Open Thread 76.5

This is the (late) twice-weekly hidden open thread. As the off-weekend thread, this is culture-war-free, so please try try to avoid overly controversial topics. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit, the SSC Discord server, or the Cafe Chesscourt forum.

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192 Responses to Open Thread 76.5

  1. bean says:

    I didn’t get a full column written up, as I spent most of yesterday either on the battleship or at the meetup. I’m not sorry, either. I got to go in the forward main battery director, which has been my #1 wish for over a year. And the meetup was great. (Series index)
    So, in honor of the recent discussions over pre-dreadnoughts, I’m going to discuss one of the weirder episodes of the Victorian Royal Navy. In that era, the most important fleet in the RN was the Mediterranean fleet. HMS Victoria was commissioned in 1890, as one of the last turret ships built. She carried two 16.25” guns in a twin turret, the largest guns carried aboard a British battleship (besides, maybe, Fearless). The guns were not successful, slow-firing, inaccurate, and with a very short life. However, in 1893, she was still one of the most highly thought-of ships in the RN, and the flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet, under Vice-Admiral Sir George Tryon. On June 22nd, 1893, the fleet was steaming in two columns, approximately 1,200 yards apart, preparing to anchor off Lebanon. Tryon was known as an aggressive shiphandler, and ordered each column to turn 180 degrees towards each other, with the idea that the ships would end up going the other way, 400 yards apart. Unfortunately, the turn would take at least 800 yards laterally for each column, meaning that the maneuver should have started with the ships 2,000 yards apart. Because of Tryon’s reputation, his subordinates did not question this, apparently expecting him to order some other maneuver at the last minute.
    At the last minute, it instead became obvious that Victoria, who was leading one of the columns, was on a collision course with another ship, HMS Camperdown. For various reasons (which I’m going to save for later), ramming was considered an important tactic in this period, and ships were designed with ram bows. As a result, when Camperdown struck Victoria, she tore a gash 28’ high and 10’ wide at the waterline, with the ram penetrating as much as 9’ into Victoria. In theory, only about 500 tons of water should have been able to enter the compartments opened by the collision, but the flooding spread quickly through doors and hatches that had not been secured. The crew could close all watertight doors in about 3 minutes during drills, but the command to secure them was not given until 1 minute before the collision. It was also discovered that the valves on the drain holes through the bulkheads were often jammed by debris, and could not be closed.
    Victoria normally had a freeboard of only 10’ forward, and it took only 4 minutes for the flooding to bring the bow under. Another 5 minutes saw the water beginning to pour into the ports of the turret, which flooded it and the 6” battery. At 13 minutes after the collision, Victoria rolled over and sank, taking with her 358 of the 715 onboard, including Admiral Tryon. The best-known survivor was the second-in-command of Victoria, John Jellicoe.
    Because of Tryon’s death, his intentions in ordering the maneuver were never understood. Camperdown survived despite reasonably heavy flooding. Later battleships were designed with fewer penetrations in bulkheads below the waterline, and to this day, RN ships secure all hatches before certain hazardous maneuvers, such as entering port.

    • bean says:

      Oh, one other thing. I’ve tried this before, and it seems worth one more try. Is there any interest in a meetup at the Iowa, in San Pedro? Last time I asked (about a month ago), I got no response. Seriously, if you’re interested and can make it, please tell me.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        The only real thing stopping me is that I live way over in Maryland, and have no plans to visit San Pedro any time soon. It sounds like a wonderful idea otherwise.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      For various reasons (which I’m going to save for later), ramming was considered an important tactic in this period, and ships were designed with ram bows. As a result, when Camperdown struck Victoria, she tore a gash 28’ high and 10’ wide at the waterline, with the ram penetrating as much as 9’ into Victoria.

      I hope this isn’t too far off-topic, but how effective do people here think ramming would have been as a naval tactic during this period? AFAIK there weren’t many battles between modern navies, so this is all something of a conjecture. I’ve often seen it asserted that ramming would be ineffective on any but crippled ships, but the sinking of the Victoria would seem to suggest otherwise.

      • bean says:

        Very ineffective. The ramming was ineffective on all but crippled ships because of the difficulty of hitting, not because of the lack of damage when you do hit. In this case, the ships were set on a collision course by orders, and that problem didn’t apply.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          If it was so easy to avoid being rammed, why didn’t the Victoria just change course to avoid the Camperdown, and/or Camperdown to avoid hitting the Victoria? Sure they were ordered to go on that course, but I have difficulty believing they’d keep to it after it became clear that the two ships were going to collide.

          • bean says:

            It’s easy to avoid being rammed when you expect that you might be rammed. It’s hard to avoid being rammed/avoid ramming when you expect that the Admiral knows what he’s doing, but is known for not discussing his maneuvers ahead of time, because he believes that won’t happen in battle.
            Both ships went to full astern about a minute before the collision. Ships maneuver very slowly. That said, the whole incident was weird, and I’m not sure anyone knows why nobody figured out that this was a really bad idea earlier.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            If a full minute’s warning isn’t enough to avoid being rammed, how is avoiding being rammed easy? Or do you just mean that the fleet could withdraw if the enemy got too close, avoiding the sort of close-quarters action where ramming would be possible?

          • bean says:

            Ships maneuver really slowly, and both ships were under full helm to make the turn anyway. Turing the other way would have been a violation of the rules of the road, and might have just made things worse at that point.
            It’s probably also worth pointing out that fleet maneuvers were a lot more common than battles in the time period when the ram was considered a serious weapon. (The only battleship I know of to have sunk an enemy by ramming was Dreadnought herself, when she rammed a U-boat.) Even if the probability of being rammed during battle was a lot higher, we wouldn’t necessarily see that because of the lack of battles. But weapons need to work reliably, and ramming in battle probably wouldn’t have.

          • John Schilling says:

            Turing the other way would have been a violation of the rules of the road, and might have just made things worse at that point.

            This is a serious issue in collision avoidance generally – how do you make sure both parties don’t “evade” in the same direction? There are established rules of the road for a reason, and now they are even automated. But bean has it right: if it’s your own commanding admiral who signals you to maneuver such that obeying the rules of the road will result in collision, and he’s obviously not suicidal (right?) but he might have something clever in mind, how confident are you that an evasive maneuver that violates both rules of the road and a direct order won’t collide with the admiral’s clever plan?

            IIRC, the British board of inquiry obliquely implied that Camperdown’s captain ought to have done better, but explicitly absolved him of official blame on account of the admiral being right there and directly ordering him to steer into Victoria.

          • bean says:

            I completely endorse what John has to say. It bears emphasizing that the Admiral in question was known for being both very clever and very safety-minded, and for not discussing his maneuvers ahead of time. We have a perfect storm of things going wrong here.
            (As for how they automate evasion direction in airliners, they compare serial numbers. An elegant solution.)

      • John Schilling says:

        The naval ram was one of the most devastating weapons of the latter half of the nineteenth century, provided both the ram and the target were on the same side. The destruction of the Victoria was not the only or even the worst such incident.

        It also turns out to be just the thing if you want to repel a Martian Invasion, or at least delay it long enough to evacuate some civilians.

        Otherwise, not so much. The ram played an outsized role in the naval architecture of the early Ironclad period because, aside from some provincial skirmishes in the New World, the one really influential naval battle of that era was the Battle of Lissa, 1866, between Italy and Austria. This fell neatly into the gap between the deployment of effective armor (~1860) and of effective armor-piercing gunnery (~1870), and the result was four hours of ironclads pounding each other without any ships actually being sunk. Except that the Austrian flagship had a protruding armored bow that when all else failed was pressed into service as a ram and managed, mostly through dumb luck, to sink two Italian ironclads.

        For about a generation, if you were building a battleship there was strong pressure to incorporate some sort of ram just in case. In practice, any actual enemy on the receiving end of an ironclad ram would have had little trouble either shooting it out of the water or maneuvering out of its way (and maybe torpedoing it as it passed). But the ram had been “proven” in battle, the armor-piercing guns had not.

        • bean says:

          Blast it, John. I told you I was saving ramming as a whole for later, and you go and spoil it!
          To quote Friedman, on the 8″ gun after the Spanish-American War:
          “Throughout the history of modern warships, however, combat experience, no matter how objectively irrelevant, has had enormous impact.”
          (He gives the British retention of 4.5″ guns after the Falklands as a more modern example.)

          • John Schilling says:

            Hey, I left you the Affondatore to talk about :-)

            And you never know when the combat experience in question really is irrelevant until it’s too late, e.g. the persistent attempts to remove guns from fighter aircraft over the past sixty or seventy years. Maybe this time they really are obsolete.

            But most obsolete weapons at least don’t have the feature of always and automatically destroying any target within range and field of fire, even in peacetime.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          It also turns out to be just the thing if you want to repel a Martian Invasion, or at least delay it long enough to evacuate some civilians

          Y U no link to the song?

    • LHN says:

      In one of those odd coincidences, Kipling had the previous year written a poem about the similarly-named but fictional Clampherdown (unintentionally) ramming an enemy ship.

      (The captain then orders a boarding action, defeating the superior foe.)


    • gbdub says:

      A request / idea for a future post, if you’re up to it: technology / history of naval guns. You’ve talked a bit about this, but I think mostly in terms of overall armament schemes and firing rates and ranges. I’m curious about the actual metallurgy, design, and so on of the guns themselves. Also the technologies that allowed moving away from the inefficient “always load in one orientation” setup on the pre-pre-dreadnoughts.

      In our discussion of the evolution of the late 19th century turret into the modern, better armor allowed equivalent protection at lighter weight, letting the turrets be mounted higher. But I’ll bet lighter guns (for equivalent or better firepower) may have also contributed?

      • bean says:

        I may be able to put something together on that, yes. I’ll add it to my idea file. Tomorrow’s is already started. (Any guesses as to subject? I’ll think of a prize to give to whoever gets it. Yes, there exists a clue of some sort.)

        • gbdub says:

          I will guess Damage Control Part II, based on the fact that “Damage Control” is in the index with a Part I only. More specifically, damage control to avoid being mission killed (since you proposed that as a future post in response to a John Schilling post in that thread).

          If I am allowed 2 guesses, I’d say ramming and/or the Battle of Lissa based on the exchange here, but that seems too obvious.

          • bean says:

            Both are incorrect. I’m doing something that hasn’t been publicly hinted at before, but will be pretty obvious when you notice it. And it’s coming Wednesday for a specific reason, although if Scott is late and it goes out Thursday, it will still work.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Well I wouldn’t deserve a prize due to cheating, but my money’s on Jutland (though midget subs would be an amusing bait-and-switch)

          • bean says:

            Gobbobobble wins the prize. I’m not 100% sure what it is yet. If you’re anywhere near LA, a guided tour may be in the cards. If not, I’m leaning towards you getting to pick a column subject.

          • gbdub says:

            What was the “clue of some sort”? Just the reference to Jellicoe in today’s post?

            EDIT: Ah, I see the date Gobbobobble linked. I was tripped up looking for the clue in your writing. Drat.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Alas, while a tour sounds awesome, I’m a mildly-Caliphobic Midwesterner so not planning on being in the area any time in the near future.

            For a topic suggestion: how about A Day in the Life of a crewman and/or officer on your boat, during its WWII operations?

          • bean says:

            Yeah. It’s the date. The mention of Jellicoe was just coincidence.

            A Day in the Life is a topic I’ve sort of been avoiding, as it’s definitely not playing to my strengths. But I’ll give it a go. Although it may be a while. Jutland isn’t going to be disposed of in a single post.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Ah, that’s fair. Would the sort of career track that leads to commanding a battleship be more in your wheelhouse?

