotional control in those of higher socioeconomic position may suggest that in this respect and for these boys, the new school form was worse than the old one, at least initially. It is possible that teachers, when faced with a new curriculum and a new class composition, ran into problems structuring the learning environment.

          > All in all, although they only provide pieces of the puzzle, our results are in line with the idea that education may be key to healthier, more competent and fairer societies. However, at least for emotional control, different school forms may be more successful than others, and sometimes the alternative to school (e.g. work) might be better.

          • Peter Donis says:

            Since the reform included abolishing the lower levels of school, it presumably gave low-IQ kids a bigger change in schooling, but not so much for high-IQ kids.

            “Presumably” does not mean “the data actually shows”. The latter is what I am talking about.

            We have a bunch of data, and a proposed model to explain the data. The proposed model is that additional time in school increases IQ. If that model were correct, we would expect the increase in IQ to correlate with the increase in time in school. The data shows that it doesn’t–there is a gradual change in the increase in time in school as we go from lower to higher SES (higher SES have less), but there is a sharp discontinuity in the increase in IQ–lower SES have a significant increase, higher SES have none. That, to me, indicates that the proposed model is not correct.

      • Lumifer says:

        It’s statistically significant.

        Et tu, Brut? After all the years of discussing the many inadequacies of the t-stats, the Elderly Hispanic Women effect, the gardens of forking paths, etc.? I know you’ve read Andrew Gelman, not to mention gwern.

        • Ilya Shpitser says:

          Pretty sure a ton of gwern’s analysis is frequentist.

          • Lumifer says:

            I don’t have an issue with frequentism, I have an issue with treating “It’s statistically significant.” as the answer to doubts about a study.

      • vV_Vv says:

        They measure the effect on IQ at conscription (age 18?) of one additional year of compulsory education.

        At what age was this year added? How long does the effect last after age 18? Are there hidden confounders that affect the way the policy was implemented (e.g. wealthier districts getting the additional year first)?

      • Matthias says:

        Keep in mind that this is one year of Swedish education. Education in other systems might have different effects.

    • Tsnom Eroc says:

      There’s a difference between something being statistically significant and absolutely real vs being statistically significant and an artifact of statistical tricks. I’m not saying its the case in this case, but always keep that in mind.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Isn’t there also difference between giving 0.75 IQ points to one person, and giving it to whole group of people?

        EDIT: a whole lot of discussion of this down below

        • Tsnom Eroc says:

          Its really, really really easy to poorly design a study to get positive, yet small results on something that would otherwise be random with statistical tricks or leaving something out and carefully wording why it was left out/in.

  11. C says:

    Do you have a link to the article for the obesity study press release?

      • C says:

        Forgive me if I’m missing something, but that looks like a press release and not a scientific article. I’m looking for the latter.

        • Creutzer says:

          You explicitly asked for the press release… The study is referenced at having been presented at a conference, so there’s a possibility that there isn’t a paper yet. I couldn’t find one.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            C’s question was ambiguous. He intended it to mean “do you have a link to the scientific article alluded to in the obesity study press release?” but you and Scott both interpreted his question as “do you have a link to the press article which is the obesity study press release?” C could have phrased the question better, but it should have been possible to pick up from context that C wasn’t just asking for the same link to be posted a second time.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            C’s question was unambiguous. He was a fool to expect people to read for precision.

          • Ken Arromdee says:

            Requests that are unambiguous when interpreted literally, but ambiguous when interpreted as normal speech, are ambiguous. Normal speech is the default, if you don’t explicitly say you want your request interpreted literally.

  12. Leonard says:

    Regarding that Swedish study, they measured the men’s IQ upon conscription into the armed forces. For most of them, this happened between the ages of 18 and 20. That is, they were conscripted practically immediately out of high school.

    It is not surprising that an academic intervention could boost IQ at the end of the year by a point. It is known that you can boost IQ temporarily by education. The problem for “environmentalists” is such boosts never stick.

    The boost affected men with lower IQs more, and those with higher IQs very little: see figure 1. (It is even slightly negative for sons of “Entrepreneurs”.) This is consistent with one explanation for why IQ boosts from education fade: that people with high IQs like reading, doing puzzles, thinking, etc., and they keep doing it even when not forced to. Low IQ people don’t as much.

    Also, I wonder if they corrected for the Flynn effect.

    • Thursday says:

      Right, you need to measure the effect in their 40s.

    • Julie K says:

      I wonder if this is the main cause of the Flynn effect.

    • Outis says:

      Did the age mix of conscripts change at all? You’d think that, if they kept them in school one year longer, they might do their military service one year later.

  13. Downspout Route Grout says:

    The context of the gun violence discussion greatly impacts the amount of interest in so-called assault rifles. If the discussion is happening after a spate of gang violence (typically carried out with handguns), then interest in assault rifles will usually be lower than when the discussion is happening after a mass shooting carried out with a weapon labeled by the media and law enforcement as an “assault rifle.” Obviously, gang violence is way more common.

    • Peter says:

      Quick terminology note: “assault rifle” is a well-defined military term: “short, compact, selective-fire weapons that fire a cartridge intermediate in power between submachine gun and rifle cartridges.” – “selective fire” meaning “can be put into automatic mode – i.e. hold down the trigger and it keeps on firing”. “Assault rifle” is an international term, used anywhere people speak English. In the USA these are heavily regulated, due to the automatic fire capabilities.

      The problem term is “assault weapons”: this is a legal and political term, specific to the USA, with meanings varying from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, I’ve heard one definition which is “here are five features, anything that has at least two of these is an assault weapon”. Generally assault weapons are semiautomatic – one pull on the trigger, one bullet, no need for other actions – and have high capacity and/or detachable magazines – especially handy on the battlefield (people who think that the 2nd Amendment is “so that we can overthrow the government” should think that these the arms they have a right to bear) or in a mass shooting, but pretty convenient full stop. Confusingly, many rifles qualify as assault weapons but they’re not assault rifles, but handguns can also be assault weapons; Hawaii and Maryland specifically have laws defining “assault pistols”.

      The linked article is bad because it thinks, mistakenly, that only rifles come under assault weapons law. The data provided cannot be used to show that more people are killed by knives than assault weapons; more people are killed by handguns than knives and we do not know what proportion of those handgun deaths are assault weapon deaths.

      Anyway: of the top ten mass shootings, as listed here… let’s do them in order:

      Orlando: rifle and handgun
      Virginia Tech: handguns
      Sandy Hook: rifle
      Kileen: handguns
      San Ysidro: handgun, carbine, shotgun
      San Bernadino: rifles, handguns, bombs
      Edmond: handguns
      Fort Hood 2009: handguns
      Binghampton: handguns
      Aurora: rifle, shotgun, handgun, tear gas grenades

      Working out which of the handguns would have fallen under an assault weapons ban… isn’t so easily gleaned from Wikipedia.

      • Urstoff says:

        Why is Columbine not on that list?

        • roystgnr says:

          Good question. They’ve actually got Columbine in the paragraphs below, and they note the death total as 13, higher than Aurora, so I’m not sure why Aurora made the infographic instead.

          • Peter says:

            An odd omission.

            It looks like Columbine had an odd mixture of weapons – a handgun, a carbine, a shotgun and a sawn-off shotgun. And explosives and knives. The handgun was a TEC-9 – it seems it counted as an assault weapon under the terms of the assault weapons ban (semiautomatic, high-capacity magazine not a part of the pistol grip, barrel shroud), however the ban only banned the import or manufacture of such weapons.

            Such a pointless little half measure. If people were actually serious about gun control, the 28th amendment would be to the 2nd as the 21st was to the 18th, or as the 13th was to various clauses in the main text.

          • gbdub says:

            For both Columbine and San Bernardino, weren’t the explosives intended to be the primary source of casualties (and probably would have been had they worked), but this failed for various reasons?

    • onyomi says:

      I’m no gun expert and believe private citizens should be able to own just about any weapon they want.

      With those caveats, it seems to me like maybe gun control advocates should focus on outlawing “semi-automatics” rather than the vague and contested category of “assault weapons.” This would actually imply a broader ban than most proposed “assault weapon” bans, I believe, since, right now, all “assault weapons” are semi-automatic (or automatic), though many “non-assault weapons” (what’s the opposite of an “assault weapon”? A “defensive weapon”?), like many handguns, are too.

      And it seems to me that what most people objecting to “assault weapons” are actually objecting to, beyond just “guns that seem scary,” is actually the semi-automatic functionality, which is rightly associated with the ability to kill a lot more people in a much shorter time. It makes no sense to me to say that semi-automatic rifles are outlawed but semi-automatic handguns are not, because I’m pretty sure you can kill just as many people with the latter, which, incidentally, is concealable.

      And if we wanted to be more selective and reasonable, it seems like the opposite of what is currently proposed would make more sense: outlaw semi-automatic handguns but not semi-automatic rifles on the theory that, if you’re protecting your own home, you don’t need to worry so much about easy portability and concealment; if you’re shooting up a school, carrying a large weapon inherently warns your potential victims earlier (or makes your big trenchcoat or guitar case look more suspicious).

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        If I’m defending my home[1], a semi-automatic is the minimum I need. I want to pull the trigger and have a bullet come out.

        [1] I don’t really care about defending my home, per se. I’m just using this as a framing discussion.

        • onyomi says:

          Which is why it doesn’t seem to make sense to focus on the weapons which are good for defending the home but inconvenient for gang and rampage use, i. e. rifles. If the focus is going to be on limiting anything, it seems like semi-automatic handguns are the logical choice.

          • caryatis says:

            > weapons which are good for defending the home but inconvenient for gang and rampage use, i. e. rifles.

            Why do you say this? Like many, I live in an apartment, and it seems to me a handgun would be a much better tool for self-defense in that limited space. Not to mention the need to carry in public (which I realize goes beyond defending “the home,” but is still an important right for many).

          • onyomi says:

            Again, I, personally, think you should be able to have pretty much any weapon you want, inside or outside of your home. I’m just saying, if gun control advocates are going to focus on one type of gun to demonize, the handgun seems the more appropriate target than the rifle.

            Which is not to say a rifle is perfect for all home self defense situations, but it’s much harder to use for gang violence, I imagine.

          • You and Scott seem to be assuming that the one and only way to rationally defend a ban on a specific weapon is to prove that it would have the highest benefits. in the sense that it is the one responsible for the most deaths, and in a sense that is irrespective of costs.

            It is possible that the people who want to ban military style weapons want to do so becausee they are performing a cost benefit analysis, not just a cost analysis. That kind of weapon has the least justification in terms of self defence , hunting, etc, and so the lowest cost to a ban.

            Sometimes the lowest hanging fruit is a small fruit.

          • onyomi says:

            “That kind of weapon has the least justification in terms of self defence , hunting, etc, and so the lowest cost to a ban.”

            But people use rifles, not handguns for hunting. And like I said, rifles are certainly useful for home self defense.

          • gbdub says:

            Short rifles are good for home defense because they are more powerful and easier to aim than handguns. They are poor for gang violence because they are hard to conceal and annoying to carry for long periods of time.

            Actually shotguns are probably best for home defense, because they have excellent stopping power per shot, but their lower projectile velocity means they are less likely to go through a wall and hurt a bystander on the other side (note that, despite Hollywood stereotypes, you do have to aim a shotgun).

          • Cypren says:

            The thing that always stands out to me are the extreme similarities between the strategy and tactics of both the anti-abortion and gun-control movements, and how the partisans of both tribes are usually unable to see the connection.

            Both sides are out to achieve something outside the Overton window: a complete ban on abortions on one hand, and a complete ban on civilian firearm ownership on the other. Since neither can achieve their objective honestly, both attempt a deliberate “slippery slope” strategy of incremental legislation that really has minimal impact on their stated concerns or connection to the tragedies they employ, but slowly increase the cost/difficulty of obtaining and providing the thing they object to.

            It also explains very well why the opposing partisans are unwilling to compromise at all: you can’t reach a political compromise with someone whose negotiating strategy is, “give me what I want now, and I’ll come for the rest later.” When your opposition is committed to absolute victory and will not be satisfied with anything less, any ground you give at all will simply make their next victory that much easier.

            This explains why it’s politically rational for gun control opponents to strongly oppose otherwise perfectly reasonable measures such as registration and background checks on private party sales — because they rightly fear that, as in other nations that have implemented such systems, it’s intended as a setup to allow easier confiscation. And why it makes perfect sense for pro-choice partisans to oppose abortion clinic restrictions such as the recent Texas law requiring ER doctors to be available — because despite it objectively leading to greater safety for the patient, it imposes a disproportionately high cost which they rightly suspect is intended to break the profitability threshold to operate a standalone clinic.

            Nothing can be done to reach a middle ground because neither side is willing to halt its advance at a certain point; the only victory is total victory.

            Moloch will have his way.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ Cypren
            Since neither can achieve their objective honestly, both attempt a deliberate “slippery slope” strategy of incremental legislation that really has minimal impact on their stated concerns or connection to the tragedies they employ, but slowly increase the cost/difficulty of obtaining and providing the thing they object to.

            I had a very good conversation a while back with an extreme gun supporter. We agreed that big-news tragedies like Orlando activate the anti-gun people and they make a little more progress each time, till people forget about it. He said it wasn’t the body count that caused great damage, but the news coverage of it. I said it was to both our interests to have fewer such news-worthy events occur — and looking at what makes them big-news, when some group shootings with a comproble body count are barely covered at all.

            I do have a theory about what we could do*, but this comment is too long already.

            * besides trying (hopelessly) to muzzle the media

          • Cypren says:

            @houseboatonstyxb

            The interesting thing is that if you look at any conceivable metric, the gun control side not only isn’t gaining any ground by attempting to exploit every tragedy to their advantage; they’re actively losing ground. For the last 20 years, the nationwide trend has been greater and greater liberalization of gun laws, while the gun death rate continues to fall.

            While the reasons for this are definitely debatable, my personal opinion is that it comes down to two things:

            1.) Mobilization of gun owners as a political bloc. After the 1994 assault weapons ban — a law which was laughable to anyone with reasonable firearms knowledge and could be summed up as “ban movie guns” — many gun owners woke up to the fact that, yes, the opposition really was coming for their guns, and they’d take whatever they could get now and then take the rest later. This overcame a lot of apathy and galvanized the NRA into an extremely potent political force, not by virtue of its budget (in 2012 it spent about half what the SEIU did, just to name an example), but by having millions of highly-motivated single-issue voters who would turn out on a moment’s notice.

            2.) Outrage fatigue combined with declining crime and violence. Despite gun sales having skyrocketed and “assault weapons” having proliferated like crazy following the 2004 expiration of the federal AWB, violent crime has continued to decline on the same downward trajectory since 1993 and neither restriction nor liberalization of gun laws has had any noticeable impact on it at all. As such, the “we must act now” cries of gun control activists fall on deaf ears, both because they are so predictable and because their proposed remedies have no real connections to the tragedies they’re attempting to exploit. It’s hard to get a lot of support for new laws from anyone other than your existing true believers when the answer to, “would this have prevented the incident that just happened?” is always “no, but…”

            Incidentally, I tend to think (as do you, I suspect, from your implication) that the media is more to blame for the modern problem of mass public shootings than anything else. Modern semiautomatic firearms have been widely available in this country for the last century, but these “glory shooters” are a phenomenon that’s risen in proportion to the amount of instant media coverage given in our 24/7 news cycle, rather than any correlation with either availability of guns or violent crime rates. We know that many of these killers were obsessed with previous shootings and kept their own scoreboard, and the media encourages this with every new cry of “worst shooting since…” and so forth.

            That said, I don’t know that there’s a cure to this problem that isn’t worse than the disease. As much as I think these shooting incidents are horrifying tragedies, I firmly believe that the benefits we derive from both the First and the Second Amendments outweigh the cost, heavy as it may be. Either muzzling the media or stripping citizens of the right to defend themselves (both things they have done in the UK, for example) would be worse. While gun control advocates like to point to the UK’s lower firearm death rate as proof that their policies work, the UK’s non-murder violent crime rate is actually considerably higher than the US, and if you take out the 80% of US murders that are drug-related (in other words, criminal-on-criminal violence), you’re left with a comparable murder rate and vastly higher rates of burglary, assault, home invasion, and so forth — all criminal-on-innocent crime, which I would consider a much worse problem.

            As such, rather than trying to strip rights, I’m more interested in solutions for teaching people how to react and respond to defend themselves, and covertly arming more of the populace so that mass shooters are faced with the prospect of a rapid death instead of a media-fueled blaze of glory. I just don’t think it’s an accident that these shootings seem to always occur in gun-free zones rather than, say, police stations. (Even when the killers were rabidly anti-government.) I suspect that if more would-be mass shooting stories in the media are about abject failure: “guy opened fire in a parking lot; was gunned down by nearby citizen; 2 wounded”, that will do more to dissuade future mass killers than anything else.

            I’m very open to counterarguments, but that’s my personal view of the situation as of the moment, at least.

          • I didn’t say “rifle”.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ Cypren
            Incidentally, I tend to think (as do you, I suspect, from your implication) that the media is more to blame for the modern problem of mass public shootings than anything else.

            Copy-catting is certainly a factor. But these much-publicized incidents (especially in gatherings of children) also function, indirectly, as terrorism, causing disutility to everyone who sees the story, and waste of money and materials used in security systems at schools, etc.

            Muzzling the media is not possible. When a horrifying incident happens, the media is going to cover it, and people will talk about it. The more horrifying the incident, the more the media will promote it; thus the terror effect will harm more people. Body count isn’t everything — so what other horror factors make some incidents more horrifying than others?

            From here I’m speculating. The Fort Hood shooting was by an adult who had an understandable motive and choice of victims. The Amish school shooting was by an adult. My impression is that both these ‘blew over’ sooner than those by young males with no apparent motive for their choice of location/victims. (Obviously I’m leaning toward ‘profile the latter … and if one of this type tries to buy a gun, call the police’.)

            My point in this whole comment is, that the argument “these gun deaths are statistically too few to worry about” … does not work on people who are moved by the horror factors rather than a total number per year etc. And that horror is what sells newspapers and spreads the story, which increases the {greater) indirect damage.

            (Btw, I’m not interested in debating details that other posters are discussing elsewhere.)

          • @Onyomi

            I was trying to make an abstract point, that there can be small classes of weapons with features, such as latge magazine’s and rapid fire ability, that make them particularly dangerous for illegitimate uses, whilst also making them harder to justify for legitimate purposes.

            Whether some specific piece of legislation picked out the right subset, and what you call them are other issues.

            @@Houseboat

            The “too few to be worth doing anything about” argument also doesn’t work on utilitarians.

            @cypren

            Are there people who would staunchly disapprove of confiscation even if it could be proven to work ? Is it a terminal or instrumental issue?

          • Cypren says:

            @houseboatonstyxb

            Yes, that’s an excellent point, and one that I fully agree with. I’m curious how you would arrange a background check system that can detect the lone shooter archetype, though. While it seems fairly common for associates of the person to know that something is wrong or out-of-pattern if they’re buying guns, I’m not seeing an obvious way the government can detect that from public record information and at arm’s length.

            Interviewing associates, such as is done for an SSBI (security clearance background check) is one possible answer, but the cost of the manpower required to do that is north of $100,000 and takes close to a year. So that would essentially consign gun ownership to the ultra-rich only, in addition to implementing compulsory registration and arbitrary secret denial (because there’s no way you’ll get honest answers during a background check if the interviewees know that the subject will be allowed to read their commentary), two things that badly fail strict scrutiny when applied to an enumerated individual right.

            By the way, I like that there’s been no real debate about the semantics of Orlando as “mass shooting” or “terrorism” in these threads. So refreshing to be able to address it in context of practical firearms laws without getting into a debate about immigration or religion.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            While it seems fairly common for associates of the person to know that something is wrong or out-of-pattern if they’re buying guns, I’m not seeing an obvious way the government can detect that from public record information and at arm’s length.

            For one thing, a national hotline for anonymous tips, and make sure that the information actually gets* all the way up to some authority who will get his name added to the current Background Check source. The local police might like that information, too, in advance of need, and so would his psychiatrist (or whatever).

            Another approach would be to make Amazon and other mailorder vendors report anyone buying an assortment of gear such as the Batman shooter used.

            * In the Tucson, Newtown, EliotRodger, Batman, and Virginia Tech cases, the shooter was already under mental health treatment or watch. In Tucson classmates had complained about him to school and local officials, but the information was not passed far enough up to reach his Background Check file. (Same in Newtown iirc.)

          • I don’t know. It seems to me that there’s considerable disutility in being one of the minority that aren’t allowed to own guns for self-defense. If nobody is allowed them, that’s fine. If everybody else but me has one, I’m not happy.

          • Anonanon says:

            It’s funny. We’ve had a bill out there for ages that would help states report mental health commitments and arrest records to the NICS so that the background checks will work better…
            But democrats keep voting it down for some reason. AND they voted down our bill to allow the FBI to prevent gun sales to people on the terrorist watchlist, which was written with help from the director of the FBI.

            It’s almost like there’s no interest in actually improving the system.

          • John Schilling says:

            This is beginning to sound a lot like the sort of everyone-is-an-informant, we-have-secret-files regime the Stasi was famous for, but applied only to gun owners or aspiring gun owners.

          • @Anonanon: wouldn’t the terrorist watch list bill be kind of blatantly unconstitutional? Due process and all that?

            I’m also dubious about denying someone a constitutional right based on a mental health commitment. Scott has pointed out before how weakly grounded they can be, and again, it raises due process issues.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ Anonanon

            Those sound like interesting bills. Do you have readable cites on them?

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @TheAncientGeek – “Are there people who would staunchly disapprove of confiscation even if it could be proven to work ? Is it a terminal or instrumental issue?”

            I’m one. If you had a magic “guns no longer exist” button, I’d not only not press it, I’d try pretty hard to keep anyone else from pressing it either. I think most of the pro-gun people I know are similar; we see guns as net positive, not a unavoidable evil.

            [EDIT] – “I was trying to make an abstract point, that there can be small classes of weapons with features, such as latge magazine’s and rapid fire ability, that make them particularly dangerous for illegitimate uses, whilst also making them harder to justify for legitimate purposes.”

            People have been trying to do this for decades now. The problem is that it doesn’t work. Knives, gasoline, guns and dynamite, the things that make them useful are exactly the same things that make them dangerous.

            Also, there aren’t “small classes” of weapons with those “dangerous features”. detachable-magazine-fed autoloaders are the heavy majority of pistols and rifles, and a fair minority of shotguns.

          • Anonanon says:

            Edit: whoops, posted in wrong subthread

            @Harry
            The trick is the same amendment we used for stopping the NICS from turning into “we just won’t process the checks so nobody can ever buy a gun, LOL”, which was obviously the intent of the Brady Campaign’s original bill.

            Our version sets it up so that the FBI gets notice when someone on their secret list tries to buy, but it only gives them the standard three days to make a case before the sale goes through by default.
            It has the added advantage of not telling a terrorist that he’s on the list in the first place, which just gives the investigation away and makes him go to ground. To the buyer and seller, it just looks like the usual “sorry, there’s a lot of Bob/Muhammad Smiths with felony convictions, give us a few days to check” delay.

            I agree that it doesn’t solve the due process concerns, but it at least limits the potential damage, and demonstrates that we’re willing to compromise (and that the democrats care more about hurting us than hindering actual terrorists).

            IMO, good firearms law administered by a trustworthy government would involve a lot of compromises like that. It’s important that we keep trying to propose compromise, if only to stop us becoming blind hard-liners like the “ban all guns!” types already are.

            @houseetc.etc.
            All the gun stuff was done as amendments to an appropriation bill, and I’ll try to find out the bill number tomorrow.
            Diane Feinsten & Chris Murphy proposed anti-gun amendments that failed outright.
            Chuck Grassley proposed the NICS data improvements, and democrats filibustered it 53-47. John Cornyn proposed the 3-day-wait version of the “watchlist” proposal, and democrats filibustered it… 53-47
            That should be enough info to let you look it up on govtrack, if I don’t get back to you in time.

          • Our version sets it up so that the FBI gets notice when someone on their secret list tries to buy, but it only gives them the standard three days to make a case before the sale goes through by default.

            I’m not sure what you mean by “make a case” here, or how it is supposed to help. It seems to me that at the end of the three days, you have to either go ahead and let the nominal terrorist buy the gun, or give away the fact that he or she is on the list, as well as totally violating due process.

            (Well, I suppose you could try putting them under direct surveillance and keep an armed-offenders squad nearby in the hope they’ll be able to stop an attack quickly enough to minimize the damage. But I suspect that would be too expensive, the obvious counter-tactic being to make sure you buy your guns months or years before any actual attack.)

          • Cypren says:

            @TheAncientGeek

            Are there people who would staunchly disapprove of confiscation even if it could be proven to work ? Is it a terminal or instrumental issue?

            Fair warning: this is pretty long. Sorry, but it seems necessary to explain the source of the values proposition here.

            For me, and for many of the other pro-gun-rights people I’ve talked to, gun ownership is an instrumental issue that is closely linked to a terminal value: the right of self-defense. While I do enjoy shooting guns as a sport and have a lot of admiration for the engineering that goes into modern firearms, I don’t consider them some kind of sacred totem and in fact don’t even own any myself. I don’t think there’s anything particularly special about firearms other than the fact that they’re currently our most effective known form of personal weapon. There are certainly people who do fetishize guns, but I’ve been involved in the firearms community for some years now and never actually met one. They’re not the serious shooters or the politically involved ones; they’re kids who show up at a range wanting to shoot guns because they think it’ll make them “badass” who then become mocking stories passed around in the gun community.

            As a terminal value, self-defense, up to and including lethal self-defense, is extremely important to me because I believe strongly in individual determination. The right to preserve your own body against violent assault is one of the strongest moral rights I can imagine; without it, there are no other rights, because you are subject to the whims of the strongest and most violent actor in the local area. Being stripped of this right and then told that you’re “protected” because the police (who legal precedent has established have no particular duty to protect you) may or may not show up in time to help you is a laughable state of affairs that we wouldn’t tolerate for other critical rights.

            Does this right of self-defense necessarily require firearms? No, in the same sense that the “right to freely speak” doesn’t require that you be allowed to speak to an audience, without a ball gag (hey, you can still get sounds out!), or in a language that your audience can understand. But just as those restrictions would nullify the utility of the right, I see restrictions on firearms as nullifying the right of self-defense. At the moment, they’re simply the best tool that we have for equalizing the disparity between human size/weight/physical condition: a handgun makes a 5′, 90 lb. woman just as dangerous as a 6’3, 270 lb. man.

            This distinction between the instrumental and the terminal value is why I support widespread firearms ownership but don’t support widespread ownership of nuclear weapons. The latter doesn’t represent a controllable defensive instrument, except in the sense of mutual assured destruction. Moreover, the latter are not an instrument that an individual can exercise reasonable control over. Consider a hypothetical state in which civilians could build and own nukes: other nation-states would invest enormous resources in trying to locate and steal them, resources that would far outstrip what even the wealthiest individuals could muster to secure them.

            Note that this is not the same as an argument that “bombs are too dangerous in private hands but guns aren’t”. We allow civilians to possess all kinds of devices that are capable of causing massive damage all the time, the most obvious one being an automobile. Find a packed crowd at a fairground or parade and ram an SUV into them and you’ll rival the Orlando body count pretty quickly. In addition, information on the internet on how to build homemade bombs is widely available, so even restrictions on commercial and military explosive compounds are of limited effectiveness at best.

            Rather, it is an argument that civilians should be able to own dangerous items only so long as they can be expected to exercise responsible control over their usage and have the necessary means at their disposal to retain ownership. This is one reason why I’m in favor of safe storage laws for guns: by definition a gun is a desirable criminal target, and locking it into a secured safe when it is not carried on your person is a perfectly reasonable precaution for both preventing thefts and accidents. (Note, however, that my support for these laws evaporates instantly when the jurisdiction in question prohibits carriage of arms; that’s no longer “safe storage” but instead a backdoor ban, equivalent to the speech-with-a-ball-gag example.)

            The terminal value is also the reason why I have a very dim view of arguments that try to split hairs about the technology level of weapons that civilians “need”. To satisfy the terminal value, civilians need weapons for defensive purposes that are equivalent to the weapons that might be used against them. To me, this generally means the best modern personal weapons technology available to the military should also be allowed in civilian hands. The technology of violence is always improving like other technologies, and trying to define what civilians are “allowed” to have to a small subset of weaponry means that it will rapidly become outdated, since the entities they’re most likely to need to defend themselves against (criminals, foreign invasion, or in a worst-case scenario, a tyrannical government) are not bound by similar restrictions.

            Now, with all of that said, there are a lot of gun control proposals that affect the implementation of the distribution and use of firearms as defensive tools that are both sensible and effective. Some of the ones I would favor, in an ideal world are:

            * Universal background checks for criminal convictions prior to purchase or transfer of a weapon.
            * Linkage of mental health records with background checks. People who have undergone involuntary commitment or have a history of violent or destructive behavior should be prevented from purchasing weapons, though an appeals process should be available if the person is willing to undergo psychiatric evaluation.
            * Licensing and registration of all weapons with local authorities under a “shall issue” system — in other words, the authority must issue the license unless they can establish a concrete disqualifying condition.
            * Mandatory reporting of lost or stolen weapons.
            * Mandatory safe-storage provisions (guns may be kept loaded, but must be kept in locked, not-easily-portable storage when not held on your person).
            * A mandatory “cooling off period” before purchase of a firearm by someone who does not already have another firearm registered. (And the ability to override this period at the discretion of local law enforcement to account for, say, a woman who is being stalked and fears for her life.)

