Dave Barry’s 2016 Year In Review.
“Fanatics got into the Capitol building and committed a mass shooting on Congress while it was in session, and you’ve never heard of them…people have completely forgotten that in 1972 we had over nineteen hundred domestic bombings in the United States” A review of Days Of Rage and history lesson on the 1970s underground. Highly recommended.
Jewish sci-fi short story: On Venus, Have We Got A Rabbi, by Philip Klass.
New Yorker: The Mosul Dam in Iraq could fail soon, potentially causing a flash flood and hundreds of thousands of deaths.
An ecologist denounces calls to “drain the swamp” as an insult to swamps: “Given the sea of misinformation we currently find ourselves swimming in, I feel this is as good a time as any to clarify what swamps actually are and why they should be regarded as wonderful and valuable parts of nature rather than objects of derision and hatred.” If any of you are oceanographers, can you troll the Washington Post for me by denouncing their use of the term “sea of misinformation”?
The Seasteading Institute announces a deal with French Polynesia to build the first seastead in a lagoon there. I’m still confused on whether they’ve got funding or anything else besides the location. Still a big step.
80,000 Hours’ guide to what charities to give to this season. A good supplement to GiveWell’s Top Charities list
Vox: Why the war on poverty failed, and what to do now. In the form of a long and detailed history of Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyveysant neighborhood. Not clear that anyone actually knows what to do now beyond a few good common-sense suggestions.
Some towns have tried to help the environment by banning plastic bags. But the state of Michigan will have none of this, and has banned banning plastic bags. I think Congress should strike a blow for local governments’ rights by banning banning banning plastic bags.
RIP utilitarian philosopher Derek Parfit: “When I believed the non-reductionist view [of personal identity], I also cared more about my inevitable death. After my death, there will [be] no one living who will be me. I can now redescribe this fact. Though there will later be many experiences, none of these experiences will be connected to my present experiences by chains of such direct connections as those involved in experience-memory, or in the carrying out of an earlier intention. Some of these future experiences may be related to my present experiences in less direct ways. There will later be some memories about my life. And there may later be thoughts that are influenced by mine, or things done as the result of my advice. My death will break the more direct relations between my present experiences and future experiences, but it will not break various other relations. This is all there is to the fact that there will be no one living who will be me. Now that I have seen this, my death seems to me less bad.”
Man shoots guy with swastika tattoo at protest; victim turns out to be antifascist whose tattoo was a swastika in a crossed-out-circle similar to the no-smoking sign; crossed-out-circle apparently less visible than he would have liked. This is probably a metaphor for life. (possibly not true/incomplete, see here
A recent graph that showed how many nukes each country had provoked some confusion by showing “Jeff” as having nuclear weapons. Was this a mistake or joke? According to the Reddit thread Who The Hell Is Jeff, it’s actually the Joint Evaluated Fission And Fusion File, an international organization that studies nuclear energy and borrowed a couple of nukes to do tests on. I wonder how many forms you have to fill out for that.
Meta-analysis in the American Journal Of Nutrition: Red meat does not increase risk of cardiovascular disease.
Marginal Revolution on libertarian childrens books, mostly notable for this story about libertarian kids traveling to the beach called The Tuttle Twins And The Road To Surfdom. I find it funny/fitting that (as per Amazon) “this book is only available from third-party sellers”. But if you prefer your libertarianism-related childrens books with a sea-related theme to come down against the ideology, there’s also Nathan Robinson’s Libertarian Island.
Pigeons As Trainable Observers Of Pathology And Radiology Breast Cancer Images should delight behaviorists and worry radiologists.
“From an outside view, looking in at the Earth, if you noticed that human beings were about to replace themselves as the most intelligent agents on the planet, would you think it unreasonable if 1% of their effort were being spent explicitly reasoning about that transition? How about 0.1%?” – Time To Spend More Than 0.00001% Of World GDP On Human-Level AI Alignment. I like this essay, but I also worry that framing things as percent of global GDP is easy to abuse. Don’t you think it’s time to spend more than 0.00001% of GDP rewarding bloggers who make important points about keeping numbers in perspective?
Tom Pepinsky: Everyday Authoritarianism Is Boring And Tolerable. The average dictatorship isn’t Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany. It’s relatively stable and most people have normal lives. There are probably elections that seem free and fair if you don’t look too closely. You can probably criticize the government as long as you’re not important or you don’t have an audience. I think this is a really important article. First, because it explains some things I’d never really understood – like how come you keep hearing about authoritarian regimes cracking down on dissidents in a way that implied they weren’t doing that before. And second, it’s important to anyone who wants to watch for and resist authoritarianism, since it’s not going to look the way you expect it to look and it might be easier to miss than you think.