          • bean says:

            Not really. My interest skews very technical, and that means I feel relatively unqualified to discuss life aboard, regardless of officer/enlisted. In absolute terms I’m probably not, but it’s a very different genre.
            I’m going to write it as originally requested, both in honor of the spirit of the rules and because this is something I really should work on as a tour guide.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Gotcha. Sorry for the inadvertent curveball. The extent of my technical knowledge is in your Series Index so had to look elsewhere to come up with a topic suggestion 🙂

    • gbdub says:

      Why was the casualty rate so high (50%)? While the ship sank relatively quickly, it seems like ideal conditions for rescue (trained crews, peacetime, daylight, good weather, literally surrounded by friendly vessels). Presumably the quick flooding led to some being trapped belowdecks, but is that enough to account for so many losses?

      • bean says:

        AIUI, the engine crew never got the order to evacuate, and most of them went down with the ship. And a big ship sinking is just a nasty place to be. Lots of debris, suction of some sort (I know what Mythbusters concluded on that, but there are lots of accounts from the survivors of being sucked under) and other hazards. Victoria’s screws were still turning when she sank. The records I can find suggest that most of the deaths were due to those below decks when she went down. It was apparently rather more sudden than expected, to the point where Tryon tried to beach her, and countermanded the launching of boats by other ships.
        I tried to find out how many bodies were recovered, but haven’t been able to yet.

  2. WashedOut says:

    Anyone have experience with receiving hypnosis?

    Can you give any points of advice or insight for someone considering this type of therapy?

    • jimmy says:

      There’s sort of two different directions of concern here. The first is to make sure you don’t hand your mind (and wallet) to some bozo who doesn’t know wtf they’re doing, and the other is to make sure that when you *are* sold on the idea, that you *do* “hand over your mind” enough to actually give them a chance to do their work.

      As a hypnotist who thinks that hypnosis is really cool and underappreciated, I wouldn’t actually recommend going that route necessarily. Personally, I can’t really think of any case where I would, but my reasoning doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone. What it’s good for is a complicated question to answer in full, but the short answer is that hypnosis works best for things that are “simple”, even if intense.

      I’m guessing that you’re probably more curious about the other half though. Once you’ve decided that you want to give it a shot, it’s really about just going into it with an open mind and doing your best to follow instructions. You don’t have to try to “believe” in it or try to “go into trance” or try to *anything*, really. Just go with it and see what happens. It’s the hypnotists job to make sure that results in something you’re happy with. It’s hard to be any more specific than that about what to expect, since it really does vary so much depending on how the hypnotist approaches things.

      You might find Richard Feynman’s experience with hypnosis interesting

  3. Anonymous says:

    Constructive hobbies!

    What are some productive things a city-dweller can do in their off-time?

    • Adrian says:

      Contribute to an open-source project. Even if you can’t code, you could add/improve graphics, documentation, translations, provide support for other users, or do bug-testing.

      Depending on the project, you can have quite some impact even with very little commitment. Most projects will be thankful for any help which is net-positive in the long run.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I recommend going to the gym, ideally with a group of friends.

      Regular cardio and resistance training is good for your health and mental state, improves your appearance​,, and builds strong bonds between guys. Depending on your field it might be challenging to get a group together: scientists rarely lift so I mostly go with med students. But it’s very worthwhile.

      • Vermillion says:

        Adding on to that, in every city there are lots of group runs and bike rides which are a great way to get healthier and also meet new people with shared interests.

      • WashedOut says:

        I would strongly discourage lifting weights in groups. The slight social plus is far outweighed by the costs to your focus, intensity, and developing a mind-muscle connection. When you lifts weights with other people even the humblest of us turn into ego-lifters, neglecting your own needs in favour of doing things in a way that suits the group.

        Best IMO is go running/intervals with friends, and on separate days hit the gym by yourself.

    • keranih says:

      Walk your neighborhood and greet your neighbors. Pick up trash if you can do so without getting your rage on at your fellow humans. Observe the comings and goings and offer to help people out with small things if they need a hand.

      Go to your local town hall meetings, take notes, and post your notes and thoughts on an online blog. Link to relevant workshops, information resources, and background. Over the course of three to four years, the same things come up over and over again, and being able to provide that background to relative newcomers is important.

      Volunteer at your local library. Shelve books, give and attend lectures, make recommendations for new programs. Of course, these days, library interaction is an entry drug for homeless intervention, so be cautious.

      The key thing for me is that while stamp collecting and gardening can be done anywhere, it is in the polis that one has access to an extraordinary number of fellow humans. So I recommend taking advantage of that.

      • Said Achmiz says:

        This does not seem useful or sensible to do in a city, though. You seem to be describing things to do in towns?

        • smocc says:

          I don’t see why not? All of the things Keranih mentioned happen in cities. Town hall meetings might look slightly different in cities and go by a different name, but they exist. Certainly there are small local library branches, neighbors, and trash.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            In my experience:

            1. Population density and diversity is way too high for “greeting your neighbors” to even make any sense, much less be a good idea. Attempting to do so will only cause you to be perceived (and rightly) as a crazy person, generally to be avoided.

            2. The city picks up trash. Where this is not done, there’s far too much trash for an individual to make a dent.

            3. Offering to help people out with small things — what small things? Also, see #1.

            4. Volunteering at the library requires an application process. (Aside: as of this writing, the online application website was broken.) There are specific volunteer positions, certainly, though they’re more like part-time jobs than hobbies. I’m not sure this is what keranih had in mind.

            5. Participating in community board (“town hall”) meetings is possible, certainly. By all reports, this is a mostly unrewarding endeavor, to be classified more as “participating in politics” than “having a productive hobby in your off time”.

          • keranih says:

            @ Said –

            Don’t take this the wrong way, but jesus you know how to make living in a city sound like a hellhole, yah know? Also, we may very well not be using the same words for “neighborhood” – perhaps “housing development” or “area within a five minute walking radius around a common store or shopping area.”

            1) I think you would be surprised. Get out there and be seen, get out there and *see* your neighbors. Also, if “diversity” is an issue…well.

            2) I betcha a nickle there are people picking up some garbage on your street. My city picks up trash in trashcans. If me and my neighbors didn’t come out on a regular irregular basis and police up the place, it would be even more of a mess. No, not all our neighbors.

            3) Ain’t there no little old ladies in your neighborhood? Ain’t no one ever dropped something in front of you? Pick it up, smile, hand it back, be on your merry. When they’re off loading stuff outa the car, or trying to back up into a spot, offer to help.

            4) I know that the anti-child abuse hysteria and other issues have made some public service places a lot more gunshy than they used to be. But the process is not, I betcha, all that strenous. And all hobbies require some sort of commitment. You do not, however, have to fill out an application to go to any of the free classes that are offered at libraries.

            5) Some people juggle geese, which is not my idea of a fun time. Other people put together ships in glass bottles. Other people try to change the world one long, slightly boring town hall meeting at a time.

            Seriously man, give it a try.

          • Said Achmiz says:


            Don’t take this the wrong way, but jesus you know how to make living in a city sound like a hellhole, yah know?

            No offense taken. For what it’s worth, I quite enjoy living in a city.

            Also, we may very well not be using the same words for “neighborhood” – perhaps “housing development” or “area within a five minute walking radius around a common store or shopping area.”

            That is about what I had in mind, yeah.

            1) I think you would be surprised. Get out there and be seen, get out there and *see* your neighbors.

            I… don’t think I follow you. Aren’t you just restating what you said before? I mean… I reiterate my response. I don’t think I would be surprised at all. I’m reasonably familiar with who my neighbors are and what they’re like (well, some of them, and the rest in aggregate — there’s so many of them, and there’s enough churn that I couldn’t possibly get to know them all if I tried…, but still — I’m not, like, oblivious to who lives around me).

            Also, if “diversity” is an issue…well.

            Uh… well, what? I… legit don’t know what you’re hinting at, here. (Or is this more on the “cities are hellholes” topic…?)

            I betcha a nickle there are people picking up some garbage on your street.

            Property owners (or their proxies, e.g. building superintendents) pick up garbage in front of their lots (most of the time), in the decent neighborhoods. The Department of Sanitation sweeps the streets weekly. I have never observed any private citizens engaging in freelance volunteer garbage collection on their own initiative, as you describe.

            Ain’t there no little old ladies in your neighborhood?

            There are plenty. What do you propose I do with them?

            Ain’t no one ever dropped something in front of you? Pick it up, smile, hand it back, be on your merry.

            Sure, sure. I do that, everyone does that. But “walking around my neighborhood, watching for people who’ve dropped something, that I may pick it up for them” is hardly a plausible “constructive hobby”.

            When they’re off loading stuff outa the car, or trying to back up into a spot, offer to help.

            Ditto. Plus, most people would find such offers annoying at best and suspicious at worst.

            Anyway, of the things you listed, the last two things — volunteering at a library and participating in local politics — are basically plausible. But, as I noted, the former is basically a part-time job (“attend free classes” doesn’t really count as “volunteering” or as “improving/helping your community”, imo), and the latter requires being interested in / not turned off by politics. But sure, if that’s what you’re into, it’s not totally out of the question.

          • Said Achmiz says:


            Oh! I figured out what you thought I meant re: “diversity”! That’s actually not what I meant. I meant a different thing! I meant the word literally. And not, like, the other way.

            No, I was actually literally saying that there is a great breadth of cultural backgrounds, and so there really is not enough consistency in how folks relate to one another, and to neighbors, and to neighbors of different cultures, etc., to make “getting to know your neighbours” a productive exercise.

            It’s a triple whammy: first, people from different cultures approach these things very differently; and second, it’s hard to impossible to be aware of all of such differences; and third, the cultural divide between you and neighbors is itself something that both directly affects relations, and is also itself a thing that is handled differently by folks from different cultures.

            Combine that with a high population density, high invidual-level churn, and high rate of demographic/cultural shifts in neighborhoods, and it makes rather a mockery of any notion of “getting to know your neighbors” in a neighborhood…

    • Tibor says:

      I recently started drawing (mostly using tutorials from this Youtube channel) and I really like it. I am sometimes surprised how engaging it is, I spend 2 hours drawing and it feels like 15 minutes. And I get nice (well so far not that great, but I still enjoy seeing the progression) pictures out of it. I always considered myself really terrible at drawing, my handwriting is barely readable and I could never imagine drawing anything more complex than a cube. But it turns out most drawing is done by decomposing things into very basic shapes and gradually adding details in layers and that is a very enjoyable process for me.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        “And I get nice (well so far not that great, but I still enjoy seeing the progression) pictures out of it.”


        ….also more generally, mad props for getting into art. it’s a ton of fun.

    • Machina ex Deus says:

      I collect glass shards from the running path in my local park.

      Relatedly, I run.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      Literally construct. Many cities have at least one makerspace. One might be within public transit of you.

      If none exist, consider making one.

    • andrewflicker says:

      Home-crafts, like knitting, crochet, or papercraft are always good- painting can also be done in the home with some care. Cities often have pottery or sculpture studios open for the paying public as well- start with some classes, then just “rent” studio space as needed (a lot of times this is with a monthly studio membership fee).

  4. Cerby says:

    What’s up with the “alt.something” nomenclature that’s recently appeared in comments? I can’t tell from context or Google.

    • johnjohn says:

      If you look closely, you’ll notice it’s just one overactive zealot using it.