            All of these proposals are reasonable and would reduce criminal usage and accidental firearms deaths. The problem is that while I support them all in principle, it’s hard to support them in the current US political environment because the gun control side has demonstrated time and again that they will not be satisfied with anything short of confiscation, and that banning guns is a terminal rather than instrumental value for them: cost and effectiveness of their policies is not up for debate and is not at issue. (The usual phrasing being, “if it saves just one life…”)

            The leadership of the gun control side have also demonstrated that they will eagerly use incrementalism, deception and public confusion to get their way, so things like licensing and registration are just making their job easier. Even if they have instrumental benefits, people like me will still resist them because they represent a danger to the terminal value we’re trying to protect. There are already 4 votes on the Supreme Court in favor of the idea that “requiring a license by law, then refusing to issue any licenses by policy” isn’t a rights violation — a position that would be self-evidently absurd to its proponents if it were applied to abortion or speech advocating gay or minority rights. This makes any compromise on licensing completely impossible because it will rapidly be turned into prohibition as soon as there is a liberal majority on the court.

            In summary, the right to effective self-defense is a terminal value for me and one that I’m unwilling to compromise on. The use of guns to satisfy that right is instrumental and one where I do see a lot of potential compromise; however, the political situation is such that compromise is untenable because I can’t trust the opposition to stop at anything short of total elimination of the right.

          • Montfort says:

            Cypren:

            To me, at least, there seems to be some dissonance between self-defense being the most important fundamental right (with guns being the most effective way to exercise that right) and two of your theoretical compromises, the criminal background check and the mental health check.

            Leaving aside implementation details (e.g. should a commitment for anorexia or a conviction for forgery really count), it seems like a lot to swallow that the natural rights of most people are being unconscionably abridged by being unable to get a gun, yet a felon or the mentally ill will just have to make do with tasers and pepper spray. Going back to your speech analogy, (I think) we wouldn’t allow those convicted of inciting violence in the past to be forbidden from using microphones or broadcasting their voice – and yet you claim the right to self-defense is even more fundamental.

            I understand you see this as a compromise, not necessarily your desired endpoint, but what makes those compromises acceptable to you?

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ Cypren
            Find a packed crowd at a fairground or parade and ram an SUV into them and you’ll rival the Orlando body count pretty quickly.

            And easily more, and you might even escape. Fill the SUV with tubs of gasoline. Start on a hill, jump out, and let the SUV roll down.

            So if body count is the point, why not use a SUV? Perhaps the guy wants an experience more personal?

          • Cypren says:

            @Montfort

            Well, first, no right is absolute, even freedom of speech. Incitement and commercial advertising are classic cases of unprotected speech, and more recently courts have begun to grapple with a whole range of situations categorized as “crime-facilitating speech” with a range of outcomes.

            From a pragmatic standpoint, the entire purpose of any government is to impinge on some rights in the name of protecting others. Fundamentally, that’s all a government is — an organization that claims and can reasonably enforce a monopoly on violence and coercion to achieve its own ends. We tend to pretty ours up in notions about “the will of the people”, but ultimately, the government is still just the band of thugs that a majority (and in some cases, not even that!) have chosen to dispense violence on our behalf.

            With that in mind, the question is really never about any right being sacred and inviolate, and always “what is the minimum amount of damage we can do to one person’s rights to preserve others?”

            In the cases you mentioned, I don’t really support suspension of weapons privileges for most non-violent felonies, especially in the modern highly-overcriminalized society. (Violent felons, I should think, are a largely self-arguing case, but if you really want to have that discussion, we can.) I simply didn’t draw a distinction in the post above because it was already extremely long.

            The same is true for mental health patients who have not been involuntarily committed or had a history of violent threats or behavior. And I did also state that there should be a psychiatric appeals process to get that ban rescinded, as a hedge against false accusations, non-violent commitments, and because some people go through situations that induce extreme stress and temporary psychosis but then genuinely do return to normal behavior later on. All of these are cases where the best rule may be to deny, but individual review can shed more light on the situation.

            In both criminal and mental health cases, these are pragmatic concessions to the reality that some portion of the populace is a disproportionately high risk to cause harm with dangerous objects. And as I said before, weapons ownership for me is an instrumental right, not a terminal one. It’s the best means of personal defense, but if you’ve demonstrated through your own actions individual membership in a category of persons who are highly likely to use weapons irresponsibly and destructively, I’m okay with restricting your access to them in the interests of protecting the rights of your fellow citizens. This is simply an unpleasant but practical tradeoff between the reality that most violent persons’ potential for harm with a weapon outstrips the likelihood of their need for one for unprovoked self-defense, and laws have to be made for the statistically most likely cases, not the extremely rare exceptions.

            To address the example you mentioned: why not prohibit people convicted of incitement from access to broadcast tools? From my viewpoint, it’s because it’s ineffective and impossible to enforce in any meaningful capacity, thereby eliminating the social tradeoff of rights versus rights — the trade is gaining nothing when you can’t enforce the restriction. The pernicious uses of speech are transmissible and fungible; anyone who was so restricted would simply have another person repeat their words for them through the prohibited medium and they would likely be all the more powerful for the symbolism.

            There are fewer people who will assist violent felons and the mentally ill with access to weapons (especially in a theoretical world where registration and reporting were mandatory, and hence consequences for straw purchasers were swift and severe), and so prohibitions are more practical and the tradeoff between rights becomes, in my mind, more worth making.

          • Cypren says:

            @houseboatonstyxb

            So if body count is the point, why not use a SUV? Perhaps the guy wants an experience more personal?

            I think that’s probably one factor, yes. My guess is that it’s more cultural than anything else: in popular media we’re inundated from a young age with the image of the “lone gunman” as a symbol of power, and angry, vengeful individuals who fit the profile of mass shooters are looking to fulfill a power fantasy.

            I’m not sure that really has a lot of bearing in the gun control debate, though, unless there’s some evidence that would-be mass killers would give up their aspirations rather than simply accepting a less-personal and possibly more-effective form of murder.

            Also, since I know this question is going to be raised sooner or later: if it’s acceptable to restrict violent felons and mental patients with a history of violence from buying guns, why not advocate for a ban on them driving cars?

            This is, again an issue of effectiveness. For violent felons, a car is unlikely to be used as a murder weapon because it is a difficult one to control, and criminal violence is rarely indiscriminate; it usually serves a specific purpose. For mental patients, the sheer number of cars in the US, their prevalence in everyday life, and their relatively weak security measures mean that a mentally ill killer would simply borrow or steal a car belonging to a family member or acquaintance and then go on their rampage.

            The chances of borrowing or stealing a gun are considerably lower, because they are less common, typically better-secured and because most people will have an immediate suspicious reaction to such a request. That said, this is obviously a case that can absolutely happen, as the Newtown shooting demonstrated — the mother in that case trusted her son with access to her weapons even though he had a long demonstrable history of mental problems, and her negligence led to her own death and the deaths of many innocents. “Lower” definitely does not mean “zero”.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Cypren

            Involuntary commitment is ridiculously easy. All it takes (approximately, varying somewhat by state) is for a police officer or mental health professional to sign a form saying the person is a danger to himself or others. Boom, 72-hour commitment with release contingent on full psychiatric evaluation. For that to permanently revoke any fundamental right (or even revoke it contingent on appeal) would be a serious violation of due process.

      • Shieldfoss says:

        The honest approach to getting rid of firearms is a repeal of the 2nd amendment.

        They’ll never get a repeal of the 2nd amendment, which is why they’re doing all this around-the-edges bullshit.

        (They also will not get a ban on semiautomatic weapons)

        • ivvenalis says:

          New York State (NYSAFE ACT) has gotten about as close as you can get to banning semiautomatic rifles without actually using that language.

          • Leit says:

            Which was immediately followed by Remington moving most of its production to more friendly states and Kahr pulling out, costing NY a bunch of jobs and tax income. Similar results in Maryland with Beretta, and it’s played out with a couple of other manufacturers over the years. Far as I know, Barrett still won’t sell anything to Cali.

            Turns out that ineffectively signalling virtue to city-dwellers costs blue collar jobs. Wonder why democrats lost the working class…

          • Anonymous says:

            After all the fanfare of Remington loudly proclaiming that they were laying off 125 people in anger over the safe act, less than a year later they turned around and hired 200 more people for their upstate factory. The whole thing was nonsense.

            Even if it hadn’t been, both in terms of tax revenue and jobs, Remington doesn’t even amount to a rounding error in an economy the size of New York State’s.

      • Chrysophylax says:

        Long guns are more deadly than handguns. They hit harder and are more accurate. They tend to have larger magazines – for example, the standard sidearm of the US armed forces holds 15 rounds, while the standard rifle uses 30-round magazines. They’re also more prone to over-penetration, i.e. shooting through the target and hitting things beyond, and more likely to have burst fire or full-auto modes. Shotguns are ridiculously deadly at close ranges but don’t have the ammo capacity. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_gun#Advantages_and_disadvantages_of_long_guns.)

        A handgun that isn’t semi-automatic is pretty useless for self-defence (unless it’s a revolver, which merely reduces the magazine size). Pistols are inaccurate, especially when used by civilians under combat conditions, and even using expanding bullets it’s difficult to reliably stop an assailant without the faster rate of fire. (Expanding bullets are so horrendously damaging that they banned by the Hague Convention of *1899*, but they’re still legal outside warfare.) The primary reason the US police kill so many people is that if you want to *reliably* stop someone with a knife reaching you, you need to shoot early and put an expanding bullet or two into the relatively easy target that happens to house most of the vital organs.

        Soldiers use rifles for good reasons. I’m not sure how confident you are in your ideas, but I think you should be very uncertain about your ideas about weapons until you learn the basics of how they work.

        • gbdub says:

          And yet handguns are empirically more dangerous as a weapon of crime, because “good weapon for combat” does not describe the criteria used by most murderers for gun selection.

          “Soldiers use rifles for good reasons”. Indeed they do. But cops use high capacity semi-automatic pistols of moderate caliber for good reasons too, and it turns out most criminals are more cop-like than soldier-like.

        • Cypren says:

          The primary reason soldiers use rifles is engagement range, not lethality; prior to the last two decades and the rise of asymmetrical urban warfare as the dominant form of combat, most military engagements took place between groups of individuals separated by distances of at least a hundred meters, where a handgun is not accurate, even in the hands of a highly skilled shooter under ideal conditions.

          Modern urban warfare has seen a decided decrease in the use of traditional full-length assault rifles (such as the M-16) in favor of short-barrel carbines (such as the M-4) which offer more maneuverability in close quarters while keeping an adequate accuracy at longer ranges. In addition, these carbines offer a burst-fire mode that can be used for a moderate amount of suppression (keeping an enemy hiding behind cover while squad mates advance), while the stocks make them easier to control than a handgun which fired in a similar burst would be.

          But these conditions do not really map to the typical civilian (including police) firefight, which takes place at ranges of less than ten meters where handguns are not only accurate and lethal but much easier to quickly aim and fire. In addition, there’s minimal benefit from the increased penetration power of a rifle round because their targets are rarely wearing body armor or hiding behind cover, and the ballistic characteristics of a typical 5.56mm rifle round are actually less lethal than a standard .45 Auto pistol round at close range; the rifle bullet is smaller and faster but does less tissue damage and generates less hydrostatic pressure, causing reduced shock to the nervous system.
          The Geneva Conventions in fact explicitly forbid the use of the standard jacketed hollow-point bullets that most police officers and civilians use for personal defense precisely because they are considerably more likely to cause death or permanent maiming than the standard full metal jacket military rounds designed to penetrate body armor.

          So yes, while rifles and carbines are a very deliberate and considered choice for militaries, they are not in fact more “dangerous on our streets” than the conventional handguns that are carried by police officers and civilians, and in fact are probably less dangerous in most cases due to differences in environment and utilization.

          Additionally, criminal firearm preference rarely shows much consideration for effectiveness; rather, it is usually a function of availability and cost. A summary paper written in 1995 collecting research from several earlier papers found that the most commonly-carried criminal guns were in fact .38 revolvers and .25 pistols, despite their poor effectiveness compared to 9mm and .45 semi-automatic pistols.

          Targeting the “dangerous” guns may make for good political propaganda, but they’re not the source of the majority of murders. Which is why I wish that gun control advocates would be honest about what they really want: a complete civilian ban on firearms ownership. This may not be politically palatable, but it would make for a much better debate than endless confusion and distractions to cover up for unwillingness to fight a battle that would actually accomplish their stated goals.

          • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

            >. The Geneva Conventions in fact explicitly forbid the use …

            Hague convention. Of which basically nobody is actually a signatory. Consider for example that the US military has opened the pistol design competition to those intending to use hollow point.

            /Nitpick

          • linker says:

            Everyone is party to the Hague Conventions. (IV is not popular, but the point in question is III.)

          • LHN says:

            Are you sure? Wikipedia says “Declaration concerning the Prohibition of the Use of Bullets which can Easily Expand or Change their Form inside the Human Body such as Bullets with a Hard Covering which does not Completely Cover the Core, or containing Indentations” is IV,3 of the 1899 Convention, which it reports a lot of countries being party to but not the US.

          • linker says:

            Oh, you’re right. I confused IV,3 with III.

            I-III are about conduct of war, while IV is about specific weapons.

          • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

            I thought the tongue in cheek tone was obvious.

          • jimmy says:

            > the ballistic characteristics of a typical 5.56mm rifle round are actually less lethal than a standard .45 Auto pistol round at close range; the rifle bullet is smaller and faster but does less tissue damage and generates less hydrostatic pressure, causing reduced shock to the nervous system

            I’m not sure where you get this idea, but it isn’t true. Dynamic pressure is a function of velocity and 5.56 nato has much more energy than a .45acp. 5.56 rounds at close range can be extremely nasty, especially with fragmenting ammo (e.g. standard military ammo). Google image search “5.56 shot in the leg” if you don’t believe me, but fair warning, it’s not pretty. Search “.45 shot in the leg” next and it almost looks like a non-issue in comparison.

      • Lysenko says:

        Attempts at a categorical hand gun ban have been tried several times and failed.

        The Assault Weapon Ban stuff comes from a couple of factors, the two biggest being:
        -In the 90s magazine-fed, high-capacity rifles were an easy target, being aesthetically similar to military weapons, having less owners than handguns or most hunting rifles, and being associated in the minds of the average member of the public with violence and crime via television and the rare but extremely emotionally affecting and widely publicized mass shooting.
        -Categorical bans on types of weapons, especially pistols, have been tried before with minimal success in the US. One of the long-term goals of major elements within the gun control movement is to create a precedent for categorical bans that can then be used to make a national handgun ban successful. Not that they would stop there, should they be successful.

        Handguns are, quite literally optimized for personal self-defense, to the extant that the concept of an “offensive handgun” was a specialty military project multiple times (and generally a failure relative to SMGs and later modern compact carbines). They are also generally less expensive and more logistically simple to carry on one’s person.

        They are MUCH less expensive and more handy for personal defense when on the move, as well as a close-quarters environment like the home. Carbines raise the spectre of overpenetration. Arguably a short-barrelled shotgun is superior to a handgun in many cases, but those are also precisely the weapons that were among the first to be made difficult to acquire for US citizens, requiring a process that is not insurmountable but distinctly time consuming and inconvenient, raising the barrier to entry as well as the cost.

        • onyomi says:

          Maybe the vagueness is a feature, not a bug. But then again, considering how little success gun control has had recently, maybe they could try being clear and explicit (environmentalists might give this a try too).

        • Psmith says:

          Carbines raise the spectre of overpenetration.

          In general, your post is quite accurate, but .223/5.56 in some common HD loadings overpenetrates less than any other common HD round, including 9mm and buckshot. See for instance 1, 2, 3

          • Lysenko says:

            @psmith
            Speaking generally I assume “generic”/cheap JHP for handgun rounds for the same reason I assume generic/milsurp 5.56 for carbines/rifles (we’re talking a 3-4x price difference), but yes, a good expanding 5.56 can be loaded not to overpenetrate. I’m less familiar with the terminal ballistics of civilian/LE 5.56 rounds vs the M855 and M855A1.

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            So with appropriate ammo, would carbines be a viable substitute for handguns for home defense? I’m pretty sure the military doesn’t pull out pistols when the have to fight indoors.

          • Psmith says:

            would carbines be a viable substitute for handguns for home defense?

            I’d say so. Although best of all would probably be a carbine with a shorter barrel than is currently legal (at all in several states, absent a tax stamp in all the rest) and a suppressor (same legal status). Problem with a handgun ban is not home defense so much as personal defense outside the home, IMO. Can’t really carry a stocked weapon concealed.

          • Lysenko says:

            Actually, for some time LE and military DID favor a pistol for the lead member of a CQB element, and some LE groups and militaries still do, though the number has declined sharply. There are also factors other than simple effectiveness that drive the preference for rifles over platforms in a military context.

            That said, I agree with PSmith that a SBR with a suppressor and the proper (again, 3-4x standard cost per round) ammunition is probably superior to a pistol in most circumstances for home defense, though I think mostly for matters of capacity and ergonomics/accuracy than terminal effectiveness. I’m still researching the subject after PSmith reminded me of the modern police/civilian 5.56 expanding loads, but from what I can tell their terminal ballistics are a lot closer to the high end of pistol rounds.

            If you’re interested, there is a lively and evolving debate on that particular choice in the context of home defense on the part of firearms instructors and shooters.

          • John Schilling says:

            So with appropriate ammo, would carbines be a viable substitute for handguns for home defense? I’m pretty sure the military doesn’t pull out pistols when the have to fight indoors.

            Something like this, is what military forces tend to prefer as a personal defense weapon for persons whose job is to avoid gunfights rather than seek them out. It is midway between a pistol and a carbine, several sorts of illegal for most civilians to own, and socially unacceptable to take out in public even if it were legal.

            If you can’t have one of those, the merits of pistols vs. carbines are legitimately debatable and situation-dependent to the extent that I tend to recommend one of each per household. A shotgun can be substituted for the carbine, if it suits your taste.

          • gbdub says:

            Carbines can also refer to short rifle-length guns in pistol calibers (e.g. a semi-automatic MP5), which would render the penetration argument moot.

            Just about any long gun is going to be easier to aim than a pistol, particularly for the amateur combatant under stress. And putting projectiles on target is usually more important than the theoretical stopping power/penetration of a given bullet.

          • keranih says:

            I’m pretty sure the military doesn’t pull out pistols when the have to fight indoors.

            First step for the infantry/Marines when they have to fight in close quarters is to go around. Second step is to call the Air Force or the navy to pound the close quarters into rubble. Third is to argue with HHQ about why they shouldn’t do step two again before going into the close quarters.

            Fourth step is proceeded by grenades, and involves entry by multiple people with carbines and lots of ammo so as to stop the bad guys from shooting as soon as possible. Plus (hopefully) sidearms for when they run out of ammo for the carbines. And a knife, for after the sidearm runs out of ammo.

            Fighting indoors sucks. Adding in dependents/noncombatants on ones own side makes it even worse. One tends to want everything, sos as to have multiple options, and yet to carry nothing, because lack of maneuver room makes moving fast even more essential than usual.

            It might help to recall that a primary early use of pistols was for a closing-to-melee weapon for cavalry, that could be used one-handed at two or three horse lengths – which made it better than a spear, being both of longer reach and easier maneuverability. Within arms reach, a saber had practical advantages at the time.

          • Broggly says:

            Within arms reach, a saber had practical advantages at the time.

            Pistols can have their own advantages at that range, on how heavily armoured your enemy is. A pistol might penetrate metal armour at point blank range, and it could easily pass through buff leather.

      • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

        >. (what’s the opposite of an “assault weapon”? A “defensive weapon”?),

        Assault is a military term of art for a specific type of attack, and the materiel designed to facilitate it. In particular, an attack by a lightly equipped element advancing rapidly to engage the enemy in a (hopefully) unexpected/decisive place and time. Since the lightness of the materiel (or maybe the ability to operate it without the support of the logistical train) is it’s he absolutely defining characteristic, when describing it, the term of art can be almost universally replaced by the word “light” without loss of meaning.

        This suggests a completely different opposite. In fact, the retronym for not-assault-rifles in the military arsenal is instructive.

        (It may also be worth noting that your defensive position is almost exclusively defined by your machine gun emplacements. Yeah, sure, everybody is on the line but the MGs (and obstacles, and predesignated artillery aim points) are what actually provide the protection from the enemy attack. If they make it through all of that you’re pretty well fucked. The chaotic melee with personal weapons is just a formality.)

        • Anonymous says:

          Do you think Mateen would have killed more or fewer people if he had had a FN MAG-58 instead of a SIG Sauer MCX (and similar amount of ammo as measured by weight)?

          • Cypren says:

            Significantly fewer, given that a MAG-58 is very heavy (25 lb, not counting ammo) and therefore difficult to maneuver, has an enormous amount of recoil, and is designed to be fired from a tripod or bipod in a stabilized position. It has a short shoulder stock but no barrel shroud to stabilize it, making it impractical to hold at shoulder-height (beyond the difficulty of holding something that heavy up there in the first place), and contra to what people may have learned from 80’s action movies, even someone built like Schwarzenegger would have a difficult time firing a full machine gun from the hip and hitting anything, even at close range.

            In addition, the raw cyclic rate of fire means that the ammunition required to maintain more than a few seconds of sustained fully automatic shooting would have to be carted around on a dolly.

            The casualty rate in Orlando had virtually nothing to do with the type of weapons the shooter used; it had to do with the fact that he was left alone in a building of unarmed people for _three hours_ while all of the people with guns waited outside, more afraid for their personal safety than for the safety of the defenseless victims trapped inside with the shooter. The armed guard at the club exchanged gunfire with Mateen outside, but did not pursue him inside the club, and when the police arrived, they waited for armored vehicles (yep! US law enforcement: it’s not enough to outnumber the guy 30 to 1 and have body armor, we need a tank! For public safety!) rather than entering immediately.

            You couldn’t ask for a better killing ground as a crazed gunman.

          • John Schilling says:

            The casualty rate in Orlando had virtually nothing to do with the type of weapons the shooter used; it had to do with the fact that he was left alone in a building of unarmed people for _three hours_ while all of the people with guns waited outside

            According to the timelines I have seen, all or almost all of the victims were shot in the first ten minutes, i.e. the time the one outgunned off-duty policeman was calling for backup. When the backup arrived, Mateen holed up in one of the bathrooms and it turned into a three-hour hostage-barricade situation, which the police handled in the usual tedious manner. Mateen may have killed some of the people in the bathroom with him during that time; I don’t think so but there is some ambiguous reporting on that issue.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Aurora was 12 dead and 70 more wounded in 90 seconds, I think.

            Police can respond vey quickly, but the ease with which modern weaponry can fire very large numbers of rounds effectively allows large body counts in a short time.

          • Cypren says:

            @John Schilling

            According to the timelines I have seen, all or almost all of the victims were shot in the first ten minutes, i.e. the time the one outgunned off-duty policeman was calling for backup.

            At least according to the reports I read, there were confirmed text messages sent as late as 45 minutes after the beginning of the incident from survivors still hidden in the building who were later killed. By that point there were many police officers outside, but their doctrine and training in these situations is designed to prioritize their own safety over that of the hostages and wait for overwhelming force before attempting to breach. While this may be the correct tactic to use in a traditional hostage situation, because the hostage-taker wishes to escape alive, it is absolutely the wrong one to use in a typical active-shooter situation, where the shooter has no goal except to kill all of the hostages before dying himself.

            With that said, I’m also aware that it’s painfully easy for me to armchair quarterback the situation after the fact with a lot more information and nothing riding on my analysis, unlike the police commander on the scene. But I still feel that it’s fair criticism to say that if modern police training emphasized a duty to rescue civilians as more important than officers’ personal safety (which it absolutely does not; ask anyone who has been through a police academy in the last decade), there would have been fewer casualties in this incident.

            In my mind, though, the person who really blew it was the off-duty cop who was on guard duty for the club. Mateen had a rifle against a pistol, yes, but the engagement range in this scenario was such that the rifle would be more of a disadvantage than an advantage. Yes, it would have a larger magazine than the guard’s pistol (assuming typical carrying capacities, probably 30 rounds against 15), but it’s more unwieldy and slower to bring to bear on a target. In addition, the guard knew the club layout and as soon as shooting started inside the club, could be reasonably assured that Mateen was not standing there covering the entrance waiting for him to come in. This was not a scenario where one guy was up against a whole band of terrorists, Die Hard style; this is an encounter he could have won without needing supreme luck.

            It’s hard to fault the guard for being afraid for his life, but the simple fact is that he was the proverbial “good guy with a gun” on the scene and rather than risk his neck to save a lot of unarmed people, he chose to disengage and make it someone else’s problem. That may not make him a villain, but it sure doesn’t win my admiration, either.

            @HeelBearCub

            Police can respond vey quickly, but the ease with which modern weaponry can fire very large numbers of rounds effectively allows large body counts in a short time.

            Average police response time is 11 minutes nationwide. In that time, you can kill a lot of people with nothing more than a revolver. Or knives, or a bow and arrows, for that matter. Modern weaponry may exacerbate the problem, but it’s not the core issue; the fact is that any weaponry, down to and including bare fists, is enough to kill people who aren’t resisting and are cowering in fear.

            The single most effective tactic in any kind of mass-murder situation is for the would-be victims to band together and attempt to overpower the shooter. Even armed with an actual assault rifle, a single person cannot fend off a determined mob. The difficulty here is a classic coordination problem: nobody wants to be in front and be the one who gets shot to allow the people behind them to overpower the shooter. And as a result they all scatter and are individually picked off.

            The only exception to this I can think of in recent memory is United 93 on 9/11, and the coordination problem was overcome only because passengers knew that they were dead no matter how things played out. Ironically, hope of survival turns out to be one of the most lethal instincts in a mass shooting.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Cypren:
            I’m talking about the marginal effect on body count within the amount of time it takes to respond, regardless of what that time is. That article is a mess, but it hints at why pointing at “average response times” isn’t really relevant. The response chain is composed of humans who are working off of a priority system. Active shooter of many innocents is going to be the highest priority that the chain can execute, even if it isn’t a formally recognized one.

            It’s easier to kill lots of people in a short time with a gun than other individually targeted weapons. Easier still if the gun has many features to allow more effective rapid fire (including reloading). That’s almost tautological.

            In this case it may be appropriate to also criticize tactics, but large body counts in a short amount are frequent enough that we can reasonably assume Orlando was going to have a high body count regardless of how fast police executed.

          • Cypren says:

            @HeelBearCub

            Understood and agreed; weapon efficiency does obviously matter when you’re talking about how many kills a shooter can get in a fixed amount of time.

            But my view is that it’s a lesser factor in these tragedies than the fact that the shooter is attacking unarmed victims who have been taught (by the media, or by explicit training classes on dealing with active shooter situations, as are now being taught at some schools) to run and cower rather than fight back. And no matter how much you restrict the weapons in this scenario, an angry, suicidal attacker is still going to cause a tragedy.

            These kinds of mass killings occur in mainland China, too, using knives. This is a country where police presence is both completely unconstrained by civil liberties and far more geographically dense (having just come back from spending most of the last year living in Shenzhen, I could rarely walk two blocks without seeing one or more uniformed officers). To me, this is a strong indication of the futility of relying on either the “just prevent them from getting guns” or “get the cops there faster” methods. The civilians need to be taught to resist rather than flee.

            This isn’t an argument of “just give everyone guns and it will make the situation better”; that’s a facile, foolish straw man. But teaching the public to be less passive and to defend themselves, armed or not, would go a long way towards reducing the effectiveness of lone madmen, no matter what their armaments.

            …at least until they all switch to bombs made from common household materials, a la Boston. Not much that can really be done about that, unless we want to start banning everyone from carrying anything bulkier than a wallet.

            *sigh* So, how ’bout them Yankees?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Cypren:
            Unless we are going to make everyone go through mandatory military training with multiple years of service plus automatic reserve training, I think that expecting people rush the shooter in a coordinated fashion is a pipe dream. That’s not how we are put together.

            Since you mentioned China, and I happened to be looking at the Kunming Attack the other day, consider that hypothetical.

            8 attackers managed to kill 29 people with knifes and cleavers an injure 120 others in what seems like may have been 10 minutes.

            But what would the body count have been if they had the kind of firepower that the Orlando attacker had? If they were coordinated enough to kill 29 using knives, how likely is it that they would manage to make the kill count 100, 200 or more? Those railway stations can be just masses of wall to wall people.

            And yes, bombs are a logical progression, but they aren’t purchasable off the shelf and that means that they frequently do not work. Individual events may be just as bad, but they will be less frequent.

            And, yes, definitely a sigh. There aren’t any easy answers.

          • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

            Significantly fewer, for basically all the reasons already covered, plus:

            Since you specified equal weights of ammo: The 7.62 weights pretty darm close to twice what a 5.56 does. If he was hypothetically able to maintain an equivalent hit rate (with a less accurate weapon) this would imply half as many hits. This leaves the question of lethality. The 7.62 is probably more lethal but exactly how much is a hard question. We’ll go for an upper bound. If everybody hit dies and we have half as many hits that would give you the same number dead but no injuries. But this relies on the two unlikely simplifying assumptions of the same hit rate and total mortality. The expected value if much less.

            The cyclic rate for the weapon you named appears to be 11-16 rounds per second by variant. Machine guns are designed to be fired in multi-second bursts. 3-5 sticks in my mind. Firing too short (or too long) of a burst is prone to causing weapon malfunctions. Consequently, trying to engage a single target (or small group) requires expending 33-80 rounds in a single burst. This burns your ammo budget freaking fast. When ya walk in and start setting up the tripod, people are going to bug the hell out of there so you are left with mopping up the stragglers by the time you get set up, wasting lots of ammo on single targets.