This paper tries to fight the idea of microaggressions by saying that it implies certain testable claims and that those claims are false. I appreciate the effort but I’m not sure that the people who use the term are implying any testable claims, and I worry about scientific studies attempting to disprove the existence of political concepts. It seems too easy to show that other controversial topics like “political correctness” or “structural racism” or whatever don’t fit some list of things you claim they should fit and therefore “aren’t real”. I do think it’s important to challenge these kinds of concepts sometimes, and I do think facts about them established in scientific papers are important parts of that challenge, but I’m not sure it’s right for the scientific literature to be the place where these sorts of battles are fought.
Congratulations to the city of San Diego for losing the San Diego Chargers instead of giving into their demand for $600 million in public subsidies.
Last year I argued that $600 EpiPens didn’t mean the government should price-control drugs, they meant that we needed more competition in the EpiPen market. Now CVS is producing a competing EpiPen for only $110. Still illegal to give for a normally-written EpiPen prescription, though, so remind your doctor to write for “adrenaline autoinjector”.
Agora Project is an attempt to create a new kind of forum with branching and rejoining discussion topics.
Acemoglu and Restropo: Economic stagnation is not due to aging populations.
New York Times: Can You Draw Obama’s Legacy?. Finish line graphs showing how crime, unemployment, etc changed during Obama’s terms.
Popehat on Trump’s defamation cases: “Put another way, it is a matter of judicial record that the new President of the United States is habitually full of shit. This is optimal for a defamation defense, if perhaps not for America.”
User dogtasteslikechicken at the r/slatestarcodex subreddit gives a good summary of the Flynn Effect. But it looks like he is confused about some of the same things I am. For example, rich people and the nobility probably had good nutrition and education in the past. So we might expect a Flynn effect based on nutrition and education not to affect them as much. But if this were true, we would expect a skewed or bimodal distribution in the past (un-Flynned poor people with bad nutrition + Flynned rich people with good nutrition), which I don’t think ever clearly showed up.
Some fallout from the Buzzfeed story on growth mindset I linked last week. The Spectator published what I think is a really nasty and evidence-free denunciation of the phenomenon. Mindset researcher David Yeager has tried to set the record straight and argues that growth mindset actually replicates just fine, eg in this paper, and that several other large and rigorous replications are being attempted. Dweck herself has a reply up here. And Timothy Bates put his failed replications online here. Looks like it will be an interesting year in this field.
Obama attempted to get everyone out of Guanatanmo before the end of his term, but wasn’t able to make the deadline.
Ferrett on how online fetish site FetLife has been forced to remove some controversial fetish material under threat from online payment processors not to accept transactions regarding his site. I think online payment processors are an underappreciated threat to free speech compared to eg Trump, political correctness, etc – they’ve also been harassing the nootropics community and making it really difficult to sell otherwise-legal chemicals. Bitcoin is apparently so rarely-used that a lot of businesses wouldn’t be profitable if they had to go Bitcoin only; anyone who can figure out a nonjudgmental way to send money online would have quite the business opportunity, not to mention the thanks of a grateful Internet. (but see response here)
Stuart Ritchie reviews Keith Stanovich’s The Rationality Quotient, notes that his “rationality quotient” correlates at 0.695 with normal IQ. Stanovichian rationality is probably not a great answer to the timeless “why do smart people sometimes think such stupid things” question. (but see response here)
Objects designed by AI look organic and alien.
Los Angeles Times: claims that Obama deported far more people than any other president are based on a change in how people returned to Mexico after being apprehended crossing the border got reported; previously these were not counted as deportations, and during the Obama administration they were. Adjusting for this, Obama deported fewer immigrants than other recent presidents.
A picture of The Lucky Knot Bridge in China.
The best explanation I’ve heard for why people believe the Russians were behind the DNC hacks (warning: hard-to-follow Tweet thread). Short version: the hackers made a mistake that let investigators see who else they had hacked in the same way; the victims were mostly enemies of Russia. While it could have just been a very complicated framing, even then the scale and complexity would suggest a state actor.
More takes on Trump’s health picks – Daily Caller: Jim O’Neill, The Best Trump Pick You’ve Never Heard Of and Marginal Revolution: Will Trump Appoint A Great FDA Commissioner?. And note that Trump has asked current NIH direct Francis Collins to remain in his post, at least for now. Also, a profile of new HHS secretary Tom Price.
One of the biggest US school choice experiments has been judged a success, with New Orleans test scores rising about a third of a standard deviation after Hurricane Katrina prompted city government to switch the school system to a voucher-based model. See also Neerav Kingsland’s take. Related: as per WaPo, new analysis shows that giving billions of dollars of extra funding to failing schools had no impact [but see counterarguments here and here].