      I assume it’s a reference to usenet

    • Loquat says:

      One guy, who was originally banned some time ago for being excessively confusing, and has come back under various different handles since then.

      I figured the alt.whatever business was his way of jocularly implying the whatever to be aligned with the alt-right.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      As johnjohn said, it’s just one prolific poster (John Sidles) and his many sock-puppets. He has a very distinctive and confusing style of writing. He used to be a lot worse but has become more legible lately.

      That said, between the breathless media commentary on the alternative right and the “alternative facts” gaffe dropping alt- on things is a much more common construction now.

    • It goes back to the early, text based, pre-www internet, when the alt.* Usenet hierarchy was considered a bit anarchic. Used to to hang out on alt.philosophy myself.

  5. vV_Vv says:

    What is the actual rate of severe adverse effects of the common childhood vaccinations?

    The statistics that I could find on the Internet from sources that look authoritative (e.g. WHO, CDC, NHS) claim rates of serious adverse effects in the order of 1 in 100,000 to 1 in 1,000,000.

    But I recall that when I had a combo vaccine shot as a kid, I got a somewhat bad allergic reaction, serious enough to require treatment but not enough to require hospitalization. I doubt it was reported and entered any statistic.

    Was I one of the unlucky 1 in 100,000, or are adverse effects underestimated because of under-reporting?

    Or maybe mine didn’t fit the criterion of a “severe adverse effect”, even though any time that I’m about to get a vaccine shot and I mention this the doctors freak out and ready the corticosteroids and antihistamines. Are they being paranoid, or is there a real risk of a severe effect?

    • Deiseach says:

      Are they being paranoid, or is there a real risk of a severe effect?

      I think (and don’t take this as Gospel) that if you had a severe reaction before, then you’re more likely to have/more at risk of having one again because your system is sensitised. And given the chance of a malpractice suit, I’d imagine the doctors prefer to be ready for any eventuality even if it’s over-reacting, rather than risk it, something happens and you (or worst case, your surviving family) decide to sue their socks off. Plus they’d prefer their patients not die, but that should go without saying 🙂

      • vV_Vv says:

        if it’s over-reacting, rather than risk it, something happens and you (or worst case, your surviving family) decide to sue their socks off.

        Yes, I guess it makes sense.

        If a treatment has a 1 in 10,000 chance of a life-threatening effect then it may not be a big risk to me, but if the doctor performs it on 1,000 patients a year, then they could expect one life-threatening event per 10 years, which is a big risk to them.

    • keranih says:

      What is the actual rate of severe adverse effects of the common childhood vaccinations?

      Really, really, really freaking low. The rate is such that “severe” side effects generally don’t show up during pre-approval testing. 1/100,000 for a reaction requiring treatment is probably about right.

      I had a combo vaccine shot as a kid, I got a somewhat bad allergic reaction, serious enough to require treatment but not enough to require hospitalization.

      Something that requires treatment, even without hospitalization, is reportable. Nowadays, barring an error on the part of the MD, that would be reported and recorded. I can’t speak for what would have been going on when you were a toddler.

      I doubt it was reported and entered any statistic.

      I’m about to get a vaccine shot and I mention this the doctors freak out and ready the corticosteroids and antihistamines. Are they being paranoid

      Emmm. They don’t do that for most patients, whose risk is about 1/1000,000 (at most). The rate of repeats is not 100%, but it’s surely greater than 1/100,000. So for you, the office is aware that you have an “elevated” risk of reaction, and as they know that, failure to take precautions to treat would constitute malpractice to an extent that their lawyers would – assuming you had a fatal reaction (or if you were a child and became brain damaged) – insist that they settle out of court for millions rather than face a trial which could ruin the clinic, losing everyone their jobs, credit, decreasing future earnings, etc.

      So I don’t think “paranoid” is the right word. There *is* a real risk of a severe effect – but not just to you.

      In case this has you all relaxed and sleeping well at night – the steroids and antihistamines are to treat anaphylaxis – the most common side effect, with a rapid onset and a chance of fatality. There are other more insidious reactions which are much more rare but are more difficult to treat.

      • vV_Vv says:

        Really, really, really freaking low. The rate is such that “severe” side effects generally don’t show up during pre-approval testing. 1/100,000 for a reaction requiring treatment is probably about right.

        1/100,000 was in the rage of the numbers I’ve found. I was skeptical both because of my personal experience (I know, generalizing from subjective experience is a tricky business, but still…) and because of the statistics of prevalence of allergies (e.g. ~3% of children have severe food allergies, and 1-7% of the population has allergies to insect bites). If 1/100,000 is the right number, then it means that of all the stuff you can put into your body, vaccines are among the least likely to cause an allergic reaction, which, given that they are specifically designed to trigger an immune response, is quite remarkable.

        How many people are used in the pre-approval tests, and is any of them a child?

        Emmm. They don’t do that for most patients, whose risk is about 1/1000,000 (at most). The rate of repeats is not 100%, but it’s surely greater than 1/100,000. So for you, the office is aware that you have an “elevated” risk of reaction

        How elevated is it? If it like 2x the risk of the general population, then it probably would not make sense to take special precautions, if it is something like 10x or 100x, then it definitely makes sense.

        There are other more insidious reactions which are much more rare but are more difficult to treat.

        Oh, nice…

        • HeelBearCub says:

          e.g. ~3% of children have severe food allergies


          They aren’t allergic to random things, the allergies are going to be clustered around things which are allergenic. I’m sure we can find lots of foods that are much, much, much less allergenic than 3%

          Whereas vaccines will be designed in such a way as to be as non-allergenic as possible and still do their function.

    • nimim.k.m. says:

      Sometimes, very rarely, something very weird happens. Remember the swine flu pandemic of 2009 that started in Mexico, when European countries were ordering swine flu vaccines left and right? It turns out that one particular vaccine bought by some European authorities did make certain genetically at-risk subpopulation of children more susceptible to develop narcolepsy.

      cdc.gov has a list of long technical studies by ECDC and others. Popular news item in Science. However, even in this widely reported case (where there was both statistical evidence and later a biological mechanism found, which sounds quite like “case closed” to me), going by the numbers of that Science newsbite there were about ~3k cases linked to the flu shot that was given to ~30 000k Europeans. Which to me sounds like a quite rare effect.

      This does not exactly answer your question (because that particular vaccine wasn’t a common childhood vaccine and the reaction it caused was not exactly your regular allergic reaction either). But I think it gives credence to the idea that sometimes but very rarely something happens, and nevertheless, it can get noticed.

  6. Deiseach says:

    I’m going to tout this blog, since it’s been revamped and is now taking subscriptions so get in early and you can be notified of a new post via email! Now you can have all the conveniences of modern living and no longer have to get your information out of mouldy old books like a caveman!

    History for Atheists, which has me licking my lips in anticipation of the forthcoming promised post on the Great Library of Alexandria. This is a perennial weed that pops up in more or less virulent form, depending on what axes (if any) are being ground. In its most innocuous form, we get the “gee, it makes me sad to think of all that was lost with the destruction of the Library” which is generally harmless and only mildly irritating. In its worst forms – well, we get the infamous graphic combined with attendant ill-informed burbling and taking on blind faith something somebody wrote that they read that somebody said that somebody told them you had a boyfriend – sorry, veered into song lyrics there. I really look forward to having one convenient post to point people to the next time I grab them by the lapels, in a wild-eyed frenzy of yelling YOU’RE WRONG FOR THE LOVE OF GOD STOP REPEATING THIS TRIPE IT’S WRONG IT’S FALSE IT DIDN’T HAPPEN LIKE THAT into their startled faces after they’ve innocently reblogged something like the linked “gorsh we coulda bin so advanced by now, if only!”.

    Unsolicited testimonial, no money or other inducements has changed hands (sadly) and despite being an Australian of Irish Catholic descent, no, he’s not a long-lost cousin that I’m drumming up publicity for! Also don’t worry about any stealth evangelisation, he’s an atheist Australian of Irish Catholic descent.

    • Anatoly says:

      Wow, that blog is annoying as all hell. I tried to read through a few of the old entries that seemed interesting. It’s weird, because the author generally seems to know what he’s talking about, and I suspect his object-level arguments are usually good. But the meta-level is awful, on the level of the worst among the “New Atheists” he’s so fired up about.

      He seems to mostly write about historical misconceptions shared by most everyone, but somehow it turns out that “New Atheists” are to blame. E.g. when Neil deGrasse Tyson says something in passing that shows he believes the medieval flat Earth myth, that causes a blog post that combines actual debunking of the myth (including some rather interesting fine-grained details!) with weird ranting about New Atheists and long-winded rebuttals to some Twitter randos who are held to be representative of such. And when he gets personal about someone, it’s just nasty, asshole-level stuff.

      I try to avoid reading sarcastic assholes, especially those I mostly agree with.

      • timoneill007 says:

        He seems to mostly write about historical misconceptions shared by most everyone, but somehow it turns out that “New Atheists” are to blame.

        You seem to have got that backwards. Yes, the misconceptions about the “medieval flat earth” etc are commonly held. But the issue is that the very “New Atheists” who preach about checking facts, not just accepting ideas uncritically just because they appeal to you emotionally and looking at scholarship and expert analysis rather than commonly held ideas usually do precisely none of these things when it comes to history. Or rather, when it comes to historical ideas that fit their a priori prejudices about religion. So no, they are not “to blame” for these common misconceptions being widespread. They are to blame for accepting them uncritically because it’s convenient. That’s not rational.

        Neil deGrasse Tyson says something in passing that shows he believes the medieval flat Earth myth, that causes a blog post that combines actual debunking of the myth

        Because it was a topical and current way to introduce the subject and so address two issues (i) the way New Atheists like Donald Prothero uncritically parrot common myths like the “medieval flat earth” nonsense (see above) and (ii) the way New Atheists continue to use non-historians like Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Carl Sagan as sources of information about history, despite them have no training, background or even solid, detailed knowledge of the subject.

        long-winded rebuttals to some Twitter randos who are held to be representative of such.

        Having debated New Atheists on this very topic, I can assure you that they are representative of such. Very much so.

        And when he gets personal about someone, it’s just nasty, asshole-level stuff.

        Then you must be a delicate flower indeed. I rarely rise above mild sarcasm and a bit of wry scorn and get nowhere near the levels of vitriol dished out by New Atheists at, say, fundamentalists who indulge in the same kind uncritical, emotionally-driven and ideologically biased sloppy thinking as these supposed “rationalists”. Yet it seems that’s okay for fundie Christians but not okay for atheists …

        As I note in my FAQ, it’s my blog and I’ll post any way I like. But if you are really so prissy that a little ironic humour and mild scorn gives you the vapours then I suggest you take your delicate self elsewhere by all means. Others seem to find me pretty amusing.

  7. keranih says:

    I really liked the classified ads post of a few days back, but as mentioned, the advertisements were not actually classified. I was hoping that other alternative classification schemes (akin to the Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge) were available to recommend, but I am not finding any.

    So we might go to planetary divisions, or Roget’s original groupings, or just plain Latin headers.

    Any thoughts?

  8. Machina ex Deus says:

    Last Open Thread, smocc wrote:

    Rule number 1 is do not use Facebook. It is the worst possible venue for changing minds.

    This is very interesting: can anyone give possible explanations? Does this apply to other “social” media such as Twitter?

    Is this related to the phenomenon where sometimes giving people information against a position they hold makes them dig in their heels and become more attached to it?

    Have we accidentally stumbled on a means for making thinking more rigid? If so, is there any upside? E.g. better social cohesion, less chance of harmful memes* spreading?