            Also, that is a “crew served weapon.” It is designed to be operated by a team. Reloading for example, requires either a second person or setting the weapon down (and maybe repositioning yourself). It takes two hands and being in the right place.

      • Cypren says:

        The primary issue with going after semi-automatics as a category is that it would amount to a near-total ban on modern firearms; you’d be left with revolvers, shotguns and bolt-action hunting rifles, which are a small minority of the guns purchased and used (legally) at present.

        This is barely a step away from total confiscation, and as such is not a politically feasible solution. So the “assault weapon” category was created to try to blur the lines and chip away at gun ownership from a different direction, under the theory that every category of weapons that gets banned sets a precedent that makes it more politically palatable to ban the next one. This isn’t some NRA conspiracy theory but was very explicitly stated in the infamous (well, within the circle of people who closely track firearms law, anyway) 1988 Sugarmann paper that outlined the modern strategy for gun control advocates:

        The weapons’ menacing looks, coupled with the public’s confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons — anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun — can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons…

        What both sides are really fighting over with the “assault weapons” debate is normalization — determining whether the social presumption is that all guns not prohibited are allowed, or all guns not explicitly permitted are prohibited.

  14. Thursday says:

    by 0.75 points

    This is SPECTACULAR good news!!!!!! Maybe if we’re really good we’ll eventually discover how to raise IQ by a whole 1 or 2 points.

    • TPC says:

      I thought that was breastfeeding.

    • Tedd says:

      Increasing mean IQ of a population by 1 point increases the number of people with an IQ above 160 by about 33%. Small population-wide IQ increases are nothing to scoff at.

      • oerpli says:

        This is wrong and does not apply here: It seems that the effect was bigger on people on the lower end of the IQ scale. Even if you increase the average IQ by 5 points this will not affect the amount of really smart people as long as your increase only affects the dunces.

        Which brings me to a question: Should the school system try to focus on smart people as they are usually those that will do great things which brings society forward or should the focus be on making the weakest links a little less weak? I personally would prefer the first but I am not certain at all which would objectively be the better approach (doing both is obviously not allowed)

        • arbitrary_greay says:

          Depends on the future survival prospects of the non-smart population. If non-smart jobs don’t pay (and no BI), then that’s swaths of people actually being sacrificed.

          For a different approach, neglecting the non-smart population doesn’t give them incentive to be endeared to society. More likely to become troublemakers for attention, turn to crime, nasty internal popularity politics, etc. Some Asian education systems address this by filtering early, with non-academics being sent to vocational schools. But, again, this depends on there being a stable and good-paying non-smart job market.
          Or you could look to the past, seek to pacify the masses with bread and circus. A few hard scifi books assume that only smart people remain active characters because everyone else is wireheading.
          At any rate, there’s some level of neglect of the non-smart population that is an undesirable tradeoff.

          Yet another approach is that schools rarely actually ID the creative minds that will go on to the change the world, because such minds are not so conforming to the status quo. Drop-out founders and the like. The odds of schools not instituting a standard of “smart” and “focus” that don’t just promote the suck-ups who pump and dump memorization seem slim.

        • Lumifer says:

          Should the school system try to focus on smart people as they are usually those that will do great things which brings society forward or should the focus be on making the weakest links a little less weak?

          The first good step would be just to separate the two, so that the smart ones aren’t terminally bored and the dumb ones aren’t constantly frustrated.

        • Alex Zavoluk says:

          Arguably even better. 33% more people with IQ>160 means 4 out of 100,000 instead of 3, but increase the IQ of a bunch of IQ ~75 or 80 people by 2 points could decrease crime significantly.

          edit–that assumes, of course, that the results hold up and are real.

      • Macbi says:

        The effect might not affect all IQs equally. Just because it increases IQ by 0.75 on average doesn’t mean that it increases the average 159.25 IQ to 160.

        In fact it would be extremely weird if the effect did affect all IQs equally since the IQ scale is distorted in order to produce a normal distribution, so the effect would have to be effective in a way exactly matching this distortion.

        Also all the 160 IQs are going to get further education anyway.

      • Randy M says:

        If you have a lot more purple at iq of 160, that’s great, but there may not be practical effects if those people were previously iq 159.25.

        • Sweeneyrod says:

          On the other hand, it sucks if you have lots of green or at that IQ.

          • Randy M says:

            Well, everyone knows blue is the most common hyperintelligent color.

            Off to write “I will not post from my phone” 100 times.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Color is a spectrum, and what we decide to label “blue” as opposed to “purple” is just a social construct. Given that, it doesn’t make any sense to say one color is more intelligent than another.

          • Ken Arromdee says:

            Jask: He was making a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reference.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Clearly I’m overdue for a re-read.

          • Randy M says:

            In one of the more memorable throw-away lines, one of the aliens watching the maiden flight of the Heart of Gold spaceship was described simply as “a hyperintelligent shade of the color blue.”

            Hue should be more clever.

      • Anonymous says:

        You?

        • zz says:

          Element 53.

          Insert standard discussion about how iodine supplementation has been shown to raise IQ by 1 SD (= 15 points) in sufficiently deficient populations. I’m not entirely sure of Sweden’s situation, but I strongly suspect that, for most countries, there’s fruit that’s much lower hanging and much juicier than education. (Copy/paste the relevant sections on iodine, micronutrients, and location from The Biodeterminist’s Guide to Parenting. I’d really like a better source, but am yet to find one.)

          Point is, there are known interventions that can cause double-digit IQ increases. Granted, their mechanism of action is almost certainly allowing individuals to reach their genetic potential, but since the hunter-gatherer default was probably not parasite-free and micronutrient replete, I think it counts.

          Perhaps one character was too minimalistic.

          • Thursday says:

            We’re talking about developed countries here. Malnourishment of any kind is nearly non-existent in such countries. So, maybe if we’re really good we’ll eventually discover how to raise IQ by a whole ‘nother 1 or 2 points – in developed countries. Which in turn will probably fade as these people reach middle age.

          • Psmith says:

            IIRC, iodine supplementation mostly works by preventing disability associated with severe hypothyroidism. If you don’t have a bunch of people walking around with goiters, it most likely won’t get you anywhere.

  15. Seanny123 says:

    First, a correction. The article is not “Simulating The Brain? Let’s Try Donkey Kong First”, but “Understand the Brain? Let’s Try Donkey Kong First.”

    Secondly, it drives me crazy that when people talk about simulating the brain, they attack the bottom-up brain projects and then completely ignore the top-down approaches, like Spaun.

    • Ruben says:

      Well, the bottom-up approaches are relevant to a criticism of Age of Em, top-down isn’t.

  16. Jill says:

    Trigger Warning: Left of Center views included in this comment.

    Regarding this:

    “Motherboard has an article about how censorship on Reddit – it points out that Reddit moderators heavy-handedly censored discussion of the Orlando shooting in unspecified ways, then goes on to condemn it for Donald Trump memes and anti-Hillary conspiracy theories. But it never mentions the whole point of the story it’s reporting about – that Reddit actually censored any information that the shooter was Middle Eastern or motivated by Islamic terrorism.”

    Yes, they could have gotten more specific about the actual way that Reddit was censoring info about the Orlando shooting– if the author even knew that at the time the article was written. But if Reddit is full of “Donald Trump memes and anti-Hillary conspiracy theories”, then this has a much greater impact on our society than the fact that Reddit censored information that the shooter was Middle Eastern or was motivated by Islamic terrorism. And it is also something that readers would not know, without reading the article.

    Apparently Scott found out the specific way that Reddit censored information about the shooter, from some other source. And you could read anywhere that the shooter was indeed of Middle Eastern descent, so everyone did know that.

    The new info, and thus the info perhaps most important to communicate in the article, was the Trump vs. Hillary info. If you are a Trump supporter and/or a Hillary basher, it may seem unimportant to know that Reddit is full of Trump support and Hillary bashing (Isn’t almost everything such a person reads full of that?) But if you are vice versa, or even if you are neutral re: these candidates, then that is significant information you can learn from the article.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      But if Reddit is full of “Donald Trump memes and anti-Hillary conspiracy theories”, then this has a much greater impact on our society than the fact that Reddit censored information that the shooter was Middle Eastern or was motivated by Islamic terrorism.

      What? How?

      Even putting aside every issue except for the election, which I am loathe to do, whether or not Orlando is seen as an act of Islamic terror is an important question. If major websites censor that information, it means that candidates with a stronger stance on Islam are at a one-hand disadvantage compared to those with a history of apologia for acts of terror.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Just to give an example of how well-poisoning this is:

        The idea has recently been floated that we should stop printing attackers’ names to reduce the fame motive. My immediate thought was that the actual motivation was to hide that this guy was a Muslim. Indeed, it is a regular feature of right-wing media criticism to note how far down Muslim (or Democratic) affiliation is buried in negative stories, and contrast that with how whiteness or potential Tea Party affiliation tends to lead the story.

        I think the actual idea has merit. I don’t trust it will be applied when an attack comes along that can be blamed on right-wingers. Like religious freedom, it will only be for Muslims.

        • Sweeneyrod says:

          I don’t think news stories on white mass shooters emphasise that fact — hence the comments I read shortly after the event assuming Jo Cox’s murderer was Muslim. Later “think pieces” emphasise both whiteness and Muslimness, but initial news doesn’t in my opinion.

        • Adam says:

          You know, if there was seriously some attempt to suppress this fact, all I can say is whoever tried did a horrible job. I haven’t paid attention to news in about six years, I cut myself off completely from all social media three months ago, and basically spend my Internet time reading technical manuals and maybe taking a Coursera course (I check in here at SSC maybe once a month or so), but I happen to read Watchers on the Wall for Game of Thrones news and one of the comments right before episode 8 was from a guy in Orlando mentioning he was sad because someone had just shot up a club, so of course I Googled. I didn’t actually read any of the links, just the headlines and descriptions, and still knew the guy was Muslim. Actually, that’s probably the only fact I know about the guy.

          To show how disconnected and apathetic I am at this point, I didn’t even realize until yesterday that Britain was considering leaving the EU, but still, the first thing I found about this shooter dude is he’s Muslim.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            You know, if there was seriously some attempt to suppress this fact, all I can say is whoever tried did a horrible job.

            That doesn’t mean they weren’t trying to suppress it, of course. We’re talking about amateur unpaid Reddit mods here; there’s no reason to think they’d be more competent at suppressing information than they are at anything else.

            I don’t have a solid opinion on whether they were or were not trying to shape the narrative, but it’s funny how often these “bugs” and automatic moderation issues always end up pointing in the same direction.

          • Outis says:

            The FBI (read: the current administration) went as far as releasing an edited transcript of Mateen’s call to 911 where every mention of Islam or the Islamic State was omitted. It was so obviously ridiculous that they had to release the unedited transcripts in the end, but the remarkable thing is that they even tried. You can gauge how hard they are trying to control the narrative not by the fact that they have failed, but by the desperate attempts they’re making.

          • Anonanon says:

            The very best part was editing all the deity references into “God”, as if people wouldn’t notice the context.

            “prayers as well as peace be upon the prophet of God. God Akbar!”

            Obviously some kind of crazed misoggynist Star Wars fanatic.

          • Nornagest says:

            That’s pretty blatant. Suspiciously shoddy work, though. The FBI isn’t stupid; they have to know that a hack job like that is going to leave obvious scars.

            Makes me wonder if there wasn’t some malicious compliance going on.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            Yes, praxis was on of my first thoughts as well.

          • Vorkon says:

            Makes me wonder if there wasn’t some malicious compliance going on.

            So, you’re saying it’s a trap?

            God Akbar, indeed…

          • ivvenalis says:

            There’s no way for an English speaker to translate الله أكبر as “God Akbar” instead of “God is Great” without being intentionally obtuse.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I don’t see either “God is Great”, “Allah Akbhar”, or “God Akhbar” in the transcripts. It looks like he didn’t use that in the phone call.

            The call starts with

            OM: In the name of God the Merciful, the beneficent [Arabic]

            Which is pretty easily recognizable as an Islamic phrase to anyone who hasn’t been living in a cave. (TIL: the whole thing has a Unicode code point, U+FDFD)

    • eh says:

      Ocean acidification, gas pipelines, nuclear deterrence policy, and friendly AI are also said to have greater than usual impact on the world. Nevertheless, I would find it strange to read a discussion of censorship that meandered into discussing the relative merits of nuclear-armed AI on preventing ocean acidification by threatening to destroy gas pipelines. I would be especially concerned if the most egregious censorship was never discussed at all.

      I am also worried that the “significant information” that a reader will learn is that censorship is fine when the side you like does it, because those mean redditors hate Hillary anyway.

    • Nornagest says:

      Trigger Warning: Left of Center views included in this comment.

      Please don’t do this.

      • anon says:

        Agree with Nornagest. Your username/gravatar already accomplishes what this TW (if genuinely intended as such) is supposed to do, with less verbosity. So it’s clear to all that the TW itself is just snark — a preemptive counterattack to your critics, should you be AFK too long to respond to us crazy right wingers being Wrong on the Internet.

        • Hyzenthlay says:

          I just skip any comment with passive-aggressive, snarky trigger warnings (whether left or right of center), because I figure it will be more snark than content. So I guess the warning is actually pretty useful.

          • anon says:

            That’s an eminently reasonable policy. But personally I count myself among those who vehemently disagree with Jill on almost everything, but value her presence here, both as a moderating force and as an opportunity to study and hone skills of suasion. So I’d like her to keep contributing, just in a manner that will keep the dialog constructive.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Dito

          • Jaskologist says:

            Thirded. I just wish there were a way to take somebody aside quietly and give them a few pointers. As it is, it comes across as a bunch of people yelling “BOY THAT JILL SURE IS DUMB AND/OR NAIVE,” because there is no way to address her without broadcasting that to everybody. I can see how somebody might react poorly to that.

            But to get privmsgs, we’d need some sort of forum software, and who wants that?

          • Error says:

            @Jacksologist

            Or email. It used to be a thing, I hear. 🙁

          • gbdub says:

            The thing is, for the most part that wasn’t even the sort of post that got Jill criticized in earlier threads. She had a habit of posting long screeds that were extremely one-sided and/or so uncharitable as to border on conspiracy theory (highlights with minor but fair paraphrasing: Republicans dominate current American politics (therefore any decline in the discourse is mostly their fault), Newt Gingrich popularized criticizing the “political establishment” (before that it was mostly unheard of), libertarians believe that the rich should pay a zero tax rate for the roads etc. they use and that poor people deserve to starve to death). Basically, a quality of argument equivalent to the worst of the Salon online editorial section.

            She was justifiably criticized for these posts, but seemed oblivious to the fact that it was the nature of the posts themselves, rather than the political slant, that resulted in harsh criticism. Actually, she seemed confused as to why anyone would object at all – after all, she was merely stating “the facts” from a left wing point of view. That she has chosen to respond with snarky trigger warnings suggests that she took exactly the wrong lesson to heart. Which is frustrating because she also makes other posts of a reasonable quality and I’m therefore loathe to label her a troll or to suggest she has nothing of value to contribute.

            Anyway I’m writing this not to pile on but to explain myself to Scott et al, because I did report the trigger warning comments and I’m not sure how far back Scott would go to check the validity of that without further comment, and I also don’t want to come off as unfair to a post that’s pretty innocuous apart from the initial snark.

          • Seneca says:

            @gbdub
            Honest, non-snarky question. Which of Jill’s posts do you find high-quality?

          • gbdub says:

            Well, define “high quality”? I disagree with most of them, so I’m probably biased (or maybe being overcharitable in response to bias).

            I’m not sure how many I’d label “high quality”. But “reasonably in line with most commenters who don’t get banned”? A decent percentage. If I scroll through this thread most of her posts are, if we remove the trigger warnings, reasonable (if still slanted in her link selection to lowish-quality sources). If we ban everyone with a bias there will be no one left.

          • TD says:

            Have any of you double and triple checked your feelings to see if it’s really Jill’s presentation and not her mainstream progressive stance that’s bothering you?

          • Anonymous says:

            @gdub: Look at how comments from a right-wing perspective are treated here.* There’s nowhere near the same level of objection.

            *or even, snark directed at the left instead of the right.

          • onyomi says:

            Personally, my main problem with Jill is just TL;DR. I sort of value the opportunity to discuss with a very mainstream, progressive/Blue Tribe opinion, but most of her posts are so long I skip right over them.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Rereading, I realize that it’s not clear who I was agreeing with. I’m with the anon, in that I’d rather see Jill stick around.

          • Gbdub says:

            If somebody came in here and exclusively quoted Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, linked only Breitbart and Daily Caller, I’d expect they’d get pushback. Maybe not the same volume, but pushback. Particularly if they repeatedly went on about “what progressives really believe is…” despite responding to progressives who believe nothing of the sort.

            Maybe I’m guilty of this standing out to me more because my beliefs are the ones being badly described, but I do think we strive to attain a higher level of discourse than that and I would hope things on the right get called out as well. I’m fine with that standard applying to me.

            TL;DR: 2 wrongs don’t make a right.

            EDIT: to be clear, I want Jill to stick around. Just to ease up on the “argument from my opponent is a lizard person”. Tell me your views and why you have them, don’t waste paragraphs weak manning mine.

          • Anonymous says:

            Maybe not the same volume, but pushback.

            They wouldn’t get a 20-comment thread devoted solely to discussing the propriety of what might be uncharitably interpreted as misapplied humor, I’m betting.

          • Nornagest says:

            Pink anon, I might be better disposed to that view if I’d ever seen anything out of you that wasn’t complaining about the political slant of this board.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @gbdub:
            “Maybe I’m guilty of this standing out to me more because my beliefs are the ones being badly described”

            Yes, this.

          • Gbdub says:

            @HBC – farther down thread you admit essentially the same possibility for you, so I’ll consider myself in good company 😉

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @gbdub:

            True. True. Well, I don’t want to claim myself as good company. 😉

          • lvlln says:

            Just one example, but as someone who broadly agrees with most of Jill’s expressed political views and identifies myself as very much belonging in her tribe, I find her comments to be some of the lowest quality on this blog, and I think she deserves every bit of the push back she’s been getting. So my intuition is that the push back she’s getting is more related to the quality of her posts than the positions she’s espousing.

            That said, I do think the positions she’s espousing play a factor in the way that people here who are more right of center push back against her. I just think whatever effect that has is utterly dominated by the effect from her posts being incredibly uncharitable and narrow minded.

          • keranih says:

            For what it’s worth, up until this thread, I would have said the average quality of Jill’s posts were improving.

            It still greatly annoys me that she dismisses the liberal side of the commentariant as though they did not exist. This is my largest beef with her.

      • Vorkon says:

        Yeah. Here’s the last thing I remember Scott having to say about trigger warnings, for instance:

        http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/05/30/the-wonderful-thing-about-triggers/

        Basically, trigger warnings can be a useful tool, but when you start misusing them, they become counterproductive.

        • Seneca says:

          As well as the fact that using mocking trigger warnings is the ultimate in “punching down,” making fun of people who honestly benefit from real trigger warnings.

          • Julie K says:

            I don’t think they’re the target here, though. I read it as more like, “Just as people who have suffered real trauma could be triggered by a reminder of the trauma, you guys are so benighted that you will freak out if you are exposed to my ideas.”

      • HeelBearCub says:

        @Nornagest:

        I agree this shouldn’t be done. Jill, please don’t do this. It harms your ability to effectively communicate. If you aren’t here to engage in effective communication, that’s against what are supposed to be this communities’ norms.

        On the other hand, I feel I’ve seen this kind of thing here often, just reversed politically. There are frequent small little pokes at those who are left inclined. I would like those to stop as well.

        It’s probably also fair to question whether I have some combination of confirmation and recall bias. I don’t think that is the case, but then I wouldn’t, would I?

        • Anonymous says:

          I would like those to stop as well.

          I would go further. I would like to see the right-leaning commenters get the beam out of their own eye before anyone else modifies their commenting style to accommodate them.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Anonymous:
            I am a left-wing commentor. I strive to keep the beam out of my own eye, to the extent that I can. And I still want Jill to “engage instead of enrage.”

            You are trying to map this onto one axis (left vs. right). It’s tempting to do that, but I think this is the wrong way to look at it.

          • Anon says:

            @HeelBearCub

            I strive to keep the beam out of my own eye, to the extent that I can.

            And you succeed – in my view you’re one of the most consistently interesting, pleasant, and reasonable commenters here. Also the only significantly left-wing commenter in my (very selective) group of favorite commenters.

            – T. random anon

          • anon says:

            “You are trying to map this onto one axis (left vs. right). It’s tempting to do that, but I think this is the wrong way to look at it.”

            This is what’s so Colmes-y about you. You like the 10 to 1 ratio. They know you ll only return fire gently. Never land a blow.
            And then guide others “to cool down” if they get too close to pointing out the poison atmosphere around here.

            “On the other hand, I feel I’ve seen this kind of thing here often, just reversed politically. There are frequent small little pokes at those who are left inclined. I would like those to stop as well”

            As ever. Break it to them gently, HBC.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @anon:

            Ooh, a Colmes blast. I think I am supposed to be deeply offended.

            I really have no knowledge of Colmes other than that he serves to be a useful punching bag for Hannity. Hannity is a buffoon, or at least plays the part, so if Colmes manages to stick around on the show, he must be so ineffectual as to be risible.

            If you think I argue poorly (rather than merely in a manner that promotes dialogue as opposed to, say, shouting) that is one thing. But that isn’t what you appear to be saying. Rather you seem to be saying that I am not sufficiently tolerant of poor argument from my own side.

            If I was in a political battle, that is probably sound advice. I don’t think that is what I am engaged in, though. I am not trying to marshal a majority coalition. Rather I am trying to effect the norms of this particular space, which requires a certain kind of near unanimity of the polity, and I have no actual power other than the power of persuasion.

        • Wrong Species says:

          There isn’t really a way to say this charitably but I don’t think Jill cares about how effectively she is communicating.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            That’s always possible, but it’s not my impression.

            I do think she views the situation a little bit like “the earth is round” though. If you had heard of flat-earthers, but not encountered any of their arguments, it wouldn’t be abnormal to not engage with a great many of their arguments, especially if you yourself weren’t deeply familiar with all the reasons why we know the earth to be roughly spherical in shape.

            And if you weren’t very well grounded in the information domain, you would probably make a fair number of mistakes in trying to explain why the earth is round. When the flat-earthers tried to point this out you might ignore (intentionally and unintentionally) their points, especially if you having a very large number of questions thrown at you.

            It’s not perfectly analogous, but I think it’s far more likely to explain what we see than “no desire to communicate”.

      • For what it’s worth, I think people have been nasty enough to Jill that a snarky trigger warning is an appropriate level of pushback.

        • houseboatonstyxb says:

          Yes. A good middle level, acknowledging the nasty level stuff but not engaging with it. Though by now she might consider a TL;DR version.

    • lvlln says:

      The new info, and thus the info perhaps most important to communicate in the article, was the Trump vs. Hillary info. If you are a Trump supporter and/or a Hillary basher, it may seem unimportant to know that Reddit is full of Trump support and Hillary bashing (Isn’t almost everything such a person reads full of that?) But if you are vice versa, or even if you are neutral re: these candidates, then that is significant information you can learn from the article.

      As a Hillary supporter who bashes Trump all the time, I don’t see how this is true? Admittedly, I’m not in love with Hillary – I’m a Bernie supporter who accepts that Hillary is the candidate who best represents my views and also is the only shot at preventing Trump from being POTUS – but the knowledge that users of Reddit produce and popularize pro-Trump or anti-Hillary memes is roughly worthless to me. A lot of pro-Trump and anti-Hillary people exist on the Internet and post on Reddit, one of the most popular sites of the Internet? Some of them have even found ways to game the algorithms to spread their message more efficiently than others? You don’t say!?

      On the other hand, that Reddit was censoring information about the Orlando shooter being Muslim tells me something very important about Reddit’s moderation practices. I expect Reddit and other similar forums to censor, of course, for the purposes of maintaining the community and preventing it from devolving into flame wars. But I don’t expect such censorship to extend to statements of provable fact. And in this context, the provable fact that was being censored seems obviously politically motivated, which is also something I don’t expect (Maybe “expect” isn’t the right term – based on what I know of Reddit, I do kinda expect it, but it’s not something I desire from Reddit or similar sites). So the fact that Reddit is censoring provable facts, apparently in order to push a specific political agenda, is very much of interest to me. It helps me to determine how much time and effort I should invest into participating in that site, particularly around controversial issues.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Reddit is a bunch of subcommunities, and many of them are led with political beliefs that they think are Provably Right.

        • gbdub says:

          True, but that doesn’t mean we ought to ignore censorship of r/news, which is not supposed to be that sort of subcommunity (or if it is, goes out of its way to not advertise that fact).

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        Agreed. I’m pro-Hillary and anti-Trump and the Reddit biased censorship thing was much more interesting to me.

      • Nonnamous says:

        How can that surprise anyone? Already in 2007 reddit had a doodle with the reddit alien holding a Soviet flag.

      • MugaSofer says:

        Since neither Scott nor the article is going into detail on this:

        Some of the moderators on /r/news, the main news subreddit – “ordinary” users not theoretically affiliated with Reddit the company – began censoring all content related to the shooting after it became clear that the shooter was Muslim. The exact motivations and individuals involved are unclear because they closed ranks and issued a non-apology afterwards.

        The moderators on /r/AskReddit, a subreddit theoretically unrelated to news, stepped up and hosted a megathread for discussion on the topic; while /r/The_Donald posted links to news stories. Both became the center for news on the topic on the front page, but the /r/news moderators had successfully suppressed it for several hours.

        In practice, this meant that many reddit users only learned about the shooting when people on other social media sites contacted them. There was, understandably, outrage, but no official action was taken against the /r/news moderators (there rarely is.) It didn’t actually accomplish anything beyond pissing more or less everybody off (info on how to donate blood was suppressed, for example), but it’s pretty shocking that it would even be attempted.

        EDIT: It’s worth noting that some people suggested the censorship was a deliberate attempt to hurt gay people, which strikes me as extraordinarily implausible but might explain Scott’s mysteriously cryptic article thinking it was somehow right-wing.

        • brad says:

          In practice, this meant that many reddit users only learned about the shooting when people on other social media sites contacted them.

          This sentence doesn’t say very good things about reddit users.

          • meyerkev248 says:

            Well, how DO you find out about things these days?

            It used to be Radio and TV* when you got around to turning them on, these days it’s “Trending news”.

            * And I really do think we lost something there.

          • brad says:

            When I woke up Sunday morning I had iOS notifications from the NYTimes and Bloomberg apps telling me about the shooting. Then with my morning coffee I perused the New York Times website, just like my dad used to read the New York Times newspaper with his morning coffee when he was my age. Not too much later I got into the car to go somewhere and heard more about the shooting on NPR.

            I found out about news from news organizations. Go figure.

          • Outis says:

            A whole Internet at your disposal, and you get all your news from the official mouthpieces of the US government?

      • HeelBearCub says:

        I haven’t hung out on Reddit much in about a year, but my sense is that one of the things that they frequently have to fight is what I might call “market panic”.

        It’s worth remembering that one of the very bad events associated with Reddit was their amateur sleuthing in the Boston Marathon bombing leading to them mis-identifying someone as the bomber who subsequently turned up dead (don’t think it was related).

        Reddit seems to put on display some fairly awful flaws in human nature having to to do with herd behavior on a fairly regular basis. I think it’s fair to say that mods end up in a sort of bunker mentality because of this, and that may be all there is to this story.

        Looked at in another way, if they are regularly suppressing various (false) stories correctly, we won’t ever hear about the one they got right.

      • anon says:

        Because she’s talking about the great swathes of Americans who dont know what Reddit’s politics are?

        Right? Are all of you missing that? That America doesn’t know there are all of you. We’ve never had a rightwing egghead youth with so little life experience be so unmeasured in their stridency and obsessiveness of blame and accusation.

        You added up the costs of social justice and the benefits of libertarianism and made a gameplayer’s decision. Now you find yourself in the strange spot of living as a part-time rabble rouser on the internet. Ready to share and fight and predict and blame and blame and blame….

        • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

          Because she’s talking about the great swathes of Americans who dont know what Reddit’s politics are?

          Ah, yes, the great swathes of America that have no idea about these subjects and read Motherboard, truly a silent mayority.

        • Julie K says:

          Why should I care what Reddit’s politics are? Are they a particularly influential group, or a bellwether, or something?

    • eyeballfrog says:

      The thing is, this wasn’t an isolated incident. It was simply a particularly egregious example of a trend of politically-biased censorship of r/news. Given that r/news is the officially-sanctioned news board of a major site, this kind of partisan moderating is a serious concern.

      • Winfried says:

        People have been complaining about censorship of posts and subreddits that paint ethnic minorities, Muslims, and the left in general in a negative light for quite some time.

        Some of those complaints are baseless paranoia, but I’ve seen enough evidence of behind the scenes manipulation of posts to “correct” narratives in other areas that I’m not surprised to see it happen, just that it was so blatant and on such a huge event.

    • Outis says:

      Jill, you are essentially arguing that instead of getting bogged down in reporting the facts of the news at hand, it is much better for journalists to segue as soon as possible into the really important things they have to say, for the edification of readers.

      I think that is a very interesting perspective. The things that we consider examples of bad journalism are in fact desirable and virtuous to you. We thought journalism was so bad because journalists are incompetent, but perhaps they are just trying to do something completely different from what we think they should be doing.

