NꙮW WITH MꙮRE MULTIꙮCULAR ꙮ

OT71: I Don’t Open Things

This is the bi-weekly visible open thread. There are hidden threads every few days here. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. Also:

1. Google is saying that SSC has been hacked. Technical side has confirmed that it hasn’t been, so don’t worry. Still trying to figure out how to get Google to remove the warning.

2. User deluks917 has set up a Discord server for SSC. I don’t know whether people prefer the this or the IRC, so I’ll just let them fight it out and officially endorse whoever wins.

3. Some really excellent comments this week. From the perceptual control theory post: Null Hypothesis on their own experience as a control engineer (+Garrett), Controls Freak with a different perspective, a control-related perspective on obesity (but see here), and jasongreenlowe wins the thread. And from the antidepressants post: Mediocrates on plasma levels, Jacob on cancer genomics.

4. A new ad on the sidebar: Hi-Phi Nation, a philosophy podcast that describes itself as “bring[ing] philosophy out of stories of ordinary and extraordinary human experiences”

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

617 Responses to OT71: I Don’t Open Things

  1. Le Maistre Chat says:

    First!
    What evidence do we have that the laws of nature have always been the same? How hard would it be to falsify a truth claim like “the speed of light was once different” or “magic used to work”?

    • shakeddown says:

      Anecdote: There’s this really neat bit in the Feynman lectures where he notices that the ratio between the gravitational and electric forces in an atom is on the order of 10^37, and wonders how a number so large could happen in nature. He brings up, as a possible solution, that this is about the number of times a beam of light could cross an atom since the begining of the universe, so maybe the ratio increased over time. But then he notes that this means gravity would have been significantly stronger in dinosaur times, so we should have noticed it geologically (or cosmologically).

      You can do this for some simple alternative rules of physics. More complicated ideas (like “magic used to work”) would be harder to disprove.

    • doubleunplussed says:

      With regard to fundamental laws of physics, we can get some evidence about what they were like in the past by looking at distant objects like other galaxies. The emission spectra of the elements that their stars are made out of are the same as the emission spectra of those elements here on Earth, so that can restrict how different things could have been.

      Ultimately though it depends how much you’re willing to take for granted, because all observation is theory-laden. If the speed of light were faster in the past, then that would prevent us from knowing how long ago something happened based solely on how far away it was, and so the theory would be mixed in with the very observations that were trying to test it.

      There is an extra point, which is that time-symmetry of the laws of physics has consequences for other laws of physics. Namely, energy conservation. If the laws of physics are the same no matter what time you’re looking at, then that implies energy must be conserved (at least, if we’re right about the meta-theory within which that reasoning applies). So if we saw violation of energy conservation, that would definitely make physicists think twice about whether the laws of nature were the same at all times. But, since we have always seen energy being conserved, this is evidence that the laws of physics are the same at all times.

      We’ve been wrong about things like that before though. For example, physicists used to think that the laws of physics were the same if you *reversed the direction* of time. We now know that this isn’t true. If you reverse the direction of time, physics only stays the same if you also swap particles for antiparticles, and flip space into mirror image of itself as well.

      There’s been some interest in recent years about whether the fine structure constant (a dimensionless constant which has to do with the strength of electromagnetism) might be changing over time. I haven’t heard anything else about it in a while, but physicists were certainly poring over cosmological data for a while trying to see if they could see evidence for it changing, or rule out that it was. I assume it’s still unanswered or that it’s been ruled out, otherwise I would have heard about it.

      • seladore says:

        For your last paragraph, my impression is that the essentially all rigorous recent studies have failed to show an effect which is statistically distinct from zero. We had a colloquium speaker discuss this recently. There were a few studies ~10 years ago that seemed to show a potential variation in alpha, but all recent studies are consistent with zero (and I think that’s where 99/100 cosmologists would put their money.)

    • The Nybbler says:

      I believe changes in the speed of light would likely have left their mark on the cosmic microwave background. There’s been serious suggestions over the years that the gravitational constant “G” isn’t constant, though.

      As for magic, that one’s non-falsifiable. We can always assume the last magic act was to hide all the evidence.

    • seladore says:

      We can measure various physical constants in distant galaxies, looking back around 11-12 billion years.

      Generally, the constant everyone tries to measure is the Fine Structure Constant. This is useful, as it’s a dimensionless constant with the value ~1/137 in all systems of units. Variation in the fine structure constant has to be due to the laws of physics varying.

      There have been lots of efforts to measure whether the Fine Structure Constant varies in the distant past. There have been a few studies finding a very small (but non-zero) variation, but my impression is that the majority of studies (like this recent one… https://arxiv.org/pdf/1304.6940.pdf) find a level of variation consistent with zero. I.e., the laws of physics have been essentially the same for at least the last 11 billion years.

    • It is problematic to talk about changes in the speed of light, because that is measured in meters per second. If you imagine that the laws of physics have changed, then it is not clear what you mean by a meter or a second any more. However, the fine structure constant is a pure number, so it is more clearly meaningful to talk about that changing. There has been some very interesting work to test this possibility using the Oklo natural nuclear reactor. This is a deposit of uranium in West Africa that underwent spontaneous fission about 2 billion years ago. It has been shown that this reaction could only have occurred if the fine structure constant was extremely close to its present value. There are details in this paper.

      • random832 says:

        It is problematic to talk about changes in the speed of light, because that is measured in meters per second. If you imagine that the laws of physics have changed, then it is not clear what you mean by a meter or a second any more.

        Not that problematic, if the change doesn’t predict matching changes to e.g. the diameter and rotational period of solid objects.

        • rmtodd says:

          The problematic bit is that in the modern SI system of units a meter is defined as “how far light will go in a vacuum in X seconds”, so there’s really no way to have the statement “the speed of light is changing” make sense in this framework.

          • skef says:

            [bashes @rmtodd over the head with his copy of Naming and Necessity]

          • episcience says:

            You’re right that if the speed of light actually isn’t constant, the meter isn’t a fixed distance anymore. But one assumes that if we discover that the speed of light varies based on some parameters, then we’ll redefine the meter to be “how far light will go in a vaccuum [with the parameters as they are near Earth in c 2000 AD] in X seconds”. Or we could use a different unit of length (the Planck length, for example, or a wavelength that strikes our fancy). In either case, the fact that one of our units assumes the speed of light is a constant doesn’t actually change physical reality.

          • ChetC3 says:

            > Or we could use a different unit of length (the Planck length, for example, or a wavelength that strikes our fancy).

            Uh…? Neither of those are independent of c.

          • random832 says:

            Regardless of that framework, if the diameter of a rotating spherical lump of X substance weighing Y kilograms takes a different fraction of rotational period Z of that lump for a beam of light to cross than it did previously, consistent across all objects regardless of composition, mass, and angular momentum, then the speed of light is the most likely thing to have changed (compared to e.g. all objects, and all of the intervening space between all objects, having expanded or contracted by some uniform amount), and it becomes an argument for *not defining the meter in terms of the speed of light*.

            Like, if the amount of time that it takes for light to get from one end of my shiny platinum-iridium bar to the other has changed by a macroscopic amount (like, doubled or halved, far in excess of any measurement error or thermal expansion), I’m probably going to trust the bar more than the light.

          • Soy Lecithin says:

            Changing the speed of light would change the length of your platinum bar, and of everything else.

            Abstractly: If the lengths of everything in the universe doubled overnight how would we tell? The only way would be to have a standard, operational way of comparing lengths to some other unit, say time, energy, whatever. But any such conversion from length to something else would necessarily be via the speed of light. (Such a conversion would be a quantity with units say m/s. Any such quantity will be a rational function of the fundamental constants defining our laws of physics. The only way for the output of such a function to have units m/s is for there to be an overall factor of c.)

            More concretely: The radii of atoms will shrink in proportion to the change in the speed of light because the Bohr radius is proportional to 1/c.

            Although physics is not sensitive to what the speed of light is, it may still be sensitive to the time differential of the speed of light, i.e. how fast it changes. (Though I doubt this as well, as an easy fix would be to change all time derivatives to be “covariant” with the changing speed of light. It might take a variation in both time and space for there to be any effect on physics.)

          • random832 says:

            More concretely: The radii of atoms will shrink in proportion to the change in the speed of light because the Bohr radius is proportional to 1/c.

            See, this is the kind of thing that leads to useful answers to “what would happen if the speed of light were changing over time” (particularly as it doesn’t seem to also predict that the [real rather than measured via c] distances between atoms that are not bound to each other, or objects that are in orbit around each other, will change), whereas simply refusing to consider it because of definitions doesn’t.

    • vV_Vv says:

      How do you falsify the claim “magic works”?

      • rahien.din says:

        “Nuh-uh!”

      • Eric Rall says:

        Ask the claimant to describe what they mean by “magic” and what it looks like when it “works”. These claims may be commonplace (“My sheepdog’s name is Magic”) or metaphorical (“Friendship is magic”), or they might differ from a no-Magic model of the world in a meaningful way. The latter set of cases are the interesting ones, and you should be able to tease some kind of testable prediction out if them. Those predictions can be falsified. That only falsifies one interpretation of “magic”, but a long string of falsifications with no confirmations would form an inductive basis for assigning a low confidence level to the general claim that some kind of magic works in a meaningful, practical way.

  2. skef says:

    In the past there have been many book recommendation threads in this forum, but the “themes” have usually been either genres of fiction, general non-fiction, or specific topics. I can’t recall a thread on academic books that could also be of more general interest.

    What non-fiction books that aren’t popularizations have you read that make interesting points and might be accessible to a well-informed non-expert?

    • shakeddown says:

      Pretty basic, but volume 1 of the Feynman lectures is a really good comprehensive cover of most of classical physics (definitely worth reading for anyone who liked physics in high school but didn’t major in it, in particular).
      I’ve been reading the Bell Curve lately, so far it’s pretty interesting. (Lots and lots of numbers, which can be a plus or a minus).
      For anyone with basic knowledge of math who’s curious about advanced abstract math, Munkers’ intro to topology (relatively little background, though some level of mathematical maturity required), or Serre’s a Course in Arithmetic (basic notions of group theory may be required for this one) are both really interesting well-written.
      Also, Scott Aaronson’s Quantum Computing since Democritus (which Scott’s done a review of here).

      • pssandwich says:

        I really, really disagree with you about Serre’s book. Someone with the level of math background you’re requiring probably couldn’t make it more than 15 pages in. For example, the p-adic fields chapter is completely hopeless for someone who doesn’t know what a projective limit is. This is well beyond what you’re requiring- I know some very successful mathematicians (in analysis specifically) who aren’t really comfortable with category theory even at that modest level. As an analysis grad student, I’m certainly not.

    • skef says:

      I wish I could recommend some philosophy along these lines, but I’m not sure the stuff I value would have general appeal, and a lot of it is difficult, in (at least) the sense that it requires several readings to start to get the hang of.

      But my favorite academic author is the sociologist Donald MacKenzie. I suspect the work of his of most general interest is “An Engine, not a Camera: How Financial Models Shape the Markets”, which serves as both an introduction to a difficult and interesting topic, and in the later chapters demonstrates the potential of the sociological perspective.

      I also very much like his “Mechanizing Proof”. I didn’t really understand (the programming language) ML and the sort of cult following it had until I read this, and then everything clicked into place. But my interest in this subject likely stems from my CS background, and I’m not sure whether other people would get as much out of it.

    • Protagoras says:

      Hmmm. Looking at my own field, philosophy that’s not a popularization but might be comprehensible and of interest to a non-expert. Well, in philosophy of religion, perhaps Mackie’s The Miracle of Theism. That might not be the only Mackie worth recommending; Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong similarly is at a higher level than a mere popularization, but contains much that could interest a non-expert. I am curious as to whether someone who was mathematically inclined but not an expert in philosophy would appreciate Lewis’ Parts of Classes (I don’t recommend it to anybody with neither philosophical nor mathematical expertise, but enough people around here have mathematical expertise for me to think it might be worth recommending).

    • Mary says:

      Chiefly going by stuff from university presses:

      The Greeks and the Irrational by E.R. Dodds
      The Return to Camelot: Chivalry and the English Gentleman by Mark Girouard
      Witchcraft and Magic in Europe, Volume 2: Ancient Greece and Rome
      Witchcraft and Magic in Europe, Volume 4: The Period of the Witch Trials
      Witchcraft and Magic in Europe, Volume 5: The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries
      Witchcraft and Magic in Europe, Volume 6: The Twentieth Century
      The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in Ancient Japan by Ivan Morris
      The Nobility of Failure: Tragic Heroes in the History of Japan by Ivan Morris
      A Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Food: Processing and Consumption by Ann Hagen
      A Second Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Food and Drink by Ann Hagen (Actually the better of the two, I think)
      The Early Chinese Empires: Qin and Han by Mark Edward Lewis
      The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain by Darío Fernández-Morera
      The Ties That Bound: Peasant Families in Medieval Englandby Barbara A. Hanawalt
      The Elizabethan World Picture by Eustace Mandeville Wetenhall Tillyard
      The Rise of Universities by Charles Homer Haskins
      The Rise and Fall of Merry England: The Ritual Year 1400-1700 by Ronald Hutton
      Peace-Weavers and Shield Maidens: Women in Early English Society by Kathleen Herbert
      The Return to Camelot: Chivalry and the English Gentleman by Mark Girouard
      Life in the English Country House: A Social and Architectural History by Mark Girouard
      Life in the French Country House by Mark Girouard
      All-American Girl: The Ideal of Real Womanhood in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America by Frances B. Cogan
      Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens by James Davidson
      The Wonder That Was India: A survey of the history and culture of the Indian sub-continent before the coming of the Muslims: Vol 1 by Arthur Llewellyn Basham
      Hounds and Hunting in Ancient Greece by Denison Bingham Hull
      Confidence Men and Painted Women: A Study of Middle-class Culture in America, 1830-1870 by Karen Halttunen
      Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity, 1920-1940 by Roland Marchand
      To Love, Honor, and Obey in Colonial Mexico: Conflicts over Marriage Choice, 1574-1821 by Patricia Seed
      Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms, and Nationalisms: The Militarization of Aesthetics in Japanese History by Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney
      The Cult of the Fox: Power, Gender, and Popular Religion in Late Imperial and Modern China by Xiaofei Kang
      An Experiment in Criticism by C.S. Lewis
      The Rhetoric of Fiction by Wayne C. Booth
      A Rhetoric of Irony by Wayne C. Booth
      The Owl, the Raven, and the Dove: The Religious Meaning of the Grimms’ Magic Fairy Tales by G. Ronald Murphy

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      The Art of Not Being Governed by James C. Scott. It’s about ungovernned regions– there’s still a big one in the southeast Asian highlands.

      • James Scott’s other good book is Seeing Like a State.

        One book I liked is Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army by Donald Engels. Also Casson, Lionel, Ships and Seamanship in the Ancient World.

        • dominiklukes says:

          If you want something that provides a great overview of the discipline of anthropology, then Graeber’s ‘Debt: First 5000 years’ does a great job while making a point and being readable. Although, James C Scott’s books are great, too. Eric R Wolf’s ‘Europe and the people without history’ is also excellent but is a lot less readable.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I’m fond of James Scott’s Two Cheers for Anarchism— short enough to be manageable, and has a good bit in it that I didn’t know.

        • Rob K says:

          Not to be Jim Scott hipster, but I don’t want to leave hanging the implication that he has only two good books. Seeing Like a State is probably his best general interest work, but both Moral Economy of the Peasant and Weapons of the Weak are very interesting for understanding (1) people who live very differently than us and (2) the underpinnings of Scott’s ideas in his bigger picture works.

          In particular, Moral Economy of the Peasant makes a point (when you live just above subsistence level, you may care a lot more about evening out potential fluctuations in your income than about raising your average long term prospects_ that seems to escape a surprising number of economists.

    • dodrian says:

      John Drane’s Introducing the Old Testament and Introducing the New Testament are excellent introductions to the historical and cultural context of the Bible, as well as some basic source and textual criticism. Written from a sympathetic but academically rigorous viewpoint.

    • onyomi says:

      An academic publication I recently read, yet which might be fun and of general interest (like you could stick it in someone’s Christmas stocking), is Timothy Billings’s translation of Matteo Ricci’s “On Friendship,” a treatise he wrote in literary Chinese on the basis of his memory of European aphorisms about friendship, a subject which had recently come into vogue in China at the time. It was the first piece of original writing by a European to become a minor “bestseller” in China, and the first to make it into a number of canonical anthologies.

    • Mammon says:

      Abel & Sussman’s Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs is a fantastic introduction to computing for laypeople.

      Penrose’s The Road to Reality assumes only high-school math and derives the laws of physics. Roger Penrose is a wonderful teacher.

      • Anatoly says:

        I can’t decide if you’re a king of deadpan, woefully uncalibrated or furiously signalling, but I want to think it’s the first one.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Ehrman’s New Testament/early Christian writings introductory text is extremely good. It’s well written and it’s both basic enough that someone with no background can read it and understand it, and detailed enough that it’s usable for people who do have a background.

    • J Mann says:

      I’m not sure what a popularization is, but my underappreciated non-fiction book is:

      The Year of Decision 1846, by Bernard de Voto

      de Voto is a real historian, and he uses 1845-46 to tie together several American historical themes that were occurring around that time: the Westward Expansion, the Mexican War, the Donner Party, the Mormon exodus, and Francis Parkman’s adventures all generally tell the story of America’s Westward shift and the increasing tensions that were heading towards the Civil War.

      • Mary says:

        I’m not sure what a popularization is

        A book written specifically for people in general, in particular those not familiar with the subject. A Brief History of Time for instance.

    • Levantine says:

      Eric R. Wolf: “Europe and the People Without History” *

      To get a glimpse of how good and how valuable it is, you may take a look at this blog where it’s repeatedly recommended and discussed : http://www.livinganthropologically.com/

      (*) candidate for ‘the worst choice of book title ever

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Eric R. Wolf: “Europe and the People Without History” *
        (*) candidate for ‘the worst choice of book title ever‘

        Please elaborate. The title sounds like he’s accusing the evil Europeans of evilly denying that indigenous peoples had historical records. That would be… problematic, as the kids say.

    • cassander says:

      C Northcote Parkinson’s “Parkinson’s Law” is an excellent, and extremely entertaining, primer on a number of bureaucratic maladies.

      If you want to understand why world war two happened in the way it did and only want to read one book, that book is “Wages of Destruction” by Adam Tooze. It shows concretely how many of the common “mistakes” traditionally trotted out as “reasons the Germans lost” were actually forced on them by their economic and material situation.

      If you want to understand how WW1 got started, the best single book is “The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914” by Margaret MacMillan. Her “Paris 1919” is an excellent explication of how Woodrow Wilson ruined the world, but it’s decidedly more specialist.

      If you want a single volume book explaining the Peloponnesian War in the context of classical greek society, Victor Davis Hanson’s “A War like No Other” can’t be beaten.

      Those are the books that occur to me off the top of my head, if anyone wants recommendations for other historical periods/wars/etc. I can probably supply good ones, at least for Western history.

    • Julian Jaynes’s book on the bicameral mind (not going to type out the whole title because it is such a mouthful). Read it. Even if you don’t end up buying into its arguments, it is riveting stuff.

      • James Miller says:

        Professors of classics, including my wife, think that the ancient literature evidences the thesis that the ancient people who wrote this literature thought the way modern humans do.

        • Montfort says:

          Specifically in reference to the bicameral mind hypothesis, or overall?
          If the latter, I would be interested to know what evidence they think would change their mind. I’m not trying to imply that they’re wrong, it just seems like a difficult thing to determine through the sources of information I know of.

        • Protagoras says:

          Classics is mostly Greeks and Romans, and the Romans aren’t relevant to the bicameral mind hypothesis, and only the very earliest of the Greek sources are early enough to be relevant. So while I’d like to take this as evidence (I’m very skeptical of the bicameral mind hypothesis myself), I would need more information to conclude that a classicist is the most relevant expert here.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            While I agree that this is a non sequitur, and like most arguments from authority, probably doesn’t reflect any knowledge of what the contrarian is saying, Jaynes does talk about classical sources, not just Homer and Sumer.

          • John Schilling says:

            Conveniently for Jaynes, bicameralism is alleged to have gone out of style at about the time of the Late Bronze Age Collapse (not a coincidence), so we would need as evidence such literature of minimally literate societies as might have survived the nearly total collapse of human civilization.

            Jaynes addresses Homer, Gilgamesh, and the Old Testament, providing what this layman recalls as vaguely-plausible arguments that the oldest bits of those support bicameralism and the explicitly introspective bits were added by later translators. That’s the sort of thing I’d like a professor of classic literature’s take on, so long as we are clear on what we are talking about.

            What other surviving pre-Collapse literature do we have to work with?
            Wikipedia, of course, has a list – it’s not huge, and most of it is fragmentary stuff that wouldn’t give much insight into mindstates, but it’s more than I recall Jaynes addressing.

          • James Miller says:

            I’ve asked my wife about Homer and Gilgamesh, and other classics professors about the ancient Greeks.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Agreed. I would classify it under “probably false but interesting” which actually puts it above any book that is banal and affirms what we already believe.

      • random832 says:

        One thing that threw me out of this was the discussion of human effigies (statues etc) used as a focus to generate the hallucinations (and which later evolved into gods).

        If the whole of humanity was unconscious/bicameral, who built these and why?

      • Eric Rall says:

        I haven’t read the full book, but based on synopses I’ve read, it seems like it would predict that cultures that still operate in a bronze-age or earlier social structure and which have been relatively isolated from more technologically advanced and socially complex cultures would still have bicameral minds.

        Is there evidence of this being the case? Papua New Guinea Highlanders seem like a good test case, since many of the inhabitants are still hunter-gathers to the present day, first contact with non-Highlanders didn’t occur until 1930, and there’s quite a bit of documentation from linguists and anthropologists from the 1950s-80s who had the opportunity to interview and observe Highlanders who were adults when first contact occurred.

        Alternately, is there an explanation of why the hypothesis wouldn’t apply to Papua New Guinea Highlanders?

        • John Schilling says:

          If uncontacted PNG highlanders (or any other stone-age groups) don’t have bicameral minds, that would be a nearly fatal blow to the theory. The question is what level of contact it takes to induce unicameralism in the average paleolithic population. I suspect, and this is going to introduce a serious cofounder into all the “easy” research paths, that learning a language developed by and optimized for unicameral minds is going to give people a very strong nudge towards introspective consciousness. So we’re going to need a research team that speaks (or is willing to learn) the language of an uncontacted or minimally-contacted stone-age tribe and is willing to seriously entertain Jaynes’ theory.

          Alternately, we’re going to need someone from back in the day when contacting new stone-age tribes was a regular occurrence, who kept such detailed notes on the psychology of their subjects as to confirm or refute a hypothesis that wasn’t going to be conceived for another century.

          • Evan Þ says:

            We’ve had a fair number of Christian missionaries learning the languages of minimally-contacted Stone Age tribes, and from reading their accounts for the popular press, the tribespeople seem about as introspective as the average Westerner. Sometimes they do engage with spirits or voices on a level which might seem to be evidence for Jaynes’ theory – but, to say the least, the missionaries have another explanation for that.

            (Also, I’m not aware of any missionaries who’ve seriously considered bicameralism, so their presuppositions might have affected their observations.)

        • random832 says:

          The first section of the book takes you through the evolution of the bicameral mind, and agriculture and fixed large settlements seem to be a requirement (or it is a requirement for agriculture, to the extent that there’s a difference between the two statements) – hunter-gatherers therefore wouldn’t necessarily have it in the first place.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          I think his claim is that bicameralism is an intermediate period of development in large-scale civilizations, so I think he would predict that the people of New Guinea have yet a third mode of experience that he doesn’t know much about, avoiding committing to anything (except maybe that they are even more alien). But this would commit him to the position that the New World developed bicameralism independently. He definitely seems to claim that the New world (partially) exited bicameralism on its own. These parallels seem to me very bad for the theory.

          • John Schilling says:

            IIRC, and it has been too many years, Jaynes posited bicameralism as a late stage in the development of language, which he placed at the Paleolithic > Neolithic, hunter-gatherer > agriculturalist transition some 10 ky ago. That would allow for remnant pre-bicameral hunter-gatherer populations. Modern anthropology I think pretty convincingly pushes language development back to at least 50 ky and before the African diaspora, so any surviving H. Sapiens should be past the threshold where Jaynes calls for bicameralism.

          • James Miller says:

            @John Schilling

            But from what I remember didn’t Jaynes think that Homer and Gilgames supported his views?

          • Douglas Knight says:

            “pushes back”? Jayes says that all the linguists he knew in the 70s insist that language is 2 million years old. He suggests several stages of language, the first one ending 40 kya.

            OK, sure, early farmers (and maybe HG) are just as bicameral, but the specific features that Jaynes describes are due to large-scale civilization and I don’t think he really predicts much about anyone else.

          • John Schilling says:

            @James

            But from what I remember didn’t Jaynes think that Homer and Gilgames supported his views?

            Jaynes believes that Homer and Gilgamesh support the transition from bicameral mind to integrated consciousness ca. 1500 BC. The transition from whatever apes have to the bicameral mind is much fuzzier and supported largely by handwaving.

            If we can support or refute the bicameral>integrated consciousness transition, that supports or refutes the theory in general. If supported, it still leaves us the question of when the bicameral mind originated. That would necessarily be much harder to answer.

            @Douglas:

            but the specific features that Jaynes describes are due to large-scale civilization

            The specific features Jaynes describes almost certainly don’t exist and are thus due to nothing more than his imagination. If they do exist, Jaynes may be wrong about their cause and yet still have an interesting theory. The parts about the postulated origin of the bicameral mind are IMO the least interesting parts of that theory, in that they are mostly irrelevant and unfalsifiable.

          • Protagoras says:

            I’m now starting to think maybe I should read the book. It occurs that early literature in general tends to contain features that are holdovers from oral traditions, even when it isn’t just oral traditions being written down; the oral traditions established ideas about how stories should be told which often survived long past the rise of writing. I wonder if Jaynes has just discovered a few more of the distinctive features of early literature which is heavily influenced by oral tradition and misdiagnosed the reasons for those features.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I’m now starting to think maybe I should read the book. It occurs that early literature in general tends to contain features that are holdovers from oral traditions, even when it isn’t just oral traditions being written down; the oral traditions established ideas about how stories should be told which often survived long past the rise of writing. I wonder if Jaynes has just discovered a few more of the distinctive features of early literature which is heavily influenced by oral tradition and misdiagnosed the reasons for those features.

            That could be possible. As an example, ones of the pieces of evidence for bicameralism, IIRC, was that characters in epic poems often do something when a god comes down and tells them to, instead of thinking up the idea themselves. But then, maybe the real explanation is simply that, in poetry which is being recited aloud, it’s more interesting and dramatic to have two characters dialoguing about what to do than to have one character make a decision on his own.

        • If I recall correctly, there are some researchers affiliated with the Julian Jaynes Society (an ongoing affiliation of researchers working from the bicameral mind hypothesis) who have found evidence that some African societies still think very bicamerally—in terms of ancestor spirits communicating with them and routinely giving them advice about what to do.

    • Enkidum says:

      This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin is a good overview of the growing field of the cognitive science of music, by one of the premier scholars in the field (I understand his other books aren’t as good, but I haven’t read them).

      Words in the Brain by Jean Aitchison is a overview meant for undergraduates (or just people who are generally interested) of everything we know about how words are, well, in the brain.

      The Thinking Eye, The Seeing Brain by James T Enns is a nice look at perceptual cognition – how perception can be thought of as an active, cognitive process, and how that plays out.

    • Levantine says:

      Society of Mind by Minsky, Marvin

      Perfectly accessible, was (/is) taught at MIT, and can be quite inspiring.

    • roystgnr says:

      Define “accessible”?

      If you mean “requires few prerequisites to understand”, then I’d suggest “Principles of Mathematical Analysis” (fondly nicknamed “Baby Rudin”). Its subject matter is designed for undergraduate math majors, and it really gives a feeling of what working as a mathematician is like, but it’s so painstaking about definitions of even commonly known concepts that you don’t really need more than a good high-school Algebra 1 class to prepare you to read it.

      If you mean “can be read quickly and easily” then forget my suggestion above; reading a couple pages a day might be an admirable pace for our hypothetical precocious high school student.

  3. WashedOut says:

    Can anyone recommend some reading material on Bayesian vs. Frequentist approaches to problem-solving?

    I am familiar with the Less Wrong posts on Bayesian thinking, but I was looking for something more compact and summary/comparative. I don’t mind how technical it is.

    • Audoenus says:

      Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise has quite a few examples of Bayesianism vs. Frequentism in practical applications. It’s aimed at a popular audience though so if you are looking for something more technical it may not be the book for you.

  4. James Miller says:

    My 12-year-old son has gone through much of Codecademy and spent a fair amount of time on CodeFights. What would be a good next step for him to further learn programming? His favorite language is Python, and he also likes Ruby and Javascript. His biggest project has been to make an Ultimate Tic Tac Toe game for two human players (with a nice graphical interface where you click on where you want to move) and he has made a normal Tic Tac Toe game where you play against a computer opponent that ends up never losing. You can see his code at the links. I’m not a programmer.

    • Acedia says:

      Pretty cool! He’s much better than I was at his age. But it seems you can beat his Tic Tac Toe AI every time by going Top Left, Bottom Right, Bottom Left, Center Left.

      • axiomsofdominion says:

        You can actually defeat it by going in any corner. His AI goes in the middle which is always a losing strategy if you go in the corner. It needs to go in one of the adjacent squares instead.

      • anonanon says:

        Another similar victory: Top Left, Bottom Center, Bottom Left, Center Left.

        The program’s weakness seems to be against deeply irrational moves.

    • shakeddown says:

      Project Euler has fun challenges along the same style.

    • axiomsofdominion says:

      Maybe get him to replicate his programs in a compiled language?

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        I don’t recommend this. Compilation adds a serious slowdown to a “try something, see if it works, iterate” approach, which I suspect that Mr. Miller’s son is heavily in right now. If it gets frustrating, it’s less likely that he’ll develop further. And for what gain? It’s not like compiled languages offer you different branches of capability that you can’t experience in interpreted languages — you don’t really learn anything new by using a compiled language. What they mostly offer is performance.

        If he gets to the point where he’s writing projects that need the performance of a compiled language — or where the toolchain he wants to use is well developed for a compiled language and not so developed for an interpreted one — he can climb that mountain at that time. Until then, it adds some frustration for very little reward.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          It depends on the compiled language.

          C# and Visual Studio take so much pain out of life as a developer. Unless you are running a potato, you won’t notice any compiler performance issues. There are free versions of Studio as well, so it’s not like cost is an issue.

          Honestly, one of the biggest pains in non-compiled languages is having to wait until you actually execute a line of code to know whether it will actually execute. Contingent on evironment, to be sure.

          Whether this is good or bad for learning to program is probably up for debate.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            You still need to wait until you actually execute a line of code to know that it will actually execute in compiled languages. “It compiles” is a pretty arbitrary milestone. All kinds of runtime errors are very common in all the major compiled languages.

            (IDE’s exist for non-compiled languages, too. I like the JetBrains ones.)

            ((If he had started off in C or Java or whatever, I wouldn’t be saying, “Oh god get over to an interpreted language,” but there’s just really little reason to go to a compiled language for a compiled language’s sake at his present level of development.))

          • HeelBearCub says:

            “It compiles” is a pretty arbitrary milestone.

            The type of errors caught at compile time are categorically different than the type of errors that cannot be caught at compile time.

            I’m not saying it’s necessary to work in compiled languages as a next step, but spending time working in a strongly typed, compiled language imposes a kind of discipline in clear thinking that can go lacking if you never do this.

            At some point “early” in learning there are a bunch of self-disciplines that need to be learned. If one doesn’t, you tend to end up with brute-force spaghetti. Compiled code doesn’t force this learning, but it can be a useful piece.

            It’s probably not the best next step, but is a useful one at some point.

          • skef says:

            The type of errors caught at compile time are categorically different than the type of errors that cannot be caught at compile time.

            I dunno, the C++ template system is Turing complete, after all …

          • Machina ex Deus says:

            @HBC:

            C# and Visual Studio take so much pain out of life as a developer.

            I would probably rephrase that as: “Visual Studio takes so much pain out of using C#”.

            Look, I agree that Java/C# are nearly infinitely-preferable to C++ (“What do you mean I have to explicitly allow a method to be overridden? What part of ‘polymorphism’ do you not get?”), but they’re still basically clunky. Worse, they insist on static type information (somewhat less than they did ten years ago, true), while at the same time having a deeply crippled type system.

            As for

            having to wait until you actually execute a line of code to know whether it will actually execute

            —you still have to actually execute a line of code to know whether it will execute correctly. Executing your code all the time is a good thing for someone learning programming (or a language, or a framework).* In fact, I’d recommend introducing Test-Driven Development; at 12, he’s got a 50% chance of having the patience to do it, and at least it’ll bubble up into his consciousness in three or four years when he’s working on a large, frustrating project.

            (I, at least, remember foolishly relying on “It compiles, so it must be correct” thinking in college; I would have saved a lot of time by at least poking at my functions as soon as I wrote them, and even more by writing a simple test suite.)

            And I think it’s basically the consensus position that having a Read-Eval-Print loop is far better for learning than not having one. This is probably why BASIC (an objectively horrible language) turned out to be so good for teaching: fast feedback, fast code changing.

            Speaking of REPLs: after some more Python, Lisp would be a good direction to go for a while. It’s essential for mastering advanced techniques such as recursion and condescension.**

            (* Or someone who wants their code to actually work.)

            (** I thought the source of this quip was Steve Yegge, but it may be Verity Stob. It may not make sense if you don’t read reddit programming-language subs or Lambda the Ultimate.)

        • dodrian says:

          you don’t really learn anything new by using a compiled language

          I agree that it’s not something a kid needs to get into, but there’s so much to learn from compiled languages.

          Interpreted languages tend to (there will always be exceptions) abstract away from what the computer is actually doing. They can be great for teaching high-level programming concepts. Python is pretty excellent for some stuff – list comprehensions, lambdas and generators to name a few, and it’s easy to quickly try out algorithms.

          Compiled languages tend to teach you more about what the computer is actually doing. Usually they’re statically typed (again, exceptions), and there’s so much to gain from knowing about type theory. They teach you to design, handle data, and program well. Of course it’s possible to learn these things without touching a compiled language, but this is less abstract.

          Also it’s usually easier to find errors in compiled languages (for me at least, or maybe that’s because I mostly learned with them).

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            You kind of go a couple of directions there. Do compiled languages teach you more about what a computer is doing?

            Well, I mean, if you write C, you are exposed to way lower-level memory allocation/manipulation, and strings are raw-er. But that’s far from a property of compiled languages in general. Java is garbage-collected and has pretty abstract strings.

            Static types are not “what the computer is doing,” and indeed, if you use C, the language is barely typed at all. Want to treat an int like a pointer or a character? Go nuts! Java is statically typed, but you’re very far from the computer at that point. I’m also kind of dubious that someone who is self-teaching is really going to intuit amazing learnings from a static typing system.

            I think it’s usually easier to find errors in uncompiled languages, personally. Just having fewer steps to execute code is broadly nice for any kind of iterative process.

          • Mary says:

            I have worked with some pre-existing interpreted code that had been used for years and years.

            Shortly after it fell into my hands, I found conclusive evidence that a certain function that had never been tested. I know this for a fact because it threw an error that a compiled program would never have let through.

        • thedufer says:

          While I agree with your assessment of the situation…

          I strongly recommend trying a decent compiled language if you think performance is the only benefit. A good type system is immensely useful towards writing correct code, and makes tedious testing far less necessary.

          Unfortunately, all of the languages with good type systems seem to be functional, which is an unnecessarily difficult switch if you’re used to OOP/imperative. I’d say you need at least true variant types and generics to really see the benefits.

          • Iain says:

            Rust is an imperative language with a good type system. It’s also the most exciting new language to come out in quite a while. It would not be a good choice for a teenager learning to program, but in the long run I think it stands a good chance of finally dethroning C and C++ in a lot of areas.

          • thedufer says:

            @Iain

            Interesting! Rust confuses the issues by calling their variants “enums”, which usually don’t allow the constructors to carry different data, but now I see that it does seem to meet my criteria. I’ll keep that in mind next time this comes up. Thanks for letting me know!

          • Machina ex Deus says:

            Iain:

            I love, lovelovelove, LOVE C, and want to see it get a room in the the nicest, most luxurious rest-home ever constructed for programming languages.

            But that is not going to happen in my lifetime, and I’m roughly the same age as C. Rust’s best bet is to rename itself Es—spelled, in Cyrillic, “С”—and take over by stealth.

    • Wander says:

      It really depends on what his goal is with programming in the long term, but at that age I had an immense amount of fun making games in Unity. Javascript can be used with their modified UnityScript language, but it also is a good way to get some C# and general OOP skills.

      It might not be the best idea depending on his goals though, because the skills aren’t always that transferable to other areas of programming.

      • Peffern says:

        This is just an anecdote from my personal experience: I learned OOP in-depth when I was first learning programming, and then I started using Unity and found it unintuitive and confusing.

        I find that a lot of game engines try to minimize the amount of complicated programming concepts (i.e. OOP, FP, recursion, complex data structures) that you have to know, which makes them poorly suited to a deep CS education. I found making (much more simple and less impressive) games directly in Java much more edifying than working in engines like Unity.

    • Bakkot says:

      The next step would ideally be to find something he wants to do which he can’t yet do given only what he knows.

      What those are depends on what he’s interested. At his age, I mostly enjoyed writing programs to draw fractals or other animations (see e.g.) and writing browser extensions to add functionality to sites I use a lot, these days most readily through Greasemonkey (a habit which I still haven’t given up).

      For other places to look, I understand a lot of people his age a find that scripting or modding Minecraft is good fun (or just straight up writing code in [modded] Minecraft).

    • rlms says:

      Making games is fun, Python has pygame for graphics, and you can make Zork-style text based games in any language.

      • Peffern says:

        +1 for the text-based games recommendation. Great way to learn programming concepts without getting hung up on graphics.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      I am a software engineer and manager of software engineers with about 18 years of experience.

      I looked at his vs. AI tictactoe game. Some comments:

      1. He has an “if (true)” statement, which is not necessary.

      2. He could improve his craft by looking to refactor that program to avoid the very long series of if statements. Both in the code to interpret human clicks, and in the AI response. For the human clicks, tell him that he could make simpler statements to understand what row the click is in (through looking at the Y component only) and what column it’s in (through looking at X) and then combine those two things into an address of the game board. He could consider making the game board an array of arrays, which would make that easier.

      The “AI” component is… hmmm, it’s very possible to write a relatively simple set of functions to play out every possible continuation of a tictactoe game and then choose the one that’s the “best” for you, but my guess is that that’s something best left for a little later in his development. But the refactor of the human code would be good clean programming skill improvement, very applicable to other coding challenges.

      3. In terms of marketable skills, I would suggest next trying to do a project that’s a website, using Ruby on Rails or Django or something. He could host it on Heroku — it’s really pretty easy — and very much of professional programming involves writing servers — even if not websites — and interacting with databases. A simple web game that saves its state might be interesting to him.

      Of course, at 12, “marketable skills” may not be the top priority, and if he’s having fun making local games, then he should do what feels interesting and not like a chore. It seems to me like the thing that he hasn’t quite figured out, based on that code, is how to write an algorithm that responds to a human player, rather than he himself thinking through every possibility and writing a long if statement to cover all possibilities (which doesn’t really work for games more complicated than tic tac toe). Maybe work on a theseus & the minotaur (http://lafarren.com/theseus-minotaur-solver/) style game where the AI follows predictable rules?

      Hope this doesn’t come across as dull! Tell him he’s better than I was at his age!

      • Jaskologist says:

        Refactoring is really the key part here.

        If he wants to go into this professionally, the big skill he will need to acquire is the ability to write code that he can come back to years later and still deal with. Writing little one-off programs is fun, and you can get away with being sloppy. Maintaining code is a whole other ballgame.

        To really hone his craft, he should pick some kind of program (a game is a good one, as long as the initial scope is small) that he can make continual refinements and changes to. That practice will teach him the disciplines he needs to design a system so that it can be expanded and maintained over the long haul.

        Here are some possible enhancements of the tic-tac-toe game
        -allow the player to choose between 3×3 or 4×4. You should not need different game code to handle both cases.
        -As a general rule, long if/else chains are bad sign. Most of those can be converted (in this case) to loops over a row or column. This will also make the previous enhancement much much easier.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          How long has he been coding?

          At some point, it might be worth asking him to look at his old code to see if he can understand it well enough to improve it. (I believe this is the kind of experience which helps convince programmers that they need good practices.)

          Have you pointed him at this discussion? If not, would it make sense to do so?

      • James Miller says:

        My son says that he has if (true) statements because having if statements lets him collapse the code, and he knows that the if (true) statements are not necessary, but these statements allow him to scroll through the code faster.

        • lvlln says:

          I’ve used this “trick” too. Sometimes for writing out blocks of code that I’m testing out and want to selectively turn on and off while I debug. Maybe there’s a better way to achieve the same debugging without it; I was pretty much self-taught in coding on the job and never really learned much about debugging methods and best practices.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            I think that debugging methods are one of those things that everyone feels personally about and has their own style. Any advice I give would probably draw a lot of people who felt very differently.

            In general, one thing that people who are self-taught will tend to do is having big long chunks of code all in one function. Part of a formal programming training process is to resist the urge to have everything in one big mass of code. So you might find that some of what you’re doing with if statements is something that a more formally trained person would handle by breaking the code up permanently into smaller functions or objects or modules.

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          Clever hack for that particular development environment. He might consider pulling those blocks out into functions, which would also create collapsible sections for that environment, and may be more helpful organizationally in general.

        • Brad says:

          In javascript, he can take out the if(true) part and create an anonymous block which the khan editor will allow him to collapse. It’s not idiomatic, but either is if(true).

        • rlms says:

          Tell him to learn vim (epistemic status, only partially joking).

        • Aapje says:

          @James Miller

          That is a clear sign of too much code in 1 big block. Needs more functions.

    • shakeddown says:

      From NAND to tetris might be really good. It had the fun problem-solving aspects, and also is a bit more big-projecty in a really fun way, and also gives a basic view of how computers work deep down.

    • Brad says:

      Keep it interesting is the most important thing at this point, but if he is open to suggestions, I would recommend something that involves reading and modifying other people’s code. Perhaps something in the minecraft mod world like Bakkot suggests. It would be great to have good code to learn from, but being able to read and understand bad code is also an important skill.

    • Matt C says:

      “You’re doing great, carry on.”

      Assuming what he’s done so far is self motivated, he can just look for the next thing that sounds interesting or fun. Making a bigger, better game is the obvious next thing, but if he’s curious about web development or whatever that’s good too.

      Mainly he just needs to keep going. If he’s totally flat footed and has no idea what to do next, look for a beginner’s course or book on making computer games. There’s tons of these. Here’s Invent Your Own Computer Games With Python.

      • Iain says:

        Yeah, this. The kid is twelve. There will be lots of time later to learn refactoring / static typing / marketable skills. For now, he’s going to learn way more by following his own interests.

        To hypocritically throw my own suggestion into the ring: one of the big stumbling blocks for new programmers is the concept of recursion. If he’s looking for something to do, writing a program to draw lines (LOGO-style) and then using recursion to draw trees/ferns might be a fun way for him to wrap his head around recursion.

        • James Miller says:

          When we started learning programming together I would complain that he used too much recursion. He would often try, with a high failure rate, to use a recursive function when it would have been much simpler to not use recursion.

      • Jaskologist says:

        This is probably the Correct Answer.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        I will echo this as well. It is the correct answer.

        ETA: Although thedufer makes a good point that pure brute force and spaghetti can get boring as well as frustrating. Some exposure to basic logical/good programming constructs like good use of iteration, functions, object design, etc. may let him make more progress, even in the short run.

    • skef says:

      Much of this thread (not including your original post) makes me want to gouge out my eyeballs with a rusty spoon.

      The next steps depend a lot on how your son is thinking about it. On the “kids grow up so fast” front, I suppose there are a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs that age now. If he’s already thinking in terms of career, wealth, and social influence, I’m less sure what to say. I guess (ironically?) what might make the most sense then is continuing on the Codeacademy/competition/Stations of the Cross route, as that’s going to seem the most like that path at that age.

      If the interest is more of programming itself, I encourage you to think creatively (even as a non-programmer), and to have him think creatively, about what sort of programs could connect to other things in his life — things he would or at least might be doing anyway. The dynamic of “Hey, I made this”/”OK, kid, here’s what’s wrong with it” amounts to people telling you how your thing sucks. There’s certainly a role for that, but most of it can wait. It’s much better if the mistakes he makes reveal themselves organically through use. Stereotypical examples would be building an organizer for something he collects, or a calendar/reminder system for stuff he has to do. But it really depends on his other interests. The idea is: what projects will reveal mistakes and limitations directly though making use of them? At the point where awkward constructs like long if-then chains begin to fail him (either through being too complex or just textually too long), that’s the point where learning new constructs will be natural. (And you’ll have to figure out some route or resource for advice on the right construct.)

      I wouldn’t worry too much about his forming “bad habits”, or at least I wouldn’t worry about it in connection to learning programming. Bad programming habits aren’t that hard to break as long as you can recognize and act on good advice. Do what you can to instill that lesson nor generally and he’ll be fine. (George Hotz is a genius programmer. Still, don’t raise a Geohot.)

      • Aapje says:

        I wouldn’t worry too much about his forming “bad habits”, or at least I wouldn’t worry about it in connection to learning programming.

        Good habits can make programming a lot more enjoyable, though. It can be very frustrating to debug spaghetti code. You can spend tons of time fixing things, with little positive feedback. Learning to solve small problems first and having unit tests to test things in isolation, gives a lot of small wins on the path to the big win.

        • Iain says:

          Fixing your own spaghetti code is how you learn to appreciate good habits. If James Miller’s son starts complaining about how he tried to make one little change and everything broke, then it might be time to talk about small functions or unit tests or something, but let’s hold off on trying to ease the kid’s frustration until he is actually frustrated. The stakes are low. Let him learn from his own mistakes.

    • beleester says:

      How about a game engine, like PyGame? Pygame is a pretty good 2D game engine. You can make simple games pretty easily (maybe something like Space Invaders), but if you want to do something more complicated you can really get into the guts of the system with double-buffering and sprites and other clever CS tricks to improve performance. And making games is a great way to learn, I think.

      If you really want a challenge, try the Panda3D game engine. It’s still Python, and it’s not too complex to start with (I learned it in high school), but learning to think in 3D can be a real challenge.

    • Enkidum says:

      Does he like video games? If so, he might get a lot out of something fairly simple like GameMaker, or significantly more complex like Unity3D. Both are free, and have extensive online tutorials and examples, which he can follow to build fully-functioning games without too much pain.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      Here’s a toy app I implemented from a Scientific American over 30 years ago (I was about your son’s age):

      Amoebae roam around on your screen. They’re about 3 pixels square. Bacteria are one pixel, and populate the screen at random. Amoebae that move into a bacteria automatically consume it, gaining 100 energy. They lose 1 energy every iteration. If they reach 0, they die. If they get up to 1600, however, they split into two amoebae with 800 apiece.

      Each amoeba has six genes, each expressed as an integer, ranging from 1 to 6 at random initially. Each gene corresponds to a direction – forward, backward, and left / right 60 / 120 degrees. (Each amoeba also has a facing, which changes as the amoeba moves.) The higher the number, the more likely the amoeba will move in that direction. I wrote it as adding all the integers up, then a random integer between 0 and the sum falls into the range of one of those numbers, determining the move. So if the genes are all 1, say, then the amoeba is equally likely to drift in any direction; if the left-60 gene is 3 instead, then the amoeba will go left-60 3/8 of the time, causing it to tend to whirl in a circle a lot of the time; etc.

      When the amoeba splits, a random gene will mutate in each offspring, by 1, in a random direction. Over time, amoeba may evolve with genes quite far from the initial seed.

      Given the way food repopulates, high genes in any direction other than forward will cause a lot of jittering or whirling in place, cutting down the amoeba’s ability to find more food, and its eventual starvation; however, a very dominant forward gene will also fail, since the amoeba will tend to go straight until it hits a border, be unable to turn, and starve anyway. The most successful amoebae will tend to have a high forward gene, but at least one turn gene that is somewhat high as well. The best way to show this is to have the “petri dish” take up most of the screen, with the stats of each amoeba listed along the side; when the user selects a row of numbers, the corresponding amoeba is highlighted on screen.

      This program has many advantages. It’s easy enough for a twelve-year-old to understand and code. It’s visually rewarding, and even fascinating to watch. It reveals interesting insights about evolution, but also about programming – several basic skills will be picked up, including code organization, some object oriented concepts, crude graphics, user interaction, and debugging (the program is non-trivial).

      Finally, the program is endlessly tweakable – he can cap the max gene value, play with the regeneration rate, energy gain from eating, energy needed to split, etc., and even try to implement additional features, like making bacteria regenerate only from neighboring bacteria, implementing poison bacteria (and a way to avoid them), and so on.

      • rlms says:

        You can also have fun simulating genetics by representing organisms as sets of alleles and implementing sexual reproduction. If you implement a fitness function you can see evolution occur, and if you simulate inbreeding you will see homozygosity becomes more frequent.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      There was a short (~30 minute) movie on sorting algorithms that, sadly, I cannot find on YouTube. (There are several sorting movies there, but the one I’m thinking of was more informative and / or entertaining than the hits I found there.) If your son finds it interesting, he might have a future in the theory side of CS, or at least some basic sense of algorithm complexity that will benefit him well if he gets into more advanced applications (such as anything retrieving a lot of database information).

    • thedufer says:

      I would recommend finding some sort of mentorship, although I’m not sure in what form this is actually possible. My main concern, after looking at the code, is that it looks a lot like what I was writing around that age – huge numbers of if statements enumerating every possible case. There are much simpler ways to write things using slightly cleverer constructs that he’s unlikely to find on his own.

      In my case, this tedious style led to me getting bored and dropping programming for a few years until programming classes became available to me (in high school).

      But maybe he’s more tenacious than I am.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      EDIT: Really? A “code” block doesn’t preserve whitespace? That seems dumb.

      By the way, here is some very specific feedback of the style I’d give in a code review at my job:

      var rowWon = function(loc, a, b, c, letter){
      if (loc[a] === letter && loc[b] === letter && loc[c] === letter){
      return true;
      } else {
      return false;
      }
      };

      This is something you see people do all the time. You can simplify this function to:

      var rowWon = function(loc, a, b, c, letter){
      return loc[a] === letter && loc[b] === letter && loc[c] === letter;
      };

      It’s not that my version is all that much more efficient, or even all that much shorter. But the deal is, there’s nothing special about boolean operators (like && or ||) or the condition part of an if statement. && and || are just functions that return a boolean value (true or false). They behave just like a + or -, and they can be used anywhere in your code where you want a boolean value, not just in specific conditional areas like in if statements or for statements or while statements.

      var hasWon = function(loc){
      if (rowWon(loc, 0, 1, 2, "X")){
      return "X";
      } else if (rowWon(loc, 0, 1, 2, "O")){
      return "O";
      } else if (rowWon(loc, 3, 4, 5, "X")){
      return "X";
      } else if (rowWon(loc, 3, 4, 5, "O")){
      return "O";
      } else if (rowWon(loc, 6, 7, 8, "X")){
      return "X";
      } else if (rowWon(loc, 6, 7, 8, "O")){
      return "O";
      } else if (rowWon(loc, 0, 3, 6, "X")){
      return "X";
      } else if (rowWon(loc, 0, 3, 6, "O")){
      return "O";
      } else if (rowWon(loc, 1, 4, 7, "X")){
      return "X";
      } else if (rowWon(loc, 1, 4, 7, "O")){
      return "O";
      } else if (rowWon(loc, 2, 5, 8, "X")){
      return "X";
      } else if (rowWon(loc, 2, 5, 8, "O")){
      return "O";
      } else if (rowWon(loc, 0, 4, 8, "X")){
      return "X";
      } else if (rowWon(loc, 0, 4, 8, "O")){
      return "O";
      } else if (rowWon(loc, 2, 4, 6, "X")){
      return "X";
      } else if (rowWon(loc, 2, 4, 6, "O")){
      return "O";
      } else {
      return " ";
      }
      };

      Something to note here is that you’re doing a lot of duplication where you have rowWon(loc, 0, 1, 2, ‘X’), then rowWon(loc, 0, 1, 2, ‘O’), right? And then you return ‘X’ or ‘O.’ So that leads to a lot of duplicated code.

      You can attack this a few ways. You could make hasWon take two parameters, like so:

      var hasWon = function(loc, letter){
      if (rowWon(loc, 0, 1, 2, letter)){
      return letter;
      ...

      Then call hasWon twice.

      Or you could make hasWon have a loop in it, like so:

      var hasWon = function(loc){
      ['X', 'O'].forEach(function(letter) {
      if (rowWon(loc, 0, 1, 2, letter)){
      return letter;
      ...

      Or you could change rowWon to return not true and false, but ‘X’, ‘O’, or null, like so:


      var rowWon = function(loc, cell1, cell2, cell3) {
      if (loc[cell1] && loc[cell1] === loc[cell2] && loc[cell2] == loc[cell3]) {
      return loc[cell1];
      }
      return null;
      };

      var hasWon = function(loc){
      var winner = rowWon(loc, 0, 1, 2);
      if (winner){
      return winner;
      ...

      So one of those changes halves the row count for hasWon, by eliminating the X/O duplication. What about the duplication across the various other parameters of rowWon?

      You could create a for loop, like so:

      var hasWon = function(loc){
      [[0, 1, 2], [3, 4, 5], [6, 7, 8], [0, 3, 6], [1, 4, 7], [2, 5, 8], [0, 4, 8], [2, 4, 6]].forEach(function (row) {
      ['X', 'O'].forEach(function (letter) {
      var winner = rowWon(row[0], row[1], row[2], letter);
      if (winner) {
      return winner;
      }
      });
      });
      return null;
      };

      Is this comment now too long? Probably!

      • random832 says:

        Code is an inline element, not a block element. Maybe <pre> is supported?

        EDIT: Nope…

        Test
        1234
        5678

        Fortunately for your examples, whitespace doesn’t matter in Javascript.

    • dodrian says:

      Here’s a simple implementation I wrote of Asteroids many years ago.

      It’s written in Javascript, using an SVG element to draw the objects. I’m not sure if SVG is really used in anything, but it works very similarly to HTML in how it can be manipulated by Javascript, which could be a useful skill to have later on.

      Some fun changes that your son could have a go at:
      * Making the ship re-appear a set time period after you die. Could also give you a number of lives and reset the game if you lose them all.
      * Change the shape of the asteroids. First try making them squares (be sure to change the collision box!), then try coming up with your own shape.
      * Make a powerup appear that lets the ship shoot three bullets (in different directions \l/ ) at once
      * There’s some code that makes the ship transition smoothly through the edges of the screen (if you stop the ship on an edge you can see half of it on each side). Copy it so the asteroids will do the same (at the moment they disappear then reappear on the other side).

      The program does use basic trigonometry to calculate angles, speeds and such. Don’t know if your son has any exposure to that.

    • phisheep says:

      @Diamonds_Of_Fire (son of @James Miller)

      First of all I must thank you! I’ve had a super time over the last few days thanks to you. (I’m currently re-learning programming after a 30-year break, and it is tricky to do wholly on your own.)

      I looked at your TicTacToe code and the first thing I thought (probably like a lot of experienced programmers) was “huh, I wouldn’t do it that way”. And the second thing I thought was “well, how would I do it then?” and about five minutes later I had a pencil and paper out sketching designs, and now a few days on I’ve got a program that is more-or-less along the lines I was thinking about. It doesn’t quite work the way I want it to, yet, but that is programming all over.

      I was harder than I thought too. I’ll come back to TicTacToe a bit later.

      First of all, the advice on where to go next. I’m trying to remember that you’re only 12, but I assume you are a pretty smart and sensible 12!

      – Don’t spread yourself too thin. Focus on one language and get to know all its ins and outs. It is far more important to get fluent in one language than to know bits of lots of them. Once you are reasonably fluent, it is much easier to switch languages.

      I’m concentrating on Python for now. It’s a nice language, it is refreshingly free of irritating syntax, and anything I write I can port onto my phone using the Pythonista app so I can carry my code around with me. That’s just a wonderful thing to be able to do!

      – If you can, find other people to learn with. You learn a lot more a lot faster by having other people around to bounce ideas off. You can get some help off the internet, but it is much easier taking suggestions from people that you know and trust.

      A lot of us learned early on that it is way too easy to make mistakes if you’re working just on your own. Often it is hard to even see mistakes in your own code. Bizarre, but that’s the way it works.

      – Pick a project to do. Something you are interested in. And just have a go at it. The second-hardest part of learning on your own is finding something to do. Doesn’t matter much what it is so long as it holds your interest and goes off in interesting directions.

      I’m making an implementation of Richard Dawkins “Biomorphs”. It generates some spectacularly pretty patterns, so I’m now looking to interface it to an embroidery machine … that was kind of unexpected!

      – Most importantly, as you learn go back and rework your own code. That’s where you learn a lot about how to structure programs and how to debug them and so on. My Biomorphs thing has gone through about 10 major revisions so far as I’ve learned more about what I was doing, and it’s massively better than what I started with – even though I was pretty proud of that.

      Which brings us back to TicTacToe …

      This isn’t a full critique by any means, just a few ideas that I’ve incorporated in my own code that you might find interesting.

      1) You’ve got a lot of pages and a lot of if-statements testing the different combinations of symbols on lines. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could somehow test what’s on a line without all that? Well, you can. If instead of storing “X” and “O” you store values (I’ve used 10 for X and 1 for O and 0 for blank) then you can test a whole line at a time just by summing up the values:

      # constants
      X = 10
      O = 1
      if sum (line) = X + X:
      # hey I can win by putting another X in that line!
      if sum (line) = O + O:
      # I’d better block that, or he’ll win on the next move!

      2) Of course, that means it is really useful to have some sort of data structure for lines (rows, columns and diagonals) so you don’t have to work them all out every time. I’ve used a class Cell() and a class Line(), where the cell knows which lines it is in and the Line knows which cells it contains. There’s a bit more to update when you change a cell, but a lot less to process when you are working out moves. You could do the same sort of thing with lists or arrays.

      3) Of course, that means that you can also store the mouse co-ordinates in the Cell() instance, which makes the mouse-clicking function a load easier to write

      4) Think about possible extensions to the program:
      – Difficulty levels, so the computer can play dumb and the player gets to win sometimes
      – 4×4 instead of 3×3
      – Add an “undo” function
      – Add a “hint” function to warn the player if they’re ignoring an obvious move

      Hope this is some help. And thank you again for the fun I’ve had!

  5. manwhoisthursday says:

    Google is saying that SSC has been hacked. Technical side has confirmed that it hasn’t been, so don’t worry. Still trying to figure out how to get Google to remove the warning.

    This happened to my work site (online school) too.

  6. manwhoisthursday says:

    From our host’s comments elsewhere:

    [Y]ou have no idea how non-agentic a lot of people are. . . . Expecting these people to – on their own! without any help! – figure out that abortion is an option, obtain money, buy a flight to California, take the flight to California, get to the abortion clinic, et cetera – and you might as well ask them to build a Mars rocket while you’re at it.

    Non-agentic people tend to end up with a lot of children anyway. Even if abortion is easily available in their jurisdiction, accessing it is going to be hit and miss. Think about how help for mental illness is widely available, yet people accessing it is pretty spotty. So, maybe non-agentic people run into some especially concerned person who helps them get an abortion this time. But next time they fall through the cracks for 9 months or so, and presto, they have a child. So, you end up with a lot of abortions, but without any appreciable change in the situation of non-agentic people.

    • Tedd says:

      It’s not binary. “Has enough agency to use birth control most of the time, and schedule and go to an abortion downtown if it comes up, possibly with the help of a friend who’s already done the same thing” is a lot more common than “has enough agency to figure out that they could fly to California for an abortion and then follow through on the plan”.

    • IrishDude says:

      Can you define non-agentic? Does it mean people who struggle to control short-term desires for long term goals?

    • Purple says:

      Only 6 states have laws that would ban abortion if Roe v. Wade was repealed. Only 18 currently have a restriction on abortion other than post-viability. They’re all pretty spread out. I think the OP Scott responded to was trying to represent the most extreme example, but realistically someone in Illinois trying to get an abortion wouldn’t fly from Chicago to San Francisco, they’d drive to Minneapolis. No car? One-way Greyhound starts at $21.50.

      The amount of agency required to “scrounge up the money to pay for an abortion + the transportation to a clinic in your state” doesn’t seem drastically different from “scrounge up the money to pay for an abortion + the transportation in another state” to me.

      • Iain says:

        Minneapolis is not a good example. Minnesota requires state-directed counseling followed by a 24 hour waiting period for abortions, which means that you are spending at least one night, and likely two once travel times are taken into account. In addition to costing extra money for accommodations, this also makes it difficult for women doing irregularly scheduled shift work to free up a block of time.

        • Purple says:

          Okay, $28.50 to Davenport, Iowa. I picked Minneapolis because it’s a big city and the state has the longest presidential blue streak in the country, didn’t expect them to have a waiting period.

          • shakeddown says:

            I’m surprised Iowa does, I thought it was pretty religious right-y.

          • Iain says:

            Iowa: also not a great example. These laws admittedly haven’t been passed yet, but then neither has a repeal of Roe v. Wade. In a hypothetical future where Roe v. Wade has been overturned, I would not want to be stuck relying on Iowa for access to abortion.

          • bean says:

            Iowa: also not a great example.

            I’ve been battleshipping too long, I think. I read this and my first thought was ‘Just what is wrong with my ship?’
            (The opposite has happened around me a lot. “What did you do this weekend”. “I went to Iowa” “Why?” “I’m a tour guide there.” “Oh, you mean the battleship.”)

          • Iain says:

            I am not a battleship scientist, but I suspect that the Iowa would be yet another bad place to go if you are looking for an abortion.

          • Randy M says:

            Just what is wrong with my ship?

            Doesn’t seem like one can get an abortion there.

            edit: You beat me to it, Iain, but only because I spent ten minutes on google trying to find a source. lol

          • bean says:

            Yes, it would be a bad place to try to get an abortion. Medical is off-limits to guests and most crew, and while I don’t think there would be legal problems, the staff (unsurprisingly) skews a lot more conservative than is the norm in LA.

      • BBA says:

        Only 6 states have laws that would ban abortion if Roe v. Wade was repealed.

        All that says is only 6 state legislatures have seen fit to engage in pointless signaling exercises by passing conditional laws (granted, considering how much pointless signaling they generally do, that’s pretty low). My guess is, something like 30 states end up with outright bans when (not if, when) Roe is overturned.

        • shakeddown says:

          Why do you assume that’s a when? Statistics I’ve seen show either no movement on the issue in public opinion, or a small pro-choice movement. And it’s already been in place over forty years, so I don’t see it being cancelled lightly.

          • BBA says:

            We’re likely to see a pro-choice justice replaced with a pro-life justice in the near future. That would make the court 5-4 to overturn Roe. Public opinion be damned, if Obergefell passed over Prop 8, then why not etc.

          • Brad says:

            I don’t know that there are four votes to overturn Roe (Casey) even after Gorsuch is confirmed. In particular, I think the Chief is much more likely to vote to chip away at it than overrule it outright.

          • shakeddown says:

            Is Gorsuch significantly more pro-life than Scalia? I keep hearing him called a Scalia clone.

          • Brad says:

            About the only way you could effectively be more pro-life than Scalia (from a legal standpoint) would be if you thought the Constitution forbid abortions.

          • Machina ex Deus says:

            About the only way you could effectively be more pro-life than Scalia (from a legal standpoint) would be if you thought the Constitution forbid abortions.

            You can’t see the abortion ban in the Constitution? It’s pretty clearly right there, smack dab in the middle of the Penumbra of Emanations clause.

          • Brad says:

            Have you ever read Griswold v. Connecticut or is this just third hand mockery?

          • Machina ex Deus says:

            Have you ever read Griswold v. Connecticut or is this just third hand mockery?

            Just the Opinion, not the three (!) Concurring Opinions. Did I miss an Appendix where Douglas puts an actual argument?

            (Also, I may have kind of skimmed over the standing part; that stuff puts me to sleep.)

            (Also also: not really shaking the whole “arrogant elitist Yalie” image with your current approach to discussion.)

        • Purple says:

          I wouldn’t expect it to be that high. 30 states had outright bans when Roe was passed. I would expect somewhere between 6 and 18 to have outright bans. Another 6-12 to have restrictions that make it really hard to get one.

    • John Schilling says:

      My only quibble with Scott’s otherwise-valid point is the last sentence:

      And if some charities pop up to help them, then we’re back in the same legal fight about whether states can ban these charities, and the Christians are as angry as ever.

      The Christians may be as angry as ever, but the legal fight is entirely different. Freedom of speech is black-letter constitutional law; it doesn’t have to be pulled out of Harry Blackmun’s penumbra. And freedom of movement, at least within the United States, is nearly as sacrosanct. If it is even remotely possible that you can win the battle to operate a clinic that actually “terminates pregnancies”, then operating a clinic that provides counseling services and travel assistance is going to be a slam-dunk legal win and it’s going to cost far less political capital to secure that victory.

      To be balanced against some number of marginal cases who do have the agency to walk in to the clinic and decide “yes I want an abortion” but won’t accept their caseworker’s offer of a ride to the bus terminal.

      • Brad says:

        Freedom of speech is black-letter constitutional law; it doesn’t have to be pulled out of Harry Blackmun’s penumbra.

        Erm. Not really. Sure, some sort of freedom of speech is clearly there in the First Amendment. But modern free speech jurisprudence is completely untethered from the text and history. None of the usual suspects (Scalia & Thomas mostly) that seem to have so much fun mining 18th century sources in other contexts seems/ed to care.

        A lot of non-left legal analysts like to paper over the differences but the libertarian constitutional vision is not at all compatible with the originalist one. In fact, substantive due process, the font of the right to privacy, was originally conceived to justify liberty of contract.

        • JDG1980 says:

          But modern free speech jurisprudence is completely untethered from the text and history. None of the usual suspects (Scalia & Thomas mostly) that seem to have so much fun mining 18th century sources in other contexts seems/ed to care.

          When the federal government tried to suppress free speech under President Adams (the Sedition Acts), Thomas Jefferson not only thought this was unconstitutional but tried to get the states to pass laws nullifying it. (At the time, it wasn’t clear yet exactly how an unconstitutional law should be addressed. Marbury v. Madison hadn’t been decided yet.)

          It’s true that the First Amendment was not yet interpreted as applying to state and local governments, but the 14th Amendment was clearly intended to change this. For silly historical reasons, this ended up being done through the due-process clause instead of the privileges-and-immunities clause like it should have been. (“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States”).

          It’s a common failure mode of “originalists” to not take the Civil War Amendments seriously enough. They were intended to drastically change the relationship between the federal government, states, and citizens; yet Scalia often wrote as if these things had all been settled in 1787 and the Civil War was for naught. Nathan Newman and J.J. Gass have an excellent article on this.

          • Brad says:

            That Thomas Jefferson and other contemporaries thought a criminal seditious libel law (i.e. the Sedition Act of 1798) was a violation of the First Amendment or, say, a law imposing a prior restraint would be, is hardly the same thing as a historical justification for expansive modern free speech jurisprudence. To be clear, I’m all for it, but it isn’t at all compatible with any sort of originalism or textualism.

            FWIW, I agree with you that some sort of incorporation via P&I is compatible with originalism. Though I think your final paragraph is correct, and a proper originalist ought to think that, for example, the rule against unreasonable searches and seizures should be interpreted differently when applying against the federal government than when applying against the state government.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            the 14th Amendment was clearly intended to change this

            “clearly”? Really?

            Can you provide any evidence at all of such intent?

          • LHN says:

            The issue was certainly raised during the Congressional debates on the amendment. E.g.,

            To these privileges and immunities, whatever they may be— for they are not and cannot be fully defined in their entire extent and precise nature —to these should be added the personal rights guarantied and secured by the first eight amendments of the Constitution; such as the freedom of speech and of the press; the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the Government for a redress of grievances, a right appertaining to each and all the people; the right to keep and to bear arms; the right to be exempted from the quartering of soldiers in a house without the consent of the owner; the
            right to be exempt from unreasonable searches and seizures, and from any search or seizure except by virtue of a warrant issued upon a formal oath or affidavit; the right of an accused person to be informed of the nature of the accusation against him, and his right to be tried by
            an impartial jury of the vicinage; and also the right to be secure against excessive bail and against cruel and unusual punishments.

            The great object of the first section of this amendment is, therefore, to restrain the power of the States and compel them at all times to respect these great fundamental guarantees. How will it be done under the present amendment? As I have remarked, they are not powers granted to Congress, and therefore it is necessary, if they are to be effectuated and enforced, as they assuredly ought to be, that additional power should be given to Congress to that end. This is done by the fifth section of this amendment, which declares that “the Congress shall have power to enforce by appropriate legislation the provisions of this article.” Here is a direct affirmative delegation of power to Congress to carry out all the principles of all these guarantees, a power not found in the Constitution.

            From the Congressional Globe, 39th Congress, 1st Session, Senate, Pages 2764‐68. May 23, 1866. http://theusconstitution.org/sites/default/files/briefs/Howard_Speech_5-23-1866.pdf

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Thanks!

            I concede that this is some evidence of intent, but it is not at all clear. In particular, this source explicitly concedes that the existing usage does not include the amendments, and merely claims that they “should” be added.

        • Controls Freak says:

          But modern free speech jurisprudence is completely untethered from the text and history. None of the usual suspects (Scalia & Thomas mostly) that seem to have so much fun mining 18th century sources in other contexts seems/ed to care.

          It’s always weird to see the one-sided accusation. “Jurisprudence doesn’t match the text of the Constitution. It’s the fault of those guys who care about the text, rather than the guys who don’t care about the text.”

          So, let’s agree that we don’t have good originalist accounts of the freedom of speech. What gives? Is it because those mean ol’ conservatives don’t care about trying to find good originalist accounts? Probably not. I have vivid recollections of things like Scalia being made fun of in the violent video games case a while back… “I think that Justice Scalia is wondering what James Madison thought about video games,” only to hear back, “No, I care about what James Madison thought about violence.” I don’t feel like “quote mining” for more evidence that he (and Thomas) at least cared about trying to find good originalist accounts – I think his detractors’ other accusations are sufficient.

          Instead, I think it’s pretty clear that we just have crap for good originalist scholarship that is really useful on this particular topic. It sucks. It’s why when Scalia/Stevens sparred about originalism in Citizens’ United, it basically became, “There’s no evidence for your position!” “Well, there’s no evidence for your position!” Ok, guys. We get it. There’s no useful evidence. This (free speech) is a pretty popular route to try to charge Scalia/Thomas with hypocrisy… but it sure would be nice if it came with, “Here is the clear originalist account, and Scalia/Thomas aren’t following it.” Double bonus if the people leveling the charge aren’t simultaneously saying, “Here is the clear originalist account,” and, “But we’re going to do something else for reasons.”

          the libertarian constitutional vision is not at all compatible with the originalist one.

          If by “the libertarian constitutional vision”, you mean, “an interpretation of the constitution that comports with (…and enforces?) whatever policy positions are Official Libertarian Positions (right now!),” then of course not. Neither would “the liberal/conservative/whatever constitutional vision”.

          • Brad says:

            You are begging the question. You assume that originalism is the one, true answer and so a hypocritical or inconsistent originalist is still infinitely better than everyone else. A living constitionalist neither needs to wants an originalist account.

            That said, there’s no mysterious scholarship hole when it comes to the first amendment. The contours of a strict originalist freedom of speech jurisprudence are fairly clear. It looks rather like Thomas’ eighth amendment jurisprudence — not particularly relevant in the modern era. No prior restraints is the core of the right (see Blackstone). In addition there’d be truth as a defense (following the Zenger precedent), and perhaps some restrictions on seditious libel. No chilling effects doctrine, no overbreath, no strict scrutiny, and certainly no protection for commercial speech.

            American-style free speech is one of our greatest contributions to the world. It may well be our biggest legacy. It was developed only over roughly the last century and it is a product of, and inextricably bound to, living constitutionalism. If you think they are all unprincipled hacks than perhaps you should consider rejecting it instead of claiming that if only you could find the missing Federalist Paper you are sure it’d be all laid out in there.

            If by “the libertarian constitutional vision”, you mean, “an interpretation of the constitution that comports with (…and enforces?) whatever policy positions are Official Libertarian Positions (right now!),” then of course not. Neither would “the liberal/conservative/whatever constitutional vision”

            If you think it is so obvious, maybe you could talk to Randy Barnett and bring him around?

          • Mary says:

            certainly no protection for commercial speech.

            Why not?

          • AnonYEmous says:

            So what exactly is a “living constitutionalist”? And I ask this question looking for a serious answer.

          • Jiro says:

            If the forefathers didn’t know about something, and you want to be originalist, then you should ask “if they did know about it, would they think it’s covered by the law?”

            You won’t be able to answer this question every time, and isometimes the answer may be genuinely unclear. But it will be clear in a big chunk of the cases where people disingenuously say “this didn’t exist in the 1700s, so you can’t be originalist on it.”

          • Controls Freak says:

            You are begging the question. You assume that originalism is the one, true answer

            No. I actually didn’t. I simply investigated your complaint.

            The contours of a strict originalist freedom of speech jurisprudence are fairly clear.

            I don’t think this is true.

            No prior restraints is the core of the right

            “Core”? Sounds like a weasel word. We’ve got cases to decide…

            truth as a defense (following the Zenger precedent)

            Not seeing a conflict.

            perhaps some restrictions on seditious libel

            Maybe, but uh… you just mentioned Zenger. Details? I needs them!

            No chilling effects doctrine, no overbreath, no strict scrutiny

            Are you just reciting all doctrines that were developed post 1800, regardless of whether they comport with the original public meaning of the text? That’s 100% Bad Originalism.

            certainly no protection for commercial speech

            Citation (and scholarship) needed. Badly.

            If you think it is so obvious, maybe you could talk to Randy Barnett and bring him around?

            I am not my brother’s keeper, and I’d appreciate it if you didn’t assume so in the future.

          • Brad says:

            @Mary

            certainly no protection for commercial speech.

            Why not?

            Because all manner of such restrictions were ubiquitous in the 18th century in the US and in England, including after ratification. Compare, for example, very similar reasoning used by all schools of originalism* when it comes to the question of whether or not the 8th amendment can be read to ban the death penalty.

            Furthermore, even if the originalist analysis were totally indeterminate, which it isn’t, if it is unclear whether or not a law violates the Constitution courts ought not strike it down. Striking down a law duly passed by the elected branches of government is momentous and weighty thing for an unelected court to do, not something that ought to be done in the hopes that perhaps someday scholarship might arise which could possibly justify a determination that the law violated the constitution, correctly interpreted.

            * Other than something like Jack Balkin’s living originalism which bears the same relationship to the other schools of originalism as Jews for Jesus does to the main streams of Judaism.

          • Controls Freak says:

            such restrictions were ubiquitous in the 18th century… very similar reasoning used by all schools of originalism* when it comes to the question of whether or not the 8th amendment can be read to ban the death penalty.

            BZZT! Scalia/Thomas textualism doesn’t get to originalism on the death penalty. Instead, the Constitution expressly contemplates the idea that life can be deprived with due process of law. The clauses which do so were adopted both before and after the eight amendment (5th/14th). The text is clear on its face.

          • Brad says:

            BZZT!

            Read the Thomas concurrence with Scalia in Baze v. Rees. Note that it includes both textual and originalist arguments, viz.

            The Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on the “inflict[ion]” of “cruel and unusual punishments” must be understood in light of the historical practices that led the Framers to include it in the Bill of Rights. Justice Stevens’ ruminations notwithstanding, see ante, at 8–18 (opinion concurring in judgment), it is clear that the Eighth Amendment does not prohibit the death penalty. That is evident both from the ubiquity of the death penalty in the founding era, see S. Banner, The Death Penalty: An American History 23 (2002) (hereinafter Banner) (noting that, in the late 18th century, the death penalty was “the standard penalty for all serious crimes”), and from the Constitution’s express provision for capital punishment, see, e.g., Amdt. 5 (requiring an indictment or presentment of a grand jury to hold a person for “a capital, or otherwise infamous crime,” and prohibiting deprivation of “life” without due process of law).

            Contemplate your life choices and whether or not you should sue your law school for a refund. At the very least consider not posting in an obnoxious manner when you don’t even know what you are talking about.

            In the meanwhile I am going to use Bakkot’s very helpful plugin. *plonk*

          • Controls Freak says:

            I’m guessing the remark about Bakkot’s plugin means Brad blocked me. Oh well. If anyone else is still interested, I’d like to give some context. Thomas’ opinion in Baze was not focused on the issue of whether the death penalty was categorically unconstitutional. He was focused on the issue at hand (the constitutionality of a specific method of execution). I will admit that the one sentence Brad pulled out makes it tempting to think that he relied on both aspects in order to make the claim. However, I think it was a throw-away sentence. The text isn’t as clear on the issue of methodology, and Thomas is rapidly shifting gears to perform a historical analysis on that issue.

            To support this belief, I would cite Scalia’s concurrence in Glossip v. Gross. In this case, Sotomayor wrote the main dissent on the issue at hand (again concerning method of execution). Breyer joined it, but wrote separately (joined my RBG) to make the case that the 8th Amendment categorically bans the death penalty. Scalia wrote a concurrence (joined by Thomas) directly responding to Breyer’s opinion. The focus of this opinion is the question of whether the 8th Amendment categorically bars the death penalty. While Thomas may not have been thinking, “What is the simplest and most correct way to make just this point,” in Baze, Scalia was in Glossip. The opinion reads:

            Mind you, not once in the history of the American Republic has this Court ever suggested the death penalty is categorically impermissible. The reason is obvious: It is impossible to hold unconstitutional that which the Constitution explicitly contemplates. The Fifth Amendment provides that “[n]o person shall be held to answer for a capital . . . crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury,” and that no person shall be “deprived of life . . . without due process of law.”

            My reading is that if there was an ambiguity in Baze, Glossip clears it up. An alternative reading is that Thomas/Scalia really did intend to tie the result of categorical unconstitutionality to historical analysis in Baze… and then Scalia/Thomas changed their minds in Glossip. Or yet another reading is that this is a point of doctrinal difference between the two that wasn’t sufficient for either to not join the other’s opinion. I think those are rather less likely than the idea that the sentence from Baze was an ambiguous throwaway sentence and that Glossip clears it up.

            (I’ll probably still laugh at jokes that Scalia “did historical analysis of the Court not thinking the death penalty is unconstitutional”.)

          • Machina ex Deus says:

            @brad:

            Contemplate your life choices and whether or not you should sue your law school for a refund. At the very least consider not posting in an obnoxious manner when you don’t even know what you are talking about.

            In the meanwhile I am going to use Bakkot’s very helpful plugin. *plonk*

            This totally does not make you sound like a petulant Yalie annoyed at losing an argument.

  7. bean says:

    I volunteer as a tour guide at the USS Iowa, and I enjoy explaining battleships so much that I’ve been doing posts to explain them to people here too for the past couple of OTs. (Previous one) This time, battlecruisers. Sorry, it turned out longer than I planned.

    The battlecruiser began as the dreadnought armored cruiser, and it is there we must begin to understand it. The armored cruiser was a ship of the pre-dreadnought era, the size of a battleship, but trading armor and guns for speed. They were built by all of the major powers, and intended to serve as a fast wing of the battle line, as well as commerce raiders and protectors. Because they were the size of battleships, they also cost as much as battleships, and the US Navy, at least, recognized them as broadly equivalent to battleships as capital ships, giving theirs state names, a naming convention normally reserved for battleships, and explicitly planning to use them as a fast wing of the battle fleet.

    This posed a problem for the British. They needed armored cruisers for both trade protection and fleet scouting/support, but the ships in question were ruinously expensive, particularly as they were attempting to maintain a 2:1 ratio in armored cruisers over the next two biggest naval powers, at the time France and Russia. Jackie Fisher, the man who started the Dreadnought revolution, also attempted to solve this by creating the Dreadnought Armored Cruiser, which later became known as the battlecruiser. It’s often overlooked that the 1905-06 program contained only one battleship, Dreadnought, but three battlecruisers, Invincible, Inflexible, and Indomitable. The idea was that the battlecruiser could provide cover more efficiently due to radio and the commercial information network centered on London. This required high sustained speed, which meant turbines. The other major effect is the tall topmasts of the battlecruisers, which were necessary for good radio performance at the time. The one time this particular concept was tried, at the Battle of the Falklands against the German East Asia Squadron, centered around the German armored cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, Invincible and Inflexible performed as designed.

    The history of the battlecruiser is defined by two events, the battles of Jutland and the Denmark Strait. In both cases, British battlecruisers blew up after only a few hits, taking almost all of their crews with them. The effect of these two events is that most people consider the whole concept fatally flawed. In fact, the loss of Indefatigible, Queen Mary and Invincible were due to suicidal magazine practices. After these ships were designed, weapon ranges got much longer, but long-range gunfire was not particularly accurate. This meant they needed more ammo capacity, and the magazines were overfilled, with charges spilling out into the handling spaces. At the battle of Dogger Bank, this seriously hindered the British rate of fire, so Admiral Beatty, commander of the Battlecruiser Force, began to push for higher rates of fire. The theory was that this was both defensive and offensive, as the shell splashes of misses would distract the German gunners. The most prominent means used to increase rate of fire was to remove the various flash-safety features in the turrets, such as interlocked doors to prevent flash from the turret from getting into the magazines. Another, even worse decision, was to remove the powder from the tanks before battle. Normally, powder for bag guns is shipped and stored in large metal tanks, each carrying several bags. The tanks are only supposed to be opened when the powder is to go directly into path up to the guns. This takes time, and empty tanks get in the way as you fire off powder. So the British just stopped using them. This lead to predictable consequences when all three ships took hits on their turrets. The flash travelled back down the hoists and into the magazines.

    Another contributing factor (both at Jutland and at the Denmark Strait) was the British use of cordite ‘powder’. Cordite is significantly less stable than most other naval powders, with American tests during WW2 showing that a given flash in a magazine would ignite 75 times as much cordite relative to the standard American powder of the time. This has obvious implications for the chances of a propagating magazine explosion as opposed to a simple fire. Even worse, it appears that the British cordite in use at the time of Jutland tended to become unstable without the British realizing it, and was blamed for the magazine explosion of the battleship Vanguard in 1917. The Germans lost two turrets burned out on Seydlitz at Dogger Bank, and suffered serious turret fires in two turrets on Derfflinger at Jutland, and less serious ones in three other turrets there. In addition, Lion, whose gunner was unusually concerned with safety, survived a turret hit at the same battle. The German improvements made in response to Dogger Bank are often credited with saving their ships at Jutland, but the actual changes were fairly minor, and their survival is better ascribed to better propellants and storage mechanisms.

    The common theory that the lost ships were due to deck penetration is a fiction invented to protect the reputations of Admirals Beatty and Jellicoe, who had at least known of and probably condoned the unsafe practices. The Director of Naval Construction had pointed out that it was nonsense shortly after the battle, as the German shells couldn’t have reached the magazines at the battle ranges, but was ignored.

    The loss of Hood is more mysterious. It’s obvious that she was lost to a magazine explosion, and for a long time the deck was assumed to be penetrated. A recent analysis http://www.navweaps.com/index_inro/INRO_Hood_p2.htm showed that this was unlikely to happen at the range when the Hood was destroyed. A simple penetration of the belt is more likely, although the leading candidate is a shell that hit slightly short and went under the belt. Fusing times would have caused it to detonate squarely in one of the magazines. The threat of diving shells was not recognized until well after Hood was built, and later battleships had extra armor to keep out such hits. In any event, Hood was as well armored as the Queen Elizabeth and Royal Sovereign classes of battleship, and the Admiralty signaled their captains to beware of whatever had killed Hood.

    After Jutland, it was commonly claimed that the battlecruisers had never been intended to stand in the line of battle, and that their employment was a misuse. This is definitely not true. Fisher himself decided to give them 12” guns instead of the 9.2” or 10” that had originally been planned specifically to enhance their utility in fighting battleships. For that matter, the performance of the German shells at Jutland showed that at the battle ranges actually encountered, battlecruiser armor was nearly thick enough. Another aspect of this was fire control. At the time, fire control had trouble coping with high range rates, and it was hoped that battlecruisers could use their superior speed to create said high rates while improved fire control technology allowed them to engage effectively. Unfortunately, the British chose to buy the Dreyer Table instead of the Argo Clock, which was much superior at high range rates. The only battlecruiser with an experimental Argo Clock was Queen Mary, who, before her destruction, turned in the best gunnery performance by a battlecruiser.

    Battlecruisers were only completed by a few navies, those of the UK, Germany, and Japan. The US and Russia also laid down battlecruisers, but they were not completed due to treaty and revolution respectively. A brief sketch of the ships involved:
    The classic British battlecruisers (Invincible-Renown [as built]) were all quite lightly armored (20-25% of the displacement was armor, as opposed to 30+% in the battleships) and reasonably well-armed. The Japanese Kongos also fell into this category before they were reconstructed in the 30s. Hood was essentially a fast battleship, with 32% armor. The German battlecruisers were in the same category, with armor of 32-36%, getting most of their speed with reduced weaponry. I don’t have a breakdown on the Russian ships, but the Lexington seems to have fallen around 29%, right between the British and Germans, with most of the weight savings coming out of armament. By weight, she was even more lightly armed than the German ships.

    As an aside, the reason the US didn’t build battlecruisers sooner had to do with a couple of major factors. First, the presence of 10 large armored cruisers, built right before the Dreadnought revolution, made congress wary of new cruiser construction. Second, budget limitations made the USN concentrate on battleships instead.

    And now, a hobby horse. The Alaska-class large cruisers are commonly labeled as battlecruisers. They are not. The Alaska-class were designed to kill 10,000-ton treaty cruisers. They had 12” guns, and were armored against 8” fire at reasonably close range. But while all of the ships universally agreed to be battlecruisers were of capital ship size and power, the Alaskas were only 27,500 tons as opposed to 35,000 tons of the treaty battleships, and lacked important capital ship features like a torpedo defense system. The USN’s use of the term ‘large cruiser’ was indeed meaningful, and was not an attempt to avoid the use of the battlecruiser name. They’ve often been damned as a mistake, but in practice, they might well have been a better investment than full-size battleships. John Schilling did more looking into this, but I’ll let him explain it. (Assuming he’s speaking to me after I reminded him of SpringSharp.)

    • Protagoras says:

      The site you link to for the discussion of the Hood has a bunch of interesting stuff. A case is made (one which looks compelling to me) for turboelectric drives being unfairly maligned; if the discussion is accurate, it seems that the failure to make widespread use of that approach was a mistake.

      Another of the essays also seems to have an answer on the German diesel question, which is different from what I thought; the claim is made that the Germans introduced higher pressure/temperature turbines for the ships built after the Deutschlands, and that the new turbines produced more power for their weight than diesels (though they apparently had reliability issues, and it sounds like they were still less fuel efficient than diesels). Still makes me think the Japanese should have stuck with the diesel idea for Yamato, especially if, as claimed, diesels actually did turn out to be pretty reliable; the Japanese really needed fuel efficiency, and while there’s no explicit discussion of how Japanese turbines compared to German turbines in general, no sources seem to think Yamato’s turbines represented any kind of advance over older Japanese designs, and in fact they seem to be widely regarded as having been pretty terrible. Since there was a limit to how large of diesels anybody knew how to build, and geared drive with many little engines is a mess, presumably it would have to have been a diesel electric design. But if Czarnecki is right, that would just have been one more respect in which it would have been an improvement.

      Of course, I’m not in a position to assess the credibility of either of those discussions myself; wondering if you notice anything that they might have missed.

      And still want a version of SpringSharp that lets me actually experiment with different engines!

      • bean says:

        The site you link to for the discussion of the Hood has a bunch of interesting stuff.

        Navweps is amazing, yes. My favorite is probably the essay on designing a battleship.

        A case is made (one which looks compelling to me) for turboelectric drives being unfairly maligned; if the discussion is accurate, it seems that the failure to make widespread use of that approach was a mistake.

        The problem is that it’s heavier than geared turbines. In the treaty era, that was all-important. The Germans did try to use it on the Bismarcks, but didn’t think it was ready.

        Another of the essays also seems to have an answer on the German diesel question, which is different from what I thought; the claim is made that the Germans introduced higher pressure/temperature turbines for the ships built after the Deutschlands, and that the new turbines produced more power for their weight than diesels (though they apparently had reliability issues, and it sounds like they were still less fuel efficient than diesels).

        That aligns with Breyer and D&G, although it does bear pointing out that diesels are always more fuel-efficient than turbines. The problem the Germans had was rushing the system, and trying to cram too much into too small of a space. The USN had similar steam conditions, and their plants were also the most reliable.

        Still makes me think the Japanese should have stuck with the diesel idea for Yamato, especially if, as claimed, diesels actually did turn out to be pretty reliable;

        German diesels, maybe. D&G did not have good things to say about the Japanese diesels, and they were worried about having to do engine changes through an 8″ deck. Not all diesels were created equal in that era, either. The Germans spent a fair bit of time before WW2 selling 2-stroke submarine diesels that didn’t work to the rest of the world while using 4-stroke diesels for themselves that did work.

        the Japanese really needed fuel efficiency, and while there’s no explicit discussion of how Japanese turbines compared to German turbines in general, no sources seem to think Yamato’s turbines represented any kind of advance over older Japanese designs, and in fact they seem to be widely regarded as having been pretty terrible. Since there was a limit to how large of diesels anybody knew how to build, and geared drive with many little engines is a mess, presumably it would have to have been a diesel electric design. But if Czarnecki is right, that would just have been one more respect in which it would have been an improvement.

        The problem was not the turbines per se, it was the plant conditions. Yamato was at 356 psi and 617 F, as opposed to 600 psi and 850 F on Iowa. High steam conditions mean better economy. The turbines are a part of that, but I don’t think turbine design was the limiting factor. Diesel electric would probably require an even bigger ship.

        Of course, I’m not in a position to assess the credibility of either of those discussions myself; wondering if you notice anything that they might have missed.

        They’re accurate, as far as I know. Unfortunately, I don’t know of a good single source on naval engineering in that era. Most of the stuff on Navweps is, AIUI, a result of conversations like the ones we’re having, and not necessarily an attempt at a 100% comprehensive treatment.

        • Protagoras says:

          OK, so the Japanese needed to either steal American turbine designs or buy German diesel designs, as it seems their own engines were garbage. The latter seems more realistic. Actually, it might have been adequate to buy German turbine designs for Yamato; the discussion of German turbines suggests that the big ones on Bismarck and Tirpitz worked fine, with the reliability issues arising only for the scaled down turbines on smaller German ships.

          • bean says:

            It’s not just the turbines, it’s the whole plant. If you put American turbines into Yamato, you’ll just make more of a mess. The first approximation of the problem is that the system is a heat engine. The Carnot efficiency is limited by the difference in hot vs cold side temperatures. The hotter the hot side, the better the theoretical efficiency, and I think there are benefits past that, too. You’d need the whole plant.
            (If you want to know about marine engineering, but this book. It’s a fantastic treatment of the physical principles, but devoid of history. Also the best basic thermo book I’ve ever seen.)

            I’m not sure they could have built German diesels. Diesels are hard to make. The Germans were a lot better than the Japanese at precision manufacturing.

          • Protagoras says:

            I’ve been saying “turbines” because I don’t know a one word way of referring to the whole plant. Well, one that distinguishes one type of whole plant from another.

          • bean says:

            Plant’s probably the best term. Steam plant, diesel plant, etc.

          • cassander says:

            As a complement to what bean is saying, the design isn’t enough. You also need the metalurgy to know how to make the materials and industrial practice sophisticated enough to reproduce those materials in sufficient quantity at reasonable cost. For a modern example, look at the Chinese. they’ve been stealing Russian jet engine designs for years, throwing a ton of money into trying to reproduce them, but still keep having to go back to russia to buy more engines every few years because they can’t manage to lick it.

      • cassander says:

        @Protagoras

        Still makes me think the Japanese should have stuck with the diesel idea for Yamato, especially if, as claimed, diesels actually did turn out to be pretty reliable; the Japanese really needed fuel efficiency,

        However reliable diesels turned out to be, it would not have been a good idea for the japanese to risk the future of what they considered their aces in the hole on an untested drive system. The US, when experimenting with turbo-electric drive, tested it out first before deciding to go with a whole class of ships, the Japanese couldn’t afford to do that with Yamato.

        And bean makes a good point about german vs. japanese engines. However good the german ones were, the japanese ones probably would have been less good. The history of japanese aircraft engines more that speaks for itself in this regard. The japanese probably could have built better engines if they’d really worked at it, but, as with so many other “soft” features of ships, it wasn’t something that they were likely to think much about or invest in.

        • bean says:

          However reliable diesels turned out to be, it would not have been a good idea for the japanese to risk the future of what they considered their aces in the hole on an untested drive system. The US, when experimenting with turbo-electric drive, tested it out first before deciding to go with a whole class of ships, the Japanese couldn’t afford to do that with Yamato.

          They did exactly that, and it failed. They put the diesels on the submarine tender Taigei. It was apparently a total failure, at least according to D&G. Other sources are not providing more details, but my library on Japanese warships is pretty slim. When she was converted to the carrier Ruyho, they switched to steam turbines.

        • bean says:

          The japanese probably could have built better engines if they’d really worked at it, but, as with so many other “soft” features of ships, it wasn’t something that they were likely to think much about or invest in.

          This, I have to disagree with. The Japanese were not stupid, but they lacked the technical manpower to do everything they wanted. Unlike the Germans, they recognized this, and concentrated on a few things instead of spreading their technical manpower too thin. D&G mention several times that the Yamato’s plant was explicitly designed with reliability in mind, so they were clearly thinking about it, and I think they probably made the right choice when you think about how much trouble S&G had.
          The revolution in US plants, at least, came about because, unlike in the UK, the same companies built marine and land turbines and boilers, and the land plants had gone to much higher steam conditions during the 20s/early 30s. I think the Japanese didn’t participate in that process, so they were stuck with lower steam conditions. I think the same happened in Germany, combined with the pathologies the Germans were suffering from at the time (see Navweps for details).
          Edit:
          I think that their choice of engines was tied to the Decisive Battle doctrine, like so much else. Under their plans, the battleships didn’t really need fuel efficiency, because they would sit around until the decisive battle happened. All they needed was one load of fuel. That turned out not to be the case, obviously, but it’s a natural consequence of their planning assumptions.

          • cassander says:

            > The Japanese were not stupid, but they lacked the technical manpower to do everything they wanted.

            I agree, my point was that when it came time to choose, they always chose the same, hard tactical features like firepower, armor, range, and speed. Institutionally, features like fuel economy were not things the IJN placed value on.

          • bean says:

            I’m not sure that fuel economy was a choice they could make, though. Marine steam plants aren’t car engines. There’s not a slider with ‘speed’ on one end and ‘fuel economy’ on the other that you can just pick a spot on. Yes, you can play games with hull form and what speed you optimize for, but that’s heavily confounded by other factors on a battleship. The US plants were both significantly more powerful and significantly more efficient than the Japanese ones, the two factors going hand-in-hand. For that matter, the Japanese showed themselves willing to make ‘soft’ compromises when they went with a conservative plant for Yamato, trading performance (speed and fuel both) for reliability (which is just as much a soft factor as fuel economy, if not more). The answer you get if you really want fuel efficiency in that era is diesels, which the Japanese tried. The problem is that they didn’t work.

          • cassander says:

            >I’m not sure that fuel economy was a choice they could make, though. Marine steam plants aren’t car engines. There’s not a slider with ‘speed’ on one end and ‘fuel economy’ on the other that you can just pick a spot on.

            Sure. But they made immense expenditures to build the yamatos slipways had to be enlarged, special cranes brought in because the design demands required an enormous ship. They could have reigned in their ambitions a bit, built somewhat smaller ships, and spent the money saved developing a 600psi steam plant. They chose not to.

            I agree that they weren’t stupid, they were aware of the tradeoffs they were making, and they made them, because they valued some things over others. Other navies made different choices.

          • bean says:

            Ah. Good point. I’m not sure they could have made a 600 psi plant (most of the research that went into those came out of civilian electrical power stations, not naval spending), but smaller ships would have been more useful, less thirsty, and cheaper. And they might have been able to get up to 400-450 psi or so.

      • bean says:

        I re-read the article on German prime movers more carefully, and it looks like there was a distinct difference between German and American design philosophies. The American 600 psi plants are mostly manually controlled. There’s a guy standing there with a set of valves to control water level in the boiler. There’s a guy moving burners in and out of the furnace to control how much steam is getting produced. The Germans seem to have gone for much more automation, which means fewer skilled people, when it works. When it doesn’t, it just makes a mess of everything and gets in the way. Iowa’s machinery spaces are a horrible mess of valves, and Bismarck’s must have been much worse.

    • LHN says:

      “Invincible, Inflexible, and Indomitable

      This is a side question, but I’ve wondered about it for a while and you may know:

      1) The British seem to have a weakness for names starting with “In-” (You also mention “Indefatigable”.) Did this map to any particular class of ships (e.g., battlecruisers during the era in question), or is it just a naming pattern they liked?

      2) The British had multiple ships named “Inconstant”. Unlike most of those “In-” names, that doesn’t seem like a complimentary or positive appellation. Any idea why they’d choose a name like that for a naval vessel?

      • AlphaGamma says:

        On British naming patterns, there tends to be a combination of names being associated with a particular type of ship, and ships in a class having related names. These are related either by “theme”- for instance, the County-class cruisers- or by sound/alliteration. *Invincible* and *Inflexible* were names that had both been previously used for ironclad battleships that had just left service, *Indomitable* was a new name chosen because it fit the theme of the other two.

        The next HMS *Invincible* was again the lead ship of her class of “through-deck anti-submarine cruisers” (which were actually small aircraft carriers, initially called cruisers for political reasons). The other two were originally scheduled to be named *Illustrious* and *Indomitable*, which in the intervening period had been WW2 aircraft carriers- *Indomitable* was renamed *Ark Royal* to keep that name in use.

        As for dodgy names, *Inconstant* isn’t nearly as bad as it got:
        Link to an article on the subject by James Richards

        Now some are victims of changes in the meaning of words (*Gay Viking*), double-entendres involving nautical terms (*Spanker*, which is a sail) or just the choice of theme for the class (*Pansy*, a Flower-class corvette). Others, like *Inconstant*, are harder to explain…

      • AlphaGamma says:

        Trying this comment again as I think the software ate it:

        There are two tendencies with British naval names. One is to reuse names that become associated with a particular type of ship (for instance, battleships). Another is to have some connection between the names of ships in a class, either by subject (such as the County-class cruisers) or by sound or alliteration.

        With the Invincible-class battlecruisers, Invincible and Inflexible were the names of ironclads that had just left service at the time. Indomitable was a new name presumably chosen because it fit with the other two.

        As for Inconstant and other bad names, this article may be amusing. Some of them can be blamed on changes in the language (Gay Viking), nautical double-entendres (Spanker, which is a sail) or adherence to the theme of a class (Pansy, a Flower-class corvette). Others, like Dwarf, are harder to explain!

        As for Inconstant, it was originally a Napoleonic frigate name so might have been chosen due to the idea of not staying in one place too long. There may also have been a sense of switching sides- the first HMS Inconstant I have found a reference to was captured from the French. While the French did use the name (most famously for the brig Napoleon used to escape from Elba), this particular ship had been named Pallas in French service. As the Royal Navy already had a Pallas, she was renamed- captured ships weren’t usually renamed, hence the presence of ships named Swiftsure and Achille on both sides at Trafalgar, but could be if the name was already in use or had unfortunate political implications.

        That Inconstant was later renamed HMS Convert

      • AlphaGamma says:

        Regarding names starting with “in”, there are two tendencies in British warship naming. One is to give ships a name reused from another ship of the same type battleship, cruiser, etc.). The other is to give ships in a class names with something in common, either subject matter (Crown Colony-class cruisers) or sound/alliteration.

        Two of the Invincible-class battlecruisers had names reused from recently-decommissioned ironclad battleships- the third, Indomitable, was a new name probably chosen because it fit with the other two.

        As for dodgy names, this article has at least some amusement value. Some of those names, and others, are due to changes in the language (Gay Viking), nautical double-entendres (Spanker, named after a sail) or adherence to themed names in a class (Pansy, a Flower-class corvette). Others, though, are harder to explain.

        As for Inconstant, it was originally a Napoleonic frigate name so may have been chosen for the sense of not staying too long in one place- a desirable characteristic in a frigate of the period. It may also have had connotations of switching sides, as the first HMS Inconstant was a French ship renamed on capture from Pallas, as the Royal Navy already had an HMS Pallas. This ship was later renamed HMS Convert.

        (Captured ships in the Napoleonic era usually weren’t renamed, which is why there were ships named Swiftsure and Achille on both sides at Trafalgar. They could be renamed if the name was already in use or politically inconvenient.)

        • LHN says:

          Thanks! Though the sense of “inconstant” as “fickle” goes back at least as far as Shakespeare (“O, swear not by the moon, th’ inconstant moon, that monthly changes in her circle orb, lest that thy love prove likewise variable.”), so whoever named it was probably aware of it. That the first one was a captured French ship probably explains it.

          (Though it still surprises me that they reused it so many times for domestically-produced ships that they presumably hoped wouldn’t prove likewise changeable in their affections.)

      • bean says:

        1) The British seem to have a weakness for names starting with “In-” (You also mention “Indefatigable”.) Did this map to any particular class of ships (e.g., battlecruisers during the era in question), or is it just a naming pattern they liked?

        Those four are all of the battlecruisers starting with In-, and pretty much the entire stock of traditional capital ship names with that prefix. The British have a large stock of names traditionally associated with capital ships, and they dole them out based on the whim of whoever decides these things. The only major constants are that the first class of capital ships named after a monarch ascends the throne is traditionally named after said monarch. For political reasons, George VI didn’t get one (except maybe Duke of York), and Elizabeth II finally is getting hers with the new carrier. As is Charles (Prince of Wales), because they presumably don’t expect him to make it to the next class.
        Anyway, someone naming ships liked “In-” and gave the battlecruisers those names. We see a later example with the R-class.

        2) The British had multiple ships named “Inconstant”. Unlike most of those “In-” names, that doesn’t seem like a complimentary or positive appellation. Any idea why they’d choose a name like that for a naval vessel?

        There are 2-3 different ‘buckets’ of names they use, and Inconstant is in the lowest one. It goes way back, and has become traditional. I’d assume they meant ‘flexible’ when they first used it, although I’m not going to go wading deep into etymology to find out.
        That said, when they get to the “I” names again (in, oh, 100 years) I expect they won’t use it.
        Edit:AlphaGamma also points out the use of theme names for classes. This was nearly universal among smaller ships, but the only capital ships that were consistently named in such a manner were the In-class battlecruisers and the R-class battleships. There were some other attempts, but they had mixed success.

        • Tarpitz says:

          The Nelsons were both named after admirals, and all the KGVs were in some sense named after people, though that’s a bit more tenuous. I assume Repulse and Renown both starting with R was also deliberate, if confusing given the existence of Ramillies, Revenge and friends. As for carriers, the Illustrious class all had “positive quality”-type names, and the Implacables retained that while also both starting with I. The Lions were both named after big cats. There’s no over-arching logic, but there’s usually some sort of theme within any given class, except when there isn’t (hi, Queen Elizabeths).

          • bean says:

            Hence “mixed success”. Repulse and Renown were actually ordered as R-class battleships, then converted to battlecruisers when war broke out and Jackie Fisher returned to the Admiralty. The Admiral-class were intended to be named after Admirals, but only Hood was completed. It’s complicated, but the British don’t have a set of consistent themes like the US does. (Or at least used to, before Mabus.)

            The Lions were both named after big cats.

            Are you saying that Mary, Princess Royal was secretly a cat?

          • Tarpitz says:

            I’d like to say she was a Kilrathi spy, but no, I was just too lazy to look up and check stuff that wasn’t even really my specialism even back when I had some idea what I was talking about (the Second World War and Napoleonic Wars were much more my thing than the First) and assumed Lion’s sister was Tiger. Overestimation of RN naming consistency/sanity ahoy.

          • bean says:

            It’s not a big deal. I’ve been caught out a couple of times while writing this, and I do this quasi-professionally and generally check sources.
            Actually, when you said that, my guess was that you were thinking about the first two of the Lion-class of WW2, and I was going to have to point out that the other two didn’t have cat names. (In fact, the other one they occasionally planned to resume was Temeraire, which isn’t a type of cat.)
            In fairness to you, that group was known as the ‘Splendid Cats’. I’m not sure why. Queen Mary (the next one) wasn’t a cat, either. I think.

          • LHN says:

            (In fact, the other one they occasionally planned to resume was Temeraire, which isn’t a type of cat.)

            Of course not. He’s a dragon.

    • John Schilling says:

      Battlecruisers were only completed by a few navies, those of the UK, Germany, and Japan. The US and Russia also laid down battlecruisers, but they were not completed due to treaty and revolution respectively.

      Quibble: The Dunkerque and Strasbourg are usually and IMO properly counted as battlecruisers, though there is the usual quibbling over the battlecruiser/fast battleship distinction.

      And if we want to be really inclusive there are the Russian “Heavy nuclear-powered guided missile cruisers”.

      • bean says:

        I’ll plead that I was already past 1,500 words and wanted to keep the length down. The Strasborgs are pretty close to the Alaskas, although they may have had a TDS. The French apparently called them battleships.
        Edit:
        To be fair, this is the French we’re dealing with. The Frenchman is no more an aquatic mammal than the German, so it’s not surprising that they built weird ships. On a related note, the usual French aesthetic flare is notably absent in their ships. Some of their pre-dreads didn’t float, they were just so ugly that the water fled in terror.

        And if we want to be really inclusive there are the Russian “Heavy nuclear-powered guided missile cruisers”.

        Yes, but I was concentrating on the dreadnought era, short of words, and also think that calling them battlecruisers is a good way to add to the confusion around the term.

    • John Schilling says:

      Alaskas were only 27,500 tons as opposed to 35,000 tons of the treaty battleships, and lacked important capital ship features like a torpedo defense system. The USN’s use of the term ‘large cruiser’ was indeed meaningful, and was not an attempt to avoid the use of the battlecruiser name. They’ve often been damned as a mistake, but in practice, they might well have been a better investment than full-size battleships. John Schilling did more looking into this, but I’ll let him explain it. (Assuming he’s speaking to me after I reminded him of SpringSharp.)

      I only lost half a weekend to SpringSharp, so long as it stays back on the shelf where it belongs, so we’re still good :-)

      The short short version: Putting ginormous guns and thick armor on your battleships is wasted effort, so don’t do that. When you don’t do that, what you are left with is a battlecruiser, and one on the lighter side, so very much like an Alaska. This is about as good as a battleship for what battleships are actually good at, but substantially cheaper and a bit faster so you can have more of them where you need them. The Iowas, and the Yamatos and the Bismarcks and all the rest, are engineering marvels but nobody really needed them.

      To elaborate: In the Atlantic, battleships and battlecruisers spent most of their time conducting shore bombardment, serving as heavy commerce raiders, escorting convoys against raiders, and very rarely dueling enemy capital ships. In the Pacific, less commerce raiding, more screening of aircraft carriers, but still not much in the way of gunnery actions with the other side’s battleships. Still, you probably don’t want to completely overlook the possibility of hot battleship-on-battleship action, because that way leads to lots of ignominious running away when enemy battleships do show up. But maybe look at how those actions are really fought.

      Of the dozen historical duels between dreadnought battleships, from Jutland down to Surigao Strait, I find only three where tactically significant damage was done at a range beyond 18,000 yards. Only one where such fire was decisive(*). And none where tactically significant damage was avoided by virtue of armor deflecting battleship-caliber shells. These are not uncorrelated. At ranges below 18,000 yards, pretty much any battleship gun can penetrate pretty much any battleship armor. At ranges above 18,000 yards, optical and first-generation radar fire control systems can only hit moving targets under ideal conditions or by dumb luck. And battleship duels are usually won by whoever first puts heavy metal on target, because everybody’s fire control goes to hell when even wimpy little 11″ shells start hitting their superstructure.

      So, you don’t lose much if you design your capital ships to fight at 18,000 yards and under. At that range, any armor beyond the 8″ belt and 3″ deck it takes to stop cruiser guns is wasted. Any gun bigger than an old-style 14″ or a 12″ with the later super-heavy shells is wasted. Speed is still good. A stable firing platform is good. Lots of dual-purpose and light AA guns are good. And toughness, not in the form of all-to-penetrable armor but compartmentalization, redundancy, and damage control, is good. Beyond that, just make it cheap so you can field more of them. Every capital ship the enemy can’t match one for one is a ship that gets to deliver its own fire undistracted, every dollar you don’t spend on battleships can go to aircraft carriers or submarines.

      As an added bonus, a light battlecruiser’s hull and machinery make a perfectly good foundation for a fleet aircraft carrier.

      On the theory that Japan, trying to contest the Pacific on a shoestring budget, had the most to gain by this concept, I went ahead and designed a notional light battlecruiser for the IJN. 22,500 tons standard after the mid-1930s rebuild, 8x310mm guns firing superheavy shells, 30 knots and 10,000 nm cruising range, good seakeeping and compartmentalization. And cheap enough that Japan could have brought twenty of them to the table in 1941, for the same price as their historic twelve battleships (and two more fleet aircraft carriers on light-BC hulls).

      The USN’s Alaskas were a pretty good historic implementation of the concept, as were the French Dunkerques and the German Scharnhorsts. The never-built Dutch “Project 1047” battlecruisers might have given good service in the Pacific, and even the Japanese had the “B-65” class on the drawing board in 1941.

      * Denmark Strait, where the Hood was sunk at 22,000 yards. At Calabria, the Italians had already decided to withdraw and the British not to aggressively pursue them when possibly the longest shot in battleship history damaged Giulio Cesare’s engines. At Surigao Strait, one old Japanese battleship sailed into an ambush laid by four American BBs with second-generation fire control radar and was going to be blown out of the water at whatever range the American commander chose to open fire

      • bean says:

        Jurens seems to think that Hood was only at 19,800 yards when sunk. While that’s more than 18,000 that most battles were decided at, it is a mile closer than you gave. Other than that, endorsed.

      • cassander says:

        As a rule, I’m always skeptical of claims that lots of different groups of people in direct competition with one another consistently made wrong decisions. That said, while I think you have a very good point, I also think you’re overstating the case a bit.

        the kongos, as originally built, are pretty close to what you’re describing. 8″ belt, 2.75″ deck, 28kt speed, 14″ guns. I don’t have my copy of warships after washington handy, so I can’t look at how much tonnage they were assessed under washington, but it was definitely more than 22,500. But I think it’s safe to say that the performance you’re saying was necessary wasn’t really around until at least the last generation of pre-ww1 ships. This means that the choice japan was facing wasn’t 20vs12 ships, but the 4 post-kongo ships they built vs., if we’re being generous, ~8 kongos.

        But that’s the choice before we consider the treaties. Japan can’t build new capital ships between 1922 and 36, regardless of size. Maybe they could gotten 3 kongos instead of the 2 Nagatos, but that’s it. They spend 15 years locked into a treaty regime where building a whole new fleet of light battleships isn’t an option. I suppose they could have saved money by modernizing the ships they modernized less, but what do they buy with that money? More 8″ cruisers?

        The first time your strategy really becomes possible to increase numbers is when japan leaves the treaty regime and starts building Yamatos. And there it’s definitely true that they could have gotten 4-6 kongos for the Yamatos, and that that would have been a better use of money, but I also don’t think it makes that much difference. The trouble the japanese had with the Yamatos wasn’t that they were useless, it was that they didn’t use them when they would have made a difference. Maybe the neo-kongos get used more aggressively, but I think it equally likely that, given their weaker armor, they get husbanded for the decisive battle until it’s too late for them to make much of a difference.

        • bean says:

          But I think it’s safe to say that the performance you’re saying was necessary wasn’t really around until the last generation of pre-ww1 ships.

          I’ve seen the output files. The ships are based on the Invincibles, and the described performance is post-refit, equivalent to the WW2 Kongos.
          I’m not entirely sure he’s right, either, but I’m also far from certain that he’s wrong. I’m particularly skeptical of how much of the design hangs on a superheavy 12″ gun. Superheavy shells were only adopted by the US, and while details are maddeningly scant, it looks like everyone else didn’t build them because they have problems at high obliquity unless the shell is really, really strong. Only the US got there, and once we did, they were probably inevitable. The Japanese were never world leaders in metallurgy, and thus probably couldn’t have built them.

        • John Schilling says:

          I considered the treaty regime from the start, assuming that Japan starts building their battle line in 1912 as per history but going with 12″/20,000-ton battlecruisers rather than 14″/35,000 ton battleships. Then, in the treaty era, keeping what the tonnage limits allow but upgrading them as they historically did with their heavier ships. That means keeping fourteen battlecruisers (at 22,500 tons post-rebuild), and adding six more new builds in place of the Yamatos.

          Whether the Japanese could actually have built the ships is an open question; SpringSharp is I believe as good a tool as presently exists for that purpose but it isn’t perfect. As others have already noted, it doesn’t capture all the impacts of different propulsion plant designs. The Japanese did have a preliminary design for a 12.2″ gun firing superheavy shells that I assume would have replaced the 1912 originals during the rebuild, but again I’m not sure SpringSharp accurately models that.

          But if it turns out that the only way to make the concept work is to go to Dunkerque-esque 13″ guns and a more conservative propulsion design, packing on another couple thousand tons, I’m going to wager the Japanese would have done exactly that and just lied about the displacement for treaty purposes. Not like they’d have been the only ones. They’d still have been better off than they were with the Yamatos.

          • bean says:

            Unfortunately, information on the superheavy shell is very difficult to come by. I doubt the Japanese could have gotten one ready in time to rearm the ships you designed. The USN didn’t even get the superheavy shell ready until ~1940, and without that, I don’t think the 12″ gun would be considered a ship that might have to go up against battleships.

        • Luke Somers says:

          > As a rule, I’m always skeptical of claims that lots of different groups of people in direct competition with one another consistently made wrong decisions.

          The paucity of actual battles would tend to reduce the rate at which they could learn these practical lessons. Which effects are bigger? Clearly the British learned only too late that keeping flash down was more important than keeping fire rate up.

    • cassander says:

      Bean, to resurrect an old debate, I ran across some reliable cost figures. the Essexes came in at various costs between 70 and 75 million. the South Dakotas, 77. This comes from how the war was won, quoting Jane’s. the Iowas he quotes at more than 100 million. No figure for the Midways, unfortunately.

      • bean says:

        Interesting. Old copies of JFS seem like a good source, and we can both at least trust them to be uninterested in our biases. Let’s have a look.
        1940 Jane’s says $68 million for North Carolina and $60 million for Essex, both including armament.
        1942 Jane’s says $76.9 million for North Carolina and SoDak (they’re all listed as the same class, which is really weird in retrospect), and $92.1 million for Iowa. Essex is listed at $68.9 million. Midway isn’t listed.
        1953-54 Jane’s says $90 million for the Midways, and >$100 million for the Iowas. North Carolina is $76.9 million, the SoDaks are listed as >$77 million. No price is given for Essex.
        Breyer gave >$100 million for the Iowas, too, although I trust Muir (~$125 million) more, as he was working later and had better access to US archives.
        Overall, though, it’s pretty clear that the battleships are slightly more expensive, although I’m surprised at how close it is.

        • cassander says:

          Jane’s does put out this, which might be more consistent. That said, my day job involves a lot of familiarity with jane’s (aircraft, not ships), and consistency is really not their strong suit. They are, in fact, pretty shockingly bad at it. they get a lot of data, data no one else gets, but they don’t seem to put much effort into rectifying inconsistencies, applying uniform standards, or that sort of thing. Still, I agree that they’re probably the best single source to go on.

          I’d also bet that for the Iowas in particular, the re-design of the turrets was not a cheap job, but you’d have to be a wizard to work out how much of the total cost it was.

          that said, the O’brien book is really quite interesting, and while I think it overstates the case, it’s very compelling. If you haven’t read it, you definitely should.

          • bean says:

            I’m aware of Fighting Ships of WW2, but don’t have a copy right now. And I’m even more aware that it’s not called Jane’s Frightening Slips for nothing. Off the top of my head, I know they got S&Gs propulsion wrong, the Iowa’s armor badly wrong, the SoDaks got lumped in with the North Carolinas as late as 1942…
            But I just don’t think we’re likely to do better. I’ll ask Iowa’s curator for his estimate, and the basis for it, but ultimately, every number I’ve seen puts Iowa above Midway in cost.

            I’d also bet that for the Iowas in particular, the re-design of the turrets was not a cheap job, but you’d have to be a wizard to work out how much of the total cost it was.

            True. And I’m not sure if that would get rolled into the unit cost or not.

            If you haven’t read it, you definitely should.

            I’ll look at getting a copy, but my reading list is very long and growing. At some point soon, I intend to do a bibliography post.

      • bean says:

        Iowa’s curator got back to me on this. He said that his number is $110 million, although he’s not sure if that includes armament, and suspects that the $125 million number includes that. He’s going to ask the National Archives if they can get a better number.

        • cassander says:

          interesting. If you can, have him ask about the midways too, I’d expect them to be about 90-100mil.

    • Tarpitz says:

      I have only just discovered this series: thank you very much – it’s fascinating reading. Naval history was a childhood obsession (I’m not sure if my first “what do you want to be when you grow up?” was admiral, warship designer or both), and while I may in fact have pursued a… somewhat different career path, my handle here is a Bojack-battleships hybrid for a reason.

      I have also been inspired to track down Great Naval Battles of the North Atlantic 1939-43 (extremely necessary manual downloadable here) and work out how to use DOSBox. This may not be good for my productivity.

    • Tarpitz says:

      I must say, though, I’m not terribly sold on your case for the Alaskas as “not battlecruisers”. I think if we imagine a multi-dimensional space containing all post-Dreadnought, pre-guided missile surface combat vessels, with axes for size, firepower, armour, speed and so on, the Alaskas are clearly part of the same cluster as all the less debatable battlecruisers (and for that matter the battleships). They’re on the far side of it from the likes of the Nelsons or Yamatos, but they’re in it – similar displacement and thicker armour than the Renowns, more main battery firepower than the Scharnhorsts, similar length to both, towards the fastest end of the cluster for speed but not outside it. Most of all, they’re just very comparable by the numbers to Dunquerque. I don’t see any need to invent a whole separate and unique category containing only them (unlike the Panzerschiffe, which really aren’t much like any of their contemporaries).

      • bean says:

        I think we’re into Bleggs and such here, although I do see your point. My reasoning for defending the Alaskas as different is that all of the ships you list except maybe the Dunquerkes are separated from the platonic contemporary battleship in only one dimension, be it armor or guns. Alaska is separated in both dimensions, and is by design a scaled-up cruiser, not a battleship. I could also place the Des Moines in the battlecruiser category by your logic. They’re almost the exact same size as Invincible, much faster, have more armor and more firepower.

        • Protagoras says:

          I think the stronger case is that battleship/battlecruiser size increased over time, and particularly jumped in the post treaty period. It would as you note be silly to call Des Moines a battlecruiser because it was more than thirty years after any battlecruisers were close to being that small. The time between S&G or Dunkerque and Alaska isn’t as long, but it included the transition from the treaty era to the post-treaty era; the Alaska class was considerably smaller than any of the post-treaty ships that are uncontroversially battleships.

          A random thought; several times in the late 19th century, the British followed up an impressive new ironclad or turret cruiser or battleship or whatever they were calling it that week by trying to build a smaller, cheaper version, and those follow up attempts at budget ships seem to be generally poorly regarded. I wonder if that did anything to discourage 20th century naval planners outside the U.S. from designing scaled down battleships or battlecruisers like Alaska; perhaps overlearning from the British experience?

          • bean says:

            S&G were laid down in 1935, Dunkerque in 1932. Alaska was after Pearl Harbor, and the proper battleship companion is the Montana, not the Iowa, and Montana is twice the displacement.
            A lot of time, ships seem to get overtaken by events. The Panzerschiffe probably would have been terrifying in the late 20s or early 30s. But by the late 30s, they were no longer particularly effective. Same for S&G or Dunkerque, although S&G in particular were always compromised by their guns.

            I wonder if that did anything to discourage 20th century naval planners outside the U.S. from designing scaled down battleships or battlecruisers like Alaska; perhaps overlearning from the British experience?

            I think it had more to do with funding and timing than anything. Cruiser-killers are nice to have, but pretty far down the list of things you actually need. Also, they take battleship tonnage, which nobody was willing to give up while the treaties were in force. The Japanese didn’t have the money, and everybody else didn’t have the time (iron law of mobilization and all) to buy them. The Dutch and Japanese both tried to do so.

          • Tarpitz says:

            The question of time is a fair one, and perhaps crystalises a question of whether you want to categorise from the perspective of design, in which case the appropriate contemporaries are ships laid down at a similar date and the end of treaty restrictions is a big cut-off, or functional characteristics in service, in which case they’re other ships in contemporaneous service, and the end of treaty restrictions is irrelevant. In the latter sense, Renown is a contemporary of Alaska; in the former, not so much.

            But yes, we are certainly in blegg country here.

          • bean says:

            The question of time is a fair one, and perhaps crystalises a question of whether you want to categorise from the perspective of design, in which case the appropriate contemporaries are ships laid down at a similar date and the end of treaty restrictions is a big cut-off, or functional characteristics in service, in which case they’re other ships in contemporaneous service, and the end of treaty restrictions is irrelevant. In the latter sense, Renown is a contemporary of Alaska; in the former, not so much.

            Ah, but if we’re going to consider service-mates, then I can clearly point out that Renown has battleship-caliber guns, and Alaska doesn’t. Scharnhorst and Dunkerque were both gone by the time she entered service, so they don’t count. And Renown was pretty much obsolete by then, anyway. As was Arkansas, the only other ship with 12″ guns in active service. They were clearly holdovers from a former time.

            Personally, I look at things from a design perspective, and there they clearly separate from contemporary battleships.

  8. nelshoy says:

    Looking to maybe do some research this summer. First year medical student wanting to do psychiatry.

    I’ve applied to some of my school’s offerings but nothing really caught my interest. Does anyone here know Bout any cool neuroscience/ behavioral science/ statistics projects going on that I could contact?

    Thanks!

    • nelshoy says:

      Alternatively, any other fun and interesting summer endeavors I should consider with my last free summer for the foreseeable future?

      • Scott Alexander says:

        I can’t help you find anything, but look up the NRMP statistics on research as being helpful in getting a residency match. Unless it’s changed from when I checked, it shows that residency programs don’t care. So don’t spend your last free summer researching unless it’s something you enjoy!

        (or you want a head start on a future academic career)

        • nelshoy says:

          Will definitely check those out those stats!

          The gestalt I’ve been fed is that it’s extremely important for matching to do research this summer. Glad I seem to be misinformed. Regardless, I think I’ll still be looking to build my resume in some way, hopefully besides doing mindless grunt work.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      If you’ve done any bench research during undergrad, or if you haven’t but feel lucky, you could try to intern at a neurology lab. Some PI’s don’t like taking on med students since they need more training initially but even then it’s worth a shot.

      Most large university hospitals have some kind of research going on there, so you should be able to find a list of labs on their website if you look. Scroll through and see which ones are doing research that interests you. When you find one you think you might like read the PI’s last two or three published papers. If you’re still interested email him and ask to join for the summer.

      Hopefully that wasn’t too vague. It’s hard to be more specific without knowing what exactly you’re interested in.

      • nelshoy says:

        Thanks!

        Yeah we had presentations from the programs from our university hospitals and I emailed some of them. They’re okay, but nothing really struck my fancy and we’re not supposed to get our slots until our class rank comes in.

        I’m currently interested in attention, executive function, ADHD, and finding effective interventions to foster scholastic success at different ability levels. I think genomics is cool too, but my knowledge base is mostly from scanning gwern links.

        Don’t have published undergraduate research, but I know some R and am trying to learn more. Willing to work from location or move around the US if need be. Also did an undergraduate thesis on frontal temporal dimentias, which I’m kind-of-but-not-really interested in.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          Well don’t sweat not having anything published. Nobody expects undergrads to have their names on papers: it’s a nice accomplishment but never a requirement.

          I’m currently interested in attention, executive function, ADHD, and finding effective interventions to foster scholastic success at different ability levels.

          Anyway, I’m sorry but I can’t really give much in the way of good advice on finding labs studying any of those topics. I only really have know about neurology on the sub-cellular level since I’m more of a molecular biology / biochem guy.

          I know someone doing a PhD in education and it sounds like they do a lot of work on executive function and that sort of thing. But it might not be the best bet: education research is a bit of a dumpster fire right now, especially given the replication crisis.

          Good luck on this as well as in med school. And I hope you have a good summer!

          • nelshoy says:

            Thanks anyway!

            About that PhD, do you think they’d mind if I shot them an email? I kind of enjoy the murky social science stuff, and I’d think my R knowledge is more relevant. My email’s nhorsley@llu.edu.

  9. Eric says:

    I have been collecting data for the past year about how friends are similar in terms of individual differences as measured by personality surveys. I tested 601 questions (pre-screened from a pool of ~1500) using volunteer pairs of friends (n > 2000 pairs) and more or less got this list of questions ordered by how much similarity pairs of friends show on that question. The questions that show a lot of similarity are mostly what you would expect, political values, rebellious lifestyle, etc., but there are some interesting clusters.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Why does N vary? Did you change the survey over time, or did people not answer questions, or what?

      What now, PCA?

      • Eric says:

        Yes, there were four different versions of the survey (some questions were in multiple surveys) which is responsible for the large differences and also sometimes people missed questions which is responsible for small differences.

        The currently active survey is made up of all the best questions screened and hopefully will be good data for dimensional analysis, yeah

    • Audoenus says:

      How did you come with these questions? Did you come up them or did you base them on something else?

  10. Kingmaker says:

    An interesting pair of threads on the gender wage gap from the /r/badeconomics subreddit. They include good comments about why just ‘controlling for confounders’ is problematic when trying to understand the wage gap, as well as (IMO) more tendentious claims about the impossibility of disentangling culture and biology.

    https://np.reddit.com/r/badeconomics/comments/5yf0xq/a_comment_completely_misrepresents_the_data_on/deph295/

    https://np.reddit.com/r/badeconomics/comments/5w3kjo/what_can_we_learn_about_the_causal_effect_of/

    Aside from the topic at hand, it got me thinking about how invocations of culture are often vague and sometimes cross over into unfalsifiable territory, but that it still seems like we ought to be able to test the impact of actual cultural practices/values. I’m only aware of a few instance of attempts to quantify the effects of culture (e.g. a study where northerners and southerners were insulted and their physical responses measures) – which is probably due to my ignorance rather than lack of academic attention – but it is an interesting topic.

    edit: unbrokified the links

    • Sniffnoy says:

      You seem to have omitted the links?

      • Douglas Knight says:

        The anchor text was empty. 1 2

        Probably Kingmaker didn’t know how html worked and just pressed the link button. There is a scenario in which the button makes things worse, where people would otherwise paste in the raw links, which works.

        Bakkot: maybe it would be better if the link button produced placeholder text, maybe “link.”

        • Bakkot says:

          maybe it would be better if the link button produced placeholder text, maybe “link.”

          Hm. It might, but I feel like that would also be an irritant for people who are accustomed to the interface, which is everyone eventually. For example, I sometimes click “Link”, paste a URL, and then type the text I want it to show; having to first delete a placeholder would be irritating.

          (Either way it’s avoided if you first select the text which you want to turn into a link.)

          • Douglas Knight says:

            In my browser, Firefox, the link button not only doesn’t put the insertion point in the middle of the link markup, it moves the focus out of the text box entirely.

            Here is a suggestion which I misread into your parenthetical: have the link button highlight the placeholder text, which recovers the old behavior if you type after making a link. (if the focus works correctly)

          • Bakkot says:

            it moves the focus out of the text box entirely.

            Could’ve sworn I fixed that. Guess not. Fixed now!

            Here is a suggestion which I misread into your parenthetical: have the link button highlight the placeholder text, which recovers the old behavior if you type after making a link. (if the focus works correctly)

            Ah, good thought. Done.

    • Aapje says:

      @Kingmaker

      They include good comments about why just ‘controlling for confounders’ is problematic when trying to understand the wage gap

      A common feminist claim is that women get unequal pay for equal work, which is a claim that employers underpay women relative to their value as employees. In this context, controlling for confounders is extremely useful to verify the validity of this claim. If we can show that certain behavior results in higher pay, regardless of whether men or women are engaging in that behavior, then that part of the wage gap is clearly not caused by gender discrimination by employers, but rather, employers reward behavior that men engage in more often.

      Of course, a logical next question is then why men and women behave differently, but in that case you stop controlling for confounders and simply start to examine the confounders themselves. I’ve never seen critics of the wage gap narrative actually control for the confounders that they are examining (I’ve merely seen a few feminists falsely claim that others do so), so I don’t understand the claim that people are doing so inappropriately. The only thing I’ve seen is that some people are not very interested in the question why men and women behave differently and argue that men and women have enough agency to make different choices. I disagree, but this disagreement has nothing to do with ‘controlling for confounders’ being problematic.

      PS. As your first link notes, a huge problem in the debate is that a lot of people are incredibly sloppy with their definitions and arguments. They mix up earnings & wages, argue that measurements relate earnings to ‘equal work’ when the work that the earnings are being compared to is usually not equal at all, etc.

      • Jiro says:

        If we can show that certain behavior results in higher pay, regardless of whether men or women are engaging in that behavior, then that part of the wage gap is clearly not caused by gender discrimination by employers, but rather, employers reward behavior that men engage in more often.

        I’m not convinced of that. Suppose we could show that, oh, not wearing lipstick results in higher pay. I’d call that gender discrimination, even though wearing lipstick is behavior and you can certainly decide only to wear it outside working hours.

        • J Mann says:

          That’s a good qualification, but as far as I can tell, most of the behaviors people are controlling for are related to productivity.

          You’re right that if it turned out that wearing makeup was the cause of the pay gap and makeup had no impact on productivity, then it’s effectively discrimination.

          On the other hand, if the pay gap were entirely that people got paid the same rate per hour, but one group worked more hours, the problem is more complicated. The more hour group is producing more goods and services,* so any correction (a) may be seen as unfair and (b) may distort the market.

          * Yes, there’s a good chance the more hour group sees declining but positive marginal returns, so let’s assume for my hypo that pay correlates perfectly with productivity rather than with hours worked.

        • Mary says:

          Well, actually, that could be a case of correlation does not mean causation.

          A much more typical one is that the size of the gap varies widely based on whether you calculate money per hour worked or money per year.

        • Aapje says:

          @Jiro

          Suppose we could show that, oh, not wearing lipstick results in higher pay.

          The confounders that are normally controlled for are choices/behaviors that both men and women vary on, but where there is a gender difference.

          The studies find that men who behave more like the average woman, also get less pay. This suggests that employers value the behavior itself, independent of gender.

          Your example would only be similar if a decent number of men do wear lipstick and also get higher pay because of it.

    • J Mann says:

      I think the pushback on the pushback on the wage gap is interesting and worthwhile, but:

      1) It’s unfortunate that most people believe that women are paid 73% as much as men per hour for the same work because employers don’t believe women are worth as much and/or women don’t negotiate as high of pay. It would be a great step forward if we moved the conversation to: “people who take more time off for childcare and who work fewer hours get paid less than people who don’t, and this disproportionately affects women.”

      2) None of the pushback folks really get into productivity. If stockbroker A produces $100,000 worth of services that customers want to buy, and stockbroker B makes different childcare and life choices and as a result produces $80,000 worth of services, then it’s pretty complicated to just say “It’s unfair that the Bs make less than A just because they make different life choices.” If you try to equalize things by putting a price ceiling on A’s pay or a floor on B’s, you’re probably going to get some deadweight loss either way.

      • Randy M says:

        “people who take more time off for childcare and who work fewer hours get paid less than people who don’t, and this disproportionately affects women.”

        If you compare A to B, both A & B are integral parts of the comparison. Point being, yes, women working less are making a trade-off. So are men working more, as I’m pretty sure those men would rather be doing something else–otherwise they wouldn’t need to be paid for those extra hours.

        • Aapje says:

          Indeed. One of my major objections to the wage gap narrative is that it frames the argument so that only wages matter. However, there are many other factors that when taken into consideration, makes the arrangement seem a lot worse for men.

          For example, other gendered workplace differences are:
          – Men have longer commutes (which is uncompensated hours for work)
          – Men have far higher workplace health risks
          – Men work far more hours and overtime
          – etc

          Furthermore, a lot of the money that men earn gets spend by and/or for their female partner (or for both), so it’s even doubtful that the extra money that men earn, all benefits them.

          Ultimately, the workplace differences between men and women provide benefits and costs for each gender, where calling one gender better off is highly subjective.

        • Spookykou says:

          I’m pretty sure those men would rather be doing something else

          It seems to me that plenty of my co-workers ‘live for their jobs’ and that they spend inordinate amounts of time at work not really working and being salaried not directly receiving any additional compensation. Their home lives seem to consist of eating dinner watching TV and going to sleep so they can come back into work the next day. While I imagine they wouldn’t come into work after they retired, it is not clear to me that they would actually be happier/prefer being at home.

          • Randy M says:

            Well, we should both be wary about generalizing from our experience I suppose.

          • Evan Þ says:

            But which caused the other – working long hours, or living for their jobs?

          • This Monday, while waiting for a colonoscopy, I was chatting with the nurse and asked her what she would do if they found a way to stop aging. Her initial answer was that she enjoyed her job and would keep doing it.

            After I mentioned the possibility of starting a new career, she said she would like to become a doctor. But it was pretty clear that, money aside, retiring sounded less attractive to her than continuing to work.

          • Tibor says:

            My grandmother always found my father’s desire to retire early strange. She would work today if only her health allowed it. My father plans to retire when he turns 60 (today he turned 57) so I’ll see what he’ll do then with all that free time. I feel like I could retire immediately though, even though I’m barely even working (a PhD is sort of something in the middle). I’d still probably do some maths but also a lot of other stuff. There are so many interesting things to do in life and so little time. The 60 years or so that I’ve left already feel like so little. Hopefully they’ll discover that anti-aging thing in my lifetime 🙂

          • dndnrsn says:

            People who like working and stay working tend to live longer, and people who retire earlier tend to die sooner, but the whole thing is a morass of confounders.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Thing is, if you lead with (1), most people are going to say “So what?” and lose interest; those who don’t are already on your side. Leading with “women are being paid less for the same work” stirs your audience to outrage and even if you get pushed back to “women take more time off for childcare”, you’re more likely to retain your audience. So it’s not a good idea tactically, even if you really do believe that it’s unfair that women are paid less because they take more time off for childcare.

        • AnonYEmous says:

          it’s just a motte and bailey fam

          like, what you say is good tactical sense, but the wage gap as currently discussed is a motte and bailey. Because the bailey is “women are oppressed by culture (blank slatism)”, it cannot be disproven and is almost totally subject to feelings, making this bailey really strong. And because the motte is “women are counted as worth less than men” it is a great position to have. And so it goes

          (note: I may have gotten motte and bailey switched around. Same concept applies though.)

        • JDG1980 says:

          Thing is, if you lead with (1), most people are going to say “So what?” and lose interest; those who don’t are already on your side.

          I’m not sure that is the case. The vast majority of Americans support a law guaranteeing paid parental leave. This doesn’t seem conceptually any different – you’re requiring employers to accomodate family and childbearing.

          Although few if any modern liberals would ever suggest such a thing, you could also make a eugenic argument in favor of making it easier to balance childbearing and high-powered careers. As things currently stand, the marginal cost of childbearing is far greater for women who want to climb the career ladder – they could potentially lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in future pay. The result is that the current system is dysgenic, discouraging childbearing by the women with the highest IQs, whose children could potentially contribute the most to the nation.

        • J Mann says:

          You’re not wrong, but in that case, I’d like to see the feminist economists on Kingmaker’s threads be a little less condescending to people who are responding to the bailey argument for not anticipating their retreat to the motte.

          • Kingmaker says:

            I don’t think it’s a Motte-and-Bailey doctrine at all (nor are these feminist economists). It is specifically critiquing the claim that the GWG disappears when you “control for confounders” and thus the effects of discrimination on earnings are negligible, which is a fairly common interpretation of the controlling-for-counders research. And that is a problem because, as noted, many of those behavioral confounders are endogenous on gender and likely to be affected by discrimination themselves. There’s no equivocation in the argument (okay, I think there’s some equivocation in the retreat into agnosticism, but that’s tangential to the confounders issue, where they are very specific about what they are talking about).

            Thing is, if you lead with (1), most people are going to say “So what?” and lose interest; those who don’t are already on your side.

            Maybe among the general public, but there are researchers who are very interested in getting into why women make choices that lead to lower earnings (e.g. Claudia Goldin’s stuff), and that research has potential policy implications. Some will, of course, conclude that it is 100% discrimination, but that doesn’t make the rest useless or wrong.

          • Aapje says:

            many of those behavioral confounders are endogenous on gender and likely to be affected by discrimination themselves.

            The issue is that proponents of the wage gap narrative tend to point at the wrong causes, because it legitimizes their preferred solutions to the problem and fits their model of the world, rather than what is proven to be the primary cause of the gap. The model I’m referring to is one where women have very little agency and men have very much (a lot of mistakes made by feminists are caused by this assumption).

            My experience is that even if you get them to admit that men and women themselves make choices that cause non-sexist employers to pay men and women differently by going into detail; they still go back to favoring discriminatory solutions that require employees to favor women who provide less value to the company over men who provide more value; rather than come up with solutions that equalize the value.

          • J Mann says:

            @Kingmaker – yeah, I think they could be constructive instead of condescending and dismissive, though.

            As far as I can tell, the “control for confounders” argument is interesting and moving the ball forward, because when you identify the confounders, you have a better sense of what might be contributing to the problem.

            Take Goldin’s work. Based on her public interviews, she’s identified that both women and men who work shorter hours get paid less per hour than people willing to commit to 60 or 100 hour work weeks. That’s a great step forward, and the next question is why? Are workers who commit to longer hours more productive in the fields where that is encouraged? Or is it some kind of signalling/sorting function, and if so, for what?

            The question after that, of course, is assuming that firms are rational in their pay decisions, there is some reason, probably tied to average productivity, that workers who commit to longer hours get paid more. If so, what’s the cost of trying to discourage firms from doing so, or trying to discourage men and women from deciding to work longer or shorter hours?

            But you don’t ask any of those questions if you start with “Women get paid 78 cents for every dollar men get paid and that’s outrageous. I demand to live in a society that doesn’t claim that women are only 3/4 of a person.”

          • Randy M says:

            what’s the cost of trying to discourage firms from doing so, or trying to discourage men and women from deciding to work longer or shorter hours?

            Well, that depends on the methods used to discourage them, of course. But before you get to that, what’s the benefit?

          • Aapje says:

            @J Mann

            An obvious answer is that there are fixed costs to having an employee. If two employees have the same fixed costs, but one works twice as many hours as the other, then that employee has half the fixed cost per hour worked. So that employee is cheaper to the employer given the same salary and can be equally expensive if his/her salary is higher.

            Of course, there are many other factors that (can) have a similar effect or the opposite. An example of the opposite is that some employees are only made to work during busy hours. This is obviously a big benefit to employers over having a surplus of workers when there are no customers to serve.

            If so, what’s the cost of trying to discourage firms from doing so, or trying to discourage men and women from deciding to work longer or shorter hours?

            The issue is that this conversation requires an admission that women are in fact not systematically being mistreated (or at least: not worse than men), which fundamentally undermines ‘the narrative’ and many feminist demands for special treatment.

            It is also a much harder sell to convince people that the meritocracy is unjust/should be restricted; than that one specific group is mistreated. Most people seem to agree that whatever system we have should be fair to all participants on its own terms. Far fewer seem to agree that the meritocracy is unfair in itself.

          • Anon. says:

            Another thing to take into consideration: people who work more hours gain more experience. More experience = greater productivity, more hours = greater productivity growth.

          • Kingmaker says:

            The issue is that proponents of the wage gap narrative tend to point at the wrong causes, because it legitimizes their preferred solutions to the problem and fits their model of the world

            Unlike the people arguing against it.

            The point of this analysis is that the confounders you are controlling for – “the primary cause of the gap” – are themselves affected by discrimination, and thus we don’t knowthe true impact of discrimination on gender wage gap. (Though we can be pretty sure it’s not zero).

            Moreover, it doesn’t require that women have little agency, and such a view is not in evidence in the threads I linked. You merely need factors that affect the desirability of some choices in asymmetric ways.

            I think they could be constructive instead of condescending and dismissive, though.

            They could, but it’s a subreddit dedicated to sneering at people for poorly understanding a technical field (despite the efforts of some of the mods to make it more educational), so you have to take what you can get.

            That’s a great step forward, and the next question is why? Are workers who commit to longer hours more productive in the fields where that is encouraged?

            Goldin’s research looks at this. The answer appears to be, in part, that firms value hours worked contiguously more, hours worked at certain times more, etc… In some cases this is validated (e.g. a high-powered lawyer can’t easily hand off a project to someone else), and in some cases it is not (a lot of firms probably overvalue work done at the office during normal business hours and/or undervalue work done outside those confines).

            http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/goldin/files/gender_equality.pdf <- this isn't a true scholarly article, but it is a solid look at the topic and a bit of an overview of her research. Somewhere there is a publicly available and more scholarly take on this and I'll see if I can find it. Notably, most of the proposed remedies are aimed at increasing worker flexibility, not giving anyone special treatment.

          • Incurian says:

            Notably, most of the proposed remedies are aimed at increasing worker flexibility, not giving anyone special treatment.

            I didn’t read the article so if this is a stupid question just let me know: if you increase worker flexibility and Jane takes advantage of it but John doesn’t, won’t the same incentives that already favor John continue to work in his favor?

          • AnonYEmous says:

            ” Based on her public interviews, she’s identified that both women and men who work shorter hours get paid less per hour than people willing to commit to 60 or 100 hour work weeks. That’s a great step forward, and the next question is why?”

            Because you have to pay more to get people to work longer hours. As to why you want them to work longer hours; fixed costs were discussed, and that makes sense. I can think of a whole lot of reasons. But most importantly, it’s not gender-based.

            Of course I’m with you in trying to get past the original bailey (it is a bailey, by the by). I just think the Motte isn’t any good either.

          • Aapje says:

            @Kingmaker

            The point of this analysis is that the confounders you are controlling for – “the primary cause of the gap” – are themselves affected by discrimination, and thus we don’t know the true impact of discrimination on gender wage gap. (Though we can be pretty sure it’s not zero).

            But a lot of people who are arguing against the wage gap narrative aren’t arguing that discrimination doesn’t play a role, they are arguing that the facts show that a different mechanism is (primarily) at work than what a lot of people claim is the case. So memes like demanding ‘equal pay for equal work’ and ‘it’s unfair that employers pay women 77 cents to the dollar’ are in fact: a lie.

            What I see in practice is that the people who point out this lie often get treated as if they are denying that discrimination exists at all, which seems to be primarily based on stereotypes about people who counter feminist arguments and/or a way to defend a bad argument by not actually defending it, but by countering with an attack on the supposed beliefs of the critic, while not actually responding to the criticism.

            Moreover, it doesn’t require that women have little agency, and such a view is not in evidence in the threads I linked.

            Your first link goes to a comment which argues that economists only believe in nurture and the critics only believe in nature. The ‘100% nurture’ argument, when combined with feminist beliefs that women are oppressed, requires that women have little agency. Note that my claim on this matter was about feminist beliefs, not economist beliefs.

            That same comment also argues that critics attribute most of the differences to nature, which is a straw man, based on bad logic. The author claims that this is the case because critics mostly talk about nature in their arguments, but if the problem with an argument is that it ignores nature as a factor, then critics will of course talk a lot about nature as a factor. The very nature (hah) of criticism is that you focus on the disagreements and not the agreements, which a lot of people seem unable to deal with rationally (and thus they perceive disagreement on topics where the critic doesn’t actually express disagreement).

            PS. If you quote different people in the same post, you really ought to indicate the person you are quoting. Otherwise it appears to others that I said things that I did not.

          • Aapje says:

            @Incurian

            I didn’t read the article so if this is a stupid question just let me know: if you increase worker flexibility and Jane takes advantage of it but John doesn’t, won’t the same incentives that already favor John continue to work in his favor?

            I suspect that one reason for professions becoming gendered is that people tend to gravitate to professions where their preferred level of flexibility is catered to.

            This then causes the social norm of the workplace to change as well as the employer to cater their compensation package to this (so in jobs with mostly men, more compensation is through the salary, while for jobs with mostly men, secondary benefits tend to be better).

            If you listen to what complaints people have, it also seems that the social norms among more flexible people tends to clash with the norms of more work-oriented people. For example, the latter can feel taken advantage off when the former group leaves early, rather than finish the work.

            The weird thing is that the resulting dynamic actually involves the ability for people to decide their flexibility when choosing professions, but not so much later on. So you can argue both that there is too much flexibility or not enough.

    • Squirrel of Doom says:

      I think a minimal demand for a difference to be cultural is that it varies between cultures.

      If women do more X than men in all known cultures, I think you can dismiss the “cultural” explanation.

      • Enkidum says:

        You certainly can’t dismiss the “learned” (a.k.a. a product of culture, in some sense) explanation. There are plenty of human universals that appear to be purely learned/cultural (e.g. cooking and the use of names). A standard (and imho largely correct) argument of feminism is that many traits that are almost universally associated with women are learned/cultural in this sense.

        • shakeddown says:

          Does it matter if something’s learned, though? Feminists tend to assume that it does by default (because their process is “we know women are oppressed, we just need to explain how it happens”), but if you don’t assume that automatically I don’t see any good justification for it. (I can imagine a way in which this would be oppressive, I just don’t see any reason to assume that’s the way it actually is).

          • Enkidum says:

            Depends what you mean by “matter”, I suppose. It’s important if you simply want to have a more accurate understanding of the issues. It also suggests that there is the possibility of changing things, moreso than if the traits were genetically-specified, at any rate. Finally, it suggests that there are likely to be many women who do not feel that the supposedly female traits actually apply to them (and similarly for men and male traits), and that there is nothing wrong with this.

          • shakeddown says:

            Re: the third criterion, that can be true for both biological and social reasons. That is, if femininity is mainly biological, you could still get some women with high testosterone. If it’s mainly social, you could still get women who grew up in an unusual environment (though that might be rarer).

            My basic point is that there’s a tendency to equate “biological” with “fundamental” and “social” with “trivial and easily changable”, and that’s not neccessarily accurate or helpful.

          • Enkidum says:

            Ah, ok, agreed with both those points then. There’s also the naturalistic fallacy (whatever is natural is good), which is just silly, and I think there may be a tendency here to to inverse fallacy (whatever is imposed through societal/cultural trends is bad), which is equally silly.

            That being said, I still agree with the basic idea that much of the traditional gendering of traits is learned/cultural, and I also agree with the feminist mainstream that this learned gendering has a lot of negative consequences that could be ameliorated.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @shakedown

            We do, in fact, see women who are high-testosterone for various reasons (perhaps fewer nowadays as the conditions which cause it can sometimes be treated). My impression is that they do behave in a more stereotypically masculine way, though I don’t have data.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          There are plenty of human universals that appear to be purely learned/cultural (e.g. cooking and the use of names).

          The specific recipes and names we use may be learned/cultural, but it isn’t obvious to me that the practices of cooking things and of using words to distinguish things are.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            You think the ability to make a fire (or maintain a fire, at least) is genetic?

            I’m guessing this isn’t what you mean, but I’m not sure what it is you do mean.

          • Enkidum says:

            Like HeelBearCub, I’m curious as to what you mean that cooking could be genetic. It’s certainly had effects on our genotypes (and hence our phenotypes), but are you really suggesting that there is some kind of genetic encoding for using fire to chemically alter food? DNA don’t work that way.

            As for names – I meant personal names, not just nouns in general. There’s good reason to think that using words in general has a massive genetic component. Personal names – I’d be very, very surprised if genes have anything to do with it. Then again, I suppose my inability to conceive of something isn’t a strong argument.

          • Deiseach says:

            Do you mean “we can perfectly well eat plants and meat raw – see the discussion over cooking steak – and burning it with fire is only a cultural fad”?

            Along the lines of Japanese monkeys learning to wash their food in the hot spring and this being transmitted to new generations and becoming a trait of their troupe?

            Sweet-potato washing (SPW) is a behavior in which monkeys take a sweet potato to the edge of the water and wash the sand off the potato with water (Fig. 2). This behavior was begun in September 1953 by a female named Imo, who was one and a half years old at that time.
            This behavior gradually spread to other monkeys. Table 1 shows the process of propagation during the period from 1953 to March 1958. In 1958,the acquisition rate in adults was 18.10/0: i.e., 2 out of 11 animals (6 males and 5 females). The rate in monkeys aged between 2 and 7 years was 78.90/0: i.e., 15 out of 19 (10 males and 9 females). After that, most newborns began to show this behavior. In August 1962, 36 out of 49 monkeys over 2 years old showed SPW behavior (73.40/0). There were 13 monkeys who did not show SPW behavior. Out of 11 monkeys over 12 years old, i.e., those born before 1950, only two females showed SPW behavior (Eba and Nami). On the other hand, among the monkeys born after 1951, only 4 individuals did not perform this behavior. Interestingly,they were all Nami’s children.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I think that people are genetically hardwired in such a way that cooked meat is both healthier and more appetising to us than raw. Maybe we need to be taught how to cook it, but there are nevertheless biological factors which cause us to do so.

            As for names – I meant personal names, not just nouns in general. There’s good reason to think that using words in general has a massive genetic component. Personal names – I’d be very, very surprised if genes have anything to do with it.

            Using personal names is just an example of using nouns in general. If the one has a biological basis, I see no reason why the other wouldn’t as well.

          • Squirrel of Doom says:

            The book to read about humans and fire is Catching Fire by Richard Wrangham.

            It makes the argument that we tamed fire a very long time ago, maybe even 2 million years ago, and it has strongly shaped our evolution. Since cooking food makes it easier to digest and roughly doubles the calorie content, it has allowed us to simplify our digestive system, and some of that evolutionary capital has probably gone to improve our brains.

            There are no known human cultures without fire, and we probably can’t survive long term in nature without it. Does that mean the ability to make fire is genetic? Not directly, though the genes of those who had no such aptitude must has dwindled. And when you bring groups of people together, they will make fires.

            I should note that these theories are not all the expert consensus and competing interpretations certainly exist. Either way it’s a great book!

        • Squirrel of Doom says:

          But how can something be universal to all cultures without being biologically rooted? What do all human cultures across geography and history have in common other than human biology?

          • Nornagest says:

            The number three? An average of twelve hours of sunlight? Oxygen?

          • Enkidum says:

            All human cultures across geography and history have the human phenotype, and interactions between the human phenotype and fairly universal aspects of the environment in common. Also, they all have an extensive cultural heritage, although the specifics of this heritage obviously vary widely.

            Just as in biological evolution you have strong selection pressures and ecological niches that lead to covergent evolution of unrelated species (think eyes, or anteaters vs armadillos), there are very clear pressures/niches for cultures to adapt to or exploit, and some of these are fairly universal across cultures.

            You mentioned Langaker above – his fire theory is a very good example of the kind of thing I mean (though I haven’t actually read his book, I’ve heard it discussed quite a bit). Clothing is another great one. People who are not taught to wear clothes or make fires will not make them: apparently, both abilities had been lost by the cultures of the Tasmanians and the southern tip of Tierra del Fuego at the time of contact with Europeans. There are strong pressures to wear clothes and cook food that are biologically rooted in that they are pressures because of the specifics of the human phenotype and environmental universals (or near universals), but are not specifically encoded for genetically. And the latter is what I was getting at.

            To bring it back to feminism, something like this is precisely what is being claimed about universal (or nearly universal) gendered traits. That is, these traits are biologically rooted only in the sense that they arise in response to the biologically-rooted fact that women tend to be smaller and have to spend time pregnant and nursing, and are taught adaptations in response to these and other constant features of the phenotype.

          • episcience says:

            Can’t you just suppose it’s a (relatively basic) technological innovation that any beings with a certain basic level of intellect will achieve?

            We can suppose there isn’t a genetic basis for “poke people you don’t like with sharp sticks until they bleed”, but it tends to crop up among most cultures.

  11. Rachael says:

    Anyone else had experience of GPs/primary care doctors being worryingly ignorant?

    Example 1: “There’s no point trying more than one antidepressant – they’re all basically the same, so if you’ve tried one, you’ve tried them all.” I mean, if you know *one thing* about antidepressants it’s that that’s the opposite of true…

    Example 2: I had an extremely itchy skin condition, and one GP, who was a dermatology specialist, diagnosed it and gave me some cream, and told me to come back for a stronger dose if it wasn’t helping. So I went back, and the first GP wasn’t in, so I saw a different one, who refused to accept her colleague’s diagnosis and refused to give me the prescription. She didn’t have an alternative diagnosis; she just didn’t agree with his. She spent most of the appointment on the computer, repeatedly going to the same diagnostic site by peck-typing in http://www.google.com and then peck-typing in the name of the site and searching for it (no bookmarks).

    Example 3: I brought my 3yo daughter in with genital itching which I suspected was thrush. GP said “toddlers don’t get thrush,” diagnosed some kind of bacterial infection, and prescribed some cream. Cream looked very scary: lots of serious-sounding side effects in the “very common” and “common” columns, a warning not to use it on children under 10 (not “unless advised by your doctor”, just “don’t”), and a large applicator intended to be inserted up into the vagina. I was so sceptical that I took her to a different GP for a second opinion; the second one said it was definitely thrush, that it’s common in children who still wear nappies at night, and gave us some ordinary thrush cream, which cleared it up.

    Then there are the GPs who just don’t understand the questions I’m asking, despite me making multiple attempts to re-word them to try to make them clearer, and instead answer much simpler or just different questions which I wasn’t asking.

    • Incurian says:

      Just one. Wife had a UTI that wasn’t cleared up by a regular course of cipro. We went back to the doctor a few days later and he prescribes more cipro at the same dose. I wanted to jump in and say “isn’t it clearly resistant to cipro and at this point we’re just making sure the entire population is resistant?” He didn’t come to the same conclusion until after it developed into a kidney infection.

    • Randy M says:

      Those sound worrying, alright. Can I ask where you live?

      • Rachael says:

        Cambridge, UK.

        • rlms says:

          Would you mind telling me which practice? I still need to register with a GP (I’m a first-year student) and it sounds like I should try to avoid yours.

          • Rachael says:

            #2 was at Nuffield Road, #1 and #3 were two different GPs at Arbury Road.
            When I was a student I was at the one on Trumpington St. I don’t recall any problems there, but I didn’t go often.

    • Matt C says:

      Not as bad as what you said, but yes. We had a doctor diagnose our daughter with strep (!) because she had cracker residuum stuck in her throat (we didn’t figure it out until later). We had a doctor try quite hard to browbeat us into an amniocentesis that we did not want (an amnio carries a small risk to the pregnancy, and the only reason to get one was to decide if we wanted to get an abortion, which we had already decided against). I watched a doctor ask questions of my father that my father obviously did not understand and was answering randomly or just repeating back the last thing the doctor said–the doctor was oblivious to this or (I suspect) simply didn’t care. My wife saw something similar with my grandmother where she was agreeing to things the doctor was saying that she could not hear at all. (These were both doctors specializing in treating older patients.) We had a certified nurse midwife who wanted us to get a VBAC and told us the risks were minuscule. We studied up for ourselves and judged the risk of something bad at 1-2% which we did not consider minuscule. When we told her we weren’t going to get a VBAC she basically ghosted us, we had to figure out for ourselves that she wasn’t going to work with us or have anything to do with us any more.

      Whew. That was a bit of a rant.

      Doctors are plenty fallible. They make mistakes, they have their own private agendas, and sometimes they just don’t give a shit about the patient. I wish they didn’t occupy this priestly role that they do.

      • Randy M says:

        Midwife’s don’t perform C-sections, so what could one have done if you weren’t going to VBAC? (Other than refer you to a doctor, which she was unprofessional if she was unwilling to do so)

        • Matt C says:

          We had been getting prenatal care from her and had thought we would continue to see her up through the delivery. We thought we were on the same team and getting cut off the way we did was a surprise.

          She did point us to another doctor as you guessed, so maybe we were the ones with unreasonable expectations, but it certainly felt cold to us at the time.

    • andrewflicker says:

      Not a GP, but my story about a pharmacist:

      I’ve had pneumonia 4 times so far (I’m 31), thanks to some early lung damage, I think. The third time I had it, I was pretty familiar with the process, and went into my newish GP told him “Hey, I think I have pneumonia”, he did a few tests (lung function, listening to breath, checked that I was indeed coughing up blood, etc.) and prescribed me a z-pack (common antibiotic). Well, unfortunately, it didn’t work this time around, so 4-5 days later I was back, and feeling much worse.

      This time, the doc was concerned, and prescribed some fancy new antibiotic I’d never heard of, that was apparently good for respiratory infections resistant to azithromyacin. Great! I go to the pharmacist to pick up my prescription, and he tells me it’s going to be something like $700 for the course.

      At this point, I was struggling financially (my ex-wife had both a spending problem and a lying-to-me-about-it problem), so I panicked a bit at the pharmacist. He told me he’d call the doc, see if there was a substitute my insurance would cover. He disappears for ten minutes, comes back, gives me a different 10-day antibiotic course (also one I’d never heard of).

      6 days into that antibiotic course, and I’m basically drowning at home. I can barely breathe, can’t really eat, can’t stand without assistance, etc. I’m in my mid-20s- and I’m seriously concerned I might be dying. So I go back to the doc.

      He’s very alarmed at my condition, and asks if I finished the antibiotics properly, didn’t miss doses, etc. I tell him that I’ve been very regular and followed the instructions exactly, and still have 4 days left, but thought it should have had some impact by now. Turns out he had no idea what I was talking about- the pharmacist never actually called him! Doc hit the roof, just absolutely furious. He ended up collecting every free sample of the “right” antibiotic that any office in the building had so that I could get the drug I needed (along with a powerful steroid this time). It worked- I mean, it was the nastiest course of drugs I’d ever been on, gave me horrible indigestion, led to me getting oral thrush because I had nothing to fight off fungi, but killed the respiratory infection and probably saved my life.

      Never did hear what happened to the pharmacist- but that doc was definitely out for blood, so I can’t imagine he got away scot-free.

      • pdbarnlsey says:

        “so I panicked a bit at the pharmacist”

        I skim-read this is “I panicked and bit the pharmacist”, which took your story in a radically different direction. The real version is probably equally disturbing, in its own way.

    • kenziegirl says:

      I have two examples, more what I’d call situational blindness than ignorance, but here you go.

      I have a medical gynecological issue, and spent two years seeing different docs who all told me I was stressed, tired, I needed a date night, etc. “I’m writing you a prescription for a vacation!” Um dude, you’re not as funny as you think you are. Finally got a helpful medical diagnosis from a doctor literally the week before he retired. So yeah, I’m looking for a new practice.

      My kid was getting bitten by mites or bedbugs of some variety (never did pin it down). Had doctors scratching their heads for six months because they couldn’t figure it out. We finally got in to an appointment with a specialized pediatric dermatologist, she took one look and said oh yeah, it’s bug bites. It was a mystery for so long because we didn’t have them at home, he was getting bit at the sitters. But we didn’t ever notice it right away, and none of the other kids at the sitter’s were being affected. So it was an atypical scenario for sure. But the doctors were suggesting all kinds of weird things. And I guess my takeaway there is, you know, we could have asked point blank, what does it look like? Well it looks like bug bites. Okay, so the simplest explanation is bug bites. Let’s assume that’s the case and figure out where they’re at. I’m just floored that it took all of us 6 months to get there.

    • howardtreesong says:

      Yes. A family member was the chair of the board of well-regarded hospital in Los Angeles, and one of the things she dealt with was patient complaints/malpractice issues. I won’t tell any of the war stories, but the end result of it is that when someone in our family goes to the doctor and isn’t 100% of sound mind (for example, they’re running a fever), another family member goes with to listen to the dialog and confirm that good decisions are being made. This family policy has caught two situations that had some chance of turning disastrous.

      It’s also a reason that I use a concierge health care service as my internist here in the US: she’s a doctor that will know and understand my history and whose practice (her and one other doc) promise to respond to emails same day, you can get same-day appointments, etc. etc. — and she knows I’m going to question/examine/think about her diagnoses and expects the same.

  12. Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

    I’m just going to go ahead and assume that all your fiction writing is just an excuse to have more material to make Open Thread pun names.

  13. IrishDude says:

    I posted an ethics survey on an open thread a month ago that asked one political orientation question and nine ethics questions. My goal was to see how widespread or not certain ethical judgments are, and how this varies by politics. Since answers to ethical questions can depend on details not present in the defined situation, I asked people to answer with what they felt is right usually.

    I got over 100 response (thanks everyone!). There were a few item nonrespondents, so some of the counts don’t add up to 100. Here is a link to the summary results from SurveyMonkey, where you can see the overall distribution of answers and the question wording. Here is a link to a google document that contains all the individual responses in case someone wants to do their own analysis (or check mine), as well as a tab that contains summary results for each of the ten questions, with breakouts for each ethical question by political orientation.

    The way I imperfectly conceptualize the four political orientations is as follows:
    Economic conservative, Social conservative => Traditional Conservative
    Economic conservative, Social liberal => Libertarian
    Economic liberal, Social conservative => Social Justice Catholic
    Economic liberal, Social liberal => Progressive

    Here are some highlighted results, though I invite anyone who’s interested to evaluate the data on their own if they’d like.

    =============================
    The distribution of political orientation of the 100 survey-takers:
    Traditional Conservatives (14%), Libertarians (39%), Catholics (9%), Progressives (37%)

    There’s general consensus on whether it is just to use physical force to:
    >>Have sex with a woman without her consent (100% agree it’s unjust, 93% strongly)
    >>Take your money to use for schooling, even if most your roommates agree to do so (98% disagree it is just, 84% strongly)
    >>Punch another person in the face in self-defense (99% agree it is just, 75% strongly)
    >>Punch a person in the face without their consent (98% agree it is unjust, 74% strongly)
    >>Take your money to help a charity that helps starving children obtain meals (91% disagree it is just, 59% strongly)
    >>Take a loaf of bread to feed your slightly hungry family (88% disagree it is just, 44% strongly)

    Three ethical questions had less consensus on the justness of the situation:
    >>To refuse to give to a charity that effectively helps starving children, if you can afford to donate (67% disagree it is unjust, 30% strongly)
    >>To use physical force to take a loaf of bread to feed your starving family (57% agree it is just, 15% strongly)
    >>To have a non-health related abortion in the second trimester (53% disagree it is unjust, 15% strongly)

    The justness of 2nd semester non-health related abortion is the topic with the most varied opinions while the unjustness of forced sex is the topic with the most consensus.

    (Note: I collapse strongly disagree/disagree to disagree and strongly agree/agree to agree from here on out, for ease of explanation.)

    Comparisons between ethical situations:
    33% agree it is unjust to refuse to donate to a feed-the-starving-kids charity, but only 9% agree that the charity should be able to use physical force to get you to donate if you refuse.

    57% agree it is just to use physical force to take a loaf of bread to feed your starving family, but that support drops to 11% if your family is only slightly hungry.

    It’s interesting that 57% of people think using physical force to steal a loaf of bread for your starving family is just, but only 9% of people think it is just for the feed-the-starving-kids charity to use force to take your money if you can easily afford to donate. If anyone responded this way on the survey, or would have responded this way, I’d be interested in seeing your explanation for this seeming divergence.

    Highlighting a few differences by political orientation:
    87% of Progressives agree it is just for a starving family to use physical force to take bread. This percent is 66% for Catholics, 41% for Libertarians, and 21% for Traditional Conservatives.

    100% of Traditional Conservatives agree it is unjust to have a 2nd semester abortion for non-health related reasons. This percent is 78% for Catholics, 43% for Libertarians, and 22% for Progressives.

    44% of Catholics agree it is unjust to refuse to give to a charity that effectively helps starving kids, if you can afford to donate. This percent is 40% for Progressives, 28% for Traditional Conservatives, and 26% for Libertarians.

    Final Notes:
    There is room for interpretation on the questions that affects how people responded. When describing what I intended by physical force, I said by example “Using physical force to steal a loaf of bread would then require some sort of physical altercation with another person to take the bread that they had possessed.” to which another user responded “This isn’t even remotely clear and changes my answer.”

    I agree that my stealing bread question doesn’t provide clarity on this topic. Some people may have interpreted the question as whether it’s just to rob an unoccupied house to get bread while others assumed that they’d have to use force against a person. (If I do a future survey, it would be interesting to tease out the nuances that make people feel stealing a loaf of bread is justified or not.) Other ethical situations may have also had important differences in interpretation. Given this, the responses should be interpreted with some caution.

    Last, I’ll note that SurveyMonkey was kind of a pain, as I couldn’t export all the individual responses without paying. Instead, I hand-transcribed all the responses to a google spreadsheet which introduces some potential error in the analysis. Since SurveyMonkey provides summary counts, as a form of verification I was able to check that my hand transcribing matched these top-level counts.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      So are the 9% actually Catholic or is that part of an idiosyncratic naming scheme?

      It’s very confusing to see Catholic listed as a separate category from progressives and traditional conservatives since IRL the vast majority fall into one of the two buckets. Maybe because I live in America, and American Catholics are unusual, but it’s odd to have them as the only religion singled out.

      Beyond that, ‘economically liberal / conservative’ and ‘socially liberal / conservative’ are shorthands which will lead you astray if you get even slightly outside of the mainstream. For example, since we’re talking Catholics, would you call a Distributist who wants to bring back the guild system an economic liberal or conservative? Or how about an old-school Communist who sees homosexuality as an example of bourgeois decadence, socially liberal or conservative? The terminology you’re using is going to lump a lot of people with dissimilar values together.

      • IrishDude says:

        Sorry, it’s my admittedly imperfect idiosyncratic naming scheme. I labelled people who listed themselves as social conservative/economic liberal as Social Justice Catholics (my mom falls in this category, which made it salient for me when thinking of shorthand labels). Then shortened this label to just Catholics when describing the results. I didn’t ask religion on the survey.

        Social Justice Catholics can differ from Progressives on abortion and gay marriage, with Catholics more socially conservative. They differ from traditional conservatives on economic policy, with Catholics favoring more welfare and assistance for the poor. I live in America and grew up Catholic, and so this reflects my perspective on Social Justice Catholic belief.

        I agree that economic/social liberal/conservative shorthands can include different people in each of the buckets, but I think it’s broadly helpful for categorizing different political beliefs.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Economic liberal, Social conservative =>

          I believe that the common nomenclature for this position is “populist”, but that is slightly confusing. Anything that puts social justice Catholics and George Wallace in the same bucket probably lacks nuance.

          I think there has to be a third axis, something about liberal and conservative senses of “fairness”. I’m sure there is a better term for it.

          • IrishDude says:

            Since my labeling is somewhat contentious, I suppose I should have just stuck with the actual labels people categorized themselves as when describing the ethics survey results above.

    • Jiro says:

      It’s interesting that 57% of people think using physical force to steal a loaf of bread for your starving family is just, but only 9% of people think it is just for the feed-the-starving-kids charity to use force to take your money if you can easily afford to donate. If anyone responded this way on the survey, or would have responded this way, I’d be interested in seeing your explanation for this seeming divergence.

      One difference is that stealing bread to feed your family is inherently limited. It’s hard to convince yourself that you’re stealing 1000 loaves of bread to feed your family because you noticed that the other tribe has a lot of bread owners and you really feel like screwing them over, while rationalizing it as “they can easily afford the loss”.

      • shakeddown says:

        This reminds me of epistemic learned helplessness – even if you can’t think of a reason why the two are different off the top of your head, you shouldn’t immediately discard the intuition that they are.

      • JRM says:

        I didn’t take the quiz, but I agree with the majority on both due to slippery slope problems.

        From The Simpsons, Fat Tony and Bart:

        (General plot: Bart is 10 and working for Fat Tony)

        Bart: Uh, say, are you guys crooks?

        Fat Tony: Bart, is it wrong to steal a loaf of bread to feed your starving family?

        Bart: No.

        Fat Tony: Well, suppose you got a large starving family. Is it wrong to steal a truckload of bread to feed them?

        Bart: Unh-uh.

        Fat Tony: And, what if your family don’t like bread? They like… cigarettes?

        Bart: I guess that’s okay.

        Fat Tony: Now, what if instead of giving them away, you sold them at a price that was practically giving them away. Would that be a crime, Bart?

        Bart: Hell, no!

        • Anonymous says:

          Yeah, seeing any theft as justified leads to problems down the line. IMO, much better to view all theft as unjustified, with the option of pardon if the situation merits it (but it’s still wrong*).

          * I wonder if there’s some sort of pardon that can only be gotten if what you did was wrong, since you can well get pardoned for a violating the rules in a way that is just. Like, violating an ordinance against earthworks without written permission to safeguard against a flooding river.

      • Jordan D. says:

        I endorse Jiro’s explanation. Theoretically, a consequentialist system urges that you should steal if the proceeds will then go to a more beneficial cause- except that it’s obvious that this will only authorize everyone to steal from everyone else for pet causes and and up making the world worse. So the actual best thing to do is to establish shelling fences.

      • IrishDude says:

        That’s one potential explanation that makes sense. A difference I thought people might have found salient is the degree of separation. One scenario has the people in need directly using force to assist themselves, while the other scenario has an intermediary where people who aren’t in distress, those working at the charity, use physical force on behalf of others. People might feel more uncomfortable with use of force by 3rd parties.

    • Anonymous says:

      Did anyone provide answers along the idea that stealing is always wrong/unjust?

      • Aapje says:

        The survey didn’t ask a question that could answer that.

      • IrishDude says:

        Aapje is correct that your question wasn’t directly asked.

        There were four questions that asked about the use of physical force to obtain items. Q2 on roommates taking money for schooling, Q3 on a starving family taking a loaf of bread, Q4 on a slightly hungry family taking a loaf of bread, and Q10 on a help-starving-kids charity taking money for their cause. The questions asked if the use of physical force was justified to obtain items in each case and 42 out of 100 people disagreed or strongly disagreed across all four questions. Their breakdown by political orientation, with the total number of respondents of that political orientation in parenthesis:
        11 (out of 14) – Economic conservative, Social conservative
        23 (out of 39) – Economic conservative, Social liberal
        3 (out of 9) – Economic liberal, Social conservative
        5 (out of 37) – Economic liberal, Social liberal

  14. Daniel Frank says:

    3.8 billion years ago, before abiogenesis took place and there was no life in the universe as we know it, would a hypothetical observer at the time be able to contemplate the idea of biology? Or would the idea make no sense and have no possible grounds for support?

    • Randy M says:

      Are we assuming the hypothetical observer has full knowledge of the principles of physics and chemistry? A system of self-sustaining reactions of very large carbon molecules held in an semi-isolated aqueous solution by a hydrophobic membrane would perhaps have been imaginable. I’m not sure someone would have guessed at the scope of a single multi-cellular organism, let alone human society.

      The obvious follow-up question being, what are we not imagining?

    • HeelBearCub says:

      This seems like a question that is fairly contingent on assumptions we make about the observer.

    • skef says:

      The way this question is put is an invitation to pick at conundrums that aren’t directly related to what it’s probably trying to ask about. You’re using methods that can clarify a question in normal cases but make things murkier here.

      Case in point: “Would a hypothetical observer be able to contemplate the idea of biology under any circumstance?” One way of answering this question would be “On the assumption that the observer is biological, yes.” That is, a biological observer takes their biology, and possible contemplation of it, anywhere they “go”; the potential is intrinsic to them.

      Could you screen off that possibility by depriving a biological observer of any self-knowledge, or by making a mechanical observer? Perhaps, but that observer might still arrive at a conception of biology not through the “landscape”, but through their own existence, which would still have some connection to actual biology, either by being biological or having been built by biological creatures. “How did I come to be? Perhaps the earliest stage of the chain that brought me into being involved …”

      That is, the observer itself could, directly or indirectly, be the grounds for support of the idea of biology.

      Since these concerns don’t relate to the time before biology that is part of your question, the question doesn’t really isolate the issue that interests you.

    • Chalid says:

      Easier questions to attack might be something like “could a civilization that had never seen snow before predict its ubiquity in cold regions” or “could we have predicted superconductivity without having done any cryogenic science.” For questions like these, I think that an entity as smart as our civilization would not predict the right answers with any confidence. When theorists look at complex systems without having much data to guide them, they tend to come up with a vast number of plausible theories and require data to help them converge on the correct one.

    • Corey says:

      Depends on how abstract you get. The idea that there might be sets of molecules that replicate themselves seems tractable in this situation. The idea that those molecules would specifically be RNA chains, maybe less so. The idea that piles of such molecules would eventually develop abstract thoughts of their own and post about them on Internet message boards? Preposterous.

  15. hyperboloid says:

    Nicola Sturgeon has called for a second referendum on Scottish independence, and post Brexit it may well pass. The thing is that the future of an independent Scotland in the EU is very unclear, with Spain in particular likely to make the process of ascension as painful as possible, so as to discourage anyone in Catalonia from getting any big ideas. Nevertheless I have struck the perfect solution to Scotland’s EU woes; Step one: declare independence, step two, declare war on Ireland, step three: surrender unconditionally!

    It’s brilliant, the newly “conquered” Scotland will automatically be an EU member, and Mariano Rajoy will have to go suck a morcilla. Of course I’m sure there will some armed resistance from rabid Rangers fans, but you can’t make an omelet with out breaking a few eggs.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Something, something, a nation of gingers, something.

    • SuiJuris says:

      You are assuming that Ireland’s war aims in this unsought war would include the annexation of Scotland. It’s not clear that Ireland would wish to annex Scotland, or that they would be wise to.

      • Wency says:

        So they couldn’t surrender unconditionally. They’d only surrender if Ireland agreed to annex them. Pretty quickly, it would escalate into a real war, with the Scots launching an attack on Dublin to bring the Irish to the bargaining table. The Irish couldn’t invade Scotland — that would be giving them what they wanted. They’d have to play defense, leading to a bloody stalemate.

        Perhaps other nations get involved, tensions escalate, miscalculations are made, and a massive nuclear exchange ensues. Humanity is wiped out.

        Then we all wake up from the simulation, our suspicions confirmed that this world was created for satirical purposes, and the creators were just looking for a way to end it.

    • Deiseach says:

      Nevertheless I have struck the perfect solution to Scotland’s EU woes; Step one: declare independence, step two, declare war on Ireland, step three: surrender unconditionally!

      Presumably the casus belli would be the impetus to restore the kingdom of Dál Riada?

      Melanie Phillips raised some comment due to her piece in The Times (which they can feck off for themselves, I’m not registering and signing up to read it) about Ireland and Scotland are not nations but Britain is the “authentic unitary nation”.

      After you all pick yourselves up off the floor and wipe the tears of laughter from your eyes, I think you’ll agree hyperboloid’s Cunning Plan is not the craziest thing you’ve read in this context 🙂

      We may yet see a united Ireland in my lifetime; Star Trek: The Next Generation predicted this would happen in 2024, only seven years to go!

      • Mary says:

        Well, I read a fair amount of discussion on that topic when I was reading about James uniting England (and Wales) and Scotland.

        At the time, this was applauded as undoing the error of Brutus in dividing his kingdom among his sons.

        Brutus being, of course, the Trojan prince who escaped the fall of Troy to arrive in Britain and found a kingdom there.

    • 1soru1 says:

      Then Ireland gets kicked out of the EU for breaking international law by annexing territory as a war outcome.

      What might work legally, if not politically, is to repeal the 1948 Republic of Ireland Act, making Ireland technically still part of the UK. This would negate the ability of the Westminster parliament to make a decision on Brexit without a referendum consulting the opinions of all citizens with voting rights present on territory affected by the decision.

      Which would just so happen to be almost the entire population of Ireland…

      http://www.express.co.uk/news/politics/649517/EU-referendum-2016-Voting-Voters-Allowed-British-Irish-Commonwealth-Citizens-European

      • Nyx says:

        “This would negate the ability of the Westminster parliament to make a decision on Brexit without a referendum consulting the opinions of all citizens with voting rights present on territory affected by the decision.”

        Parliament don’t need to consult anyone, although obviously Parliament would need representatives to be selected from the new Irish constituencies, it remains supreme in the land and consults the public only when it wants to.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          obviously Parliament would need representatives to be selected from the new Irish constituencies

          Would Parliament need representatives for the new constituencies any sooner than the next election? After independence, the Irish MPs served out their terms. In the case of Lords, that meant for life.

      • Evan Þ says:

        No, repealing the Republic of Ireland Act would leave the restored Irish Free State as a British dominion, like Canada before the patriation of its Constitution. It still wouldn’t get any representatives in Westminster, just like it didn’t elect any from 1922-1948. To change that, you’d need to repeal the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which is legally just the same as repealing the Treaty of Paris and making the United States back into British colonies.

    • technicalities says:

      Some geopolitical lulz proposed, I seem to remember, by Alex Salmond, involves England, Wales, and NI seceding from the UK, leaving Scotland as “the” UK, i.e. an existing EU member-state. (I guess “take that, Spain!” is the gag here.)

    • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

      The Wee Sleekit Cow’rin Tim’rous Beastie That Roared?

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        I just found a new book to read! I figure any recommendation from a fellow Burns fan must be worth pursuing.

    • Nyx says:

      I don’t know how likely a second referendum would be to pass. Scotland face the same problem that England did with the EU, only bigger. Scotland trades more with England than they do with the entire EU; if they chose the latter over the former, they would be committing an act of profound idiocy to trump even Brexit, to say nothing of the logistical problems of forming their own currency. The first referendum was a decent enough idea since common EU membership guaranteed freedom of movement and trade between England and Scotland, but now that guarantee no longer exists.

      Now, Northern Ireland have the opposite problem; for them, the EU offers a better chance of an open border with the Republic than the UK. But the unionist tendency is a lot stronger and better organized there.

      • John Schilling says:

        Scotland also faces the problem that they need the consent of Parliament to hold a referendum and declare independence. The Scottish Independence Referendum Act of 2013 authorized Scotland to hold one vote on the matter, in 2014, which the UK would be obligated to respect. The Scottish parliament cannot simply hold independence referenda whenever it wants, any more than US states can vote to secede whenever they want.

        Should they somehow overcome that hurdle, they face the additional problem that they’d need the unanimous consent of the entire EU for an independent Scotland to join. Good luck with that.

        • BBA says:

          If a state has initiatives, and the petition gets enough signatures, they can certainly hold a vote on secession whenever they want. They can also hold a vote to call spirits from the vasty deep.

          (Scotland’s in a different boat, as you say.)

  16. nhnifong says:

    A study on bilingualism recently discussed by Aeon Looked at fractional anisotropy (FA), and radial diffusivity (RD) in the brains of bilingual Mexican-Americans and monolingual Americans. Higher FA and lower RD is supposedly better.

    Aeon’s title “Why one size doesn’t fit all” which I probably misundertood, caused me to read the article looking for ways in which particular languages are better for some and worse for others.

    Aeon says,

    Kuhl and colleagues found that the monolinguals in their study had higher FA and lower RD in multiple white-matter tracts than the bilinguals – a seeming disadvantage for bilinguals. But the picture was not that simple. When they examined the effect of actual bilingual experience, or the estimated amount of time spent listening to and speaking the second language, they found that more bilingual experience lessened the differences between the bilinguals and monolinguals.

    Specifically, more time spent listening to the second language was associated with lower RD in regions associated with language production (the anterior portion of the inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus). More time spent speaking the second language was associated with higher FA in regions of the brain associated with language comprehension.

    But this study was only on Mexican-Americans, and Aeon duly includes the criticism that this might be coming from nutrition or something.

    But, the “Why one size doesn’t fit all” title lead me into another interpretation, What if the English language has a structure (huge, flat, bag of phrases instead of lots of rules and grammar) that, unlike Spanish, calls for more of a lookup-table, which appears as higher FA (linear white matter) and lower RD (nonlinear white matter). It’s not too crazy to suppose the structure of the brain would reflect the structure of the system it’s learning right?

    I’m really speculating here, but if different languages had structures that call for different levels of FA and RD, and these factors are still relevant to brain health in other ways, then I’d like to know which language is the best for my brain and learn that one!

    • J.S. Bangs says:

      bag of phrases instead of lots of rules and grammar

      What? Huh? English has hella grammar. English is one of the most syntax-heavy languages that I’ve ever studied, with syntactically complex and cross-linguistically unusual constructions required for very simple things like negation and question-formation. What English doesn’t have is lots of inflectional morphology, which is what casual non-linguistic observers sometimes mistake for “grammar”.

      But inflectional morphology is even easier to look up than syntax, as any given lexeme will have at most a few hundred possible forms for the most heavily inflected languages in existence—Spanish has many fewer than this—and so I don’t think your speculation holds up.

      • eyeballfrog says:

        >English is one of the most syntax-heavy languages that I’ve ever studied, with syntactically complex and cross-linguistically unusual constructions required for very simple things like negation and question-formation.

        Could you elaborate on this? It sounds very interesting.

        • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

          It not is obvious?

        • Incurian says:

          Are we talking about https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistic_relativity

          Edit: Nevermind, I’m dumb.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            I took Bangs to be referring simply to the requirement that the subject of the sentence (question) and/or the word “not” (negation) has to be placed directly after the first auxiliary verb, and nowhere else– and especially to the requirement to use the dummy auxiliary “do” if no other auxiliary is present.

          • Incurian says:

            Oh geeze I skipped a post and completely misunderstood.

        • J.S. Bangs says:

          For negation, English requires that an auxiliary verb be present, and if the sentence doesn’t otherwise have one you have to provide a form of the verb do, eg. “I think” => “I don’t think”. The list of things that can count as helping verbs is somewhat arbitrary, and the verbs combine in non-obvious ways. The same goes for questions, which move only the auxiliary to the front of the sentence, and you have to add do as an auxiliary if one isn’t already there.

          The English system of tenses is fantastically complex, among the most complex of any language in the world.

          English morphology is very straightforward, which is what most people mean when they call English “simple”. But what morphology we do have tends to be a little weird. For example, final [z] (spelled ‘s’) is used for: plural nouns, possessive nouns in singular and plural, verbs in the third-person singular, the contraction of “has”, and the contraction of “is”. That’s… quite a range.

          I could go on, but that should suffice. English only lacks in “grammar” if you take an overly restrictive view of what counts as grammar.

    • vV_Vv says:

      But this study was only on Mexican-Americans, and Aeon duly includes the criticism that this might be coming from nutrition or something.

      Or “something”. I wonder why educated people are so blind to the huge elephant in the room.

      then I’d like to know which language is the best for my brain and learn that one!

      LISP, obviously 🙂

  17. Garrett says:

    I’m somewhat terrified that the obvious (to me) throwaway part of my comment was so valuable. I suppose it fits in with the “doctors and engineers should talk to each other more” model.

    At a risk of trying to capture lightning in a bottle twice, I’d like to suggest some reading on signal analysis, typically taught in courses with titles like “Signals & Systems”. The interesting part to look at something called a Convolution (the Wiki page is overly calculus-laden, but the animations are useful). A quick search found this page with a quick overview. I don’t think learning all of the mathematical analysis is going to be helpful, at least until we have a formal mathematical model of every process in the body.

    Instead, I suspect that modelling many processes at many levels as non-linear time-dependent systems can provide some insight. That is, many responses in the body are probably linearly-dependent upon the recent values of some other input. But it’s possible that a number of these also take into account a much longer history. Or they have some floor/ceiling clamping effect. Or that the current response is linear, but only if the long-term history is 0, and otherwise is blunted (adding to tolerance effects).

    • shakeddown says:

      Do you have a suggestion for a good introduction for someone who knows a lot of math, but nothing about control systems/signals/systems?

  18. RC-cola-and-a-moon-pie says:

    Marginal Revolution links to a post collecting views of the seriousness of AI risk. It’s a frustrating link, because it’s just a bunch of bare opinions without supporting argumentation. But what struck me was how many people who really ought to be in a position to understand the issues (Stanford computer scientists and the like) are highly dismissive of the risk. I have no knowledge of this stuff at all but when I read summaries of why we should be concerned about AI risk, they seem overwhelmingly persuasive to me. To the point where it sometimes almost seems like the only real question is whether we’ll manage to achieve the requisite technology. Thinking about all the various pitfalls that would have to be avoided on the first try with no error, it seems monumentally challenging to deal with the advent of real AI if it comes, and that’s putting aside the fact that there’s no way to enforce wise decisions throughout the world even f we did have the answers. (Hence my skepticism about things like MIRI being able to head off the dangers — if super-intelligent AI is achieved then not everyone will do what MIRI wants them to do and there is no mechanism to prevent them from doing something wrong.). So as I say, it is somewhat reassuring to see these contrary views but also mystifying to me given the lack of argumentation over there. This is probably trodding old ground, but could somebody put up a link explaining the case for why I shouldn’t be concerned about AI risk, or summarize such a case yourself? Particularly if one assumes for purposes of argument that super-human AI is going to be developed in a few decades (i.e., putting aside skepticism that this AI is possible).

    • reasoned argumentation says:

      But what struck me was how many people who really ought to be in a position to understand the issues (Stanford computer scientists and the like) are highly dismissive of the risk.

      I have no knowledge of this stuff at all but when I read summaries of why we should be concerned about AI risk, they seem overwhelmingly persuasive to me.

      Is this satire?

      • RC-cola-and-a-moon-pie says:

        No. It isn’t. Why? Your contrasting quotation fragments might have been ironic if I had been implying that I knew better than the experts. In fact, of course, my point was precisely the opposite. As you know, there are numerous experts on the other side of the issue as well, and all I was doing was asking for information about the bases of one side’s views.

    • roystgnr says:

      Have you looked at the LessWrong AI risk interviews?

      I did not find the arguments from researchers on the low-risk side persuasive, and I may have been uncharitable to “people who believe that “Garbage In, Garbage Out” only applies to arithmetic, not to morality”, but I’m very glad that so many different perspectives were elicited and recorded.

    • Joe says:

      One common doubt regarding the plausibility of foom depends on the question of how complex AI will actually be – how many parts it will be made from. If it will be a fairly simple system with only a few different parts, then the gains from improving any one part could be huge. If it will be a vast complicated messy system with many small parts, like a giant pile of the kind of software we have today, then the gains from improving any one part will be fairly small. An AI reaching some point where it can quickly explode to superintelligence by focusing all its efforts on improving the workings of its own mind is much more plausible under the first hypothetical than the second; in the second the AI should quite quickly reach the point at which the marginal value of self-improvement is low and it’s better off doing something else to advance its interests, like how firms don’t spend all their efforts on improving internal processes but instead pursue other activities e.g. sales, marketing, product development.

      I think the belief that AI will be simple also fuels the AI-risk folks’ confident stance that AI won’t morally count. If AI is a simple intelligence algorithm then this is plausible. However if AI is a messy system that relies on lots of heuristics, generalisations, imperfect context-specific subsystems, and so on, then it’s much less obvious that it will jettison all of the parts of our minds that we value. A complex AI may well make use of happiness, laughter, consciousness. A world in which AI is complex will also probably see much more variation in AI designs, which further increases the chance that any particular technique or subsystem will appear at least somewhere. (Will AIs have linked lists? Will they have self-balancing binary trees? Will they have consciousness? The answer to all of these is much more plausibly “yes, at least somewhere” if there are vast numbers of varying complex AI designs that are each useful for different purposes, than if there’s one simple correct AI design that’s optimal everywhere with maybe one or two small variations.)

      Finally, AI-risk people put lots of emphasis on the values the AI holds. This is relevant and important if there’s only one AI in charge of everything, especially (though not only) if the AI is a simple homogeneous algorithm and not itself morally relevant. In that case, the AI decides what there is in the universe, so you want the AI to want good things and not want bad things. If there are vast numbers of AIs, it’s highly unlikely that any one of them will have total control, and so competitive pressures will prevail. In this case, what the universe will be full of is AIs. It doesn’t matter what they want – AIs who yearn for paperclips will be outcompeted by AIs who yearn for copies of themselves. This scenario is terrible if AIs are unconscious morally irrelevant algorithms, but could well be wonderful if AIs are complex messy sentient beings.

    • JDG1980 says:

      Has anyone even come up with a coherent definition of superintelligence in the first place? We’re presumably not talking about simply normal intelligence (or even human-level genius intelligence) overclocked. If you had a simulation of Elon Musk’s brain running at 1,000x natural speed, Virtual Elon would likely be able to accomplish a great many important things, but he would not possess the magical abilities attributed to “superhuman AI” by Yudkowski (e.g. creating a string of verbal or textual output that would force the listener to do whatever the AI desired).

      Much of what we think of as “intelligence” is pattern recognition. But that doesn’t mean we can get it to be “superhuman” simply by amping-up pattern recognition in a simulated brain, even assuming we had a simulated brain that we understood. If the human pattern recognition system works in overdrive, it results in noise being interpreted as data. When taken to an extreme, this is considered to be a symptom of mental illness. We might try to create a “superhuman” AI and wind up creating a dysfunctional, schizophrenic one instead.

      We should at least take seriously the possibility that the smartest humans are near the limit for “general intelligence”.

      • suntzuanime says:

        I prefer to em John von Neumann. It seems to me that a lot of Elon Musk’s value over the average genius is more his ambition and drive than his raw intelligence.

        I broadly agree with the specifics of what you’re saying, but vehemently disagree on the tone. If you have a John von Neumann that can be produced at scale, that doesn’t need to sleep or get distracted by any of the weaknesses of the flesh, that you can point in whatever direction you want, you have a hell of a thing. The Manhattan Project shows what you can do when you get maybe a few dozen geniuses together. If you can get as many geniuses on your project as you can get China to churn out the computonium for, you can do some pretty magical things, even if they’re not technically “superhuman”. Also, it’s worth noting that the “magical” ability you cite as something that’s beyond a cluster of human geniuses is something that Yudkowsky has gone to some effort to demonstrate the practicality of in the AI-box experiments.

        I think that we should take seriously the possibility that the smartest humans are near the limit for “general intelligence”. But we should be mindful that this is a *lower* bound on the potential of AI, and that this is already an earthshattering power. (Again, consider the Manhattan Project.)

  19. The 10,000 hour ‘rule’ sets unrealistic expectations for children and adults

    The 10,000-hour rule is wrong and perpetuates a cruel myth

    A post I wrote about the palo alto real estate market Palo Alto Real Estate vs. Everywhere Else

    Tyler Cowen discusses his book The Complacent Class and more The American Dream and the Complacent Class

  20. rlms says:

    AI risk:
    I went to a talk by Eric Drexler where he explained his opinions on it. He thinks the progress being made with deep learning etc. is very major. He expects that we will have very powerful machine-learning-based AI fairly shortly. This kind of AI could be recursively improved (machine learning tools can be used to improve machine learning tools), but it wouldn’t be agenty, so it couldn’t bootstrap to superintelligence in the way Bostrom etc. predict.

    I’m skeptical about how powerful machine-learning AI can be. There are lots of useful things it can do now, and there will be more in the future. But there are some tasks do need an agent, or require an accurate model of the world. Sometimes you can get away with stitching together some bits of machine learning with good engineering (see self-driving cars), but I can’t imagine making e.g. an artificial personal assistant that way. So I think that at some point we’ll go back to trying to make agents (possibly after the world as we know it has been revolutionised by machine learning/neural network style AI).

    But I think he does give a good example of one place MIRI etc. are going wrong. They try to do very theoretical work that can be applied to any hypothetical AI. But they seem to assume that any hypothetical AI will be a transparent algorithm, more or less like the code people write today. The recent progress in machine learning shows that isn’t necessarily true. I don’t think that general AI will be a logical progression from current machine learning stuff, but I don’t think it will just be code either.

  21. MikeInMass says:

    New in the work-life balance department: cryptographer Don Davis is suing defense giant BAE Systems, his former sort-of-employer. His first day on the job, Davis explained that his wife had late-stage cancer, and that he would work his full work day in the office, but if he was needed nights or weekends, he’d want to work from home, at least during her remaining weeks or months. His supervisor was fine with that, but Human Resources apparently couldn’t resist a chance to fulfill the stereotype of HR workers as soulless drones and fired him on the spot.

    What’s the point of working for a big company in order to have good health insurance, if they just lay you off should you ever need it? Or is BAE Systems particularly horrible compared to other big companies?

    • John Schilling says:

      A: Trying to turn this into Yet Another Health Insurance Debate is inappropriate. Davis wasn’t fired for needing insurance, he was fired for needing time off, which is a different thing. No matter how unreasonable it may have been for BAE to deny his request for time off, they did come through with the insurance and there is no indication that they wouldn’t have continued to do so.

      B: The experimental drug treatment was not going to save Elisabeth’s life until she gave up hope, so that’s just short of a gratuitous and unsubstantiated murder accusation to make sure we know who the Bad Guys are.

      C: Some jobs actually do require people to work weekends. Mine, for example, and now I even have to decide when other people come in on weekends. And if you are a cryptographer working for a defense contractor, you really ought to know that telecommuting isn’t a gimme. These aren’t demands you make on your first day on the job; they really need to have been discussed during the interview.

      D: Davis is a thirty-year career veteran, his wife has two months to live, and he’s starting a new job now rather than two months from now? Technical jobs at that level usually don’t mind waiting two months for the right person, and if they don’t it is because there is something very urgent on the calendar in which case, yeah, maybe they really do need him on the weekends. This is something that needs elaboration.

      E: HR people are officious bureaucrats almost everywhere, so why were they even involved in this story? If Davis and his supervisor are in agreement that Davis should be spending his weekends at home, they don’t need HR’s permission for the supervisor to just not call Davis in on any weekends for the next few months. What advantage did either of them think they were going to get by going to HR with this?

      This piece has been carefully edited to tell one side of a story, and I don’t trust it.

      • sohois says:

        I’ve got to agree that this story seems practically unbelievable. From a business standpoint, I cannot imagine that these senior managers – apparently the firm’s head of the HR department and a senior vice president were involved, presumably from the US division rather than global though – did not see the incredible reputation damage that could affect the firm by firing someone essentially because their wife had cancer.

        As John says, this kind of thing would really be hammered out in the interview, rather than on the first day. I could easily imagine that the reason he was fired was because he didn’t mention it during the interview. Perhaps this was a position in which 24 hour availability was really essential, or his demands for time were more egregious than presented in the article, and he simply hoped that by explaining after taking the job, the company would be far more likely to accede to his needs.

        But on the other hand it could just be a genuine story of incompetence at the top.

    • Deiseach says:

      His supervisor was fine with that, but Human Resources apparently couldn’t resist a chance to fulfill the stereotype of HR workers as soulless drones and fired him on the spot.

      Speaking in defence of soulless drones in bureaucracy, the supervisor may have been fine with it but you can bet that the co-workers would not have been.

      “How come he gets to knock off at five on the dot every evening and never works weekend shifts?”

      “Because his wife is dying of cancer”.

      “So?”

      Believe me, people are that petty and will threaten to get the union on the case/get their lawyers involved because this isn’t in the contract and this is discriminatory practice and why is he getting preferential treatment over those who’ve been in the job for years etc. HR probably got stuck with no choice but to follow the letter of the rules regarding the standard contracts and conditions of employment.

      As I’ve mentioned on here before, beware of tear-jerking and heartstring-tugging stories. Even if genuine and true, they are still only one side of the story. He can put his side forward in the press because he’s the one making the complaint; the company is bound by confidentiality and can’t tell a sympathetic reporter “John, this isn’t the case at all. He never mentioned one word of this all through the selection and interview process. Then he turns up on his first day and demands time off immediately. This is a full-time, not a part-time position, and if we’d known the facts we’d never have offered him the job in the first place.”

      • Randy M says:

        Why aren’t confidentiality agreements voided if the other party breaks them? I’ve seen the complaint before, and it doesn’t make sense that the company would restrict its ability to present its case in the event the other party does not feel inclined. I have a hard time believing the idea that companies are preparing agreements that do not give them equal if not favorable terms.

        Do they simply feel that any further press would be bad press?

        • CatCube says:

          Many times there’s a legal impediment. For example, HIPAA. If you go in front of a camera and tell the media that your doctor done you wrong, even if every single word is a lie, the doctor is still prohibited from discussing your medical details, even to protect their own reputation.

        • Deiseach says:

          Short answer? Law.

          Mrs Murphy can go to the local paper with a heart-rending tale of petty red-tape box-ticking by the local council that won’t give her a house so that she can have her kids to stay with her.

          Council housing department can’t tell local paper [redacted because if I tell you the true story behind this I’m breaking confidentiality] and she’s only using them as an excuse to get a bigger house.

          Because they’re bound by confidentiality agreements that affect third parties who may not want their private personal details all over the local media. As well as data protection laws. And the Ombudsman sticking his spoke in. And lawyers who will lap up any chance to use this against you in court (the people with heart-string tugging stories generally do lawyer up and go to court).

          Generally, this is for the protection of the public – after all, you don’t want Maggie in the local tax office gossiping about your financial affairs amongst her friends and neighbours. The principle, broadly, is that while you are free to (let us say) tell whomever you like that you’re up to your eyeballs in debt and owe huge amount of back taxes, Maggie can’t reveal what she has learned in the course of her duties because that information was provided in confidence and it’s not hers to share. People have the right to privacy, and confidentiality is part of that. They “own” their private information and unless they explicitly give permission, you cannot share it with outside third parties.

          People are providing you with very sensitive personal information (off the top of my head – drug addiction; mental/physical illnesses and disabilities; criminal records; cases where social workers/child protection/social services are involved, from neglect to incest; financial details; marital or lack of it status including divorces, former partners and children, etc.; indirectly their sexual orientation (e.g. they’re engaged to a same-sex fiancé(e)/they’re living with a same-sex partner); anything else you can think of).

          • FacelessCraven says:

            “Generally, this is for the protection of the public – after all, you don’t want Maggie in the local tax office gossiping about your financial affairs amongst her friends and neighbours.”

            This comment has aged well.

      • John Schilling says:

        Believe me, people are that petty and will threaten to get the union on the case/get their lawyers involved because this isn’t in the contract

        In the United States, jobs like this aren’t unionized and any contract will be vague enough that nobody’s lawyers will have a leg to stand on. Being asked to arbitrarily work weekends, even when the guy at the desk next to you isn’t, is part of the deal. Another part of the deal is a six-figure salary for a job you can usually do in 40 hours with time left over for e.g. posting comments to people’s blogs, so most people don’t complain too much.

        But your more general point is correct – asking HR to formally bless such an agreement is all down side and no benefit to the “soulless bureaucratic drone”. So why involve HR at all?

      • episcience says:

        He was fired the same day he arrived, though — there’s no reason his co-workers should have known that quickly.

        • Randy M says:

          I think the point was HR was being proactive, accurately or not anticipating discord from complying with one employee’s requests.

          • random832 says:

            Anticipating discord from allowing someone to work only 40 hours a week for a limited period of time due to his wife’s terminal illness requires anticipating heartlessness from other employees, which only makes sense if the HR drones are projecting it from themselves.

          • John Schilling says:

            So, if I anticipate that electing Actual Nazis to my country’s government would lead to Jews being hauled off to concentration camps, that could only make sense if I were projecting my own secret desire to do such a thing?

            “HR drones” get to deal with employees at their worst, and don’t need to “project” anything to know full well how petty, heartless, and vindictive some of them will be. Deiseach isn’t wrong about that.

          • Deiseach says:

            Anticipating discord …requires anticipating heartlessness from other employees

            I’ve never worked in HR (thanks be to God, I wouldn’t take a position there for love nor money) but I have worked (and am currently working where part of the duties are) assisting the people who do Payroll, which is tangentially associated with HR.

            Jealousy, pettiness, bickering, envy, begrudgery, back-biting, spite and the like on the part of employees and co-workers are rampant. And I’m pretty sure HR have it even worse, but as I said, I take good care to stay far away from that (the nearest they trapped me into doing that was re-organising the File Room after the amalgamation of two centres).

            My go-to example is this from my time in local education: every year, and I mean Every. Goddamn. Year. we had this exchange (and remember, we’re dealing with secondary school teachers, who had at the bare minimum a Bachelors plus Higher Diploma, and often had extra qualifications as well):

            Teacher Brown (all names have been changed to protect me) ringing up in a panic, high dudgeon, and from atop their high horse: Why did Smith get paid more in their salary this month than I did?

            Us (this is combined HR/Payroll and as low man on the totem pole clerical assistant to the section I got this job): That’s because Mr/Ms Smith got paid their incremental increase.

            Teacher Brown: But why didn’t I get paid my increase this month as well? I’m entitled to it! I’m on the same point of the scale as Smith!

            Me: Yes, you are, but you’ll be paid next month.

            Brown: But why didn’t I get paid this month? That’s not fair!

            Me: Because you started in the job a month after Smith, so you get paid your increases a month after Smith (internally: as we’ve explained to you every year for the past five years when you get your knickers in a twist over this).

            Brown: But why don’t I get paid at the same time? This is discrimination! I’m calling my union rep about this!

            Me: Because the way Department of Education hiring is set up, your time starts from the date you are hired. So if Smith is hired in July and you are hired in August, a year for Smith runs from July to July, and he gets his annual increase in July. Your year runs from August to August, so you will get your increase in August.

            Brown: So I’ll be paid what I’m due in August?

            Me: Yes, it’ll all be there in your payslip.

            Brown: Yeah, well, I’d better, or else I’m getting the union involved!

            Every. Goddamn. Year. Don’t get me started on pay and “you owe me for that fifteen minutes extra I did this week, why isn’t it on my payslip this week?” and explaining that they’re paid a week in arrears, it’ll be paid next week – oh, Lord God. The fear that someone, somewhere, is getting more than them undeservedly or that they’re being done out of their rights.

            You think people wouldn’t piss and moan about this guy not having to work weekends because of his dying wife? You have no idea. (Why do you think I have such a cynical attitude about life? I’ve dealt with the Great Public and with people arguing over their payslips).

        • Deiseach says:

          He was fired the same day he arrived, though — there’s no reason his co-workers should have known that quickly.

          I think that firing had more to do with “But you never mentioned any of this at interview before we offered you the job and you accepted it”. It’s one thing to negotiate the terms before a final offer, it’s another to sign the contract, turn up on the first day, and unilaterally change the terms.

          It does sound as if he never told them about his wife’s illness because he knew they wouldn’t hire him, and he wanted the job for the better health insurance/benefits, so he left that out. And plainly it wasn’t as simple as “my supervisor was okay with it”, because the supervisor went to HR to check could they do it. It’s not all on the side of “soulless HR drones” that this was a mess.

          • random832 says:

            > it’s another to sign the contract, turn up on the first day, and unilaterally change the terms.

            A) He was hired for a full time job. As much as employers might like to pretend otherwise, that means 40 hour (typical) weeks, not 80 hour.

            B) According to his story, anyway, he asked. Asking is not unilaterally changing the terms. He was fired for asking.

            The real question that I think is missing an answer here is why the supervisor went to HR. Was he looking for permission to say yes or an excuse to say no? You’re suggesting the latter with your last point, the story is claiming the former. I’ll admit the story is clearly pushing a narrative, but that doesn’t change that there are two possible facts here.

          • John Schilling says:

            According to his story, anyway, he asked.

            “Davis told Bryant [situation, therefore] he was the primary caregiver at all other times”

            “Davis said [9 to 5 OK, but] he had to be at home at nights and weekends to take care of her”

            “Told” and “said” are not question words, they are not “asking”. It is not unreasonable to interpret them as demands, as they almost certainly were demands. Unless Davis was a complete milquetoast, they damn well should have been demands, just raised at the proper time.

            Also, no, not all professional jobs are 40 hours, and certainly not 9-5 on weekdays. This, also, is something that ought to be raised early in the negotiations, not the first day on the job.

  22. Chris Hibbert says:

    Safe Browsing says that SSC is fine. I see that Google search says “This site may be hacked.” Presuming you’ve followed the recovery steps linked from that warning, let me know if you don’t get a helpful response from step 4. I should be able to find out what’s going on if the routine solution doesn’t work.

    • garwhal says:

      Seconded. If you haven’t previously, you’ll have to log in with a Google account and bind slatestarcodex.com to it by uploading a random file. https://developers.google.com/webmasters/hacked/ has the full details (and is linked to in step 3).

      Note that the warning “This site may be hacked” is specifically the message for spam-related issues. By contrast, “This site may harm your computer” is for malware, and afaict is the only one that reflects an adverse finding in Safe Browsing.

  23. Jacob says:

    Yay, I won something!

  24. knownastron says:

    In the previous Open Thread I asked the question about how to determine someone’s intelligence from an interview. Last week over 4 days I watched 80 university students do a 5 minute presentation and interviewed each of them. I had 30 spots to fill for a business school case competition. In the room with me (alumni) doing the judging were 2 students that were the captains of the team and a faculty advisor.

    It was easy to spot the studs and the duds. But trying to find out who the 20th to 35th place people was a nearly impossible task. Some notes:

    1) Impressions from presentations were highly subjective and too prone to biases. Everyone had an opinion, but I’m not sure how much I trusted their opinions or even my own.
    2) High marks correlated well with the best candidates. But after that marks gave us almost no information. Almost everyone that was in consideration was around the mid to low 70s range.
    3) I used the Fermi estimation question of: “How would you estimate how many cars there are in NYC?” This separated the excellent candidates from the very good candidates. It also showed us who were the worst, but again gave no information on the candidates we were on the fence about.
    4) Returning members had an unfair advantage, naturally. Even if they were on the sport team the year before.
    5) For me personally, good looks didn’t play a big role, but presence did. I didn’t know how to weigh this against my subjective impression of how solid their analysis of the case was. If I get a good impression from their presence, wouldn’t the judges also? Maybe their presence made me think their analysis was better than it actually was.
    6) We try to place members we think would work well together on the same team (10 teams of 3 people). We asked them, “what do you look for in a teammate to cover for your weaknesses.” Is self-reporting for something like this accurate?

    This is the most difficult problem I’ve ever tried to solve. If it were up to me, I would get everyone to do an IQ test, get the average score (1 to 10) from the 4 judges on their presentation ability, then weighed it 50:50 to get a final score. Do you think something like this would work just as well? Am I weighing IQ too highly? Maybe add another criteria for their grades?

    • cactus head says:

      I don’t have the answer to your questions, but I have a question of my own out of curiosity:

      3) I used the Fermi estimation question of: “How would you estimate how many cars there are in NYC?” This separated the excellent candidates from the very good candidates. It also showed us who were the worst, but again gave no information on the candidates we were on the fence about.

      Interested to hear how the Fermi question separated out the excellent candidates. What would a typical very good candidate’s answer be, and how would an excellent candidate’s answer differ?

    • Creutzer says:

      I would like to second cactus head’s inquiry about the Fermi estimation question.

      And how do you know that it separated the excellent candidates from the very good ones? Do you have an independent measure of excellence? Otherwise, it could just be that there is a general bimodal distribution of performance on Fermi estimation questions, which of course will split your pool of very good candidates into two groups, but it might very well nonetheless not correlate with anything interesting.

      I think it might be helpful for readers if you elaborated a bit on what a “business school case competition” involves. I’m not familiar with the concept. I’m guessing it’s the business school equivalent of a moot court in law school, but I still don’t have too much of an idea of what that entails.

      On your very last question: My hunch is that IQ will screen off grades on your preselected sample, so you won’t need an extra factor. Reasoning: What goes into IQ is presumably some noisy combination of IQ, conscientiousness and motivation, but people who are applying to take part in a competition will probably be pre-selected to be high in the latter, because if they weren’t, they wouldn’t bother.

    • J Mann says:

      The other thing on Fermi is that some of it tests preparation. When I interviewed at McKinsey, it was common knowledge that they relied heavily on that stuff, so motivated applicants practiced it. You’re testing a mix of the intelligence to do it and the motivation and preparation to have learned it.

      (When I took the SAT, there were a group of “do this basic arithmetic problem in base Y” problems. If I hadn’t prepared for the test, they probably would have taken me 3-4 times as long to do from base principles, but I practiced until I could reliably do them in my head. So it was similarly testing two things – the intelligence to do them quickly, plus the motivation to spend the time to learn a skill that I was only ever going to use for the SAT).

    • gbdub says:

      You’re a small committee looking to downselect 80 applicants into 30 slots. You all agree on some number of definite “studs” and “duds”, leaving you with some number of hard to differentiate applicants larger than the remaining slots.

      So maybe the remaining candidates are hard to differentiate because they are legitimately not differentiable, i.e. they are all more or less equally likely to do well at the competition. Keep in mind that your presentation and interview process is noisy (and incomplete) data – even if you successfully divine the One True Ranking of their performance on that, it will only correlate, not precisely match, the final competition outcome. So don’t sweat it!

      You’ve got a bunch of candidates about equally good, so select them on whatever arbitrary criteria you feel like. It’s not unfair – the candidates were good enough to make it into the “random chance” position but not into the “definite yes” position.

      I’d recommend one of three options (either way, auto-include the agreed studs and auto-reject the agreed duds):
      1) You have several measures you’re considering (e.g. presentation review, Fermi question, “presence”). From your pool of possibles, select the top remaining score in each category, continue until you fill the slots.

      2) It sounds like your committee members have different opinions and different sets of biases – so hold a draft. You pick your favorite of the possibles on whatever criteria you like. Then the captains, then the advisor (or whatever random order). Continue till the slots are filled.

      3) Literally draw names from a hat.

      You’re unsure which of your available criteria to favor, so the advantage of these approaches is that it doesn’t force you to select a single rubric for all the slots. It’s a team event, so it sounds like it would be advantageous to have a mix of skills on the teams anyway.

      If you’re going to do this again in the future, you could even get fancy and track which candidates ultimately perform the best – maybe it turns out the Fermi question has the best correlation, or maybe the team advisor’s biases turn out to be a good selector and they should be the tiebreaker in the future.

      • Jiro says:

        You’ve got a bunch of candidates about equally good, so select them on whatever arbitrary criteria you feel like. It’s not unfair – the candidates were good enough to make it into the “random chance” position but not into the “definite yes” position.

        By this reasoning, he could choose them on the basis of who is white, and (disregarding laws against this) it wouldn’t be unfair.

        I don’t believe this for a minute.

        • CatCube says:

          There’s really no rules-based system that’s going to allow you to fairly rank large numbers of people. Like the OP said, the top and bottom 10% will jump out at you, and the middle is going to be difficult to differentiate, and is going to be arbitrary.

        • bean says:

          By this reasoning, he could choose them on the basis of who is white, and (disregarding laws against this) it wouldn’t be unfair.

          I don’t believe this for a minute.

          Yes and no. On a practical level, I wouldn’t pick anything that’s obviously linked to visible traits, because it could raise questions later.
          On a meta-level, I don’t think it would be unfair to use that sort of system provided the means used to chose that system were fair. Let’s say we have a group that’s 50% white and 50% non-white. We need to select half of the group by any method, and we flip a coin to see which skin color we pick. This is fair, in the sense that skin color had no effect on the probability of selection. I wouldn’t use this in real life, because it could obviously be interpreted badly, but it’s not unfair, and in a society where racism doesn’t exist, it would be a perfectly valid means of selection.

        • gbdub says:

          Uh what? It clearly wasn’t my intent to imply the OP ought to make a racial distinction, so this comment is derailing and annoying. I meant that the OP could select from any of the criteria they mentioned arbitrarily.

    • Incurian says:

      This is a useless answer: I have an unusually accurate sense about people and tend to have them figured out after thirty seconds of conversation, based almost entirely on non-verbal cues. I have outed more than one pathological liar this way.

      Possibly a more useful answer: I think asking about weaknesses is probably valuable even if people lie, and especially your phrasing about “covering.” It takes a good amount of introspection and experience to figure out where your blindspots are and just HOW that impacts team composition. It takes a good amount of intelligence to lie about it in a convincing way, and I think the real psychos will out themselves by refusing to identify a serious weakness.

      Edit: Also, ask them about what books they’ve read lately.

      • Jiro says:

        I think asking about weaknesses is probably valuable even if people lie

        If you ask a question which requires that normal people lie in order to pass the interview, you deserve what you get. (Unfortunately, the interviewees don’t.)

        Also, ask them about what books they’ve read lately.

        Because what every applicant wants is to find that their interviewer thinks that their choice of reading material is too trashy. Or maybe racist or sexist (woe be you if you read HP Lovecraft and the interviewer is into social justice.) Or just unbelievable (the last thing I read is literally a 1926 issue of Amazing Stories; off of scans of course. I’d never mention this at an interview, because the interviewee would think I’m making it up.) Or doesn’t include enough technical material. Or is immature (what? You recently read a young adult novel and you’re 30 years old? You read something with superheroes? You read Pokemon manga?). Or reveals something bad about you (wait, you read that magazine off of scans? Isn’t that a copyright violation? You’re a lawbreaker, and we don’t hire lawbreakers.) Or just can’t be explained. (You say Worm is a web novel? What’s a web novel? That doesn’t sound like a real book, obviously you don’t read any real books.)

        As far as the interviewee is concerned, asking what books he’s read recently is just another question which requires the interviewee to guess how badly telling the truth screws him over.

        It’s also one of those cases where your private life is being used against you in the employment world, which generally sucks.

        • Wrong Species says:

          I think you have to read between the lines. Your example is so obscure that I can’t imagine someone making it up. If someone lists a book that is supposed to signal intelligence but can’t coherently tell you anything about it, they’re probably lying.

          • Jiro says:

            The interviewee can’t read your mind, so even if you don’t think he’s making it up, he could correctly conclude that on the average, interviewers will think he’s making it up.

            That’s true for all the other things I edited into my post too. You could easily be fine with the interviewee reading a young adult novel. But he can’t read your mind, so he has to think “what’s the probability that admitting this will harm my standing with the interviewer?” without knowing that you personally are okay with it.

          • Deiseach says:

            I have never been honest about “so, what books have you read lately?”* even outside of non-interview situations because generally my stuff is too obscure/weird/evokes ‘huh?’ in the listener.

            As in, when as part of a course we all had to do a PowerPoint presentation on a book or piece of media; everyone else was picking Titanic or celebrity autobiography or Normal People Stuff and I did the most recent book I had read, which was this.

            If I was preparing for an interview and thought this question would come up, what I’d do is have a quick search online as to what is the current trendy middlebrow “everyone must read this” book (end of year book recommendation lists are great for this); maybe a few business/technical titles (there’s always the latest What Colour Is The Empty Cheese? management guru fad) related to the field/business and a ‘beach read/light, low-brow read’ book for “yeah this is how I wind down” (e.g. the latest crime novel like this).

            I needn’t necessarily have read any of these books; I think skimming a few reviews would give me the broad points to bullshit a three-minute question and answer as part of an interview and if I really needed to read it I’d borrow it from the library. I have no intention of saying “Actually I like SF/Fantasy and horror and things about six other people like” because nobody needs to rack up the “weirdo who won’t fit in to the culture” points in an interview.

            *Apart from you guys, of course. What are the odds that if I mentioned I loved “The Worm Ouroboros” in an interview, I’d last ten seconds, though? “Game of Thrones” might be acceptable but I would pluck out my eyes before reading one of those; I did try with the first book way back when it was being excitedly announced as “new fantasy series by George R.R. Martin!” but couldn’t get anywhere with it and have resisted all blandishments of watching the TV series etc. since. Yes, the one big recent mass pop culture hit fantasy series and I’m still on the wrong side of things 🙂

        • Incurian says:

          It’s the explanations that are the important part, not the one-word answers.

          And I think the original question was “what are some good ways for me to judge people” not “which interview questions are the least stressful for the applicant and couldn’t ever be abused by the interviewer (who is me, btw)?” Presumably, knownastron is a regular person who can apply good judgement in assessing the responses.

          • Jiro says:

            The question is only a good way to judge people if the interviewee is going to tell the truth. And, because he doesn’t know that you’ll judge him fairly and he has to optimize his answer for the best chance of getting a job on the average, a smart interviewee won’t tell the truth.

            Furthermore, I’m not as confident as you that either you or knownastron will judge the answer fairly. The question is in an area where preconceptions and bias are common. And the interviewer will often have to understand things outside his expertise in order to properly interpret the answer. That’s a recipe for unfair rejection.

      • Deiseach says:

        I think the real psychos will out themselves by refusing to identify a serious weakness.

        When every coaching for how to get that job! ace that interview! tells you “for the love of God, don’t answer this one honestly. Never say ‘yeah I have trouble with punctuality’ or ‘I will take my sick kid to a doctor instead of working late that evening on the big contract’; what you need to do is find something that you phrase as a ‘weakness’ but it’s really a desirable trait, like ‘I tend to take on a lot of responsibility for getting things over the line’ or ‘once I start working on something, I don’t quit until I’m happy it’s right because ‘good enough’ isn’t good enough’ or the likes”?

        You may find ‘real psychos’ that way, but odds are you’ll find a lot more people who have had it drilled into them ‘never claim a weakness, that is giving the employer a reason not to hire you! turn it into a strength!’

        • Incurian says:

          What you say is reasonable, but what I had in mind were answers more like “I tend to focus on the big picture and would be well-complemented by someone who is more detail oriented,” or “Most of my experience has focused on [some sub-specialty] so I’ll need to read up on [some other sub-specialty] to round out my abilities.” All of your honest examples really are traits of bad employees, and yeah, you probably shouldn’t tell an employer you’re going to be a bad employee.

          • Randy M says:

            So, wait, what’s the right answer?

          • Incurian says:

            So, wait, what’s the right answer?

            I would say these are the right way to talk about weaknesses:

            “I tend to focus on the big picture and would be well-complemented by someone who is more detail oriented,” or “Most of my experience has focused on [some sub-specialty] so I’ll need to read up on [some other sub-specialty] to round out my abilities.”

            And these are the wrong way:

            ‘yeah I have trouble with punctuality’ or ‘I will take my sick kid to a doctor instead of working late that evening on the big contract’

            The difference being that the former admits you are an imperfect human who is trying to address their weaknesses, while the latter admits you will just be a bad employee.

          • Mark says:

            I once said “I think my greatest flaw is that I’m too nice” and I got the job.

            I think, normally, it’s just one of those things they have to ask and they don’t really know what to do with the answer. Probably more to do with how you answer it (in terms of demeanour) than anything else.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            No argument on punctuality, but it’s a pretty fucked up world where “I will take my sick kid to a doctor instead of working late that evening on the big contract” means “I am a bad employee and deserve to not be hired”

          • Randy M says:

            I would say these are the right way

            Okay, I wasn’t sure if those examples fell under “refusing to identify a real weakness” or not. I said something similar last time I was looking.

          • ThaadCastle says:

            What I have done in the past is admit to a weakness that is completely unrelated to the job. I.e. admit to being bad at foreign languages if that has absolutely no relevance to your job or being bad at drawing/art (again if it is completely irrelevant)…it doesn’t come off as humblebragging or being dishonest but it isn’t a weakness that would make them not want to hire you.

          • Randy M says:

            At some point that would seem like a knowingly evasive answer. I fully know they know I know there’s no reason for them to be interested in how easily I sunburn, so using it or analogous seems like evasion.

            On the other hand, I hope they know every answer is going to be evasive. It really seems more like a question of “Can you identify and avoid saying something disqualifying?” in other words, a test of your familiarity with the position and work environment.

          • John Schilling says:

            So, wait, what’s the right answer?

            Kryptonite.

          • random832 says:

            I would say these are the right way to talk about weaknesses:

            Wait, I thought those were meant to be examples of the things that “real psychos” say (i.e. “refusing to identify a serious weakness”). What examples do you have for those, then?

          • rlms says:

            @random832
            I think the classic one is “I’m a bit of a perfectionist”.

          • skef says:

            There’s some law in the neighborhood of: “The reason for asking a question that prompts an interviewee to lie cannot be accurately articulated by the interviewer.” It’s sort of the business culture equivalent to the robot’s head blowing up on encountering a contradiction.

            There are certain jobs for which it’s in the manager’s interest to confirm the employee can lie adequately. If the person is going to interact with a lot of outside groups, and you need lies maintained while he or she is out there (and you can maintain the right carrots and sticks, or the illusions of them), then a test for lying makes sense.

            Most of the time, though, these questions proxy for a more general willingness to either drink company kool-aid or pretend to. (I’m sure plenty of candidates obsess about putting their actual worst weakness in the best possible light.) Most work environments are consensual realities. Lord knows you don’t want to hire someone who will constantly point at naked emperors. And most managers want some reassurance that if they need to stand on someone’s neck for a while, said employee won’t squeal too loud.

            Disclaimer: I don’t have a particularly high regard for corporate management.

          • Deiseach says:

            There are certain jobs for which it’s in the manager’s interest to confirm the employee can lie adequately.

            “I’m very sorry, Mr Brown, Mr Smith is in a meeting right now and won’t be available for the rest of the afternoon. May I take a contact number and the details of what you wish to speak to him about, and I’ll pass it on to him as soon as he’s free?”

            Translated: “For God’s sake, if that moaning nuisance Brown rings up looking for me, I’m not interested. Just take his call and then forget about it”.

          • Deiseach says:

            All of your honest examples really are traits of bad employees, and yeah, you probably shouldn’t tell an employer you’re going to be a bad employee.

            Definitely, unless you want to scotch the interview (which sometimes you do). But it also means you won’t get an honest answer about a serious weakness on the lines you describe as good answers; everyone tailors their interview to what the job is (so one place may not care about “do you clock in at eight forty-five every morning not nine or five minutes past nine” but they do want “if you need me to come in at four a.m. because the packing line broke down and we’ve got a rush order, I am available and willing”) and if they’ve done any reading up on your company (which everyone is advised to do when job-hunting), they’ll know from the web site and mission statement or vision casting or whatever that “We are a cutting-edge environment where those who thrive under pressure will succeed: you have a chance to become a diamond with us but be aware how diamonds are formed” and they’ll be all “Oh my greatest weakness is that I need to know there’s a lot riding on my performance, a laid-back space doesn’t suit me at all” whether or not that’s true.

            For tomorrow’s interview in a place that’s “Calm. Focused. Peaceful. A tortoise not a hare. If that sounds like you, then come and have a chat with us”, they’ll be “My greatest weakness is that I’ve been told I’m placid, that I don’t hurry up and make a big deal out of things. But I get there all the same”.

        • Hyzenthlay says:

          what you need to do is find something that you phrase as a ‘weakness’ but it’s really a desirable trait, like ‘I tend to take on a lot of responsibility for getting things over the line’ or ‘once I start working on something, I don’t quit until I’m happy it’s right because ‘good enough’ isn’t good enough’ or the likes”?

          I really hate these kind of bullshit head-games, which is why I’ve always been terrible at interviews. I’m very fortunate that I’ve been able to make the whole self-employment thing work for me, because I wouldn’t function well in a corporate environment where I was expected to demonstrate my intelligence by lying in a convincing and creative way about weaknesses.

          And I think that’s really what they’re measuring. “How good are you at bullshitting us?” They all know it’s a game, and they’re judging you based on how well you play it.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      High marks correlated well with the best candidates. But after that marks gave us almost no information. Almost everyone that was in consideration was around the mid to low 70s range.

      I’m very confused by this statement. You couldn’t find more than ten candidates who weren’t C students?

      • sohois says:

        For the test to be worthwhile you’d probably need achievement to have something like a normal distribution with a mean that’s not too high. If the mean score was 80 or something then there would be too many people scoring highly for it to be a good filter.

        • Protagoras says:

          Yeah, I don’t know how these were scored, but the 90 = A, 80 = B, 70 = C, 60 = D is kind of arbitrary. You get the most informative results with a measure that uses the full range of scores, but, for example, an exam like that would have to be difficult enough to have a lot of students unable to answer half or more of the questions, and that can be kind of demoralizing. The traditional scale seems to be a compromise between being informative and making things easy enough for most people to feel like they can handle it; there’s nothing magical about it.

    • knownastron says:

      I think it might be helpful for readers if you elaborated a bit on what a “business school case competition” involves.

      So this specific case competition has 10 teams (business strategy, human resources, finance, accounting, tax, international business etc.) of 3 people. Each team is given a case on their subject and put in a room for a 3 hour resolution with the only resources being the case information, powerpoint, and excel (no internet). After the 3 hours they have to present their solution for 18 – 20 minutes with 5 minutes for Q&A to a panel of industry judges.

      The competition also involves other things like a debate and a sport team. But I was only involved in choosing the academic teams.

      And how do you know that it separated the excellent candidates from the very good ones? Do you have an independent measure of excellence?

      Our measure of excellent candidates had all of these factors:
      1) Recommended by a professor
      2) Recommendation from another student that has worked with them on a case team in the past
      2) Excellent presenting skills (tone, speed, voice, “presence”, clarity etc.)
      3) Unanimous “stud” rankings from myself and my team
      4) High marks

      Very good candidates would be missing a couple of those common factors. But we were still good enough that we were unanimous that they were going to make the team.

      Interested to hear how the Fermi question separated out the excellent candidates. What would a typical very good candidate’s answer be, and how would an excellent candidate’s answer differ?

      What we ranked as a good answer to the Fermi question is based primarily on:
      1) Their ability to articulate their thought process in a logical and clear manner.
      2) The comprehensiveness of the factors they considered (population, transit usage, income, age etc.).

      So great answers would explain in a step by step process how they would estimate, for example “First I would look at the population, then see how many of those people are of driving age. Considering how densely populated NY is and how many people use transit…”

      Good but not great answers would not look at as many factors and they would jump around a lot more when explaining.

      Bad answers would sound like: “I’d look at how many people worked in NYC and estimate based on that” or “I’d Google it… oh you can’t Google it? Well, I’d probably just make it up.”

      There was a strong correlation with how you answered the question when it came to excellent, very good, and terrible candidates. But in that middle range is where this question failed. Everyone that we were on the fence about had similarly mediocre answers.

      The other thing on Fermi is that some of it tests preparation.

      I agree with what you’re saying, you certainly can prep your mind to handle Fermi-like questions. Although there is no way anyone prepared for a Fermi question for this tryout. Previous years the interview process was no where near as rigorous as we tried to make it this year. Previous years there was lots of questions like “What would you do to improve if you didn’t make the team this year.” We cut those questions out this year and tried thinking outside the box.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        So wait, do they actually do a Fermi calculation or just say how they would do one?

        It doesn’t sound from your description like you’re checking how close they came to the actual value, which would be odd if they gave a numerical answer.

        Beyond that, why is “Google it” a bad answer anyway? I can see why being good at back-of-the-envelope calculations is useful, since it lets you sanity-check values you find elsewhere, but in the real world you rarely want to pull numbers out of your ass if you don’t have to.

        • knownastron says:

          Yes, they don’t actually do the calculation on a piece of paper. They answer it verbally.

          Google is a bad answer because this isn’t the real world. This is a case competition with very specific rules and restrictions. The important one here being they can’t use the internet.

          So what we’re looking for in their answer is:

          1) Can they reason and use logic well (for analyzing cases)
          2) Can they articulate their thoughts well (for communication/presentation purposes)
          3) Can they handle oddball questions and incomplete information on the spot well (common occurrence at the competition)

        • Mark says:

          I think they should probably make it clear that they are trying to test ability to think logically about a problem rather than any knowledge they might have – perhaps model an answer to a similar question first.

          But yeah, I mean, if someone asked me “how many trees are in Colorado”… I think when it touches on something where you have really poor knowledge, it’s almost not worth trying to reason about it.

          So ‘I don’t know’ might be the best answer.

          (“I think Colorado is dry, so it probably has fewer trees than Sussex, I’m not sure how big it is, but most states are quite big, so probably bigger than Sussex – it takes me an hour to get London on the train and half of that distance is travelling through surrey, I guess the train travels at about 80 mph so lets say that sussex is 40 miles in height, and looks about the same as that in breadth – so Sussex is about 1600 square miles – I’d guess that Colorado must be at least four times as big as Sussex. I live in a town and there are about 20 trees on my street, I’d guess there are more in the countryside for a given area so …. etc”)

          Actually, that was quite good fun.

          • knownastron says:

            I agree, the “trees in Colorado” was too abstract. I thought long and hard about the Fermi question so that it didn’t need to rely on special knowledge. I was going to go with “Estimate how many pizza shops there are in NYC” but then one of the captains on the team suggested cars. Which is what we went with.

            I think they should probably make it clear that they are trying to test ability to think logically about a problem rather than any knowledge they might have – perhaps model an answer to a similar question first.

            We did clarify when people were unsure what the question was looking for, most commonly it was “So you want a number?” “No, we just want to see your thought process.” But 98% of people knew what we were looking for in the question and answered appropriately.

      • random832 says:

        Bad answers would sound like: “I’d look at how many people worked in NYC and estimate based on that” or “I’d Google it… oh you can’t Google it? Well, I’d probably just make it up.”

        Why? You have to look at *something*. Your “good answer” requires looking up four things I don’t know:

        First I would look at the population, then see how many of those people are of driving age. Considering how densely populated NY is and how many people use transit…”

        Other things I could do intead might require fewer steps (if I have the number of lane-miles of road, guess based on a certain density of cars on the roads. Or maybe the number of parking spaces) – but at that point why not just look up how many cars are registered in each of the five counties making up NYC – or in just one of them, maybe Brooklyn, and assume that it’s about average (maybe Staten Island has more because it’s more suburban, and Manhattan has less because many people who live there don’t drive).

        Like, the basic problem of Fermi calculation is that a longer one sounds more impressive (since you’re putting in more inductive steps), but is harder to actually execute when you don’t have any of that information. If you’re allowed to look up information you don’t have, why not land as close to the answer as possible rather than looking up some more distant starting point.

        In fact there are 498282 vehicles registered in Kings County as of 2015. I was wrong about Staten Island (I suppose its much smaller population is the dominant factor), it’s Queens that has the highest number of cars, but Brooklyn does turn out to be average. Multiplying it by five yields a result just under 2.5 million, not much over the actual total (as it happens the data I found was a table of all counties, including, conveniently, a total for NYC) of 2.1 million. That’s vehicles registered, rather than how many are physically present right now, but it’s probably a pretty good approximation. And looking it up wasn’t any harder than looking up the things I’d need to work the other estimates, be it population, land area, or road miles.

        How’d I do?

        • knownastron says:

          You may be on to something. Longer answers may have sounded more impressive to us.

          But in our defence, one of the other top 3 answers went something like “I would look at a busy downtown street and get the average number of cars on that street. Extrapolate that out for all the streets in the downtown core. Then I would do the same for a suburban street and add them together.” So we weren’t completely biased by long answers.

          Part of the challenge was articulating yourself clearly because this is a case competition, how well you communicate your content is just as important as your actual content.

          but at that point why not just look up how many cars are registered in each of the five counties making up NYC

          I think the best way I can answer this is that in this specific case competition you cannot look up that number. Starting from the big number and reasoning down to a more accurate number is a better predictor of competition performance than knowing what is the closest number to look up that isn’t actually the number. Some candidates would start with “I would use the population of NYC which is 20 million. Then I would guess that 70% of people are of driving age…” We didn’t fault them on the 20 million number, and I don’t think a judge would either at the competition. Even using the “busy street example” above, it’s possible to just imagine 40-50 cars on a single street then try to extrapolate out from there.

          You bring up a good point though, did we communicate this well enough that this is what we’re looking for? Judging by the answers, most people knew what we were looking for and answered appropriately.

          • random832 says:

            Yes but to actually work such an answer I would need the number and length (well, really, just the collective length) of streets. I could guess that there’s a street every few hundred feet, but then I need the land area. Getting an accurate answer requires looking something up. The more steps, the more numbers you have to look up – or make up.

            Starting from the big number and reasoning down to a more accurate number is a better predictor of competition performance than knowing what is the closest number to look up that isn’t actually the number. […] and I don’t think a judge would either at the competition.

            And there’s the problem. If the competition rewards being able to make impressive-sounding reasoning over being able to actually solve problems, then certainly you’re right to select for it if your goal is to find people who will succeed in the competition. But I think we’re in “you’re not going to have a calculator in the real world”-land here – a restriction of tools for a toy academic environment that has little connection to reality.

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            But in our defence, one of the other top 3 answers went something like “I would look at a busy downtown street and get the average number of cars on that street. Extrapolate that out for all the streets in the downtown core. Then I would do the same for a suburban street and add them together.” So we weren’t completely biased by long answers.

            That’s actually a terrible answer. How many busy streets are there in New York? How many suburban ones? How many in between? What percentage of the cars that you’re seeing are commuters? What percentage of commuters are from outside NYC proper? How representative were those streets? If the streets your looking at are all near the Lincoln Tunnel then almost none of the cars there are going to be registered in NYC. Etc.

            This person proposed doing time consuming work that wouldn’t result in a correct answer.

            The check on all of this (and why this feels like a good question but maybe isn’t) is that the final answer is supposed to be in the right ball park. If it is then either the person got lucky or their reasoning was good (even if it was poorly articulated). If the answer was wrong but the process was good because they fed in a bad number somewhere that’s ok but less good – knowing facts is useful and not knowing that you didn’t know something you were using as the basis of your calculation is actually pretty bad. That you’re not looking at the result of the calculation says that most of what you’ve tested for is the ability to bullshit in a logical sounding way. Which might be what you’re testing for anyway as a useful skill for the competition.

            I would use the population of NYC which is 20 million. Then I would guess that 70% of people are of driving age…” We didn’t fault them on the 20 million number, and I don’t think a judge would either at the competition.

            Incidentally, that’s actually the population of the NY metro area.

          • knownastron says:

            On reflection I think both random832 and reasoned argumentation might be right. That isn’t an optimal answer.

            The way we judged answers rewarded their ability to “make impressive-sounding reasoning” which is no doubt important at the competition, but ideally I could have measured something deeper than that.

            Thanks for your responses guys.

      • skef says:

        Thank you for posting. This thread on the state of business education in [Canada, apparently] has been informative and revealing.

      • Deiseach says:

        I’d Google it… oh you can’t Google it?

        “First I would look at the population, then see how many of those people are of driving age”

        “And how would you find out (a) the population of New York (b) the proportion that are of legal driving age?”

        “I’d Google it… oh, crap”

        🙂

        I see what you’re trying to look for, but to be frank, this sounds like handing someone log tables and asking them to work out “0.3758 x 1.2387” when that went out with the Ark and everyone uses calculators nowadays.

        • knownastron says:

          This is anecdotal. But the year I competed one team that beat us was able to do an NPV calculation from very little case information. Based on judges feedback and comments this was a big part of why their presentation won.

          They were able to do that NPV calculation because they did a fermi-like estimation. There’s a lot of these types of estimations that happen in the case competition.

          I touched upon this on a reply above, but if you were in front of judges they said “how did you come up with the number of cars in New York that you based your recommendation around?” and you said “based off of a NY population of 15 million, I estimated that 70% were of driving age…” the judges wouldn’t fault you even though both those numbers are wrong. They might even be impressed.

          • Deiseach says:

            you said “based off of a NY population of 15 million, I estimated that 70% were of driving age…”

            Oh sure, if someone said that I wouldn’t fault them (as you say, the numbers may not be correct but you can see the method at work), but I thought the way you said “Bad answers would sound like: … “I’d Google it… oh you can’t Google it? Well, I’d probably just make it up” that you didn’t want people who would pull numbers out of thin air like that, you wanted both a sound method and accuracy.

            If you just want plausible-sounding numbers (assume 15 million people live in New York, not 150 million and not 1 million) then okay, no need for Google.

          • rlms says:

            Generally you go for orders of magnitude in Fermi questions (but you can guess between orders if you have a hunch (or it makes mental calculations easier)). So 15 or 20 million is fine, the closest order of magnitude is 10 million, which is also the closest to the true answer.

          • What is being described here as Fermi estimation I am used to seeing as back-of-the-envelope estimates.

            When I taught a course on analytic methods for lawyers, using a textbook written for such a course, I added a section on back-of-the-envelope estimation.

        • Nornagest says:

          The big take-away of Fermi-type estimation is that when you’re trying to answer a question you’re very uncertain about, it’s often much better to pull numbers you’re less uncertain about out of your ass and use them to come up with an answer, than to pull an answer out of your ass directly. Making stuff up or relying on half-remembered factoids is expected; the key is that they fall within a relatively narrow range.

          Like, how much energy does the Earth receive in a year in sunlight? Well, I have no idea, and if I just pulled a number out of thin air I might be off by five or six orders of magnitude. But if I remember that direct sunlight’s worth about a kilowatt per square meter (actual value: 1,360 watts/m^2 according to NASA), and that the circumference of Earth is 40,000 km and change (actual value: 40,075 at the equator), then I can use those facts to come up with a fairly close, though not exact, estimate.

      • rlms says:

        It sounds like you are using Fermi problems in an unusual way. I think interviewers usually actually ask people to carry out the estimation and give a numerical answer (usually only to an order of magnitude). You can then compare answers in several ways. Obviously, most the time getting closer to the true answer is better, but it is possible to make a good guess by blind guess, or have a very good method that is thrown off by a calculation error or invalid assumption. But you can also analyse how good a candidate’s process is (in terms of creatively using things they know etc.), and consider how confident they are in their answer (you probably don’t want people who think they’ve worked out the exact answer, but you also don’t want people who won’t commit to any answer). Invariably, one of the things you end up testing is mental arithmetic ability (which may or may not be desirable). You reduce the need to mentally juggle numbers if you give candidates pen and paper, but then you probably want to hold them to a higher standard.

        If I was using Fermi estimation questions as a a test, I’d be inclined to let candidates access Google through me to get some facts to work from. That puts candidates who happen to know the population of New York or whatever off the top of their heads on the same level as those who don’t.

        • knownastron says:

          This thread has made me realize that the way I’ve been judging answers has rewarded impressive sounding reasoning rather than their ability to actually estimate the number.

          Sounding impressive on the spot is valuable at the competition so the unusual way it was used was not a complete failure, but admittedly I would have liked to measure something deeper than that.

          • Iain says:

            It seems to me that you want to measure precisely as deeply as the competition will measure. Whether you’re looking at IQ, or public speaking, or Fermi estimation, you want to evaluate the candidates to the extent that their success is correlated with success in presenting business cases.

            If I were in charge of selection, I would try to make my process as similar as possible to the actual competition, within the constraints of the time available.

          • Deiseach says:

            My slightly cynical answer is that if it’s a competition, impressive sounding ‘pulled this out of my ass but I can make it sound as though I didn’t’ is always going to win over ‘actually estimated the number’, the same way debate teams are not about proving the argument, they’re about crushing the opposition and using every tactic allowed by the rules and bending those rules to nearly the breaking point to get victory.

            Did Jamie Vardy make a meal of it to get the advantage for his team? Yes he did, but Leicester City are through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League and Sevilla are not.

  25. Tibor says:

    To counter the weight and severity of the (very interesting!) academic book list here, a very mundane question – What music can you recommend for working out?

    Let me specify a bit. I know there is a lot of “workout music” videos on Youtube, which however all tend to be just an awful synth-pop (probably not the proper term, but you know, the mostly electronic music with singers who cannot sing and so have to use the autotune software which makes their voice sound horrible). Most of my music is unsuitable for physical exercise, since it is not simple and “energetic” enough. So when I work out I listen either to AC/DC or, even better, to Massilia Sound System (a Marseillese ragga band from with some minor elements of the local traditional music, some of their lyrics are also in Occitan, which is the “native language” of southern France). This means I keep listening to the same things over and over and I am frankly getting sick of it, even though I like those songs. Rage Against the Machine also sometimes works if I try to ignore the rather annoying “revolutionary” lyrics (the music’s great and especially great for working out). I would like to find more stuff like this, especially more music like Massilia Sound System.

    Before you suggest that, I did try using the last.fm to find similar bands but it did not show me anything I really liked very much.

    Thanks!

    • J Mann says:

      Anime soundtracks. It helps if you’ve watched the anime in question, so you have emotional attachments to the battle music, but they’re generally undemanding but inspired electronica. My current favorites are the Parasyte OST (dubstep) and Attack on Titan (kind of a John Williams-esque towering wall of electonica). Avatar The Last Airbender is good too.

      They’re tough to find, but you can check them out on Youtube and see if you like them.

    • Incurian says:

      I recently put together a running mix of selected (the hardest, fastest tracks) Tool, Chevelle, Deftones, Motorhead, and Flyleaf. I think those fit roughly into your AC/DC / RATM mold. High energy/emotion, gets my adrenaline going.

      • 2181425 says:

        Might also add Pantera, some Five Finger Death Punch and Killswitch Engage (esp. their cover of Holy Diver). Some of the harder tracks from Cypress Hill (esp Skull & Bones) also find their way on to my playlist. YMMV

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      My favorite music to work out to is the soundtrack to Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. They’re very intense and hit a good emotional balance between righteous anger and determination. Perfect for beast mode.

      Pop music can also work, although this just might be me. Pop music is a mirror on modernity so forcing yourself to listen intently to the lyrics will really get your blood boiling. But it might not be the healthiest thing to expose yourself to three days a week.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      Seconding that the key is high-energy – for me this skews toward power and folk metal, YMMV.

      My first choice for workout audio is podcasts or audiobooks, though. I find working out to be one of those necessary-but-borrrring things to do, so having something mentally engaging to focus on while the body does its thing is a big help.

    • beleester says:

      Sabaton! Their songs are mostly fast-paced power metal, and the lyrics are stuff about war and heroes that will get your blood pumping.

    • Tibor says:

      Thanks for the suggestions. Most of it is Metal though and I’ve kind of grown to find it kitchy, especially heavy metal and power metal (although I used to like it a lot). I think I could not focus on an audiobook. Or maybe I could, but then my physical output goes down significantly and I mostly cheat through the workout routine.

      An example of what I’m looking for is essentially this (a particularly workout-appropriate song from Masillia Sound System).

      It should be energetic but also happy, almost to make me want to dance in the breaks between the workouts 🙂 Most metal is not very happy. I can also listen to Maceo Parker while working out. Or Primus for that matter (which is like RATM, but happy 🙂 ).

      I might give Cypres Hill a try though, I am not very familiar with them.

    • Wrong Species says:

      If you have Spotify, they have tons of options for workout music. They’ll even customize a running playlist based on your speed.

    • kenziegirl says:

      I like The Offspring, Muse, Fitz and the Tantrums. Don’t know if you consider any of that synth pop. Also, it’s weird, but Cake really gets me moving. I don’t know why.

      • Incurian says:

        The few popular Cake songs are really excellent and were on my study mix for a long time.

      • Tibor says:

        I probably wouldn’t listen to The offspring normally but for the workout they might be just fine. I don’t know the others but I’ll check them out.

        • Tarpitz says:

          The Offspring work pretty well for me (especially Ixnay on the Hombre), but as with most bands there are tracks you have to skip – AC/DC are an excellent choice precisely because there are so few. Some Alice Cooper is pretty good (notably Hey Stoopid – as in the album, not just the song). But in my opinion the absolutely unparallelled workout album is Appetite for Destruction by Guns n’ Roses. Their later albums contain occasional tracks which get the job done (You Could Be Mine, for example) but I don’t think there is a finer 50 minutes of electric wall-to-wall energy anywhere than Appetite. I find myself able to push literally 15-20% harder while listnening to it.

    • rahien.din says:

      I like mostly aggressive, mid-tempo stomps, either metal, hard rock, soul, or electronica. Some syncopation keeps the song invigorating, but not so much that it gets noodle-y. Good to throw in some changes of pace, too.

      Here’s my current playlist:
      Jus†ice, “Waters of Nazareth” “Genesis”
      Audioslave “Show Me How to Live” “Gasoline”
      Common “The Corner”
      Entombed “Seeing Red” “Say it in Slugs”
      JJ Grey and Mofro “WYLF”
      Kate Ryan “Libertine (French Version)”
      Ladytron “Blue Jeans” “The Reason Why”
      Pantera “Cowboys From Hell”
      Led Zeppelin “When the Levee Breaks”
      CHVRCHES “Never Ending Circles” “Bury It” “Leave a Trace” “Playing Dead”
      Darren Korb “A Proper Story”
      Metallica “Spit Out the Bone” “Moth Into Flame” “Hardwired”
      Lamb of God “Culling”
      Kodo “Nanafushi”

    • Levantine says:

      What music can you recommend for working out?

      My musical affinities are a world apart from those of XXI century Earth. In any case, I’d have to recommend :

      Vivaldi. The instrumental works. (They are plausibly by several composers grouped under the name ‘Vivaldi,’ in the same way that a huge body of cartoons is now labelled ‘Disney’ , creating a potential for confusion of future historians … but shh, musicologists can hear us. )

      Bach’s concertos

      Arcangelo Corelli – Concerti …

      …. by now you get the idea.

      Vivaldi’s concertos are a kind of music that probably many people can try without getting too embarrassed.
      Whether one can listen to this while working out is partly a matter of accustoming.

      • Tibor says:

        I like pretty much everything conducted by Celibidache, especially the Dvořák’s new world symphony with the Münchner Filharmoniker. But that is hardly suitable for working out, especially as Celibidache tends to keep the tempo down (I find that other conductors are often unnecessarily fast and that it often turns the concert into an exhibition of technique).

    • Robert Liguori says:

      I recommend trailer music. That is to say, there are a few groups who do the epic music clips you hear in trailers. I’m fond of Two Steps from Hell, X-Ray Dog, and Immediate Music in particular.

      Another option, if you’re into this sort of thing and your youtube-dl-fu is strong, is to try out the Nightcore-d versions of songs you enjoy. Nightcore remixes are just pitch-shifted and accelerated songs. This bothers some people, but I think it’s a great way to add energy to slower songs you still like and want to run to. Just search for the name of your song and the word ‘nightcore’ and you’ll probably find it.

  26. I have gotten the impression, largely from things Scott writes, that life is pretty unpleasant for doctors in a hospital. It occurred to me, however, that most of my dealings with doctors are not in a hospital but in a medical office, typically located close to a hospital. That includes not only consultation but testing–colonoscopies, CAT scan, I think NMR’s. Almost the only time I have seen a doctor in a hospital was for something serious, typically leading to surgery.

    That suggests three questions:

    1. How large a fraction of all doctors work mostly in hospitals?
    2. Is life much pleasanter for those who don’t?
    3. If so, what are the advantages of being in a hospital?

    Possibilities that occur to me on number 3 are that some specialties, such as heart surgeons, have to work in a hospital, that hospital work might pay better, that doctors may have to intern in hospitals.

    • Randy M says:

      From my experience (on the patient end), consultations and tests are done in offices, and surgeries and recovery or ongoing care are done in hospitals. A lot of the testing is done by nurses or technicians, but so is the ongoing care. I’d imagine based on what I’ve seen that most specialists have a couple office days per week or hours per day with the other time being for surgery and post-op check-ups.

      Nurses who work full-time in a hospital and perhaps ER/trauma surgeons probably have it the worst. I would presume that there is some kind of pay differential like David suggests, and also that some doctors feel called to/interested in specialties that keep them in hospitals more than others.

    • Eltargrim says:

      Sorry for the sidebar, but this leapt out at me:

      >NMR

      As an NMR jock, I love that you’re using the proper name, but I’m curious: most people know the medical example of a NMR spectrometer as an MRI. Is there a particular reason that you use NMR over MRI, or are you just more familiar with the former?

      • The Nybbler says:

        The practical problem with calling that modality “NMR” is there’s one called “NM” which is different.

      • rahien.din says:

        Though the physical processes are similar, MRI is not exactly NMR as practiced in a chemistry lab. The latter is determining the composition of a homogeneous sample. The former is creating a map of a sample’s inhomogeneity.

        There is an imaging modality called MR spectroscopy which is more functionally similar to what most people think of when they hear “NMR.”

    • rahien.din says:

      I’m a neurologist who does both inpatient and outpatient work, and my wife is a hospitalist (solely inpatient).

      1. I’m not sure this is a helpful question. It’s a bit like asking “How large a fraction of all athletes play their sport on grass?” There is an answer, but it is confounded by the wide array of medical subspecialties. Some of those subspecialties only rarely see patients in the hospital (dermatology), some of them are split between inpatient and outpatient to a variable degree (neurology, gynecology), and some are almost entirely inpatient (critical care, trauma surgery).

      2/3. It depends! Some doctors simply don’t enjoy outpatient work – my wife, for instance, abhors clinic. But there are other advantages. For instance, many inpatient physicians (such as hospitalists, ED doctors, or ICU doctors) work a shift, and once they sign out at the end of the day, they have no further responsibilities. Frequently, shift workers are working every other week at most, so they earn a good living with lots of free time and a relatively impervious wall between work and not-work. Inpatient work can earn you quite a lot of money, depending on what you do. Most of my compensation flows from my inpatients, and most of a surgeon’s compensation flows from their surgeries. As above, each specialty will require a particular balance of inpatient-to-outpatient work, so your choice of or calling to a specialty will determine this to some extent (or vice-versa), but even moreso, each disease will have such a balance. If you want to take care of strokes, hip fractures, or type I diabetes, you will want to do some inpatient, but if you want to take care of psoriasis, Parkinson disease, or osteoarthritis, doing inpatient work is far less necessary.

  27. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    How do people find a specific thing they’re looking for in a crowded visual field?

    From introspection, I think I visualize the thing I’m looking for, and that makes the real one more likely to pop visually.

    Is there any science on the subject? Are there other strategies?

    • rahien.din says:

      Consciously focus on the background. This allows the desired object to be recognized as an anomaly.

    • Enkidum says:

      The basic term you want is “visual search”. There are literally thousands, possibly tens of thousands, of papers on this, although generally they aren’t specifically targeting what strategies are best, and the large majority of these studies use fairly impoverished displays, with only a few, very homogeneous, objects on them.

      One paper on strategic differences is here, although I don’t know if this is the kind of thing you’re interested in.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Thanks.

        That link is at least related to what I’m interested in. Now the question splits into what you should be doing with your eyes vs. what you should be doing with your imagination.

        Also, I searched on [where’s waldo strategy]. Results were useless for anything I was interested in. Sometimes you don’t want a geek who’s doing a very simple optimization.

        • skef says:

          How do people find a specific thing they’re looking for in a crowded visual field?

          From introspection, I think I visualize the thing I’m looking for, and that makes the real one more likely to pop visually.

          Now the question splits into what you should be doing with your eyes vs. what you should be doing with your imagination.

          It’s worth noting that your question is bracketed to ask about the conscious aspects of doing this. Roughly speaking you’re asking about the phenomenology of the task. But the contribution of conscious direction might be minimal: necessary, but not very revealing of the actual mechanism by which the object is found.

        • Enkidum says:

          Here‘s a paper from the same team showing exactly the opposite effect in a more “real-world” search task (looking for common objects in a messy room) – people who move their head and eyes more do better.

          Both papers measure eye movements (the second one only indirectly), but it’s worth noting that the instructions given to participants were purely about their mental strategy – roughly “be active” vs “be passive”. So it’s something to do with the imagination. But I guess you’re looking for something more like “how should I visualize the object” or something like that. In which case, I don’t have a handy reference and 30 seconds of googling didn’t help, but I’m sure somewhere in the mountain of visual search papers there’s at least something along those lines (although, as I previously, most visual search studies deal with way more impoverished stimuli than you’re probably thinking of).

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            My question is even vaguer than that– I’m not sure that visualization is part of the process, it just seems plausible that it is.

            It’s also not obvious how it works when you’re looking for a sort of thing– say, mechanical pencils in big drug store– but you don’t have a very specific visualization for what you want to find.

  28. Tibor says:

    Another music post. Do you know any (preferably living) conductors similar to Sergiu Celibidache? I really like his style, but since he’s dead I can’t see any live concerts he conducts.

  29. 3rd says:

    “Eat me,” said Tom impiously.

    Also, the second Miri link goes to BRUTE REASON

  30. JayT says:

    It seems to me that Trump’s leaked 1040 does nothing but help him (in fact, so people hypothesize that he leaked it), so it would seem weird to me that Rachel Maddow (about as anti-Trump as it gets) would call so much attention to it. Was this a straight ratings grab, and she really doesn’t care about ideals, she’s just playing a role? Did they not know what the returns would say before they started advertising they had them, and once they saw them it was too late? Do they have more, and they wanted to get the stuff that looked good for Trump out of the way first?

    Overall, this just seems like a really odd turn of events. It seems like a story that Maddow/MSNBC would have wanted buried on the back page, but instead they called huge attention to it. Thoughts?

    • Protagoras says:

      Maybe Maddow and/or MSNBC have some degree of interest in reporting actual news, which this seems to be?

      • Randy M says:

        Is it? How so?

        • rlms says:

          President/presidential candidate tax returns seemed to be news when they were Obama’s, so presumably they are for Trump too.

          • Randy M says:

            “President” and “presidential candidate” are not interchangeable categories.
            Secondly, what remarkable thing was noted in his tax return? Third, even as a candidate I’d question the relevance to anyone’s lives or decision making.
            This might be gossip, if it were interesting. It might be news if we could act on it. As things stand, it’s pretty much neither, imo. It wouldn’t even make a footnote in a biography of Trump’s accountant.
            [sliiiiight hyperbole in the last sentence, perhaps]

          • Iain says:

            Expanding on my comment below: Trump is the president of the United States, tasked with the duty of representing the interests of the American people, at home and abroad. He is also a businessman with investments around the globe. The American people have a pretty significant vested interest in making sure that Trump makes decisions to benefit the entire country, and not just himself. That is a lot easier when we actually know where Trump’s money comes from, so that it is possible to evaluate how his policies affect that.

            Secondly, what remarkable thing was noted in his tax return?

            If people are going around claiming that Trump owes lots of money to Russian banks and doesn’t pay a cent in taxes, and then his tax returns show no sign of that, then the lack of anything remarkable is clearly noteworthy. There’s isn’t nearly enough information in the two pages Maddow released to be able to prove or disprove anything seedy, but your Bayesian prior for truly outrageous secrets hidden in Trump’s tax returns should probably be adjusted downwards, which is a worthwhile thing to know.

            Edited to add: Also, as I mentioned below: Trump’s position on the Alternative Minimum Tax would have saved him $30M in 2005 alone. That is not irrelevant.

          • rlms says:

            Surely something about the President is more newsworthy than the same thing about a mere candidate? I guess you can make voting decisions based on it for a candidate, but the President is a lot more powerful, and generally seems to receive more media attention.

            As far as I know, there was nothing notable in Obama’s returns either. But absence of scandal is also interesting. Perhaps neither is newsworthy in terms of importance (although I think that’s pretty impossible to quantify), but a lot of unimportant things get reported in national media. Trump’s tax returns are “actual news” in the sense of “things you would expect to be reported on regardless of who the President is”.

          • Randy M says:

            Okay. I’ll back down a bit and concede the president’s taxes could have been news. If certain conspiracies regarding him were grounded.
            But this is really reaching for relevance. The Atlantic article on it resorts to informing us of his donation to the Presidential Election fund. Well, that was obviously a conflict of interest, granted.

          • Iain says:

            There’s also the consideration that Trump has, for some reason, decided to break with half a century of precedent and not release his taxes. That’s obviously not proof that there is anything shady going on — it’s quite plausible, maybe even likely, that he just doesn’t want people to find out he’s been inflating his net worth for the last three decades. But his reticence, and the bizarre excuses he came up with to justify his reticence, make the issue of Trump’s taxes in particular more noteworthy than they might be otherwise.

          • Randy M says:

            Maybe there’s something in a different year’s Tax return. I guess we have ten or twenty more newsworthy events coming up.

            More likely he, like Obama when his birth certificate was requested, simply didn’t want to satisfy the people making the request, for reasons of political tactics or spite.

          • LHN says:

            I think the expectation that a candidate release their taxes is reasonable, and that voters should take it into account when voting. (Though given that IIRC it was Nixon who started the tradition, obviously it’s not especial proof against corruption in the Oval Office.) It therefore made political sense to make the demand (and make hay of his refusal) during the 2016 campaign.

            That said, it didn’t work. Trump isn’t going to be up for election again till 2020 at the earliest. That makes the continued attention to his tax returns strike me as strange.

            If there’s something criminal in there sufficient for impeachment, sure, but the idea that the IRS missed something like that seems like a longshot. That leaves something embarrassing: Trump overstating his net worth, Trump using legal but unedifying tax avoidance maneuvers that will hurt his public reputation, etc.

            But given Trump’s supporters lack of interest thus far in his other scandals, it seems vanishingly unlikely that something like that will be the one that loses him his base. Even if it could hurt him, it seems as if the time to harp on it is in an election year– Congressional at least. Not to try to get it all out two months after his inauguration, so that everyone is used to it and interested in something else when it comes time to vote.

            (Nor do the tax returns really seem to add much to the basic idea that someone like Trump would likely benefit from an AMT reduction or repeal. With or without the returns, he’s obviously likely to be a beneficiary of any tax cuts on high earners he might support, and that doesn’t seem likely to be more of a surprise to his voters than to his opponents.)

            I think he should release his returns. And I’m unlikely to vote for him whether he does or not. But the fervor with which it’s being pursued with so little likely payoff other than more annoyed tweeting reminds me of the Obama-era “birth certificate!” “okay, how about the long-form birth certificate” circus.

            Do folks really expect to see something either indictable or politically transformative come out of their being leaked or released?

          • random832 says:

            “President” and “presidential candidate” are not interchangeable categories.

            How fortuitous, then, that Trump stands at the intersection of those categories.

          • Randy M says:

            Not in a relevant way. Candidate tax returns are information about how a candidate might perform their duties as president. The next time Trump is up for re-election, that information will be dwarfed by evidence of him actually performing the job.

            If in Nov 2020, your vote comes down to the revelation based on a 2005 tax return that his motivation for opposing the AMT was personal rather than pandering, if that is the deciding factor and not the performance of the four years on the job in the first term… well, I think you approaching the subject in a rather idosyncratic way, let’s say.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            @Randy

            It’s at least newsworthy in the sense that it’s a (partial) resolution to a debatably-newsworthy topic from the election. The part where it’s anticlimactic just makes it seem like it shouldn’t be. Because we live in a terrible world where news has to be flashy and shocking (or come from the mouth of a celebrity) to qualify as informative.

            And if Trump had lost, it would be less relevant, so the intersection does kind of matter.

            Plus, the next election it impacts is the midterm. If they can successfully say “see we told you he was a shady bastard you should have listened to us back then” then they get more votes to oppose him in Congress.

          • Randy M says:

            Plus, the next election it impacts is the midterm

            Barring any more noteworthy news from further releases, anyone want to bet over/under on the number of candidates referencing material contained in this one in ads in 2018?

        • Iain says:

          There is an obvious public interest in potential conflicts of interest affecting the president of the United States. Historically, one of the main ways to evaluate those conflicts has been release of tax information. If Trump had released his tax returns during the election, like every other presidential candidate since Ford, analysis of their contents would clearly have been actual news. See, for example, this article about Clinton’s returns.

          In what sense is this not actual news?

        • Protagoras says:

          Seems relevant to Trump’s opposition to the AMT. Also to the discussions of whether he’s telling the truth about exactly how wealthy he is.

      • JayT says:

        “Maybe Maddow and/or MSNBC have some degree of interest in reporting actual news, which this seems to be?”

        Flippant answer: Why would they start now?

        Real answer: If it were real news, they would have reported on it, not made a special feature that was hyped for the hours leading up to it.

    • Iain says:

      How do you think it helps him? I agree that the leaked form is unlikely to hurt Trump significantly, but I don’t see where the benefit is.

      If nothing else, this makes for an easy attack on Trump’s support for a repeal of the Alternative Minimum Tax. Trump had a 25% effective tax rate in 2005; without the AMT, he would have had to pay less than 5%.

      • Jaskologist says:

        It helps him in this way:

        I was so confident that this would turn out to be a nothingburger that I was willing to predict as much to some friends who were excited about it.

        Why was I willing to do that? Because my prior is that the media is desperate to try to blow up any Trump news into a scandal, desperate enough that they will start doing so before even checking if the facts support that. That prior was strengthened last night.

        HeelBearCub asked a little while back what our biggest worry about Trump was. I said something along the lines of “he’ll do a lot of protectionist/Caterpillar type things that make for great politics and harmful policy.” I want to amend that. I worry that Trump will have a real scandal that needs pushback, and the press will have so squandered its credibility that it won’t be able to.

        • Iain says:

          You are already aggressively skeptical of the media. The media can’t squander credibility with you that it already didn’t have. What happened last night that you think would sway a person who did not share your priors about the media to become noticeably more skeptical?

          Like, who “blew this up into a scandal”? Rachel Maddow tweeted: “BREAKING: We’ve got Trump tax returns. Tonight, 9pm ET. MSNBC.” This is completely factually correct. A bunch of people on Twitter got excited that there might be a scoop, then got pissy about having to wait an hour and a half when it turned out there was no smoking gun. Maddow apparently spent twenty minutes giving background context before showing the actual forms, which might be irritating (if you have the attention span of a toddler) but certainly doesn’t strike me as journalistic malpractice. Which part of this do you think is going to convince people who don’t already hate the media that it shouldn’t be trusted?

          Sure, this was a nothingburger. The fact that it was a nothingburger is, itself, a nothingburger.

          • Randy M says:

            Is nothingburger orthogonal to newsworthiness?

          • Iain says:

            Maybe not orthogonal, but distinct. By “nothingburger”, I mean that nothing has been revealed that will change anybody’s political opinion significantly. But that’s fine: the vast majority of things that are reported are unlikely to significantly change anybody’s political opinion. That doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t worth covering.

          • howardtreesong says:

            It’s not malpractice, but rather confirms Maddow as the relentlessly biased journo that she is. She will try to spin any and every fact against the President. Will this news item in and of itself convince one more person to stop paying attention to anything Maddow says? Maybe. Many of us still remember Geraldo opening Al Capone’s vault and finding nothing but a couple of old bottles, and the hype surrounding that seemed similar to what Maddow did.

          • Iain says:

            @howardtreesong: Please explain what precisely Maddow did here that is remotely close to “spinning any and every fact against the President”. Surely, if you are confident that she is a spin doctor, you can point to an instance of her “relentless bias” from this segment.

          • howardtreesong says:

            @Iain:

            Certainly, sir.

            Maddow’s monologue argued, summarizing here, that Trump owed Deutschbank tens of millions of dollars and was breathing down his neck to get it, then segued to some Russian oligarch that bought a Trump property in Florida for more than it was worth only to tear down the house on it. The oligarch was a shareholder in the Bank of Cyprus, which has been implicated in money laundering. The chairman of the bank of Cyprus is the former CEO of Deutschbank, to which Trump conveniently owed money at the same time he got an influx of money from this oligarch. And until recently, Wilbur Ross was the vice chairman of that bank!

            It’s literally an unhinged rant of barely-connected facts that have no discernible connection to the 2005 tax return.

            http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/commentary/

          • Iain says:

            I mean, you’re presumably trying to make Maddow look unhinged, but that summary mostly just sounds bad for Trump. Or take this, from the piece that I assume you meant to link:

            “His explanations have never made any factual sense,” Maddow said Tuesday night of Trump’s refusal to release his taxes. “The ‘I’m under audit’ excuse makes no sense. And if the ‘I’m under audit excuse’ doesn’t make any sense, then what does explain why the president hasn’t released any tax returns?

            I think that’s a legitimate (and potentially important) question. Do you disagree? (I think the most likely explanation is just that Trump has been publicly inflating his wealth for years and doesn’t want people to know, but even if that’s the case, American citizens presumably have a vested interest in knowing that their president is a serial fabulist.)

            Maybe there’s nothing there. Maybe the Deutsche Banke stuff is just a bunch of coincidences and conspiracy. In that case, conveniently, Trump can disprove it by simply releasing his tax returns. It’s not like this is some special obligation imposed on Trump by an unfriendly media — every presidential candidate since Ford has done it.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Iain – ” In that case, conveniently, Trump can disprove it by simply releasing his tax returns. ”

            Alternatively, he can not release them and watch the press and blue tribe tie themselves in knots out of reflexive hatred.

            “I think the most likely explanation is just that Trump has been publicly inflating his wealth for years and doesn’t want people to know, but even if that’s the case, American citizens presumably have a vested interest in knowing that their president is a serial fabulist.”

            No one cares. Please note that I mean this in the most literal, precise way possible.

            His supporters aren’t going to stop supporting him if it turns out that he isn’t worth at least a billion dollars, and his opponents aren’t going to apologize if it turns out he’s worth more than a billion dollars. The entire issue is just another battlefield in the political war of attrition. Maddow’s viewers recognize this, as did Maddow herself; that’s why she described a twelve-year-old tax form containing nothing unusual as “BREAKING NEWS”.

            The problem is that for the viewers, “BREAKING NEWS” means a significant victory in the war. “Trump’s Tax Return” means “Proof Trump cheated and is going to jail”. Again, I am pretty sure Maddow understands this; if not, she’s incompetent at her chosen profession.

          • cassander says:

            @FacelessCraven

            No one cares. Please note that I mean this in the most literal, precise way possible.

            Trump cares. He’s probably the only one, but he definitely cares.

      • JayT says:

        I think it helps him because it shows that (a) he does make a lot of money and (b) he does pay taxes. These were two of the main reasons people wanted him to release his returns, but now, even if his other returns were bad for him, any time someone asks for the returns it feels a bit like the birthers that wanted the long-form birth certificate. In the public mind, Trump’s wealth is in far less question than it was before.

      • Trump had a 25% effective tax rate in 2005

        I’ve seen that claim, but if I correctly understood the news stories I read, it was based on income before losses. On his net income the rate was more like 30%.

        I gather some people argue that the losses were the result of a tax loophole–I haven’t followed the details. But they still count in the conventional definition of income.

        • Iain says:

          I am probably not qualified to opine on the “correct” definition of Trump’s effective tax rate. As far as I can tell, though, nobody disputes the claim that Trump would have paid $30M less tax in 2005 if the AMT did not exist.

          This Vox article claims that Trump is unusual among the uber-rich in terms of how much he would benefit from abolishing the AMT, because his money comes less from wages or capital gains but from pass-through income. I don’t know enough to fact-check this claim.

          • howardtreesong says:

            @Iain,

            I guess I’m a little skeptical about the extent to which paying AMT 12 years ago influences the President’s current view of the AMT. I don’t know a ton about the AMT other than to know it wasn’t indexed to inflation and therefore has ended up catching a whole lot of people in it that weren’t originally intended. But I’m not even dead-solid on that point, seeing as I haven’t gone back and confirmed that narrative by looking closely at the history.

          • Iain says:

            My understanding (on which I am willing to be corrected) is that unless Trump has completely overhauled the ownership structure of his companies in the last twelve years, it is likely that the AMT is still affecting him in the same way. I admit that his 2005 tax forms are less authoritative on this topic than, say, his 2015 tax forms would be — but since he hasn’t released them, this is the best information we have. If Trump wants to eliminate speculation about how much he would benefit from his own tax plan, there’s an easy way for him to do so…

          • howardtreesong says:

            Iain,

            You may well be right. To me, it’s also a leap to suggest that Trump would attempt to formulate national tax policy on the basis of his own AMT tax liability — and Trump is neither the first nor the last to criticize the AMT. But that’s also a very subjective assumption on which I think there will be massive disagreement, and I have no objective basis to believe I’m correct with respect to his subjective intent.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Is there anyone who voted for Trump who would be surprised that his tax policy would have benefited him in the past? Wasn’t part of his argument (during the campaign) was that as a businessman he knew how much of a burden these taxes were?

          • bean says:

            I recall there being serious calls in the financial press (I can’t remember the magazine, Business Insider or something) for repeal of the AMT before 2005. It’s hardly a position unique to Trump.

          • howardtreesong says:

            @Nybbler

            No, probably not. But that’s a little different from the narrative that says “Trump is arguing to kill the AMT so he can personally benefit from it in the future.” To be clear, I don’t attribute that view to Iain or anyone else in particular.

          • Randy M says:

            Trump is neither the first nor the last to criticize the AMT.

            Both the previous two Republican presidential candidates had removing it as a part of their tax proposals while campaigning.
            (And either one of them was probably rich enough to be subjected to it at one time, afaik.)

          • Brad says:

            As I understand it most of the households that get hit by AMT have gross income in the $250k-1000k range.

            That’s not really Trump’s base (less than that) or his own social circle (more than that).

    • Corey says:

      Disclaimer: Haven’t seen the segment, but saw people complaining about it in real time on Twitter.

      In additions to straight ratings optimization, it seems as though she spent the episode going over Russian-entanglement background. That suggests to me she’s trying to get the point across that a sitting POTUS being beholden to foreign interests for business reasons is probably suboptimal. And using the “captive” audience drawn in by the tax returns to do so.

      The 1040 itself doesn’t say anything about *that* one way or the other (except the rather trivial point that he did make nontrivial money one year). The fact that the disclosure was big news and a ratings draw in the first place would seem to highlight how little the public knows about the Trump Org finances. But the circus would be a pretty oblique way to make that point.

      As for whether something helps or hurts Trump, I’m unconvinced it’s possible for anything to hurt him at this point.

      • Tarpitz says:

        As an old fat guy, he seems like a reasonable candidate for gout. Experience leads me to believe that hurts quite a lot.

    • Iain says:

      NBC producers’ ethnic hatred of white gentiles

      What percentage of NBC producers do you think are not white gentiles?

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        Eyeballing the list of surnames that comes up when you Google “NBC producers,” maybe 75-80%?

        I’m not going to invest time in real research here, especially since having more facts on hand would paradoxically make people take my argument less seriously (e.g., why do you care so much you Nazi!).

        But this sort of thing is really kind of impossible to ignore after the last year. Even Bill “mainstream conservatism” Kristol is talking openly about how America no longer needs white people.

        • dndnrsn says:

          That’s hardly a reliable way of finding numbers relevant to the news division. When you Google “nbc producers” you get a whole bunch of people connected to entertainment.

        • Iain says:

          I honestly don’t know where to start with this.

          1. Even a cursory investigation shows that 75-80% is a massive overestimate. Hint: Robert Greenblatt is Catholic.

          2. I have a hard time fathoming a mindset that pulls up a list of people connected to NBC, notices that they are all white, and immediately jumps to the idea that they must all be Jewish and therefore somehow don’t count. Like, what is the thought process that leads to “white gentiles” as the category of choice here? Rachel Maddow is not Jewish. Donald Trump is not Jewish. David Cay Johnston is not Jewish. Why are we suddenly talking about Jews?

          3. I assume you are referring to the remarks Bill Kristol made implying that the white working class is “decadent, lazy, spoiled, whatever”. How does that have any bearing at all on NBC? What attacks do you think that NBC has made on white gentiles? Disliking Trump doesn’t count. (Hillary Clinton: also a white gentile!)

    • Protagoras says:

      As a white gentile, I have to say it really makes it hard for me to take conservatives seriously when they throw out nonsense like claiming the left has an “ethnic hatred” of people like me, who make up a huge chunk of the left.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Spend a few years getting informed by some of those on the left that as a white male you’re a member of a harmful group and don’t have a right to an opinion. That as a member of a privileged group it’s OK to discriminate against you in hiring and promotion. That your very existence is harmful to marginalized groups and it’s your purpose in life to spend much effort compensating for it by self-denial and self-flagellation. Yes, most of the people saying that were white, but “self-hating” is a thing.

        • Brad says:

          Why would anyone want to do such a thing? Maybe stop seeking out the shittiest people you can find and massively overgeneralizing from them?

          And that’s even before getting into the bizarre antisemitism of the grandparent post (which you don’t address).

        • Protagoras says:

          OK, where would I go to have these experiences? I hang around mostly with leftists, and none of this has happened to me, so having a lot of leftists in the environment doesn’t seem to be enough to bring these experiences about. Do I perhaps have to be paranoid and hypersensitive as well, to interpret everything that anyone ever says as an attack on me?

        • The Nybbler says:

          OK, where would I go to have these experiences?

          At least one Silicon Valley tech firm.

        • Protagoras says:

          OK, so what’s the theory? Am I lying about what the leftists around me are like? Or am I a special snowflake who happens to have somehow lucked into having only the most inoffensive leftist friends? Or what? Because the claim is constantly being made around here that this sort of thing happens all the time, not that there are a few egregious incidents you can find here and there if you look really hard and are willing to dredge up years old news. And that is flatly incompatible with my experience, which I continue to be confident includes a lot more personal experience with leftists than most of the conservatives here (I’m an east coast academic!)

          Probably the thing that most frustrates me about many of the conservatives who comment here is their constantly making sweeping claims about liberals that do not describe the liberals who comment here, and are flatly contradicted by liberals who comment here. Apparently it is widely believed by many of the local conservative commenters that liberals have no idea what liberals think or what liberals are like (or, again, perhaps the assumption is that we’re all lying; I don’t know which possibility offends me more).

        • Gobbobobble says:

          Could always be that, like with conservatives, there is more than one flavor of ideology out there that operates under the label “liberal”. And could also very well be that, again like with conservatives, SSC attracts the more measured and reasonable wing, while the nutters stick to platforms where their idiotic screeching is rewarded (Twitter, Tumblr, Breitbart, whatever).

          Both sides are guilty of trying to tar the reasoned folk with the sins of the nutters. But both are also guilty of claiming the nutters don’t exist (or at least downplaying their relevance) due to being personally surrounded by reasonables.

        • The Nybbler says:

          @Protagoras

          What I’m saying is that it is an error to reject out of hand that people on the left (a subset, granted) have an ethnic hatred of an ethnic group that’s well-represented among themselves.

          It is true that these particular leftists are not well-represented at SSC, and I make no claims about your leftist friends. But they do exist, and not just as a fringe group on college campuses.

        • Nornagest says:

          Here is what’s going on: the rightists in these comments are taking concepts like “white privilege”, which are foundational to the identitarian Left, and interpreting them as pointing to an ethnic hatred. It’s actually more complicated than that; there’s a dimension of ethnic animus, yes, but especially in the mainstream it’s overshadowed by class issues (there is a tacit understanding in many circles that “white” refers primarily to Red-tribe types), guilt, and self-consciously provocative academic jargon. And of course these are plenty of leftists who are not identitarians. All of which means the leftists feel like they’re being rounded off to the worst of Tumblr.

          The leftists here, on the other hand, either think the identitarians are more marginal than they are, or, if they are identitarians, are focusing on the content of said academic jargon (which believes itself, at least, to have a lot less to do with ethnicity than it sounds like; “whiteness” in $STUDIES sense might be best described as a system of social exclusion, informed by ethnic background but not defined by it) and ignoring its connotations. Which makes the rightists feel like they’re being gaslighted.

          This happens every time the issue comes up and I’m honestly kinda sick of it. The “gentile” thing is new, but I’m pretty sure it’s just a half-assed stab at squaring the theory with the fact that most of the people talking about it are pretty palefaced.

        • dndnrsn says:

          “Liberals” and “leftists” aren’t the same things, either. I am going to second the comments here. The general level of charity and precision here drops markedly when anything on the left is discussed. We are willing to spend time talking about whether or not Voldemort is an x, y, or a z, but the left in general gets called “liberals”, which is just a basic failure of nomenclature.

        • Jiro says:

          To non-leftists/non-liberals, liberalism and leftism appear sort of like the People’s Front of Judea versus the Judean People’s Front (which, incidentally, was indeed about the left). The similarities are a lot more important than the differences.

          Also, if you’re trying to classify Voldemort, or any fictional character

          1) You can know things about him that you can’t about real people without being a mind reader
          2) If you try to make finer distinctions than can reasonably be supported by the information you have, it isn’t going to really matter

        • Montfort says:

          To non-leftists/non-liberals, liberalism and leftism appear sort of like the People’s Front of Judea versus the Judean People’s Front

          Indeed. We call this phenomenon “outgroup homogeneity bias.”

          It is unclear whether dndnrsn is referring to Voldemort the character or Moldbug (whose name remains unfiltered).

        • FacelessCraven says:

          @dndnrsn – ““Liberals” and “leftists” aren’t the same things, either. I am going to second the comments here. The general level of charity and precision here drops markedly when anything on the left is discussed. We are willing to spend time talking about whether or not Voldemort is an x, y, or a z, but the left in general gets called “liberals”, which is just a basic failure of nomenclature.”

          On the right, we have the GOPe, the neocons, the old establishment. A great many of them went full #neverTrump, some of them like Ryan tried to straddle the fence, but there’s a pretty wide gulf between them and the Trumpist populists.

          The Trumpist populists and the Alt-Light are pretty clearly disparate groups, but their differences are largely irrelevant; they don’t fight on an institutional level, and they are united in opposition to the GOPe. I would lump the Nuevo-Traction-Fairies in this camp as well; despite all their ideological kinks and idiosyncrasies, again, they seem to be friends and enemies with the same people.

          On the left*, there seems to be a fair amount of infighting, but mostly at a tactical and personal level. The democratic establishment is pretty clearly a different group from the hardcore social justice movement, but they *claim* to be on the same side, and SJ lets them make that claim unless it’s temporarily, tactically useful to buck them. GOPe luminaries were willing to endorse Hillary over Trump, and I for one was ready to vote Hillary over anyone else on the Republican ticket *other* than Trump. I straight-up don’t see a split of anything approaching that magnitude within the democratic coalition. What am I missing?

          *Is it acceptable to refer to the cluster containing Democrats, liberals, leftists, socialists, marxists, tankies, SJ etc as “the left”?

        • FacelessCraven says:

          @dndnrsn – past the edit window, but it occurs to me that my comment was the regurgitation of a topic we’ve done a million times before, and you may or may not be interested in doing the weary dance yet again for no perceivable benefit. Feel free to disregard it entirely, and please accept my apologies.

          …I guess a shorter way of saying it is, the situation seems highly confused to me, with a massive dose of what can be believed versus what must be believed, likely on both sides. I’d be interested in hearing good methods for determining who is allied with and/or responsible for whom.

        • Jiro says:

          Indeed. We call this phenomenon “outgroup homogeneity bias.”

          Not really. It’s more “why should I care?”

          Pretty much all of the left that gets blurred together are, in practice, going to want to do pretty similar things that affect me. (Social justice may want to do more, but notice that we do have a separate term “social justice” for it.) Their ultimate goal may be a different sort of society, and some of the exact details may differ, but they’re going to support most of the same policies in the real world, at least the ones which they have a chance of implementing.

          Also, people have a way of not alieving their stated goals, and as long as their goals are far off enough that they have no chance of reaching them, it’s unclear whether they really are different groups, or just people who like to think they are different groups.

        • Corey says:

          @Protagoras: My pet theory is that it’s college. That is, the most persecuted-feeling conservatives are those in, working at, or recently out of college, which is not a friendly place for conservatives and tends to actually have a high density of shrill leftists.

          I don’t know your age or situation, but I’m 20 years out of college, so I also get perplexed when conservatives think the Campus Social Justice Network is everywhere and runs everything.

        • Protagoras says:

          @Corey, As mentioned, I’m an academic, so if it were college in general it still seems like I would have run into this (in fact, most of my students seem to be apolitical).

        • dndnrsn says:

          @Jiro:

          Look, read some leftist authors. They sneer at liberals. It is not uncommon to find sentiments like “liberals are actually more of a threat to the Revolution than fascists are.”

          The liberal/leftist split is almost exactly the same as the conservative/reactionary split. The counterpart to reactionaries saying “conservatives continually backpedal and lose ground and end up adopting the position the left held 10-20 years ago and still get called bigots by the left” is “liberals are unwilling to do what it takes to really fix society’s problems, and do nothing more than bandaid solutions which don’t really help the oppressed but do serve as a safety valve to prevent revolution.”

          You know what someone scrawled on a wall at Berkeley during the Milo riot, right? “Liberals get the bullet too” next to a hammer and sickle.

          And, yeah, I didn’t mean Voldemort the fictional character, I meant Moldbug.

          @FacelessCraven:

          Yeah, liberals and leftists are “the left”. Tankies, ancoms, social democrats, etc are “leftists”. You could further draw a line between those who want revolution, and those who don’t – social democrats are definitely not liberals, and neither are democratic socialists, but they both want to work within the system; those who want revolution tend not to like them either.

          You are also equivocating between “SJ” and “leftists”. Most SJ people, as far as I can tell, are liberals when you actually look at their positions. Liberals are incremental reformists. Someone who wants more black, female, etc CEOs, to give an example, is a liberal. Their complaint is that the inequality is distributed unequally. A leftist would want to tear up society, and probably have one where there are no CEOs.

        • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

          You are also equivocating between “SJ” and “leftists”. Most SJ people, as far as I can tell, are liberals when you actually look at their positions.

          I’m not sure that’s the case. There was someone arguing, in the subreddit, that leftists are also way more radical in the gender, race, etc. department.

          In my observation, this is true, but I guess a counterpoint it’s a bigger deal to liberals, since they are less concerned about the class, income, etc. stuff.

        • dndnrsn says:

          @Whatever Happened To Anonymous:

          Some are, some aren’t. Surely you have seen the condemnation of “brocialists” for placing class above race, gender, etc as the bad oppressive thing that needs to be fixed. You have leftists who are into identity politics, but also leftists critiquing the idea.

          Additionally, people do not always know what the are, ideologically speaking. There is a decent population of people who call themselves “leftists” or “radicals” or “revolutionaries” who are nothing of the sort. The student union activist types who, in the end, mostly demand sinecures for themselves no doubt think they are radicals, but any demand that can be fixed by a university or a corporation writing a cheque is probably not a radical demand.

        • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

          Some are, some aren’t. Surely you have seen the condemnation of “brocialists” for placing class above race, gender, etc as the bad oppressive thing that needs to be fixed.

          I mean, yeah, but that kind of came up during the primaries, when Hillary supporters were searching for issues to attack sanders from the left.

          If you remember the original BernieBro article (before it was weaponized), one of the features of the character was that “feminism changed his life” or something like that.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Wasn’t the original BernieBro article a mocking parody of a certain type of wokeman?

        • FacelessCraven says:

          @dndnrsn – “The liberal/leftist split is almost exactly the same as the conservative/reactionary split.”

          Can you give any examples of that split being deep enough to drive serious movement leaders to endorse voting Trump rather than voting Hillary or Bernie? #NeverTrump was a losing movement, but not a fringe one.

          “You know what someone scrawled on a wall at Berkeley during the Milo riot, right? “Liberals get the bullet too” next to a hammer and sickle.”

          …Which was written while their comrades were actually beating conservatives with sticks and chains from the safety of a liberal mob that cheered them on and took celebratory video, yes. Which seems more significant to you, the graffiti or the large-scale cooperation to inflict violence on their enemies? Berkeley could sure as hell purge BAMN if they wanted to; it’s not like the movement is a secret. They don’t, though, do they? Berkeley’s papers unanimously praised the rioters for protecting the vulnerable from hate speech. Establishment liberals condemned them as pointless and counterproductive, some went as far as to claim that the general “punch a nazi” idea was a bad one, even a dangerous one… and then they went right back to claiming that Trump and his supporters are The Real Threat.

          Despite their mutual antipathy, liberals pander to leftist causes and ideals, and leftists overwhelmingly support liberals against conservatives.

          Where is the group on the left willing to ally with the right to fight the Leftists? Where are the groups on the left advocating voting Republican rather than support the establishment Liberal candidate?

          “You are also equivocating between “SJ” and “leftists”. Most SJ people, as far as I can tell, are liberals when you actually look at their positions.”

          Leftists are inherently revolutionary in their thinking, and it seems to me that SJ inevitably works out to much the same point. “Structural” racism, sexism, etc, appear to be isomorphic to the class-based opression that leftists rail against. SJ really does seem to teach that “everything is racist/sexist/problematic”.

          Both downplay individual agency and emphasize group action, both in critique of problems and proposal of solutions. Both employ a fully-general critique with no firm policy endpoint this side of The Revolution, no incremental steps that can be tested or verified. SJ is as powerless to describe what a “Socially Just” society would actually look like as the leftists are to describe the world post-revolution. Both seem to agree that promised land will be good enough to justify a great deal of harm in the present, and both are pretty sure it won’t have any of the people they don’t like.

          “Someone who wants more black, female, etc CEOs, to give an example, is a liberal. Their complaint is that the inequality is distributed unequally.”

          I would agree that such an argument is compatible with Liberalism. I observe that historically, such arguments are made tactically and selectively. If next year CEOs were majority black and female, the movement would not declare victory, pack up and go home. It would simply find some new measure by which to rule society inherently oppressive.

          @Protagoras – “OK, where would I go to have these experiences? I hang around mostly with leftists, and none of this has happened to me, so having a lot of leftists in the environment doesn’t seem to be enough to bring these experiences about. Do I perhaps have to be paranoid and hypersensitive as well, to interpret everything that anyone ever says as an attack on me?”

          It’s fascinating. Back when the left was merely openly calling for Conservatives/reactionaries to be purged from public life, people would frequently post here claiming that conservatives and reactionaries were paranoid cowards to worry that this might be a problem. Now we have actual organized beatings in public of conservatives/reactionaries with the tacit approval/cooperation/benign neglect of the authorities and we’re still being told that we’re paranoid cowards.

          At what point are “they” really out to get you? What level of hostility, in your view, justifies getting worried?

        • Nornagest says:

          I’m pretty sure that, if I were sufficiently motivated, I could find an example of someone from any group you care to name being beaten up in public. This form of evidence is basically anecdotal, and anecdotal evidence is basically worthless.

          That’s not to say that there isn’t evidence of substantial and perhaps worrying recent shifts in the political use of violence — Ferguson seems to have marked a genuine turning point, for example. A few weeks ago I was very worried that the inauguration riots (an event too large for the anecdote critique to apply to them as a whole, as opposed to isolated incidents within them) represented another one, but with a longer view they now look more incremental than revolutionary to me.

          Worth keeping an eye on? Yes. Worth panicking over? No.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Can you give any examples of that split being deep enough to drive serious movement leaders to endorse voting Trump rather than voting Hillary or Bernie? #NeverTrump was a losing movement, but not a fringe one.

          The D establishment was able to head off the outsider populist challenge, though, and the R establishment wasn’t. For all we know, over in another timeline there were centrist Democrat pundits saying “hold your nose and vote for Jeb!”

          …While actually beating conservatives with sticks and chains from the safety of a liberal mob that cheered them on and took celebratory video, yes. Which seems more significant to you, the graffiti or the large-scale cooperation to inflict violence on their enemies? Berkeley could sure as hell purge BAMN if they wanted to; it’s not like the movement is a secret. They don’t, though, do they? Berkeley’s papers unanimously praised the rioters for protecting the vulnerable from hate speech. Establishment liberals condemned them as pointless and counterproductive, some went as far as to claim that the general “punch a nazi” idea was a bad one, even a dangerous one… and then they went right back to claiming that Trump and his supporters are The Real Threat.

          The protest crowd was probably made up of liberals-who-think-they’re-leftists and leftists, though. When liberals do a protest, it looks like that women’s march: peaceful and boring. It is relevant that leftists criticized the women’s march for not being radical enough. You’ll also notice that it’s people who are willing to identify themselves as liberals saying “hey, assaulting people is bad”, and then the leftists condemn them as running-dog lackeys or whatever.

          And, given that the leftists and reactionaries are small fringes in American politics, yeah, Trump is more of a threat to mainstream left than the blac block is.

          Despite their mutual antipathy, liberals pander to leftist causes and ideals, and leftists overwhelmingly support liberals against conservatives.

          Well, yes, both on the left against the right. However, listen to leftists: they complain that liberals do things like “disapprove of setting fire to Starbucks”, those bourgeois pigs. Further, in places where there actually is is a reactionary movement, some conservatives do flirt with them, so there’s a parallel there. Plus, this differs from electoral system to electoral system. The US electoral system basically forces two parties.

          Where is the group on the left willing to ally with the right to fight the Leftists? Where are the groups on the left advocating voting Republican rather than support the establishment Liberal candidate?

          European politics has seen the centre-left ally with the centre-right against socialist or communist parties, especially back during the Cold War.

          Leftists are inherently revolutionary in their thinking, and it seems to me that SJ inevitably works out to much the same point. “Structural” racism, sexism, etc, appear to be isomorphic to the class-based opression that leftists rail against. SJ really does seem to teach that “everything is racist/sexist/problematic”.

          But, again, the fact that you have people who speak the language of revolution, and their demands are usually piddly reformism … The reason that identity-focused stuff has taken over from class-based stuff is, in my view, because it’s less threatening to the system.

          Both downplay individual agency and emphasize group action, both in critique of problems and proposal of solutions. Both SJ and Leftists employ a fully-general critique with no firm policy endpoint this side of The Revolution, no incremental steps that can be tested or verified. They are as powerless to describe what a “Socially Just” society would actually look like as the leftists are to describe the world post-revolution. Both seem to agree that promised land will be good enough to justify a great deal of harm in the present, and both are pretty sure it won’t have any of the people they don’t like.

          But compare what they are immediately asking for. The stereotypical SJ thing looks something like this: a bunch of student activists storm into the dean’s office shouting, they have their list of demands, their list of demands boils down to “step 1: make jobs we will be given post-graduation, step 2: ???, step 3: oppression is destroyed.”

          I would agree that such an argument is compatible with Liberalism. I observe that historically, such arguments are made tactically and selectively. If next year CEOs were majority black and female, the movement would not declare victory, pack up and go home. It would simply find some new measure by which to rule society inherently oppressive.

          OK, but is this because the objective is a slow march to the revolutionary future, or because there’s people whose careers and/or self-conceptions are based in activism?

        • Brad says:

          Can you give any examples of that split being deep enough to drive serious movement leaders to endorse voting Trump rather than voting Hillary or Bernie? #NeverTrump was a losing movement, but not a fringe one.

          If all the Jill Stein’s voters in MI, WI, and PA had voted for Clinton she’d be President. That’s twice, with Nader, in less than 20 years. The last time the right had anything similar decisive was Ross Perot in 1992.

        • Nornagest says:

          If all the Clinton-leaning non-voters had showed up to the polls, she’d have carried fifty states. Third parties mattering just means a close race, it isn’t evidence of any kind of profound split in the base.

        • Brad says:

          How many NeverTrump people were there as compared to Jill Stein voters?

          The claim seems to be that there is a real split on the right but only a fake split on the left. If the evidence is supposed to be that NeverTrump was non-trivial while never-Clinton wasn’t (which I don’t even know if that proves what it is trying to prove) I’d like to see the numbers.

          Personally, I think Montfort is correct.

        • Nornagest says:

          How many NeverTrump people were there as compared to Jill Stein voters?

          #NeverTrump is almost certainly a lot bigger, but Stein is such a marginal player on the national scene that that doesn’t say much. If you insist on using third party votes as a proxy, some #NeverTrumpers probably voted for Johnson, who ended up getting three percent and change to Stein’s 1% — but the more salient point is that #NeverTrump got headlines and a degree of national significance that Stein could only dream of. 1% is a good showing for the Greens, but not an unheard-of one; they usually get around half that (they got slightly more in 2000 because Ralph Nader was a celebrity and hadn’t totally burnt his credibility yet). I can’t think of a single Stein proposal that got headlines until after the election, and that one was basically on behalf of Clinton.

          If there’s a rift in the Democrats, it’s between the Clinton wing and the Sanders wing. And I do think there’s a strong case for that — I haven’t seen a Democratic primary that hard-fought in my lifetime. But the only people that care about Jill Stein are the ones who take the fine print on Dr. Bronner’s bottles seriously. They will always be with us, but they are not inside the Democratic Overton window at all.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          @Dndnrsn – I feel I’m having trouble tracking this conversation.

          “Liberals” and “leftists” aren’t the same things, either. I am going to second the comments here. The general level of charity and precision here drops markedly when anything on the left is discussed. We are willing to spend time talking about whether or not Voldemort is an x, y, or a z, but the left in general gets called “liberals”, which is just a basic failure of nomenclature.”

          Liberals and leftists different, got it.

          You are also equivocating between “SJ” and “leftists”. Most SJ people, as far as I can tell, are liberals when you actually look at their positions. Liberals are incremental reformists. Someone who wants more black, female, etc CEOs, to give an example, is a liberal.

          SJ are liberals, got it.

          The protest crowd was probably made up of liberals-who-think-they’re-leftists and leftists, though.

          The anti-milo protest was specifically a Social Justice thing, a group you claim is liberal. If the liberals think they’re leftists, and they cooperate with leftists, and employ and cheer for leftist violence, what exactly makes them not leftist? I mean, is there a license required or something?

          People are claiming that the inability to distinguish between liberal and leftist is out-group homogeneity bias, but apparently a number of liberals suffer from the same problem. If they can’t tell the difference, how are we supposed to?

          You’ll also notice that it’s people who are willing to identify themselves as liberals saying “hey, assaulting people is bad”, and then the leftists condemn them as running-dog lackeys or whatever.

          And nothing was done about the problem, and Antifa showed up in force at subsequent right-wing events and protests, and nothing was done then either. Tut-tutting isn’t good enough. If anyone actually believed that “liberals get the bullet too”, surely it would behoove them to pressure the (presumably liberal) authorities to shut Antifa the fuck down? But that doesn’t happen, does it? Why not?

          But compare what they are immediately asking for. The stereotypical SJ thing looks something like this: a bunch of student activists storm into the dean’s office shouting, they have their list of demands, their list of demands boils down to “step 1: make jobs we will be given post-graduation, step 2: ???, step 3: oppression is destroyed.”

          No, that’s the typical SJ thing when they are dealing with a supportive liberal administration. The typical SJ thing these days, toward people they actually have a beef with, is to demand they be silenced, and if that demand is rejected to resort to physical violence against anyone who defies them. We got another example of that last week with the attack on Murray.

          And again, Ideological movements that get representation at the DNC chair level aren’t fringe.

          OK, but is this because the objective is a slow march to the revolutionary future, or because there’s people whose careers and/or self-conceptions are based in activism?

          How would you disambiguate the two? I see both leftists and SJ types building careers and self conceptions based on activism, as part of what they claim to be a slow march to the revolutionary/non-hetero-normative/post-white-supremacy future. I do not think this is outgroup homogeneity bias; they are functionally identical movements with a few labels swapped around.

          @Nornagest – “I’m pretty sure that, if I were sufficiently motivated, I could find an example of someone from any group you care to name being beaten up in public.”

          He voted Trump! Beat his ass!
          he white! Beat his shit!
          fuck donald trump… ….Fuck white people!
          Where’s your fucking fuhrer now, bitch!
          sure, and kids why not.
          And of course there’s the Berkeley Riots, both the one for Milo and the more recent one that gave us Based Stick Man, plus as mentioned above the attack on Murray. How many riots have we had since BLM kicked off? How many since the election?

          There’s a lot of poor-ass redneck deplorables in this country. When was the last time a bunch of them got caught on video ganging up to beat black people because of their skin color or political preferences? That’s an actual question, by the way; maybe I’m in a bubble and am not hearing about it, so if you actually have some examples I’d like to see them.

          I would not put a Trump sticker on my car. I would not wear a MAGA hat in public. I would not do those things for fear of getting fucked with over them. Do you find that fear unrealistic?

        • dndnrsn says:

          @FacelessCraven:

          SJ are liberals, got it.

          They’re liberals who think they’re leftists. Which basically means you get the worst of both worlds. Liberals (like myself) are wishy-washy incrementalists, but we have a tolerance for opposing views. Leftists don’t, but they’re fiery. I’m exaggerating for effect, but you get the idea. The people I am thinking about end up being fiery and intolerant … in the service of goals that don’t threaten capitalism for a second, and usually benefit neoliberal globalism.

          I don’t know how student politics is in the US – I gather that attempts to build centralized groups have not succeeded? – but in Canada there’s a type. The student unions, which fall under the CFS (national umbrella group), are run by professional activists who take way longer than normal to complete their degree while drawing a nice salary, set up their preferred successors to replace them (in a vote that will probably get ~10% turnout), and are set up for nice jobs working for public-sector unions or whatever. They speak with the language of revolution, but govern as feudal lords ruling fiefs given to them by the national umbrella group (which it is nigh-impossible to leave, and which officially doesn’t use its resources to support its local favoured cronies, but in reality definitely does). They think of themselves as radicals who threaten the system, but they are at most court jesters.

          The anti-milo protest was specifically a Social Justice thing, a group you claim is liberal. If the liberals think they’re leftists, and they cooperate with leftists, and employ and cheer for leftist violence, what exactly makes them not leftist? I mean, is there a license required or something?

          They aren’t radicals or revolutionaries; their actual demands usually boil down to “make jobs for us after graduation” or something like that.

          People are claiming that the inability to distinguish between liberal and leftist is out-group homogeneity bias, but apparently a number of liberals suffer from the same problem. If they can’t tell the difference, how are we supposed to?

          People are usually quite bad at analyzing their own motives, goals, whether what they’re doing will allow them to reach their goals, etc.

          And nothing was done about the problem, and Antifa showed up in force at subsequent right-wing events and protests, and nothing was done then either. Tut-tutting isn’t good enough. If anyone actually believed that “liberals get the bullet too”, surely it would behoove them to pressure the (presumably liberal) authorities to shut Antifa the fuck down? But that doesn’t happen, does it? Why not?

          Part of it is that it’s happening heavily on college campuses, where the police tend to be fairly toothless. Part of it is that there is a tendency to see black bloc types as “just dumb kids”. Even in left-wing cities, when the cops are prepared, the black bloc doesn’t get to do their thing without resistance – that’s when they rely on their ability to take their masks off and disappear. See the G20 in Toronto some years ago for an example.

          No, that’s the typical SJ thing when they are dealing with a supportive liberal administration. The typical SJ thing these days, toward people they actually have a beef with, is to demand they be silenced, and if that demand is rejected to resort to physical violence against anyone who defies them. We got another example of that last week with the attack on Murray.

          And you’ll note that it worked a lot less well than usual. They silenced him on that particular campus, but they did it by assaulting the (liberal) prof who was supposed to be debating him, and now are being condemned in left-leaning sources, and not just by the usual suspects (Friedersdorf, etc)

          And again, Ideological movements that get representation at the DNC chair level aren’t fringe.

          Wait, Perez is black bloc? I was under the impression that Perez was the mainstream-Democrat-establishment neoliberal choice.

          How would you disambiguate the two? I see both leftists and SJ types building careers and self conceptions based on activism, as part of what they claim to be a slow march to the revolutionary/non-hetero-normative/post-white-supremacy future. I do not think this is outgroup homogeneity bias; they are functionally identical movements with a few labels swapped around.

          Except that real radicals have never been much about the slow march, have they? How do you do a slow march to revolution? At some point you have to shoot the czar, as opposed to demanding equal representation in the czar’s court. I do agree with the leftists that trying to “change the system from within” usually means the system coopts you.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          Wait, Perez is black bloc? I was under the impression that Perez was the mainstream-Democrat-establishment neoliberal choice.

          I think a more charitable interpretation of FacelessCraven’s post is that SJ was a major influence on picking the DNC chair, making SJ not a fringe movement.

        • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

          That doesn’t seem right. Ellison is a black muslim, that’s like catnip for SJ types, and he lost.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Complicating things is that Ellison was the BernieBros’ preferred choice. There seems to have been some hope to the effect that Ellison, a black Muslim, would shift a bit from the “woke neoliberalism” sort of shtick to a more class-based appeal – a sort of “only Nixon goes to China” type of deal.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          He doesn’t have to win for it to be a credible influence… just means other influences were stronger this time (e.g. money). And wasn’t everyone and their dog denouncing Ellison’s loss to those influences?

          Point being that “topic of upper-tier infighting” is a couple steps above “fringe view”

        • dndnrsn says:

          Money loves (a certain brand of) SJ because it’s easy to make a show of appeasing (that certain brand of) SJ. Just make a big deal about your high-powered law firm’s diversity, or whatever. It is much harder to appease people who want to reduce income inequality across the board.

          And, @Gobbobobble, Ellison wasn’t the “SJ candidate.” The sort of people who get called “brocialist” or “BernieBros” or whatever – who want a focus more on class and less on the ethnic breakdown among zillionaire movie stars – liked Ellison.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          @Gobbobobble – “I think a more charitable interpretation of FacelessCraven’s post is that SJ was a major influence on picking the DNC chair, making SJ not a fringe movement.”

          specifically, I was referring to one of the failed candidates employing SJ boilerplate in her bid for the chair.

          “Point being that “topic of upper-tier infighting” is a couple steps above “fringe view””

          Quite so.

          @Dndnrsn – “They aren’t radicals or revolutionaries; their actual demands usually boil down to “make jobs for us after graduation” or something like that.”

          …But the revolutionaries aren’t revolutionaries either! The closest we have to actual revolt in America is the Explicitly SJ-based BLM and their riots, and they appear to be supported as an article of faith by the overwhelming majority of Blue Tribe despite their founding premise being false and the gross racism of numerous prominent members. There doesn’t actually seem to be an anarchist underground resistance movement; the leftist “revolutionary” leaders are all fat lazy academics making jobs for themselves too!

          You are saying that these people are fundamentally different groups that hate each other, but the “hate” looks like performance and empty signalling to me. Where’s the action? How does this ideological split result in differing behavior in the real world, beyond tut-tutting? Where’s the actual crackdown? Where’s the firings, the expulsions, the new orders to police in leftist cities and institutions? From the revolutionaries’ side, where’s the accelerationist movement, or the attacks on “collaborationist” liberal institutions?

          “Part of it is that it’s happening heavily on college campuses, where the police tend to be fairly toothless. Part of it is that there is a tendency to see black bloc types as “just dumb kids”.”

          In fairness, this was an easy opinion to hold when they restricted themselves to property damage during Blue-tribe protests. We are pretty clearly past that point now, though, and even further past it with BLM.

          “And you’ll note that it worked a lot less well than usual.”

          Actually, it looks like it worked about the same as usual. These tactics are going to keep happening until the perps are made to pay the consequences for them. The only time that’s happened so far is at the inauguration itself. Left-wing cities and institutions continue to play by the old rules despite the dramatic escalation in violence, at least partially because they are fundamentally sympathetic to the aims and goals of the people committing that violence. We see this with BLM and with Black Bloc/Antifa both, I think.

          “Except that real radicals have never been much about the slow march, have they? How do you do a slow march to revolution?”

          Point to the radicals actually shooting the Czar, or the liberals actually getting the bullet. At least in the US, I do not think leftists of the sort you seem to be describing actually exist. What we have are only low-level thugs and fat academics LARPing revolution.

        • dndnrsn says:

          …But the revolutionaries aren’t revolutionaries either! The closest we have to actual revolt in America is the Explicitly SJ-based BLM and their riots, and they appear to be supported as an article of faith by the overwhelming majority of Blue Tribe despite their founding premise being false and the gross racism of numerous prominent members. There doesn’t actually seem to be an anarchist underground resistance movement; the leftist “revolutionary” leaders are all fat lazy academics making jobs for themselves too!

          I don’t know how it’s a point against what I’m saying that a lot of people who say they’re revolutionaries are nothing of the sort.

          You are saying that these people are fundamentally different groups that hate each other, but the “hate” looks like performance and empty signalling to me. Where’s the action? How does this ideological split result in differing behavior in the real world, beyond tut-tutting? Where’s the actual crackdown? Where’s the firings, the expulsions, the new orders to police in leftist cities and institutions? From the revolutionaries’ side, where’s the accelerationist movement, or the attacks on “collaborationist” liberal institutions?

          You’re equivocating between leftist and liberal again. Again, look up what happened at the G20 in Toronto: left-wing city (goes either Liberal or NDP, or at least the city proper does) and the cops beat the shit out of protesters.

          In fairness, this was an easy opinion to hold when they restricted themselves to property damage during Blue-tribe protests. We are pretty clearly past that point now, though, and even further past it with BLM.

          Hasn’t BLM kind of petered out? You don’t see them as much in the news. At least up here you don’t, and when you do, it’s something hilariously trivial (NDP candidate condemned by a BLM group for referencing a Beyonce song, etc).

          Actually, it looks like it worked about the same as usual. These tactics are going to keep happening until the perps are made to pay the consequences for them. The only time that’s happened so far is at the inauguration itself. Left-wing cities and institutions continue to play by the old rules despite the dramatic escalation in violence, at least partially because they are fundamentally sympathetic to the aims and goals of the people committing that violence. We see this with BLM and with Black Bloc/Antifa both, I think.

          Sympathy for them has declined; everyone was chuffed about Richard Spencer getting hit, people started voicing concerns when the Milo thing was violently disrupted, and now more than just the usual suspects are condemning what happened with Murray. Further, their tactics are backfiring in the sense of “more people know about Murray and will look up his stuff” than previously. It’s like how Slate keeps bringing up The Camp of the Saints to prove what monsters Bannon and King are. Etc.

          Point to the radicals actually shooting the Czar, or the liberals actually getting the bullet. At least in the US, I do not think leftists of the sort you seem to be describing actually exist. What we have are only low-level thugs and fat academics LARPing revolution.

          Well, yes, the US has always had a weaker leftist movement than Europe.

      • FacelessCraven says:
    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Is it conceivable that Maddow got overexcited about seeing a Trump tax return, and fucked up by portraying the tax return as more important than it is?

      • Brad says:

        I felt bait-and-switched between the time when I heard news of the original tweet:

        BREAKING: We’ve got Trump tax returns. Tonight, 9pm ET. MSNBC.

        (Seriously).

        and when I found it was a 2005 tax return. YMMV.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I definitely think it was handled badly. I’m just dubious that Maddow did it on purpose.

          I feel smug that I think think there was much in Maddow’s announcement, so I listened to a podcast about Scientology instead.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I recommend the podcast about Scientology, especially if you’re sick of hearing about Trump but are still in the mood to hear about horrible people.

            Scientology isn’t doing very well.

            Also, the podcast left me feeling a bit better about the human race. Religions in the US can get away with a tremendous amount, but they generally don’t behave nearly as badly as Scientology.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            recommendation heartily accepted!

    • John Schilling says:

      At this point, I would wager she put herself out on a limb by committing internally to an on-air expose of Trump’s tax return before she had a chance to actually review said return, and was hoping it would be more scandalous than it was. As Dealgood points out, it’s almost certainly in her professional interest to go for the scoop even if it turns out to be boring and/or helpful to Trump, because clicks and eyeballs are all that matters.

      I would also say that the newsworthiness of a single decade-old 1040 is approximately nil. The supporting schedules are where all the interesting details go; if you are imagining there is evidence of collusion with the Russians, that’s where you’d need to look. And real estate is a turbulent enough business that the high-level summary values that do get reported on the 1040 are going to vary widely from year to year. So whoever the “anonymous source” is, could have cherrypicked whichever old return best fits their preferred narrative.

      So, why am I not seeing people ask the obvious, important question: Who leaked this, and what’s their agenda? Note that Trump himself is a suspect, though not the only one.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I find your idea that she thought she had more scandal than she did very plausible. So, was someone setting her up to make that mistake?

        • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

          I cast one vote for “was so full of hyper-partisan certainty that it would be scandalous, that it never occurred to her to have a backup plan in case it wasn’t.”

          • hlynkacg says:

            that would be my guess as well.

            Alternately she’s so hyper partisan that she genuinely believes she has something scandalous when she doesn’t.

      • Iain says:

        Everybody seems to be assuming that Maddow somehow oversold the results here, and I don’t understand why. My understanding of the timeline:

        1. About an hour and a half before her show, Maddow tweeted that she had “Trump tax returns” and would be talking about them. The Twittersphere went nuts, expecting a huge bombshell.
        2. Half an hour later, she tweeted again to clarify that she had the 1040 form from 2005. People on Twitter inexplicably continued to expect a bombshell.
        3. Maddow started her show off with a twenty minute background discussion of Trump’s tax returns. People on Twitter whined a lot about being forced to wait.
        4. Maddow displayed the actual forms, and then spent the rest of the show describing their implications, which were not nearly as huge as Twitter hoped.

        What did Maddow say that over-hyped the tax forms? I didn’t watch the show; did she make any specific claims that were overblown? As far as I can tell, this is a story about a bunch of people on Twitter getting themselves all worked up about imaginary smoking guns and then blaming Maddow for their blue balls. All of the backlash seems to be about things that people wanted Maddow to say that she didn’t, rather than anything she actually said.

        • Spookykou says:

          Do you think she was ignorant or had no idea how hyped Twitter would get over this?

          Assuming she knows a.) how hyped people would get over “Trump tax returns” and b.) how trivial the actual form was. She didn’t technically hype it up, but she also didn’t need to.

          The only way an adult person could break this story and not be accused of overselling IMO would be to lead with “I have Trumps tax returns, nothing interesting in them” which obviously a reporter wouldn’t do. Turning nothing into news is something reporters try and do all the time, I am not sure I understand why you feel the need to defend Maddow here.

          • Iain says:

            I’m defending Maddow because everybody seems to think she’s committed some sort of horrible faux-pas that requires explanation. If, as you say, the only way to avoid being accused of overselling is to deliberately undersell, and no reporter would ever do so, then I don’t understand why people are saying things like “I would wager she put herself out on a limb by committing internally to an on-air expose of Trump’s tax return before she had a chance to actually review said return, and was hoping it would be more scandalous than it was”. Isn’t the story here just “Maddow got a minor scoop, and reported about it relatively responsibly, and people on Twitter got pissy because they wanted it to be a bigger deal”?

            Like, does anybody seriously think that a few hours of Twitter Outrage are going to have a noticeable negative impact on Rachel Maddow?

          • John Schilling says:

            Isn’t the story here just “Maddow got a minor scoop, and reported about it relatively responsibly, and people on Twitter got pissy because they wanted it to be a bigger deal”?

            Responsible reporting of a “scoop” this minor does not involve devoting an entire one-hour television show to it. That’s one step shy of printing a special edition of the New York Times devoted to Barack Obama’s short-form birth certificate (and not mentioning until page 15 that said certificate really doesn’t say anything beyond “yep, born in Hawaii”).

            Responsible reporting of this scoop means something like three minutes on each “MSNBC Live” segment of the day, before handing it over to print.

        • howardtreesong says:

          It would have been far more intellectually honest for Maddow to have tweeted “I have Turmp’s 2005 tax returns, which show that he made $150M and do not show any particular connection to the Russians.” She knew perfectly well that a gazillion people would immediately assume that the returns would be in some way scandalous, and her tweet is pretty manipulative in that it didn’t deny that idea.

    • Nornagest says:

      I don’t think gentile status, at least, matters to anyone but /pol/. And even there it’s at least 50% trolling/shock value.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Certainly many in the group I referred to in the subthread above were perfectly happy to hate white Jewish people (including calling Yarvin a neo-Nazi, without evidence, and even after being informed that he’s Jewish)

  31. sty_silver says:

    Let’s say women are on average better at A and B (these could be things such as teaching and multitasking) and also on average different at C to Z. Let’s, to simplify, say all properties A to Z are on a linear scale; you can be good or bad at them. So being a woman means you’re with > 50% above average at A and B and perhaps below at C and above at D and so on.

    My question is this: if you’re a woman but are on the “male” side of the spectrum on, say, the first four properties: you’re below average on A, B, and D and above average on C, does this or does it not influence how likely you are good at properties E to Z compared to other woman? Are you now, because we observed that you land closer to the “male” side on those four properties, also more likely to be on the “male” side on the remaining ones, or are you still slightly more likely to on the female side on each individual one, and in fact by exactly as much as other woman?

    (Perhaps answer before continuing to read). In my understanding, the answer to this question is equivalent with asking whether the concept of gender, independent of biological sex, actually corresponds to something real, beyond being an observation that you, on average, happened to be closer to a particular side on a bunch of independent properties.

    I’m thinking of statements like “gender is a guess doctors make at a child’s birth, and that guess might be totally wrong”. I think this implies that gender is a thing in the sense of the answer to the question I posed being yes. If it is no, then gender in this context is just an arbitrary package of properties that correlate slightly to biological sex but which are in fact independent of each other, with every individual one having high variance. Also leaving aside all matters of personal identification.

    I’m only meaning to pose an objective (if perhaps hard to answer) question for truth seeking, not to discuss whether looking at gender as a spectrum is a better strategy for achieving equality than trying to minimize the importance given to gender or sex. So, is there statistical evidence on this?

    • Aapje says:

      Well, some traits are extremely strongly correlated to gender, while others are so far more weakly. Those that are strongly related are quite strongly interrelated, for example, people with vagina’s also tend to develop breasts and those with penises tend to get big adam’s apples.

      The more ‘brainy’ stuff is very hard to distinguish from gendered upbringing and social norms. If there is strong correlation in the statistics, this can be because of nature or because of nurture, but a lack of correlation can also be because social norms suppress nature. The evidence in monkeys and babies does suggest a biological component to brain differences, but it’s very hard to relate this to anything in later life with scientifically solid evidence.

      I’m thinking of statements like “gender is a guess doctors make at a child’s birth, and that guess might be totally wrong”.

      I think such statements conflate gender and sex. Doctors merely determine sex at birth, which in most cases is not a guess. The assumption by society is that the people with male sex have to fit in the male gender box and female sex into the female gender box, but it’s not the doctor who makes that link, it is society.

      • sty_silver says:

        > people with vagina’s also tend to develop breasts

        That’s not quite what I meant to ask – the question was, provided your sex is a certain way, if we then observe one trait, does it tell us about another trait. The link from sex to traits is clear (and strong for the few biological things).

        The way our society is structured will of course create such dependencies – I forgot to add a disclaimer for that – my question is, will there be anything left if controlled for that.

        • Aapje says:

          I’m not aware of studies that focused on that specifically. If you look at table 3 of this study, it seems that dependencies between traits are generally fairly similar for the genders.

  32. Aapje says:

    The first exit poll for the Dutch election is in (exit polls are a Dutch invention, btw):

    – The moderate right wing/neoliberal party (VVD) remains the biggest, but loses 1/4th of their seats.
    – Geert Wilders wins a little
    – The field is very splintered, loads of parties have enough seats to be eligible for the coalition, but only the moderate right wing party has a pretty much guaranteed spot
    – The most likely coalition seems to be 4 parties, 3 moderate right wing parties and the green party (85 out of 150 seats, which is a comfortable majority)
    – Prime minister Rutte will almost certainly keep his job
    – Unlike in the US elections, it will take quite some time before we know which coalition we get and what their agenda will be. I expect a few months at least.
    – Turnout was very high and some voting stations had lines to outside and 1 didn’t close at the official time to let those waiting vote, which is rather unprecedented, given the high density of voting stations.

    • Tibor says:

      I think it’s sort of the best result. I’d like to see people like Wilders and Le Pen have just enough seats to function as an opposition and force the mainstream parties to adopt a diluted version of their positions, ie scale down the EU integration and make it possible for alternative approaches to immigration and asylum to be viable (so that the Merkel course is no longer “alternativlos”). But at the same time I would not like to see them actually become the main ruling parties as most of their ideas are really really stupid (like banning Koran and deporting all Muslims). Prime minister Wilders would be basically a Dutch Orbàn. I think Austria seems to have gotten to this ideal balanced state, where the Österreichsche Volkspartei (and Sebastian Kurz in particular) takes the anti-muslim and anti middle Eastern immigration sentiment and addresses it in a constructive way.

    • What does “moderate right wing/neoliberal” mean in the Dutch context? I’m used to seeing “neoliberal” used as a negative label. Is it just “liberal” in the 19th century sense, which I gather has survived in Europe more than in the U.S.?

      • dndnrsn says:

        As far as my understanding goes, yes, liberal still means liberal in the old sense in Europe and I believe also in Australia/New Zealand. A liberal party in Europe is probably going to be free marketeers, usually with support for public services but not social democrats, and socially liberal. Pretty much what the Liberal party is in Canada too – although their role is somewhat complicated by the fact that they dominated government in Canada in the 20th century.

      • Aapje says:

        @Friedman

        I define neo-liberal as:
        – Pro-free trade
        – Pro-EU
        – Pro-big business
        – Pro economic migrants
        – Anti-workers rights/unions
        – Universal culture over national culture
        – Anti-redistribution/pro higher Gini
        – Individualist (swim or sink)

        Although to be honest, D66 is more purely neoliberal, the VVD is more schizophrenic between conservatism and neoliberalism, although much more the latter. The voters for both these parties are pretty clearly the winners in our economic system, which shows (in surveys that show) how satisfied they are with how things are going (Geert Wilders voters in contrast are extremely pissed off).

        Most likely both these parties will end up forming a coalition, together with the moderate conservative Christians (CDA) and the green party, which is basically SJ/urban/elitist/environmental/pro-workers rights/pro-universal culture/etc.

        But in general the Dutch are very good at making a big fuss over 1% more over here and 2% less over there. The coalition system strongly favors the ability to compromise and not taking things personal.

        • Tibor says:

          Are they really so pro-EU though? Of course they don’t want to outright leave, but nobody save for Wilders does. But they seem to have been at least considering leaving the Euro. From this perspective I find the happiness of the German left about the results really strange. The equivalent of the SPD is the biggest loser of the elections and the winning party is something like the FDP, which is hardly a favorite of the left (it’s a party closest to libertarians of all mainstream parties). Also Wilders has gained 5 seats and the VVD actually lost a few, do it hardly warrants the “defeat of populism” narratives.

          What seems to be an issue is that now you need at least 4 parties to form a coalition. Probably VVD+CDA+D66 (I don’t know they’re all about)+the green party. About ten years ago, there was a green party in a coalition with the center right government in the Czech Rep, but it damaged the greens a lot an they haven’t been able to even get to the Parliament since. So from their point of view, working with a right-wing coalition might lead them to a similar fate. All in all, 4 party coalitions are not exactly the most stable.

        • Aapje says:

          I think I need to clarify that pro and anti is relative to the status quo, not based on an absolute scale. So pro-EU means in favor of strong political integration, a EU military, large wealth transfers to poor states, etc. (Moderate) anti-EU would be a EU limited mostly to the common market.

          Pro-free trade means TTIP, not just more free trade than N-Korea allows.

          @Tibor

          Frits Bolkestein, who was leader of the VVD from 1990-1998 believes that the euro is a mistake and favors splitting up the euro into a northern euro and southern euro. However, he is a bit of a maverick and the VVD supports the euro as it is, right now.

          All in all, 4 party coalitions are not exactly the most stable.

          They don’t seem that much more unstable, if I look at history.

          • Tibor says:

            Ok, looks like the Netherlands are better at keeping coalitions together than other countries.

            Does the VVD (on average) want more political integration of the EU then?

          • Aapje says:

            Their rhetoric is to have a relatively small EU, but their voting record in Europe is almost identical to D66, who are extremely pro-integration.

            The main difference is that VVD skip voting more often, but they don’t vote against proposals (substantially) more often, as you would expect from a party that favors a small EU:

            http://sargasso.nl/stemgedrag-nederlandse-leden-europees-parlement/

            The link is in Dutch, but the first graph should be clear if you know that:
            red = absent
            light green = voted for
            dark green = voted against
            blue = not voted
            purple = abstained

            The link also clearly shows that the PVV voted against proposals way more often than other parties.

          • Tibor says:

            @Aapje: What surprises me is that the Green party voted more against the EU proposals than average. It also worries me a little how everyone but Wilders and the SP overwhelmingly votes for EU proposals. Of course, I don’t know what those proposals were, but much more often than not they are aimed at more centralization.

            Btw, who are the SP?

          • Aapje says:

            @Tibor

            The green party are in favor of the EU for environmentalism and such, but against the more extreme free market. They claim that their opposition votes are because of that. They are also strongly pro-privacy.

            The SP are old school collectivist left: huge welfare state, huge taxes on the wealthy. They roam off the salaries of their politicians. That kind of stuff. They voted against the leaving coalition the most of all parties and they are pretty far away from the typical coalition parties (the graph should be clear, thicker lines = more similar voting). So they have little chance to enter a coalition unless they win really big.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Here’s what I wonder about Dutch politics – why is the right-wing populist party such a one-man show, and why is it so one-issue? The other European populist parties don’t seem as focused on “get the Muslims out” and Geert Wilders is the only member of his party, for crying out loud!

      • Aapje says:

        The main reason is that there is huge stigma against the populists (in street interviews, PVV voters are visibly cagey far more than voters for other parties), as well as as the voters for this party being fairly low educated. So very few well-educated people want to go into politics for the PVV and those that do are generally a bit… weird and untrustworthy.

        Another reason is that there is actually fairly limited consensus between PVV voters on everything but Muslims. This makes it beneficial to have very controlled communication, where the party simply refuses to take a standpoint on many issues. Wilders tried to make ‘leave the EU’ an issue, but this didn’t gain much traction. So this is also why the PVV is a one issue party. Wilders is also far more right wing than many of his voters, so not campaigning much on economic issues allows him to vote against the opinions of many of his voters (who are low information voters who are not aware of this).

        A more minor reason is that PVV voters are pretty authoritarian and thus like a strong leader.

        Before Geert Wilders, there was Pim Fortuyn. After he was killed by a SJ person just before the election, his party still ended up in politics, but his party fell apart through infighting. This probably influenced Wilders greatly and he is afraid of losing control.

      • Tibor says:

        I didn’t know Wilders was the only member of his party. I think that Czech parties have to have at least three or five members of I’m not mistaken. How does he then fill the 20 seats? Can be have all candidates but himself be nonmembers? On a side note I wonder if there’s any​ country where one​ MP can have more than one seat in the parliament. It would definitely make the voting patterns of your representatives more tractable, since you’d have to monitor fewer of them. Then again it would also make it easier to pass stupid laws, so it’s probably better the way it is.

        • Aapje says:

          @Tibor

          Dutch political parties have to register a list of candidates with the Electoral Council, but these don’t have to be members of the party.

          The structure of Wilders’ party does have financial consequences, as part of the political subsidies are based on the number of members of the political party.

          PS. Wilders gets money from the David Horowitz Freedom Center

          On a side note I wonder if there’s any​ country where one​ MP can have more than one seat in the parliament. It would definitely make the voting patterns of your representatives more tractable, since you’d have to monitor fewer of them.

          The Dutch constitution requires that all representatives vote without a binding mandate. Of course, the party can kick people who refuse to follow the party line out of the party, but they cannot be made to give up their seat, once they are elected.

          This is an important check against a single person taking complete control over many seats and voting for crazy laws.

          • Tibor says:

            Yes, I think most countries have those and most parties try to get around those restrictions and reign-in their MPs. I think the first republic (1918-1938) Czechoslovakia did not have those, however – the seats belonged to the party rather than the MPs.

            I think that in the Czech system, it is possible to have candidates who are not your party members (actually, I know that, the Green party often has a lot of “public personalities” on their list who are not their party members, other parties do that too, sometimes), but I think that your party has to have a minimum number of members which is larger than 1…I think it is 3 or 5 or something like that. But I might wrong. I know that Okamura’s party had a very low number of members, it was definitely less than 10. It still fell apart.

  33. PedroS says:

    The PvdA (whcih was one of the traditional large parties) seems to have been wiped! What hapenned to them?

    • Brad says:

      From what I gather, they were a left wing party (social democrats) that went into a coalition as the junior partner of a center-right party. Whatever it is they got policy-wise wasn’t considered sufficient by their voters. They felt betrayed and abandoned the party.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Aapje can probably supply more info, but the reading I’ve done suggests they did a “Blairte labour” thing and moved to the centre, which can lead to a “what is the point of you even existing?” situation, especially in a system like the Netherlands’.

        • Aapje says:

          It’s quite similar to how US Democrats are losing the support of blue collar workers. Basically, the PvdA moved to the right as a portion of their traditional voters gained prosperity and are doing well, but the traditional blue collar voters who are not doing so well feel betrayed by this change.

          A huge number of PVV voters were PvdA voters in the past and in interviews, a lot of PVV voters specifically single the PvdA out as the party that they feel betrayed them.

          Also, during the last election, there was a narrative to vote PvdA to keep the VVD out of power. So the PvdA got a lot of strategic votes. However, after the election, a coalition was formed between the PvdA and VVD in record time, which was obviously a huge betrayal of those that voted for the PvdA to keep the VVD out of power.

          Furthermore, the policy of the last decades has been to dismantle parts of the welfare state, which is incongruent with the social democrat ideals, so any time the PvdA does go into a coalition as a junior partner their motto is ‘slow down the dismantling,’ which is obviously a hard sell, since the PvdA cannot point to any clear successes.

          Finally, there is a long tradition of junior partners losing seats, because the dominant party gets their way most of the time, so they appear to succeed, while the junior partners appear to fail. This is one reason why populist parties in Denmark and The Netherlands have in the past supported coalitions without becoming a part of them, so they get some of their demands met, but they can claim not to be responsible for the overall agenda.

          • <