    Remember that this is the Culture-War Free (non-CW?) Open Thread, so everyone’s forced to stick to the meta-level (he says, like he totally meant to do that).

    (* Like, um, anti-vaccine arguments…)

    • keranih says:

      Everything about facebook applies 5x to twitter.

      Tumblr would be better than twitting if a)the format wasn’t so hard to do conversations on and b) if Tumblr had a lower fraction of tweener girls.

      As for why…*sigh* I don’t know. I think it has to do with the internet allowing instant responses, and encouraging the high-emotional response over the high-information response. I also wonder about …emm….jimmie christmas, how do I say this?

      Okay, in academia/higher learning, at least when I went through it, we were taught a cultural habit/value of how to frame an argument. In the best circumstances, one learned how to gather information, build a hypothesis, test for weaknesses, and try to convince other people of the accuracy of your hypothesis. But that was a technical endeavor with specific vocabulary – see, for instance, most people use the word “theory” to mean “a thought/idea/argument that hasn’t been completely tested yet” where in the academia world, that’s a hypothesis (which ordinary people don’t use, much less be able to spell, and as a sign of how far out of “ordinary people” I am, me-the-horrible-speller can touch typle hypothesis right nine times out of ten) and ‘theory’ means something far more concrete. See also: the way “laws are made to be broken” is *nonsense* when talking about physics.

      So not only is facebook caught in the eternal September of “there are always new people who have heard this for the very first time ever”, it is also (increasingly) where people who are literate and computer-capable can talk and argue about things without having commonly agreed on standards for productively channeling the argument.

      Even worse, facebook is an uncontrolled environment, unlike academia, which means that the first fight we’d have is over who gets to set the standards. Humans gotta human, so that fight’s gonna be ugly from the get go.

      TL;DR: The Oatmeal interprets Jonathan Haidt

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      How often do you change something core to someone’s identity, like their political beliefs, through facts and rational argument?

      How much harder is it when the argument is taking place in front of every slice of your opponent’s social network including their family, their friends, their neighbors, and their coworkers? And there’s a permanent record? And our highly polarized political environment has conflated political ideology with personal morality, such that if you’re on the wrong side you’re not just wrong but evil?

      FaceBook is probably the worst venue possible for any kind of political debate. Literally I can’t think of anything worse.

      Here’s a question: what features could you add to FaceBook to make it worse for political debate?

      • smocc says:

        Your point about publicity and identity is important. In that vein:

        – Political affiliation labels next to everybody’s name that can’t be turned off. Which would be worse, if you have to select your own label, or if it is selected automatically for you by analyzing your activity.
        – When an algorithm detects an argument that looks like political debate it notifies all your friends. “Joe is arguing with a conservative! Come help out!”

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          – Political affiliation labels next to everybody’s name that can’t be turned off. Which would be worse, if you have to select your own label, or if it is selected automatically for you by analyzing your activity.

          Or if they weren’t even party labels. “FaceBook’s algorithm rates Joe’s argument as 12% racist, 47% xenophobic.”

          – When an algorithm detects an argument that looks like political debate it notifies all your friends. “Joe is arguing with a conservative! Come help out!”

          That’s a great one.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Or if they weren’t even party labels. “FaceBook’s algorithm rates Joe’s argument as 12% racist, 47% xenophobic.”

            Google Bad Ideas is working on that one.

        • Alex Zavoluk says:

          …did you deliberately choose these features to be similar to what facebook already does? A comment thread you are involved in will show up on your friends’ wall, even if you’re the only one involved (this happened to me recently), moreso if there are lots of comments. And many people have filled out the political affiliation section of personal information which their friends can see, and which is often public.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Dislike and Eyeroll reacts.

        • dodrian says:

          Yeah, I think Facebook would be a much more negative place if it had the dislike button which people have been calling for for years.

          The ‘Angry’ react is already beginning to have an effect though, it’s hard to see any news story that doesn’t have ‘angry’ in the top three.

          • dndnrsn says:

            But if somebody posts “the people I don’t like are terrible people” is an Angry saying “I am angry at you for saying this”, or “I too am angry at those terrible people”?

          • Nornagest says:

            @dndnrsn — That’s the trick, and I’d be astonished if the people who implemented it weren’t thinking the same thing. There are situations where an “angry” reaction is unambiguously pointed at the poster rather than the content, but they’re comparatively rare.

    • Nornagest says:

      This is very interesting: can anyone give possible explanations?

      Facebook is designed to maximize engagement. Everything about it plays into this. If it finds based on your pattern of behavior that you’re more likely to respond to cat pictures than to politics, it’ll show you cat pictures; but if it does find that you respond to politics, it’ll show you talking points from the tribe it thinks you belong to. It’s fine with getting you upset, but it wants you upset in a way that leads to you commiserating with other like-minded people on Facebook, not closing the app and storming off in disgust. So actual users that disagree with your views are something it tries to avoid showing you as much as possible, and to disguise if it can’t avoid it; this is why Facebook has no “dislike” button, and why it lets you unfollow your Republican uncle.

      • bean says:

        Huh. That must be why I get so many anti-Trump posts. It’s tagged my inability to not argue with anyone making false claims about nuclear weapons as ‘interested in Democratic politics’.

  9. birdboy2000 says:

    Okay, I have to ask, given the rogue AI antagonist. Anyone here watching Appmon? Too much filler for my taste, but it’s exploring some interesting concepts, and as a lifelong diigmon fan I’ve gotta watch it anyway.

  10. Kevin C. says:

    Interesting read, particulary as relating to certain libertarian ideas:
    A PDF copy of the second edition of Erwin S. Straus’s How to Start Your Own Country.

    In today’s crowded societies, once again many people are feeling the drive to break away from existing cultures and establish their own institutions. Ignorant of human history, most people treat such an idea with scorn. The world of the here and now is the only real world, they say. Talk of starting a new country is “escapism.” One’s duty is to direct one’s energies toward making contemporary society a better place to live. And so on. But those who know better realize that schism is the fundamental human method for dealing with frictions within groups of people. In fact, it has been so for so long that factors predisposing people to break off from one group and start another may even have seeped into the human gene pool (though that’s another and very controversial question).

    This brings us to the question of what sort of military force is required. If a new country project is planning to establish itself on territory now claimed by a small or weak nation, it might seem that there would only be a need for sufficient force to hold off that nation. But this reckons without the role of the great powers. Nations such as the United States, the Soviet Union, China, Britain and France are sufficiently powerful that there is effectively no point on Earth (including the seas), or even in the nearby regions of space, that is too remote for them to have an interest in what happens there. Other nations have more restricted areas of interest, typically taking in former colonies (for example, Italy, Portugal and West Germany). These nations are always seeking to extend and secure their spheres of influence, and to that end they maintain extensive networks of favored trading status, cash grants, military aid, technical assistance, etc. If an established smaller nation finds itself doing more poorly than it would like in a
    confrontation with a neighbor, there is always one or more of the great powers who would be only too happy to help — for a price (i.e., helping the great power expand and secure its influence). This help from the great powers may range from moral, political and diplomatic support, to money, materiel (weapons, vehicles, etc.) and direct intervention by the great power’s forces.

    Another implication of the do-it-yourself principle is that the formation of a fully sovereign new country is no refuge for the person who simply wants to be free of harassment by existing governments, but who doesn’t want to dirty (or bloody) his hands with affairs of state. There is not, and there never will be, any form of government that will benignly look after your interests in exchange for some small payment. Any official of any government can be expected to seek as much advantage as possible from his position. If you are not prepared to be ruled by others, you must be prepared to govern yourself. And this doesn’t mean such games as voting, or writing a letter to elected officials, or sending a few dollars to their campaign funds. It means making the tough decisions, and making the commitment to carry them out.

    It’s also interesting to compare what’s changed, and which trends have shifted, since it was written.

  11. Kevin C. says:

    An interesting paper, related to issues of crime, punishment, and deterrence discussed here not long ago “Optimizing Criminal Behavior and the Disutility of Prison by Giovanni Mastrobuoni and David A. Rivers. Specifically, they examine data on bank robberies for some interesting insights. The abstract:

    We use rich microdata on bank robberies to estimate individual-level disutilities of imprisonment. The identification rests on the money versus apprehension trade-off that robbers face inside the bank when deciding whether to leave or collect money for an additional minute. The distribution of the disutility of prison is not degenerate, generating heterogeneity in behavior. Our results show that unobserved heterogeneity in ability is important for explaining outcomes in terms of haul and arrest. Furthermore, higher ability robbers are found to have larger disutilities, suggesting that increased sentence lengths might effectively target these more harmful criminals.

    Though one of my favorite sentences has to be this one:

    Not surprisingly, traveling to the robbery by foot and targeting a bank with a security guard are both consistent with lower ability offenders.

    The conclusion, as I understand it, is that the more “planner”-type bank robbers (“higher ability”) are deterrable with longer prison sentences, but the more impulsive sort of criminal much less so.

  12. Scott Alexander says:

    I and a few colleagues submitted a paper to what looked like a good psychiatry journal. We got it back with conditional acceptance, what looked like some good peer review, and a notice that because the journal was open-access we would have to pay a publication fee of $2000. They claimed this was standard for open-access journals in order to subsidize them not having the usual subscription model.

    Is this true? Should I assume this journal is a scam?

    • Douglas Knight says:

      This is normal. In fact, many previously closed journals open articles a la carte on the basis of such payments. You are supposed to include the cost of publication in your grant proposals. You can try pleading with the journal to give you a discount on the basis of not having a grant.

    • Urstoff says:

      Yes, that is normal for open access. Journals are either funded by user fees, author fees, or some independent third party. With an open access journal, it obviously can’t be paid by user fees, so most opt for author fees. PLoS One, the most prominent OA journal, charges something like $1500 to authors.

    • PedroS says:

      Many OA journals do indeed have publication charges. That is normal. What is NOT normal is the lack of information regarding that prior to submission. That is a possible reason to suspect a scam. Are you sure you did not overlook that information during submission?
      I have emailed you to discuss that in private

    • John Schilling says:

      What Douglas Knight said, though it is more “the new normal” than “the way it’s always been”. Even legitimate subscription-model journals are starting to charge fees if, e.g., you want your graphs and figures in color. Why not, when science is a thing that is done with government or big corporate grants?

      Legit journals are usually receptive to, “…but I am a citizen-scientist without a blank check drawn on the taxpayer”, and it won’t hurt to ask.

      • PedroS says:

        “Even legitimate subscription-model journals are starting to charge fees if, e.g., you want your graphs and figures in color.”
        Actually , the extra charges for figures in color are not a new thing: they have been standard for way more than 20 years. I do remember that when I started my life in research (almost 20 yrs ago) , an atractive feature of the Journal of Biological Inorganic Chemistry was their willingness to print color figures for free, in contrast to most journals.
        In spite of being a subscription journal, the Journal of Biological Chemistry, in contrast, besides charging for color also had a huge page charge (probably 60-100 USD per black and white page at the time) and their papers were well known for having a footnote on their 1st page stating “The printing costs of this manuscript were partially defrayed by the payment of page charges. In accordance to US law, they are hereby marked as “Advertisement””. They could not even be downloaded for free unless 12 months had already elapsed from the printing date. For a brief time, JBC even had a “submission charge” , payable when uploading the manuscript and before editors had even deceided whether or not to send the paper to review.
        Subscription journals have always tried to get as much money as possible. The main difference in OA is that the extra money actually gets you something valuable: legally free download of the paper by anyone with an internet connection. The potential for corruption of the process, however, has always been there, even in our previous subscription-based world. Caveat emptor, always…

        • Brad says:

          It’s always a wonder to me that even the most rapacious businesses can be built on volunteer labor. I no longer even do those ‘rate your customer service representative’ things, much less would I volunteer to be an editor or peer reviewer for a for-profit journal.

          • cassander says:

            I’d bet that rapaciousness and ability to be build on volunteer labor are highly coordinated. People want to do something enough to do it for free can presumably be pushed further than those that are just doing it for the money.

  13. hoghoghoghoghog says:

    Can you suggest any non-anglophone blogs? Blogs are a great medium, and I think language barriers are still high enough that we should be able to find new ideas/styles of thinking in other languages that haven’t appeared in English.

  14. Le Maistre Chat says:

    This OT, le Maistre would like to share local history. Before Microsoft, Starbucks and ironic beards, Washington and Portland, Oregon were nationally famous for Boeing and the related D.B. Cooper skyjacking.
    On the day before Thanksgiving, 1971, a nondescript businessman calling himself Dan Cooper appeared at Portland International Airport, where he paid Northwest Orient $20 for a one way ticket to Seattle. After the Boeing 727 took off, he passed one of the three flight attendants a note claiming his briefcase was actually a bomb and this was a hijacking. Without informing the other 36 passengers, the pilot circles SeaTac airport for about two hours while waiting for orders from Northwest Orient and law enforcement. Meanwhile, Cooper made small talk indicating familiarity with The Seattle Tacoma area (“Looks like Tacoma down there”, “McChord AFB is a ten minute drive from The airport”). The airline agreed to his demands for $200,000 and four parachutes (two main, two reserve). Local law enforcement delivered the 10,000 $20 bills (sourced from a Northwest Orient bank account whose serial numbers were recorded for tracking such criminals) and parachutes (sourced from two different sports centers catering to the then nascent sport of skydiving), having coordinated with the northwest FBI office and Oregon Air National Guard.
    Cooper let the passengers and two flight attendants go, retaining the three man crew and attendant Tina Mucklow. He told the crew to fly to Mexico City, at minimum speed and 10,000 feet, with the airstairs down. He was told they could fly him to Reno at that speed and altitude to refuel for reaching Mexico City, but not with the airstairs down. Cooper consented to this compromise and they finally took off around 7 pm, into a rainstorm in the 40s Farenheit, with fighter jets and an FBI helicopter in pursuit. After donning a parachute, Cooper sent Tina to the cabin.
    This was the last time Dan Cooper was seen alive or dead. Somewhere between reaching 10,000 feet and dismissing Tina and 8:13 pm, when the crew recorded a pressure bump from the lowered airstairs, the skyjacker jumped into rural SW Washington, a temperate rainforest. His parachute was not seen from any pursuing aircraft, and armed FBI agents were waiting on the Reno airport tarmac to scour the 727 for Cooper’s hidey hole. All they found were his eight Raleigh cigarette and a cheap black clip-on necktie, discarded for safety. His escape shocked the FBI, as no skyjacker had ever jumped before*.

    *As early as 1972, there were Cooper copycats, all of whom either died or were caught soon after their successful landing.

    This case remains the only unsolved skyjacking in US (world?) history. This mystery that started in the then-obscure city of Portland captured the imagination of the US. The only material evidence to turn up later was $5,800 in rotting ransom money at Tina Bar, a beach on the north bank of the Columbia near where the Willamette enters it. Some of the mysterious points surrounding the case:

    How did Cooper get to the Portland airport without leaving evidence? The FBI interviewed taxi and TriMet bus drivers who had serviced the airport in the hours before that flight took off. While one can now take public transportation to that airport in anonymity via MAX light rail, that didn’t exist until 1986. You would have had to enter a bus door right next to it’s driver and show your ticket. No car with a plate traceable to a white male in his 40s had to be towed out of airport long-term parking. He either had to be driven, be a Portlander who lived within walking distance, or arrive from his home city on a one-way flight not long before appearing at a PDX ticket counter.

    The Boeing 727 was the ONLY airliner in domestic service whose airstairs could be lowered in flight. His entire plan hinged on inside knowledge of this: even the flight attendants claimed to be unaware. His preference had been for the crew to lower the rear stairs and fly that way, but he remained collected when they refused, rather than changing escape plans. When the FBI inteviewed the ticket counter employee, he said Cooper wanted reassurance that this flight was on a 727. Furthermore, the 727 had been tested as a paradrop platform by the CIA, something only CIA, some Boeing employees, and a small number of Vietnam vets knew. Consensus was you could only jump out the back of a prop plane and survive.

    By the time some of the money was found at Tina Bar in Feb 1980, the FBI was convinced that Cooper’s jump was fatal. This,or at least becoming separated from the money during a successful jump, is corroborated by the claim that no bill with a ransom serial number was ever returned to the U.S. Treasury bureau of printing and engraving as worn out for replacement. But how could a white male in his 40s with a job linked to inside knowledge of the 727 disappear without the FBI finding him via the national missing persons list? He’d have to be a homeowner AND laid off AND single AND estranged from his family for absolutely no one to miss him between Thanksgiving dinner and his next rent payment.

    Eventually, the FBI outsourced evidence collecting to an amateur group called Citizen Sleuths. They put the tie under an electron microscope and found pure titanium, rare earth elements, and microscopic spiral of aluminum alloy. Far from being part of a costume, that cheap tie seemed to be part of the dress code of a man who worked in one of the few industries that used pure titanium (not an alloy, as Boeing did) in 1971.

    Then there’s the weird pattern matching. He called himself Dan Cooper, which turned out to be the name of a daredevil pilot from an untranslated Franco-Belgian comic book. Part of the money turned up at “Tina Bar”, after him having spent the most time during the crime with Tina Mucklow and having tried to offer her a $2,000 bundle for her suffering.

    So unless you can rationally connect him to a suspect, it’s as if a man popped into existence at Portland International Airport, committed a crime, then jumped to his death, leaving evidence but none subject to 1971 technology.

    • bean says:

      A couple of points. First, Boeing has no particular connection to Portland that I’m aware of. Second, things like the airstairs being able to be deployed in flight are often public knowledge that just isn’t very widespread. During the MH 370 affair, some pilots claimed that you couldn’t turn the ACARS systems off in flight. I tracked down a copy of the flight manual, and discovered that you could. They have no reason to know this sort of thing, but that doesn’t mean it’s a secret.
      Third, the DC-9 also got a Cooper vane after the hijacking, so it was clearly possible to drop their stairs, too. I have a feeling that Cooper was more nervous about getting an airplane with no stairs, probably one of the 707s that Northwest Orient flew at the time.
      Fourth, Cooper apparently took a reserve parachute that had been disabled for use as a training aid and had been provided by accident. This should have been obvious if he was an experienced skydiver.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        E2In the late 1960s, Metro Portland had tech companies that subcontracted to Boeing, such as Tektronik of Beaverton, which Citizen Sleuths was recently trying to tie Cooper to (pure titanium was used in CRT production, and the cancelled Boeing SST was going to have CRT cockpit displays. Boeing itself expanded into Portland in 1974. Besides tech, Portland was heavily dependent on the timber industry.
        Seattle was about as dependent on Boeing as Detroit was on US auto makers. The cancelled SST led to such massive layoffs that “Will the last person leaving Seattle turn off the lights” was a catchphrase. Indeed, the Cooper tie could have been thrifted after someone laid off from Boeing or a subcontractor decided they no longer needed it.
        Good points about the DC-9 and obscure technical data not being secret.
        Lastly, the story as I understand it is that when the 727 landed at Reno Airport, the FBI found a sport parachute and the working reserve, the latter having been cannibalized with a knife. Cooper jumped with a military pilot’s main chute and the disabled reserve. The logic I’ve seen is that the suspect had military parachute experience and so was wary of a skydiving rig even if technically superior and that he jumped without a working reserve because he needed the chest pack to carry the 22 pounds of banknotes Northwest Orient had saddled him with. So he wasn’t necessarily a bumbling amateur.
        That said, he jumped into a temperate rainforest from 10,000 feet. With clouds below him and the serial number evidence, I consider it eminently reasonable that he failed to find a safe drop zone and died in water or caught on a tree. The big mystery there is the inability to match him to a missing person

        • bean says:

          the late 1960s, Metro Portland had tech companies that subcontracted to Boeing, such as Tektronik of Beaverton, which Citizen Sleuths was recently trying to tie Cooper to (pure titanium was used in CRT production, and the cancelled Boeing SST was going to have CRT cockpit displays. Boeing itself expanded into Portland in 1974. Besides tech, Portland was heavily dependent on the timber industry.

          Boeing has subcontractors everywhere. I’m in the aerospace industry, and I have no association between Boeing and Portland. As for CRTs, that’s a mighty thin link. CRTs go into lots of things which are not made by Boeing. At the very least, your phrasing was pretty clumsy.

          Seattle was about as dependent on Boeing as Detroit was on US auto makers. The cancelled SST led to such massive layoffs that “Will the last person leaving Seattle turn off the lights” was a catchphrase. Indeed, the Cooper tie could have been thrifted after someone laid off from Boeing or a subcontractor decided they no longer needed it.

          Again, I work in the aerospace industry. I’m well aware of how much pain the 2707’s cancellation caused.

    • Matt M says:

      Not super into this so I’m sure there’s some reason it’s implausible, but my theory was always that he made it to ground, and knowing that they’d be looking for him and tracing it, buried the money somewhere (possibly in multiple locations, including Tina Bar) and high-tailed it back to civilization under an assumed identity, with the intention of going back for it later when the heat died down.

      And then, for whatever reason, he never made it back. Died of something before he got around to it.

      • Aapje says:

        It seems more likely that he never opened the parachute, given the weather during the jump; as well as the air force pilots not seeing the parachute open on radar.

        • Matt M says:

          Then why wasn’t more of the money found?

          I grew up in the PNW and almost everyone is vaguely familiar with this story. My impression is that amateur treasure hunters have been scouring the forests looking for his money for decades. The fact that very little of it has been recovered suggests to me that it was deliberately hidden.

          • Aapje says:

            If Cooper crashed near a tributary with terminal velocity, he could have been buried in the mud. That would hide the money quite effectively, if it was still on his body.

            It took 9 years for some of the money to be found, which is consistent with the possibility that it took a long time for a flooding or such to dislodge some bundles with money that were near the body.

          • hlynkacg says:


            Meat-missiles are not known for thier ballistic coefficient or high AP value.

          • John Schilling says:

            Where are the Mythbusters when you need them?

          • CatCube says:

            I think you might be radically underestimating the difficulty of finding somebody in the woods. Here is a story of a hiker who wandered off the Appalachian trail and wasn’t found for two years, despite search parties coming within 100 yards of her position.

            Some German tourists got lost in Death Valley back in 1996, and the first body wasn’t found until 2009. That same website has information about Bill Ewasko, where they have a possible cell signal from his disappearance in 2010 and intensive searches still haven’t found his body.

            All three of these incidents had significantly smaller search areas than the hunt for Dan Cooper, and it still took years for the successful location of the missing–and one is still unknown 7 years later. It’s very easy for me to believe that Cooper died either on his descent or was injured on landing and died in a campsite and his skeleton has been missed by all the search parties. Those forests in the northern Columbia River watershed are really, really, remote.

          • John Schilling says:

            I think you might be radically underestimating the difficulty of finding somebody in the woods.

            So from your examples, two years, thirteen years, and seven-plus years. Back of the envelope, I get mean time to discover a random body in a random wilderness at 10 +/- 6 years, and so Cooper’s body going undiscovered for forty-six years as a literal six-sigma event at p=0.000000001

            Except that calculating a normal distribution from two and a half data points is kind of sketchy, and the relevant distribution almost certainly has fat tails, and we can do all sorts of handwaving about different types of wilderness and intensity of search and whatnot. So I think it can be safely said that we are dealing with weak estimates, but not necessarily underestimates.

            The useful question is, how can we go about getting better estimates? Is there a database of missing-persons reports indexed so we can pull out likely cases of “died alone in the wilderness” and see how many remain unsolved over time?

          • Matt M says:

            Also worth keeping in mind: Unlike MOST “person missing in the woods” incidents, this one comes with a potential 200k cash bounty. In other words, it’s not JUST friends, family, and various unlucky forest rangers who have been conscripted to search for some random person. It’s any number of potential treasure hunters, conspiracy theorists, etc.

            The incentive to find THIS body is significantly higher than the incentive to find some random German tourists who wandered off course…

          • bean says:

            In fairness, most people who go missing in the woods don’t get there by parachuting out of an airplane. This sets some limits on how remote their bodies can be. Cooper could easily have landed somewhere that’s several miles from anywhere of any significance. Searching for bodies is hard. There’s a lot of wilderness, and much of it is hard to get to to search.

          • Nornagest says:

            It took them a year to find Steve Fossett when he went down, after a major search, and the plane he was flying was a lot bigger than your average body.

          • John Schilling says:

            Fossett’s plane was of mostly wood-and-fabric construction, so it’s not clear that it has a larger signature than a parachute. But in any event, the hikers found the body, not the plane. So that’s a data point suggesting one year to find a body that fell randomly from the sky in a wilderness area.

            One data point means very little in this case, but what little data we are getting all points towards a reasonable expectation that Cooper should have been found decades ago, not a justification for a continued mystery. For that, we need the ones who are still missing.

          • Aapje says:

            @John Schilling

            Bodies decay/get eaten, so they tend to become increasingly difficult to find. A bunch of bones, in a void in the earth due to a high speed impact, overgrown with plants, can be invisible unless you step right on them and look down & don’t just assume that the bones are animal bones.

            Also, what bean said, people who walk tend to have certain preferences to which path they take. Those preferences are presumably semi-shared with other humans. Dropping into a random spot means that a body can end up in a place that humans naturally avoid or cannot reach without huge effort.

          • John Schilling says:

            Bodies decay/get eaten, so they tend to become increasingly difficult to find.

            And yet people here are citing bodies found one, two, up to thirteen years after the fact; I’m skeptical of scavengers that will consume a body down to the bone but wait a year or a decade to do so.

            But enough with the handwaving. The National Missing and Unidentified Persons Database is acknowledged to be incomplete, but it is searchable. Searching for cases where the described circumstances include the words “hike”, “hiking”, “wilderness”, “airplane”, or “aircraft” gives a total of 160 cases between 1985 and 2016. There do not appear to be any missing skydivers in that period, and there seems to have been a change in reporting standards in the mid-1980s.

            Still, we can plot the total by year and normalize for population. It is immediately apparent that people who go missing in the wilderness rarely stay missing for many years. Applying some spreadsheet-fu, the best fit, for people who stay missing for at least six months the first place, is that 26% will be forever unfindable and the rest will have a mean time to discovery of 1.72 years.

            So our prior for having Cooper’s body, assuming he died on impact or froze before reaching civilization, should be at least 74%. And almost certainly much higher than that because most dead bodies are found in the first six months, for which the NamUs database isn’t the right tool. If there’s a 90% early discovery rate, that would come to 97.4% for Cooper having been found already.

            Anybody have a better way than “guess 90%” to estimate early detection probability for a random corpse in a deliberately-searched forest?

          • Tom Clarkson says:

            Looking for a skydiver isn’t really comparable to looking for a lost hiker. A search covering every inch of a large wilderness area is basically impossible, so you have to focus on where they are likely to be.

            When a hiker goes missing, that starts with simply looking along the trails – most likely they just took a wrong turn somewhere. If that fails, think about where they might have gone off course and try the places where the proper trail isn’t so easy to follow.

            Even without trails you can eliminate large areas based on where people either wouldn’t go or where they couldn’t have been. From any given point you can make a good guess of where someone would go, for example they would walk along the open creek bed, not fight their way through the thick undergrowth to either side. And if they did try that, there would be footprints and broken twigs.

            If someone literally fell from the sky, you have no clues to work with. It comes down to luck whether someone eventually stumbles over the body, which could easily be halfway up a tree or in the middle of an impenetrable thicket.

            Given sufficiently wild terrain, entire aircraft can disappear for decades.

          • Aapje says:


            There do not appear to be any missing skydivers in that period, and there seems to have been a change in reporting standards in the mid-1980s

            So you don’t have any comparable data and yet you derive conclusions from the non-representative data that you do have.

          • John Schilling says:

            So you don’t have any comparable data and yet you derive conclusions from the non-representative data that you do have

            I tried to use the best available data to provide some sort of quantitative answer to the question at hand, and gave you every opportunity to contribute or even improve on my efforts. Instead you toss off a one-line “not good enough”. Fuck that; I am annoyed beyond reason, and I am done with this and with you.

          • Sivaas says:

            I’ll second John’s frustration with your response: he made a pretty significant effort to try to back up his statements with data, in a thread where most of the discussion is “well, it seems like this could have happened”. And he specifically acknowledges potential problems with his findings, and asks for better approaches.

            If you think the data is irrelevant because it doesn’t account for some factor, provide your own data that does account for that factor, and show how it changes the result. If you can’t be bothered to do that, then maybe don’t handwave his results.

          • CatCube says:

            @John Schilling

            My examples weren’t the most difficult searches you could come up with, they were the ones I had literally at the top of my head to discuss “is it really believable that somebody could just disappear in the woods?” To which I was attempting to provide a counterexample of “Yes, since there was an entire family that took over a decade to find despite being literally within walking distance of their van, in an area with next to no tree cover and climactic conditions and available supplies severely constraining ‘walking distance’.”

            Plus, they all happened from people going missing from known points (trailheads or from the German tourists’ van), so the search for them will be far easier and more constrained.

            This is in contrast to Cooper’s disappearance, which was in a wooded area with very wide boundaries, wide enough that they later decided it was probably in an entirely different watershed than the initial search, and no obvious landmarks that he was either going to or away from (the hiking trail for a missing hiker, or the boundary of China Lake NAWS in the Death Valley German case) And I did provide one case that’s still unsolved, despite the searchers being reasonably confident that the missing (Ewasko) is within an annulus of 8 to 11 miles from a cell tower, and further trip information cutting that annulus down to a sector much smaller. Dude’s still missing, despite enough information that you’d think he’d have been found either in one of the searches or stumbled across by another hiker, since he was literally hiking when he disappeared.

            I guess where I got on this was your statement of “…almost exactly what one would expect if the crime had been entirely successful and the criminal escaped to retire in peace.” Because it’s also exactly what you’d expect if the guy became a dirt dart and some of the bundles of money ended up in a tributary of the Washougal River.

            Given that Cooper’s escape was a night jump, in the rain, in street clothes, without a backup parachute, into an unknown location, with obstacles that couldn’t be seen in the dark on the drop zone, I think the second one is a far better explanation. I agree that it’s possible he made his escape, in that the sequence of events for an escape don’t violate the laws of physics or anything, I just don’t think it’s likely.

    • WashedOut says:

      I enjoyed your story but it was frustratingly unclear on a key point. I have to assume when you say Dan Cooper “let the passengers go” that the plane landed somewhere, everyone got off except the skeleton crew, then the authorities came with his money and parachutes, then they took off again.

      Was any attempt made to arrest him or negotiate with him while they were handing over the money and parachutes?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Sorry about that: the plane landed at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport at 5:39 pm, having taken off from the Portland airport at 2:50 pm on what was normally a 30 minute flight. Most of the negotiations were conducted while the plane circled the Seattle metropolitan area (Puget Sound). Pilot William Scott contacted SeaTac ATC, which relayed the news to local police, the northwest FBI office and Northwest Orient executives. President Donald Nyrop authorized the ransom payment and ordered all employees to fully cooperate with the hijacker, at which point FBI agents and local police took responsibility for sourcing the parachutes and escorting a Northwest Orient executive to collect the bank notes. SeaTac ATC informed Scott at 5:24 pm that all of Cooper’s demands had been met. Cooper instructed Scott to taxi to the most brightly lit section of tarmac available and darken the cabin to deter police snipers. The airliner’s Seattle operations manager, Al Lee, carried the cash-filled knapsack to the 727 in street clothes to avoid the risk that Cooper was armed and might mistake his airline uniform for a police uniform. Tina Mucklow met Lee at the aft stairs and relayed the items to Cooper, at which point he released the hostages. The plane’s total time on the SeaTac tarmac was two hours.
        You’re probably wondering why the local police and FBI assembled there didn’t attempt to arrest him during that vulnerable period, which I don’t know.

    • hlynkacg says:

      Perhaps this is the Mandela effect but I could have sworn I read about a stash of Cooper’s money being found back in the early 2000s. Something about the family of a former Northwest Orient employee finding the money while clearing out his estate.

    • rlms says:

      What happened to the (alleged) bomb?

      • Aapje says:

        He took the briefcase with him during the jump or tossed it out of the plane. The only information we have about the bomb was when the flight attendant got a glimpse.

    • John Schilling says:

      The observed outcome of the Cooper hijacking is almost exactly what one would expect if the crime had been entirely successful and the criminal escaped to retire in peace. Even the bit where a small fraction of the ransom money is recovered as if lost by a drowned man is a reasonable precaution for someone who would rather be written off as drowned than pursued as a most wanted fugitive. So naturally, it is officially assumed and asserted that Cooper died that night.

      1: Critical for assessing the probabilities here, what is the prior for a body dumped randomly in the Columbia river basin going undetected through an intensive search and forty subsequent years of normal human activity? Seems to me the legions of citizen-sleuths should by this time have reasonable statistics on the discovery of missing bodies in that environment; all I can readily find is handwaving.

      2: Even in the 1970s $200,000 wasn’t exactly live-happily-ever-after money, and that’s before accounting for the difficulty in laundering high-profile cash, so what was the plan? Disappear to some 3rd-world country where one can live reasonably well on a limited budget, or go back to a quiet middle-class American life with a lifetime of hookers-and-blow money stashed safely away?

      3: Cooper apparently jumped into a wilderness area on a literal dark and stormy night with only a businessman’s clothes and a briefcase, knowing that the hounds (also but not exclusively literal) would be set on his tail in the morning. For someone who seems to have put a fair bit of thought into how to carry out the hijacking and immediate escape, that’s a gaping hole in his plan. Did he really not think that part through, or did he think of something very clever? But note that $200k doesn’t buy you that much in the way of trustworthy and capable accomplices.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Given that none of the money has ever been returned to the treasury in the normal course of affairs, it seems escape to a third-world country is more likely than returning to a middle-class life. Use “clean” funds to leave the country, then spend the ransom money in the third-world country, where the notes might never be returned to the US as worn out.

        Returning to a middle-class life and then never spending the money seems rather unsatisfying.

      • gbdub says:

        If he did survive and escape, how do we explain none of the cash turning up? Is successfully laundering all that cash (to somewhere it would never go back to the treasury) more or less likely than not finding a body, if he died? Could he have lost all the money in the air (maybe the rest washed out to sea?) but still survived, broke but uncaptured?

        • John Schilling says:

          Or died because the guy he tried to launder the money through realized it was “hot” cash and didn’t like being played for a fool. That gets you a perfectly ordinary corpse in some city’s crime blotter, not a highly unusual corpse in the exact wilderness area people are searching for a fugitive.

          But some variant on “dead” or “dead broke” not long after the hijacking would be my bet. OTOH, I don’t know much about 1970s-style money laundering, domestic or foreign, so that’s another question: Where can cash go that it will subsequently stay away from the US treasury for 40-odd years?

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          To partially answer this, I would have to know how likely it is for any given marked bill to be returned to the US Treasury. I know almost nothing about this, and am interested in learning.

          For example, personally, I certainly don’t go looking up serial numbers on my $20s when I get them. OTOH, maybe bankers do this as a matter of routine, using a scanner and a computer database – but they didn’t have wheresgeorge.com in the 1970s, and even today it’s on the hard side, and considered a longshot.

          • random832 says:

            I don’t think it’s a matter of the individual bank looking up the serial numbers, it’s the bank looking at which of the bills are worn out and sending them back for new ones, and then (according to the claim) the treasury itself goes through all the returned ones and checks if any of them are marked serial numbers.

          • Matt M says:

            What’s really worth looking at is the fact that it’s not about all of the bills not making it back, it’s about not a single one making it back. I feel like that’s a long shot, even IF you go to Bangladesh or something. Of all the cash you spend there, not ONE bill makes its way into a reputable international bank where it will make its way back to the treasury at some point? Not ONE ends up in the hands of a traveling American tourist or a local who goes to America and spends it eventually?

            The odds of that seem exceptionally low…

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Matt M: “The odds of that seem exceptionally low…”

            Yeah, the reason I shared this story on a rationalist blog is that it seems just the sort of thing to apply Bayesian probability to.

            Given the Tina Bar find and no bill ever returning to the Treasury, we can define several scenarios of reasonable probability:

            1: Cooper died.
            2a: He survived and lost all the money during his descent.
            2b: He survived, lost some of the money, and hid the rest as a nest egg to spend once it was safe, which never came to pass (the statute of limitations on hijacking without homicide was 5 years, but the FBI got an Oregon judge to issue a John Doe warrant for the Flight 305 hijacker in 1976).
            2c: He survived, lost some of the money, and was able to render each bill’s serial number unreadable before circulating it.

            1 seems, prima facie, to have a high probability, but doesn’t the inability to match him a missing person lower it?
            2a also seems to be high probability.
            2b is really hard to believe. He never got desperate enough to spend a few of those hidden $20s on necessities? Never went to a church on vacation and dropped one in the collection plate to taunt the FBI with a cold trail?
            The probability of 2c is unknown to me.

          • Matt M says:

            In my assumed 2b scenario, he places some significant distance between himself and the hidden money. To escape the authorities, I assume he isn’t from the PNW at all, but learns the terrain well enough beforehand to execute his plan. After he hides the money, he returns to his home on the east coast somewhere, with the intent of going back for it several YEARS later (at least), and dies in the meantime. So he can’t just spend it on a desperate whim.

          • John Schilling says:

            2b also works if Cooper survives the hijacking but dies early for some unrelated reason (including other criminal activities, if the hijacking wasn’t a unique experience for him).

            Let’s add as possibilities:

            3) The Treasury’s ability to automatically track worn-bill serial numbers in the 1970s may not have been all that good to begin with. Possibly coupled with 2c, if Cooper e.g. arranges an “accidental” coffee smudge on the serial number of each bill.

            4) There may be black and/or overseas markets where US currency routinely circulates for decades without being returned to the US treasury.

            5a) Money launderer checks the serial numbers of their own cash against watch lists, and burn or shreds the now-too-hot-to-handle stuff for their own protection.

            5b) Cooper didn’t plan for the FBI/Treasury to release the serial numbers and so had no way to safely launder his loot. Either went back to his day job or turned to some other sort of crime, but never touched the hijacking money.

            6) The money was never the point; Cooper had some other reason for hijacking the plane and didn’t want people looking too closely into his motives.

            Some of these probabilities are easier to assess than others. And we don’t want to overstate Cooper’s competence in assessing them – the hijacking itself was competently planned, so it is reasonable to assume that Cooper had something better in mind than walking into his bank the next day with $200,000 in a briefcase and saying “I’d like to make a deposit”, but even criminal masterminds make mistakes.

          • random832 says:

            > 6) The money was never the point; Cooper had some other reason for hijacking the plane and didn’t want people looking too closely into his motives.

            This is the point in the discussion where someone suggests he was a time traveler trying to avert some future catastrophe by causing the cooper vane to be installed on all airliners with flight-deployable airstairs.

          • Matt M says:

            I put some stock in #6, with the ulterior motive being “just wanted to see if he could pull it off.” That it was more about the accomplishment than the money itself.

          • dndnrsn says:


            Dr. Bernard Cooper (1980-2023), theoretical physicist. Brilliant researcher. It’s been a year since he disappeared, and the FBI has declared him officially dead. Sad story. He was just never the same after his family died in that air accident.

  15. Jaskologist says:

    Confessions of Augustine discussion thread

    This time around we’ll discuss chapters 4-5.

    Previously: Chapters 3-4.5, Chapters 1-2, Intro

    Texts: Online | eBook | Audio | Latin | Abridged dead tree

  16. Wrong Species says:

    To what extent does learning about the ideas of others constrain your own thinking? Some people will study a subject for so long that they implicitly accept some propositions that may be false. In this case, you need an outsider to take a look from a different perspective. On the other hand, you may think you are being original but if you had read the literature, you would realize that this is a well known banal attack which has already been addressed. In this case, you’re just wasting everyone’s time. Or maybe neither of these particularly matter and it just takes a super genius to conceptualize a new idea which will move the field forward, regardless of whatever assumptions the profession already has. So if a hypothetical person wanted to have an impact, is there an optimal amount of literature they need to study and to what extent does this marginality matter?

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      This is even a hard question if you assume that the community is never wrong (which, while false, isn’t THAT false for some fields like mainstream math).

      Anecdotally, professors seem pretty likely to give grad students the “read less and produce more” advice. This is probably survivorship bias; autodidacts should see more variance, and only the extremely successful become professors. But if we take it at face value it suggests that, at least in a formal grad-school context, and in a field where there isn’t much danger that your work will make humanity more ignorant rather than less, people tend to spend too much time reading and not enough time doing.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Wouldn’t it make more sense the other way? If a field has a good track record, then we would want to learn as much as possible from it and for a field that doesn’t, we should try out new ideas.

  17. Brad says:

    I just ate my first meal square. I had to heat it up, I don’t think it wouldn’t have been at all palatable refrigerator cold. Hot, it was a little dry but certainly edible.

  18. Atlas says:

    Does anyone have reading recommendations to understand/thoughts they’d like to share about Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun? I enjoyed it quite a bit, but I felt like there was a ton of symbolic and allegorical subtext that I missed—I vaguely grasped that Severian parallels Jesus/solar deities, and I felt like he was a sort of Dante the Pilgrim figure in that he’s a mix of a classical hero and an early Christian saint, but there was a lot of What Did He Mean By This? for me. But unlike older and more canonical works of complicated literature, I can’t just go to my university library and find a shelf of books of scholarship about it, so any recommendations/thoughts are much appreciated.

    • Jugemu says:

      It’s my favourite book but I agree that there’s a lot that not exactly obvious. One thing that I didn’t know till it was pointed out is a relatively cheesy pun – the whole strange story about the water maze was a result of an in-universe mixup between the *Minotaur* (& Theseus etc) and the *Monitor* (of Monitor vs. Merrimack/Battle of Hampton Roads in the US Civil war). I recognized the former but not the latter.

      In terms of more direct less alegorical elements of the story, there’s also a bunch of stuff about how half the characters are related or the same person as another character etc – some of which is pretty much confirmed and some more speculative. This is hidden in the story by the fact that Severian is bad at recognizing faces (including his own). In general there’s a bunch of stuff you have to be paying attention to notice, some of which is fairly obvious and some of which is vague enough to be speculative/controversial.

      IIRC there is/was a Gene Wolfe usenet group with various discussions about his books. There’s also a book called Solar Labyrinth with some guy’s theories about New Sun but I heard it was a mixed bag.

    • Telofy says:

      It’s my favorite five-book tetralogy in twelve volumes, and I’ve written an essay on it. The essay focuses on the psychology of the narrator-protagonist, which I’ve found to be key to getting an idea of the actual plot of the story. All the secondary literature – Lexicon Urthus, Solar Labyrinth, Attending Daedalus, the Urth mailing list, etc. – have been very helpful in cracking it (to a point), but Luria’s Alexander Luria’s The Mind of a Mnemonist was also very insightful! (But here you can take a shortcut and read my essay. :-3) So to a point you can just go to that shelf in your university library, but it got to be a pretty awesome library indeed. 😉

      Of the secondary literature, I’ve found Lexicon Urthus to be the most helpful and rigorous. In Solar Labyrinth it’s usually clear which theories of the author are more, uhm, speculative and which are more helpful, but I think it skips over most of the better-known aspects of the hidden story to propose novel theories, so it’s not as helpful as Lexicon Urthus (so I would agree with Jugemu). Iirc, I read Attending Daedalus only in excerpts.

  19. gbdub says:

    Has anyone here been watching the Starz American Gods series? So far I think it’s been pretty well done, excellent casting and visuals. Not super faithful to the books (I suspect they are expanding things a bit to stretch out to multiple seasons) but much more so than the other Gaiman property on TV right now (Lucifer, which is very fun in its own way but not at all like the comic). And some of the additions (in particular the Laura episode) were great.

    BTW, if you’re interested in seeing the show legally but on a budget, I’d recommend waiting a month and then watching it on the Amazon app. There are only 8 episodes in this season (episode 5 just aired) and you can get a 1 week free trial of Starz on Amazon – plenty of time to binge watch the season. After that it’s relatively cheap ($8 I think) a month, so if you can’t wait but don’t find the Starz back catalog interesting, you can still watch the whole first season for one month’s fees if you start now.

    • rlms says:

      Yes. I agree with your take on it. I’d prefer the pace to be a little faster, but they have captured the feel of the setting well, which I think is the more important thing in this case.

      • gbdub says:

        I’m interested to see what they do next week with Vulcan, a new character. Given the subject, and snapshots in the preview with guys in what looked like paramilitary Vulcan uniforms, I’m a little worried it will be a ham-handed caricature of American gun culture, but hopefully it will be another good addition.

        I’m a bit disappointed that it looks like we won’t be getting the other “spooks” (Mr. Town, Mr. Stone, etc) since I think the “men in black” meme (and conspiracy theorizing in general) are still alive and well. Technical Boy’s character and appearance deviate from the books the most of the characters introduced so far – I haven’t decided yet whether I like the change (obviously the internet is a very different place than it was in 2001, but the bratty neckbeard Technical Boy of the novel would still work, or going with more of a Steve Jobs or Elon Musk type. Stripped of his VR limo, I’m not sure I’d recognize the show’s Technical Boy as the tech geek avatar of the internet he’s supposed to be).

    • Anon. says:

      I’m a huge Bryan Fuller fan so naturally I really like it. Great style, and the casting is absolutely perfect. Ian McShane in particular is incredible.

      • gbdub says:

        Hannibal is the only other of his shows that I’ve seen, but you can definitely tell they share influences.

        I’m hoping this ends up more fun than that, Hannibal I thought dragged a bit and got, I don’t know, weird for the sake of weird (I’ve not finished the last season though – I put it down for awhile so I’ll probably restart it fresh after American Gods ends for the season, and give it a second chance). Obviously weird works well for a Gaiman story about modern gods, but dragging could be a concern if they try to stretch this too much (they have at least one, probably at least two, more seasons planned. Apparently they plan or are at least open to bringing in parts of Anansi Boys, and as far as I know Gaiman is still working on a direct sequel to American Gods, so maybe there will be plenty of material).

        Are you familiar with the book? If not, do you think the show is giving you enough to go on? I’ve read some reviews from people who haven’t read the novel, and it definitely shows (e.g. Someone thought Mr. World was supposed to be Google, a mistake made understandable since they haven’t showed his other spooks).

  20. Longtimelurker says:

    Have anyone here been reading The Good Student? Is the payoff coming anytime soon?

  21. acrimonymous says:

    Imagine I just started using the Internet today. What’s the #1 thing I should do to improve my Internet experience?

    Is it an installation? A behavior? A site?

  22. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I was feeling drained and very unhappy for no obvious reason, and I remembered that B12 had helped me with feeling frayed around the edges in the past.

    I got some ordinary B complex (house brand from Whole Foods), and then Natures Way, and the improvement in my mood has been amazing. It’s only been a few days, but I’m hoping it’s stable. My diet is reasonably good– meat, veggies, moderate carbs (not a lot of simple carbs)– so I don’t think I’m wildly deficient.

    Any thoughts about supplements and depression? One of my friends told me that vitamin D was helpful when he couldn’t afford anti-depressants.

    I’ve been saying that if you feel like crap for no particular reason, B complex is a cheap safe experiment. Is this reasonable?

  23. Gobbobobble says:

    It looks like the new report button doesn’t have a confirmation dialog? As someone prone to highlighting, I’ve already accidentally reported like 3 random comments. Apologies for the noise.

  24. thepenforests says:

    Any estimates for what the equivalent page length for Unsong might be if it were a book? Just a rough estimate would do based on word count or whatever.

    (I keep track of every book I read in a spreadsheet, and I can’t stand to leave a column blank)

    (Also: holy crap Unsong was amazing. Congrats Scott!)

  25. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    This is an idea to kick around, not a strong recommendation.

    I’m wondering what a subculture that avoided superstimuli would look like. The Amish might be an example, but I don’t think they started out avoiding superstimuli as a general principle. Also, I wonder what such a culture would look like if it weren’t quite so suspicious of new technology.

    So far as I know, what distinguishes superstimuli is lack of satiation. Hijacking reflexes away from their evolutionary function might also be part of it.

    Part of what makes designing such a culture challenging is that I think aesceticism is a superstimulus, and so is telling other people to stop doing things they like.

    Questions: What counts as superstimuli for people? Is avoiding superstimuli in general a good idea, or does too much fun and invention get lost that way? For that matter, is important work done by people who find that work to be a superstimulus? What would an anti-superstimuli (sub-?)culture look like?

    Buying things is definitely a superstimulus for a lot of people, and there are probably two aspects. One is the thrill of the hunt, and the other is “I want it, I buy it, I have it”.

    • The Nybbler says:

      No superstimuli means no porn, few recreational drugs, no TV, no junk food, no Internet. You could say “little loss” to that, but it likely also means no really engrossing books, strict limits on exercise, and in general avoiding the things which can obsess you. That last means no getting lost in a math problem, or a philosophical one, or even a practical one. So I think avoiding all superstimuli all the time is probably not a good idea; you will indeed lose too much fun and invention.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        A non-superstimulus internet seems theoretically possible, but I’m not sure what it would look like.

        Also, what’s a superstimulus for one person might be nice but no big deal for another. Part of a non-superstimulus culture might be people shying away from what they overreact to. There are people who do that already.

        • johnjohn says:

          A simple idea for a non-superstimulus internet (or at least, significantly less stimulating) could be something like the current internet, but where content can only be updated once a day. (Or maybe even once a week?)
          Cut out the “refresh to get a hit of dopamine” conditional response that seems to be impossible to avoid as it is now

  26. Wander says:

    Would you consider it worth learning sign language? For context, I’m not American, so I wouldn’t be learning ASL, and as far as I can tell the number of people who speak BANZSL is probably something around 300 000.

    • Aapje says:

      AFAIK, deaf people tend to build their own communities, so as a non-deaf person, you are less likely to interact with them than their numbers would suggest. I would argue that it’s only (possibly) worth it if you have a friend/family member who is deaf or if you interact with a deaf community regularly for another reason.

      In general, I see more benefit in learning a different ‘normal’ language, as it enables you to enjoy cultural expressions from other cultures (more). I regularly run into those in the course of daily life, but pretty much never into a situation where I think that knowing sign language would enrich my life.

      • Wander says:

        That’s about the perspective that I had to begin with. I certainly have (several) other languages that I feel I’d be better off learning before sign language.

    • Creutzer says:

      In the same vein as Aapje: learning a sign language “just so” out of interest is pointless. They are much harder to learn than spoken languages for several reasons. There are fewer media and no books in sign languages; there are no grammars; there are rarely, if ever, decent dictionaries. You basically have to learn through being directly taught in person and regularly interacting with speakers. And becoming used to an entire new modality for language takes a lot of training.

      At the same time, the payoff is basically null if you do not have a strong reason to interact with the deaf community. Possible reasons: you want to do research, you have family or friends who are deaf, you want to become an interpreter, educator, or a social worker. If none applies, forget it.

      • Wander says:

        There are fewer media and no books in sign languages; there are no grammars; there are rarely, if ever, decent dictionaries. You basically have to learn through being directly taught in person and regularly interacting with speakers.

        As it turns out, the local dialect that much of my extended family speaks and that I’m attempting to learn also suffers from these problems; having no written form, no hard grammatical rules, and no real resources for learning outside of the community.

        • Creutzer says:

          No doubt. When I said “harder than spoken languages”, I was making a sloppy generic statement, thinking of more or less typical cases of languages one might set out to learn, not local varieties or languages that have not given rise to much of a civilisation.

      • Deiseach says:

        Sticking my tuppence worth in: there are sign languages that are primarily not for the deaf but for children and adults with intellectual disability and communication needs. Going by the Irish example, they’re much more simplified than languages for the deaf, but for children who are non-verbal they can make a big difference.

        • Iain says:

          Also, it’s also apparently possible to teach babies sign language before they are able to talk. My cousin’s daughter was vehemently signing “meat, please” well before she was capable of talking, or of grasping the difference between “please” and “now!”. Nobody involved is deaf.

  27. Kevin C. says:

    It’s pretty late in the thread, so I’m not sure anyone will notice this. But I was reading this Aeon essay on “utopian” and intentional communities, and how and why they fail or succeed, and there’s a bit where the author points out that the high failure rates and short lifetimes of these communities aren’t all that exceptional when compared to other endeavors; we miss just how overwhelmingly common failure is (perhaps because the few surviving, enduring institutions are more visible than the many short-lived failures):

    Why then do utopian communities so often fail? Interestingly, attrition rates for intentional communities are not all that different from many other types of human endeavour. The failure rate for start-ups is around 90 per cent, and the longevity of most companies is dismal: of the Fortune 500 companies listed in 1955, more than 88 per cent are gone; meanwhile, S&P companies have an average lifespan of just 15 years. Can we really expect more longevity from experimental communities? And if not, what can we learn from an audit of these experiments? What have been the key factors undermining communitarian living?

    • dodrian says:

      I’m not sure comparing communities with companies is fair. Companies may be built around a vision, but as times change it usually necessitates that the vision changes too (consider that Amazon originally was an online book store, they’ve since expanded into a marketplace and fulfillment company, and I believe their most profitable component is now from their technological services).

      (an afterthought: How many of those companies from the ’55 list are defunct vs how many were absorbed by more successful ones?)

      I would be more curious in seeing a comparison of the failure rate of utopian communities with that of say, religious orders. I know that there are Catholic religious communities that are over 500 years old, I would guess that there are even older Buddhist communities. How long does the average monastery last?

      • Matt M says:

        It might also be unfair to compare an individual monastery (which almost certainly has the backing and assistance of its religious order in specific, if not its entire church generally) with utopian experiments that are brand new and have the backing of essentially no one outside themselves.

        It’s like comparing the failure rate of McDonalds franchises with that of brand new first-location family restaurants.

        • dodrian says:

          Fair point!

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Also I wonder if longevity for religious communities is U shaped (with a shorter right hand) when the independent axis is “weirdness of religion.” Start a Catholic or Buddhist monastery? High longevity. Start a sect that’s based on a slight tweaking of some mainline Christian religion? Low longevity (it’s weird, but not weird enough to make people really invest). Start a sect based on bizarre UFO worship? Medium longevity (anyone willing to go all-in on worshiping the Zorglopians is in for the long haul).

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Religions are the longest-lived human institutions, so it may be unfair to compare communities that have support from religions to communities that don’t.

      • Deiseach says:

        I think religious communities last (and indeed often they don’t; new ones can pop up and fade away but even established ones can wither when the society and culture around them changes) exactly because of the long history; there are guidelines and trial-and-error and learning by experience and finding out “okay, yeah, we really need some kind of structure and system of accountability here”.

        Modern secular utopian ones tend to try and re-invent the wheel, or not even be aware in the first place that there is a tradition to draw upon, so they go in with high expectations and idealism all based on their own views and notions, and then find out that principles get ground down by the difficulty of trying to live in community, and fold.

        It is hard to live intentionally; people have romantic notions of what joining a convent or a monastery involves, and the first year or two of a novitiate involves getting all that out of your head and settling down to what it’s really like (as against the idealised version). Actually, that’s what postulancy is for; a period of anywhere between six months to two years before you even begin on the novitiate, which is another three years or more before profession and taking final vows (and even there, there may be a period of between three to six years for temporary profession before taking permanent, final, really really sure this time profession).

    • Wrong Species says:

      Companies are more competitive and single-mindedly in pursuit of profit. Even a good company isn’t going to work if it can’t compete against established players and other start-ups. Intentional communities are just that, communities. The fact that so many fail when their only goal is to keep people living there suggests a deeper problem.

  28. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Does anyone know of a book or other resource about the history and effects of bounty hunting of animals?

    Meanwhile, efforts to control badgers and feral cats

    “An eight-year study with experimental culls over five years, the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT), showed positive outcomes locally, but these were compensated by negative effects caused by the breakdown of the social groups of badgers, which leads to increased migration and thus disease spreading. A simultaneous cull across the south-western parts of Britain that are affected by TB, however, would be prohibitively expensive. Thus the authors of the report published in 2008 concluded that “badger culling is unlikely to contribute positively to the control of cattle TB in Britain.” Accordingly, the government abandoned the plans.”

    • Aapje says:

      It’s already quite hard to study the effects for single species, so it may be hard to draw extensive conclusions across species. Especially since the goal of culling programs tends to differ, stabilizing a species at a level below what the environment can sustain is easier than full extinction. Preventing the spread of disease is a different goal and has alternatives that are not valid for cases where the goal is to prevent damage to the environment caused by overpopulation of certain species. Stabilizing a population through permanent culling is easier than making a species extinct.

      In some species, it has been found that eliminating animals resulted in greatly increased levels of reproduction, while in others it did not (like elephants). Some animals are much easier to hunt than others (usually, the bigger, the easier).

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