      • houseboatonstyxb says:

        I missed that, but your version here gets at a point about discussion levels in fori like ssc. Iirc in a discussion about ACA, she said something like: ‘This is important because medical bills are the greatest cause of bankruptcy.’

        This brought on a long thread about the exact percentages shown by different lists etc etc. If she had said “a major cause” or even “an important cause”, our discussion might have continued at the level Jill was interested in — ie accepting that medical bills were a factor worth considering in the higher discussion, and going on with the higher discussion.

        What actually followed was a long low-level comparing of percentages etc. Is that what’s meant by ‘into the weeds’, or ‘down the rabbit hole’?

        • Jiro says:

          It’s not as if she was technically wrong because she didn’t get an exact percent. The wrongness was substantial.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @houseboatonstyxb:
          I think even that framing might have gotten pushback

          @Outis:
          An important job in journalism is (or perhaps should be) to place things in context. I think everyone is sick of the “breathless” headlines that are a regular part of journalism, and how they distort the actual meaning of the underlying facts. If someone claims that deaths due to farming implement collision on highways increased 100% in the county last year, I think it would be important for a journalist to report that they increased from 1 death to 2 (and were 5 the year before that).

          That obviously isn’t directly analogous to Jill’s argument, but it does illustrate that she has a fair general point about what we would like to see journalists do (whether or not it applies in this given case.)

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ HBC

            There might be a factor of, ‘The triggers will continue until civility returns.’

  17. Kevin says:

    Scott, I would be interested in your opinion on this article (relevant to various themes in this blog):
    How American Politics Went Insane

    I had very mixed feelings after reading it. The author makes a lot of pertinent observations, but I instinctively recoiled from all the suggested solutions. The article seems almost reactionary, in a subtle, insidious way.

    • Jill says:

      Trigger Warning: Left of Center views included in this comment.

      Yes, insidious is indeed the word. The author says”

      “I’m not talking about rigging the system to exclude challengers or prevent insurgencies.”

      That’s bs. Yes, the author is indeed suggesting “solutions” that would have this effect.

      “Our most pressing political problem today is that the country abandoned the establishment, not the other way around.”

      No, in fact, “the other way around”, is precisely what happened.

      Below is an article about what is really happening. Both parties have betrayed their voters. And that’s how Trump– and Bernie Sanders– got as popular as they did.

      How America Made Donald Trump Unstoppable
      He’s no ordinary con man. He’s way above average — and the American political system is his easiest mark ever

      http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/how-america-made-donald-trump-unstoppable-20160224?page=11

      As for the American habit of bashing government and politicians, the most recent wave of that started with Newt Gingrich in the 1990’s. This strategy won big in a Congressional election, so the GOP kept using it– not realizing how easy it was going to be for their own voters to start using it against them too, as political scientist Norm Ornstein, from the conservative American Enterprise Institute documents here.

      The political scientist who saw Trump’s rise coming
      http://www.vox.com/2016/5/6/11598838/donald-trump-predictions-norm-ornstein

      • Julie K says:

        “Our most pressing political problem today is that the country abandoned the establishment, not the other way around.”

        No, in fact, “the other way around”, is precisely what happened.

        Isn’t “the American habit of bashing government and politicians” synonymous with the country abandoning the establishment? Conversely, if “the establishment” abandoned the country, wouldn’t that be a good reason for a little government-bashing?

        • Nornagest says:

          Jill seems to think that American anti-government rhetoric is a cultural fact or an aspect of the American right wing’s long-term strategy. I disagree. I think it’s best understood at a tactical level.

          That is, politically engaged Americans almost always bash government institutions when, and only to the extent that, doing so serves their ideology’s near-term political goals. Left-wing examples include the recent meme of Congressional obstructionism and the Bush-era criticism of his “imperial presidency”. Right-wing examples include the perennial criticism of executive-branch bureaucracy (which leans heavily left below the level of Presidential appointments) or of “activist judges”.

          Note that these criticisms tend to evaporate exactly as soon as they no longer fit tactical needs (viz. Obama’s almost equally hawkish foreign policy, or the Heller or Hobby Lobby decisions).

      • Virbie says:

        > Trigger Warning: Left of Center views included in this comment.

        Yeesh, you put this on every comment? How very adult of you

      • TomFL says:

        I’ll be sure to read the Rolling Stone’s views on Trump because I have been searching for a well researched factually accurate balanced viewpoint and they are well known for providing this on controversial culture war subjects.

      • Glen Raphael says:

        @Jill:

        Regarding that vox link – you’ve posted it at least a half-dozen times and it doesn’t get more convincing with repetition. It’s essentially an interview with some random guy giving his opinion. Many of us think his opinion is wrong and he doesn’t really give any concrete evidence for it at your link, so…apparently we’re supposed to take his word for it? Or we’re supposed to assume he’s right because he’s from the conservative American Enterprise Institute?

        Part of the problem might be that you think everybody here is of the right and must find right-slanted news sources inherently convincing. Me, I’m a libertarianish person who had no prior knowledge of political scientist Norm Ornstein before you brought him up – did you? – and did not previously hold AEI in any special regard. (Now, if he were at Cato, I might take more notice… [grin])

        Apparently Mr. Ornstein has co-written some books with Thomas E. Mann of the Brookings Institute, most recently a 2012 book called It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism. Their shtick seems to be to claim that politics has gotten “more extreme” in recent years. On the face of it, that claim seems…implausible, but I haven’t read the book. Have you?

        Are you old enough to remember any elections prior to the 1990s? Have you looked into how contentious elections were in the distant past? Your source says Gingrich “delegitimized government” but I thought government was illegitimate prior to then based on sources a LOT older than the 1990s; I imagine Gingrich did too. Sources such as Lysander Spooner and Henry David Thoreau who lived and wrote in the mid-1800s. Or Friedrich Hayek who wrote in the 1940s. Or Milton Friedman, who was quite influential in the 1960s and 1970s.

        The Vox article seems to have some unstated premises, among them that government isn’t actually illegitimate and that there must be some particular recent person to blame for making us think it was. But what if those premises are wrong? What if (some) people (including lawmakers) believed government was illegitimate in the 1990s not because they were fooled by clever rhetoric but because they were convinced by good argument of something that was plausibly true? Or what if American suspicion of government power is a wave that periodically comes in and out of fashion, one which Gingrich surfed along briefly, only the latest of many?

        What if government is broken today – and bogged down in partisan bickering – for the same kinds of reasons it’s been similarly broken in the past? Or – since it takes two to make a disagreement – what if consensus has broken down due to the influence of especially popular firebrands from the other side such as Karl Marx or Saul Alinsky?

        Your link confirms that some random dude at a think tank believes X. That is only very weak evidence that the rest of us should believe it.

        So I have a link for you in response.

        “The idea that we can stop “fighting” doesn’t sit “hopefully” at the base of our national debate; it exists in the disagreeable imaginations of technocrats. Because “fighting” – or what people commonly refer to as “debating” — is driven by regional, historical, religious, cultural, philosophical, personal, and generational disagreements. Diversity.”

        Source: How Vox Makes Us Stupid

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      It seems like almost subtle satire. When someone is explicitly praising the Tammany Hall machine for it’s vote-buying practices that’s a sign that they’re deliberately trying to get a reaction.

      It also seems like the “problem,” that the strength of the poltical-media establishment is waning, isn’t exactly a bad thing. If you’re a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who writes for the Atlantic that sounds like a nightmare, but for those of us who have to live under the regime guys like him are a part of it’s a welcome breath of fresh air. He should be counting his blessings that the collapse of America’s political class seems likely to be a lot less bloody than that of any other aristocracy in history.

    • Sandy says:

      I read that yesterday and agreed with one of the comments that said the author seems to argue that any system that makes the trains run on time is worth preserving, even if it may cause widespread disaffection, anger and decay.

      Which, you know, if that’s the case, the author should just come out and say that he thinks issues of practicality should be prioritized over popular will. Which is a little reactionary.

    • Kevin C. says:

      I wouldn’t say it’s “reactionary”. First, I’ve seen plenty of articles on mainstream right-leaning outlets that can be essentially summarized as “Republican voters dangerously out of touch with their donor class”. And a suspicion of too-direct “democracy” and preference for more indirect “representative” governance has been a thread in American politics since the founding.

      Secondly, the criticism of “finance reform” that did not eliminate money in politics but merely shifted it underground from parties to a mass of varying groups seems pretty solid to me. It’s also something I’ve heard from supporters of both parties.

      Third, I know I’ve seen somewhere a Left-leaning writer make a defense of ethnic “machine politics” like Tammany Hall, on the argument that, while corrupt, it did a better job at 1) delivering government services and funds to ethnic minorities and their communities, and 2) integrating those minorities and their interests into the American political system, and ultimately society, than the less corrupt politics that followed.

      Elements of this article reminded me of some of the more left-leaning arguments for technocratic government I’ve seen, and more moderate than, say, Thomas Friedman’s comments looking admiringly on Chinese autocracy. In my experience, the idea that the precise details of regulation are best left to credentialed experts rather than the whims of whatever fraction of the electorate turns out to vote can be found on both sides of the political spectrum, but perhaps more on the Left. Basically, what happens when you accept some of the arguments of public choice theory about the (rational) ignorance and irrationality of the voters, but not the small-government libertarianism of many of the theorists.

      I was also reminded, a little, of some bits I read on Rod Dreher’s page by a Japanese commenter defending East Asian “dominant party” democracy, like Japan’s LDP, on the grounds that voting in such a system becomes a referendum on the quality of governance delivered, rather than on the details of regulation and of the methods by which the government delivered those outcomes, which are better left to technocratic experts. (As I recall, he looked upon the demographic doom of the Republican party as a step in the “right direction” for America, in hopes that elections would be about the quality of outcomes the Democratic party produces instead of Red vs. Blue tribe issues.)

      Probably the most “reactionary” bit I noted was the part about how “middlemen” last longer than the politicians, which echoes the classic complaint about how electoral politics shortens time horizons for government.

      Overall, though, the theme seemed to be along the lines of the old saw comparing the manufactures of legislation and sausages; that much which we condemn as corrupt, shady, or insufficiently transparent has turned out to be the means by which real-word politics hammered out compromises, greased the wheels of the system, and otherwise held the disparate political forces, interests, and personages together into a working government. Cynical, perhaps, but hardly reactionary.

      • Julie K says:

        Third, I know I’ve seen somewhere a Left-leaning writer make a defense of ethnic “machine politics” like Tammany Hall, on the argument that, while corrupt, it did a better job at 1) delivering government services and funds to ethnic minorities and their communities, and 2) integrating those minorities and their interests into the American political system, and ultimately society, than the less corrupt politics that followed.

        Megan McArdle wrote a column like that.

    • Emily says:

      I haven’t read this yet, but I read the author’s (free, short) book: http://www.brookings.edu/research/reports2/2015/05/political-realism-rauch
      I found it surprisingly persuasive.

    • onyomi says:

      (Posted in OT, reposted here, only to find someone had already posted, so reposting this again as a comment on it)

      A data point supporting my contention that Blue Tribe is more likely to believe that politics has “gone insane” as compared to some theoretical baseline of civility and smooth functioning. Somewhat refreshingly, however, this author doesn’t entirely blame Republicans, nor offer the typical solution, which is for Republicans to stop being obstructionist jerks and/or reform campaign finance so evil corporations can stop influencing our otherwise angelic legislators.

      Rather, the contention seems to be that the push for transparency which may be a result of fundamental hatred and distrust of the political class–resulting, for example, in far fewer “smoke-filled room”-type situations may actually ruin the political class’s ability to do its job without fear of being put under a partisan microscope for every decision.

      I have mixed feelings on this: on the one hand, I’m generally anti-democracy. I don’t think the voters know what’s good for them, and I think we sometimes get a better government than we deserve, sad as that is to say. Thus I view direct election of senators, for example, to have been a bad thing–if you’re going to have rulers you want them to be smart rulers who think long-term rather than bowing to every crazy idea “the people” can be manipulated to vote for.

      On the other hand, I’m totally “part of the problem” on this writer’s view, because I do hate the permanent political class and do think they should have the decency to be transparent if they are going to presume to rule us from a city which is far richer than it has any right to be. Though I probably differ from the average Red Tribe person who “hates” all the politicians in the sense that I don’t think the problem can be solved just by replacing our current bums with new bums.

      My problem with the article, and with the “politics has recently gone insane” narrative is that it assumes that democratic politics was, at some point, sane and smoothly functioning–or at least could be, and I’m not at all sure I accept that premise.

      • TomFL says:

        As I have gotten older I’ve become much less of a fan of some magical way of let’s just have the smart people select the best qualified leaders and then we will all be better off. Once the selection process becomes undemocratic in nature it seems to quickly veer into corruption, favoritism, and nepotism.

        I have absolutely become convinced that those who consider themselves the best and brightest (academia) are incapable of stopping groupthink and are especially vulnerable to the insular and negative effects of tribal communities. Let’s just say the funding of academia will never suffer if they are in charge.

        To sum it up, effective political leadership and intelligence are only loosely correlated. I’m all for them designing my nuclear power plants, but addressing systemic social problems not so much.

        That being said, the difference in outcomes between our current system and throwing darts at a phonebook might be difficult to discern.

        • gbdub says:

          I think we need to round up all the smart nerds with severe social anxiety, scrupulosity issues, and deep-seated imposter syndrome, and force them to rule us. They’re the smart people most likely to double-check their work.

          • Nornagest says:

            I think I’ve met too many smart people with severe social anxiety, scrupulosity issues, and deep-seated imposter syndrome to think that’s a good idea. The scrupulosity, especially, often manifests itself as adherence to ideology well past the point of reasonable caution.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Lo and behold, being diagnosed with autism nets you a position as a lawmaker. It shall not be long before the clever and ambitious start bribing psychiatrists now.

          • gbdub says:

            I guess I should have deployed the /mostly a joke tag?

          • Anonymous says:

            Preface with a joke warning next time.

          • Randy M says:

            Our joke warning technology is clearly not advanced as our trigger warning technology.

          • onyomi says:

            Technocracy is definitely not my preferred system. My preferred system is “privatize literally everything and let the consumer rule his own world,” i. e. ancap. But I also think Singapore works much better than Greece.

          • Luke Somers says:

            This country faces a joke tagging gap?

            /50 years too late

          • Nornagest says:

            There is a spectre haunting Europe: the spectre of memes.

          • Psmith says:

            Stossel

            anti-liberal

            Well, OK then. (You do mean John Stossel, right?)

            What makes your breed not funny?

            Compared to what, The Daily Show?

            So many of you have so little life experience outside schools and corporations.

            He graduated from Stanford in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and communications. He said he began thinking about entering politics while at Stanford,[6] where he and his brother launched their first campaigns and won student senate seats, tying for the highest number of votes.[4] [….] Castro entered Harvard Law School in 1997 and graduated with a Juris Doctor in 2000.[15][16] His brother graduated from both schools with him.[6] After law school, the two brothers worked for the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld before starting their own firm in 2005.[17]

            If this is a Straussian attempt to claim that a stodgy, insular progressive consensus dominates mainstream Western intellectual and political life, congratulations, well done.

        • cassander says:

          >Once the selection process becomes undemocratic in nature it seems to quickly veer into corruption, favoritism, and nepotism.

          good thing democracy manages to fix that problem then!

          In all seriousness though, the problem you’ve identified is not a problem of non-democratic politics, it’s a problem of politics period. the solution, in so far as there is one, is to rely on politics as little as possible.

    • Ken Arromdee says:

      It’s not clear that some of those things are bugs rather than features. For instance, there are cases where I want interest groups to tear apart a compromise, because the interest group has at least a chance of representing my interests while the “compromise” is just between two different ways of screwing me over (see: TPP).

      And several of these complaints amount to “it’s harder to bribe politicians”.

    • Walter says:

      I found that article hilarious, to be honest. Not on content, but on style.

      Like, the most persuasive Slate The Atlantic can do is whine about bigotry, right? That’s their trump card, what they reach for when they need to pound one home. Fine, sure. But in this article they need to go full ractionary. Like, this article is basically exactly Voldbug’s point about politics vs. democracy.

      So, what’s to be done? Their only tone is exactly not suited for this content? What else? Forge ahead! They present…the social justice case for autocracy! It is exactly as great as it sounds.

      So we get the idea of middlemen as a persecuted minority. The ‘war on middlemen’. ‘ Neurotic hatred of the political class is the country’s last universally acceptable form of bigotry.’ The whole thing is great. The general theme is that the destruction of corruption is unfair.

      • Psmith says:

        Like, this article is basically exactly Voldbug’s point about politics vs. democracy.

        Yep. Also, it’s The Atlantic, not Slate.

        Insofar as I agree with the author that rule by elite is basically a good thing and current political trends represent an attack on it–which is not all that far–elites can still forfeit the Mandate of Heaven.

      • Anonymous says:

        In the past week alone that makes three last acceptable forms of bigotry articles from center-left middle brow news magazines– the other two were stupid people and fat people.

    • Garrett says:

      I keep looking for what Republicans in Congress have achieved, in terms of their stated goals, or the goals of their constituents. I keep finding nothing, in broad terms.

      In 2008 when Democrats swept the White House, the House and Senate, I kept hearing over and over again “elections have consequences”, and the Democrats proceeded to enact the ACA, gays in the military, etc. They made great strides (well, at least some strides) in advancing their political agenda.

      In 2010 the Republicans regained control of the House and 2014 control of the Senate. Other than shrinking Federal spending by a few percentage points via the sequester (almost by accident), there hasn’t been any achievement of results. Getting rid of “Crony Capitalism” by eliminating the Export/Import bank literally required the Republicans to do nothing; it would expire automatically if not renewed. And yet the Republicans weren’t able to do that. Instead, they’ve been coming up with a set of votes on the ACA with the express purpose of allowing their members to say they voted against it without actually accomplishing anything. I may have missed something, but I don’t see the Republicans actually advancing their stated political agenda when they have control over the legislature.

      If the Republican party is unwilling or unable to actually make their stated policies a reality, what are voters of that political leaning to do? They’ve view the system as a choice between evil and ineffective. So the solution of blowing the system up makes a lot of sense.

      • cassander says:

        >I keep looking for what Republicans in Congress have achieved, in terms of their stated goals, or the goals of their constituents. I keep finding nothing, in broad terms.

        Until last year, republicans controlled one house of congress. the democrats had the presidency and the senate. Holding the line was more than could be expected.

        >Instead, they’ve been coming up with a set of votes on the ACA with the express purpose of allowing their members to say they voted against it without actually accomplishing anything

        No, they haven’t.

        >And yet the Republicans weren’t able to do that.

        Most republicans did do nothing. A few teamed up with the democrats to do something.

  18. Jill says:

    Trigger Warning: Left of Center views included in this comment.

    Regarding Greece. Since Greece joined the EU, they have been forced into neoliberal policies because the EU is neoliberal e.g. very into austerity. So, no, Greece is not the least neo-liberal nation in the developed world– at least not since they joined the EU.

    • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

      What disputes do you have with Sumner’s method of ranking neoliberality? At the time he did it, Greece had been in the EU for 27 years, and in the eurozone for 7.

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      Austerity is not neoliberalism. Neoliberalism refers to a whole suite of economic policies (mostly regarding privatization).

    • Tedd says:

      Please stop prefacing your comments with that particular trigger warning. It appears to be intended to serve approximately the same purpose as “I am left of center; I assume you do not interact with anyone who is left of center and are likely to be scared or offended by my views”. I hope it is clear why this preface would not be a polite thing to include.

      You could serve the same practical purpose by instead starting with “(Note: I am a liberal.)” or similar and it would be much less obnoxious.

    • Tracy W says:

      I take it from this that you are defining “neoliberal” as “austerity”. I note that if Greece had not joined the EU, and in particular, the Eurozone, it would have had a lot more austerity, as Germany and the other Euro countries would have had far less incentive to bail Greece out. (And certainly the USA and the UK have shown zero interest in doing so.)

      One of the most fascinating things about the Greece situation is the number of people who believe that the Eurozone countries are forcing Greece into austerity simply because they’re not willing to lend Greece as much money as Greece would like.

      • anon says:

        “the Eurozone countries are forcing Greece into austerity simply because they’re not willing to lend Greece as much money as Greece would like”

        The issue is precisely that this statement is both ridiculous and literally true, depending on how it is read — particularly with respect to how one intones “simply”.

        • Tracy W says:

          I’m missing the ridiculousness – even though I’ve tried intoning “simply” several different ways. Can you please elaborate?

          • gbdub says:

            It’s ridiculous, because without the Eurozone bailouts, they’d have even less money. So it’s ridiculous to lay the blame for austerity on the Eurozone.

          • Bassicallyboss says:

            Based on its positioning, you could read it grammatically as either “simply because,” or as “forcing… simply.” I’m not sure which is the ridiculous and which the literally true, though.

      • Doug S. says:

        If Greece were not in the Eurozone it would have simply devalued its currency and paid its debts back in cheaper drachmas. There’s no reason a government that can print money *has* to default on debts denominated in the currency it prints, and devaluation is generally an easier road to fixing relative prices than deflation…

        • Tracy W says:

          That only works if Greece’s debts were denominated in drachma. Generally people are reluctant to lend in national currency to a politically-unstable regime with a history of fiscal crisises. They lend in US dollars, or euros, or British pounds, or Swiss francs and subject to New York or London or Zurich courts.

    • Wouter says:

      Greece committed fraud to get into the Eurozone in the first place.

    • After all that “austerity”, Greece is still has the highest government spending of the OECD

      https://data.oecd.org/gga/general-government-spending.htm

      So, even defining “neoliberal” as “austerity”, Greece is the least austere country in the OECD.

      • wysinwyg says:

        That’s not government expenditures, that’s government expenditures as share of GDP.

        I think if you do even a tiny bit more research you’ll find that their government expenditures as share of GDP are high because they have a very low GDP at the moment — not because their government expenditures are themselves high. (In fact, they are very low and have been dropping.) As recently as 2007, Greece was in the middle of the pack for EU countries’ government expenditures as a percent of GDP.

        Over all, this seems more like a case against the efficacy of austerity policies rather than Greece’s government spending. And goes to show how much even slight differences in interpretation can lead to hugely different conclusions.

        • Alsadius says:

          Is that 2007 number using the official Greek stats, or the truthful ones?

          • wysinwyg says:

            I see no reason to suspect that government expenditure statistics would be affected by the fraudulent statistics you allude to, as the fraudulent statistics pertains to debt rather than direct expenditures in the first place.

            If I’m missing something, please let me know.

            While we’re picking nits, did you notice that Greece had the highest per capita military spending of any NATO country besides the US? Given the predilection of neoliberals like Reagan, Clinton, and Bush for huge increases in military spending, I wonder if this Scott Sumner guy factored that into his measure of how neoliberal was Greek economic policy. I’m guessing not, but it seems like if spending a lot on military is a policy favored by neoliberals, and if it contributed significantly to the Greek debt problem, then this seems a pretty straight-forward instance of neoliberal policies contributing to the Greek debt crisis.

          • Lumifer says:

            @wysinwyg

            as the fraudulent statistics pertains to debt rather than direct expenditures in the first place

            That is factually wrong. See e.g. this.

            Greece had the highest per capita military spending of any NATO country besides the US?

            And do you happen to know why? Hint: the answer starts with the letter “T” and ends with the “urkey”.

          • wysinwyg says:

            @Lumifer:

            That is factually wrong. See e.g. this.

            Could you be more specific? I’ve already spent more time than I really should researching this issue when it doesn’t affect my welfare or day-to-day life much at all and don’t necessarily want to take the time to read a 30 page report whose title and executive summary don’t seem to support your claim.

            And do you happen to know why? Hint: the answer starts with the letter “T” and ends with the “urkey”.

            I have no reason to doubt that, but it also doesn’t seem relevant to the validity of my argument.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Greece is one of the very few countries that spends on defense as required by the NATO pact.

            http://www.wsj.com/articles/nato-calls-for-rise-in-defence-spending-by-alliance-members-1434978193

            (google the headline if paywalled)

            They aren’t exceeding the minimum by a grandiose amount, either. The majority of countries are more percentage points below the target than Greece is above.

          • wysinwyg says:

            @Edward Scizorhands:

            They aren’t exceeding the minimum by a grandiose amount, either. The majority of countries are more percentage points below the target than Greece is above.

            Sure, but that’s consistent with the interpretation that the NATO minimums are themselves neoliberal policies and that Greece therefore implement neoliberal policies. We can also ask why is Greece the exception to the rule of not meeting the minimum. This doesn’t really have an impact on the validity of the claim that the Greek debt crisis was caused by neoliberal policies one way or the other.

          • Tibor says:

            Isn’t high military spending (in the sense higher than necessary, which can be debatable…probably the US military spending is way above what is necessary, I don’t know about Greece, although I find the probability of Turkey attacking them rather low, especially since both countries are in NATO) rather a feature of neo-conservatism (although this is really a uniquely American worldview anyway) than neoliberalism? The problem with the term neoliberalism is not that it is used almost exclusively by the left and that it has negative connotations, but that it simply means “any policies I don’t like”. What troubles me is that most people view politics as left/right packages where everything that is vaguely supported by the mainstream left goes together into one and everything supported by the mainstream right into the other and if there is something wrong about one part of that package then everything has to be wrong about it. Only if you accept this worldview and only if you then equate the world neoliberalism with the mainstream right does it start to make sense.

            I find it quite frustrating when people call the EU “neoliberal” (in fact, not just the left wing does that, the nationalist and conservative right in Europe does that too) when it is in many respect (not all, but at least the left-wingers typically do not complain about Schengen zone or no tariffs within the EU which are perhaps the only kind-of neoliberal/libertarian EU policies) a very protectionist and rather socialist (within some bounds, I do not want to compare the EU to Venezuela) institution with all its subsidies and country production quotas.

            I also feel a sense of frustration when the left opposes government bailouts of companies and calls that practice neoliberalism. I am on one hand happy that they don’t like that. True, they are not keen on cutting the “regular” welfare, but at least they see the corporate welfare as a problem (whereas many mainstream centre-right parties do not really see that as an issue). But then I am perplexed and confused when they call that neoliberalism. It is like calling water dry or calling Google socialist because it has a management. What gives me hope is that many people on the left simply see “free-market” as synomymous to crony capitalism and they would not really oppose or some perhaps might even support what I would call free market, in other words it seems to be to a degree a misunderstanding rather than a disagreement (although there are of course also unfortunately still many genuine fans of more central planning á la Venezuela, although probably very few who would prefer something as centrally planned as the Soviet Union). Still, it is extremely annoying to read about supposedly neoliberal policies which are clearly socialist, cronyist or statist (or whatever you want to call it).

            It makes me wonder if other worldview are equally misinterpreted. What proponents of a more centrally planned economy usually say if you point out the failures of the Soviet Union, communist (when it was still communist in more than name) China or Venezuela (and dozens other countries) is that it was not the “real” communism. I have some sympathy for that exactly because of how the term neoliberalism is applied to countries which in my eyes are very far from being neoliberal/free-market/libertarian/whatever. On the other hand their proposed policies do not really differ much from how they were applied in the places where communism failed so I don’t really think that I misunderstand what they want. With the non-communist left it is more complicated and I sometimes genuinely don’t know what they would like exactly, their economic policies do not seem to be as definite as those of communists or libertarians (then again, neither are those of the conservative right…some of whom are socialists in my opinion).

        • Of course, you normalize to GDP, otherwise richer countries have higher expenditures and you conclude that low-tax Luxembourg is the least neoliberal country in the OECD. (btw, Luxembourg did push through several austerity measures in the last few years when tax income went down [VAT went up, some social programmes were cut] and has been doing reasonably well).

          If spending >50% of GDP is “very low government expenditures”, then what is a high, or even moderate, rate?

          Even in 2006-2008, in Greece, the government expenditures to GDP ratio is going up from 45% (2006, earliest data from OECD, not sure why) to 50% in 2008 and 54% in 2009, the year of the first Greek bailout.

          That interface only shows data after 2006 for Greece for some reason, but looking at http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/sites/factbook-2013-en/11/02/02/index.html, the growth in government spending goes back at least to the beginning of the decade. Even today, in total per capita spending they are spending more than they did in 2005.

          The Greek government tried to spend its way out of its problems. They failed. Then the EU bailed them out and somehow gets blamed for the issues there under the Copenhagen interpretation of ethics.

          (I actually wonder whether this history played a role in Obama’s decisions to let Detroit/Puerto Rico deal with their own issues without a Federal bailout: sure, he could have help them, but then it’d be his fault).

          • wysinwyg says:

            Of course, you normalize to GDP, otherwise richer countries have higher expenditures and you conclude that low-tax Luxembourg is the least neoliberal country in the OECD.

            Well, of course I understand why you normalize to GDP.

            But I’m also pretty sure that you understand enough algebra to know that if you shrink the denominator of a fraction, the fraction as a whole gets bigger.

            That makes “arguments” like the following misleading:

            After all that “austerity”, Greece is still has the highest government spending of the OECD

            because the increase in government spending/GDP is driven by a decrease in the denominator, not an increase in the numerator which has objectively by all measures decreased quite a bit.

            http://www.statista.com/graphic/1/275335/government-revenue-and-spending-in-greece.jpg

            In fact, if it was neoliberal/austerity policies that drove the decrease in GDP, then we would have to conclude that Greece’s current very high government spending to GDP ratio is actually the result of neoliberal policies. Thus, the notion that neoliberal/austerity policies contribute to the Greek debt crisis is completely consistent with your observation of high government spending in Greece.

