Did you know: JRR Tolkien’s great granddaughter, Ruth Tolkien, is the only blind person in the UK to be a competitive fencer. She is currently ranked the #186th best fencer in the country.
Alpha – an ambiguously-AI-automated alliterative account about abiogenesis. As an annotator already announced, “absolutely an amazing achievement”.
Sarah C is interested in a potential sepsis cure and pleads for you to consider helping a hospital fund a study. Outside my area of expertise, except to say that sepsis is really bad and curing it would be pretty great, plus I trust Sarah.
Neerav Kingsland: Ignoring Educational Productivity Is Immoral: “studies consistently find urban charter schools outperform traditional public schools while spending around 20% less per-pupil…what, as a society, could we do with this 20% extra funding that urban charter schools could save us?” I would love to see a debate between Neerav Kingsland and Freddie deBoer – I can host or otherwise try to make it happen if they agree.
New front on the battle to prove that zero-calorie sodas must be bad in some way: does CO2 in carbonated beverages induce ghrelin release and increase food consumption?
According to Muslim legend, the Jews will try to hide behind trees to escape the Last Judgment, but the trees will shout “There is a Jew behind me, come and kill him!” – except for the Gharqad tree, which is apparently pro-Jew. This has led to all sorts of amazing conspiracy theories, like that Israel is planting a bunch of Gharqad trees to ensure hiding places for its citizens. And here’s a book about Hamas terrorists with an interesting passage on the Gharqad tree legend.
A paper claims that housing restrictions have “lowered aggregate US growth by more than 50% from 1964 to 2009″.
Explaining The Gender Gap In Crime: The Role Of Heart Rate. “A low resting heart rate is widely regarded as the best-replicated biological correlate of antisocial and criminal behavior” Apparently it might have to do with something general level of autonomic arousal being lower in (to be blunt about it) emotionless sociopaths?
The best Internet responses to Trump touching a glowing orb in Saudi Arabia.
I don’t have a source for this, but it looks right, and it’s a really cool way of presenting the data:
The mathematics of Girih tiles, a beautiful form of Islamic art which applied principles of Penrose tilings five hundred years before it was discovered in the West.
Vox tries its hand at an explainer about the Sam Harris / Charles Murray interview. Some criticism from Gene Expression, The Misrepresentation Of Genetic Science In The Vox Piece On Race And IQ. From Elan, The Cherry-Picked Science In Vox’s Charles Murray Article. From Sam Harris, an accusation that the article just blatantly lies about the contents of the publicly available podcast (one of the authors later apologizes for this, but Vox hasn’t changed the article). From Professor Emeritus Richard Haier, who called it a “junk science piece” and tried to write a counterpiece for Vox (they refused to publish it, but it’s now up on Quillette). And even from other Vox reporters who thought it was journalistically shoddy. As for me, I think the article was as good as it could be under the circumstances – while it does get some things wrong and is personally unfair to Murray, from a scientific point of view I’m just really glad that the piece admits that IQ is real, meaningful, and mostly hereditary. This was the main flashpoint of the original debate twenty-five years ago, it’s more important than the stuff on the achievement gap, and the piece gets it entirely right. I think this sort of shift from debating the very existence of intelligence to debating the details is important, very productive, and worth praising even when the details are kind of dubious. This should be read in the context of similar recent articles like NYMag’s Yes, There Is A Genetic Component To Intelligence and Nature’s Intelligence Research Should Not Be Held Back By Its Past.
AskHistorians: Did Roman legionnaires get PTSD? “For the Romans, people experiencing intrusive memories were said to be haunted by ghosts…those haunted by ghosts are constantly depicted showing many symptoms which would be familiar to the modern PTSD sufferer.”
Somehow I went through medical school without ever learning that going in hot tubs while pregnant can be a risk factor for birth defects.
Like a food blog, except it’s RPG rations for dwarves, elves, orcs, et cetera.
Highly educated people are more likely to get brain tumors. The article mentions the boring hypothesis that they just have better access to medical care (but then how come most other cancers are higher in the uneducated?), but also proposes the much more interesting hypothesis that “having more brain cells or greater brain activity somehow increases a person’s risk”.
Future of Humanity Institute in Oxford is looking for a research assistant for Toby Ord (founder of effective altruism, currently working on a book on existential risks). If you’re interested, check out the job details and contact info.
According to the Guinness Book Of World Records, the most fraudulent election in history was the 1927 Liberian presidential contest, in which incumbent Charles King received 234,000 votes despite there being only 15,000 registered voters.
The “moderate drinking increases lifespan” vs. “that’s obviously just a confounder based on only healthy people drinking” wars continue, with the latest volley being that fruit flies and chickens exposed to alcohol vapor live longer. I was previously on the “obviously just a confounder” side of the debate, but the animal studies sound pretty convincing.
Rudyard Kipling, H.G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, P.G. Wodehouse, G.K. Chesterton, and A. A. Milne all played on the same amateur cricket team. The team called themselves the Allahakbarries “[under] the mistaken belief that Allahu akbar meant ‘Heaven help us’ in Arabic.”
Heredity watch: Elon Musk’s maternal grandparents were well-known pilots and explorers, and Musk’s mother spent part of her childhood on various family expeditions in search of a lost city in the Kalahari Desert.
The best new blog I’ve come across recently is Samzdat, which among other things has been reviewing various great books. Their Seeing Like A State review is admittedly better than mine, but I most appreciated The Meridian Of Her Greatness, based on a review of Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation. Go for the really incisive look at important ideas and social trends, stay for the writing style.
The Less Wrong Wiki hosts a List of Rationalist Podcasts.
Behavioral Individuality In Clonal Fish Arises Despite Near-Identical Rearing Conditions. Worth interpreting in the context of my post Non-Shared Environment Doesn’t Just Mean Schools And Peers – even fish raised in exactly the same environments will show “non-shared environment” effects, probably because of something like embryogenetic randomness.
An easier way to read the Less Wrong Sequences online at readthesequences.com.
Mark Zuckerberg Calls For Universal Basic Income In His Harvard Commencement Speech. Sure, Silicon Valley people call for lots of things, but this seems especially important insofar as Zuckerberg seems like he’s positioning himself to run for President at some point.
An analysis showing Donald Trump’s speech patterns getting less fluent and more bizarre over the past few years – might he be suffering from mild age-related cognitive impairment? Also, given that this can be pretty subtle (cue joke about Trump) and affect emotional stability in complicated ways, should we be more worried about electing seventy-plus year old people to the presidency?
A sobering statistic on the difficulty of dialing back mass incarceration (incompletely sourced, but seems to check out): “if America only jailed murderers and rapists, it would still have more prisoners per capita than Western Europe”.
Measures Of Dogs’ Inhibitory Abilities Do Not Correlate Across Tasks. A lot of good cognition studies are being done on dogs these days; this one suggests that we don’t yet have a good general concept of “inhibition” that we can use to say that some animals (people?) have better self-control in general than others.
A more recent study on the evolutionary history of Ashkenazi genetic diseases (paper, popular article) claims that Tay-Sachs is probably the result of evolutionary selection, but that others (eg Gaucher, torsion dystonia, Fanconi anaemia, etc) aren’t, which would be a partial blow for Cochran et al’s selection theory. My guess is they just don’t have enough power to detect the effects – if this was all random drift, it would be vanishingly unlikely that so many of these diseases end up in the same pathways (eg lysosomal storage). [EDIT: I may be misunderstanding this; it may just mean there’s no net selection even though they’re diseases]
Related: a reader points out this paper on “The Social Construction Of Hungarian Genius”.
PNAS has a good (albeit kind of silly) article on claims that scientific progress has slowed.
This month in insane Twitter drama, for people who have previously made the good choice not to follow insane Twitter drama but want to walk back on it for some reason: will Sam Kriss publicly denounce Zionism? (1, 2, 3). What happens when Jeet Heer tweets “Bernie would have won”? Is Joan Walsh un-woke on Palestine? And apparently there is some kind of Joan Walsh/Katie Halper feud. I realize this sort of stuff seems petty, but it was really helpful in getting me to understand why everyone hates each other, and helped convince me that a lot of things I thought were silly arguments against straw men are actually important arguments against a large contingent of (depressingly) real people.
Noah Smith: The US has forgotten how to do infrastructure.
That story about how Gavrilio Princip failed to assassinate Archduke Ferdinand, then went to get a sandwich, then ran into the Archduke just outside the sandwich shop and assassinated him anyway? The Smithsonian says it’s probably false.
Did you know: the ancient Egyptian language of hieroglyphs and Pharaohs survived into modern times as the Coptic language and is still the liturgical language of Coptic churches today. Also, English words derived from Egyptian include “adobe” and “oasis”.
New study finds that growth mindset is not associated with scholastic aptitude in a large sample of university applicants. Particularly excited about this one because an author said that my blog posts about growth mindset inspired the study. I’m honored to have been able to help the progress of science!
Rocket pioneer Wernher von Braun wrote a 1952 sci-fi story about the colonization of Mars, in which the Martian government was led by a President called “the Elon”.
Internet payment processors and payment regulations are terrible and destroying the nootropics industry and probably a bunch of other industries I know less about, part 459401.
ABC News reported that a meat company’s product was disgusting low-quality “pink slime”, and people stopped buying from that meat company. Now the company is suing ABC for $5.7 billion in a lawsuit with the potential to have chilling effects on journalism in general.
A deadly fire in an apartment building in London gains an extra layer of horror in the context of this blog post by apartment residents predicting that there is definitely going to be a deadly fire there soon due to apartment management and local government incompetence.
Contra recent thinkpieces about how polls don’t work and psephology is a pseudoscience, on an aggregate level the probabilities from prediction markets have been impressively accurate.
Phone companies were ready to deploy cellular phones since the 1940s – the reason we didn’t get them until the ’80s was government regulators refusing to give them the spectrum space for political reasons.
There’s wide state-by-state variation on the legality of shooting Bigfoot, with Washington calling it a felony and Texas calling it acceptable given that it’s technically “an invasive species”. (h/t Tumblr)
A swarm of 20,000 bees recently descended upon Vox Media’s Manhattan offices, leading to articles like The Swarm Of Bees Outside Vox Media, Explained.