            Note that I’m not arguing that either is the case. Just that your “observation” of high government spending in Greece is not really evidence against such claims, and that suggesting otherwise is misleading.

        • SD000 says:

          Given the predilection of neoliberals like Reagan, Clinton, and Bush for huge increases in military spending

          Ah yes, we all know neoliberal is associated with military spending. That’s why the most neoliberal countries in the world, Singapore, Hong Kong and Switzerland have such high rates, huh?

          • wysinwyg says:

            You’re conflating “neoliberal” with “free market”, I think. I’m citing the policies of people who I think are consistently identified as neoliberals: Reagan, etc.

            Are Singapore, Hong Kong, and Switzerland more neoliberal than Reagan? According to what authorities? Are you using a particular definition of “neoliberal”?

            I’d consider temporarily using a definition of “neoliberal” that focuses more on the policies of Singapore, Hong Kong, Switzerland, etc. than on particular people who are commonly identified as “neoliberal” and see where that gets it, but I’m pretty sure the way I’m using the term isn’t invalid or ludicrous or deserving of as much snarky condescension as I’ve received in bothering to point out to y’all that the Sumner editorial was more chest beating than astute analysis.

          • Tibor says:

            @wysinwyg Ok, this looks like the source of the problem. I do in fact conflate free-market with neoliberal. I had always thought that people who opposed neoliberalism and said that “X ist caused by neoliberalism” basically say “X is caused by the free market policies, but we don’t like to call them free market because free market sounds too nice, so let’s instead use a neo- word which reminds people of neonazis”.

            hat is it supposed to mean otherwise? From the list of names it looks like neoliberal means neoconservative (more or less). That is rather confusing. Some neoconservatives do vocally support the free market, although they tend often do the opposite (G.W.Bush was possibly more socialist than Bill Clinton, definitely if measured in government spending). Maybe this is the source of confusion and the reason why neoconservatism is conflated with free-market policies into the word neoliberalism.

        • SD000 says:

          You’re conflating “neoliberal” with “free market”, I think. I’m citing the policies of people who I think are consistently identified as neoliberals: Reagan, etc.

          The problem is the definition. To supporters, neoliberal equates to free market / capitalist, to detractors, neoliberal equates to neoconservative (figure that one out) / imperialist.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            It sure seems like what’s happening to the label “neoliberal” is exactly what happened to the label “neoconservative” 10 years ago.

    • Zorgon says:

      I’m starting to think that you’re actually disappointed at not having been banned in the recent kerfuffles. I can’t think of another handy reason as to why you’ve decided to escalate in this fashion.

    • Alsadius says:

      Greece was forced into austerity because of math, not neoliberalism. At the time the Greek crisis started, the country was running a pretty serious deficit even if their interest payments went away. Since nobody will loan to a bankrupt, this would have meant that defaulting would have forced them into much faster and harsher austerity than the EU did. The EU actually did them a pretty huge favour(at least insofar as giving drugs to an addict is a favour), and minimized the amount of austerity that Greece had to deal with.

      • wysinwyg says:

        The EU actually did them a pretty huge favour(at least insofar as giving drugs to an addict is a favour), and minimized the amount of austerity that Greece had to deal with.

        You are so close, but so far away.

        If Greece was forced into austerity by default, the other EU countries would have to write down the debt owed to them by Greece, but then Greece would be free and in the clear. Such a situation is not very good for the Greeks, but it at least gets them out of a position of dependency and forces them to rebuild on the strength of their own resources and work.

        Or if the other EU countries refinance the debt they can avoid writing down all the debt and still have leverage over Greece to provide real value, either in the form of interest payments — or maybe just a locale with conveniently low wages and very few worker protections to help bring down labor costs.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Issuing more debt in their own currency is always possible, but is off the table for Greece because of outside factors.

          (Outside factors that they voluntarily agreed to, of course.)

        • Alsadius says:

          Are European countries moving production to Greece for lower costs? My impression was that it’s a horrible place to do business. And interest payments are nice, but the bonds were all sold at pre-crash rates of a few percent – yes, they had 37% yield to maturity at the worst points of the crash, but only because they’d already been marked down so far. And if the interest is being paid with new money Europe is loaning them, then Europe isn’t actually getting any value from them.

          Remember, the EU protects the concept of the EU – that’s their guiding star. They want to push a closer union with nobody ever leaving, and they’re willing to spend billions of dollars of other people’s money to make it happen. This isn’t corruption, it’s buying the dream.

          • wysinwyg says:

            http://www.tradingeconomics.com/greece/foreign-direct-investment-net-inflows-percent-of-gdp-wb-data.html

            If austerity doesn’t increase capex, then it’s hard to understand the point of austerity in the first place, and if there’s no money in Greece, then the capex would have to be significantly foreign in origin…

          • Alsadius says:

            The point of austerity is to not spend money you don’t have. It’s less pleasant than borrowing hundreds of billions and blowing it on things like the majority of the population retiring in their 50s or even their 40s, but it actually works in the real world for more than a few years at a time.

          • wysinwyg says:

            The point of austerity is to not spend money you don’t have.

            Umm, the point of finance — you know, the engine of capitalism — is spending money that you don’t have. Economic growth under capitalism is predicated on spending money you don’t have.

            So your explanation of austerity is a little too glib, I think. If austerity prevents economic growth, then it can only further reduce Greece’s ability to pay her debts. Without any other interventions, this means that austerity in itself is a self-defeating policy.

            Unless it can encourage capital investment. If it can do that, then an economy can plausibly grow enough to meet its debt obligations even with relatively tight credit.

            I don’t think this is secret or mysterious at all.

            I think I should disengage with you. I’m getting a strong sense you’re just trolling at this point.

          • Alsadius says:

            Yeah, I was a bit glib, but Greece has needed a lesson in glibness form the gods of the copybook headings for years now. In the short term, stupid things are often fun. In the long term, they catch up to you and cause a lot of regrets. Greece(and Venezuela, and others) is in the middle of the long term right now. I get why they’re whining – they were promised that this day would never come, because no politician wants to be the bearer of bad news – but they were lied to, they should have known it, and now it’s time to pay the piper.

            As for your ideas on growth, you’re making the fundamental error of Keynesianism – assuming that overspending is the origin of growth. Growth is contingent on spending less than you have, so that the rest can be invested. It doesn’t need to be you spending less than you have – you can borrow someone else’s savings(that’s what finance is for), but someone somewhere along the line needs to produce and not consume, because that’s how capital accumulation happens, and capital is what allows for long-term growth. This is why I think your discussion of finance is a bit off as well – finance is a useful tool, but capital is the engine of capitalism, as the name would imply.

            Saying that borrowing more makes it easier for Greece to pay back its debt in the long term implies that a dollar of government spending grows the economy enough to provide more than a dollar of new tax revenues. That’s an extraordinary claim. It’s true when you’re talking about establishing the first courts or something, but not when you’re paying for people to quit work decades earlier than they should. In those cases, government spending actively destroys tax revenues. One must produce before you can consume, so paying people not to produce is the surest way to destroying the economy that exists.

            Also, I’m not sure why you think I’m trolling, but I’m entirely serious, if occasionally sarcastic in tone. Greece has screwed themselves by thinking they can vote themselves rich and it’d never catch up to them. It’s caught up to them, and now they need to make it right. That means buckling down, manning up, and paying their debts, not continuing to spend like crazy and saying “No dude, this hundred billion is what I need to get my life together – you know I’m good for it, just spot me for a couple weeks, okay? I’ve got a really great plan, I’ll totally give you your money back and then some this time. Just don’t break my knees, okay?”. I get why Greeks would like that argument, and I get why people who think that the sort of overspending madness that led Greece here is good policy would double down on it rather than admit that they’re obviously wrong. But that doesn’t make it true.

          • wysinwyg says:

            @Alsadius:

            Let’s get the tone stuff out of the way.

            Also, I’m not sure why you think I’m trolling, but I’m entirely serious, if occasionally sarcastic in tone.

            I had just responded to three one-liners from you that all seemed to miss the point, or nitpick a tangential detail, or otherwise try to distract from the main point or muddy the waters. That feels trolly. I appreciate that you’ve made a more sincere and substantial argument here.

            It doesn’t help that basically any left-leaning view (in this case, I’m really just saying the Sumner editorial was poorly/not argued, which I don’t think is even a strictly left-leaning view) expressed here will be heaped with scorn from myriad parties — a review of the responses to my comments here should suffice to demonstrate that. If I was a perfect person, other people’s responses wouldn’t color my perception of your responses, but I am not a perfect person.

            As for your ideas on growth, you’re making the fundamental error of Keynesianism – assuming that overspending is the origin of growth. Growth is contingent on spending less than you have, so that the rest can be invested.

            You say I’m committing “the fundamental error of Keynesianism” (which raises some red flags for me for various reasons — maybe you should try to understand your interlocutors’ views in their own words instead of conflating them with ideologies you are already biased against?), but I don’t believe that is the case. I don’t think anything I’ve said contradicts the view here, except that I described finance instead of capital as the engine of capitalism. But this is just a metaphor; in fact, my argument is predicated on the importance of capital to economic growth, so I’m not sure why you conclude that I’m ignoring it.

            You mention the importance of investment in this picture. I’ve found that a useful way to look at finance is a way to invest future income in the present. If there is no money in Greece now, and if tight credit prevents the Greeks from investing money from the future, then the only money available is foreign money, which is the point I initially argued.

            The notion of investing savings can work, of course, but those savings have to come from the actual production of the country, and Greece currently has a very low GDP. They need a certain amount of that production to meet their material needs, a certain amount of it to service their debts, and a certain amount of it to repair the extant capital. A country in a deep recession has much less to invest in growth than a country not in a deep recession.

            It’s a little like Bart Simpson said about special ed classes: we’re starting off behind the other classes and we’re going to catch up with them by going slower?

            Saying that borrowing more makes it easier for Greece to pay back its debt in the long term implies that a dollar of government spending grows the economy enough to provide more than a dollar of new tax revenues. That’s an extraordinary claim.

            No, it doesn’t imply that at all. You seem to have gone completely off the rails in interpreting that statement.

            Tight credit sets an upper bound on the growth of the economy (because it reduces the amount of future revenue that can be “brought into the present” by borrowing). Slower growth in the economy means lower tax revenue. Lower tax revenue means Greece is less likely to be able to service its debts. Nothing about that is the least bit extraordinary — I don’t think any of it is even controversial.

            I get why Greeks would like that argument, and I get why people who think that the sort of overspending madness that led Greece here is good policy would double down on it rather than admit that they’re obviously wrong. But that doesn’t make it true.

            Look, even though you guys really, really seem to want me to be your straw man, I am not. I never claimed that Greek government spending was good or sustainable. There is really no reason to argue with me about it because I never actually disagreed with you in the first place.

            The main claim I’ve tried to defend is: Sumner’s editorial was not good.

            I’ve defended a few other claims in the course of responding to people, among them: Greece’s austerity policies don’t seem to be fixing the problems they’re meant to fix (unless they’re really meant to punish the Greek people for being so spendthrift).

        • Lumifer says:

          and forces them to rebuild on the strength of their own resources and work

          I thought that’s precisely what they were trying to avoid.

          • wysinwyg says:

            If anyone is wondering about Jill’s trigger warning, this sort of lack of charity probably has something to do with it.

          • Lumifer says:

            @wysinwyg

            Any particular reason I need to be charitable towards a Greek government?

          • Alsadius says:

            Lumifer, that depends. Do you live in the European Union? Because if so, the local taxman strongly encourages you to be charitable towards Greek governments.

          • wysinwyg says:

            @Lumifer:

            Any particular reason I need to be charitable towards a Greek government?

            You quoted a sentence where I was not referring to the Greek government but to the Greek people.

            You responded by saying:

            what they were trying to avoid

            I inferred that you were also talking about the Greek people in general and not the Greek government in particular as this was the most straight-forward interpretation of “they” in the context of this exchange.

            I furthermore inferred that you were using the reference to Greeks metonymically to refer to leftists, liberals, and all those other people who got no clue how the monies work since your comment comes across more as sniping than a substantial comment.

          • Lumifer says:

            @Alsadius

            Hm, that’s actually quite complicated (besides the obvious observation that taxmen don’t deal in charity :-/).

            Most of the “new” money that Greece got over the last few years is to roll over its old debts which it is unable to pay. It’s basically loan extension on favourable credit terms. My understanding is that Greece didn’t get much, if any, of the do-whatever-you-want money.

            Besides, that money is coming out of ECB and ESFS and typically is newly created money. Given this, the costs to support Greece are, I think, mostly opportunity costs (which can be pretty large, though).

            The taxpayer problem — correct me if I’m wrong — is not that a lot of taxpayer money went into the pockets of early-retirement-at-full-pension Greeks, but rather that the taxpayers ultimately bear the risks and are on the hook for the full costs when the cards come tumbling down. That hasn’t happened yet.

            If you want to dive deeper into eurofinance esoterica, google Target2 balances and think about the implications of Greeks being able to put their money into German banks…

          • Alsadius says:

            wysinwyg: I took “they” to mean the Greek government, but I can see why you’d disagree.

            Lumifer: I refer to it as charity, because the Greek government sure hasn’t done anything to earn the money.

    • wysinwyg says:

      My initial take is that the argument that “Greece is the least neoliberal country in the EU, therefore neoliberalism could not have caused Greece’s problems” seems pretty analogous to “France is the least fascist country in 1930’s Europe, so its problems could not possibly be caused by fascism.”

      But then I took a closer look at the linked editorial and see that it is really just tribal identification without any real analysis or reasoned argument.

      So I wondered how the left would explain the failure of statism in Greece, and decided to google “Greece crisis neoliberalism” expecting to find lots of articles about how Greece needed to move in a more neoliberal direction, like the northern European economies, in order to recover from its statist nightmare.

      This doesn’t even make sense. He wants to know how “the left” would explain “the failure of statism in Greece” (begging the question of what caused the problems in Greece, especially since “statism” is so far undefined in this editorial) so he uses the prima facie completely unrelated query “Greece crisis neoliberalism”?

      The lack of definitions makes the confusion a lot worse: it’s not prima facie clear to me why “neoliberalism” per se is opposed to “statism” when all the most prominent neoliberal politicians in the US (Reagan, W. Clinton, both Bushes, Obama) have been big-state politicians in terms of actual policies, even if they’re against statism as a function of rhetoric.

      but the most important point here is that although the author claims to investigate how “the left” explains the Greek crisis, he does not cite a single author on the left explaining the causes of the Greek crisis.

      Let’s show how bad this is by breaking down the structure of the argument:

      -the left are bad (really, the first couple paragraphs are basically throat-clearing to make his stance on this unambiguous without making any other points that are salient to the “thesis” of the editorial)
      -Greece is the least neoliberal country in the EU (according to the author’s own research; no explanation is given about what this means in terms of specific policies)
      -the left are wrong about the causes of the Greek crisis — they claim it’s too much neoliberalism (no citations are given to demonstrate that “the left” are actually making this claim; no specifics are given to allow the reader to judge for themselves whether there is more to this claim than what the author, who obviously disagrees with it already, claims about it)
      -the real cause was too little neoliberalism (no reasoning is given to support this conclusion; no explanation is given of what it even means in specific policy terms)
      -“the left” disagrees with the author about the causes of the Greek crisis and is therefore engaged in not just any lie but “The Big Lie”
      -the author goes on to make four conclusions that have essentially nothing to do with “the left”‘s explanations of the Greek crisis, one of which (“The term ‘neoliberalism’ is now completely detached from any actual characteristics of an economic policy regime, and is just a sort of free floating insult tossed around by the left, attached to anything they don’t like about the world.”) the author himself commits as well, certainly with respect to “statism” even if we give him credit for having a secret definition of neoliberalism that he’s just not sharing

      So it’s kind of a structureless mish mash of left bashing, preening, and posturing. This guy had some pre-determined conclusions (neoliberalism is good, leftists are bad) and went fishing/cherry picking to support them but (perhaps most embarrassing) he wasn’t even able to find any fish or cherries. I’m pretty surprised SA linked to this garbage.

      • Alsadius says:

        You’re counting Obama as neoliberal? I think the word officially has no meaning now.

        • wysinwyg says:

          Try making specific criticisms instead of just snarking at me if you want to convince me it’s worthwhile to engage you at all.

          • Alsadius says:

            If I wanted to get into a debate, I’d have replied with more than one line. You’ve got a fundamental flaw in your analysis, namely that one of your key terms is meaningless. Until that gets fixed, engagement is pointless – our priors differ too much.

          • wysinwyg says:

            You’ve got a fundamental flaw in your analysis, namely that one of your key terms is meaningless.

            You’re asserting this, but having been the one to use the term, I have privileged knowledge to the contrary.

            If you want to convince me the term “neoliberal” cannot be fairly used to describe the Obama administration, then it is on you to make the argument to the contrary.

            Note that this same criticism of a key term being “undefined” is much more fairly leveled at Sumner’s editorial than my analysis thereof.

            Also note that the inclusion of Obama in a list of prominent neoliberals has pretty much zero impact on the validity of any other part of the argument. Seems a little like you’re trying to muddy the waters.

            Until that gets fixed, engagement is pointless – our priors differ too much.

            You are making a claim. You are not backing up your claim. That has nothing to do with how much our priors differ — that has to you not meeting your obligations w/r/t rational debate.

        • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

          What makes it doubly odd is that, above, wysinwyg complained about identifying neoliberalism with low levels of government spending/GDP, rather than absolute government spending. According to the latter, the US is one of the least neoliberal countries on the planet– go figure how it got to have a neoliberal in charge of it.

          • Alsadius says:

            Not just one neoliberal, but an uninterrupted series of them for the last 36 years.

          • wysinwyg says:

            What makes it doubly odd is that, above, wysinwyg complained about identifying neoliberalism with low levels of government spending/GDP

            I’m fairly certain I never did that. Care to quote me?

          • Alsadius says:

            I suspect it’s a reference to this:

            That’s not government expenditures, that’s government expenditures as share of GDP.

            I think if you do even a tiny bit more research you’ll find that their government expenditures as share of GDP are high because they have a very low GDP at the moment — not because their government expenditures are themselves high. (In fact, they are very low and have been dropping.) As recently as 2007, Greece was in the middle of the pack for EU countries’ government expenditures as a percent of GDP.

            It’s a tenuous reading of what you said, admittedly.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            It was indeed a reference to the text Alsadius quoted– and, on re-reading same, a misinterpretation. I’m sorry about that, though I don’t think much of the point that was actually being made either. The denominator in “spending/GDP” may shrink, but if a country is practicing “austerity” I’d expect the numerator to shrink along with, or I’m at a loss to say what the word means.

      • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

        Neoliberalism is the term used to describe the revival of classical liberalism, as advocated for by free market conservatives, economists and libertarian thinkers.

        It is characterized by an emphasis on free markets, international trade, minimum/stream-lined regulation with a hard preference toward only intervening after a market failure has been decisively shown, and generally having decentralized decision making when it comes to the economic and personal sphere (costumers, employees and entrepreneurs making decisions for themselves) as opposed to decisions being made by bureaucrats.

        If neoliberalism had a Prophet it would be Milton Friedman with his books “Capitalism and Freedom” and “Free to Choose” (also a mini-series available up on youtube) being the best contender for neoliberal bible.

        One cannot understand the modern political landscape without understanding the arguments for neoliberalism as several generations (from both ends of the political spectrum) have more or less accepted the arguments.

        Neoliberalism is why Tony Blair said “we’re all Thatcherites now” and why Barrack Obama advocates free trade.

        Greece before and after 2008 most definitely does not meet any definition of neoliberal as both before and after its governments have run the least economically free and least dynamic set of regulations in the developed world.

        The issue is not , the issue is that the legal and regulatory structure is set up such that growth is largely impossible.

        • Urstoff says:

          That’s what it used to mean (probably). It surely doesn’t mean that these days, if we take common usage as a guide to meaning.

          • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

            The fact that the radical left is ignorant combined with the fact that the left uses the English language does not mean the English language is without meaning.

          • Urstoff says:

            No, but meaning does shift with usage. As such, the meaning of “neoliberal” in many contexts has shifted to something perjorative but vague rather than the definition you give. I’m sure if you’re reading Dissent or something like that, it still means close to what you said.

          • Julie K says:

            The fact that the radical left is ignorant combined with the fact that the left uses the English language does not mean the English language is without meaning.

            I’m thinking that if we can’t agree on what a word means, then as far as we’re concerned, that word is, in fact, without meaning, and we should try to use a different word.

          • wysinwyg says:

            I’m thinking that if we can’t agree on what a word means, then as far as we’re concerned, that word is, in fact, without meaning, and we should try to use a different word.

            It’s easy enough to clarify what one means as long as the other party is willing to try to understand. If everyone’s applying the principle of charity and not letting their egos get in the way of understanding, there should be no problem in negotiating the use of a term as we go.

            Let me provide an analogy: we are botanists and I find an unfamiliar plant. I can try to describe it until I’m blue in the face but it’s probably just better to point. You can use the term “neoliberal” to point to a subset of likely government and economic policies and usefully talk about those.

            Different people might use “neoliberal” to point to slightly different subsets, but there is probably substantial overlap and the differences can be negotiated between reasonable parties using the term for the sake of discussion rather than pejoratively.

            But “neoliberalism” gets us 90% of the way there because we agree on some basic facts like union busting and private prisons and free trade are neoliberal policies and carbon taxes and fishing quotas and safety regulations are not. Hillary Clinton is strictly a neoliberal whereas Bernie Sanders, while perhaps near the border of the neoliberal cluster in policy-space, not at all a good example of a neoliberal.

            (And since it’s clusters, I don’t really want to hear nitpicks about how Clinton is pro-union. She doesn’t advocate for every policy that might be usefully described as “neoliberal”. Words are fuzzy.)

          • Anon. says:

            >carbon taxes and fishing quotas and safety regulations are not

            wat

            Are you confusing neoliberals with anarcho-capitalists? Because even minarchists have no problem with correcting externalities and limiting access to the commons.

            Also are you saying Clinton is not in favor of reducing emissions?

            Can you show me some country without carbon taxes and fishing quotas, or is neoliberalism something purely fantastical?

          • Nornagest says:

            There are plenty of countries without carbon taxes; in fact most don’t have them, including the US on a national level. (Some states do.) I could probably find one without fishing quotas too, if only by looking at landlocked ones.

            I wouldn’t call this good evidence of neoliberalism, though. In fact, Wikipedia’s list of countries with carbon taxes is almost exclusively affluent liberal democracies. (India is the most notable exception.)

          • Anonymous says:

            It strikes me as especially strange to describe fishing quotas as an example of not-neoliberalism. Presuming they’re transferrable, aren’t fishing quotas an example of private property, i.e. exactly the thing that neoliberals are in favor of?

          • Tracy W says:

            @wysinwyg:

            The problem with your definition is finding anyone who has advocated the set of policies to define as neoliberalism but not the set of policies that you define as not-neoliberalism. Carbon taxes and fishing quotas spring from the same economic and political research as free-trade and what I suspect you mean by union-busting. (As for safety regulations, there are different ways to regulate safety that can be more or less informed by the economic work I referred to, so saying “safety regulations” is too broad to be meaningful.)

            Defining policies you don’t like as neoliberalism and policies you do like as not neoliberalism, regardless of any underlying connections or contradictions is what makes the term neoliberal pretty useless.

        • Guy says:

          The issue is not what?

          • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

            Sorry typo.
            “The issue is not austerity”

            If Greece set out to become one of the freest markets in the world, then they could afford far more in the way of benefits than their currently giving (averaged across the general pop: they could easily double their gdp from 20k per head to 40k). The issue is that it their politics are a war by special interests against the general public and as such they have mounds of destructive regs. and specific benefits that exist to benefit those Special interests, at the expense of the commonwealth.

        • wysinwyg says:

          Neoliberalism is the term used to describe the revival of classical liberalism, as advocated for by free market conservatives, economists and libertarian thinkers.

          I somewhat-but-not-entirely disagree. As I explain in a comment far below, I’m using an “indexical” approach to identifying neoliberal policies: I’m using Reagan as the canonical example and the policies that cluster around his in policy-space are “neoliberal” policies.

          As a result, I take neoliberalism to be a movement — a group of people with closely aligned aims. Their aims happen to align with classical liberalism on some policies. They don’t on others.

          Neoliberalism is why Tony Blair said “we’re all Thatcherites now” and why Barrack Obama advocates free trade.

          That’s weird. Maybe you should argue with @Alsadius about this because I consider Obama to be a neoliberal, but he took issue with that.

          Greece before and after 2008 most definitely does not meet any definition of neoliberal as both before and after its governments have run the least economically free and least dynamic set of regulations in the developed world.

          In fact, I never argued that Greece had a particularly neoliberal government or implemented especially neoliberal policies.

          I did suggest briefly — it was not the focus of my comment — that however neoliberal or not-neoliberal Greece’s government was doesn’t really have an impact on the notion that neoliberalism contributed to the Greek debt crisis.

          In fact, I couldn’t really argue either way on this because — and this was the focus of my comment — Sumner gives us nothing to work with here. He doesn’t cite the specific arguments of a single person on “the left” arguing that neoliberalism caused the Greek debt crisis so that we can examine the argument on its own terms and see the confusions that led to such a clearly incorrect conclusion in context.

          All we have is Sumner characterizing the arguments of his ideological opponents without citing them and dismissing the arguments (that we haven’t actually seen for ourselves) as obviously wrong and ridiculous, and that those arguments are obviously wrong and ridiculous because Scott Sumner says so.

          I might agree that Greece’s policies weren’t especially neoliberal — but I suspect there are a lot of areas where we might disagree on that point, because you seem to think neoliberalism always means libertarianism and I disagree. However, that does not lead me to conclude that neoliberal policies in general did not significantly contribute to the Greek debt crisis.

          • Tibor says:

            I have personally never met or even heard of anyone who would describe himself as a neoliberal. There are people who call themselves socialist, libertarian, classical liberals, social democrats, conservatives etc. But I have never heard of any neoliberal movement (save for the 50s in Germany where some people really did identify with the term but what they meant was more or less free-market economy with a social safety net, so classical liberalism with some amount of a welfare state…but that does not seem to be how you understand the term).

            If to you neoliberalism is a mix of cronyism and neoconservatism then I don’t like it either. But this is probably not the way Summers uses the term. I don’t see into his head but it seems like he simply equates it with the free market. If you replace the word neoliberalism with the word free market (or noninterventionism or something like that) in his article, do you still so strongly disagree with it? If not then the issue is mostly about terminology.

          • Urstoff says:

            Scott Sumner is the only one I’ve seen to embrace neoliberalism as a moniker and defend it: http://www.econlib.org/library/Columns/y2010/Sumnerneoliberalism.html

      • SD000 says:

        Awful labor market, lots of protectionism, overregulation and difficulty in doing business = opposite of neoliberal.

        I don’t understand why you’re having trouble understanding this. Wait, of course I do. It conflicts with your priors (neoliberalism BAD, markets BAD, business BAD, democratic socialism [or whatever the latest buzzword is] GOOD, government GOOD) so your mental gymnastics come out in full force.

        Anything that clashes with the above line of thinking will be excused away. Anything that agrees with the above line of thinking will be accepted unconditionally.

        • wysinwyg says:

          I was considering just reporting this comment, but I think it’s better left here as an example of why @Jill might feel the need to put a “trigger warning” on all her comments.

          Your confusion stems from conflating “neoliberal” with “free market”. They are not necessarily identical.

          I am using the term indexically to identify the set of policies associated with public figures who are inarguably neoliberal and arguably canonical examplars of the ideology: Reagan and his administration, Thatcher, etc.

          While I’m willing to entertain the use of the term to describe the policies of the governments of Hong Kong, etc., I think there are probably much better terms for this like “free market” that do not have all the baggage of the term “neoliberal”.

          I’m using the term “neoliberal” because I don’t want to exclude that baggage — I think it’s important! The differences between neoliberalism policies and free market rhetoric are pretty consistent through time and from person to person.

          While you can certainly hold the opinion that this is not a useful way of using the term “neoliberal”, I think you will find it difficult to argue that it is wrong, or ludicrous, or anything else worthy of the contempt dripping from the comment to which I am replying.

          And I’ll just quickly point out that you may have inferred more than is justifiable about my political and economic views on the basis that I said that a particular editorial did not do a good job of arguing for its conclusion. The fact that you are so quick to rush to judgment suggests to me that this sort of thing:

          Anything that clashes with the above line of thinking will be excused away. Anything that agrees with the above line of thinking will be accepted unconditionally.

          might actually be a pretty good summary of your own thought processes.

          • SD000 says:

            I’m confused. Neoliberalism refers to economic belief. What is there apart from free-market orientation that is implied in neoliberalism? You keep hinting (not so subtly) at interventionist foreign policy (at least that’s what I’m inferring from your language – and assuming from what I can deduce is your overall political ideology), but that has nothing to do with neoliberalism, since, again, it’s not economics.

            So again, if neoliberalism means more than just lean government and free markets, please let me know what else it entails. You’ve broadly referenced the beliefs of Reagan/Thatcher/Clinton – but what specifically does that mean?

          • wysinwyg says:

            @SD000:

            Let me repeat some of what you’ve said in this thread so far:

            Ah yes, we all know neoliberal is associated with military spending. That’s why the most neoliberal countries in the world, Singapore, Hong Kong and Switzerland have such high rates, huh?

            I don’t understand why you’re having trouble understanding this. Wait, of course I do. It conflicts with your priors (neoliberalism BAD, markets BAD, business BAD, democratic socialism [or whatever the latest buzzword is] GOOD, government GOOD) so your mental gymnastics come out in full force.

            Anything that clashes with the above line of thinking will be excused away. Anything that agrees with the above line of thinking will be accepted unconditionally.

            Based on this, why would I want to engage with you at all? It doesn’t really seem like you’re willing to apply the principle of charity or to discuss these issues with me in good faith. It seems like you’re engaged in petty sniping and goal-scoring.

            And you’re trying to pull me into an argument about semantics! Semantics!

            Do you identify as a rationalist? Have you read the sequences?

            If you have then you should know that the argument you’re trying to make — that I’m using words “wrong” — has no bearing whatsoever on the validity of my argument. And since that’s the case, it’s hard to interpret your actions as anything else but fearful, insecure lashing out at a potential threat to your worldview.

          • SD000 says:

            @wysinwyg

            I sincerely/honestly have no clue what you mean by neoliberalism if not some sort of economic belief relating to the preference for markets to set prices, pro-business labor laws, lack of protectionist trade policies and leaner government with less regulatory burdens. The lack of all of these which quite clearly led to Greece’s economic crisis.

            It’s not an argument about semantics, it’s that I don’t understand your argument at all because you haven’t clearly defined (actually you haven’t at ALL defined) what you mean by the principle term that is under dispute in this debate.

          • wysinwyg says:

            It’s not an argument about semantics, it’s that I don’t understand your argument at all because you haven’t clearly defined (actually you haven’t at ALL defined) what you mean by the principle term that is under dispute in this debate.

            I’ve actually spent a lot of time explaining how I’ve used the term. I’m not using a rigorous definition, but then most usages of words are not based on rigorous definitions. Language is inherently fuzzy. And considering how much time and effort I put into explaining my usage of the term, I think my meaning is sufficiently clear; any lingering uncertainty could easily be clarified by asking me the specific questions that you are unsure of my views on.

            However, you’ve given me no indication that you want to understand perspectives other than your own. Instead, your conduct suggests to me that you just want to score points against people whose views disagree with your own. My expectation is therefore that if I bend over backwards to help you understand what I’m saying, you will still misinterpret what I’m saying so that you can feel justified in concluding that I’m just talking a bunch of shit and you can ignore me to defend your own tottering worldview.

            I’m not interested in playing that game with you. Toodles.

          • SD000 says:

            @wysinwyg

            Maybe I’m missing something but the only thing I’ve found close to a definition was the idea that it refers to “policies that cluster around [Reagan’s] policy-space” which isn’t really that helpful.

            You also comment that Bernie Sanders is near the neoliberal “policy-space” which is just… completely and utterly absurd to say the least. I think we can both agree that only the most far, FAR left of leftists would describe Bernie Sanders anywhere close to a neoliberal. (Though I completely agree with you that Obama can be fairly categorized as a neoliberal – not to the extent of Bill Clinton, of course).

            Also – just as a sidenote – Sumner isn’t this right-wing conservative bogeyman that you make him out to be. He’s actually said many, many times that he identifies much more closely with the modern Democratic party than the Republican party. He’s part of the George Mason school of economists (though he doesn’t actually teach there) who practice the closest thing to mainstream libertarianism.

            Your examples of neoliberals have all been leaders of the U.S. and UK. So, maybe there is something associated with leading those two countries that you are referring to, rather than the neoliberal ideology?

            Who would you consider closer to the neoliberal policy-space, Sarkozy or Hollande? Sarkozy was far more pro-business and anti-regulatory, but Hollande has been involved in far more foreign military intervention.

          • Tracy W says:

            I am using the term indexically to identify the set of policies associated with public figures who are inarguably neoliberal and arguably canonical examplars of the ideology: Reagan and his administration, Thatcher, etc.

            Did Reagan or Thatcher ever actually identify themselves as “neoliberal”?

            And, if we are defining ” neoliberalism” as something like “whatever Thatcher or Reagan did”, then, well Thatcher and Reagan only led two countries of the world for a period that ended in the early 90s. Any policy applied outside those two countries or before or after their respective times in power can only be neoliberalism if it is the same as what Thatcher or Reagan did. So for example a flat rate of tax is not neoliberal.

      • Anonymous says:

        This guy had some pre-determined conclusions (neoliberalism is good, leftists are bad)

        Of course he did. Don’t you? Or are you seriously advocating that people should discard their priors every morning or something similar?

    • gbdub says:

      The term “austerity” seems way too loaded to be useful in these discussions. It implies a conscious choice between being kind and generous and being miserly.

      To me “austerity” is more like “asceticism” or “frugality” – you’re austere not because you can’t possibly be more indulgent, but because you choose to be for various moral reasons.

      Ancient Sparta was “austere”. Modern Greece is “broke” – it’s not clear that they could raise the needed funds to sustainably spend more if they wanted to (and based on past performance, they do want to).

    • I don’t think Sumner’s ‘neoliberal’ metric is very helpful. But before joining the EU, Greece had been much more orthodox in its economic policies than since joining the EU. https://pseudoerasmus.com/2015/02/23/greece-orthodoxy-peronism/

      • Carl Churchill says:

        I’ve always wondered what your preferred definition of neoliberal was. Do you have one that you think most could / should agree on?

    • Tatu Ahponen says:

      No matter what one things about neoliberalism, orthodoxy or so on, the thing is that a quick look at Sumner’s list of links reveals that they do not, in fact, for the most part, claim that the Greek loan crisis *as such* was caused by Greece being neoliberal, but rather discuss European Union’s policies and the post-crisis policies as neoliberal. Thus, the whole thrust of Sumner’s entry is misleading, at best.

  19. Ransom says:

    Your old article touching on Capgras delusion suggests that 1% is a fantastically high prior for the Capgras hypothesis. I’m not sure it’s so far out. Just this morning I offered a man fifty dollars before arriving at the Capgras conclusion: that he was not my friend, but actually a stranger who closely resembled him.

    • drethelin says:

      The Capgras delusion is consistent and long-running, not a one-off happenstance

      • Ransom says:

        Yes, I realize that. The question I am addressing is: what is the probability that someone is actually a real stranger, given that I recognize them? LW article estimates that the rate is extremely low. I contend that it is not so low as all that.

    • MugaSofer says:

      How often have you seen your friends without them turning out to be strangers? More than a hundred?

  20. eh says:

    OpenAI have released a list of concrete AI safety problems. It seems a lot more grounded and near-term than (my impression of) MIRI’s work.

    https://openai.com/blog/concrete-ai-safety-problems/

    • Tedd says:

      This seems characteristic of their work in the last couple of years to me. What gave you the impression that this was not the case?

    • Alphaceph says:

      > Avoiding negative side effects. Can we transform an RL agent’s reward function to avoid undesired effects on the environment?

      wow. Way to restate the unfriendly AI problem!

      • Adam says:

        Many of the problems are not new, but the paper explores them in the context of cutting-edge systems. We hope they’ll inspire more people to work on AI safety research, whether at OpenAI or elsewhere.

        Using transformations of reward functions to shape the behavior of an RL agent is an extremely specific and fairly well-studied topic that deals with one particular approach to building goal-directed agents that applies to a whole hell of a lot of existing systems, see, for instance, Ng, Harada, and Russell (1999) or Asmuth, Littman, Zinkov (2008).

        I believe their point is almost all of this prior research has dealt with policy invariance in service of reducing experience complexity during training. They want to see people apply the same ideas to policy shaping to reduce side-effects in such a way that the technique can be applied to specific known problems with systems that actually exist. It’s not nearly as general or ambitious as tackling the friendly AI problem.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Was that Swedish IQ increase permanent?

  22. Ruben says:

    Regarding that Swedish school reform:
    The recent education GWAS also exploited this reform. The explanatory power of the polygenic score went down slightly after the reform.
    Plot: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v533/n7604/fig_tab/nature17671_SF10.html
    Discussion: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v533/n7604/extref/nature17671-s1.pdf (Section 7)

    There’s some more forthcoming details on this that aren’t out yet. Using PGS to study gene-environment interaction will be very interesting.

    • Bugmaster says:

      I don’t know much about humans, but AFAIK GWAS is nearly useless when studying plants. You can find an association between pretty much any SNP you want and any trait you want, if you look hard enough. Once you normalize the results and apply Bonferroni corrections, any significance you thought you had tends to evaporate.

      • Ruben says:

        Yeah, you don’t know about humans 🙂 first thing: there’s a lot of them. Those are adjusted for multiple comparisons of course.

  23. Richard says:

    How about we just table the entire gun discussion for a while, it seems to lead nowhere.

    A much more interesting topic is why Americans are so violent in the first place, my money is on zinc deficiency from eating all that Wonder Bread(TM).

    Primary symptoms of zinc deficiency are irritability and depression. If this is significant on a population level before it becomes a problem on an individual level, it would explain the following;

    * Why US Americans and especially the poor are so violent and depressed. (Inner city diets are lower on zinc than affluent suburbs, but most of our dietary zinc comes from unprocessed grain, so all Americans get less than comparable Europeans.)
    * Why the middle east is such a hellhole. The ground there is very low in zinc and unleavened bread does not help.
    * Why the Scandinavian peoples went from raging viking hordes to the most peaceful nations in the world at the same time they changed to a diet richer in zinc.

    [Epistemic note: pretty much wild conjecture, but at least with the potential to kick off a more interesting discussion than the usual gun related one.]

    • Table doesn’t mean can or shelve.

      • Held in Escrow says:

        Depending on the nation it can! It’s an antonym in some places

      • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

        It pretty much means the opposite. Stuff you put on the table (like food) is stuff you want to deal with right now. Stuff you put on the shelf is stuff you want to deal with later.

        • LHN says:

          But tabling a motion means (in the US) to set it aside (short for “lay on the table” in Robert’s Rules of Order).

          As I understand it, it means the opposite in Commonwealth countries, to help with that “separated by a common language” thing.

          • Urstoff says:

            How many other furniture-related verbs mean “to set aside”? If there aren’t any more, can we start some new ones? Let’s futon that idea for awhile and concentrate on something easier.

          • nope says:

            I think you mean “couchcentrate”.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I’d like to dust-ruffle this to obscure the unsightly dust-bunnies of gun policy.

      • roystgnr says:

        https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Appendix:Glossary_of_auto-antonyms

        Is it cool to throw out the idea that English is awful? An egregious language which deserves our sanction? Perhaps my point is too critical, and we should table this outstanding issue?

    • Lumifer says:

      Would you like to show some data about zinc deficiency to support your hypothesis?

      • Richard says:

        Sure:

        relevant bit of the wikipedia entry on zinc deficiency:

        moderate and more severe zinc deficiencies are associated with behavioral abnormalities, such as irritability, lethargy, and depression

        A random article

        If you read the article, you will find a low resolution version of this map which shows that places with angry people are low in zinc.

        My hypothesis that this is visible in crime statistics is as I said wild conjecture, but until there is a good explanation that fits the map better, I’m sticking with it 🙂

        edit:
        and this is the map for violent death rates, which fits the first map extremely well except for China. I’m not sure how much I trust Chinese statistics.

        • Lumifer says:

          this map which shows that places with angry people are low in zinc.

          Does it really? This map says that the Chinese are angry but the Russians are not. South-western France is an angry place. Denmark, too. But most of North Africa is not angry at all.

          In the US the Midwest , Florida, and California are especially angry.

          Sorry, sense make not.

          • Richard says:

            South western France is the land of the Basques and ETA, practically the fathers of modern terrorism, I’d say point in my favour.

            I don’t think you’ll find a lot of variation within the US because all the food basically comes from the mid-west, but you should find variations based on diet/socioeconomic status. I’m not updating on this.

            Denmark is a bit of an anomaly, your point.

            North Africa contains the most peaceful muslim countries in the world, and that is with a muslim diet strong in unleavened bread, my point.

            Not sure about Russia. They have a massive organised crime problem, but the populace seems to be more peaceful than most places I’ve been. Tentative point to me, but not a strong one, more research is needed.

            I don’t trust China and its statistics, so no point to either of us there.

            Also, I’ll bow out of this one. My point was that guns is a poor explanation for violence and zinc deficiency at least offers a better one while admittedly under-researched. There may be even better ones, but I’ve not come across any yet.

            While googling for this discussion, I also found it mentioned on the BBC show QI which was good for a laugh.

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      * Why the Scandinavian peoples went from raging viking hordes to the most peaceful nations in the world at the same time they changed to a diet richer in zinc.

      When exactly did this happen?

      If I’d told a person from the seventeenth century that the Swedes are a peaceful people, they’d be in hysterics. Did their diet change later than that?

      • Richard says:

        Yes, the increased zinc is from leavened bread and the accepting of the potato, so gradually from the early 1700s to 1850 or thereabouts.

        • Lumifer says:

          So, first you say that zinc deficiency causes “irritability, lethargy, and depression” (emphasis mine). Then you say that the Norse were “raging viking hordes” when they were zinc-deficient and became “peaceful” when they got more zinc.

          It looks like you have your effects reversed.

          • Richard says:

            What I was actually hoping for when starting this subthread was for someone to chime in and say “Of course it’s not zinc, its X”. Or words to that effect.

            Upside, I have learned a lot about dietary deficiencies and violence, this a particularly good read.

            Downside, not so much, even the takedowns were amusing, thanks 🙂

          • Lumifer says:

            @Richard

            What, causes for the different geographical distribution of violence?

            The simplest crudest model is that the closer you are to the tropics, the more violence you get.

            A bit more sophisticated model is that violence correlates to (low) IQ quite well. But that model tends to get people upset.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            Nowadays a competent psychiatrist would deal with their compulsion to sail into the west by prescribing 50mg of Eärendil twice daily.

        • Agronomous says:

          accepting of the potato

          Vodka is made from potatoes. I think we’ve explained your peaceful Russians.

          Hey, anybody know how deadly zinc bullets are? Should we ban them? Or maybe just ban clips of more than six of them?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Russian vodka is made from wheat, as I understand. Polish vodka is made from potatoes.

          • Soumynona says:

            That doesn’t sound right. There’s a list:
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_vodkas

            Most are made from grains, regardless of country.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Presumably there is a fair amount of variability in today’s market as global supply chains have become omnipresent.

            I was really only repeating hearsay, but I do note that on that list is the Polish brand Luksusowa, which is apparently one of the oldest Vodka distillers in the world and uses potatoes.

            Far all I know it’s one of those regional insults where the Russians say the Polish use potatoes and the Polish say the Russians do.

        • Stefan Drinic says:

          I’ve done some thinking about this, and ah.. This is also the exact time period where the Germans and the Russians got their act together. The Swedes were ganged up on in 1700 and fought terrifyingly well during that war, but afterwards they wisely kept down, being boxed in by greater powers. I’m not sure if them not waging much war has to do with zinc when it may just as easily have been self-preservation.

  24. anonymous poster says:

    30% of people would choose to be the other gender if reincarnated, no difference between men and women.

    Well duh. Everyone knows you go male on the first playthrough, then female on the 100 percent run.

    …Or is it the other way around?

    • CatCube says:

      My characters in MMORPGs (or really, any third-person game) are almost always female.

      If I’m going to stare at an ass for hours upon hours, it may as well be a female ass.

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        Also, in some games (most notably Mass Effect) the female voice actor is worlds better than the male voice actor.

        Mark Meers is a robot. Jennifer Hale manages to emote in her lines. I’d much rather listen to her performance for dozens of hours instead of Meers.

  25. Ruben says:

    Regarding that condom study: Since by now the US is really an outlier with regard to sex ed among developed countries, you might preface your news item by “US”. I have a hard time extrapolating this finding to countries where children learn how to use condoms in class (e.g. most developed countries).
    For my geographic area, it would be more interesting to see this sort of study for areas that made the (morning-after) pill easily accessible (e.g. without prescription/ without high-frequency doctor’s visits/ easily available in emergencies). Because that’s still something on which most developed countries differ.

    • SD000 says:

      . I have a hard time extrapolating this finding to countries where children learn how to use condoms in class (e.g. most developed countries).

      Ah, the classic “le US is so backward xD” reddit-tier meme. Just as an FYI, in the US in most districts children do as well. Hate to burst your superiority complex. Now go back to enjoying your 30% lower net purchasing power and lack of immigrant integration in your “developed country”.

      • Ruben says:

        Which part do you disagree with exactly? The part where the study found letting usage instructions accompany condoms made a difference?
        Or the part where most developed countries have sex eds in all schools, not some, while the US doesn’t have that? Is that wrong? Then I was misled by most information sources I can find online, e.g.
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex_education_in_the_United_States
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex_education#Europe

        Regarding the rest: Chill?!

      • Outis says:

        To be fair, the US hasn’t even managed to integrate African-Americans yet. It’s pretty much the last country on earth that should be giving lectures on how (or whether) to run a multicultural state.

        • NN says:

          However, the US seems to have done a good job with every group other than African Americans,* to the point that even the most extreme racists now see nothing unusual about referring to “white Americans” as a single group. Also, only native slave descendants really fit into the pattern of “African Americans” being poorly integrated. Recent black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean do much better by all metrics, to the point that the son of one recent African immigrant even became President!

          * Okay, Native Americans aren’t exactly “well integrated” by most measures, but they only make up ~1% of the population.

      • Stefan Drinic says:

        4chan speak on this blog of all places? Is that really what it’s come to? The people arguing the proportion of leftists here is shrinking are getting more and more of a point every day.

        • Anonymous says:

          Where else did you think all the anons are coming from?

        • birdboy2000 says:

          There are plenty of leftists on 4chan – myself included. It’s not *all* /pol/ – and even /pol/, for all neo-nazis dominate the board, has a surprisingly high number of hard-left types.

          • Soumynona says:

            There must be a lot of Spirited Debates over there, surely conducted in a spirit of Camaraderie and Good Sportsmanship.

  26. Qiaochu Yuan says:

    Re: math competitions, all of the high AMC scores at my high school were due to a combination of having some reasonably smart students around to take it + the efforts of a single teacher, who tirelessly got on our case about both taking the AMC and practicing for it. We also mostly all knew each other through math club, which she was in charge of.

    • Chalid says:

      Yeah, it seems obvious that there are strong school effects. I was at a very good public high school and I had no idea these competitions existed until one day our teacher sat us down and told us to take the test. Other schools have clubs or even whole classes devoted to training for them.

      • phil says:

        Yeah, I think math competitions are still sufficiently niche

        that its largely school effects

        ———-

        its be interesting to think about what sort of carrots take something away from being school effects

        seems like you can go 2 directions with it

        you could do the Eastern European Communist country route, where you make it a national pride thing, then put everyone through filters early, then select people who seem promising, and then go crazy on the training

        ie, we’re giving every 6 year old in the country an IQ test, then out to X scorers are living in advanced math school for the rest of their childhood (and our top gymnasts get to live in gymnastics school, etc)

        or you can create a big prize at the end, math contest winners get to be on Wheaties boxes, and get interviewed on late night TV, and maybe make millions of dollars!

        seems like math contest are slowly moving towards the latter, in certain circles it seems like there’s more and more consciousness that winning math contests is a good way to get into Harvard, and get well paid Google or Wall Street work

        so I suspect that school effects isn’t exactly constant (I imagine it changes as working for Google [or similar places] is held up as high status

        still, I imagine that knowledge of exactly what the rewards of doing math competitions are, isn’t very uniform

      • Tsnom Eroc says:

        >Yeah, it seems obvious that there are strong school effects

        Look at the USAMO perfect scorers for the best example of teaching to the test I have *ever* seen. Some absurd number of best scorers on the top American math tests *all* took some Art of Problem Solving course.

        Yeah, the winners are brilliant, but that definitely downgrades the view of the test in my eyes.

        IMO, the best solution to this is simply adding a harder version of the subject math SAT’s. Like the SAT math 3 test. It will never be done, since if a national test like that,and not some side-show event for “nerds”, shows a 5 to 1 ratio of top male to female performers it will be deemed sexist.

        • Tsnom Eroc says:

          To me, that tells me that China will soon have a perma-educational advantage over us. If there’s a spatial IQ test that adds a good selection effect to engineers, they will(or already have) implement it in a heartbeat, and we will endlessly debate the sexism of it.

    • gbdub says:

      It continues to be weird to me that there is a lot of overlap between people who complain about “teaching to the test” and people who hold up high scores truly artificial competitions / tests like AMC as examples of places that are clearly doing things right.

  27. Johnjohn says:

    “30% of people would choose to be the other gender if reincarnated, no difference between men and women”

    Only 30%? How boring would you have to be to pass this up

    • More a matter of caution, I should think. The devil you know …

      • Chalid says:

        The surprising thing to me was, for temporary changes, that you got only 56% willing to do a week in the other gender, and only ~2/3 for a day or an hour.

        I’m guessing people who said they wouldn’t do it for such short lengths of time were mainly performing their gender and not seriously considering the experiment.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          No, not really. Just that not everyone wants to be Tiresias.

          I would have said no on that survey. I’m very comfortable in my own skin and am perfectly willing to just take women at their word for what the experience of being a woman is like. So switching, even temporarily, has nothing to offer.

          • Psmith says:

            Cosigned. We do exist, although there aren’t that many of us in SSC comments or on ratblr.

          • Adam says:

            I can’t see any possible upside. I grew up with three sisters as the only son. I’ve either had a girlfriend or been married pretty much my entire adult life. I feel like I know women pretty intimately. As far as I can tell, being one is terrible. Their bodies are constantly attacking themselves and making them miserable. Even aside from that, I wouldn’t want to become a shorter, smaller, weaker man either.

          • Urstoff says:

            Being reincarnated doesn’t mean having the same identity / feelings of personhood does it? There’s no reason you wouldn’t be just as comfortable in your own skin as the opposite gender.

            I think I would choose to be the other gender. The experiences of the two genders can be quite different, so why not try to capture all of that experience?

          • The Nybbler says:

            I’m comfortable in my own skin as well, but also I can’t imagine a day being anything but awkward. A day is probably the worst point; enough so the novelty wears off, not enough so you get a real feel about what it is like. An hour would just be a lark.

          • J Mann says:

            Not to be crude, but who wouldn’t want to switch for at least enough time to visit a sex toy store + about 2 hours?

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            @J Mann,

            Not to get all moralistic here, I’m kind of a degenerate myself, but rationalists seem weirdly preoccupied with having more intense orgasms.

            This is like the whole prostate obsession or “bi-hacking” taken to the next level. Of all the mysteries of life why devote your curiosity primarily to sexual gratification?

          • Lumifer says:

            @Dr Dealgood

            If you had a couple of hours and a brand new weird body, which particular mysteries of life would you prefer to explore?

          • J Mann says:

            @Dr_Dealgood:

            I don’t personally identify as rationalist, but I’m probably on the axis somewhere.

            I think it’s a pretty common reaction – I’m not super curious about how it would feel to have a different center of gravity, or whether or not I would get groped in an elevator, although I’m sure those would be interesting. OTOH, I am very curious about how the sex drive works for women, and another data point would be helpful.

          • Chalid says:

            Would those who wouldn’t make a temporary switch describe themselves as generally low on the “openness to experience” personality axis? Are you not into travel, unfamiliar foods, etc?

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            @Lumifer,

            I can’t really think of any. I did say the switch had nothing to offer me, didn’t I?

            @Chalid,

            Love travel, like trying new foods. Never taken any Big Five tests so I can’t put a number on my openness to experience, but I get bored very easily.

          • Lumifer says:

            @Dr Dealgood

            Well, let’s do a thought experiment.

            Your favourite deity suddenly appears before you, declares “I’m feeling mischievous today” and whoosh! makes you a bona fide biological woman.

            The deity adds “Just so that you don’t get too upset, the spell will wear off in a couple of hours and you will revert to your old body. GLHF!” and disappears.

            What will you do?

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            If I was fighting the hypothetical, call up my local priest and start taking the whole religion thing a lot more seriously. And I’d probably try to do as many tests on myself as I possibly could to figure out what exactly had happened.

            More in the spirit of the thought experiment, probably get used to moving around in my “new” body seeing as my bone structure and musculature would be different. Plus see if I had gotten any shorter, whether my scars / surgeries had carried over, that sort of thing. If I was feeling adventurous maybe test out that story about women’s pain tolerance being higher.

            Playing with yourself just doesn’t sound that interesting if you’re not already a transformation fetishist or autogynophile.

          • onyomi says:

            “Playing with yourself just doesn’t sound that interesting if you’re not already a transformation fetishist or autogynophile.”

            Really? Sex organs and the corresponding experience of sex are the biggest gross level differences between men and women. I expect eating, walking, listening to music as a woman would all be roughly similar; I would expect sex to be very different. The experiential difference between having a penis and having a vagina has got to be bigger than that between walking with narrow hips and walking with wide hips.

            I don’t have any particular fetish about transformation, but if I had one day to live in a female body I would certainly attempt some sort of sexual activity, either by myself, or, if I could find someone to trust on short notice, with a partner.

          • Johnjohn says:

            “Even aside from that, I wouldn’t want to become a shorter, smaller, weaker man either.”

            If I had the choice of becoming a shorter, smaller, weaker man for a day, I’d still take it?

            We’re talking about literal magic and you wouldn’t go for it?

          • J Mann says:

            @onyomi –

            I was discussing this with my wife, and in her opinion, giving birth and breast feeding are the biggest differences men and women are likely to have. I agree with that, but that’s a lot bigger commitment. And I think you could make an argument that just general life experience would be fascinating – what’s it like to ride on the subway or apply for a job, etc.

            (But my wife also agreed that if she had the opportunity to check out being male, she would check out sex out of curiosity, FWIW.)

        • Anonymous says:

          Openness to experience. Less than 50% of people take psychedelics and that’s arguably less radical.

          • Schmendrick says:

            I don’t take psychedelics but that’s primarily because they’re nearly all illegal and I’m incredibly scared of getting caught in the justice system.

            *edit* I suppose I should explicitly state that if psychedelics were legal then I would try them.

    • Desertopa says:

      The way I understand the question, saying you’d want to be reincarnated as a member of the other sex is less like saying “I’d like to experience the alternative,” more like saying “I wish I’d been born a member of the other sex instead.” Since under most conceptions of reincarnation, you don’t get to remember past incarnations, there’s nothing to say that your previous incarnation wasn’t the opposite sex to the one you are now, but you don’t process your current life as experiencing the alternative to that.

      If you’re not going to put together information from multiple lives, you’re better off just picking the circumstances for each individual life which you think will lead to the most preferred results.

      • Saint Fiasco says:

        But then wouldn’t more women prefer to be reincarnated as men than vice-versa? If you only get to remember one lifetime at a time then it’s a little better to be a man, right?

        • Richard says:

          This obviously explains why 51% of babies are male.

        • lvlln says:

          That’s certainly the core belief of some ideologies. I wonder what the results of a poll of people who follow those ideologies would reveal. I mean, we can’t get true revealed preferences, because reincarnation is not a real thing we can measure and test, but a survey that tried to emulate the scenario might get closer to their true beliefs than what they state.

          I’m not a sociologist though, so that’s just pure speculation on my part.

    • onyomi says:

      I rate myself as fairly high on the openness to experience scale, but because I am also a perfectionist frequently plagued by regret, I am torn between wanting to be born as a woman to experience the alternative and wanting to be born as a better (smarter, richer, fitter, more talented, etc.) man to experience a more optimal version of the life I have now.

      Though one might argue that that is a sort of closed-mindedness/failure of imagination: to prefer a theoretically better version of the identity you have now to an unknown.

      As for why the 30% number, I imagine it’s because most people of one gender can’t really imagine what it would be like to be the other gender and feel totally comfortable being that gender, given that most people are comfortable with the gender they have now.

  28. Julie K says:

    What does “neoliberal” mean?

    • Nicholas says:

      Privatization. Neoliberalism is a particular kind of laissez-faire that is like what would happen if you embraced every part of Libertarianism except the part where you shrank the government.
      There is also a connotation of economic imperialism. This is because there was a period of time in which you could accomplish foreign policy goals by forcing a government to privatize and open to foreign trade an industry for which that was not a good idea, thus weakening the economy of the target country while also tying their markets to yours.

      • Julie K says:

        “Foreign trade is not good for this industry” is not the same as “foreign trade is not good for our country’s economy.”

      • Tracy W says:

        Can you please name some people whose writings you think exemplify the policies you describe as “neoliberalism” as you define it here?

    • Tracy W says:

      As far as I can tell, it means whatever the speaker happens to dislike.

      However, Scott Sumner is the sole person I know of who identifies as neoliberal and he defines neoliberal as roughly economic policies that get countries high in the Heritage foundation’s index of economic freedom (eg Hong Kong, Singapore, Switzerland). .Most people who favour those sorts of policies call themselves something like “free market economists” or “libertarian” (American) or “liberal” or “classical liberal” (non-Americans who read American economic books) or the like. Personally I’m somewhere in there too.

      Quite often people attack “neoliberalism” based on policies that are contradictory to free market thinking.

      • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

        Really the core insight of neoliberalism is that mass individual decision making is far more effective than centralized decision making, thus it only comes about in 60s once the failures of communism is apparant. It was thought by a lot of people, still is, that central planning/ highly detailed regulation could produce better and more rational results. Neoliberalism shows that in the absence of market failures (externalities, fraud, criminal behaviour) this is simply not the case.

        Watch “Free to Choose”-part 1, Freidman does a damn good job of laying out the basic ideas and addressing counter arguments throughout the series.

        Each episode has two parts 1. Friedman laying out the neoliberal argument and 2. Friedman addressing the counterarguments of anti-neoliberals who are their to argue with him.

        Its the only polemical video I’ve ever seen that gives equal time to those arguing against it, and really is a testament to the good faith of Friedman’s argument, and his belief in rational discourse.

        Give it a look! You might just be persuaded!
        Arnold Schwarzenegger was

        • Emily says:

          But if you are persuaded, you might find yourself alienated from your community/peer group. So. That’s a thing.

          • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

            Ya, but is a peer group that doesn’t tolerate different ideas a peer group worth having?

            My obvious bias is obvious, intellectual conservatives/libertarians being the group most likely to tolerate other ideas (having been an intellectual minority in education and work, and thus don’t expect an intellectual bubble)

          • Emily says:

            a) Opinions on that will vary widely enough that I think it’s at least a good idea to warn people of the possibility.
            b) Alienation won’t necessarily take the form of them not tolerating you. You might find yourself feeling less close to them, respecting them less, etc.

        • Nicholas says:

          Neoliberalism shows that in the absence of market failures (externalities, fraud, criminal behaviour) this is simply not the case.

          So you’re saying that Neoliberalism works, except for all the things that the critics of Neoliberalism hold up as the reason it doesn’t work.

          • Tracy W says:

            The debate is not whether markets fail. They do. The debate is over whether they fail less often than the alternatives.

          • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

            The simple fat is we’re all neoliberals now.

            In the 60s and on the radical left there were/are alot of people who would say a properly functioning market is still less effective than planning by educated central authorities. The great success of neoliberalism is that we no longer think in terms of “capitalism or not”, but now think “capitalism how”.

            The role of modern market advocates is now to show why alot of things people might say are market failures actually aren’t. I’ve seen people argue that “prices are too high” is a market failure, despite the fact that those prices are a direct result of actual scarcity.

          • onyomi says:

            I think you’re right that, roughly, “we’re all neoliberals now.” In fact, the US Blue Tribe and its European equivalents seem now to support a lot of what we’d broadly term “neoliberal economics,” seemingly for cultural reasons? Or because even Paul Krugman likes free trade?

            Take Brexit and Trump, for example: it’s the conservatives/Red Tribe arguing against, in effect TPP, free movement within the European Union, etc., both of which I guess Milton Friedman, if not Ron Paul, would be in favor of (though conceivably Friedman would be in favor of the free trade part, if not the political unity parts).

            With Blue Tribe supporting globalization and free trade and Red Tribe talking a good game (though often no more than that) about free markets, there really does seem to be a sense in which “we’re all neoliberals now.”

          • Lumifer says:

            @Luke the CIA Stooge

            The simple fa[c]t is we’re all neoliberals now.

            If only.

            The classic communism/socialism isn’t popular any more, true (the utter endogenous implosion of your standard-bearer can do that), but unfortunately there is a large variety of ways to screw the pooch.

            The currently popular way is crony capitalism via overregulation — “you didn’t build that”, “three felonies a day”, “too big to fail”, etc.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            All neoliberals now? Mmmmm, I don’t know, that seems too facile.

            For instance, there is a definitely an active debate about whether it would be better to expand the Medicare age limit or leave it’s eligibility as it is currently defined. There is another active debate about whether it is better to expand Medicaid or leave its income limits alone. And there is a third debate about whether socialized health services (VA, Medicare, Medicaid) should be remain as they are or be (further) privatized.

            It’s probably fair to describe the position that is against expanding Medicare/Medicaid and for privatizing VA services as neoliberal. Probably. Maybe.

    • H.E. Pennypacker says:

      The term makes most sense in historical context, having its roots in the Austria and Chicago schools where people like Friedrich Hayek (Austria) and Milton Friedman (Chicago) developed an alternative to the Keynesian post-war consensus that saw government regulation of the economy as good and necessary.

      Although the Austrian school came first it was the Chicago lot who had their policies put into practice. From the late 1970s/early 1980s, Reagan and Thatcher turned the tide away from regulation, towards increasing privatisation and financialisation. Although this lead to policy changes in the UK and US, the biggest changes were made in foreign lands – Chile under Pinochet and Russia in the 1990s being the most obvious examples, when teams from Chicago university were heavily involved in setting up the economic systems that produced disastorous results for these countries.

      In terms of how it differed from previous forms of economic liberalism is the extent of marketisation/financialisation. One example would be the idea of each individual, each worker, as a company of one who must invest in her human capital so she can effectively compete with other workers for the best jobs. The idea that carbon emissions could be a commodity that can be bought and sold.

      In this way, it doesn’t really break with the processes of earlier economics, just with the extent to which they are taken. The rise of capitalism needed the commodification of things like land, labour, and money to be made possible – capitalism needs these things to be organised by a market system rather than command from above or traditional custom. Neoliberalism, greatly extends the the things and processes which should be organised by market mechanisms.

      The point above about it being similar to libertarianism but without the shrinking of government is suggestive. The key difference as I see it is that most libertarians would have much more faith in man’s natural “propensity to truck, barter, and exchange”, whilst neoliberals (more realistically in my view) take the position that governments have a necessary role to play in the creation and maintainenance of markets through which to organise (economic) action. Market systems don’t arise spontaneously when you remove barriers to their formation, but must be encouraged through government policy.

      As some note above, the term is often used fairly imprecisely and their are lots of people who throw the term around without really thinking about what it means. Many writers do use it productively, but even here they may define it differently, so for people who have already dismissed it as a useless term, the difference in usage and their superficial understanding of the different ways the term is employed will tend to confirm their already held belief that the term is largely meaningless.

      • Tracy W says:

        What disastrous results in Chile? Chile’s now a democracy and an OECD members and the democratic transition was accomplished without bloodshed.

        Also note that these economists were also involved in transforming the Eastern European countries.

        The rise of capitalism needed the commodification of things like land, labour, and money to be made possible – capitalism needs these things to be organised by a market system

        I don’t follow this at all. Capitalism is a label given to something that already existed (first recorded use was in 1826). What evidence is that there was something rising which “needed” things to be organised by a market system? What evidence do you have that the causal link was: capitalism led to markets in labour and land, as opposed to markets in labour and land leading to something people decided to name capitalism? The latter strikes me as far more plausible.

        And how are you defining commodification here? You say money needed to be commodified for capitalism, this implies that it would be possible for money to not be commodified. I can’t think of a single definition of a commodity under which money could not be one (leaving aside situations like: “we define commodities as things that can be traded in standardised forms, like bales of wool or tons of coal with set chemical definitions, excluding money.)

        • Nicholas says:

          The disastrous result he’s referring to was the economic situation that lead to Pinochet taking power to begin with. Before that, Chile was already a democracy, briefly became a dictatorship in the seventies and eighties, and transitioned back to a democracy in the nineties.

          • Tracy W says:

            @Nicholas: nope, he can’t be. Pennypacker specifically referred to Chile under Pinochet, not Chile before Pinochet.

            Although defining neoliberalism as including Allende’s economic policies is not the weirdest definition of neoliberalism I’ve ever heard.

        • Tatu Ahponen says:

          Chile’s economy under the period most associated with Chicago school did not do very well. As you can see from https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9e/GDP-Chile-pinochet.png, Chile took it on the chin from the early-1980s recession in Latin America worse than most of Lat. Am., after which Pinochet booted the Chicago boys from the government and began implementing more traditional state-capitalist policies. Most of the economic growth has happened during the democratic era, however.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            Chile and the “Chicago Boys” is an pretty good example of the Copenhagen interpretation of ethics. Milton Friedman and his students were sure their ideas could help countries work better and they were willing to give advice to anyone who’d listen to them – they gave advice to China too!

            That they gave advice someplace doesn’t mean their advice was all followed, nor does the fact that some of it was (however briefly) followed make them responsible for all the performance of an economy that was doing pretty terribly already, including poor performance associated with periods of not following their advice.

            Nor does it make them responsible for any human rights violations at the time.

            …unless we think trying to help makes you responsible for the outcome no matter what. Which seems to be an extremely weird but popular premise.

        • H.E. Pennypacker says:

          What disastrous results in Chile? Chile’s now a democracy and an OECD members and the democratic transition was accomplished without bloodshed.

          You know, the fact that in 1982 the economy collapsed and the dictatorship were forced to renationalise many of the industries they’d privatised after the coup. The main period of growth came after they reined in the worst excesses of the Chicago boys. More importantly, it was disastorous because the percentage of Chileans living in poverty doubled between 1973 and 1990. Personally I think an economic policy is disastorous if it massively increases poverty, regardless of whether the rich get richer enough that GDP goes up. You seem to be a fan of neoliberalism so I’m guessing that you might see this in a different light.

          I don’t know why you bring up democracy. Chile was a democracy before the coup, the coup that was fomented and supported by the USA because they wanted to replace the elected socialist government with a more pro-market one. I really don’t see how bringing democracy into the picture can possibly aid any argument for neoliberalism in this context.

          I don’t follow this at all. Capitalism is a label given to something that already existed (first recorded use was in 1826). What evidence is that there was something rising which “needed” things to be organised by a market system? What evidence do you have that the causal link was: capitalism led to markets in labour and land, as opposed to markets in labour and land leading to something people decided to name capitalism? The latter strikes me as far more plausible.

          I thought it was obvious that, as capitalism is an abstraction, my meaning was along the lines of “the commodification of these things is necessary feature of any economic system that we would describe as capitalist” – ie. there are no capitalist systems where land or labour can’t be bought and sold on the market, for then the system wouldn’t be capitalism.

          Even interpreting what I wrote overly-literally “The rise of capitalism needed the commodification of things like land, labour, and money to be made possible” suggests that the commodification of these things were necessary preconditions for the rise of capitalism.

          It seems like you’re hinting at the question of whether these things started to be organised into markets spontaneously and this fact was then recognised, or these things were integrated into market systems intentionally, but I can’t be sure.

          As for money as a commodity you’re right, I meant just land and labour. I was thinking of the work of Karl Polanyi as I was writing that comment and he bangs on about land, labour, and money being “fictitious commodities”, so my brain saw “commodities” + “land” + “labour” and automatically added “money” as well. My mistake.

          • Tracy W says:

            Okay, here we run into the limitations of GDP as a measure. Chile under Allende was spending like crazy and running a big fiscal gap and massive inflation. Unwinding high inflation has always been economically painful, but Zimbabwe illustrates that allowing high inflation to continue is even more politically painful. In other words, you have to actually earn some money to be able to pay to reduce poverty in the long-run.

            I agree that the US was very illiberal in the 1970s – this was the time it was running price controls in its own country and regulating trucking and aviation and all sorts of industries. Funny how reductions in economic freedom go along with reductions in political freedom, isn’t it? One might almost think that people who start thinking their fellow citizens aren’t competent to manage their own economic lives also might be equally as skeptical about the ability of foreign citizens to manage their political lives? (Or, probably equally as as probable, the technocrats of the mid-20th century totally over-estimated their abilities and underestimated the complexity of the world and thus over-meddled in both the economic and political regimes.)

            I agree with you that Chile doesn’t say anything about neoliberalism, but then no one has any ideas what neoliberalism is. What I am pointing out is that a nasty brutal military dictatorship carried out economic freedom reforms and subsequently turned democratic, indicating that economic freedom and political freedom tend to go together.

          • Tracy W says:

            On the issue of the rise of capitalism, what you have said makes sense, my apologies for misreading you.

    • Urstoff says:

      Not much anymore. I used to think it was basically the set of broadly market-friendly policies that the IMF promoted in the 90’s. Now it just means whatever the author doesn’t like, whether it’s pro-free market or not.

    • Lumifer says:

      It’s a generic derogatory term indicating that the speaker is of the left-wing persuasion and doesn’t like the subject.

    • wysinwyg says:

      H. E. Pennypacker’s analysis is great, but I think besides the historical context you can use indexicals to figure out what it means: Reagan and Thatcher are the canonical examples and we can compare their policies to those of the heads of state who followed them to figure out where the “neoliberal” cluster lies in policy-space.

      Quite often people attack “neoliberalism” based on policies that are contradictory to free market thinking.

      This is only a problem if “neoliberalism” is supposed to be synonymous with “free market”. But if we look at the actual cluster in policy-space, we tend to see people who talk a good game about the “free market” while implementing a mix of both “free market” and statist policies in practice. The consistent “free market” policies are usually anti-labor whereas the statist policies are typically increased military spending, aggressive foreign policy, increased intelligence spending, curtailment of civil liberties, etc.

      Neoliberalism isn’t the same thing as libertarianism. Their favored policies might align on stuff like busting unions, privatizing public services like utilities and prisons, and preventing environmental considerations from impacting the profitability of private companies, but they consistently differ on civil liberties and foreign policy.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        But if we look at the actual cluster in policy-space, we tend to see people who talk a good game about the “free market” while implementing a mix of both “free market” and statist policies in practice.

        I’m not sure neo-liberal makes a whole lot of sense unless placed in the context of existing 70s era government policies whence it rose. Being for “increased privatization” means something different when the government owns all of the coal mines and power plants, as a crude example.

        • wysinwyg says:

          It makes sense in the same sense that the word “cancer” makes sense.

          You can make a definition that encompasses all instances you want to describe, but provides so little detail that it is useless.

          You can make a definition that provides useful detail, but excludes many instances of the phenomenon which we would like to include.

          Or you can forget definitions and use it indexically in a way we all understand the way we all understand what is meant when someone talks about “fighting cancer”.

          We can taboo the term. I really don’t mind! Let’s call them “Reaganist” policies. Go ahead and replace every instance of “neoliberal” in any of my comments with “Reaganist”. Makes no difference to me.

          I’d try to make a more compelling case, but it’s truly exhausting to make even timid, half-hearted, super-cautious left leaning claims here — look how hard I had to work to defend the claim “this editorial is shit” further upthread! I’d have to put one of Jill’s trigger warnings on a comment that gave my real opinion on neoliberalism.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I’m not sure, but I think you took me for disagreeing with you when I was trying to agree with you.

            I was trying to amplify that “neo-liberal” wasn’t/isn’t actually just a synonym for “laissez-faire” capitalism. It was probably mostly directional in meaning (i.e. move more towards market based approaches and away from socialist guarantees of jobs and benefits), but it certainly didn’t mean “eliminate the state”.

            So, once you have altered or eliminated large chunks of the social welfare state, as Thatcher and Reagan (and Clinton, to be fair) actually did, then neo-liberal loses a lot of it’s meaning.

            Although, to be fair to what you are saying here, if you continue a directional policy impulse forever, neoliberal probably starts to get the kind of results that Grover Norquist wants.

      • Tracy W says:

        But if we look at the actual cluster in policy-space, we tend to see people who talk a good game about the “free market” while implementing a mix of both “free market” and statist policies in practice

        Economic freedom and human rights and political freedom are positively correlated. See for example chart 5 on this page.

        Or examples like Chile which implemented free market reforms and then went democratic.

        • Nicholas says:

          Right, but the point is that it’s possible to simultaneously support two positions: One that increases economic liberty (say the lifting of an onerous licensing process for security companies) and one that decreases non-economic liberty (secretly drafting government contracts with some of the newly formed security companies to murder foreign journalists). If you claimed to be a totalitarian or a libertarian, there’d be a conflict between your ideology and one of the two positions. Neoliberalism is the ideology for which neither policy is a contradiction.

          • Tracy W says:

            The normal definition of ideology is a system of beliefs and thinking. Therefore if neoliberalism is an ideology then there should be some underlying set of ideas and thinking behind the policies that get put in practice.

            The word “ideology” distinguishes the word for a movement that just labels whatever people do, regardless of how contradictory or hypocritical.

            If you want to define neoliberal as an ideology, then you need to find someone who defends both lifting onerous licensing processes and secretly murdering foreign journalists as linked ideas.

            Quite frankly I think there was no underlying ideology there. The US intelligence services engaged in various murderous schemes for most of the 20th century, under all sorts of Presidents, sometimes in violation of Congress. And economic theory doesn’t have much to say about how to deal with potential Communist insurgencies in other countries.

    • telotortium says:

      One interesting attempt I’ve seen to answer this question is The difficulty of ‘neoliberalism’ by Will Davies. He sees neoliberalism as a sociological phenomenon as much as an economic one, a paradigm where markets and competition serve as a means to evaluate answers to social and political questions as an alternative to traditional values and communism, both seen to have failed by the latter part of the 20th century. Thus, even if specific political and economic policies advocated by neoliberals have failed, as many consider to have happened since 2008, the underlying paradigm is much more likely to persist in the absence of another strong paradigm to replace it.

      • Tracy W says:

        Note to anyone taking part in this: please read the linked article by Will Davies, as well as telotorium’s summary, or more comment here will make no sense.

        Will Davies has basically identified neoliberalism as what economists would recognise as “public choice theory”! For example Will Davies talks a lot about neoliberalism as being about quantifying using market measures promises about things like future payment of pensions. Public choice theory says that voters have limited incentives to monitor government spending (diffuse costs/concentrated benefits) so economists have pushed reforms to make the costs of these promises much more vivid.

        Or health care – many people do want growing choice and control over their healthcare (eg the home birth movement), how do we reform public health care systems to do that while managing costs?

        This shows the value of listening to the advocates of an idea, not just its critics. Will Davies apparently has no idea that economists have long had a term for what he calls ” neoliberalism “. So Davies wastes a bunch of words in his article and he apparently has no idea about the empirical background that drove economic thinking about public choice theory. But he clearly has identified an underlying idea, which is about the best effort I have ever seen from someone who uses the term ” neoliberal”.

        • telotortium says:

          Interesting. I’m guessing Davies considers neoliberalism to have become the underlying philosophy of our “ruling classes” (or “Cathedral”) in the past few decades, rather than just one approach out of many to political and social matters, as might be suggested by the mention of “public choice theory”. He does mention public choice theory in passing:

          It is then only a matter of time before areas of meaningful, uncalculated social activity (community, family, education, political organisation and so on) become rationalised by economics in a seemingly modernising, progressive fashion. This was indeed the chief contribution of the Chicago School of economics and Virginia School of public choice from the 1950s onwards.

          Anyway, though I’ve heard of public choice theory and know some of the rudiments, it isn’t salient enough to me for the concept to jump out immediately upon reading that article. Do you have any books you’d recommend for an in-depth introduction?

  29. Jon M says:

    Actually the Donkey Kong study is strong evidence in favour of the “age of em”. The whole study is conducted on a transistor level simulation of the “Donkey Kong brain” that is accurate enough to play the games on it. The whole study is literally run on an em. However, the point of the paper is that merely being able to simulate the DK brain gives us little insight into how it actually works.

    Hanson’s argument for Ems rather than strong AI is the same. We might be able to make a mechanical simulation of the brain without having any kind of system level understand of why it works the way it does.

    • Enkidum says:

      You might be right that it’s strong evidence in favour of simulation being easier than understanding, but it’s not evidence at all in favour of simulation (of brains) being easy, or even possible.

      • Jon M says:

        Sure, I was pushing back against Scott’s argument that

        Brain simulation proponents hope that without really understanding the brain we can make simple models of each part and how they connect to other parts and produce things that replicate that activity. But we can test these techniques right now on a much simpler and more accessible object – an old video game microprocessor – and they’re not good enough to do anything useful.

        Now obviously DK is not a human brain, but on this small scale the researchers succeed essentially perfectly on the emulation task and fail almost entirely on the understanding one. When I say strong evidence in favour of age of em, I mean strong evidence in favour of simulated over handconstructed AI. Both might be impossible, but our evidence so far is that we succeed better at the former than the latter.

        • Aegeus says:

          I think understanding is important even if you want to blindly simulate the brain, for one reason: Simplification. An emulated microprocessor can require an order of magnitude more processing power than the original microprocessor. I have a very beefy laptop, about as capable as an Xbox 360, and it couldn’t emulate anything better than an N64. It could run Arkham City natively, but Majora’s Mask made it struggle.

          Also, emulators generally have to cut corners on their emulations to go fast enough. You can emulate every individual transistor in Donkey Kong pretty easily, but you can’t do the same for an N64 – you have to rely on the fact that the N64 has comprehensible functions (drawing polygons, shading them, etc.) which can be replaced by native graphics libraries. You can’t do the same for a brain unless you know something about how the brain works.

          • Simplifying in that way might not be possible, though. Or only possible in part. For something like a nematode, I suspect that it would be possible in principle to produce an accurate-enough model of the functioning of each individual neuron that doesn’t attempt to simulate the underlying chemistry in detail, but it might not be possible even in principle to simplify the way in which the interactions between the neurons produce the overall behaviour.

    • I’m not sure that “why it works” in that sense is necessarily even a meaningful question – it seems to me that it embeds an assumption that the machine in question makes use of layers of abstraction, if that’s the right expression, which is typical of machines designed by an intelligence, but not necessarily for machines designed by evolutionary processes.

      It’s kind of like asking “why” the tenth digit of Pi is 5. You can show that it is, but if there’s no way of simplifying the calculation, or some sort of pattern, there’s nothing that sounds like a “reason”. Whereas the tenth digit of 1/3 is 3 “because” every digit of 1/3 is 3.

      (Perhaps the concept I’m groping for here is related to whether the behaviour of a system can be usefully predicted by a model simpler than itself or not?)

    • Octapode says:

      Given what’s stated upthread about the importance of chemical factors in brains, the fact that we can simulate a microprocessor that only deals in two variables (voltage and current) is in no way proof that we could do the same to a brain, once the number of important factors goes up by, at a guess, an order of magnitude and the network itself can also change over time. If even a simple chip requires slinging a gig and a half a second of data around, I can absolutely see any reasonably complex mind needing a full supercomputer setup to run it if it has to keep track of the all the gooey bits as well as the wiring.

      I’d be interested to see how much power the simulation consumed compared to running the chip itself. That’s my main issue with the principle of ems, this sort of complex simulation is going to be massively energy-intense, and that energy has to come from somewhere and be removed as heat. If every em needs its own datacentre, we’ll just have one running each major corporation at best, not some cyberspace Eden of infinite Elon Musks.

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      How about this — it’s strong evidence in favor of part of the “age of em.” Yes, we could emulate the “brain”; no, we wouldn’t be able to edit it to create the terrifying custom-programmed human worker drones, because we still wouldn’t understand how the emulation works.

      • Enkidum says:

        “Yes, we could emulate the “brain”;”

        It’s not even evidence for that. It’s evidence (of a sort) for the idea that simulation/emulation may be easier that understanding. It’s not actually great evidence even for that limited claim, because that would assume that the difficulty of emulation and understanding scale in the same way with the complexity of the system being emulated/understood, which is at best very hard to demonstrate.

        Nevertheless, let’s take it as given that simulation/emulation is easier, that still doesn’t show that it’s possible. Smaller infinities, and all that.

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          Fair point. I should rephrase what I said — it’s a real-world example of how we can emulate a thing without being able to understand how it works. Generalizing from it, one could imagine a world where we have ems, even in vast numbers, but don’t have the ability to edit them in any but the most crude and destructive fashion at best.

          • Octapode says:

            I think you’re glossing over both a massive difference in scope between brains and a 6502 chip, and the level of fundamental understanding we have. The simulation produced only modelled a single parameter, the voltage present in each chip wire, whereas an equivalently functional model of a brain would have to do that for dozens of interconnected systems that we don’t even fully understand yet.

            What I don’t see is where Ems have an advantage over brains in jars. If we have the computational capacity to run a full-featured brain sim, we can run a virtual world for many more brains in jars, and said brains will be far more energy-efficient than an Em. If you can get orders of magnitude more jarred competant people for every Em of Elon Musk, that seems a far better trade-off.

            Of course, this is assuming Ems run at the same speed as people, but personally I don’t buy the idea that just because a simulation is a computer program means it will be running at processor speeds. There will be limits, and there’s not really much gain in parallelizing identical copies of a person, IMO.

            The other side of this is, if we take contemporary virtual worlds as a working model, brains in jars scale far better once you have the initial processing power for the central server. Each new brain just needs their end terminal plus whatever nutrient goo it eats, whereas a second Em means twice as much processing power. (This is assuming that the brain end terminal is lower-powered than an Em-capable system, which seems plausible to me). Granted once you run out of harvestable brains you get into a bit of a sticking point, but given we have 7 billion plus of the things, I think that point would be so far down the line as to be irrelevant.

          • Enkidum says:

            @ThirteenthLetter – agreed.

            @Octapode – I think you (and to a large extent my previous comment) are arguing past what ThirteenthLetter really is saying. It’s more that the Donkey Kong thing suggests (in some hand-wavey sense) that emulation is easier than understanding. Which is at least compatible with the Em idea, but has little to say about its likelihood.

    • Anonymous says:

      More than that, consider how the simulation itself was created:

      The Visual6502 team reverse-engineered the 6507 from physical integrated circuits [11] by chemically removing the epoxy layer and imaging the silicon die with a light microscope. Much like with current connectomics work [12, 13], a combination of algorithmic and human-based approaches were used to label regions, identify circuit structures, and ultimately produce a transistor-accurate netlist (a full connectome) for this processor consisting of 3510 enhancement-mode transistors. Several other support chips, including the Television Interface Adaptor (TIA) were also reverse-engineered and a cycle-accurate simulator was written that can simulate the voltage on every wire and the state of every transistor. The reconstruction has sufficient fidelity to run a variety of classic video games, which we will detail below. The simulation generates roughly 1.5GB/sec of state information, allowing a real big-data analysis of the processor.

      (from the paper)

      Sounds fairly similar to how those predicting brain emulation expect that to be done.

      So I’m left confused – It seems to me that this bolsters both Robin’s claim that it will be possible to simulate brains without first understanding in detail how they work on a high level, and his claim that such high-level understanding of brains will be sufficiently difficult that ems will not be edited to something vastly different shortly after the first ones are made. Yet Scott sees this as evidence for completely the opposite conclusion. What am I missing?

  30. SanguineVizier says:

    Scott, you are conflating assault rifle and assault weapon.

    Per the U.S. Army definition, one of the essential features of an assault rifle is selective-fire. The AK-47, for example, is an assault rifle, as it can switch between semi-automatic (one round fired per each trigger pull) and full automatic (rounds continue to be fired as long as the trigger is held down). In the United States, ownership of an assault rifle is, I believe, covered under the 1934 National Firearms Act provisions on machine gun ownership. I would wager that legally owned assault rifles are involved in approximately zero homicides in any given year in the U.S.

    The category “assault weapon” was politically invented to refer to certain semi-automatic rifles that fell under the Federal Assault Weapons Ban (now expired). It was created, I believe, with the goal of being a confusing term that would increase support for the ban by conflating normal civilian semi-automatic rifles with selective-fire rifles. This is the category that the gun control crowd screech about after every mass shooting, even though, as your link says, all rifles account for a small percentage of homicides.

    • Macbi says:

      I think the term “semi-automatic” confuses people too, because they assume it means something more than it actually does.

      Pretty much every gun you ever see on TV is a semi-automatic, so people think of these as “normal” without knowing that these are semi-automatic. Then when they hear the phrase “semi-automatic” they assume that this must be halfway between “normal” and “automatic”, which in practice means that they assume it means more-or-less the same as “automatic”.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Wouldn’t all assault weapons necessarily be rifles?

      • John Schilling says:

        Depends on whose definition you use. The State of California’s official list name-checks 32 rifles, 8 pistols, and 4 shotguns as “assault weapons” that are forbidden to the good people of California, along with a list of generic criteria that can apply to any sort of firearm.

        Crudely speaking, if it’s black and scary-looking, someone somewhere has called it an “assault weapon”, and there’s no generally-accepted definition you can use to show that they are wrong.

      • gbdub says:

        I mean, technically most handguns are rifles too – very few smoothbores there. But “rifle” without modifier usually means a long arm.

        Still I think most things that would be subject to the standard “assault weapons” bans for reasons other than simple capacity are at least carbines, which in the US are regulated as rifles (and would probably be included in the “rifle” deaths). Usually the determining factor is barrel length.

    • Peter says:

      The category “assault weapon” was politically invented to refer to certain semi-automatic rifles that fell under the Federal Assault Weapons Ban (now expired).

      Not just that: certain other semi-automatic non-rifle firearms as well – there are separate lists of criteria for rifles, handguns and shotguns. See wikipedia.

      As I said upthread, the linked-to article says “Rifles would include “assault weapons”. Thus, more people are killed by knives than by assault weapons.” but there’s no “thus” about it; “assault weapons” also includes some handguns and shotguns, and more people were killed by handguns than with knives, so the data is compatible with more people being killed with assault weapons (as per the Federal Assault Weapons Ban definition) than with knives.

      Regulating handguns more strictly than rifles makes a lot of sense – after all, it’s what we do in the UK and we have a low, low rate of firearms deaths.

      • SanguineVizier says:

        Thank you, I stand corrected. I did not realize that the Federal Assault Weapons Ban related to handguns and shotguns, except insofar as it banned magazines with capacity greater than 10 rounds.

      • Sigivald says:

        Note that the UK had a low, low rate of firearms deaths before (effectively) banning handguns.

        The US is not a violent place because it Doesn’t Have The Right Laws.

        It’s a violent place because it has violent people.

        Care to take your border reavers back?

        (I kid.)

        • Peter says:

          This is not entirely clear. Yes, we had low rates of firearms deaths before the policy, so that point’s made. OTOH – googling for violent crime comparisons reveals a morass of “UK in more violent crime per capita than USA shock!” and “busting the stupid ‘UK more violent than the USA’ myth”. The last thing I heard suggested that the USA didn’t have more crime than the USA, the crime was just more lethal… although a) a journalist was involved and b) I recall the USA’s non-gun homicide rate being higher than the UK’s entire homicide rate, so you may have a point.

          We’ve got plenty of border reavers to be getting on with, they’re mainly in Northern Ireland, the place has a bit of a reputation.

        • Psmith says:

          It’s also worth noting that Britain counts homicides differently than the US. I believe nonlethal assaults are also counted differently, though the error is supposed to be in the opposite direction. And of course the most significant ethnic minority driving American rates of violent crime didn’t come from the British Isles.

          they’re mainly in Northern Ireland

          Just so. American descendants of Border Reivers are also sometimes called Scotch-Irish because of their origins on the Scottish border and subsequent settlement in the Ulster Plantation.

    • keranih says:

      I think the term “semi-automatic” confuses people too, because they assume it means something more than it actually does.

      People also seem to be making a significant distinction between revolvers (old technology, made by familiar American names (Colt, S&W, etc) used by mild TV sheriffs, many police departments, and people who learned sidearms three quarters of a century ago, comfortable, non-threatening) and non-revolver semis (new technology, made by firms with funny furiner names (Sig Sauger, Luger, etc) used by nasty criminals and other types, has complicated moving parts.)

      Explaining that a double action revolver has the same “pull trigger once for each bullet” effect as a semi-automatic has helped me shift some people’s priors on this issue.

      • The Nybbler says:

        “New technology” is kind of relative here. Revolvers date back to the early-to-mid 19th century, semi-automatic pistols to the very end of the 19th century.

        • keranih says:

          Right, but with the exception of the M1911 – accepted in 1911, and remember just how small the US military was before WWII – the major powers were using revolvers up to WWII.

          I’m not saying it’s correct for a lot of the public to think that semiautomatics are super new, just that it is correct that they do think this.

          • gbdub says:

            Germany adopted the Luger in 1908.

            But for most people, a “semiautomatic” is a Glock “plastic pistol”, which is obviously more modern (just like all “assault rifles” are either “AR-15s” or “AK-47s”).

          • John Schilling says:

            I suspect that to most people who aren’t gun people, “semiautomatic” now means “machine gun”.

            Remember, in popular culture and to a large extent in gun culture, there is no such thing as a “semiautomatic pistol”. The cited M1911 fires the .45 ACP cartridge; what does the ‘A’ stand for again? And in shotguns, consider the Browning Auto-5.

            There are semiautomatic rifles, but almost all of those look to the non-expert just like any other ordinary hunting rifle or like military assault rifles, which are colloquially “machine guns” and which are often hysterically described in the media with terms that suggest machine-gun-esque indiscriminate lethality.

            The distinction between “automatic” and “semiautomatic” has been used, inconsistently, as a term of art within the firearms community. The rest of the world is I think quite thoroughly confused and doesn’t care that they are confused.

      • Agronomous says:

        Revolvers? You mean those scary stealth guns that retain the shell casings after firing, making it impossible for the good guys to track down the murderers?

  31. moonshadow says:

    Re. Lenin: haven’t you heard?

  32. TheAltar says:

    England obviously has tornadoes because tornadoes are caused by having lots of white people around. (Or was it that pale people like to settle in areas with tornadoes? Hmmmm.) (/s)

    https://weather.com/storms/tornado/news/tornadoes-around-world-20140329

    • Peter says:

      What’s more, there seems to be a connection to the old British Empire. The hot spot in England seems to be Berkshire – the Royal County. Hmmm. Could Her Majesty be descended from a tornado god, just like the Japanese imperial family are descended from a sun goddess?

      • AlphaGamma says:

        She is officially considered to be descended from Woden via the Saxon kings of England.

        • Peter says:

          Alas not a tornado god. Still, this doesn’t stop her from having multiple divine ancestors – the old Roman kings were considered to have both Mars and Venus in their ancestry, after all. EDIT: or maybe not. It looks like the early kings were an elected monarchy and so it was only Romulus and Remus who could claim divine ancestry by multiple routes. Except that such a claim was probably not made as the bit about Venus only seems to have emerged in republican times. Complicated, this divine monarch business, isn’t it?

          • erenold says:

            My understanding is that the Romans believed in the stories about the divinity of the seven early kings, in all their bizarre glory sometimes including divine phalluses extending out of the fire, about as much as modern Americans believe that George Washington literally cut down a physical cherry tree, etc – I mean, no doubt there are those that do, but by and large all undestand this to be a myth meant to increase social cohesion.

            I’m going OTOH, but I believe the dominant story is Mars meets girl, girl meets Mars, where girl = virgin priestess. Girl, whose father is the king of a nearby region, becomes pregnant and the evil Claudius/Scar-like (grand)uncle, Numitor, orders the twin babies thrown into the river, where a wolf fishes them out and suckles them.

            Still OTOH – its Cicero that mentions the story once and then awkwardly ducks an evaluation of its truth value, preferring to discuss the objective factors surrounding the foundation of Rome such as its strategic location; Livy the rationalistic one that explicitly wonders if the ‘virgin priestess gives birth to Mars’ son’ story is cover for an all-too-human affair, given that lupa means both ‘wolf’ and slang for ‘prostitute’.

          • Peter says:

            I’ve got it. Evidently the descent from Woden is not quite as the description suggests, it is actually descent from Thunar (aka Thor) – seeing as he’s Woden’s son, it works out. I mean, tornados are totally a type of storm, and so come under his remit.

            Furthermore, seeing as most of the power traditional in the monarchy has now been handed to the democracy, we should expect to see some sign of this in British elections. These are traditionally held on Thursdays. This is not a coincidence as nothing is ever a coincidence.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            @Peter: Unfortunately it’s via Baeldaeg (aka Baldr).

          • The Monster in the Darkness says:

            Obligatory Thor reference.

            (An oldie-but-goodie!)

  33. Ken Arromdee says:

    On The Control Group is Out Of Control, as I pointed out, it is likely that psi researchers aren’t just exactly the same as regular researchers except they’re studying a nonexistent phenomenon. If psi researchers get as many successes as regular researchers, it may just be that psi researchers are particularly sloppy and gullible so there’s a larger “placebo effect” on psi researchers than on regular researchers. If the effect is extreme enough, it could be that regular researchers don’t have any significant placebo effect at all.

    Scott said it’s still good as a metaphor, but it doesn’t work when used literally.

    • vV_Vv says:

      Indeed, it takes a very special kind of researcher to do study in a widely discredited field such as psi. It can be well the case that psi researchers are exceptionally bad.

      But then psi researchers defend themselves claiming that they publish more negative results than psychology researchers, use larger sample sizes, etc. (I don’t know if it’s actually true), so it may not be the case that they are exceptionally bad.

      • Nicholas says:

        The only information I have is that I once had to read a book by a fairly well know researcher in the field, who had apparently never heard of regression to the mean before, and did not believe in it.

    • MusicalFireFighting says:

      The whole point of The Control Group is Out Of Control is that psi researchers aren’t “particularly sloppy”.

      • Jiro says:

        I was making a criticism of The Control Group is Out Of Control. Of course my criticism is going to say something that contradicts its point. That’s how criticisms go.

  34. Anonymaus says:

    Would be interesting how the preference to be reborn with different sex varies with age and income / social status.
    Hypothesis I: Individuals see their own experience as relatively typical for their gender, but see the experience of the average person they interact with (which will be closer to the population average) as typical for the other gender. Low status individuals will therefore have higher preference for being the other gender.
    Hypothesis II: Both the highest and the lowest status individuals (CEOs, senators vs. prisoners and homeless) are disproportionately male, so both men and women will prefer to remain/become male when they are high status themselves and to be female when they are low status.
    (Before we can answer these questions we should probably find a better method than online surveys among 200 people.)

    • Jaskologist says:

      I think pure curiosity and “Try all the things!”ism would be sufficient explanation.

      • Anonymaus says:

        Well yeah if the change is temporary, apparently a larger part of the people ask would do it in that case. I understood that 30% would prefer spending a lifetime as the other gender?

  35. Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

    The same article was posted eariler in this same thread.

  36. dndnrsn says:

    Bobby Watson, who played Hitler in “The Devil With Hitler”, played Hitler in 9 different feature films. This has got to be some kind of record.

    • Agronomous says:

      Yeah, but the guy who played him in Downfall has thus played him in approximately 9,000 Downfall parodies. YouTube for the win!

      • dndnrsn says:

        If you count parodies as films, and newsreels and propaganda as films, it is very possible that Bruno Ganz appeared more as Hitler in his lifetime than Hitler did as himself while alive.

  37. Urstoff says:

    As a resident of Oklahoma, I am rolling my eyes at that UK factoid. Oklahoma is 75% the size of the UK, but gets an average of 52 tornadoes per year, more than the UK’s 34. Scaled for size, that means Oklahoma has more than twice as many tornadoes per year as the UK. So I guess maybe technically the UK does have one of the highest rates in the world, but when first is twice as large as second, being second doesn’t count for much.

    (We Oklahomans take our weather, tornadoes in particular, very seriously)

    • Ken Arromdee says:

      It doesn’t even say that. It says that if England was taken separately from the UK it would have one of the highest rates in the world.

      First, England isn’t the UK. But more importantly, the implication is that it is normally comparing the UK to other countries, and that taking England separately from the UK would be an exception to this. So it isn’t comparing England to any US states at all.

      They didn’t say “if England was taken separately and compared to parts of other countries taken separately, England would have one of the highest rates in the world”.

      • Urstoff says:

        Don’t try to confuse me with your words and numbers. All I know is I live in tornado country, and you Brits can’t take that from me!

        • Peter says:

          Wikipedia thinks that the Netherlands takes the prize for most tornados per unit area. But apparently the UK, as a whole, comes in at number two.

          Anyway, if you’re allowed to consider Oklahoma as a separate entity, then I can single out Berkshire – incidentally my old home county, and it looks like my old home town is at the north tip of the maximum tornado area. Not that I knew until today.

          Don’t worry, you can still have the prize for most tornados big enough to be worth caring about per unit area.

      • Jon M says:

        So if Scotland left the United Kingdom would Britain have the highest per area tornadoes of any country?

  38. Jury says:

    The mushroom wiki article is now a top link on Hacker News. Did it happen because of you, Scott, or maybe Lenin is indeed a radiowave as well?

  39. Ryan says:

    That obesity study illuminates why everyone hates evidence-based medicine. In terms of evidence and only evidence, trying to change people’s diets doesn’t treat obesity. Exercise routines do not treat obesity. Meditation, medication, warlock evocations, the evidence is clear, they don’t treat obesity.

    But surgical intervention, that can work. I doubt I’m alone in thinking everyone will remain desperate to continue “treating” obesity with diet, exercise, pills only in certain circumstances and limited time frames.

    So what exactly is the hangup? I want to say it’s a “moral” hangup, but perhaps that’s jumping past a framing step and there is a better explanation.

    • fibo says:

      Well, for one the odds of dying during surgery or as a result of surgery are not exactly zero. Just a quick glance at the statistics suggests that the surgery alone will kill 1 in 1000 patients within a month and that’s a significant risk. Now, if the study on the benefits is correct then its a risk worth taking (especially if that’s already factored in to the 5 in 1000 decrease in mortality) but it does put a thumb on the scale, especially when it comes to risk perception. I imagine there’s also a few problems of it shifting the cause of death around, from ‘natural causes’ to doctors, though that’s perhaps being a little cynical when it comes to healthcare.

    • DensityDuck says:

      “[T]rying to change people’s diets doesn’t treat obesity. Exercise routines do not treat obesity. Meditation, medication, warlock evocations, the evidence is clear, they don’t treat obesity.

      But surgical intervention, that can work.”

      Ah-heh. Surgical intervention along with diet change–as in, “for the entire rest of your life you drink milkshakes, and small ones too”.

      Bariatric surgery isn’t some permanent fix. It requires extensive changes in lifestyle to maintain. Really, it’s not the surgery itself that causes weight loss–the surgery causes you to feel the physical sensations of fullness after a smaller portion of food, and (for some people) those physical sensations trigger the satiation response. If you eat and eat and keep on eating, you’ll bust the stomach-staples back open. Oh, and you have to exercise a lot, too; it’s pretty well proven that as caloric intake drops, the body will defend fat, unless there’s also a rise in caloric demand.

      A co-worker had this surgery, and it took a full year of him conforming to a very specific regimen of diet and exercise before the doctors (and the insurance companies) actually did it. If he wasn’t going to be able to do the things that would make him lose weight, then there wasn’t much point in putting him through the surgery.

    • Tsnom Eroc says:

      Oh, plenty of pills work really well for obesity, and if used as part of a month-two month long crash course diet once every year or so, will keep off significant weight gain.

      It was a common pill marketed to women in the 50’s for weight loss, beloved by college students cranking out worthless 50 page reports, and given to make little boys sit still for 8 hours straight.

      Adderall! Say it again! Have a prescription and you’ll NEVER go hungry again if you like it or not! The best appetite suppressant in existence.

      All you have to do to get it in this day and age for that purpose easily are one of 4 different things. 1. Know some shady illegal immigrant who has to make a living somehow. 2. Be a rich person doctor shopping. 3. Be an MIT/Caltech student and the doc will be “in the know” 4. Keep solid copies of when you were 8 and diagnosed with ADHD like all young boys have been.

      On a serious note, its a fucking shame some people recommend surgery or liposuction when that pill could be used pretty well instead. The prescribing of drugs like this never made a good deal of sense, either how to prescribe it or how *not* to prescribe it. Why is it terrible to prescribe it for weightloss when we just give it to children to make them sit still(improving their grades and academic achievement with them is controversial, having them act out less on it isn’t) just boggles the mind.

      As long as you somewhat watch your diet, and eat low calorie filling foods as filler, gaining lots of weight takes a *long* time and can be lost pretty quickly in 2 months.

      • The Nybbler says:

        If you don’t know shady illegal immigrants, aren’t rich, and weren’t diagnosed with ADHD, but do know other shady people, I’m fairly sure any amphetamine, including crystal meth, works for weight loss.

        • Tsnom Eroc says:

          I really wonder how dangerous those types of drugs actually are.

          MDMA, LSD,the active ingredients of marijuana(the plant itself is trickier), were arbitrarily moved from what should have been schedule 3 drugs to the schedule 1 classification due to conservative social pressure. (And I argue that some drugs are actually legalized and sold due to the flip-side of the same conservative Christian/militaristic pressure, but I digress)

          Meth is a hated drug even amongst druggies, so I doubt that’s a good GOTO one.

      • gwern says:

        I thought you were suggesting 4-DNP right up until you said ’50s.

  40. SUT says:

    How crazy is it that anyone without a background check can purchase a trebuchet off craigslist? Is there *any*reason a private citizen needs access to tools designed for siege warfare? Oh I’m sorry your penis is so small but buying 20 foot trebuchet isn’t going to help your bedroom performance. Or will it?

  41. ADufferentAnonymous says:

    The Donkey Kong link is double-edged. It describes two attempts at figuring out the microprocessor. One worked by simulating neurological experiments such as “lesioning” individual transistors and observing the resulting “behavior”. The other involved taking a photograph of the chip and trying to build a working model from there. If you haven’t read the link yet, you should decide now which one is the better analogy to the Hansonian vision.

    Results: the photographic project worked perfectly, producing an exact simulation. The neuroscience experiment one got nowhere.

    • The Nybbler says:

      It’s not surprising the photographic project worked; that’s how the chip was made in the first place, and furthermore reverse-engineering a chip that way has been done before. It’s not clear that it’s a reasonable analogy for something made of goo rather than silicon.

    • vV_Vv says:

      The neuroscience one builds on the photographic one.

      Note that the photographic project didn’t just use photographs, it also uses lots of prior knowledge about transistors and the architecture of the 6502 microprocessor, which is to a large extent public domain.

  42. Lumifer says:

    Looking at the obesity study press release, it’s hard to come to conclusions before seeing the actual paper, but I wonder whether the authors accounted for a basic bias: the split between obese patients who underwent surgery and who didn’t was very likely to have been not random. I would bet that one of the reasons why some obese patients found themselves in the non-surgery group was that they were either noticeably sick or had a high risk factor score. Basically, they were not operated on because the operation was too risky for them.

    And if so, it’s entirely unsurprising that the more-fragile-to-start-with group which did not undergo surgery had noticeably higher mortality during the next five years.

    • Emily says:

      As the press release discusses, they made some attempts to control for the non-randomness of who gets the surgery by including “age and previous comorbidity and other factors (including sex, coronary heart disease, valvular disease, cancer, hypertension, diabetes, heart failure, stroke and atrial fibrillation)” in some of their models. Of course those variables may be insufficient for getting at sickness, or they may not have done a good job of conditioning on them. But they clearly were aware of the objection you are bringing up and describe how they tried to deal with it.

  43. Jill says:

    Trigger Warning: Left of Center comments may appear below.

    Regarding Greece being neoliberal, here is an interview with Andrew Lilico, a British economist at the consulting firm Europe Economics, where he clearly states that Britain, through the European Economic Community, has “converted”– in reality, forced– Greece into a neoliberal pattern of running its economy.

    http://www.vox.com/2016/6/21/11974600/brexit-eu-euro-disaster

    “Along the way Britain converted our European partners to a regulatory and economic philosophy that was aligned with ours. The EU embeds a very British, pro-market-oriented economic philosophy based on privatization, market liberalization, free trade, opposition to state aid, and opposition to protectionism. “

    • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

      Your face is a trigger warning

      • Hlynkacg says:

        Not cool dude.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Two wrongs don’t make a right.

        • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

          No but three lefts make a right!!!
          (Mostly because no one can associate with three lefties hear three trigger warnings without wanting to become a social darwinist)

          I’m sorry. couldn’t resist.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            Warning for Luke that this is the sort of thing that leads to banning in the future

      • Sigivald says:

        Ala this?

        I mean, what if his face literally is a trigger warning?

        That would be cause for sympathy.

      • Agronomous says:

        (Trigger warning: this comment mentions Jill.)

        So since D. got banned, the rest of us figure it’s cool and wanna do it too?

        Also: Jill.

        • Nornagest says:

          D. would be appalled at being a youth role model, I think.

          I’m tempted to imitate her on those grounds alone, but I’m not quite young enough for it. Plus, y’know, not my style.

          (Also, I like this abbreviation business. Makes me feel like a character perpetrating correspondence in an Edwardian novel.)

    • Tracy W says:

      That the EU has a pro-market economic philosophy doesn’t mean that Greece does. Or did. That’s the thing about federal systems of government.

      (I heard a cynic once say that the British-EU relationship was so difficult because the continent’s made up of a bunch of countries that love passing laws, while Britain is in the habit of enforcing them.)

  44. Elimelech says:

    Of course, every election cycle is about twirling towards FREEDOM!

    I only got 24 out of 30, but I’m pretty weak on Unfinished Tales.

    I have a theory that a bunch (that’s a technical term) of devout Christians will march towards “Guns, God, and George III” And prominent religious essayist George Wiegel (exactly how I found my way to “First Things” via an arcane series of links is still up for speculation) posted today his standards for a better politics. Some of which caused me to jut out my chin and nod in appreciation, and some of which made me worry about how the hoi polloi of the RCC will continue moving towards a fortress culture of disaffection.

    I think we need some disarmament treaties drawn up for these so-called “culture wars.”

    • Agronomous says:

      the hoi polloi

      “Hoi” means “the” in Greek.*

      I have thus signaled my superior class. It feels good—like pointing out that the singular of “criteria” is “criterion”. And I’m not British: that period’s there because I’m a geek.

      (* It’s the definite article, but it gets declined with the noun it modifies, so it has a bunch of cases and two or three numbers (I forget if the dual number is distinct from the plural).)

      • Elimelech says:

        You got me. The shame is too great…

        “IT WAS TYPO!”

      • The original Mr. X says:

        (I forget if the dual number is distinct from the plural)

        I think the dual is τώ.

        (Note also how I signal my class by using actual Greek letters instead of transliterating, ’cause I’m just that educated.)

  45. JackbeThimble says:

    I’m surprised that quiz didn’t include the MS drug Fingolimod.

  46. meyerkev248 says:

    So I think that a big part of the problem with Silicon Valley is that it feels wrong.

    It’s hard to put a finger on any one thing*, but assuming that the trend-lines continue, it’s hard to justify in a way that it wasn’t in 2011 (or for that matter, 2013, when I had 30% of my present commute and 40% of my present rent. There’s a reason I’m leaving in 2017). And if the trend-lines don’t continue, well, that’s the definition of a bubble bursting.

    So who knows? Maybe it’ll continue indefinitely, maybe Jerry’s laws just fixed the housing problems, but… I dunno. It just doesn’t feel right.

    *Well…. housing. Sale Prices are about double those justified by rents, and it’s hard to see Silicon Valley growing in scale so long as they’re adding 60K jobs and 6K houses, and I just don’t see SDE 1’s at a startup making $150K just so they can afford rent, when they can be in Atlanta making $50K and owning houses (and inadvertently tripling the runway). But that’s a 20-years thing.

    • Psmith says:

      Yes. I have no insider data, but it strikes me as unlikely that an economy of everyone selling ad space to everyone else will be sustainable.

      • meyerkev248 says:

        It’s not even that, it’s stuff like:
        * Snapchat has no revenue
        * So they’ll sell the userbase to people who have successfully monetized user-bases before. Fairly standard mid-to-late stage acquisition for a few hundred million [1].
        * Except that they’re valued as several billion, so no one can afford them. (Except Mark Zuckerberg[2])
        * Which means they’re too big and are now a dead company walking.

        [1]: And you can think that this is crazy, but those companies do exist. And yes, this is a fairly standard goal.
        [2]: A depressing amount of this cycle is Mark having money to burn and a willingness to burn it. If that ever goes away…

        • SD000 says:

          Snapchat actually has over $100 million in revenue per public news sources.

          • meyerkev248 says:

            Fair enough, but their valuation is $16-20 Billion, which either suggests that someone thinks that number is going WAY up, or that long-term real interest rates and time preference are basically 0.

          • Anon256 says:

            @meyerkev248, Long-term real interest rates are indeed basically 0. Tech companies have at least a chance of major revenue growth, while the rest of the economy is more or less a stagnant wasteland.

        • SD000 says:

          Fair enough, but their valuation is $16-20 Billion, which either suggests that someone thinks that number is going WAY up.

          Which isn’t all that crazy. Facebook received a $15 bn valuation in late 2007 from Microsoft. Can’t find revenue from that time but in 2010 it’s revenue was about $400 mm; given the rate of growth it was seeing at the time, the Company’s revenue was probably less than what Snapchat is making now. Facebook easily has grown into its valuation.

          Also, note that for many of these guys, the headline valuation number is somewhat meaningless and meant to stroke egos. The termsheets have all kinds of protections built in (see: participating preferred).

      • Scott Alexander says:

        I got two new SSC ads this month and the boom will last forever!

    • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

      Silicon valley only feels unsustainable because:

      A. An artificial housing bubble caused by bad local building regs.
      B. Its nigh impossible to have an intuitive feel for tech growth (imagine factories turning out more and more cars, and its far easier to see the growth than imagining 3 guys making an app that lets people share the cars)
      C. A lot of the tech isn’t used by people who discuss markets, the average executive or market commentator isn’t using these new cheap options (they have money), although my CFO father in law does use AirB&B.
      D. A lot of the actual profitability is quite recent, Facebook wasn’t profitable until quite recently and for a long time it was speculative, whereas new tech businesses Uber, AirB&B, ect. are very profitable very early.

      • Snodgrass says:

        Uber is not globally profitable, and the optimistic estimate is that it makes twenty cents per ride in the US (so about a hundred million dollars a year) against a marketing spend already over a billion in China.

  47. Will the New Hampshire news item be mentioned in Unsong?

  48. nyccine says:

    In the game of callout culture, either you win or you die.

    Link seems confusing; I’m guessing Nina is the one learning that call-out culture can go both ways, but the link doesn’t make that obvious.

    Also, what is it with leftists offering strident defenses of violence against people they don’t like? And why is it always the ones who would get out-right pulverized if a road war ever actually broke out?

    • wysinwyg says:

      Also, what is it with leftists offering strident defenses of violence against people they don’t like? And why is it always the ones who would get out-right pulverized if a road war ever actually broke out?

      You don’t think that’s pretty trivial to find on the right as well?

      • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

        Once you define virtue in terms of group identity+ideological purity as opposed to abstract standards, it becomes very hard to hold the “virtuous” to any standard.

        I always wanted to come up with a rhetoric which would allow the right to scream racist and sexist just as much as the left, with the goal being to completely destroy the currency of identity politics and those accusations, and thus renew an appreciation for basic standards of discourse.

        • Hlynkacg says:

          the goal being to completely destroy the currency of identity politics and those accusations, and thus renew an appreciation for basic standards of discourse.

          I’m pretty sure the first part is already happening. Still waiting on the second.

        • LPSP says:

          Or of course, the standard becomes “How many disgusting, vile X-tribers did you kill today?”.

          The only standard how frequently and intensely you strike blows against the enemy.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Depends where on the right, though. I’ve seen a lot more ostensibly-respectable left-wingers using their own names defending busting up Trump rallies and so forth than their counterparts on the right defending aggressive political violence.

        Of course, there are tons of people with pseudonyms and avatars of Pepe the frog in SS caps praising right-wing political violence, but I don’t know if that’s comparable.

        • wysinwyg says:

          @dndnrsn:

          Of course, there are tons of people with pseudonyms and avatars of Pepe the frog in SS caps praising right-wing political violence, but I don’t know if that’s comparable.

          Yeah, I think if you compare like to like that’s called “special pleading.”

          I don’t think threats of political violence are as far out of the mainstream of the right wing as you’re trying to paint here (just for an easy example, I’ve heard Rush Limbaugh advocate for just shooting illegal immigrants on his radio program), but I agree with @Luke the CIA Stooge that these guilt by association tactics don’t get anyone anywhere. That’s why I didn’t try to imply that there’s something about conservatism that makes its followers especially prone to trying to justify political violence.

          I did respond to a comment that tried to imply that there’s something about liberalism that makes its followers especially prone to trying to justify political violence…and now you basically seem to agree.

          So you do agree? That “leftists” are more prone to advocate for political violence? If so, why do you think so? Is it imperative to your worldview that this is so?

          Have you read any of Scott’s stuff about the principle of charity?

          • dndnrsn says:

            The comment said “leftists”, not “liberals” – the people who call themselves “leftists” generally disdain those they call “liberals”.

            I don’t think there’s anything inherent to liberalism or to conservatism that make the followers of either especially prone to political violence or to defending it.

            However, leftists are not liberals and reactionaries are not conservatives. Leftists and reactionaries, I think the historical record shows, are more prone to political violence, and to defending it. Please don’t be snarky about the principle of charity: the fact is that violence against Trump rallies is often accompanied by articles by self-proclaimed leftists defending that violence. The original comment is about a link to a site where one of the recent posts is, in quite overly-dramatic language, a defence of violence against Trump supporters, and an attack on those on the left side of the political spectrum who condemn that violence.

            EDIT: as for my worldview, I myself am a liberal, and it is not “imperative” for me to believe leftists endorse political violence: noticing leftists endorsing political violence leads me to the conclusion that at least some leftists do endorse political violence.

            Additionally, the defences of political violence in the US currently are not evenly distributed, because the violence isn’t. Trump supporters are not attacking Hillary or Bernie campaign events.

          • wysinwyg says:

            However, leftists are not liberals and reactionaries are not conservatives. Leftists and reactionaries, I think the historical record shows, are more prone to political violence, and to defending it. Please don’t be snarky about the principle of charity

            Not at all, that’s a reasonable distinction to make. I thought you were conflating the leftists calling for violence with the mainstream left while distancing the mainstream right from the reactionary end of the right.

            Trump supporters are not attacking Hillary or Bernie campaign events.

            No, but they are stomping homeless hispanic people. And urinating on them. And I’m a little curious about what you think of summary execution of illegal immigrants.

            Is it not political violence if it’s not at a rally?

          • Hlynkacg says:

            Is it not political violence if it’s not political

          • dndnrsn says:

            I am, for the record, against the execution of illegal immigrants, summary or otherwise. Massively disproportionate and inhumane. Limbaugh’s a scumbag, and for a period of maybe a decade and a half the mainstream right really was much worse than the mainstream left, and even some outside the mainstream left, with regard to this sort of thing.

            The types defending – not merely apologizing for, but defending, and even promoting – violence against Trump supporters are not the mainstream left. They are, however, more mainstream than the reactionaries defending and promoting political violence that isn’t actually happening (see below): they’re journalists at reputable or semi-reputable outfits, grad students, assistant profs, and so on, generally using their own names. They are not mainstream, insofar as they’re a grab bag of socialists, anarchists, communists, etc of various degrees – but those things are more respectable in our society than anything on the far right.

            And more mainstream figures have apologized for political violence, in the classic sense of the term: the next time a Trump rally is busted up, and people are assaulted, some mainstream left-wingers will condemn the violence but essentially say it’s Trump’s fault, and then some less mainstream (but still not afraid to use their own names) leftists will write about how, no, actually, violence is awesome and assaulting people for going to a political rally is a-ok in their books.

            Meanwhile, violence by Trump supporters is far more limited, and less apologized for/defended/encouraged by anyone not pseudonymous. Trump did, however, make a remark about paying legal fees for people who rough up protestors – which is lowlife behaviour, and he’s hardly a tasteful figure himself.

            I worry that the reactionary end of the right will continue to become more popular and eventually more acceptable, to some degree in reaction (ha!) to all this stuff.

            EDIT: If you have sources indicating that the violence is less one-sided, please post. I don’t think I’m in any sort of right-wing echo chamber: I read some mainstream left online sources, the print news media I read is exclusively left wing or centrist, and my Facebook feed is almost exclusively left wingers. If I’ve missed something I’d like to see it

          • Gbdub says: