THE JOYFUL REDUCTION OF UNCERTAINTY

Open Thread 99.25

This is the twice-weekly hidden open thread. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server.

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

464 Responses to Open Thread 99.25

  1. johan_larson says:

    We will, we will, quiz you.

    Name these Richards.

    1. Founder of the Virgin group of companies.
    2. Composer of “Tristan und Isolde” and “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg”.
    3. First player in NHL history to score 50 goals in one season (1944–45).
    4. Mayor of Chicago (1955-1976).
    5. African-American comedian, famously profane, 1940-2005.
    6. A British pudding made with suet and dried fruit, often raisins.
    7. British geographer, explorer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, cartographer, ethnologist, spy, mustache aficionado, linguist, poet, fencer and diplomat.
    8. Congressman for Wyoming 1979-89, secretary of defence and vice president.
    9. Actor who appeared in “American Graffiti”, “Jaws” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”.
    10. Author of “The Selfish Gene”.

    • SteveReilly says:

      I used rot13.com as a code for anyone wondering about the gobbledeegook answers:

      1. Oenafba
      2. Jntare
      4. Qnyrl
      5. Celbe
      6. Fcbggrq Qvpx
      7. Unxyhlg?
      8. Purarl
      9. Qerlshff
      10. Qnjxvaf

      Damn, I wish I knew old-timey hockey so I could complete the set (assuming 7 is right).

      ETA: And I see that 7 isn’t right. Oh well, I think the other 8 are.

    • a reader says:

      Only 2/10:

      2. Jntare

      10. Qnjxvaf

    • Iain says:

      1. Oenafba
      2. Jntare
      3. Znhevpr Evpuneq
      4. Qnyrl
      5. Celbe
      6. Fcbggrq Qvpx
      7. Cerggl fher V’z zvffvat fbzrobql ernyyl boivbhf urer.
      8. Qvpx Purarl
      9. Qhaab
      10. Qnjxvaf

      Looks like 8/10. Google tells me that #8 is probably Evpuneq Senapvf Ohegba, who I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of, so I feel a bit better about that one.

    • Nornagest says:

      6/10:

      1. Evpuneq Oenafba.
      2. Evpuneq Jntare.
      3. Ebpxrg Evpuneq.
      6. Fcbggrq Qvpx.
      7. Evpuneq Ohegba.
      10. Evpuneq Qnjxvaf.

    • John Schilling says:

      1. Oenafba
      2. Jntare
      3. Haxabja
      4. Qnyrl gur Ryqre
      5. Celbe
      6. Haxabja
      7. Ohegba
      8. Purarl
      9. Qerlshff
      10. Qnjxvaf

      8/10, in about as much time as it took to type the answers. The other two I was not going to get ever.

    • Rick Hull says:

      1. Oenafba
      2. Jntare
      3. ?
      4. Qnyrl
      5. Celbe
      6. Fcbggrq qvpx
      7. ?
      8. Purarl
      9. Qerlshf
      10. Qnjxvaf

    • christhenottopher says:

      1. Oenafba
      2. Jntare
      3. Sports puck isn’t my thing
      4. Qnyrl
      5. Celbl
      6. My ancestors fought two wars to make sure I wouldn’t be able to know this answer.
      7. Overachiever making the rest of us look bad
      8. Purarl
      9. I’m kicking myself that I forgot this one.
      10. Qnjxvaf

    • The Nybbler says:

      Missed 3, 7 (my brain refused to get off of T.E. Lawrence), and 9 (picked the guy only in Jaws)

    • James says:

      5/10 with a sixth on the tip of my tongue. Good one.

    • S_J says:

      I didn’t have time to answer these yesterday, when I first saw the post. I have four solid answers, and a guess at the fifth.

      This is pretty good, as I have to think, but thinking didn’t help me come up with any more.

      1. ??
      2. Evpuneq Jntare.
      3. ??
      4. Evpuneq Qnyrl.
      5. ??
      6. Fcbggrq Qvpx ??
      7. ??
      8. Evpuneq Purarl
      9. ??
      10. Evpuneq Qnjxvaf

    • Deiseach says:

      I got eight out of ten, no idea of the American sportsman or one politician 🙂

      1. Oenafba
      2. Jntare
      3. Ab vqrn
      4. Qnyrl
      5. Celbe
      6. Fcbggrq Qvpx
      7. Ohegba
      8. Ab vqrn
      9. Qerlshf
      10 Qnjxvaf

    • dark orchid says:

      1. Oenafba
      2. Jntare
      6. Fcbggrq Qvpx ?
      10. Qnjxvaf

    • hls2003 says:

      Nine out of ten. Hockey got me. Pretty sure my others are correct.

      1. Oenafba
      2. Jntare
      3. ???
      4. Evpuneq W. Qnyrl (gur zvqqyr W vf vzcbegnag fvapr uvf fba Evpuneq Z. nyfb tbirearq gur znpuvar sbe qrpnqrf)
      5. Celbe.
      6. Fcbggrq Qvpx
      7. Ohegba
      8. Qvpx Purarl
      9. Qerlshff
      10. Qnjxvaf

    • 11. Federal appeals court judge, leading law and economics scholar.
      12. Legal academic so controversial that a Supreme Court candidate was asked if he agreed with this richard’s views.

    • I’m not trying all of them but, unless I am mistaken, two of them have the same answer–but different people.

      • Aapje says:

        We should have the quiz where all the answers are ‘David Friedman.’

      • SteveReilly says:

        11 Richard Posner
        12 Uh, also Richard Posner?

        By the way, were you think of Burton as both the actor and the explorer?

    • johan_larson says:

      And the answers:

      1. Richard Branson
      2. Richard Wagner
      3. Maurice “Rocket” Richard
      4. Richard J. Daley
      5. Richard Pryor
      6, spotted dick
      7. Richard Francis Burton
      8. Richard “Dick” Cheney
      9. Richard Dreyfuss
      10. Richard Dawkins

  2. Chevalier Mal Fet says:

    How did you first stumble upon SSC, and how long ago was it?

    Just curious about the merry band of lunatics that inhabit this comment section.

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      Fair is fair, I’ll go first.

      I don’t actually remember when I started reading SSC. It was definitely sometime in the summer or late fall of 2014. Hell, it might very well have been an Instapundit link to Untitled, or Radicalizing the Romanceless – whichever of those posts came in August. Scott had me nodding along with him the whole time, and then I did something I knew was a mistake: I read the comments.

      And much to my surprise, they weren’t horrible. I was intrigued by this strange phenomenon, and stuck around.

      • Obelix says:

        I also came here following a link to either Untitled or Radicalizing the Romanceless, which was on an article from Cracked.com. I think the argument in this article was that one should engage with other people’s arguments instead of using labels to dismiss them, and linked to Scott’s article as an example of something written from a men’s rights perspective that isn’t horrible. This must have been either in early 2015 or late 2014.

        Interestingly, I don’t read Cracked.com anymore, and the last few times I went there my browser slowed down so much that the site was unusable. I guess it must be their ad links or something.

        I don’t post here very often, largely because the comment section is so crowded that I usually have nothing to add, and I can’t even find anything to respond to. I guess I might have posted more if I’d gotten here when the blog started and there were a few dozens of comments on each blogpost, instead of upwards of a thousand. I’ll post if I can add something no one else would.

    • notsobad_ says:

      I started around October 2016. A friend introduced me.

      At least one of the surveys had data on how long people had been reading the blog, but you may want something a little more personal :p

    • Vincent Soderberg says:

      The earliest memory I have of it is when I read an 80 000 hours article that linked him about 3 years, and I thought “makes sense, cool”. Then I started reading it regularly like… 1 year ago. Began with the mental health articles, then charity, then the controversial stuff, and now I’m a regular reader.

      As for effect: I’m probably more centrist, more utilitarian and more technocrat because of pf SSC. I’m generally less hype of feminism cause of him, but I still sorta endorse it. (i don’t want to get into a discussion on that, thank you)

    • Randy M says:

      At one point in time, I discovered TVTropes. I don’t remember how. It might have been linked from RPG.net, or, many other sites, TVTropes links aren’t uncommon.

      Browsing a page one time I found a link to lesswrong, some discussion thread about what if videogames were real, or something. I can’t find the particular thread now, and google shows a lot of links from TVT to LR. Anyhow, I started reading that site from time to time. At some point someone posted a link to Yvain’s livejournal*, an article series on … sexual politics in India? Something like that. Recognizing Yvain as the author of several popular posts, I read through his LJ, posting very rarely. Eventually he announced starting a new blog, on which I post a bit too frequently.

      *(I do not think these tenuous links between identities are things the author is worried about keeping out of hidden OT’s, but we can edit them if so)

    • I came across Scott’s livejournal via Ozy’s NSWATM blog in 2012.

      However, I was familiar with Overcoming Bias/Less Wrong before then. I don’t remember exactly how I first came across them. Maybe via Matt Ridley’s Rational Optimist blog?

    • Nornagest says:

      Found SSC through Less Wrong. I don’t remember how I found Less Wrong: I was hanging out on TV Tropes about the same time, and there was a fair amount of cross-pollination between the two sites, but I believe I discovered LW either contemporaneously or fairly close. I didn’t start posting regularly on it until 2010 or so, though.

    • Eric Rall says:

      Been reading since the livejournal days. I was pointed at it by some mutual friends who knew Scott through micronations stuff.

      Also, I was one of the two non-SAIA players in the diplomacy game discussed in Study Seven of Diplomacy as a Game Theory Laboratory. The other non-SAIA player was one of the mutual friends who pointed me to Scott’s livejournal.

      Tangentially, the other non-SAIA player and I were also using the “In-Group Bias as a Schelling Point” strategy, although more weakly than the SAIA players: [name redacted] and I both intended to betray our in-group-based alliance in early mid-game (once we’d mopped up our initial targets), but we also correctly believed we could trust one another until that goal was achieved. We never did get around to betraying one another since the other players all piled on us at once.

      And contrary to Scott’s description of the game as being a mistake, I had a great time. Good company, interesting table talk, and I had a lot of fun playing tactically to stay alive as long as possible and trying unsuccessfully to split up the alliance against us. It’s my firm belief that if you can’t enjoy losing, even if your loss can be considered unfair, you shouldn’t be playing Diplomacy.

    • rahien.din says:

      I saw I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup being circulated around Facebook. And it utterly amazed me.

      I didn’t start commenting for quite some time, but, that was the seed.

    • quaelegit says:

      I think I’ve been seeing links to Scott’s writing (on here and before SSC was started on his livejournal) just “around” for years. At some point in 2015 or 2016 I was procrastinating on homework and clicked one more link leading me to SSC, and realized “huh, I keep ending up at this guy’s blog — wonder if he’s written other interesting stuff” and started reading the archives. When I ran out of articles I started reading the more recent open threads and was amazed by the breadth of topics people can have productive, in-depth conversations about on this site.

    • Mary says:

      Back on LJ, when he did the post complaining about the History Channel does all this melodramatic and implausible tropes about WWII.

    • christhenottopher says:

      I had to check the archives for that since I more remember what the first posts from here I read were. Going by that, apparently it was around March 2014, which means I’ve been reading this blog for a longer time than I spent in college (though I lurked nearly all that time). “CAN IT BE WRONG TO CRYSTALLIZE PATTERNS?” is the first post I remember reading. I had an online friend I’d met at a libertarian econ blog that had introduced me to Less Wrong and I might have found this blog through him too.

      Man that was way back in the dying throes of my period believing in anarchism (which this blog was a contributing factor moving from that).

    • yodelyak says:

      Had read a lot of less wrong already, and much of OvercomingBias. Ran across a random SSC post left open on the law review website in fall 2014, ended up flipping back to the first post and binge-read a couple months of posts. Pretty sure I’ve read >90% of the posts here. Still don’t comment very much though.

    • The Nybbler says:

      March 2015. I was at Google at the time, SocJus there was kicking into high gear, and I ran across _Untitled_.

    • BlindKungFuMaster says:

      Maybe two years ago? Probably more, time flies.
      Probably followed a link from lesswrong, read the Top Posts and was hooked.

    • James says:

      From Less Wrong. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I guess I was one of the relatively early ones here. I guess it was around 2014; I remember that the biggest top-level posts would get 20-40 comments then.

      I can’t remember what link in particular I followed from LW to get here, but I remember that I found Less Wrong by reading an article on a philosophy website that a philosophyish friend of mine linked on facebook. The article was sneering at the geeks for thinking that they could do philosophy better than the real philosophers. I read the article, read the Less Wrong stuff it linked to, was a bit confused, but ultimately decided—as so often since—that I preferred these guys to the guys sneering at them.

      Other Jameses in this comment section come and go but I shall outlive them all.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      I am pretty sure the first post I ever read was either Thank you for doing something ambiguously between smoking and not smoking (regulars will know I have an interest in drug policy and harm reduction) or Fake Euthanasia Statistics, and I found myself binge-reading the archives and becoming a regular visitor as a result of one of those, but I can’t remember how old the blog was at the time. I’m reasonably confident I’ve been following since the end of 2013 at the latest.

    • Chalid says:

      I’m pretty sure I found SSC via a link from Marginal Revolution. I think it might have been to “Polygamy is Boring.”

      That post didn’t especially hook me. But I started running into links to Scott repeatedly and eventually I thought I should check out what else he had to say. I don’t think there was a particular post that made me a regular reader.

      I’d been familiar with Less Wrong and read many of the sequences but never really spent any time as part of that community, and stopped tracking it at all sometime in the mid/late-2000s.

    • bean says:

      A friend pointed me here in March 2014. The first post I remember reading as new is Anglophysics, although I can’t be sure it wasn’t something else a week or two earlier. I lurked until the 1/2015 links post, when Scott linked to War Nerd, and I had to say something.

    • S_J says:

      I want to say it was sometime in 2015 or so.

      Somewhere in a comment thread on Megan McArdle’s column, I saw a link to a discussion of “Motte and Bailey”.

      I found the post interesting and informative, but didn’t come back regularly for some time.

    • metacelsus says:

      I followed a Reddit link to Unsong, and a few weeks later I realized that the author had a blog.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Popped up on Marginal Revolution. Really can’t say when. 2014?

    • Deiseach says:

      Via Leah Libresco’s blog which mentioned/linked it, and I have no idea how long ago but it was a couple of years 🙂

      • Nick says:

        Same. That was back in the LiveJournal days, but I don’t remember which post it was a link to.

        • Controls Freak says:

          Adding my name to this list. For a while, I lurked the comments and occasionally posted as an Anon. It’s been a while, folks…

    • John Schilling says:

      I’m another of the ones who found my way here from Marginal Revolution. I believe from the commentariat there offering up the usual sort of insults, in a way that made me thing SSC would be a more interesting place than MR. I still check back in on MR every once in a while, and now find it difficult to understand why old-me ever found it worth bothering with.

      • Andrew Hunter says:

        The blog is still interesting. The comments continue to basically be Steve Sailer’s comment section plus some very dumb liberal counterparts, I don’t know where they find him.

      • albatross11 says:

        I know I followed links here from Marginal Revolution, but probably from several other places, too–after following a couple of interesting links, I started thinking SSC sounded worth reading regularly.

        The way I see it, Marginal Revolution’s actual posts are pretty high-quality, and there are still some high-quality posters in the comment threads, but the threads aren’t well-moderated and tend to devolve into tribal name-calling.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Google indicates that I joined somewhere in 2014, so long ago that I forget how I got here. Apparently I was so active in the early days that I’m still a top 20 commenter (quantity, not quality). My guess is that it was by way of Libresco, who I didn’t read regularly, but herself was linked semi frequently by First Things. It was definitely not by way of LW, which I only learned of here.

      In retrospect, I eventually realized that I’d actually seen a number of Scott’s LJ posts before, so maybe I’d been in some adjacent communities for a while without realizing it.

    • Halikaarn says:

      I’m 99% sure it was a link from Ribbonfarm, maybe in the comments section there. It took me a couple more accidental discoveries before I found something that wasn’t full of AI/math jargon and then sold me on reading the entire archives in about a week.

    • dark orchid says:

      Someone linked me to The Categories Were Made For Man after we had a good discussion about social justice related issues.

      I’ve been devouring the archives ever since.

    • IrishDude says:

      Based on a recommendation from Bryan Caplan on his blog a few years ago.

    • beleester says:

      I first got linked to either Meditations on Moloch or The Invisible Nation (Probably the latter, since it links to the former).

      I don’t remember exactly when that was, but I think the most recent post at the time was “Book Review: Red Plenty.” (So, sometime in September 2014). I’m sure it was before December 2014, because I remember Scott reviewing “On the Road” and noticing that he changed the page header to “Joyous! Holy! Mad! Rapturous!” or something like that.

    • Anonymous says:

      I think a friend linked me.

    • ManyCookies says:

      Someone in a reddit thread linked to Neutral vs Conservative to explain voat’s awfulness and included one of my favorite SSC quotes:

      The moral of the story is: if you’re against witch-hunts, and you promise to found your own little utopian community where witch-hunts will never happen, your new society will end up consisting of approximately three principled civil libertarians and seven zillion witches. It will be a terrible place to live even if witch-hunts are genuinely wrong.

      So about 10 months now.

    • More or less from the beginning, via LessWrong. I stumbled onto LW as a result of a Google search on Bayes and induction.

      The Google search was promoted by argument with some Popperians who were saying that there was no such thing , it was impossible etc.

      Of course, the LW version of Bayes is equally exaggerated.and unrelated to the real thing..(During the long bust up about induction in the Popper group , someone eventually arrived who had ask KRP himself about it, and , no he didn’t deny induction wholesale, he only thought it was not the basis for science. Of course , the true believers didn’t budge an inch).

  3. bean says:

    Naval Gazing continues to study ASW in WWII, this time looking at sensors.

  4. notsobad_ says:

    Howdy all. Question to those with persistent sleep problems:

    Have you tried any method to cool your head? Some personal research shows “chillows” exist; has anyone used one? Which one? Did it help your sleep?

    I’d love to try cooling cap/band but it seems those devices aren’t yet on the market. It’s a shame. I hope one is available soon. see here for a future device: https://www.massdevice.com/tag/cereve/

    I’ve tried so many different things and have brought the baseline of my sleep time and quality up, but i often still feel sleepy and there can be great night-to-night variation.

    I’ve tried melatonin, meditating, practising good sleep hygiene – such as preparing for the next day, no screens an hour before bed, blue-light-opaque protective glasses (these work well I highly recommend if you haven’t tried this before) – and magnesium. All help to some degree. Things have improved compared to a few years back but I still have a ways to go. I can’t afford a sleep study, but I may try one in the future (I snore when on my back).

    Thanks in advance 🙂

    edit: opening a window isn’t a valid option where I’m from as: 1) it can get very cold, and 2) outside noise can disturb my sleep

    • Trenton Gibbons says:

      I usually sleep with the window open and a warm blanket which I guess means my head is chilled to some degree. I usually sleep quite well and have trouble sleeping if the window is not open. Vipassana meditation is a freely taught technique that can help with these sorts of things http://www.dhamma.org. You have to give up 10 days to learn it though.

      • notsobad_ says:

        Thanks for the suggestion. I don’t follow vipassana exactly, but I do listen to guided meditations by the likes of Joseph Goldstein and Sam Harris, both of whom are proponents of the practice I believe

    • skef says:

      One more thing to add to your list of potential causes: verify your sleep problems aren’t related (one way or another) to stomach acid. Mine (or at least the part of it not cat-related) turned out to be — a possibility I never put together until I took one of the blocking drugs (e.g. pepcid or prilosec) for another reason.

      • notsobad_ says:

        Wow really? That’s interesting! I didn’t know that was possible, I’ll look into it.

        How long did it take for you to notice the effects? Was it immediate?

        I don’t experience any acid reflux tho, so I’m not sure this would help. I could of course try some pills, they are inexpensive

        • skef says:

          Those drugs work quite well for me, and especially well when starting out. I noticed a definite difference on the first night and made the connection within a few days.

          My acid issues are only loosely tied to diet (or at least to short-term diet — there may be some radical overhaul of my overall diet that would fix things) so I can have problems after having eaten a meal that I digested just fine. It could be that some other pattern could cause sleep problems while being harder to identify, but in my case it was clear right off.

          Added later: Also, I only started taking the blocker when I developed issues during the day, but the sleeping problems it fixed had been going on for a number of years.

      • Eric Rall says:

        Cautionary note: watch out for uncommon side effects of those drugs. Most people do fine, but I got “lucky” and had problems with both of them: prilosec aggravated my anxiety very badly (not a listed side effect, but a common reported adverse drug reaction), and pepcid lowered my heart rate enough to concern me into stopping taking it (50 bpm even during moderate activity; my norm is around 80 for moderate activity and 60-65 when resting).

        (emphasizing for clarity: my results are not typical, sample size of 1, your mileage may vary, etc)

        Old-fashioned neutralizing antacids (tums, rolaids, baking soda, etc) are an option if you’re one of the unlucky few who have problems with prilosec and pepcid.

        If you don’t have an underlying issue causing your acid problems (weight, diet, H. pylori infection, structural defects in your stomach sphincter, etc), then you’re likely to only need antacids for a few weeks so your body can heal the tissue irritated by the acid.

        • skef says:

          I’ll add that while long term use of all of these drugs is nominally discouraged, the current wisdom is that prilosec and its ilk are more problematic long-term, so better to go with pepcid among the two. Also, there’s no good neutralizing antacid solution with a duration needed for sleep that I’m aware of.

          If you don’t have an underlying issue causing your acid problems (weight, diet, H. pylori infection, structural defects in your stomach sphincter, etc), then you’re likely to only need antacids for a few weeks so your body can heal the tissue irritated by the acid.

          I’ve had difficulty verifying that this conventional wisdom has much empirical support. It seems like some people just produce more acid on a less regular schedule as they get older, and the percentage of those people doesn’t much factor into this claim. And “diet” is a gaping chasm of supposed explanation. If someone has diet X for Y years just fine, and then develops a problem, is it then just a matter of diet? If to fix the problem someone would need to severely restrict their diet in way that few are willing or, in practice, are able to, is it still then just a matter of diet?

          • Eric Rall says:

            If the immediate problem is gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining, causing symptoms like stomachache, nausea when the stomach is particularly full or empty, etc), then a fairly high percentage of cases are caused by bacterial infection (mostly H pylori). The infection is easily treatable with antibiotics, but until you treat it or your body fights it off on its own, the symptoms will keep coming back.

    • Eric Rall says:

      blue-light-opaque protective glasses (these work well I highly recommend if you haven’t tried this before)

      As an alternative to the glasses, I can suggest (not to you necessarily, but to others reading this) getting a bedside lamp and putting a red or blue-less amber lightbulb in it. I got a red lightbulb for my reading lamp a few years back so I could read in bed without disturbing my wife (who at the time went to sleep earlier than I did) and found that it also helped me settle down for sleep better.

      For your actual question: I get better sleep when I set the thermostat lower at night (62 is my preference). If that isn’t an option for you, I’ve also occasionally (on very hot nights in the summer) used the trick of putting a large icepack wrapped in a towel under the covers with me. Not in contact with me, but under the covers it helps counteract my body heat.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      Some personal research shows “chillows” exist

      I remember trying to make one by sewing into a regular pillow a pocket the right shape for one of those medical gel ice packs. I can’t remember if it worked, but I can remember there being a lot of feathers flying around when I opened the pillow up to do the sewing 🙂

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      To your specific question: I’ve never used a “chillow.” During the winter, I keep the temperature set to around 64, which gives me a let better sleep than higher temps. Also, I’m a cheap-skate, so I can’t justify putting the furnace at 68 (sorry, Wife). During the summer, I keep a fan blowing on me. Pretty much impossible to sleep otherwise.

      Things that work for me:
      -Clean room, clean sheets. Every week. Major allergy to dust.
      -Large pillow, preferably two, propping up my head, to aid drainage from sinuses
      -Don’t drink to excess (keeps you awake, AND seems to harm drainage from sinuses)
      -Blue-light filter on phone after 8 PM. Didn’t realize how damaging this was until I started staring at a screen without the filter on, and could not sleep for garbage.
      -No lights on in the room within my line of sight.

      I am pretty bad sleeper. I woke up 3 times last night, which is a “good night” for me. My “bad nights” will have me waking up something like 7 or 8 times.

  5. Hence says:

    Justifying why you didn’t use significance testing

    In case you decided not to use significance testing and thought that justifying it would be a good idea, then a text template, with references is now available. How do you like it?

    A few possible tools you could use are listed. Once again, keep in mind that those are not to be seen as magical universal replacements, but rather as possible additional tools that may or may not make sense in the context of your research.

    • Hence says:

      Ok, very quickly:

      The site now has a section on nullism. (At the end of it there’s a link to a Gelman paper addressing why the view of p-values as the posterior probability is false)

      Language is now clearer in separating NHST from p-values. See for example this section, which has been partly rewritten and improved. Should be clearer now, including the last part about the volatility thing (now better explained). Also the note on the top of the quotes page.

    • rahien.din says:

      Hey I thought of you the other day! There is a Viewpoint in the most recent volume of JAMA, Ioannidis JPA. The Proposal to Lower P Value Thresholds to .005. JAMA. 2018 Apr 10;319(14):1429-1430. Here is one of the pertinent tables :

      Various Proposed Solutions for Improving Statistical Inference on a Large Scale

      Apply to Past Literature: Easy or Fast Solution?
      Apply to Future Research and Publications: Easy or Fast Solution?

      Lower P value thresholds
      Past : A rather simple temporizing solution
      Future : Has potential collateral harms (see text) and success depends on adoption or enforcement by stakeholders (eg, journals, funders, societies)

      Abandon P value thresholds and instead use exact P value
      Past : Many published P values have only been reported with thresholds
      Future : Success depends on extent of adoption or enforcement by stakeholders

      Abandon P values entirely
      Past : Not easy because often nothing or little else has been provided; many articles did not report effect sizes and most lacked confidence intervals. P values are still a good choice for some research applications.
      Future : Previous pleas have not been successful to gain traction. May succeed more easily in some fields (eg, assessment of diagnostic performance or choosing of predictors for prognostic models in which use of P values makes little or no sense)

      Use alternative inference methods (eg, Bayesian statistics)
      Past : Partly doable (eg, one may convert P values to Bayes factors, but needs sophisticated training)
      Future : Would be suitable for most studies; increase in use of Bayesian methods (and other inferential approaches such as false-discovery rates) has been substantial recently, but would need to accelerate in the future

      Focus on effect sizes and their uncertainty
      Past : Often not reported at all, but has become more common in more recent literature, particularly in clinical trials and meta-analyses
      Future : Relevant to the vast majority of the clinical literature, should be heavily endorsed as more directly linked to decision making, and it may be easier to promote than more sophisticated solutions

      Train the scientific workforce
      Past : Takes time and major commitment to achieve sufficient statistical literacy.
      Future : Can lead to a more definitive solution, choosing fit for purpose statistics and inference tools, but may require major recasting of training priorities in curricula

      Address biases that lead to inflated results
      Past : Requires major training; biases are often impossible to detect from published reports
      Future : Preemptively dealing with biases is ideal, but needs concerted commitment of multiple stakeholders to promote and incentivize better research practices

      (I’ve otherwise said my peace, I believe, no need to rehash it again.)

      • Hence says:

        rahien-din,

        Not that this would change your firm beliefs, but that paper from McShane et al has been updated today, with many substantial changes, especially (as it has been pointed out to me) the intro, the whole section 4, and the new appendix B. You may want to read it.

        Thank you for sharing the link. I had seen it. The argument of “lower threshold to stop the flood of false positives” has been addressed since Benjamin et al’s paper. The paper above addresses it from page 2, and the whole section 3 is dedicated to it.

        • rahien.din says:

          For what it’s worth, I totally agree that it’s stupid to just change the p-value threshold. If we are going to do something, that’s not it.

    • Tamar says:

      Hi, I wanted to reply to your reply to me in an old Open Thread but it seemed like I saw it too late and my post couldn’t go through. I wanted at least to clarify that my “I suppose” about reading the letter on your site was trying to qualify my attempt in light of the issues I encountered when reading it (primarily the circular referencing links that I mentioned and the fact that the letter appeared to ask the reader to have read the entire site). I see now how it came across as flippant – that wasn’t my intent. I meant to convey that I had tried to read the letter and indeed had read and comprehended most of the words but was not confident I had got the desired effect due to the aforementioned issues.

      I appreciate that you have taken the time to add some more concrete suggestions about not only how to justify oneself to ones peers, reviewers, etc. about choosing options other than NHST but that you list alternative statistical approaches to explore. In my position, for instance (and I may not have conveyed this clearly in our previous exchanges), I am most concerned that I don’t have the ability to design a good study using alternative statistical approaches, but am confident that if I did design a good study with a plan for statistical analysis that didn’t involve NHST I could make a case for it with my PI and have it judged fairly on its merits. It would be valuable if your site could give a little more background on each of the tools you list and how one would go about determining which, if any, are appropriate for a given study. Just a brief overview of how these additional tools are used would be a worthwhile addition to a site meant to encourage readers to abandon NHST.

      Lastly, I might have tried to contact you, but the contact information on your site seems just to be the website’s URL. Is this usable as an email address? If not, you might consider updating with clearer contact information.

    • brmic says:

      Thanks for the effort, but IMHO this is effectively (though most probably not intentionally) an attempt to get others to fight your battle.
      Briefly: If a binary choice is the wrong outcome for your study, e.g. because you care about the point estimate and it’s CI, then it shouldn’t be necessary to defend the omission of p-values and writing the whole paper in such a way that its clear you’re after the point estimate is preferable to a section explaining why despite having writing a paper like any other, you’re not going to do the thing everyone else does.
      If, on the other hand, your research comes down to a binary choice, it’s best to justify your alpha, check the effect size is reasonable and then just use p-values to keep it simple.

  6. Vincent Soderberg says:

    I have a doctors appointment next week, and I want to talk with the doctor about trying modafinil. I have read some stuff on it (SSC and gwerns article on it), but I don’t feel like I could explain it well enough to the doctor.

    info about my situation: Suffer from depression, I am high functioning autistic. I am on 60 mg fluoxetine, and it’s working very well (aside from some nausea), but I generally have motivation and energy issues, which was worse before the antidepressant and CBT, but it’s still like. I feel like i could do so much more, but i really struggle with motivation for most things.

    • christianschwalbach says:

      Do you have a concern with this doctor not being very open minded about you trying Modafanil? I think your approach is going to have to unfortunately be tailored to the approach and mindset of your particular physician, if you know enough to make that decision?

      • skef says:

        Anyone with a prescription pad is a croaker — it’s just a matter of acting out the right script.

  7. Le Maistre Chat says:

    CHAPTER 2
    Ultimately William Dyer agreed to join the expedition. We all gathered a week later at 11:00 AM on the part of the Alexandria, Virginia waterfront closest to the train station. Agent Frank of the FBI-SS had booked us a private room in Old Potomac Restaurant, the cheapest in the neighborhood to offer such amenities. Dr. Starkweather and I stood outside to be recognized by the invitees, while our George Washington colleagues sat inside nursing mimosas. It was almost noon when Dyer walked up from the direction of the station, a pipe in one hand and a suitcase in the other, wearing a plain charcoal suit without an overcoat and a light gray fedora. He was followed by a liveried negro porter with two more bags, who was promptly tipped.
    “Dr. Moore,” he then greeted me, stuffing his unlit pipe in a pocket. “And Howard Starkweather, I presume?”
    Starkweather extended his hand. “Engineer with George Washington University and sometimes the government.”
    “Charmed. Have you met Professor Pabodie, Miskatonic’s top engineer?”
    “I did not have the opportunity, but I got notes on his drill and airplane modifications in person from a grad student of his, Sherman by name.”
    I went ahead of them into the restaurant, Dyer wrangling his luggage through the doors and leaving them nearby with the hat check boy. We walked to the room, where everyone stood when Starkweather and I stepped inside.
    “Professor Dyer,” I said, “Meet Professor William Daniels, specialist in linguistics, Henry Smith, archaeologist at George Washington, ours pilots Lincoln Ellsworth and Sextus Day, Fred Hauser, chief dog handler, and Agent Paul Frank.”
    A few moments later, Starkweather said “I call this meeting to order. But remember, no secrets until after the waiter brings our food.”
    “I think we can all agree,” I said, “that we should make Base Camp right on the coast of the mainland near Ross Island with at least three airplanes and proceed immediately with two of them to the high-altitude city ruins identified by Dr. Dyer. Any site within the ten mile wide by indefinitely long strip where the unevenly ruined buildings are not dense enough to prevent landing is equally acceptable for Advance Base, as far as I’m concerned.”
    Dyer looked thoughtful. “However, if I could identify my original landing site, we would be able to begin at the school or museum Danforth and I found. That type of building could be vastly richer in evidence than private dwellings and whatever other types of public buildings the alien psychology produced.”
    “We won’t know that until we investigate other building types.” I said.
    “Furthermore, if I know my bearings from Advance Base, I’m likely to know the nearest location of shoggoths so we can avoid them.” Dyer stared at Agent Frank.
    “I know how to handle that,” Frank said, “and you’ll on be briefed on the subject soon enough.”
    Ellsworth spoke up. “If it’s all the same to you professors, I can do it Professor Dyer’s way. He’s qualified on [model], so he can be in the front of one plane with me. We’ll make the jump with two planes, the second following me unless we lose both visual and radio contact, in which case it takes responsibility for establishing a mountain camp.”
    We spent the time it took for our lunch to be ordered, cooked and served discussing the crew manifest. We would work around the clock in two teams, each working a twelve-hour day with an hour break in the middle. Dr. Smith and I would each have one grad student with us and another working on the other team. Daniels the linguist would bring three. Each plane would have a pilot, dog handler and a photographer. With Starkweather, Dyer and Frank, that came to nineteen, one less than the two planes could carry. At base camp, we would leave another dog team, a team from the George Washington geology department with a Pabodie drill and a mechanic, and a physician.
    When the food arrived, Frank told the waiter to give our party privacy. At that moment, Ellsworth was steering the talk toward his own plans. “Our cargo manifest should include enough fuel for me to make a trans-Antarctic flight from Base Camp to Dundee Island and back to Advance Base, which I can do while the academics are inside their ruins.”
    “Fine with me.” Frank said. “But changing the subject… in case of shoggoth attack and in case fishmen are off the coast, you’ll each be issued a fist-sized nickel-plated talisman bearing a sign that repels them, used by the Old Ones according to an informant against the Innsmouth gang. When not carried in the field, you should arrange a set around a camp at the eight compass points. A handgun will also be issued to anyone who wants one. But for killing a shoggoth, each airplane will externally mount a cannon with incendiary rounds.”
    “Now wait a second,” Day said, “I don’t have the experience to use such a thing.”
    “But you’re an experienced mechanic with these planes?” Frank asked.
    “I sure am.”
    “Good. Then you’ll be our mechanic at base camp. I already foresaw this and recruited an Army Air Corps veteran to fly the second plane.”
    Day fumed.
    “Hold on.” Ellsworth said, “Being a sky cowboy sure sounds fun, but no one’s explained to me what a shoggoth is.”
    Dyer shuddered before beginning, haltingly, to explain.

    Most of us were finishing off our meals by the time Dyer had everyone caught up.
    “After a recent fieldwork season in Australia, Dr. Dyer also believes the Old One civilization was highly industrialized, at least during the Upper Triassic. He saw no evidence of such in the Antarctic bas reliefs he viewed, so that’s something to look for this time.” I said.
    “Well…” Dyer said, “Not necessarily the Old Ones, but the Great Race that came later and warred with them.”
    “It wouldn’t have been much of a war if the other race had vehicles and atomic energy while the Old Ones relied on animal power. More like colonialism.”
    Frank looked solemn. “If we can find evidence of atomic energy, it would be a great leap for mankind, and a terrible weapon if discovered by a country likely to go to war.” Silence.
    “Speaking of the Antarctic reliefs, Dr. Dyer, do you remember seeing swastika motifs?”
    Having eaten, Dyer was now smoking his pipe. “No, nor images of Old Ones with their five legs in the lotus position. They weren’t Hindus.”
    “Say, Hindu scriptures do claim that intelligent life has existed on Earth from the beginning of life in general. Do you think the Old Ones form the basis for that belief?” I said.
    “It’s possible that the earliest Indians knew about them, and the primal civilization was censored into humans by the time their epics were written. Only the most daring mystics, like Abdul Alhazred, were bold enough to write about them uncensored.”
    I sighed silently.

  8. Le Maistre Chat says:

    [Chapter 1 repost]

    “Let me start by assuring you, Dr. Dyer, that I’m not here to accuse you of fabrication or hallucinations. Dr. Starkweather and I have some cause to believe that a man of sound mind could claim what you are claiming.”
    Dyer nodded, visibly calming from his nervous state.
    “So let’s go through the claims in your open letter. First you reprint your bulletin of 23 January, 1931 of the fourteen organisms you claimed to be of Archaean provence.”
    “Not the organisms; half their footprints. The organisms themselves obviously lived in an epoch of ice.”
    “Regardless, Dr. Dyer, evidence in Archaean slate is wholly irreconcilable with civilized beings existing until the glaciaton of Antarctica with little change other than the ‘decadence’ you alude to.”
    I paused before continuing. “Your first sighting of the archaeological site of cubic and conical buildings with pinnacles is laced with references to obscure superstitions: the medieval Arabic Necronomicon, Pnakotic Manuscripts, etc. I pass quickly to the direct evidence of your senses at the archaeological site, only drawing your attention to how these occult books would have biased your interpretation of the evidence.”
    Dyer frowned, digging his unsteady fingers into the arms of his stuffed office chair. “Continue to your point.”
    “I next pass over the tragedy at the Lake camp, as the cryogenic preservation of some higher organism with no close relationship to vertebrates and their ability to kill men after revivification is all too plausible. During your fieldwork in Australia, the American biology journals have published a paper on the freezing and revivication of scorpions.”
    “So you and the grad student Danforth flew to the mountain site. You wrote of ‘the hundreds of thousands—perhaps millions—of years it had brooded there amidst the blasts of a bleak upland’ – you thereby admit that what you found proves nothing about the organisms’s city lasting more than perhaps two million years?”
    “We collected evidence from the mural motifs. There were the domesticated pterosaurs, world maps showing the continents in all stages of drift…”
    “I grant the pterosaurs, but if Wegener’s theory of continental drift is true, they could have discovered it independently. Unnecessary to say they lived through it.”
    “So we have an above-ice archaeological site extending, by your estimates, forty by unknown miles, and the images you and Danforth made came from a single multi-story building and adjacent ones you may have wandered into. Your letter says all the bas reliefs found there can be dated to perhaps two million years ago ‘as checked up by geological, biological, and astronomical features’. Such is consistent with a terminal Pliocene glaciation of the polar region where the city was built. Then you and Danforth crossed a covered bridge to a rock-cut edifice that you as a geologist identified as ‘Eocene or Cretaceous’. Its bas reliefs were much less decadent than the others, and from this you infer a single Spengler-type cycle of civilization taking from the Eocene or terminal Cretaceous until the Ice Age to go from its springtime to decadence?”
    “It seems absurd in human terms, but the cycle of civilization from birth to decadence could scale with the lifespan of the intelligent organism, and we inferred that the Old Ones were nearly immortal.”
    “Quite a leap of logical inference from bas reliefs, Dyer!” I calmed myself before continuing. “You inferred from these images that the organisms had science and industry more advanced than modern man’s, with which they created the first multi-cellular life on Earth, in the form of food and their ‘shoggoth’ tools or slaves. While I find this conclusion unsupported by your facts, we cannot escape the conclusion that these pre-human intelligences did use a science beyond ours to create the shoggoths.”
    “And shoggoths still live in those mountains of madness, which is one reason there must be no more exploration.”
    “And elsewhere, as you must have inferred from depictions of the sea as their preferred habitat, which you touched on in describing ‘the War of Resubjugation’ and depiction of land animals rather than shoggoths as domestic creatures. So you should not find it beyond belief that we’ve encountered shoggoths without having to invade Antarctica.”
    I sympathetically watched Dyer turn pale.
    “When– what context?” he sputtered.
    “February 1928 off the coast of Massachusetts. You recall the cry civil rights groups raised about the concentration camps later that year?”
    “I do.”
    “Well the reason they dropped it is that the detainees were an amphibious offshoot of man, who had either allied with or enslaved shoggoths in their undersea habitat.”
    Dyer looked like he was about to faint.
    “It’s because Starkweather and I believe your report, minus logical leaps about the species and city’s length of existence, that we secured federal funding and liaisons with the Federal Bureau of Investigation branch that has dealt with shoggoths.”
    After having spent some time completely limp in his chair, Dyer leaned toward me while tightly gripping the armrests.
    “It’s still mad! There’s no need to go back there, and taking a couple of G-Men on dogsleds–”
    “I’m afraid we don’t have a choice, Dr. Dyer. American embassy personnel in Berlin have passed on circumstantial evidence that the German government has created an archaeological department for researching your ‘Old Ones’.”
    I withdrew a folder from my briefcase on his desk and slid it across to him. “Society for the Study of the History of Primeval Thought, an organization within the Schutzstaffel branch of Chancellor Hitler’s National Socialist Party. Founded July 1st of this year with an official goal of ‘promoting the science of ancient intellectual history’. You want to learn German to try to discourage them? And then, when Soviet scientists start believing your findings?”

    I sat down in the college library. There was no point in continuing to reason with Dyer after the shock I’d given him about the Massachusetts fishmen and their shoggoths. I’d let him sleep on it before offering a last chance to join the expedition.
    I opened the file in my briefcase stuffed with copies of his photographs and open letter. The stapled sheaf of pages was folded to where I’d left off. “The builders of the city were wise and old, and had left certain traces in rocks even then laid down well-nigh a thousand million years… rocks laid down before the true life of earth had advanced beyond plastic groups of cells…” I began writing in the margins. The geologist contradicts himself… true multicellular life dates to earliest Cambrian. If Old Ones created earliest multicellular organisms as food, how did they live for the hundreds of millions of years separating Archaean from Lower Cambrian?
    Old One civilization had begun in the sea… this was difficult to prove from the bas reliefs. The photographs rarely show marine animals. Life underwater was demonstrated by images of the beings swimming with cityscapes in the background, a swimming phosphorescent invertebrate, etc, but who knows which came first? “They hunted game and raised meat herds—slaughtering with sharp weapons whose odd marks on certain fossil bones our expedition had noted.” Why have we found no such marks on fossils from other continents? Unless we can find such marks on fossils from more than one epoch, this is evidence against Old One land civilization enduring millions or hundreds of millions of years. Yet mix of land animals depicted complicates assigning the civilization to one geologic period: primitive reptiles, giant pterosaurs, proto-simian, etc.
    “Their original place of advent to the planet was the Antarctic Ocean, and it is likely that they came not long after the matter forming the moon was wrenched from the neighbouring South Pacific. According to one of the sculptured maps, the whole globe was then under water, with stone cities scattered farther and farther from the antarctic as aeons passed.” Absurd time scale; no justification. Man needed only six thousand years to scatter cities across Earth from a start on the Euphrates. Alternate explanation for map showing Earth entirely underwater marked with cities and also map with continents in their known positions?
    Numerous depictions of octopus-headed intelligent reptiles have no connection to map of ‘Pangaea’ from continental drift theory that Dyer connects to their arrival from outer space. Period impossible to infer, and creatures could furthermore be creation of Old Ones like shoggoths. ‘Pangaea’ sketch does show city marks around the world, if marks not misinterpretation by Dyer. He places shoggoth war of re-subjugation between wars with octopus-heads and “Jurassic” wars with para-crustacean beings images associate with Pluto. Chronology is again hard to justify; most that can be said is that “Plutonian” war images do show advanced dinosaurs. Dyer speciously identifies beginning of racial decadence with losing knowledge of space travel to confront para-crustaceans before they could conquer the continents, yet is certain they continued to exist without change to terminal Pliocene. Final, “Pliocene” map sketch has “no land cities except on the antarctic continent and the tip of South America, nor any ocean cities north of the fiftieth parallel of South Latitude.” Curious how marine cities were lost if the para-crustaceans were unable to colonize sea: destruction by shoggoths?
    I paused in my marginalia. Dyer’s film had been used up when they found the map room, so from this point all images he made inferences from were only sketches. So until scientists returned to those sites, we were dealing with a layer of cognitive bias between us and the direct evidence of Dyer’s senses. He was a sadly irrational fellow outside his field; he couldn’t help peppering his open letter with allusions to the Necronomicon and Pnakotic manuscripts. The former I knew by reputation, though so minor a medieval occult book that it didn’t have a print edition. It was either an Arabic grimoire or the scripture of an abortive Middle Eastern religion, apparently so unappealing to either Arabic intellectuals or the common man that we lacked records of Islamic authorities bothering to burn it. The handful of manuscripts, which this very library had one of, were all in Greek. The fact that Greek was still a required subject at Miskatonic would explain why enough of the faculty had read the manuscript to make it a school in-joke. But Dyer had neurotic tendencies and seemed to take the stupid thing seriously, as more sober people might take the Bible or Hindu scriptures. I chuckled at the thought of what English-reading Indians would soon make of a scientist’s claims of civilized beings existing from the beginning of life on Earth.

    “Dr. Moore?”
    It was Dyer’s voice. I craned my neck around in the chair. “Hello. I didn’t expect to see you again today.”
    He was holding a folder in one hand and a mug of steaming liquid in the other. Said hands looked steadier than they had during our interview. “I have unpublished notes from my recent Australian fieldwork corroborating the existence of the Old Ones no later than the Upper Triassic. And there was another civilization with them, one more mechanically inclined. If I cannot dissuade mankind from invading Antarctica, we should at least mention to your sponsors in the federal government that it seems prudent to block the Germans from this site first.”

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      [con’t]

      It was just after four when I got back to my Arkham hotel room. There was still time to call Higger about Dyer’s Australian material before he left FBI Headquarters. I sat down on the edge of the bed, next to the nightstand with the phone. I unbuttoned my collar, then picked up the receiver as I slipped off my shoes, stretching my toes.
      “Hello, operator? I need to place a long distance call to Washington.”
      Once she connected me, the phone rang four times, then he picked up.
      “Subdirector? This is Moore. Dyer has neither consented nor refused; I’m letting him sleep on it and taking an afternoon train back to Washington tomorrow.”
      “Is that all you called me for?”
      “No, sir. He gave me copies of photographs and notes from his spring-summer fieldwork in the Western Australian desert this year. Manufactured Triassic sandstone, the interior of a structure, hieroglyph-like writing…”
      “Is it the same architecture and writing as Antarctica?”
      “No… that would be circumstantial evidence of fakery. Blowing smoke to prevent us focusing on the trail he doesn’t want followed. No, it’s different, and he claims the civilization that built it had airships and atomic-powered surface vehicles.”
      “You believe that?”
      “No. That part comes from a book by Peaslee, a local alienist with a history of psychotic breaks. You ever read The Story of Atlantis and the Lost Lemuria by Scott-Elliot, the Theosophist? Just an attempt to outdo him, I think. Dyer is a credulous sort outside his field of geology… we need to try to look at the photographs and other scientific evidence without his bias.”
      “Of course, Dr. Moore. Still, if reports reach me from the embassy in Berlin of a German plan to excavate that site, we’ll have State encourage the Australian government to either refuse or block them by sending their own academics to the site.”
      “Noted, sir. Goodbye.”
      “Goodbye.”

      John Higger hung up the phone. He had enough to keep straight without the eyewitnesses to pre-human ruins turning out to be Arkham asylum cases. He needed straight answers to the big questions, like who were the good guys in this story? Dyer’s paper treated the “Old Ones” as such, Cthulhu and the Plutonians as their enemies. Moore was aware that the Innsmouth detainees claimed Cthulhu worship was about universal harmony and recoiled from the Old Ones, but was unaware that the United States government was in contact with the Plutonians. And how much were they hiding from Higger and his superiors?
      He wanted there to be simple answers. Let the Plutonians be honest people, so to speak, and the Old Ones the bad guys. That would make Cthulhu a good guy too, right? Then he could let the fishmen go free… that’s what the Founding Fathers would have done, wasn’t it? The First Amendment said no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion. Nothing said that included only purebred humans.
      Then again, he didn’t have a shred of evidence that Cthulhu cultists were benign. Law enforcement had first encountered them in connection with ritual homicide in rural Louisiana, and the risk to human life shoggoths implied made that seem mild by comparison.

  9. deluks917 says:

    I often get asked to explain the rationalist community. I usually say that the rationalist community has fuzzy borders and serves many purposes. But one purpose is to act as an intellectual space. This leads to the question of which intellectual problems the community is working on and what progress has been made. Here is an outline of topics which the community seems to be working on. I would appreciate feedback on which topics have been left out.

    === Mature Research Groups/Areas
    MIRI
    CFAR
    Effect Altruism

    === AI Alignment:
    AI Timelines (still open subject)
    Write Arguments AI Alignment is a problem (mostly achieved)
    Paul Christiano Research Program

    === Practical Advice
    Diet and Weight Loss
    Exercise Other Health Interventions
    How Effective is Modern Medicine?
    Career Advice (80K hours exists but its biased toward the very talented)

    === Philosophy and Foundations:
    Bayesianism as a Foundation for Knowledge
    Aumannian Agreement
    Population Ethics and Utilitarianism
    The Outside View and Efficient Markets
    Is Akrasia the Central Problem in Self Improvement
    Quantum Mechanics (consensus seems to be that the Eliezer work is wrong)
    Post Rationality

    === Practical Epistemics:
    Double Crux
    Productive Disagreement
    Babble/Prune and Idea Generation
    Running Effective Meetups
    The death of Lesswrong 1.0

    • albatross11 says:

      How about mental biases and signaling?

    • thepenforests says:

      Quantum Mechanics (consensus seems to be that the Eliezer work is wrong)

      Certainly he’s gotten a lot of pushback in this area, but I think “consensus” is definitely too strong. I think it’s more the case that a lot of rationalists (reasonably or not) retreated from having an opinion one way or the other once they saw people with more knowledge about the subject matter arguing against him. Plus, on top of that there’s the usual bias where people with disagreements are obviously going to be more vocal about it. A lot of people do still agree with him about Many Worlds. Heck, Scott Aaronson even recently credited his advocacy as being at least part of the reason that Many Worlds has become relatively more mainstream recently.

      For what it’s worth, speaking as someone with a PhD in physics (although don’t weight that too heavily – it involved almost no quantum mechanics), I think Eliezer is pretty much entirely right about Many Worlds. At worst I’d say he’s a bit overconfident on the issue, but that’s nothing new.

    • I’d summarise it as “Ayn Rand again, this time with a beard”.

      • John Schilling says:

        Scott and Eliezer are more comfortable and honest with their polyamory, so perhaps the better version would be “Ayn Rand without a Nathaniel Branden to splinter the movement”. Although if Rand had had a beard, Branden wouldn’t have been as interested, so your version sort of works.

        Also, Scott at least seems far more willing to acknowledge uncertainty and error than Rand ever was.

  10. holmesisback says:

    Just curious here anybody else with ADD have any strategies for actually getting things done in both the macro and micro senses? I.e. can never seem to finish any projects and when I’m working on them Im constantly drifting away…I recently tried sticking to a 20/5 rule 5 min break every 20 min and it kinda helped but in a sense I feel like such frequent breaks are counterproductive.
    Any advice appreciated

    • skef says:

      The advice for this sort of thing often varies by type of project. Is this stuff done on a computer? On paper? Is it chores, or hobbies done at a workbench?

    • Eric Rall says:

      My technique is to break things down into bite-sized subtasks and then create a sense of urgency for each subtask, usually by committing to a deadline or making it a prerequisite for something I want to do (e.g. “I’ll finish folding the laundry, then I’ll make lunch” or “I’ll go home once I get this bug fix out for review”).

      It helps if the deadlines and prerequisites can be framed in a way that makes them less negotiable. For example, this past weekend my wife and daughter were away, so I decided I was going to paint the master bathroom while they were away (since it needed doing, I didn’t have anything better to do while they were away, and I wouldn’t be inconveniencing them with the work). I did it all in one day, justified by the need to keep the cats locked out of the room until the last coat of paint dried. The major steps were caulking the baseboards, painting the baseboards, and the two coats of paint on the walls. Each step had about a 2 hour dry time after it before I could do the next step, so I could justifiably take a break (for a meal, or to play a game for a little bit, or to watch something short on TV) during the dry time, but I needed to get back to work promptly once the dry time was up so I could get all the steps done the same day.

    • cassander says:

      Take lots of stimulants. Try to arrange to work on things that you actually like. Try to arrange to work on things in ways that are highly measurable.

      At least for me, I would recommend against frequent breaks. Hyperfocus is your friend, you just got to get into the mood.

    • cassander says:

      Take lots of stimulants. Try to arrange to work on things that you actually like. Try to arrange to work on things in ways that are highly measurable.

      At least for me, I would recommend against frequent breaks. Hyperfocus is your friend, you just got to get into the mood.

    • johnjohn says:

      For long term ADD coping strategies I’m currently trying out 50/10 (after negotiating with my therapist about 20/5).

      It’s working -very- well for me (but everything works well the first couple of weeks I try it.. sigh. So obviously, take with a grain of salt. As you should with anything, especially anything told to you by someone with ADD and especially especially anything told you you by someone with ADD about coping strategies)

      The important bit.. Extremely(!!) important bit.. (If you’re not doing this, you’re not doing it at all)… Is that my breaks are actual breaks. Leave your phone behind, go sit in a comfortable chair or couch in an area with minimal noise. Maybe grab a cup of coffee. And just sit there. For extra productivity bonus, bring a notebook, write down whether you were productive or not in the last 50 minutes. Should take about 2 minutes max. This has helped me keep on track.
      It’s painful and uncomfortable! (But not even close to being as painful as say… meditating)
      As painful as anything providing structure. But it seem to have halted my biweekly burnout

      I find Cassanders advice extremely damaging in the long run. Hyperfocus even with stim help will kill my productivity for days, to the degree where even if I am twice as productive with hyperfocus, it won’t come close to making up for the days I lose.

      • cassander says:

        I find your experience fascinating because of how different it is from mine. The only side effect I get from getting into hyperfocus is that I’m usually hungry when I come out because I haven’t eaten in a while.

  11. eighty-six twenty-three says:

    My phone popped up this news article about San Francisco homeless. The authors pretty clearly have a political axe to grind, but I read it anyway.

    (By the way, is it scary that Google has put a news feed next to the home screen of my phone? And that I actually kind of like it?)

    The article complains that San Francisco is handing its homeless situation poorly, and suggests that this implies that liberal policies (with respect to the homeless population) are terrible.

    I’m tempted to counterargue that San Francisco is uniquely bad in terms of the housing crisis, and “prevent anyone from building reasonable housing” is not a liberal policy. Seattle might be a better example of a left-leaning city that seems to be doing okay.

    — except I guess Seattle has its own problems?

    Is there a concrete proposal for the right way to handle a homelessness problem?
    Is there a counterargument for why the homelessness crisis doesn’t imply that liberal policies are terrible?

    • Nornagest says:

      SF really is uniquely bad in terms of its housing policy, but I don’t think that has much to do with its (also very bad) homeless policy. Most of the people that have been priced out of SF housing have moved to cheaper parts of the Bay, in with roommates, or into vans; not into homeless encampments.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Aren’t programmers living in vans because housing is uniquely expensive part of the SF homeless problem?

        • Nornagest says:

          Technically, yes, but when I hear “homeless encampment” in a Bay Area context I don’t think “RV or hippie van on a back road somewhere”, I think “shantytown made of tarps and scrap wood, or just a sleeping bag on some cardboard surrounded by trash”.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Fair enough. How big and how connected with heroin is the shantytown problem?

          • Nornagest says:

            It’s pretty substantial. As recently as a couple months ago, there was hardly an underpass in Oakland that didn’t have some camps set up in it — in some places approaching the sort of thing I’ve seen in the poorer parts of Southeast Asia, though with more tents and fewer cinder blocks. I haven’t spent much time in the City lately, but from the few data points I have, it’s growing there too.

            I can’t conclusively connect it to heroin, but the timeline does line up fairly well with the rise in opioid overdoses over the last few years.

        • johan_larson says:

          I would say no. If you are a programmer in non-traditional housing in the Bay area, you are almost certainly doing it by choice. You could get regular housing, but it’s so expensive you’d rather live weirdly and save money. Or you’d rather live in crowded quarters rather than commute or move to a less prestigious place to work. The tech companies pay well enough that their employees can outbid other workers in the Bay area, at least in the rental market.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Is there a concrete proposal for the right way to handle a homelessness problem?

      Have enough crappy areas of town that the homeless can camp out there and not in the areas that the rich people live. SF’s problem seems to be that EVERY area is ridiculously expensive and EVERY area has rich people, so there’s no place for them to go.

      I don’t think that the point of the article is that the liberal policies are “bad,” just that the liberal policies are obviously insufficient.

    • John Schilling says:

      Is there a concrete proposal for the right way to handle a homelessness problem?

      That would require the unpalatable acknowledgement that there are at least two different homeless problems, sometimes more, that require different solutions. Which one were you interested in?

      Pretty much everywhere, you’ve got the problem of people who likely and predictably will secure a stable home and a job (or whatever) to pay for it sometime in the next six month, but it sucks in several ways and endangers the favorable long-term outcome that they don’t have the money to rent even a minimal home in the short term.

      Pretty much everywhere, you’ve got the problem of people who are mentally ill in ways that likely and predictably will get them thrown out of (or burn down) any home that doesn’t come with a minder to at least make sure they take their meds, but we have decided for good reason that we don’t want to force these people to live in the state-run group home with the minders who make sure they take their meds.

      And in the Bay Area, we’ve got the problem of people who are making $50K/year or more and mostly using that to rent really inconvenient homes (e.g. fifty miles from where they work or with multiple adults per room) but sometimes wind up with solutions that meet the technical definition of homelessness.

      Any one “right way” for solving “a homeless problem”, will be absolutely wrong for at least one of these groups.

      • Andrew Hunter says:

        Pretty much everywhere, you’ve got the problem of people who are mentally ill in ways that likely and predictably will get them thrown out of (or burn down) any home that doesn’t come with a minder to at least make sure they take their meds, but we have decided for good reason that we don’t want to force these people to live in the state-run group home with the minders who make sure they take their meds.

        I mean, these people exist everywhere, I agree. But are they around in large numbers? San Francisco’s zombie problem is way worse than most cities; Seattle isn’t great either, and I’d expect plenty in various warm weather destinations. But is there really no city in America which has only a handful of these?

        • Eric Rall says:

          I can’t find city-level estimates, but here’s an extensive study with state-level estimates. Exhibit 6.3 on page 62 is an estimate of the chronically-homeless population by state in 2015. It looks like California is a rather extreme outlier (over a third of the national chronically homeless population). Oregon, Washington, Florida, Texas, and New York are the next tier down from California (FL, TX, and NY being very high population states, the former two having some of the warmest climates in the country).

          There aren’t per capita figures in the report and I’m too lazy to derive them myself, but Oregon looks like an outlier in terms of a high per capita CH population (as a relatively small state with one of the highest CH populations outside of California), while Indiana looks like an outlier in terms of low per capita CH (one of the bigger states, but with a much lower CH population than other big states).

          On the way there, I noticed on page 60 that there’s been a steady decline in the CH population at least since the start of the study period (2007), with total CH population declining 30% over eight years. So it looks like there’s something that’s solved a third of the CH problem, but I have no idea what.

          • Brad says:

            You have to watch out with statistics on homelessness. The official definition is far from the colloquial one. In that report what you want is “unsheltered”.

            It’s worth noting that in NYC the city is legally mandated to provide shelter for everyone. Yet we have an increasing number of people in sleeping bags on the street and subway (thanks De Blasio). The street homeless choose to be street homeless. Granted the shelters for single adults aren’t nice and people steal things, but no one gets killed and stuff can be stolen on the street too.

          • David Speyer says:

            That report has figures for large metro areas on page 68. Los Angeles is first with 12,000, then NYC at 3,000, San Jose at 2,000 and then DC, SF and San Diego tied at 1,500. All of these are “chronic homeless” numbers. As Brad says, “unsheltered” is the term corresponding most closely to “living on the street”; the report doesn’t have that number for most areas, but it does have it for LA and San Jose on page 69, and its very close to the chronic number.

            Converting into per capita, 0.3% of LA, 0.2% of San Jose, San Francisco and DC, 0.1% of San Diego, 0.04% of NYC.

            Converting to per surface area (as a proxy for “how many homeless people will I see on a typical walk”), SF has 32 homeless/miles^2, LA and DC are in the low 20’s, San Jose and NYC are around 10, San Diego drops down to 4.

            So yeah, San Francisco is pretty bad although, depending on your metric, LA, DC or San Jose could be considered comparable.

          • John Schilling says:

            There’s obviously going to be a selection bias for milder climates, whether through migration, extinction, or sucking it up and accepting otherwise-intolerable shelters. That’s going to be hard to deconvolve from political and economic factors without a lot more data.

  12. johan_larson says:

    Lindsay “Nostalgia Chick” Ellis has a series of really excellent videos critiquing Jackson’s LOTR movies, starting here:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XP6uMQL9Od4

    Watch them! Watch them!

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      I watched the first one and half of the Two Towers.

      One thing that bothered me – maybe I should have stuck with it – was that she never really fulfilled her promise to me in the first video. I was expecting to see an argument about how the trends in modern filmmaking that so thoroughly destroyed The Hobbit (and are in the process of destroying Star Wars, DC, Marvel, and just about any other franchise you care to name) had their roots in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. She alluded to this at the beginning, but never followed up on it in the video – instead it was mostly a (fairly interesting) examination of the movie itself and some of the alterations the filmmakers made from the source material.

      When the Two Towers continued in a similar vein, I was discouraged and gave up (I spent about 40 minutes combined on the two videos).

      • quaelegit says:

        She brings up the context and it’s influence on some later films in the last two minutes or so of the two towers movies. More at the beginning (first two minutes) of RotK part 1. And some discussion of the extended editions and their effect on movie development and merchandising. But most of the rest of the series is focusing on the movies themselves.

        IIRC the hobbit series discusses the trends you’re talking about a bit more (but probably still are mostly about the movies themselves).

    • quaelegit says:

      She’s currently making videos on the Hobbit trilogy which is also quite interesting!

    • Nornagest says:

      I would rather gnaw off my arm than watch long-form YouTube video. Is there a transcript?

      • johan_larson says:

        If you follow the link, and then click on the three dots on the right under the video, you’ll find a menu that contains an entry that provides an autogenerated transcript.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I watched the first one and was underwhelmed– I usually like her work.

      I think the problem is that she doesn’t like fantasy. I give her points for honesty, but I’m inclined to think that people can’t do a good job of reviewing art they start out disliking.

      She missed one of the things I hated the most about the movie (and I hated a lot)– the action scenes were just too long. Or did she say so and I missed it? There’s no excuse for cutting out chunks of the book when the action scenes go on forever.

      One thing that seems to be idiosyncratic at my end is that I though Legolas was ugly/weird-looking rather than inhumanly beautiful.

      I still like Tom Bombadil, but Galadriel’s gift-giving was more important to the story, and they’re both eliminated. (I’ve been told by someone who saw all the movies that *all* the gift-giving from the books was cut out.)

      She’s right about angsty Aragorn.

      I hope to live long enough to see LOTR done properly, as six movies. If you don’t like the idea, you don’t have to watch them.

      • cassander says:

        >I hope to live long enough to see LOTR done properly, as six movies. If you don’t like the idea, you don’t have to watch them.

        That’s basically what the extended editions are, they run to 11 hours in total, and include the gift giving. Sure, they don’t have the scouring of the shire or Tom, but they have most everything else, and I think they’re a very good adaptation.

      • quaelegit says:

        > I’m inclined to think that people can’t do a good job of reviewing art they start out disliking.

        Where do you get the impression that she doesn’t like fantasy? There’s a bit at the beginning where she says something like “I’m typically more of a scifi person”, but it’s possible to love both even if you spend more time with one genre than the other (I’m definitely an example).

        What’s even weirder to me is that I have the impression that Ellis really loves LotR (definitely the movies and I think also the books). She’s discussed in several places that the LoTR extended editions and behind-the-scenes extras inspired her to go into filmmaking.

        > She missed one of the things I hated the most about the movie (and I hated a lot)– the action scenes were just too long.

        She discusses that Helm’s deep is very drawn out, and also contrasts some of the battles in Two Towers & Return of the King in terms of what worked well and didn’t. These would be in the last three videos though, so if you stopped after the first you would have missed that discussion I think. (Perfectly fine if you did — if you don’t like the first video of a series no reason to sink another hour into watching the rest of it, right?)

        > Legolas was ugly/weird-looking rather than inhumanly beautiful.

        I can’t say if they got “inhumanly beautiful” right, but judging how many of my friends had Legolas posters/pictures around growing up, I think the broader audience liked his looks. 😛 Ellis argues that Legolas’ characterization in the movies was weak, and that Bloom was outclassed compared to phenomenal actors around him, so that might also have undersold his presentation.

        One thing in her review that surprised me is how mean Faramir is (in the movies). I think she might have played this up a bit because he’s mean to Gollum (who is her favorite character), but she also says this was changed from the book — I must have remembered the book better because in my mind Faramir is really nice guy.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          After she talks about liking science fiction more than fantasy, she goes on to talk about fantasy defaulting to being oriented towards the past and generally less imaginative than science fiction.

  13. gbdub says:

    Pretty good article on Cracked today about common societal myths that people believe / are widely reported in the media (everything from “Millenials are lazy” to “School shootings are really common”).

    Doubt too many of the myths will be a surprise to the community here (several have actually already been discussed by Scott or in OTs) but it’s nice to see this sort of thing in non-rationalist niches. Probably worth signal boosting if you are so inclined.

    • Randy M says:

      The mildly surprising one to me is the “body cameras on cops have no effects.” Maybe it will have an effect if we find obvious cases of misdoing and they are visibly punished. Or would this be another instance of where deterrence is ineffective?

    • Michael_druggan says:

      I mostly agree with the topics here but I’m not a big fan of the article

      In number 2 he equivocates between being anti/pro science and being open to new information. These are not the same.

      In number 3 he equivocates between sexual harassment and sexual assault which are completely different levels of violation

      • gbdub says:

        It’s far from perfect (there’s also some unnecessary snark at gun owners as “losers”) but let’s not let perfect be the enemy of good enough.

        And actually, I’m not sure I agree with your objections. The point of 2 is that “[My side] embraces science” usually means “[My side] embraces science when it validates our preconceived notions, and ignores or rejects it when it doesn’t”. The “myth” as written, is certainly something I’ve heard before, and “no, everyone ignores science when it suits them, and almost everyone engages in isolated demands for rigor” is a perfectly valid refutation of that myth.

        As for 3, the author has one paragraph specifically about assault, followed by a second specifically about harassment, and both support the overall point that “women are sexual victimizers too”. That seems totally valid. Maybe the word “assault” in the title should be switched to “misconduct” or “crime” or something, but whatever, why quibble about one word in a subtitle of a listicle? I don’t think it subtracts substantially, if at all, from the thrust of that point.

  14. johan_larson says:

    Your mission: condense The Lord of the Rings into a two-hour movie. 120 minutes and not one second more. Feel free to add, remove, or change anything you need to. How would you do it?

    To begin with, I think I would drop the whole birthday party bit. Just start with Gandalf bursting in to Frodo’s home and demanding “the ring, the ring”. Gandalf fills in a few bits of back-story and persuades Frodo to take the ring to Aragorn in Bree, while Gandalf creates a diversion to draw away the Ring-Wraiths who are looking for the ring. Sam comes along, but Merry and Pippin get cut from the script. Frodo and Sam have some scary moments dodging Ring-Wraiths before they get to Bree. They start to tell the other patrons in the Prancing Pony what just happened to them when Strider pulls them aside and tells them to shut up. That’s probably the first 20 minutes right there.

    Also, once the fellowship splits up, follow only Frodo and Sam.

    • Nornagest says:

      I don’t think you can do it if you insist on following all the branches of the plot. Even if we limit ourselves to Sam and Frodo, what story beats can’t we get rid of?

      Gandalf and the Ring. Rivendell. Moria. Lothlorien and Galadriel. Amon Hen. Gollum and the Dead Marshes. Shelob. Cirith Ungol. The Cracks of Doom. And some kind of denouement.

      That’s quite aggressive (Aragorn is cut almost completely, for example), and it’d still consume most of the screen time for a standard movie. You might be able to fit enough of Aragorn’s plot in to give context to what Sam and Frodo are doing without going over two hours, but bringing in Merry and Pippin, the Ents, Isengard or Rohan would probably be too much.

      • johan_larson says:

        Do we need Lothlorien and Galadriel?

        The hobbits could be given the boffo gear at Rivendell.

        • Nornagest says:

          I think we need Galadriel, at least. She’s too important to Sam’s character to leave out. But there’s no reason we couldn’t meet her at Rivendell, I suppose.

          • Randy M says:

            Funny, I don’t remember her interacting with Sam much in the movie–Frodo, yes, “Don’t give me the ring, oh, but I want it,” etc., but what interaction did she have with Sam?

          • Evan Þ says:

            Merge her with Arwen, if we aren’t cutting Arwen altogether?

            Or for that matter, we could merge her with Elrond. If we’re cutting Eowyn as I advocate below, we’ll need at least one plot-relevant female character.

          • DavidS says:

            @Randy: pretty sure as in the book she’s really horrible to him. Shows him his home burning and then says ‘well, maybe it’s happening, maybe not, maybe only will if you respond to seeing it’. Basically ‘I have a pointless magic mirror that exists to upset people’.

            Then she gives him the light that shines in dark places, which is pretty important, and possibly also the seed/soil that gives him Gardening+50.

            @Evan: no reason at all to keep Arwen unless you have Aragorn as a major character-focus. To be honest even then his plot works fine without her. Galadriel is more important to the plot, and far too powerful and awesome to be Aragorn’s love-interest IMO.

      • Evan Þ says:

        If we’re on such an aggressive cutting mission at the cost of the riches of Tolkien’s story…

        Cut Caradhras, Lothlorien, Saruman, and Rohan completely. I agree we need to keep Gondor and Aragorn, but have Aragorn go straight from Amon Hen to the Paths of the Dead, and have his forces be what rescue Gondor.

        I’d really like to keep Pippin for the sake of the Gondor plot – maybe have him find the palantir in some more random location, maybe Amon Hen itself? Or he steals it from the orcs before the returning Gandalf rescues him?

        Then, end the story on the Fields of Cormallen with King Aragorn bowing to the Ringbearers, and Frodo and Gandalf crowning him.

        • gbdub says:

          Consider The Hobbit where the “fellowship” of that book shows up fully formed at Bag End – so cut everything up to and including Rivendell, and hold the “council of Elrond” in Hobbiton. You can have Galadriel there to hand out gifts if you want.

          I guess Frodo getting stabbed is important, so have the Ringwraiths attack the party on the way to Moria. Maybe that’s what drives them into the mines in the first place (and that cuts out the only plot-critical thing Saruman does in the first movie). Pippin’s loud noise is prompted by him finding the Palantir and getting eyeballed by Sauron. A running battle in the mines splits the party and Gandalf dies. Boromir tries to take over the party, tempted by the ring… and this part is basically the end of FotR, minus Lothlorien.

          Cut our Saruman, Isengard, and Rohan completely. Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas catch up to the party of orcs (from Mordor this time) and rescue Merry and Pippin, with the help of a reborn Gandalf. Realizing Sam and Frodo are on their own, and that the orcs they caught are probably just a vanguard for a force attacking Gondor, they all head to Minas Tirith.

          Denethor is pissed about Boromir, refuses to allow Aragorn to enter, and refuses to believe that he is under attack. The hobbits and Gandalf stay, Aragorn goes with Legolas and Gimli to the Paths of the Dead for reinforcements.

          Cut the Faramir subplot.

          I think Gollum is pretty critical, and he was introduced in the Hobbit, so he can stay as the guide into Mordor. But “Gollum separates Frodo and Sam and betrays Frodo” could be accomplished much more quickly – maybe they get separated in Shelob’s lair, Shelob attacks, Sam rescues him, and then the next time we see them is on the slopes of Mount Doom.

          From there you can pretty much go as is. Aragorn breaks the siege at Gondor and rides to Mordor to confront/distract Sauron. Ring is destroyed. The movie already has like 5 fades to black so no reason not to jump straight to the crowning of Aragorn, and there’s your movie.

          Of course this is all a terrible idea because it cuts out most of the hooks to the deep lore that make LotR worthwhile in the first place. But it would work as a movie.

    • eighty-six twenty-three says:

      Run it at (178+179+200)/120=4.642x speed.

    • johan_larson says:

      – establish Frodo as a young gentleman in a quaint village, with his devoted gardener Sam
      – in bursts Gandalf, looking for the ring, and explains some of its history
      – Gandalf persuades Frodo (and Sam) to take the ring to Rivendell while Gandalf draws off the ringwraiths
      – Frodo and Sam head into the wilderness, hiding from the wraiths
      – wraiths catch them at Amon Sul, where Frodo gets stabbed
      – Aragorn rescues them, and they hightail it to Rivendell to save Frodo
      – council of war in Rivendell where more history of the Ring is told
      – meet Gandalf and Boromir in Rivendell
      – Boromir complains that Gondor is under siege and relief from Rohan has not come
      – council orders Gandalf, Aragorn, Boromir, Frodo, and Sam to go to Rohan to urge Rohirrim to come to aid of Gondor; ring is then to be taken from Gondor to Mount Doom to be destroyed
      – party is intercepted at Amon Hen by Uruk-Hai and Boromir dies
      – remaining fellowship (including Hobbits) travels to Rohan and frees Theoden from his curse, then ride with Rohirrim to Gondor to break siege
      – the steward disgraces himself during the siege, and Aragorn takes command
      – Gondorian forces attack Mordor, while Sam and Frodo sneak in to Mount Doom
      – Frodo has trouble dropping the ring into the fire, but Sam manages to wrestle it from him and throws it in
      – Aragorn is crowned king, and the hobbits head home

      In the Blue-Ray edition, the party meets Gollum on the way to Rohan. He tries to take the ring, but he is such a pitiful wretch they can’t bring themselves to kill him. Also, he knows a useful shortcut. Gandalf knows part of his story, and Gollum tells the rest during the journey. Some time later, Gollum again tries to take the ring, and this time the party drives him off for good.

      • johan_larson says:

        Alternately, focusing on the hobbits and Gollum, omitting Gondor, Rohan, and Aragorn:

        – establish Frodo as a young gentleman in a quaint village, with his devoted gardener Sam
        – in bursts Gandalf, looking for the ring, and explains some of its history
        – Gandalf persuades Frodo (and Sam) to take the ring to Rivendell while Gandalf draws off the ringwraiths
        – Frodo and Sam head into the wilderness, hiding from the wraiths
        – wraiths catch them at Amon Sul, where Frodo gets stabbed
        – Boromir rescues them, and they hightail it to Rivendell to save Frodo
        – council of war in Rivendell where more history of the Ring is told
        – reunite with Gandalf in Rivendell
        – Boromir complains that Gondor is under siege and urges council to use the ring as a weapon against Mordor
        – council orders Gandalf, Boromir, Frodo, and Sam to take the ring to Mount Doom to be destroyed
        – Boromir tries to take the ring from Frodo
        – party is intercepted at Amon Hen by Uruk-Hai and Boromir dies fighting them
        – hobbits and Gandalf meet Gollum, who also tries to take the ring; he’s so pitiful they can’t bring themselves to kill him
        – Gollum knows a useful shortcut through Moria; the party follows it
        – Gandalf dies in Moria
        – after Moria, hobbits and Gollum continue toward Mordor
        – Gollum again tries to take the ring on the Long Stair; this time the hobbits drive him off
        – at Mount Doom, Frodo succumbs to the power of the ring and puts it on, but Gollum bites it off his finger and falls into the lava, destroying the ring
        – the hobbits go home

        The director’s cut is 20 minutes longer. There are 5 more minutes setting up Gandalf/Sam/Frodo, a 10-minute encounter with Shelob, and a 5-minute section with Faramir, the new ruler of Gondor where the hobbits explain how Boromir died and Faramir gives them ponies for the trip back to the Shire.

        • johan_larson says:

          The one complaint some will have about this version is that it’s all dudes all the time. And that’s true. No Rosie, no Galadriel, no Arwen, no Eowyn in this one. Although there could be some female elves in Rivendell, including Galadriel.

          I suppose Boromir could be swapped for a female emissary of Gondor who brought her warrior-princess mojo, but that would take things even further from the original story.

    • BlindKungFuMaster says:

      Let’s face it: 10 minutes exposition, 109 minutes CGI battles, Frodo drops the ring into mount doom.

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        Ah, so you’re the one who wrote the script for The Battle of Five Armies.

        • quaelegit says:

          Hah! But does Five Armies even have a ring moment?

          (All that stuck with me from that film was Legolas “running” up the the falling rocks like stairs… it’s featured in the Lindsay Ellis video above and it’s somehow even worse than I remembered.)

    • Björn says:

      The most condensed version would be:

      Frodo live in fairytale England
      Frodo inherits the Ring from an older relative and learns that it is evil, it must be destroyed, and if he fails fairytale England will be no more.
      Frodo and his best friend Sam go from the Shire to the evil place to destroy the Ring where it was created.
      On the way they meet Gollum, who was corrupted by the Ring, and who can lead them to the evil place.
      Frodo gets corrupted by the Ring in turn, but it is Gollum who destroys the Ring in a combination of self sacrifice and greed.
      Frodo and Sam return to fairytale England, but the damage on their souls might never heal.

      This leaves all the conflict around the Ring intact, and also all the inner drama Frodo experiences. It puts the focus on the parallels between Frodo and Christ, and how Tolkiens war experiences appear in the Lord of the Rings.

      • no one special says:

        I cosign this plot synopsis.

        To get Lord of the Rings down to a 2 hour movie, you need Disney tier reimagining. (Maybe even “Total Recall” tier.)

        I am tempted to merge Frodo and Bilbo, and have the first half be “finding the ring” and the second half be “destroying the ring.” Make Bilbo/Frodo actually be a burglar/street hood. He picks Gandalf’s (or Thorin’s) pocket, but gets caught and dragooned into coming along against the dragon. Next, they’re all captured by goblins in the mountains, Bilbo lost, Gollum and the ring. Skip straight from the mountain crossing to the lonely mountain; Bilbo + Dwarves use ring to defeat dragon, kingdom under the mountain is restored.

        Time jump here; “ten years later” Gandalf bursts into bag end. “The ring, the ring” Sauron is back, ringwraiths are on the loose and it must be destroyed. Bilbo and Sam set off to take the ring to Mordor and destroy it. Gandalf fights ringwraiths. Maybe have Gandalf take them partway and be killed. Bilbo and Sam meet Gollum who will lead them on. Bilbo can’t bring himself to destroy the ring, but Gollum accidentally does. Bilbo and Sam return to the shire, but they will never be the same again.

        Set up beats to echo back and forth between the two halves. Bilbo’s transformation from hood to gentleman should be as striking a rise as his fall at the end is. When he finds the ring, have Gandalf explicitly say that it’s one of Sauron’s rings, but with Sauron inactive, it isn’t very dangerous, but useful.

        This is a very tight fit, but it avoids having to convince the audience to buy in to caring about Frodo and the ring up front, which is probably the hardest sell.

        • Evan Þ says:

          The two problems I have with that are that there’re few enough links between the Quest of Erebor and the Quest of the Ring that they don’t fit naturally in the same movie, and that having Bilbo/Frodo start out as a burglar doesn’t fit with his moral arc in the rest of the story. I can see merging Bilbo and Frodo, but not much else – maybe show Frodo finding the ring as a flashback when Gandalf bursts in at the beginning?

          I think “Fairytale England / the Shire, with these Named Characters, will be destroyed by the Dark Lord” is a common enough motivator we don’t really need to worry about it.

        • gbdub says:

          Why do you need to merge Bilbo at all? The Hobbit is not part of LotR – I guess you’re going for extra credit 😉

          • Björn says:

            If you leave out the grand narrative around the core story, the only purpose Bilbo has is to give a reason why Frodo has to be the ring bearer. Because Frodo is an innocent everyman, he can not aquire the ring consciously, he needs to stumble upon it and then he becomes the ring bearer because he has no ambitions that can be corrupted.

            I think the exposition of the first LotR movie is the best part of the movies. Gandalf returns to his old friend Bilbo for a big birthday party, already suspicious that Bilbo has the One Ring. And it turns out he is correct, and even nice uncle Bilbo is being corrupted by the Ring. After some more coincidences, Frodo and his friends take the Ring to Rivendell,and are pulled into an adventure that’s so much over their heads.

            The only sad thing is we get 2 1/2 more movies full of things that pull the attention away from Frodo and his inner drama and towards thousands of things that are cool, but don’t mean that much for the characters. The only other character who is at least a little bit interesting is Boromir, because he is such a failure. The others aren’t even that virtuous, they just kill a bunch of orcs.

          • no one special says:

            Not extra credit, but rather, I think the hardest sell in all of the cut down versions we see here is starting with Gandalf bursting in saying “the ring, the ring”. I asked myself, what kind of information do we need to see in order for the audience reaction to be “Oh no, shit is getting real,” and not “that escalated quickly”?

            Then I thought, If we’re cutting out all of the story and characters except the ring quest, why not include the discovery of the ring itself? Then we have a steadily rising line of ring-concern across the whole film.

          • John Schilling says:

            One thing the movies did very well, I thought, was the introduction of the ring, Frodo, Gandalf, and their relationship. We get in a fairly quick and very entertaining manner that the Ring is a dangerous tempting thing that came into Bilbo’s possession in some past adventure, that Gandalf has been keeping an eye on it and them, and that the innocence of Shire hobbits may have been an adequate safeguard in the past but that this protection is wearing thin.

            I don’t know that it would really be possible to improve on that, so the question is how much it can be abbreviated without losing too much essential detail or character.

    • Iain says:

      I read the Lord of the Rings for the first time when I was six years old. At the time, the only part I cared about was the journey of Frodo and Sam; all the politics in the other story line went over my head.

      If it worked for six year old Iain, it should work on screen. Drop Gimli, Legolas, and the two minor hobbits entirely. Merge Aragorn and Boromir. Eliminate everything that isn’t directly connected to Frodo’s journey; if Frodo or Sam doesn’t see it, it doesn’t matter.

      Gandalf kicks things off, reunites sometime before Moria, and sacrifices himself to save them from the Balrog. Aragoromir meets them in Bree and travels with them through Moria, only to fall victim to the lure of the Ring on the other side. Gollum’s role stays mostly unchanged.

      Gondor is gone. So is Rohan. Weathertop is important given the increased focus on Frodo. (I like gbdub’s suggestion of using it as the impetus for going into Moria.) You probably include either Rivendell or Lothlorien, but not both. Faramir is optional. Given all the time we’ve freed up by cutting out half the book, you can shoot scenes with Tom Bombadil and include them three years later in the director’s cut.

      • Evan Þ says:

        I weirdly like the idea of cutting Aragorn but keeping Faramir. Maybe show some brief scenes in Minas Tirith between Faramir and his father, capping off with Faramir – maybe against orders – leading the army or at least part of it to a Battle of the Black Gate at the end? It’d continue his plot arc, and I think something along that score would play in well with a condensed version to give some impetus to “yes, this really is so important we’re leading an army as a distraction.”

        • gbdub says:

          Do Faramir/Boromir/Denethor, the Steward and his progeny, make any sense as characters without a King?

          • Evan Þ says:

            Absolutely. You still have Denethor’s tragedy, his favoritism between his sons, their different personalities, and the conflict over Faramir letting the ring go. You’d lose part of their character, but not all, and probably less than Jackson already let go.

          • gbdub says:

            I don’t know, “Denethor is miffed because he has the duties of a king without the glory” seems like such a big part of his character.

            I mean, it’s “Lord of the Rings” but the last book is “The Return of the King”! The returning king really has to be in it (or at least before the relatively minor Faramir).

          • DavidS says:

            I don’t think Denethor being miffed at being just a steward is that central. It’s well below ‘has fallen into despair because while he thinks he’s learnt more he’s actually being manipulated’ and ‘terrible parent who worships his flawed elder son and ignores the fact his second son is tied with Atticus Finch, Lee Scoresby and that guy from the Book Thief whose name I forget for the ‘perfect human being’ prize.’

          • gbdub says:

            Fair enough, but then who runs Gondor after Denethor offs himself? Faramir would be the only choice, but his willingness to serve the true king rather than take power himself is part of what makes him perfect.

          • John Schilling says:

            Fair enough, but then who runs Gondor after Denethor offs himself?

            BoroFaraGorn. If we’re stripping LOTR down to a short novel / long movie’s worth, and if we agree that what’s left has to be Frodo-centric, then there’s no room for Gondor politics. Gondor is the idealized kingdom that is at risk (along with everything else) if Sauron wins, but everything of interest occurs on the periphery. The Shire, Rivendell and/or Lorien, Rohan if it appears at all, should be left vaguely implied to be part of the Gondorian sphere of influence and so they send a princeling to assist the Ringbearer, but that’s it.

            Maybe we get to see Minas Tirith twice; once in peacetime when Gandalf is doing research and drumming up support, once under siege to remind us of the stakes while Frodo et al are traipsing through the woods. We can see Denethor briefly in all his pride and arrogance, and maybe we can see him die so that BFG gets to be king in one of the mid-credits scenes, but that’s probably all there’s room for.

            Now: is there room for Isengard and Saruman anywhere in this abbreviated tale? It would be hard to find room to do them justice, and yet it seems that pissing off the ghost of Christopher Lee might be a Bad Plan.

      • gbdub says:

        I don’t think you can eliminate Gondor, since “Men return to glory, inherit Middle Earth” is a huge part of the arc of LotR. Nor can you ditch Legolas and Gimli, basically for the same reason. The interactions between the various races, the way they unite to fight Sauron (echoing previous battles against Sauron and Morgoth), and most importantly, how the different races compare to hobbits, are I think critical to the message Tolkien wanted to convey.

        “Two dudes take a hike to return lost jewelry” isn’t that compelling without the world built around it. At a minimum, you lose the ability to convey any stakes. Yeah, we care about Frodo and Sam – but you won’t get the sense that they are saving the world because you’d never see the world being saved.

        • Nornagest says:

          “Two dudes take a hike to return lost jewelry” isn’t that compelling without the world built around it.

          …although now I kind of want to see a Ulysses-style treatment with the basic plot of Lord of the Rings cast into a mundane modern-day setting.

        • Iain says:

          At a minimum, you lose the ability to convey any stakes. Yeah, we care about Frodo and Sam – but you won’t get the sense that they are saving the world because you’d never see the world being saved.

          The nice thing about walking all the way across Middle Earth is that you get to see a lot of the world that you’re saving. We already have the Shire as a place to value. Lothlorien can be another — the Mirror of Galadriel pulls double duty by letting you reinforce the danger to the Shire. If you’re short on time, introducing an otherwise irrelevant side kingdom is hardly the most efficient way to increase the stakes.

          Would this capture all the themes of the books? Of course not. Trying to replicate everything worthwhile about the books in a single short movie is a recipe for disaster. It’s better to take one part of it and do it well — and if you’re going to focus on a single plotline, the journey of the ringbearer is the only reasonable choice.

          • gbdub says:

            How the heck is Gondor “an otherwise irrelevant side kingdom”? It’s literally the most important place in the story after the Shire and Mordor. It’s who Sauron really wants to destroy (apart from “everybody”). If you’re going to do a “journey through Middle Earth” I think you have to show Minas Tirith and Pellenor at least, even if it’s just a quick trip.

            I don’t know, I just feel like the “specialness” of hobbits and the Shire is a Big Deal in the books, and they don’t feel special if you don’t have strong examples of dwarves, elves, and men to contrast them with.

            Yeah, you have to cut out a lot to make it fit in one movie, but frankly 2/3 of the Frodo/Sam journey is dull as hell, or made not dull by diversions (Faramir, the marshes, Minas Morgul, etc.) that are less interesting and less critical than having “Aragorn returns to Gondor” as your B-plot. And you need a Big Battle anyway.

          • Iain says:

            Gondor is the most important place in the half of the story that I’m proposing to excise. Frodo and Sam don’t meaningfully interact with Gondor until after the Ring has been destroyed.

            You get to compare hobbits with elves in Lothlorien. You get to compare hobbits with men in whichever pieces of Aragorn / Boromir / Faramir make it into the final cut. You get to compare hobbits with ancient evils in the bonus Tom Bombadil scene. You get to compare hobbits to the works of dwarves in Moria; if it’s really important to you, I guess you could wedge Gimli in somehow.

          • gbdub says:

            Hmm. I guess it works, but “multiple plotlines that diverge then tie together at the end” is not an uncommon structure for a film. Heck, Last Jedi just did it, and Frodo’s story + Aragorn’s quest would be better because the B-plot actually matters.

            To me including Gondor adds more (or rather cuts much less) than showing two full hours of hobbits walking. But we can amicably disagree here, I think both would probably work out in the end.

    • Deiseach says:

      Just start with Gandalf bursting in to Frodo’s home and demanding “the ring, the ring”.

      Yeah but that means (a) you need to drop Bilbo and make Frodo the guy who had the ring all along and (b) for those who are not familiar with the books, who are any of these people and why should we care? The birthday party introduces us to the Shire, the Hobbits, Bilbo and Gandalf and the rest, and Gollum is going to be important later on so we need to find out about him.

      Following only Frodo and Sam might get very boring as there’s a lot of marching through desolate countryside, hiding, and trying to find ways around all the blockades of Mordor. You could, I suppose, cut it down to “Gollum turns up – guides them straight to Cirith Ungol – the rest follows” and lose Faramir etc. but then you lose a lot of the story.

      Are you going to leave out Boromir, for instance, and concentrate only on Aragorn? No Merry and Pippin, and following only Frodo and Sam after the breaking of the Fellowship, means losing Rohan and Gondor and that gives us a problem if we want the climatic battle of the Pelennor Fields. If we don’t, then yes we have a straight linear narrative from Frodo in the Shire – much reduced Fellowship – split up – Frodo and Sam in Mordor.

      But then I could see the viewers arguing that really, once Frodo brought the Ring to Bree, he should have just turned it over to Aragorn and let him be the hero and drop the Hobbits. For that matter, why not have Gandalf (after he bursts in demanding “the ring, the ring”) just bring it straight to Aragorn himself and stick with the plain, straightforward tale of King-in-Exile defeats Dark Lord and regains his throne, instead of messing around with Hobbits?

      • johan_larson says:

        Yeah but that means (a) you need to drop Bilbo and make Frodo the guy who had the ring all along and (b) for those who are not familiar with the books, who are any of these people and why should we care? The birthday party introduces us to the Shire, the Hobbits, Bilbo and Gandalf and the rest, and Gollum is going to be important later on so we need to find out about him.

        I’m thinking the movie starts with a 10-minute into that show the audience
        – Frodo is a country gentleman in a quaint burg, and Sam is his devoted gardener
        – Gandalf is a wizard, ancient and powerful, but a friend of the Baggins family
        – the ring is an heirloom of sorts, currently held by Frodo
        – the ring is magical, and is sought by darkest evil to gain power over the world
        – the ring must be destroyed, and can only be destroyed at Mount Doom
        – terrifying creatures called Ringwraiths are coming for the ring
        – despite his lack of most qualifications for adventure, Frodo is the best available candidate to take the ring to wherever it needs to go next, while Gandalf attends to the Ringwraiths
        – Sam will go with Frodo

        I think you could convey this in 10 minutes of interaction between Frodo, Sam, and Gandalf, aided by occasional video interjections showing key events Gandalf is speaking of.

      • Evan Þ says:

        But then I could see the viewers arguing that really, once Frodo brought the Ring to Bree, he should have just turned it over to Aragorn and let him be the hero and drop the Hobbits.

        Well, that’s why we show the insidious corrupting nature of the Ring, how even Frodo was overcome at the end, and how it was only destroyed through Providence.

        Alternatively, we could emphasize that by taking @Iain’s idea above and merging Aragorn with Boromir. His part at the end could be taken by Faramir, which could maybe still give us a climactic Battle of the Black Gate (with Faramiragorn leading part of Gondor’s army, maybe against his father’s orders, to distract Sauron from Frodo’s Quest.) If we want one battle in the film, I think that’s the most thematically necessary.

    • Nick says:

      For the opposite challenge, adapt The Silmarillion into 72 movies.

    • gbdub says:

      Pithy / snarky answer: There is already a plot treatment for a condensed “Lord of the Rings” movie, and it’s called The Hobbit. If that had been filmed as written, instead of bloated into a 3-film nightmare of bad CGI, you’d have a perfectly good 2 hour self contained adventure in Middle Earth without having to make any real sacrifices to Tolkien’s work.

      • quaelegit says:

        LoTR and The Hobbit really aren’t the same. Same universe maybe, but very different scope, tone, and I’d say genre. Tolkein actually revised The Hobbit to make it align better with LOTR after the latter was published. One of the many problems with the Hobbit films was that they were trying to make more LOTR, but the source material doesn’t support that and they did a bad job adapting the source.

        I agree with the second part of your comment though. (Although the original plan of two movies directed by Guillermo del Toro also sounds like it could be great!)

        • gbdub says:

          But the different scope / tone / “genre” are what would make it work as a movie. To strip LotR into a mere two hours you’re going to have to drastically reduce the scope and probably the “genre” anyway, why not start from a complete story rather than cripple the grander one?

    • Jaskologist says:

      Ditch the macguffin and focus on the real hero: Aragorn. You can get some real pathos between him and Borimir, then he can go off and save both Gondor and Rohan, eventually learning that the true ring of power was inside him all along.

    • honoredb says:

      You can make it more stagey/artsy by cutting out most of the plot and focusing in on Moria.

      Start in media res with Frodo and Sam camped out outside Moria, calmly and innocently discussing how to get inside, lamenting that all of the worldly-wise and competent people who were supposed to help them are dead or otherwise gone. A strange creature, Gollum, arrives and asks for the ring. Frodo explains that the ring must be destroyed. Gollum pretends to acquiesce and offers to sneak them into Moria. He leads them to the lair of a giant spider named Shelob, hoping that Shelob will kill them both so that he can steal the ring back. Frodo and Sam manage to escape and are now in Moria, where they confront Gollum. Gollum confesses and pleads for mercy, claiming that he was once very much like them but was corrupted by the ring. Sam wants to kill him but Frodo lets him go. The two journey on, and we see Frodo begin to be slowly corrupted, and their civilized airs get stripped away by the increasingly hostile environment. Frodo gets captured by orcs, and Sam rescues him. Sam offers to take a turn carrying the ring, but Frodo refuses. Sam can see more and more of the beginnings of Gollum in him. They brave a perilous climb. Sam warns that Gollum is stalking them, but Frodo refuses to believe him. Finally, they reach the Crack of Doom, and Frodo can’t bring himself to cast the ring into the fire. Gollum attacks him, steals the ring, and accidentally(?) falls in himself. Eagles arrive to take the hobbits home to the Shire, but Frodo says he no longer belongs in that innocent place and will remain in Moria. Sam must save Frodo one last time by persuading him that the Frodo who spared Gollum, the moment of grace that saved the world in the end when all else failed, is still in there somewhere. Frodo eventually agrees to be flown home, but still doubts that he can ever truly return.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Your mission: condense The Lord of the Rings into a two-hour movie. 120 minutes and not one second more. Feel free to add, remove, or change anything you need to. How would you do it?

      Taking extreme liberties……

      Sauron controls half of middle earth and is raising a slave army to conquer the other half. Hobbits are among the enslaved and are dragged to Mordor to do his bidding while stronger slaves are sent to fight the war against Aragorn the King who is fighting with a last allience of elves/dwarfs/men. Frodo, who is obsessed with this family heirloom of a ring swallows it (and perpetually cleans and swallows through the movie) when he is dragged off with Sam and the two of them end up slaves working in Sauron’s dungeons where Gandalf is being tortured indefinitely. Eventually Gandalf discovers about the ring and while Sauron is distracted with the final battle with Aragorn they escape and flee to destroy it in Mt Doom.

  15. Randy M says:

    American military involvement in Syria–Likely? Justified? Good?

    I recall some defenses of voting Trump offered here around the election being that, given his professed isolationism, he would be less likely to get into armed conflicts like this.

    Trying to divine a consistent ideology or probably course of action from the President’s twitters does not seem reliable, but he does seem to be buying into the “We must stop Assad” narrative.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Trump as a general isolationist is ridiculous but it definitely applies to Syria. The mainstream foreign policy advisors generally seem to believe that it’s our duty to intervene. Trump has really no interest in Syria and is only responding to the chemical weapons. He’s not going to occupy Syria and I highly doubt that he’s going to try to force Assad out.

      Anyone who thinks invading Syria is a good idea needs to explain why they think this is different from the last 15 years of ME interventions.

    • cassander says:

      define “involvement.” we are already somewhat involved.

      the trump administration appears to be in the same position the obama administration was after they took a few years to figure out that the moderate rebels weren’t going to win. They don’t think there’s anything they can do to make things better, but are feeling pressure to “do something”. the obama administration liked to do something by funding and encouraging proxies and giving lofty speeches. The trump guys will blow something up. Frankly, the latter is probably better in the long run, lofty speeches not backed by action are perilous things.

    • albatross11 says:

      I’m wondering:

      a. How much Trump is being influenced by the need to visibly say and do hostile things toward the Russians in order to weaken the impression that he’s beholden to them.

      b. Whether Trump might see expanded war in Syria as a way to wrap himself in the flag and thus shore up his political support. This might be especially important if he plans to fire the special counsel and wants to weather the potential impeachment threat.

      • cassander says:

        a. How much Trump is being influenced by the need to visibly say and do hostile things toward the Russians in order to weaken the impression that he’s beholden to them.

        Relatively little, I think. THere are easier things trump could do to try to dispel that impression, and he’s not doing them. Plus the previous administration, which did a great deal not to to see the russians as hostile, still felt a great deal of pressure to get involved.

        b. Whether Trump might see expanded war in Syria as a way to wrap himself in the flag and thus shore up his political support. This might be especially important if he plans to fire the special counsel and wants to weather the potential impeachment threat

        .

        If he were doing that, trump being trump, I think he’d be doing it far more blatantly.

    • John Schilling says:

      American military involvement in Syria–Likely? Justified? Good?

      Far too late.

      It would have been justified and could have been good in 2011, when the Free Syrian Army was the main opposition to the Assad Regime. It would have been justified in 2013, after the Ghouta attack. That was probably too late to save Syria from being anything but a Libya-esque failed state, but it would have maintained both US credibility and the international norm of Thou Shalt Not Use War Gasses. And if Syria were officially a failed state in 2013, it would have been easier for the US to intervene decisively (possibly with boots already on the ground) when ISIS made their big move in 2014.

      Instead, we tacitly ceded Syria to Russia as a client state in exchange for Putin making sure we wouldn’t have to see any adorable moppets being gassed on TV any more. And he didn’t hold up his end of the bargain, but he’s not going to see the Russian Empire diminished by the loss of Syria regardless. Putin would probably rather Assad finish up his civil war with strictly conventional weapons, and he’ll probably overlook a token cruise missile attack if that’s enough to satisfy Trump, but that’s about it.

      Russia basically likes the way things are turning out in Syria, which means anything the US does that actually changes anything, means going against Russian interests. In places where Russian interests are being defended by Russian troops operating closely with the people we’d have to kill if we were going to implement our changes by violence. So, all the fun of Libya, plus the risk of war with Russia. Or a token strike that makes Trump and America look strong to idiots, but weak to anyone with a scorecard.

      Syria belongs to Russia now. Unless you’re willing to wage war with Russia over the matter, it’s up to Vladimir Putin to decide how many people Assad is allowed to gas.

      • albatross11 says:

        Maybe it could have been good in 2011, but I remain extremely skeptical about whether it *would* have been good. And it’s not so hard to see why both politicians and voters were a little skeptical about how well it would work out, when we were just then finally getting the troops out of Iraq that we’d sent there in 2003.

        • cassander says:

          I would agree. I don’t think the free syrian army would have been that much of an improvement over the status quo once they’d crawled over the corpse of the existing regime to come to power.

          • Wrong Species says:

            I’m guessing in that case, Syria would look more like Egypt pre-coup. Even if it was led by seculars, once the actual votes came in, the Muslim Brotherhood would have managed to come out on top.

          • John Schilling says:

            Wait, which coup are you talking about? Egypt has had several.

            If you mean Syria would have looked like Egypt pre-2011, that’s a strong argument for helping the FSA take over Syria as quickly and decisively as possible.

            A Syrian equivalent of Egypt’s pre-1953 monarchy would be interesting, definitely “pre-coup”, and I think wholly implausible.

            But if by “pre-coup Egypt” you mean 2011-2013, I don’t see how that’s a plausible outcome of an FSA victory, given that the FSA was a professional military organization and the nominal government of Egypt in that period was a deliberate refutation of military rule.

            You seem to be trying to equate the Free Syrian Army with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, when the FSA comes from the same background as the people who spent the past fifty years making sure the MB was never allowed to rule Egypt no matter how many votes they got (except for a brief interregnum allowed so the Army could launder the 2011 coup as someone else’s populist democratic uprising gone wrong)

          • Wrong Species says:

            I’m saying that if FSA won and then established a democracy, the Muslim Brotherhood would probably have swept in and won those elections, just like in Egypt.

          • cassander says:

            I think the prospects for a quick FSA takeover are pretty slim as long as Russia was backing Assad. It’s beeen rumored that russia was willing to throw assad to the wolves, with the obvious caveat that they got a strong hand in choosing who comes next. If that happens, though, I don’t think you actually do much to change the Syria situation. Their geopolitical position would still impel them towards alliance with russia and iran especially since russia won’t sign up unless the replacement is something they think will deal. You’d still have a dictator in place, and if you don’t have a dictator, as Wrong Species says, the people who get voted in will almost certainly be unpleasant, and they’ll either be unpleasant, be deposed by a new strongman the way the brotherhood was in Egypt, or the whole thing will collapse into civil war. None of these outcomes helps the US in any way, and it would be nice if the tragedy couldn’t be blamed on us for once.

          • John Schilling says:

            Combining responses here:

            I think the prospects for a quick FSA takeover are pretty slim as long as Russia was backing Assad.

            Agreed, but Russian backing was quite tentative before 2013. There was a chance that decisive action could have both toppled Assad and kept Syria out of the Russian Empire, in 2011. Post-2013, no chance.

            The Muslim Brotherhood would probably have swept in and won those elections, just like in Egypt

            Egypt when?

            The Muslim Brotherhood has contended for many parliamentary and/or presidential elections in Egypt, and in every case but one the military officers who actually run the country said “Yeah, no, we’ll have something that looks like an election but we’re not really letting these guys win”. The one time the MB won, was because those army officers needed to whitewash the fact that they’d just orchestrated a coup and knew that they could let the MB safely “win” an election and then take back power a few years later.

            If we postulate the FSA defeating the Assad regime in a civil war, they come in looking good enough to Western eyes that they don’t need to pull that sort of dodge, and (like most victorious revolutionaries) popular enough at home that they don’t need too much in the way of election-rigging to make sure nobody takes power from them in the first postwar election.

            Syria in 2011 was very much unlike Egypt in 2011.

      • rlms says:

        I think non-token strikes could potentially be game-theoretically good for precisely the reasons you give. The actual immediate effect is negative, but it shows Putin that Trump is unpredictable/irrational in a way that means Russia should be warier of going against American interests, and it does so in a way that is unlikely to escalate (in comparison to doing a similar thing in e.g. Ukraine).

        • albatross11 says:

          There are multiple games going on. US vs Syria, US vs Russia, Trump vs Media/Pundit class, Trump vs Democrats, Trump vs Republicans, etc.

        • John Schilling says:

          [Military intervention in Syria] does so in a way that is unlikely to escalate (in comparison to doing a similar thing in e.g. Ukraine)

          Yeah, I think I’d like to set my bar for foreign intervention a bit higher than “somewhat less likely to start World War III than would sending an expeditionary force to Crimea”.

          • rlms says:

            You’re just no fun!

          • Wrong Species says:

            Russia is not going to start a nuclear war over the US bombing Syrian targets.

          • christhenottopher says:

            Almost certainly not, but then again, Austria-Hungary isn’t going to start a general European war over the assassination of an heir no one at court really liked anyways right?

            Roll those low probability dice enough times and eventually snake eyes will come up.

          • John Schilling says:

            Russia is not going to start a nuclear war over the US bombing Syrian targets.

            Right. They’ll start a conventional war over that. Then the US will start a larger conventional war over not wanting to lose the first conventional war. Then Russia will start a still larger conventional war over not wanting to lose that. Eventually, someone may forget to include the word “conventional”.

            People really, really, really, REALLY hate to lose wars. It’s possible for contemporary Americans to miss this on account of, whatever war we are currently losing, it’s the Other Tribe’s war and not Ours, and we’ll positively delight in The Other American Tribe being defeated., But to the people in the White House and the Kremlin, this will be their war and they really really won’t want to lose.

            Thing about limited wars is, if you’ve got the power projection for it you can ALWAYS not lose a limited war, by recasting it as a larger war. You might lose that one as well, but if you are certain to lose the one you’re fighting now…

          • Wrong Species says:

            @John

            If that was true, the US and Soviet Union would have blown each other up in 1962. We went 40 years without nuclear warfare during the Cold War and we’re not anywhere close to that level of tension. Now if we were going in to Ukraine, then you would have a point but Russia doesn’t care enough about Syria to go to war with the US over it.

          • John Schilling says:

            If that was true, the US and Soviet Union would have blown each other up in 1962.

            We weren’t fighting a war with the Soviet Union in 1962. We didn’t kill any of their people, and they didn’t kill any of our people, excepting spies and spy-equivalents everybody pretends don’t count. And calling that sort of geopolitical conflict a “Cold War”, doesn’t actually make it a war and doesn’t invoke the same psychological factors. The same sort of thing used to be called, IMO more accurately, a “Great Game”, and there’s no common behavior where if you lose a “Game” you start a “War” over it.

            But, in 1962, people were genuinely concerned that a nuclear war would start if e.g. the US actually killed Russian sailors while enforcing the blockade. Do you believe that the Soviet Union would have “started a nuclear war over Cuba”, any more than they would over Syria, or was the Missile Crisis a silly bit of fluff that only alarmist fools were ever concerned with?

          • Wrong Species says:

            Calling the Cold War a mere “Great Game” is deeply misleading. It was a existential struggle between two ideologies that almost came to blows multiple times. The US and the Soviet Union had an animosity that is far stronger than what we have now. When it comes down to it, would anyone have started a nuclear war over it? Maybe, maybe not. But it was far more likely then than now. Putin is no ideologue and Syria is no Cuba. The current tension just doesn’t compare.

            I will grant you that it could have negative repercussions. The US and Russians have been avoiding firing on each other for decades and it’s not a line to cross lightly. But this leading directly to large scale war just doesn’t seem likely.

          • albatross11 says:

            Wrong Species:

            How would we estimate the probability of a conflict in Syria between Russian and American forces escalating to a bigger war?

    • christhenottopher says:

      Good? That one’s easy: almost certainly not. I mean what’s the end game here? A punitive strike? What does Assad care about that? His country’s been a warzone for 7 years, a couple more craters and a few more dead soldiers mean little as long as he has Russian back up. Commitment to the point of removing Assad? And put who in charge exactly? Primarily jihadist Sunni Arabs so they can run a poorer and less stable Saudi Arabia? The Kurds so you can risk war with both Russia AND Turkey? A mythical pro-democracy movement that isn’t Kurdish or jihadi? Even if you scrap that together, it’ll have no legitimacy and will probably wind up needing outside troops to prop it up like the current Afghanistan government or Somalia’s government. Just a strike to take out chemical weapons facilities? Who cares? Hundreds of thousands can get killed without gas as the war has proven, and it’s not actually clear gas is more lethal than conventional artillery rounds. Best case scenario you just establish a little bit more firmly that when the US says “don’t use gas” they mean it. Which again, is cold comfort to those still killed in just as great of numbers conventionally.

      Justified? I guess. I mean if this attack was actually by the Syrian government (I seem to recall quite a bit of controversy over who really launched the Ghouta attack), then it’s a clear violation of the agreement that let Obama off the hook in 2013. But just because we have an option doesn’t mean we should exercise it.

      Which reminds me, anyone seen any good counter theories to the idea that Assad did this gas attack? Ideally if there’s something outside the Russian or Syrian press, but the “Ghouta was a false flag” theory made for good reading even if I walked away unconvinced.

      • albatross11 says:

        The best argument for some kind of strike is to re-enforce the idea that using poison gas in war is costly. If our strikes cost Syria enough, you can imagine that being a big enough incentive to dissuade further use of gas. I have no idea how likely that is.

        My not-that-informed impression is that it would have zero chance of working if the civil war was going against Syria. Along with the normal willingness of a dictator to fight to keep power, my understanding is that losing the civil war would have been very likely to lead to the ethnic cleansing or massacre of Assad’s religious minority. Someone a lot more squeamish than Assad about war crimes/human rights violations would likely find that sufficient motivation to use gas or anything else necessary to win.

      • John Schilling says:

        (I seem to recall quite a bit of controversy over who really launched the Ghouta attack)

        There was controversy over who launched the Ghouta attack in roughly the way there was controversy over who shot down Malaysian Airlines flight 17. Russia’s allies did it, there’s ample evidence that they did it, Russia’s professional trolls filled the internet with FUD, and the domestic political faction that didn’t want POTUS to go to war over it and/or take credit for resolving it sided with the trolls.

        • sfoil says:

          It was blatantly obvious that a Russian SAM shot down MH17. Air defenses were already known to be present in the area and on a serious war footing — Ukrainian military aircraft had been shot down. Maybe a Russian citizen even pushed the button, but it didn’t really matter. On the other hand, there’s basically zero likelihood that the plane was identified as a civilian airliner before being fired on. Nobody involved had an interest in publicly saying “yeah a Russia-originating ADA battery shot it down by mistake, war is hell”. Hopefully some efforts occurred behind the scenes to establish a proper ROE and ensure that “Eastern Ukrainian” air defenses have correct information on scheduled flights.

          At this point I’d be a little surprised if the Syrians deliberately used chemical munitions for any reason other than to test American response. Maybe there was a particularly nasty stronghold that couldn’t be reduced by explosives? But I haven’t seen anyone claim that.

          • albatross11 says:

            One obvious explanation would be that Assad doesn’t have all that much control over the local commanders’ actions, and that particular local commander is using gas because it makes his job easier.

            Another possible explanation is that gas is being used all the time, it usually doesn’t cause much of a media/international splash, and so Assad hasn’t been especially leaning on his commanders to avoid it.

          • Nornagest says:

            My theory after the first attack was that it was just a regular fuckup, one of the ones that happen all the time in war, especially wars as disorganized and protracted as this one. Perhaps some low-level artillery commander found some gas shells in an ammo cache that everyone alive had forgotten about or something, and either didn’t recognize them or didn’t understand the implications of using them.

            That’s looking less credible now, though.

          • Aapje says:

            @sfoil

            It was blatantly obvious that a Russian SAM shot down MH17.

            Yet Russia still denies this.

            Maybe a Russian citizen even pushed the button, but it didn’t really matter.

            It was probably a Russian soldier that pushed the button. The soldiers were/are almost certainly ordered to go there, but Russia pretends that they go voluntarily, as civilians.

            How does this not matter?

            On the other hand, there’s basically zero likelihood that the plane was identified as a civilian airliner before being fired on.

            Yes, because they only used a partial SAM system, without the possibility to do friend or foe detection. It was a choice to use such a system. It was a choice to actually fire at a plane that was at an altitude used by civilian planes. It was also a choice not to warn civilian airlines using the airspace.

            Nobody involved had an interest in publicly saying “yeah a Russia-originating ADA battery shot it down by mistake, war is hell”.

            That would not have been the end of it, as such an admission on the part of Russia would have created the question:
            – why Russia didn’t investigate the ‘theft’ and return of their SAM system from and to the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade and put the soldiers responsible in front of a military tribunal? This very strongly suggests that it wasn’t theft at all, which then makes Russia culpable.
            – why Russia is not policing their borders for the movement of large military materiel? Again, this suggests culpability/intent on the part of Russia.
            – why Russia is refusing to hand over the Russians involved (and actually seems to employ them)? This suggests that Russia is defending soldiers that were operating under orders, rather than that they are rogue elements.

            Etc.

          • Lillian says:

            It was also a choice not to warn civilian airlines using the airspace.

            It’s my understanding that the airspace was in fact a declared war zone and all other civilian aircraft were avoiding it. When MH17 flew through it by mistake, the SAM crew assumed it was an enemy aircraft precisely because civilian aircraft were not using that air corridor.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            @Lillian- as far as I know, this is incorrect. Aircraft from numerous other airlines including Virgin Atlantic, Singapore and Lufthansa had flown through the area- in fact, when MH17 was shot down a Singapore Airlines 777 operating flight SQ351 was very close by. The airspace in the area below 32000 feet had been closed, but MH17 was flying higher than this.

            MH17 may have beenabout to enter a region of Russian airspace that had been closed up to 53,000 feet (effectively completely) but I can find conflicting reports on that, including some claims that it was officially closed but Russian ATC in Rostov was ignoring this and allowing other aircraft to enter it (including the Singaporean 777 shortly after).

          • Aapje says:

            Russia added various flight restrictions to some airways shortly before the flight took off. The flight path of MH17 was going to have it enter a part of Russian airspace that was closed to flights below 32k feet. MH17 was at 33k feet.

            Here are some useful maps. Note that on that page, you can see that the NY times corrected a mistake in a map that claimed that the Russian airspace was closed to 53k feet.

          • John Schilling says:

            It was blatantly obvious that a Russian SAM shot down MH17. Air defenses were already known to be present in the area and on a serious war footing.

            It was not blatantly obvious, in that air defenses of both sides were known to be present in the area. Using the same make and model of surface-to-air missile, and on both sides run by people who had shot down civilian airliners before. It was necessary to actually do some investigating to figure out which side’s Buk-M shot down MH-17.

            This was done, with IIR sufficient precision to identify the specific missile launcher used and the social-media accounts of some of the people involved. There was a similar level of precision from the investigation of the 2013 Ghouta nerve gas attack, though in that case we didn’t catch anyone bragging about it on facebook. The more recent chemical attacks aren’t quite as positively attributed, at least by open-source efforts, but then they haven’t been investigated as long.

            It is important to do your homework before casting or denying blame for this sort of thing. Probably that just means waiting a few weeks and looking over other people’s work, but unfortunately waiting a few weeks often means everybody has lost interest.

          • albatross11 says:

            Nornagest:

            I heard or read (I think on NPR) the claim that gas attacks have been happening quite a bit in the civil war, but that they’re rarely witnessed by/reported to outsiders.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            It was not blatantly obvious, in that air defenses of both sides were known to be present in the area. Using the same make and model of surface-to-air missile, and on both sides run by people who had shot down civilian airliners before. It was necessary to actually do some investigating to figure out which side’s Buk-M shot down MH-17.

            John: do you have links to how this investigation was done? I remember reading that both sides had the Buks and then immediately every mainstream press outlet telling us that it was clearly the Russians and anyone who said otherwise was a Russian troll. (To be fair, many were.) But I never got a clear explanation from anyone as to how we actually know that, since anyone asking to see it was clearly a puppet. :/

          • John Schilling says:

            Here’s a link to an “an easy-to-read 73-page survey” of the main open-source investigation of the MH-17 shootdown. Fortunately, it front-loads the important parts into a bulleted TL;DR list.

            The same group has also investigated the many chemical warfare incidents in Syria.

          • christhenottopher says:

            That’s an interesting source John Schilling! I also found some of their analysis of the original 2013 Ghouta attack. This does lessen my uncertainty on the responsible party quite a bit (aka, yeah it was Assad’s forces and given the frequency of attacks reported by Bellingcat, seems more like typical policy than a particular commander going rogue).

          • Nornagest says:

            Reading now. This is some impressive detective work. Fingerprinting the Buk with damage to the rubber side skirts is inspired.

          • Aapje says:

            @Andrew Hunter

            The reason is that only the Ukrainians had military planes flying over the battlefield, while the Russians rebels couldn’t do that, because it would be beyond obvious then that the Russians were fighting in the war.

            So only the Russians rebels had motive to make their Buk’s operational. Corroborating evidence of this is that we know that around the time of the MH17 attack, a couple of Ukrainian Buk’s were hundreds of kilometers from the front line.

          • sfoil says:

            @John Schilling
            Thank you for the link, “blatantly” might have been an overstatement although within a few weeks of the incident I recall there being enough plausible information about dispositions to make the case against a Ukrainian missile (from ground or air) pretty conclusively.

          • Nornagest says:

            Okay, I was completely wrong. These gas attacks are definitely not a fuckup, the delivery system would confirm that even if there was only one incident. And it appears a lot more widespread than I thought it was. Almost has to be a deliberate policy. Funny how we only hear about it when it looks like we might be withdrawing from the region.

            …wow, these comments are a mess, though. I haven’t seen this many obvious shills since I stopped hanging out on the big news subreddits. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a high concentration.

    • sfoil says:

      I’d expect a token bombardment that does enough damage to plausibly send a Message to the World that using chemical weapons have consequences. I.e., exactly like the last time. An all-out invasion or “intervention” isn’t going to happen. The most interesting thing will be how effective the Russian installed defenses are against the attack (my guess:not at all), but there won’t be any reliable information about that available to the public. Maybe not even to the governments involved.

      I’d call it good and justified. The taboo on chemical weapons is good, and supporting it is good. Syria at this point is so devastated that I don’t think any likely attack will make things materially worse, and the tide is far enough in Assad’s favor that it won’t tip the balance against him. Chlorine, the alleged agent, poses zero proliferation threat (everybody has the capacity to make as much of it as they want already) and isn’t particularly noxious — worse than tear gas but way, way better than the really toxic stuff. So a tit-for-tat response doesn’t need to involve any serious effort.

      • The Nybbler says:

        The most interesting thing will be how effective the Russian installed defenses are against the attack (my guess:not at all)

        If I were the commander in charge of doing the attack itself, I’d certainly not send my best missiles against their defenses. Send some obsolete or even deliberately derated missiles, let them shoot them down (or at least try), and do the most damage where their defenses aren’t. Why give them cheap intelligence? As you say, this is likely to be another token attack to say “no gassing adorable moppets” as John puts it, so how much actual damage is done isn’t that important.

        • sfoil says:

          That’s a tough call, since you get intelligence both ways — and better to find out your missiles don’t work as well as advertised during a scrimmage instead of at the big game, for one. All else being equal I’d probably want to fire several types and see what actually worked.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      We’re already involved in Syria. We actually had a thread about Syria a while back when US troops got involved with some Russian mercs!

      I think John has the best summary. Russia is willing to go hard in Syria. For whatever reason it’s essential to their Mediterranean strategy, including their Mediterranean NUCLEAR strategy, so this is a big, big interest to Russia. Not on the same scale as Crimea, but more than Serbia or Libya. If you told me “go topple Assad,” I’d be seriously concerned that Syria might be under the Russian nuclear umbrella. I wouldn’t take the risk.

      We can launch some cruise missiles that might cause headaches, but it’s not going to change the final score. Sure, blow up a bunch of planes and munitions and the spare parts so maybe Assad can’t fly his air force for a few months. That’s not going to change the war: Russia is just going to send him more planes. Maybe if we cause enough headaches, Russia can put Assad on a tighter leash. But it’s Russia’s call in the end.

      • Randy M says:

        Follow up then–Is it in Western interest to oppose Russian expansion of their influence? How openly and at what cost?

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          I can only answer in the vaguest possible terms, because my knowledge is limited.

          1. We should absolutely oppose Russian influence, just not reflexively…only when it hits one of our interests or is a transgression of national norms.
          2. We should probably do it openly (and there is always going to be a covert angle to some strategies).

          Right now we’re sending arms to Ukraine and sanctioning a lot of Russians because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It’s good to do this because we’re not going to just let Russia invade whole nations and annex their own territory, and it’s good to do this openly so both Russia and our allies know that this is something we disapprove of and the US will respond. And sure, maybe we’re not going to roll into Crimea to kick them out, but if Iraq decides to annex Kuwait again, we probably WILL kick THEM out.

          Even in Syria, we’re operating against Russian interests. I highly doubt Putin wants any US troops there at all, especially after we apparently killed a whole bunch of his mercenaries. Us striking Syria at all also undermines Russia, because it shows a Russian relationship is still not able to stop US activity against you.

          It’s not that we shouldn’t oppose Russia AT ALL, it’s that Trump has an issue of knowing how and when to oppose Russia (or anyone else).

          Obviously if Russia attacks a core US interest, the US is going to respond. Like, if Little Green Men occupy Narva (87% Russian town in Estonia), the US will likely help Estonia rout them. If Russia starts mobilizing, then the US will match the mobilization. If Russia crosses the border, the US will respond.

          How high the cost is dependent on the situation. If Russia attacks Estonia and is willing to escalate all the way to megaton-exchanges, well, we had a good run.

      • smocc says:

        Do you have any ideas why Syria is important to their Mediterranean strategy? I’ve been wondering about that since it became clear that Russia had interests there, but I know next to nothing about global strategy.

        • bean says:

          Russia has been after a warm-water port since forever. Their stuff in the Black Sea is easily blocked by Turkey, and the British and Japanese have frustrated other attempts. Their Mediterranean Fleet was based in Syria during the Cold War, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they got some nice concessions and started going after Turkey aggressively about transit rights.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            Would a warm water port cut off from, you know, Russia, be of much value?

            I mean forward fleet stations are a thing, but this could never really be their Portsmouth.

          • bean says:

            That is a big question. It does give them a second front with Turkey, which could mean a lot of leverage that they can use to mitigate that disadvantage. But my attempts to understand Russian grand strategy have always foundered on the fact that it’s completely insane. Maybe the Russians can understand it, but I usually just get a headache and walk away.

          • christhenottopher says:

            Worth also noting that Russia still has potential chokepoint limits from Syria (the Suez Canal/straits of Gibraltar). Russia has for centuries justified expansion on getting warm water ports, but every time they get one, there’s always some complaint about the limitations of that new location. “Warm water ports” mostly seems to be Russian for “I. like. big. BORDERS and I cannot lie!” Syria happens to be the one country in the Middle East that continues to support a Russian military base, and unlike Iran which is also a current Russian friend in the region, has rather limited potential for independent policy (lack of oil+bad economy+relatively low population compared to neighbors leads to that). Lose Syria and Russia’s left with Iran as it’s last friend and Iran is too powerful to just be a puppet.

          • Nornagest says:

            Vladivostok’s at 43 North, south of Portland, Oregon. The Strait of Tartary freezes in winter, which leaves all the other passages to the Pacific contested by US allies, but a Mediterranean port would have the same problem. Although I hear traversing the continent is a problem, too — Russia’s road and rail networks aren’t as good as ours, and it’s a bigger country.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            You can stack a good amount of supplies in an overseas base. It’s not entirely different from the US stationing a bunch of crap in Pearl Harbor.

            The base is considerably smaller, but it still gives the Russians options to deploy some warships if they want to make a fuss somewhere. Egypt needs to be worried about 11 Russian warships, even if the US doesn’t need to be. Also makes operations more completed for 6th fleet if the balloon goes up.

          • bean says:

            Worth also noting that Russia still has potential chokepoint limits from Syria (the Suez Canal/straits of Gibraltar).

            This is true, but misses the point. A naval force in the Black Sea is only useful in the Black Sea, and has limited effects outside it. The same is very much not true of the Med. A lot of trade uses Suez and Gibraltar as a shortcut between Europe and the Middle/Far East. It’s slightly less important than it used to be, but still not a place we should want hostile ships with a secure base, even if they can’t reach the Atlantic effectively.

            Vladivostok’s at 43 North, south of Portland, Oregon. The Strait of Tartary freezes in winter, which leaves all the other passages to the Pacific contested by US allies, but a Mediterranean port would have the same problem.

            It’s been a while since I read up on this, but there were characteristics, probably both weather and geography, which made Vladivostok a bad choice for a naval base back in the 1890s, which lead the Russians to lease Port Arthur instead. I doubt those have changed that much.

          • cassander says:

            There is another reason the Russians need a Syrian port, the straits treaty. the ability of the russians to move ships back and forth between the black and med. sea is highly constrained by these restrictions. Being able to base ships past the straighs makes many of these considerations go away and considerably amplifies theoretical russian naval power in the med.

          • christhenottopher says:

            This is true, but misses the point. A naval force in the Black Sea is only useful in the Black Sea, and has limited effects outside it. The same is very much not true of the Med. A lot of trade uses Suez and Gibraltar as a shortcut between Europe and the Middle/Far East. It’s slightly less important than it used to be, but still not a place we should want hostile ships with a secure base, even if they can’t reach the Atlantic effectively.

            Oh my point isn’t that other nations wouldn’t have a problem with Russians reliably projecting force in the Mediterranean. Nations trading through the Med certainly do have more too worry about with a Russian navy there than in the Black Sea! Really I’m more saying that those choke points are then the next excuse for wanting a new warm water port giving more direct year-round access to the world ocean. Russia is not, and does not view itself as, a regional power but a global one and global power projection really needs reliable access outside local seas.

            This is the pattern with Russian expansion. They get a port, it has ice for large parts of the year, it’s too far away from Russia’s core, or it has choke points limiting usefulness (or a combination of the above). So then the Russian government uses that as a reason to try and push outward again. Lots of nations still thrive without meeting those conditions, but it’s similar to the US in the 19th century having the manifest destiny to expand across the continent. A handy goal post for expansion that ambitious Russian rulers can always push forward.

          • johan_larson says:

            I have to wonder how useful the warm-water tag is in an era of icebreakers and submarines.

          • Wrong Species says:

            It seems like the best policy Russia should be pursuing is trying to turn Turkey enough from the US that it becomes a non-issue. Based on the last couple of years, I think it’s certainly plausible.

          • John Schilling says:

            I have to wonder how useful the warm-water tag is in an era of icebreakers and submarines.

            Hugely. As bean has noted in a prior open thread, submarines are useful for only a fraction of what navies have to do, and they carry approximately 0% of the worlds maritime commerce.

            Icebreakers aren’t much better, unless you’re dealing with fairly minimal levels of ice.

          • johan_larson says:

            Anyone happen to know how many days a year Archangel and St. Petersburg harbours are inaccessible to civilian vessels due to ice, even with icebreaker support?

            I can’t find number, but my impression is the nations on the Baltic manage to keep sealanes open pretty much all winter.

          • christhenottopher says:

            I can’t find number, but my impression is the nations on the Baltic manage to keep sealanes open pretty much all winter.

            Kaliningrad is ice free all winter, but then you’ve got the problem of being bottled in by the Danish Straits. Denmark and Norway are NATO members so Russian naval power projection can in the event of conflict be easily contained there.

            EDIT: Not to mention it’s an exclave now surrounded by other NATO members (Poland/Lithuania).

          • bean says:

            I looked, and Vladivostok is (or was) icebound from December to March. But that was the 1890s. Not sure if it still is.

          • John Schilling says:

            In Post-Soviet Russia, warm-water ports come to you! What a country!

            Anthropogenic Global Warming as a net good due to reduced risk of Global Thermonuclear War. Discuss.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Syria was the USSR’s most reliable ally, and now Russia’s only ally in the region.

          The USSR wanted:
          1. To end Western domination of the planet. No more “Rule Britannia, Britannia rule the waves!” This requires ending their naval domination of the planet.
          2. Finland-ize their near abroad. The US and UK had formed an alliance with Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan, basically making one lonnnnnggggggggg front all the way from Istanbul to Islamabad, aimed directly at the USSR’s under-belly.

          In the Middle East specifically, they rode Pan-Arab movements that swept into power in Iraq, Syria, and Egypt. However, Egypt was ALWAYS looking out for its own interests first, and spent most of the Cold War trying to play the West and the USSR off each other to get more weapons systems and aid. They were never a reliable Soviet ally, and eventually flipped firmly in the US camp by the 1970s.

          Iraq has limited port facilities and is easily blocked off at the Straight of Hormuz, especially since Iran and Saudi Arabia are BOTH US allies. It’s also a long trip around to the Med, ESPECIALLY since the Suez Canal was closed after 1967 (Six Day War with Israel), so you’re really going all the way around Africa. Also, the Suez Canal is still Egyptian, and see Egypt being an unreliable ally. Iraq was still a close ally, but Iraq also wanted to preserve its independence, which is how Iraq ended up flying so many French planes alongside Soviet planes. Also, the USSR wanted to TRY to be friendly to Revolutionary Iran, so they were stuck in a mess.

          Syria does not give a crap. They were fully committed to the Soviet relationship from practically day 1. They are reliable Soviet allies, if the weakest of the three Arab nations. Having that base means they can keep ships in the Med full-time without having to go through Turkish waters.

          Turkey is not a reliable ally. Even if Russia got transit rights from Turkey, Russia would still keep Tartus.

          Personally I think Russia’s grand strategy is pointless because they have such a crappy economy and border much stronger powers. Plus the more they try to act like imperialist jerks, the longer the US remains in Europe. Russia can absolutely achieve a leadership role in Europe, definitely over Eastern Europe, but not while it still obviously tries to control all its neighbors through military force and has practically no information age economy. “Petro-state with nukes” under-sells Russia, but not by a whole lot.

          • johan_larson says:

            Getting access to the major oceans would take a lot for Russia. Right now it has access to the North Atlantic through Archangel, the Baltic through St. Petersburg, the Mediterranean through the Black Sea, and the Pacific through Vladivostok.

            If Russia wants more direct access to the North Atlantic, it will probably have to take (or dominate) all of Scandinavia. More direct access to the Med probably requires taking Turkey. Direct access to the Indian Ocean means taking the -stans, including Pakistan. More southerly access to the Pacific means taking either Japan or the Korean Peninsula.

            None of these look like good options. Russia should almost certainly focus on other aspects of national security and economic development.

          • bean says:

            Turkey is not a reliable ally. Even if Russia got transit rights from Turkey, Russia would still keep Tartus.

            Actually, that’s not quite right. Turkey doesn’t control the straits directly. They’re subject to the Montreux Convention, which grants the Russians some transit rights directly. But it’s a mid-30s document, and has had some weird implications, such as (at least potentially) the armament on Soviet/Russian aircraft carriers, which qualifies them as “capital ships” under the treaty, and thus lets them pass through the straits. Carriers are specifically excluded as “capital ships” for some reason. The Soviet Mediterranean Fleet was drawn from the Black Sea Fleet, unlike Russian fleets in the Med before WWI, which came out of the Baltic. (Except for the submarines, which are not allowed through except for transfers, and which came from the Northern Fleet.)

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Yeah, you’re right, can’t believe I forgot about that, ha. I am not a naval expert.

            Just to expand on my point, though, I don’t think Russia would consider Turkey a reliable ally in practically any case, especially under Erdogan. Like, even if Russia got a sizable base there, enough to put a good 10k-20k troops, how much stock do you put into Erdogan’s loyalty? It’s still technically a NATO nation and it still has Inclirk. And after the experience of Sadat kicking out all the Soviet advisers, I’d want to have back-up options.

  16. zaphod says:

    I just got an internship at Tesla HQ (Palo Alto), do you all have any tips for housing in the Bay Area/access to lists of people looking for roommates?

    Relatedly, do any of you know of good community orchestras or chamber music groups to join in the Bay Area?

    • Halikaarn says:

      Join FB alumni groups or email lists for your college, there will frequently be people looking for BA roommates.

  17. albatross11 says:

    Note: This is somewhat related to a discussion on the previous open thread, but I’m trying to avoid the object-level issues there (which are culture-warry, and so inclined to generate a lot of heat per unit of light).

    There’s a pattern of argument I’ve seen come up in a lot of discussions.

    a. We have some question of fact–say, the claim that the moon is made of green cheese. Assume this is a question which isn’t trivial to answer, and may in fact be hard to answer definitively, but it’s something we could probably answer with reasonable certainty with a lot of work. Further, let’s assume that the composition of the moon would be useful knowledge–it would interlock with a lot of other knowledge, it might have practical applications, whatever.

    b. We also have a set of consequences which might or would follow from discovering that the moon is made of green cheese. Those might be:

    (i) Bad things that might follow if it turned out the moon was made of green cheese. (A green-cheese moon implies that lunar missions will fail because billion-year-old cheese smells so bad even a spacesuit isn’t protection enough.)

    (ii) Bad things that might follow if people came to believe the moon was made of green cheese. (There was an annoying green cheese cult that used to go around leaving smelly green cheese everywhere, it’s only recently been stamped out, and this news may cause a smelly resurgence.)

    (iii) Public upset and offense might be caused by the news that the moon was made of green cheese. (The dominant religion on Earth teaches that the moon is made of nice-smelling yellow cheese, and all the parishioners of that religion will be really upset if they hear that science has undermined their beliefs.)

    In this situation, I’ve often seen people argue that we should consider these consequences when trying to determine the truth of the claim about reality.

    That is, we should pay attention to only the most absolutely solid and convincing and complete pieces evidence for a green-cheese moon[1], we should extra-carefully scrutinize the motives of green-cheese theorists in the scientific community, we should condemn any irresponsible scientist speculating or theorizing about the moon being made of green-cheese, we should refuse to conclude that the moon really is made of green cheese until the evidence is so overwhelming that there’s no alternative, we should come down super-hard on anyone who errs in favor of the green-cheese hypothesis while giving a pass to those who err in the other direction, and so on.

    Here’s why I disagree: Science just barely works.

    Even pretty smart people have a hell of a time with rational thought and argument. Incorporating your concerns about the implications of some factual question into your thinking about whether the factual question is right or wrong is a great way to sabotage your own brain. Creating big personal/career incentives for coming to one answer over the other, similarly, is sabotaging the brains of the people trying to answer the factual question. Even when the incentives aren’t huge (maybe you get yelled at when giving talks now and then, or find it a bit harder to get grants approved), they can have big effects of the whole process of science when they’re summed up over many people and a lot of time.

    I think the right way to do this is to do our level best to separate the factual question about the moon’s makeup from the implications of the answer. Think about both, as hard as we need to, but do it separately, and don’t contaminate one line of thinking with the other. Because otherwise, we’re probably going to do a much worse job of finding out what the moon’s made of.

    [1] Sometimes, I’ve even seen people argue that any such evidence should be suppressed, or that inquiries into the green-cheesiness of the moon should be banned or at least discouraged.

    • Iain says:

      In this situation, I’ve often seen people argue that we should consider these consequences when trying to determine the truth of the claim about reality.

      Without speaking for anybody else: this is close to my position, but differs in some very important ways.

      There are two different groups of people involved in this process: the researchers who produce scientific results, and the people who discuss those results and figure out whether they have policy implications. Your description conflates the two groups; I think they need to be discussed separately.

      Researchers are responsible for getting as close to the truth as possible. This is always true, but varies in importance. It is bad if any scientist gets something wrong, but the stakes are much higher if that scientist is doing nuclear weapons simulations than if they’re a paleoentomologist researching the pollination habits of late-Cretaceous bees. I don’t think that should be controversial.

      (As an aside, which I don’t think is key to my argument: it also seems plausible to me that one side of a scientific issue might genuinely deserve more scrutiny than the other. Consider “we should let this AI out of the box” vs “we should not let this AI out of the box” — it seems reasonable to say that we want the career incentives to be weighted towards caution.)

      Another part of getting close to the truth is avoiding bias. In the same way that scientists should do their best to avoid the garden of forking paths, they should take the possibility of other forms of bias seriously. In an ideal world, this means scrutinizing your own motives and data. In the real world, it probably has to involve some scrutiny of others, too.

      By and large, though, I agree: scientists should do their best to find the truth.

      The second group is where the precautionary principle comes in — what I’ve been calling the skulls argument. Human beings have a demonstrated tendency to seize certain kinds of scientific findings as justification for things that they already wanted to do, with bad results. There is no particular reason to think that modern humans are immune to the temptation. In cases where we have such a clear history of things going wrong, it seems pretty obvious that we should tread carefully. If there’s a pile of skulls left over from the last time we did this, you should spend some time coming up with a good explanation for why this time will be different.

      This isn’t about the science itself. It’s about how we talk about the science, and especially about how we use the science to justify various policies.

      Now, obviously this is a simplification of reality. In the real world, many people fall into both buckets, and have to balance competing constraints. Furthermore, as much as we both agreed in the last thread that science often shouldn’t change our policy, in reality it’s clear that scientists can’t rely on people in my second category to use their data responsibly. Does that impose additional duties on the scientists themselves? I don’t think there’s an easy answer.

      On the one hand, as you say, having to tiptoe around delicate issues makes it harder to do good science. It’s also unclear how much of an effect scientists can actually have; no matter how many disclaimers you put on your research, it’s not like politicians or journalists are hesitant to misrepresent scientific findings.

      On the other hand, I am not confident that the value of more scientific knowledge is always and forever greater than negative policy consequences that might result. Even if we assume that thinking about consequences might slow down the progress of science, is that always worse than the alternative? Like, I agree: science is really important. But that doesn’t mean it is the only important thing. It would certainly be nice if More Science was always More Good.

      tl;dr: When we’re talking about science, we should be thoughtful, both in theory and in practice. When we’re doing science, then in theory we should focus on doing good science, and in practice I think it’s a close call, but you probably can’t go far wrong by focusing on doing good science.

      • albatross11 says:

        Iain:

        Thanks for a thoughtful reply. I’ll quote a couple places where I think we disagree, but actually, I think we’re not so far apart.

        Quoting:
        The second group [people talking about the findings of the researchers] is where the precautionary principle comes in — what I’ve been calling the skulls argument. Human beings have a demonstrated tendency to seize certain kinds of scientific findings as justification for things that they already wanted to do, with bad results. There is no particular reason to think that modern humans are immune to the temptation. In cases where we have such a clear history of things going wrong, it seems pretty obvious that we should tread carefully. If there’s a pile of skulls left over from the last time we did this, you should spend some time coming up with a good explanation for why this time will be different.

        I basically agree with this. Specifically, I think:

        a. When you’re considering the factual question, you should try to do that independently of your concerns with the implications. That way you have the best chance of coming to a good answer.

        b. Doing the best job you can to consider a factual question means understanding your own biases, whether that’s pro- or anti-green-cheese.

        c. When you consider making policies based on this factual question, you need to consider ways previous policies like this have gone wrong, and your own likely biases. Before you do some policy that turns on the answer to a factual question and has high costs, you need to be really sure you’ve got the right answer.

        One other place I don’t quite agree with your response (as I understood it, anyway): Scientists and researchers are one group of people trying to find out the truth. But so is anyone reading their work or listening to them, including amateurs like me. Even if you see your role as proposing policies, you should start by trying to consider the factual questions without contaminating that consideration by working in the implications or tribal affiliations or whatever.

        • Iain says:

          I agree with your summary.

          Regarding amateurs trying to figure out the truth: if you’re just trying to establish your own personal opinion, I think that basically counts as “doing science”, in the same way that a more formal meta-analysis is science. (Obviously the same basic expectation exists of understanding your own biases.)

          If you’re publicly promoting your assessment, then I’d say it edges into the murky zone where you should probably at least think about possible consequences, depending on your audience. (Epistemic confidence: low.)

      • dndnrsn says:

        This seems like a decent middle ground between “it’s science, shut up” and “actually objective fact is a social construct and science is make-believe”.

        When you look at the history of science and its applications, and what it’s used to justify, you’ll see both cases where the tail wagged the dog one way, then the tail changed, and wagged the dog the other way. You’ll also see cases where both possible positions resulted in piles of skulls.

        EDIT: And, of course, people (and I include us/myself here, being as we are all humans here, of course, little “joke” there, common human thing) are much, much better at spotting the biases of others than their own, applying critical thinking to what other people believe, etc.

        • albatross11 says:

          We should definitely be aware of our own biases and those of other people working in science, but we should pay attention to the biases of *all* sides, not just the ones we don’t like.

    • brmic says:

      Mostly what Iain said, but I’d add something even simpler: science doesn’t work the way you describe and never has. Before anything sciency happens there’s always the question of what to study, what problems to solve and how to allocate time and money. And the potential effects of various findings are of course part of these considerations.

      Also, consider bio-/chemical weapons research. Do you truly want that done without any regard for consequences?

      • albatross11 says:

        brmic:

        Researchers who want to study whether the moon is made of green cheese do indeed need to think about whether they want to study that topic. That’s kind-of upstream of the specific question I’m talking about, though[1].

        My concern is that once I’m trying to study some factual question, I need to consider the factual question separately from the questions of implications of the answer. That applies not only to researchers working in the field, but also to people reviewing their papers, and to outsiders trying to understand the truth. It applies even to people who actually care a lot about the implications of the factual question and may want to apply it.

        The question about what the moon is made of needs to be considered separately from the question of the implications of the moon being made of some specific thing. Otherwise, it’s way too easy for our concerns about the implications to override our thinking about the underlying factual question.

        That applies both at the level of individual people thinking about an issue, and also to larger processes like paper and grant reviews, book reviews, and public discussions. You will *never* in a million years get smarter about whether or not the moon is made of green cheese by considering how bad it would be if that turned out to be true.

        Indeed, this is one thing that bugs me a lot about a lot of public discussions of issues in this category. A discussion or an article that purports to be about the factual question of what the moon is made of, which starts out with a lot of discussion of the terrible consequences that would surely follow from the moon being made of green cheese, is actively sabotaging the brains of its listeners/readers to think about the factual question.

        [1] Though I’ll note that the object-level questions from the last open thread that raised this issue have, in fact, gotten a lot of researchers to study them, using pretty standard funding sources and such. And those questions are adjacent to a lot of other stuff people care a lot about, so they’ll continue to be studied.

        • brmic says:

          Unfotunately, social science usually doesn’t simply answer a factual question. Rather, what happens is greaty simplified that you need theory, that connects some facts of the world to some other facts.
          In the case of the moon, you need verified moon samples, you need a method that clearly determines whether a sample is made of green cheese and you need a sampling theory to tell you how to take samples, how to store them and how many to establish your results hold for the entire moon. You probably also need a theory for past and present states of the moon, and your sampling theory in turn rest on some theory (or observation) about the overall composition of the moon. For the moon, all this may be available in super-solid ironclad versions.
          For social science, alas it’s murkier. You usually have bunch of behavioural indicators or one type or another, which hopefully lign up with some theoretical construct underneath (though that is also what the phrenologists believed when they measures heads) and history is 100% unambiguously telling you that there are certainly important confounders you’re missing, because that’s what has happend to everyone else everywhere forever. You may believe, and from the present point with good, solid reasons, that what you are missing is negligible and people have indeed been right about that (as far as we currently know) in the past, so it’s not outlandish to think your measurements are actually (1) accurately (2) measuring what you believe them to be measuring. [If you’re not familiar, read up on IQ and what’s underlying it. It’s probably psychology’s _best_ measurement in terms of quality, yet it’s far from definitively settled what it actually represents. And it’s reliability, while awesome for a psychological measurement, is a very, very long way from the reliability of something like height.] But you might also be wrong.

          Basically, in the social science the factual question often can’t be settled at the present time. What you can do is to assemble facts under particular assumptions how these facts relate to some constructs and how particular relations of facts would relate to particular relations of constructs and what this in turn would mean for the real world under particular assumptions. If the results of this could be explosive (in a social sense) it’s perfectly fine to do something else until more of these assumptions and relationships are settled.

          Back to the composition of the moon: People are publishing claims based on one sample around a single landing site which was non randomly selected and the sample was sniffed once after being stored in a box on the return journey by a qualified expert and declared to be green cheese (or not). Everyone involved swears up and down they’re totally disinterested in the matter. Their scientific claims come with limitations, but nonetheless are clearly in favour of the green cheese hypothesis. All the powerful people miraculously restrain themselves and consider consequences premature, but nonetheless, the research gets reported in newspapers and trickles down to green cheese cultists, who now double down on their oppression of yellow cheese believers. It’s not much, just a couple of million snide comments, eyerolls, ‘telling it like it is’ amongst themselves, stuff like that.

          The scenario is not ironclad either way (on purpose), but surely under such circumstances you’d see why some might say ‘Let’s not study that right now. Let’s get the cheese identification thing to 100% first and if we can’t, maybe it’s not a true distinction anyway, just a crude categorization. Second, let’s establish the moon is 100% homogenous, whatever it is made of (and how we do that is another research project in itself). Third, develop and check storage and transport until that also is 100% secure and does not contaminate the results. There is no point senind off a rocket now when all of that has not been done yet, and when the results could be severe.’

    • MrApophenia says:

      I’m actually not sure that fully captures the line of thought being argued. It’s not just concern about the consequences of the hypothesis in question is proven.

      It’s noticing that, to use your example, people have been claiming to have scientific evidence of the moon being made of green cheese for centuries. They always seem to find that this evidence justifies their support of the green cheese cult, which is nice for them. Then, over time, we discover that all of their evidence was nonsense, and the science was laughably wrong. Over and over again, through the years.

      And now a bunch of people are claiming to have scientific evidence the moon is made of green cheese. Coincidentally, the people most interested in pushing the claim are also supporters of the green cheese cult. Others just seem to share a lot of the same policy goals with the green cheese cultists, even if they would be shocked and appalled to be called a green cheese cultist themselves.

      But anyone who doubts they’ve really nailed the evidence this time around is engaging in woolly-headed refusal to accept the data.

      Basically, the causality is reversed. It’s not doubting the evidence because of the policy implications of true. (Or at least, not just that.) It’s doubting the data (or the conclusions drawn from the data) because of the perception that the people claiming to have found the evidence are the same ones who most badly want that evidence to exist.

      To take less hypothetical example, it’s why medical studies showing cigarettes don’t cause cancer are less convincing when they are conducted by Phillip Morris.

      • Yakimi says:

        The problem with your explanation is that it fails to explain why, then, we fail to apply the same level of skepticism to the leading alternative to the green-cheese hypothesis. After all, those who deny that the moon is made of green cheese are seldom agnostic when it comes to lunar fromology, but instead insist that the moon is composed of yellow cheese. There’s also a long tradition of yellow-cheese cultists insisting that that the moon is made of yellow cheese long before they had any means of proving it. The yellow-cheese proponents also happen to uniformly subscribe to a moral-political tradition to which the question of the moon’s composition is profoundly integral and informs many of their policies. Indeed, for many, the fight against the green-cheese hypothesis is not just a matter of scientific disagreement, but the single most important moral commitment.

        To borrow your analogy, it’s like being skeptical of studies conducted by Phillip Morris claiming that smoking cures cancer, yet being entirely credulous when it comes to studies conducted by Nicorette claiming that smoking causes AIDS.

        • MrApophenia says:

          I think we broke the metaphor, I’m not 100% sure what yellow cheese represents here.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’m betting that yellow cheese means that there are no correlations between intelligence and race.

            I’m in a situation where that sentence has a good chance of making sense, whether it’s right or not.

      • lvlln says:

        I think this is actually greater distortion of the line of thought being argued than albtross11’s original post, but here’s a part where I think there’s an important point:

        Basically, the causality is reversed. It’s not doubting the evidence because of the policy implications of true. (Or at least, not just that.) It’s doubting the data (or the conclusions drawn from the data) because of the perception that the people claiming to have found the evidence are the same ones who most badly want that evidence to exist.

        This seems to indicate a problem of perception, then. One thing that makes it difficult to correct that mis-perception is that the people who try to clarify the issue so tend to get automatically accused of being green cheese cultists, or at best being duped by them, no matter how much they dot their is and cross their ts. I think it’s the people who conflate this attempt at clarification with cultism that tend to get accused of engaging in woolly-headed refusal to accept the data, not the people who merely doubt they’ve really nailed the evidence this time. Indeed, the ones who push forward the evidence tend to be either people who also have lots of skepticism that they’ve nailed it this time or people whose initial doubt have been overwhelmed by the evidence they encountered when attempting to honestly engage with the data.

        Yakimi’s extension of the metaphor above makes me think he’s using yellow cheese to refer to something that Steven Pinker thought he had debunked in his book 16 years ago, but which persists to this day as the dominant belief that guides a lot of policy that exists today.

  18. Reasoner says:

    When will Less Wrong get moved out of the “Embalmed Ones” section of the blogroll?

  19. skef says:

    One of the recurring education-related themes in these threads is that instead of going to a university for a class, one can just study on one’s own.

    After a fairly productive period of self-study/review of a different subject, I’ve been trying to push myself through a linear algebra textbook — which is technical review for me, although it’s been a couple decades since the first time around — doing enough of the problems to promote real comprehension. And let me just report: the problem of minute-to-minute motivation is nothing to sneeze at. Forcing yourself to do something boring but intellectually hard for vague reasons is an ongoing trial.

    • philarete says:

      Have you tried using the MIT OpenCourseWare linear algebra materials?

      I’m working my way through the MIT OCW multi-variable calculus class right now, and it’s very good. At least for their calculus classes, the class seems to be aimed at getting engineering and hard science majors through the material, so it doesn’t delve too deeply into theory. It would probably serve well as a technical review.

      • albatross11 says:

        +1

        The MIT Linear Algebra class is very nice. I went through it awhile back, since I’d never taken a linear algebra class in college but found myself using a lot of it that I’d had to pick up on my own.

        ETA: Khan Academy also has a linear algebra class, as well as calculus and differential equations. I’ve gone through some of the calculus lectures as review (“wait, how do I do integration by parts, again?”). And quite a few of the geometry/trig lectures when one of my kids had those classes and started asking me about stuff I’d last studied 30+ years ago.

        • skef says:

          Well, I’m already using the Strang text. It’s possible that more of the trappings of a college course would help, but if so wouldn’t that just amplify the point rather than count against it? (That said, course materials for this particular text would help with exercise selection, which is one aspect of the problem — Strang really ladles on the exercises. 61 in one early sub-section!)

          Sometimes people learn new stuff or review stuff they have learned because they’re interested in it at that time. Other times people have independent reasons to learn or review stuff when they’re just not interested in it.

          I’m talking about the latter kind of case. I already understand the rough scope of linear algebra — how the parts broadly interact and what it can and can’t accomplish. I’m fuzzy on the details and really don’t much care. And the chance of my using any particular detail in the future is small. The few parts I may use would depend on what role I wind up in, and there’s a good chance I won’t wind up in any pertinent role.

          There are times when it makes sense to learn stuff you’re not interested in. College has a framework for that. My sense is that the just-learn-it-on-your-own crowd has a suppressed premise: “You really should be interested in everything you might study!” This is a form of moralization, and also, I suspect, of dishonest signalling — “[I am better than other people because I am more interested.]” As with a lot of moralizing, this doesn’t really address the problem.

          • albatross11 says:

            I tend to learn a lot on my own. One reason this works is that I can be interested in the thing I’m interested in, and accept that maybe I’ll get bored and stop in the middle, or bounce off one resource for learning it and go try another.

            I mean, the goal isn’t to suffer for my art, it’s to learn enough linear algebra/circuit theory/evolutionary biology/immunology to either satisfy my curiousity or plug in the gaps in something else I want to understand or do.

          • skef says:

            Wow, the number of problems in the online course is tiny. It skips entire sub-sections (like 1.4, which is the one with 61 problems)! I’m not sure what to think about this.

    • Randy M says:

      Definitely a thing.

    • Wrong Species says:

      I think the biggest problem with schools is that they teach things that most people don’t ever care about or will ever use. If you’re willingly trying to learn a subject without any compulsion, that’s different.

    • Reasoner says:

      This became way easier for me when I severely restricted my internet access. It’s easy to eat veggies if you are hungry and they are the only food that’s available.

  20. TIL:
    Shakespeare in the 17th century:

    “However, these performances took significant liberties with Shakespeare’s texts, in a way which we wouldn’t recognise today. Musical interludes and dances were inserted, scenes were cut, and lines altered to make topical political points. In 1681, there was even a version of King Lear staged with a happy ending, which rather undermines the entire point of King Lear”.

    • James says:

      I also understand that his reputation took a bit of a dip around that era. “Shakespeare as unquestionable genius” is an early Victorian (Romantic?) invention, iirc.

    • rlms says:

      On the other hand, modern performances often emit musical interludes and bits of comedy that would’ve been in the original performances, see here.

    • DavidS says:

      Do we know how many of those things happened in his life? Presumably not the King Lear bit but I thought music/dance was included by default and always assumed that the comedy bits in particular would be updated as a matter of course (like Gilbert and Sullivan is) to make it more funny and current.

  21. Incurian says:

    Maybe we should start our own private/charter school system?

    I figure the logistical/practical challenges are going to be much more difficult than the curriculum/tracking design stuff, so where are some places where starting a school is relatively easy? I figure the big factors will be getting a permit or whatever (this is probably more difficult for charter schools than regular private schools), getting certifications for individual teachers, the restrictiveness of the local mandated curricula, and maybe purchasing suitable land/buildings. My guess is that any place that has a perfect storm of loose regulations on schools and teachers probably already has good schools and teachers, but maybe there is a $20 on the floor somewhere just waiting for us to pick it up. Also, maybe there are some loopholes we can jump through such as reduced qualifications for “temporary” teachers, which we can design our recruitment around – like we mostly rely on young rationalists who just finished college to teach for a year or two before getting a serious job. Once we become established in the more friendly regions, we can expand into less friendly regions on the strength of our experience and reputation.

    Thoughts? Recommendations? Relentless naysaying?

    • Randy M says:

      Is your goal to do good, make money, set trends, or just take care of your own kids?

      • Incurian says:

        To do good and displace the current education establishment by providing alternatives that aren’t god awful like the ones run by the teaching-education complex. Also setting trends I guess. I want to be able to look back and laugh upon the crumbling remains of the bloated and ineffective public schools that keep clamoring for more money and insisting they’re all selfless heroes. Let them babysit our rejects. I want to (after some successful pilots) establish a playbook whereby motivated folks can storm a town and set up a school with sane policies and useful curricula in hostile territory, and set up a support network to provide them with resources and best practices. A kind of amorphous hub and spoke model.

        ETA: We could have more than one goal though.

        One is to just “not be stupid” like current schools and do basic tracking and discipline without unions getting in the way. The sub-goals here are getting nearly everyone literate and numerate. Frankly if we could do that I’d be ecstatic.

        Another could be to have some tech school type things that teaches practical skills to kids who aren’t heading to college (and everyone else for that matter), preferably by setting up some arrangements with local businesses or whatever. Establish a pipeline straight to local businesses by building skills and experience.

        And finally we could have a magnet section for the future mathematicians to nerd out together where we give them just enough other classes to get a diploma/college enrollment, but really focus on whatever it is smart people do.

        • Incurian says:

          If we want the most educational impact for our buck, middle school might be a good start. For the kids who came out of primary school not knowing how to read, we can catch them up and give them a fighting chance at highschool. For the kids who are exceptional, we can over-prepare them so that even if their highschool is terrible they have the tools to learn what they ought to be learning on their own. And for the rest we just need to not fuck it up.

        • beleester says:

          I want to be able to look back and laugh upon the crumbling remains of the bloated and ineffective public schools that keep clamoring for more money and insisting they’re all selfless heroes. Let them babysit our rejects.

          Any school can do better than public schools when it’s allowed to reject anyone who might bring down the average. Call me when you have a better plan than “pre-filter our students, then claim this proves that we’re better teachers than public schools.”

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            As I said above, rejecting the bad kids is itself a boon to everyone else.

          • Incurian says:

            Yeah seriously, I’m ok with being nothing but a filter. Also, on top of that, just not being terrible should be a big advantage.

          • beleester says:

            Maybe, but you shouldn’t mock public schools for being ineffective if you admit that they’re doing a much harder job than you.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            No, they are choosing to do an impossible thing, badly. I feel free to mock Sisyphus.

          • MrApophenia says:

            Ok, but your proposal to roll a small rock downhill instead doesn’t exactly impresss, either.

            The point of the enterprise is to get the boulder up the hill. Educating only the smart, rich kids is literally the prior system which was deemed unacceptable, and for which public schools were created. The response, “Yeah, but we could educate the smart rich kids much better than they do!” is, while probably accurate, not a terribly interesting one.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            The point of the public schools, for dumb political reasons, is to do a variety of impossible things, setting fire to a great deal of money in the process. Worse, they set fire to children’s lives. Yes, we are proposing doing something simpler and easier. I don’t really care if that’s impressive or not. I care that we are choosing, via the political cover of charters or what have you, to not set fire to money or ruin smart kids. That is admirable.

          • Incurian says:

            Grouping students of similar talent and expelling kids with chronic disciplinary problems is not the same as

            Educating only the smart, rich kids

            And being able to fire bad teachers is the other half of the equation. Looks like the other Andrew covered the rest.

            ETA: Andrew, I don’t suppose you’re interested in moving to Austin?

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            I mean, not to start a school, given that I don’t have kids yet and won’t until I manage to get married. But it’s a very nice place, sure…loved my last vacation there.

          • johan_larson says:

            Grouping students of similar talent

            Good luck getting tuition money out of the parents of the children you put in the not-college-bound groups. Parents who care enough about their children to dig deep for private school tuition generally expect that the schools will in turn put their children on paths leading to bright futures. And there aren’t a lot of those that don’t go through college, not any more, and certainly not in the minds of parents flush enough to afford private schools.

          • Incurian says:

            Parents who care enough about their children to dig deep for private school tuition generally expect that the schools will in turn put their children on paths leading to bright futures.

            I don’t know. In the first place, I hope to have the tuition be cheap or free. In the second place, I wonder if as the corruption in school testing becomes further exposed and more widely known, maybe parents will become a lot more realistic about their expectations (especially in poor neighborhoods). Parents might be willing to pay for a school that merely guarantees their children can read and do basic algebra.

            In my head there are three different stereotypical school districts. One where everyone thinks their kid should go to college and they’re right (e.g. Beverly Hills). One where everyone thinks their kid should go to college but actually there’s a large amount of variability on this and parents are not going to want to hear their kid is on the left end of the bell curve – this kind of district poses a problem as you pointed out. But there are also districts where apparently almost no one graduates and the ones who do can’t read – these parents probably don’t have a great many illusions about their kids’ futures, and the trouble may be convincing them that we can actually achieve our [modest] goals of literacy! That third kind of district is the kind I’d like to target first. Maybe just common sense practices will be beneficial to them. Maybe they’ve been so deeply failed by the school system because it was designed to placate the first and second kind of districts.

          • beleester says:

            @Andrew Hunter: It’s clearly not impossible, seeing as I went to a well-funded and effective public school. It’s not easy, or they’d be doing it everywhere, but calling them “impossible” or “setting money on fire” is overstating your case pretty massively.

            Now, there are some districts that are total disasters, but if you try to set up your school there, you’re basically targeting exactly the students you say you don’t want in your new school.

            @Incurian: When you talk about grouping students by ability, what are you doing that public schools don’t do already? My public school had “accelerated” courses for people who wanted to take AP classes, and an “academic” track for people who just wanted to pass the graduation exams. How would you do it better or cheaper?

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            beleester: Did your district have no incorrigble students? (The most common way to achieve this in a public school is to charge $1M+ for tuition. Yes, you can do this in a public school–your city sets a minimum lot size and bans the construction of apartments. That’s what “good school district” actually means: strong barriers to the entry of poor people.)

            If not, were they segregated away from people who wanted and were able to learn? If so, I congratulate you for living somewhere immune to Discourse.

            If not, I flatly don’t believe that your school didn’t ruin the lives of many talented students. Extraordinary claims require extrordinary evidence.

            (And none of this guarantees that the school was remotely suitable for advanced work, which is the part I care most about; normal kids will be fine-ish anywhere, but every potential genius we lose to bad schooling is a loss to society.)

          • beleester says:

            Rereading this thread, I think all my objections can be summed up with the question I asked in my last post: What exactly is the difference between your model, and a public school that has a set of accelerated courses?

            Your premise is that there are some “incorrigible students,” who not only cannot learn, but also make it impossible for potential geniuses in the same class to learn. Pretty much your only goal in this entire enterprise is to move the incorrigible students into some other classroom where they won’t bother the geniuses.

            Leaving aside all the questions about how many incorrigibles there are, how incorrigible they are, and how reliably you can filter them out, you don’t need an entirely new school to accomplish this goal. Any school with enough students to have an AP track has already solved this problem.

            Move the geniuses into the classroom next door, and write “Accelerated” next to all the course names on the schedule. Or move the incorrigibles (there’s probably fewer of them), and write “Remedial” next to all the course names. Either way, problem solved.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            What exactly is the difference between your model, and a public school that has a set of accelerated courses?

            This system is currently, sometimes, allowed to exist. Accelerated courses in the same school are generally not, certainly not with any actual admission standards. (Also, much like conferences, the hallway track matters. Yes, the football players who beat me up rarely followed me into the AP chem room, but it didn’t mean I didn’t have to deal with them.) For that matter, the kids in the AP classes weren’t that much more behaved, since essentially everyone who wasn’t special-ed could take them and often did. Admissions standards are unfair, apparently.

          • albatross11 says:

            beleester:

            So, it’s pretty obvious that this should work. Why doesn’t everyone do it? Why do many school districts eliminate tracking by ability and allow unruly students to run a denial-of-service attack on their classroom for a whole year?

            I mean, it’s not like these ideas are some kind of shocking new thing only recently emerged from the latest research, and could only be discovered by applying subtle statistical methods to Raj Chetty’s latest gigantic secret dataset. It’s not like they’re only comprehensible to rationalists who have meditated long on the Sequences and have sufficiently internalized Bayesian probability theory. Or to h.beady types who have acknowledged that there is no intelligence but g and Jensen is its prophet.

            This is all stuff people were doing 50 years ago, out of common sense, along with expelling kids too unruly even for the “problem kid” or “remedial” track. So why is it now only done via dodges involving either expensive suburbs with neighborhood schools or private/charter schools with some kind of selective admissions policy?

          • Education Hero says:

            So why is it now only done via dodges involving either expensive suburbs with neighborhood schools or private/charter schools with some kind of selective admissions policy?

            Because of disparate impact and related political/regulatory/policy challenges.

          • Chalid says:

            This system is currently, sometimes, allowed to exist. Accelerated courses in the same school are generally not, certainly not with any actual admission standards.

            Lot of statements of this form in this thread. Anyone have a link to actual data on what the practices are across the country? I hope we’re not all just generalizing from personal experience.

            I do know NYC uses a gifted and talented test and people who pass are generally in separate classrooms. And I remember testing into higher-level courses when I was in high school in San Francisco.

          • CatCube says:

            @Andrew Hunter

            The most common way to achieve this in a public school is to charge $1M+ for tuition. Yes, you can do this in a public school–your city sets a minimum lot size and bans the construction of apartments.

            Megan McArdle has made this point regarding “tution” for public schools a couple of different times with “granite countertops.” She’s used the phrase in different articles over the years, but here’s one representative:

            Memo to suburban voucher opponents who “support public education”: you’re already sending your kid to private school. You’re just confused because your tuition fees came bundled with granite countertops and hardwood floors.

        • Nornagest says:

          The natural constituency for an SSC education system is mostly in Berkeley, and if you tried to do “basic tracking and discipline without unions getting in the way” in Berkeley, they’d probably set you on fire.

          • Incurian says:

            Good point. We should add the qualifier that our pilot schools be located in places where you have the right to defend yourself.

          • albatross11 says:

            I bet plenty of private schools in the Bay Area manage both. Though probably it’s tracking by getting smart students whose parents will lean on the kids to behave, and maintaining the right to kick any really disruptive kids out. And hiring people without education degrees for really pleasant teaching jobs at lowish wages, which probably keeps the unions away.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        or just take care of your own kids?

        If I could have my kids taught by the people on this blog, I might even move to San Francisco. Or even Alabama!

        Not Mississippi, though.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Who is we?

    • albatross11 says:

      From what I’ve seen, charter schools and private schools mostly tend to look very much like public schools in terms of operations. Maybe they add a religion class, maybe they spend a little extra time on art or music, maybe they can count on smarter and better-disciplined kids by requiring the kids and parents to apply for the school, but the operations of the school look about like the public schools. (This isn’t 100% true, but it’s mostly true around here.)

      This makes me skeptical that there are large gains to be had from them. I mean, given the heritability of intelligence and the effect of childhood environment and parental expectations on schooling, I expect that an SSC-readers’ charter school would have wonderful academics. But it’s really easy for a school to look good with overwhelmingly smart kids and parents who value education enough to lean on them to do their homework. This is like being a great high-school basketball coach when your players are all extremely tall natural athletes whose parents have been playing basketball with them since they could walk.

      • Randy M says:

        This is the criticism Education Realist makes against charter schools, which usually have a way to filter incoming students and/or expel students back into the public school system.

        • Andrew Hunter says:

          It’s notable that this still is an advantage. Normal public schools consistently refuse to sufficiently track bad students, let alone expel the openly violent or otherwise disruptive ones. Terrible students in a class drag down everyone else: you can’t teach calculus if the teacher has to stop to drag two kids through basic algebra. Obviously, it gets much worse than that if the kids have to deal with being beaten by classmates, lectures disrupted by O.D.D. classmates screaming at the teacher, or any of the other million ways a bad student can turn school into hell for a good student.

          Keeping terrible kids away from good kids allows us to make much more progress with the good ones; I see no reason to expect the terrible ones are worse off.

          If charter schools provide a sufficient fig leaf to keep these kids as far away from people like me as possible, I’m all for them. (I doubt they’ll do enough; I plan to homeschool.)

          • albatross11 says:

            Sure. But charters and vouchers are often proposed as a solution to failing schools. If the actual solution is “come down hard on the misbehaving kids, and expel the ones who can’t or won’t behave properly,” it seems like it would be cheaper and faster to just let the existing public schools do that. Similarly, if the benefits are mainly from tracking, then maybe we ought to allow the public schools to track the kids.

            The other benefit of some kind of school choice is just that parents can notice that their kid is doing badly and move them. That would still exist even if all schools were doing the optimal level of tracking and expulsions.

          • The Nybbler says:

            If the actual solution is “come down hard on the misbehaving kids, and expel the ones who can’t or won’t behave properly,” it seems like it would be cheaper and faster to just let the existing public schools do that.

            They can’t, due to the closure of most reform schools, mandates to educate everyone, disparate impact issues, and other political issues.

            The other benefit of some kind of school choice is just that parents can notice that their kid is doing badly and move them. That would still exist even if all schools were doing the optimal level of tracking and expulsions.

            We sort of have that now. The cost is pretty high — the parents have to move too. And politicians keep trying to move the stabby kids (and their parents) into the non-stabby areas in the name of equality.

          • christhenottopher says:

            @albatross11

            If the actual solution is “come down hard on the misbehaving kids, and expel the ones who can’t or won’t behave properly,” it seems like it would be cheaper and faster to just let the existing public schools do that.

            Wait, cheaper? When I look up cost comparisons, it seems like both charter schools and voucher programs are cheaper. If your argument is “just have regular schools copy whatever these schools are doing to make them cheaper” then you’re going to run into the problem that these schools are generally de-unionized. Doing that to current public schools is extremely difficult. Charter and voucher plans make the change easier as they are not relying on entrenched interests for their operation like older style public schools are.

          • John Schilling says:

            If the actual solution is “come down hard on the misbehaving kids, and expel the ones who can’t or won’t behave properly,” it seems like it would be cheaper and faster to just let the existing public schools do that.

            Cheaper, faster, exceedingly vulnerable to Power Word: Racist!, and thus politically impossible. You need to move the problem out of public view, or at least public control, before you can address it with this class of solution.

          • Deiseach says:

            If the actual solution is “come down hard on the misbehaving kids, and expel the ones who can’t or won’t behave properly,” it seems like it would be cheaper and faster to just let the existing public schools do that.

            Then you bang up against the legal right to an education (it’s in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), which means some school or institution somewhere has to take them; the ones not yet old enough for programmes targetted at early school leavers/budding future prison inmates have to be put someplace, and that is going to be some public school that can’t duck out of the responsibility.

            Reform schools and similar institutions have got such a bad name that there’s no going back to them, and there probably are sufficient examples of graft and corruption in recent schemes that such measures aren’t going to be widely adopted.

            Kids who are completely uninterested, who are only capable of low to unskilled manual labour (and even then only if forcibly having their noses held to the grindstone to train for it) and with families uninvolved or incapable of raising them – what are you going to do with them between the ages of five to eighteen? Let them roam around ferally? It’s a genuine problem and if we do away with compulsory education, it is going to have to be replaced with compulsory something, even if simply to wall these off from the rest of society (which is not at all a palatable prospect).

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Deisach

            Then the problem is overconstrained and admits to no solution.

            Incidentally, that Pennsylvania story is about the juvenile “justice” system, not reform schools; they are not the same thing.

          • BBA says:

            They’re not? I thought “reform school” was just a euphemism for juvie.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @BBA

            Apparently they’re the same in some areas, but there used to be a school where I grew up where students would be sent after being expelled from regular schools for disciplinary issues; this was distinct from juvie where a kid would be sent for committing serious crimes.

          • albatross11 says:

            I’m not convinced that the political fight to get vouchers is any easier than the political fight to bring back reform schools and track by ability. But I’ll admit I haven’t thought hard about this.

            One meta-complaint I have about the situation: I’d love to see private/charter schools as labs to find better ways to do education. But as long as there’s all this low-hanging fruit to be picked up by them, there’s not a huge amount of selection on clever new ways to do teaching.

            I mean, if you can make the application process for your school a moderate pain in the ass and/or charge some money, you can filter for kids whose parents are minimally functional and care about their kids’ education.

            If you then require some kind of filtering on intelligence and grades, you get a school full of kids who can stay on grade level.

            Then, add in discipline and willingness to inform little Bobby’s parents that he will need to look for a new school next year, and you’ve got this automatic advantage over public schools most places.

            Which means that those schools don’t really need to do anything clever and new to improve–all they need to do is obvious stuff everyone has known how to do forever. And so there’s not much incentive for innovation.

          • cassander says:

            @albatross11

            Which means that those schools don’t really need to do anything clever and new to improve–all they need to do is obvious stuff everyone has known how to do forever. And so there’s not much incentive for innovation.

            Innovation, no, but there is a pretty big incentive to do the obvious stuff that everyone has know about that the public schools are manifestly failing to do, and that’s a pretty big improvement. Innovation will come once everyone’s doing the obvious things.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, anyplace where kids are locked up for crimes, they’re going to be getting some kind of schooling. That’s distinct from kids being sent to some kind of school for kids no other school will take, or for kids with discipline problems.

            And I strongly suspect a lot of the discipline problems come down to kids who want to drop out but can’t. Maybe just letting them drop out officially and accepting that the dropout numbers will look worse would help.

          • christhenottopher says:

            I’m not convinced that the political fight to get vouchers is any easier than the political fight to bring back reform schools and track by ability.

            Vouchers are happening to various degrees in various states. Tracking is going no where. Empirically I’d say we already have an answer which is easier.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Even if reform schools and tracking are what you’re after, vouchers are arguably the best threat you can hold over the education establishment if they fail to do those things.

        • Incurian says:

          I’m fine with that, let’s do just more of that. We don’t have to work miracles, we just have to be less completely worthless than the status quo.

          • Chalid says:

            So what will you be doing that’s an advantage over already-existing private schools?

          • Incurian says:

            We could do it on the cheap, and not be all fancy. Or we could have a cheap and a fancy school system, and the fancy one subsidizes the cheap one.

          • Chalid says:

            “Make it cheaper” sounds like the sort of thing that would have been tried already.

            I guess you might find a niche for “cheap but highly selective?” Since private schools use expense as a major part of their filtering criteria?

          • Incurian says:

            Good point. Will probably need to do a thorough market review. A lot of these ideas are based an assumptions that may be incorrect. I had the impression that since a lot of private schools use expense as their filter, we could undercut them and be selective (though I don’t think we need to be extremely selective, just better than local public schools). It will definitely depend on the specific market.

          • albatross11 says:

            Find a way that you get an incoming class with an average IQ of 120 or so and no major behavior/mental problems, and almost anything you do will work.

            Get an incoming class with an average IQ of 80 and lots of behavior/mental problems, and probably almost nothing you do will work.

            It seems plausible that the right style of education might be different for these two groups, but who knows? Right now, you can be seen as a brilliant school for managing to get the smart kids or a crappy school for managing to get the dumb kids.

          • albatross11 says:

            Do any universities run their own private school for the children of the professors and grad students? That strikes me as a good way to appear to be an educational genius while not having to actually do anything new or clever.

          • Incurian says:

            I’m not talking about only taking the 120+ kids. I think one school should be able to serve up to two standard deviations in either direction (while kicking out kids who should be in prison). Within the school there will be grouping – and I think that’s better for everyone.

          • Steven J says:

            @albatross11:

            “Do any universities run their own private school for the children of the professors and grad students?”

            This is pretty close to what you’re asking for:
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Chicago_Laboratory_Schools

            “The University of Chicago Laboratory Schools (also known as Lab or Lab School and abbreviated UCLS; the upper classes are nicknamed U-High) is a private, co-educational day school in Chicago, Illinois. It is affiliated with the University of Chicago. About half of the students have a parent who is on the faculty or staff of the University.”

          • Education Hero says:

            Do any universities run their own private school for the children of the professors and grad students? That strikes me as a good way to appear to be an educational genius while not having to actually do anything new or clever.

            I’m unaware of any formal examples of this.

            However, there are a number of schools that unofficially cater disproportionately to such students, ranging from elite New England boarding schools (formerly considered feeder schools with associated Ivy League colleges, e.g. Exeter -> Harvard, Andover -> Yale, etc) to public schools in certain parts of college towns.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            My elementary school was run by the local college where my father taught. The enrollment wasn’t just professors’ kids–anyone in the community could enroll if they coughed up tuition, with a decent discount for college employees–but the overall mix was mostly very high white collar. Really it was just a good private elementary school with close ties to a college.

            (Overall quality: I mean, I hated it, but I would have hated the local public school considerably more, and they at least *tried* to put up with my total lack of understanding of how society worked, and made some effort to notice that a few of us were good at math. Bit too hippie-dippie for me, also, but it’s run by education professors, what do you expect?

            Honestly my biggest gripe is that if you were good at art or music, they moved heaven and earth to provide great stimulation for you. When I made it abundantly clear by, like, third grade that I could do high school math, they sort of taught me and the other two smart kids a bit of algebra for a year, then forgot to keep that going. Revealed preferences, you know?)

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            Actually, I take my gripes partially back: now that I think about it, I got a lot more personal attention there than I would have at public school for my serious dexterity & hand/eye coordination problems. As a kid I could barely hold a pencil (the physical act of writing was probably my biggest academic challenge in elementary school.) I spent a lot of time with various therapists doing quite a lot of therapy/exercises to learn how to be slightly less of a spaz. I am sure that the Northampton Public Schools had someone who could do this, but I bet I got a lot more time at SCCS, not least because looking back, I think a lot of the therapists were Smith undergrads desperate for experience. I expect the school probably had more trouble finding enough work for their trainee physical therapists than finding enough therapists for the kids with problems.

            Still pissed no one ever found me a set of math books and a corner I could read them in.

        • You can also see the tendency of private schools to offer scholarships as a cynical ploy to make their educational methods look better.

      • Nornagest says:

        There were a lot of very differently organized private schools floating around in the Seventies, but my impression is that they’ve mostly petered out. Waldorf education is still a thing — there was a fairly good-sized Waldorf school around where I grew up. I didn’t go there, but friends did. Montessori schools are also common, but usually (though not exclusively) only for kids up to about first grade level.

    • onyomi says:

      I have thought a little about how I would design a school curriculum, were I designing a school curriculum:

      Doesn’t start mega early. Teenagers need a lot of sleep.

      May or may not last as long (or even longer) than a current average school day, but far less time is structured, spent sitting in lecture-type classes. More time is devoted to letting students do study hall, music practice, and related activities. There is no expectation students will work on their coursework outside of school hours.

      No more than five classes per day, max, ideally fewer. Could even go so far as spending all day on one subject (say every Monday on subject A, every Tuesday on subject B, though that might be a bit extreme).

      Classes are not focused on narrow academic disciplines but something more akin to areas of human achievement, like “language and writing,” “networking and social skills,” “p. e.*,” “music and arts,” “career skills,” etc. What exactly one focuses on in “networking social skills” class will vary from year to year and ideally would involve a certain range of options (you can fulfill your music and art requirement with piano, violin, sculpture, graphic design, etc.).

      Passing courses, rather than passing tests of knowledge, will largely require working towards some tangible goal, progress toward which can be evaluated at the end of a semester or year. For example, maybe your goal “career skills” this semester is to produce a passable mock resume and cover letter, and to perform reasonably well at a mock interview. Maybe next semester it’s doing your taxes.

      Anyway, I know this is all easier said than done, but I think the main things I think would be better would be: give students more autonomy, more time to work on their own projects (during school hours and using school provided facilities and/or possibly with some sorts of internship-type situations arranged as possible) and less time passively listening. Broaden the curriculum to include a wide range of life skills and career-applicable areas of study.

      *I feel like I can imagine a world in which PE is this amazing thing where students learn actual physical skills, like how to lift heavy things without injury, how to run and swim with good form, even good posture and the like. I don’t know if it’s realistic, but I feel like so-called “PE” today rarely even merits the word “education,” as, so far as I can tell, little actual “education” occurs. In my experience it was just “okay kids, today we’re playing basketball!” “okay kids, today we’re playing soccer!” Ironically this became worse in high school, I think, at least for me, maybe because people got divided into the “serious” athletes, who did all their actual training before or after school with their teams, while the actual “PE” happening in school hours was relegated to something sad like this.

      • Incurian says:

        That all sounds pretty reasonable. I’m also thinking that we might be able to skirt some rules on teaching credentials by having just a few teachers who do large lecture-hall style things some of the time, but most of the time is spent with small groups led by “tutors.”

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Have some tentative nay-saying. There are any number of plausible ideas for improving education, but which of them work?

      Which reminds me, I’ve wondered about relatively little coming out of CFAR. I suppose I was expecting them to have how-to videos and/or books out by now, but apparently it’s much harder than I thought to be sure you’re teaching rationality in a way that’s actually useful.

    • Education Hero says:

      I recommend launching your pilot in Silicon Valley if you’re going for a private school (a charter school is also possible here but would come with regulatory overhead like mandatory teaching credentials for teachers). The demographics here are able and willing to spend significant amounts of money on good education, young rationals are readily available, and California law makes it relatively easy to establish a private school. The only major downside is high rent costs, but that can be priced into tuition.

      Your primary existing competition would be BASIS.

      If you’re serious about doing this, please let me know. I have significant experience and relevant contacts in this industry/location, and would be interested in helping you succeed.

      • johan_larson says:

        Having some sort of specialization would be a good way to get some attention. Be the Santa Clara School of Mathematics or something like that, and spend half the day on math. (And a good part of the other half making sure the students don’t turn into Sheldons.)

    • David Speyer says:

      Everyone in this discussion seems to be acting as if behavior problems and low intelligence are the same. It seems to me that there should be a market for “my kid isn’t that fast, but she stays on task and works hard, I want a school which will spend a lot of time with her and kick out the trouble makers.”

      • DavidS says:

        This is always a worry for me with streaming within schools. Seems the academically behind (whether from inherent ability or e.g. medical issues or whatever interrupting previous years) are going to be stuck with disruptive kids making things even harder. Also that kids who make trouble partially because they’re not stretched will be in a class which isn’t challenging and away from intellectual peers.

        • albatross11 says:

          It sure seems like these problems can be solved. And like the way we’re addressing them are pretty bad, but they’re also the result of political forces and social forces and legal decisions that are hard to override. For example, I’ve heard a *lot* of teachers talking about the problems that come from mainstreaming kids with major problems into their classes. (Basically there’s one kid who’s constantly disruptive, it’s not their fault, they can’t help it, but they’re still basically shutting down teaching several times a week.) But I think that’s the result of court decisions, so there’s probably not much a public school can do but to follow those decisions even when it’s a bad tradeoff (it makes the other students much worse off, more than balancing the benefit to the disabled student).

  22. johan_larson says:

    There are some software people hanging out here, so perhaps this is the place for this question.

    I’m a professional software developer, amply trained and experienced. Unfortunately I know very little about networking, which is a problem because about once a year I have to solve some problem with requests between servers, and I pretty much flail until someone tells me that the goat must be virgin and the rooster must be black.

    So, could someone recommend a source that covers networking, and starts low but ramps up steeply?

    EDIT: Linux Socket Programming by Example by Warren Gay looks about right. http://alas.matf.bg.ac.rs/manuals/lspe/0789722410

    • tayfie says:

      If you want a complete introduction to computer networks of all stripes, I would recommend Andrew Tannenbaum’s Computer Networks. It was my college textbook and I’d say it fits “starts slow but ramps up steeply” since it targets both undergraduate and graduate students. This is the book if you want to write your own network stack.

      However, that may be more of a far-reaching theory book than what you wanted based on your example. If you just want a quick how-to for the basics, read Beej’s Guide before committing to a book.

  23. tayfie says:

    In the past couple of open threads, advertising has come up several times. Each time, there seems to be a conflict that almost no one feels like advertising affects them but businesses still spend lots of money on it anyway. It would seem either people are just dupes that don’t understand themselves or businesses are dupes that throw money away.

    I think there is a better resolution than either: Advertising is such a high variance activity that the majority of people are unaffected by the majority of ads, but a successful ad campaign is so persuasive that the expected value for businesses is high enough to take the risk.

    • MrApophenia says:

      You also don’t need it to work on very many people for it to be worth the cost of the ad. It obviously depends on the product you’re selling and the advertising method used, but conceivably if your ad hits enough people, it’s worth it even if it only works on a tiny fraction of that number.

      • tayfie says:

        Sadly, the same logic is what keeps The Nigerian Prince and other email and phone scams profitable. They don’t even need a 1% response rate. The same factors that make modern advertising cheap also make modern spam cheap.

    • Aapje says:

      @tayfie

      I would argue that ads can work on multiple levels, where some are way more high variance than others.

      I think that most people have a rather poor mental model of how ads work, which makes them think that ads don’t work on them, just because they don’t run out and buy a new car five seconds after seeing an ad.

      • tayfie says:

        I think what causes this effect is that people all remember times when ads worked on them much better, and so now they don’t seem to by comparison.

        I can remember being eight and asking my mom to phone in an order to every catalog and tv commercial I set my eyes on no matter what kind of cheap junk they were selling. She indulged me on this habit until I was burned enough to understand the meaning of caveat emptor.

    • Chalid says:

      I think some of it has to be that SSC commenters have weird minority tastes and so are not usually well-targeted by advertising.

      Advertising can be noticeably effective when it’s related to a purchase that you’re actually thinking about. For example, I live in a large apartment complex, in an area with lots of other large apartment complexes nearby. I regularly get flyers in my mail from my apartment’s nearby rivals. When I was thinking about switching to a new apartment, these suddenly became very interesting and I read them carefully.

      I imagine that a lot of ads bounce off me because I have no interest whatsoever in the whole product category. I’ve seen a zillion ads for Geico car insurance and ignored them because I don’t own a car. But if I did own a car and I was unhappy with the cost of my car insurance, I could see those ads making me look at alternatives.

      • MrApophenia says:

        I assume a significant amount of it is also just genuinely being harder to actually get an ad in front of. I imagine a lot of SSCers are types (like myself) who watch TV through DVR, streaming, or piracy, all of which mean you cut the commercials out of it. Throw in ad blockers on your browser, and not spending a lot of time on Facebook, and the bulk of the venues for ads are closed off.

        I’d bet the ads folks around here get the most of are podcast ads. And maybe it’s just the products being sold, but I know I have never once felt the need to go out and buy a Casper mattress, Blue Apron, MeUndies, or even BoxBox.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          You can mention Casper mattress by name. How many other mattress brands can you do that for? I think I can do Tempur-Pedic and Stearns-Foster ( just because I own a Stearns Foster).

          I think the Blue Apron is less successful, because Blue Apron seems to have other marketing routes. My Wife knows about Blue Apron and likes it, and she definitely isn’t listening to Revolutions Podcast….

          • MrApophenia says:

            Oh, sure. I am entirely onboard with the idea that podcast ads are very effective at brand recognition.

            They’re so distinctive in that regard that the Onion was able to do a whole series of mock podcast ads on a Very Fatal Murder that only really work if you have had these ads burned into your brain.

            (See also: Mail Kimp)

            At the same time, I have yet to feel the slightest temptation to actually buy a product I hear about on the podcasts I listen to.

          • quaelegit says:

            @ADBG

            Does she listen to any podcasts? I think I’ve heard Blue Apron ads on every podcast I’ve listened too (perhaps not the NPR ones… with the caveat that that’s only a half dozen and they all have the common factor that I chose to listen to them. Maybe the lesson here is that I’m in Blue Apron’s target demographic…)

        • Chalid says:

          Considering that Blue Apron is collapsing, we should be open to the idea that their advertising is actually not very effective.

    • onyomi says:

      I think ads are super effective on me, but usually only when targeted, and only in a “facebook knew I like Final Fantasy so they advertised me a super awesome Final Fantasy shirt and I decided I wanted it” or “I didn’t know this product even existed and I would have bought it earlier had I known” sort of way, as opposed to a “all these pictures of happy families drinking Coke subconsciously gave me a positive impression of Coke” way (arguably I wouldn’t know it if the latter sort of ad were working, but my very strong personal impression is they don’t–otherwise I would have bought a coke sometime in the past several years since I decided I don’t really like its taste, though an occasional diet dr. pepper, which I rarely see advertised, is nice).

      • FLWAB says:

        I’m not in the business, but from what I understand the main point of most advertising is to do exactly what the kind of advertising you say works on you does: let people who would already be interested in your product know it exists. It can also inform people of deals or savings on products they already want: if I get a coupon for Dominos pizza I’m more likely to choose Dominos when I feel like pizza. If I don’t like pizza, then I was not the target customer for that coupon and I just got it because they had to throw a wide net out to get all the pizza lovers. The idea that advertising is supposed to subconsciously or subliminally get you to want something you didn’t want before, while popular, is incorrect. Advertisers are not out to hypnotize people: they want to connect people who have a product to the people who would want to buy it if they knew it existed. If you don’t want or need the product they aren’t going to waste their time trying to convince you: if you see the ad at all you’re just collateral damage in a carpet bombing campaign.

        At least, for the most part. I mean everybody knows about Coke, and you either like it or not. Since everyone is already aware of it Coke’s ads are mostly to remind those who like it that they like it (*sees coke commercial* “You know a coke would really hit the spot, now that you mention it.”) and generally maintain their already massive amount of public awareness. And of course a lot of advertisements today are about distinguishing your product from similar products by making it more familiar, like the oddball Old Spice commercials do: they don’t really sell the product, they just make you more likely to think of Old Spice when you’re shopping for deodorant. But the main point is that advertisers aren’t trying to hypnotize you, most people think that’s what advertising is about, so most people don’t think advertising works on them.

      • tayfie says:

        The set of products for which I can honestly say I would have bought it earlier had I known about it earlier is incredibly small.

        If I already had some want that was strong enough that I was willing to buy something, then it was strong enough for me to do research. When I do research, I may be exposed to advertising I solicited, but this is not a good central example for advertising. As much as a third of television is commercials. Most are so irrelevant to me they are filtered out as noise.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I should ask my friends in marketing. If all these companies spend so much money on ad-buys, it can’t entirely be a waste.

      I think you have part of the answer. Advertising IS high-variance. The marketing teams can measure things like awareness, but it’s hard to translate into actual sales. If your advertisement really resonates, you can drive a LOT of business. Customer acquisition costs tend to be sky-high while customer-retention costs are almost nothing, so if you can get people to come over, you end up with a loyal market that you can charge high mark-ups to. Yay cash chows.

      The other part is pipeline maintenance, brand awareness, targeting, etc. It doesn’t matter if the majority is unaffected, because I’m not going after the majority. I am going after a subset of people, that may be best targeted by mass-market measures. Like, how are you going to target a Chevy ad? You have a big target market…but it’s not EVERYONE. So you’ll put it on major networks where everyone will see it, and hope you are hitting all the people who MIGHT like to buy Chevy trucks, even if you are also hitting a lot of people who will only ever buy Toyotas. Maybe you won’t run it on AMC during Mad Men, but if you want to hit all of your bases, ABC’s Modern Family is still a pretty good bet, to say nothing of Roseanne.

      Anddddd, even if you aren’t in the market TODAY, you are still building brand awareness, so you might remember me when you need to buy something TOMORROW. And I sell other products, too! Maybe you don’t want my Nestle chocolate, but have you tried my Nestle water?

      I think advertising is damned effective if you look at all the crazy consumerism we have today. I can definitely feeling my consumer side rumbling when I see targeted ads for nice cars, nice knives, nice homes, etc.

      • tayfie says:

        While I agree that those things are important, at some point a company must reach diminishing returns. Everybody already knows your name and brand loyalties are already chosen and hard to change, so the cost per new customer is very high. In concrete terms, the only people left that care about trucks that aren’t already Chevy customers are loyal to Toyota, Dodge, or Ford.

        Further, the act of advertising in itself says something about the company. Some companies do quite well without a dime of advertising. Huy Fung Foods, Krispy Kreme, and Rolls-Royce are all famous examples.

  24. outis says:

    The HPV vaccine is recommended for all girls nowadays. In some places, for boys too. It’s not recommended for adults, though. Perhaps the idea is that they’re likely to have been exposed to HPV already? But then they do recommend it for adult MSM, which seems to contradict that theory. Perhaps it’s a matter of the actual danger? E.g. cervical cancer for women, and I guess anal cancer for MSM? But lots of people have oral sex nowadays. Can it cause oral cancer? That seems pretty bad, too.

    Anyway, the guidelines have to take into account the cost and benefit tradeoff across the population. But if someone is willing to pay for the vaccine out of their own pocket just to be on the safe side, is there a non-financial reason not to do it?

  25. outis says:

    The HPV v*ccine has been recommended for all girls for some time; more recently, for boys too. But it’s not recommended for adults. Why is that?

    I guess the idea is that an adult is likely to have been exposed to the virus already. But different adults have different life histories; at the limit, would the famous “40 year old virgin” have the same cost/benefit profile as a child?
    Also, apparently the vaccine is still recommended for adult MSM, which seems to contradict the exposure theory.

    Maybe it’s a matter of the potential danger from the infection? Girls got the vaccine because HPV causes cervical cancer in women. Then they added boys, but perhaps it was only for reasons of herd immunity? And for MSM, maybe there is greater danger due to anal sex? What about oral sex, then? Can you get oral cancer from it? That seems pretty bad, too.

    Anyway, guidelines have to take into account the cost and benefits across the population. But an individual’s own assessment may differ. If an adult were willing to pay for the vaccine just to be on the safe side, is there any reason not to do it?

  26. onyomi says:

    Similar to the quiz “drug name or Tolkien elf?” here’s a story on how regulations against names sounding similar cause drug names to get weirder and weirder.

  27. Anonymous says:

    What kind of doctor should I see about Hyperhomocysteinemia? A cardiologist?

  28. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    https://twitter.com/maxgladstone/status/984554139404423169

    Mostly about how some people who want to dismiss LOTR claim it has a simple happy ending, but in fact, a tremendous amount is lost at the end. Sam gets a happy ending, but you have to read the Appendices to see it, and I’m sure he missed Frodo.

    This was brought to mind by something earlier about “two men walking” as a major part of LOTR.

    • cassander says:

      I think the same criticism applies to the critique that tolkien is just good guys vs. evil and thus not morally complex. I grant you that the fellowship itself is pretty lily white, but you have a lot of morally complex characters there, like Denethor, Faramir and even Saruman. And the non-lotr books have even more of this.

    • quaelegit says:

      I completely agree with his main point about LoTR being more complex than “it all turns out all right, destiny is fulfilled, good guys win, and suffering is minimal”, but I’m confused about some of his specific examples.

      In particular, the Scourging of the Shire didn’t seem as … tragic? as his summary when I read it (admittedly a decade ago). Like, it’s not a good thing, but it’s resolved so quickly and easily that I took it as a deliberate contrast to the gravity of the war of the ring. Sort of “We faced down the armies of Mordor, and compared to that this is a piece of cake.” It shows just how much the the events of the books have changed the four hobbits.

      But to the original point, in the Ellis video above she defends the “multiple endings” of the RotK movie that some people complain about for exactly this reason — basically that they show the war of the rings has taken its toll, hardship and sacrifice has consequences.

  29. RalMirrorAd says:

    I’m tempted not to ask, but I can’t think of any other forum spaces where this question would be handled both seriously and objectively; Please also read the background to this question (below) before replying.

    Question: Has any research been done with respect to effective gay conversion therapy? (or medical treatment having the same result)

    Background:
    1. I am not religious in any sense of the word. And this question is not motivated by any religious considerations.
    2. I am not asking on behalf of anyone other than myself
    3. I don’t trust religious conservatives with this question as I think their religiosity will skew their opinion to promote favored approaches that have not demonstrated any clinical success.
    4. I don’t trust liberals either as at this point they’re so committed to sexual equality that they would regard people who ask such questions as mentally deficient.

    • Controls Freak says:

      My personal answer is to look at the APA’s official look at the issue. Of course, this sounds like it runs afoul of (4)… I mean, it comes from their “LGBT Concerns Office” and all. But I don’t recommend accepting their conclusions. Instead, read through where they say (paraphrased), “None of the studies in this area are any good.” And then, instead of going on, like they do, to conclude all of the things that you would expect an LGBT Concerns Office to conclude, simply conclude that none of the studies in this area are any good.

      • Brad says:

        If the question is: are there any interventions that reliably produce X effect and there are no good studies that demonstrate that any particular intervention reliably produces X effect, the answer is effectively no.

        • Controls Freak says:

          Just like how stellar parallax literally didn’t exist for thousands of years.

          • Brad says:

            If someone asks you if the government is run by lizard men your answer is maybe?

          • Incurian says:

            If your priors are different, you’re stupid and I hate you.

          • albatross11 says:

            Even if it’s possible in principle for gay conversion therapy to work (I have no idea), the question a prospective patient is interested in is whether or not any gay conversion therapy *currently available* will work.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Brad,

            “If someone asks you if the government is run by lizard men your answer is maybe?”

            A probability of 1 is deprecated, except perhaps for self-contradictory claims. I haven’t seen the question of self-contradictory claims discussed. Maybe you should have a small chance that the claim isn’t self-contradictory.

            You should leave a small possibility open that you’re a lizard man. Or a lizard woman. Or a non-binary lizard. You might even be a non-trinary lizard.

          • Brad says:

            Nancy—

            Is that how you normally converse? Is ‘no’ not ever part of your vocabulary? Or is this pedantic point only brought out for particular occasions?

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            It’s a rationalist thing. I adjust the way I talk to the group I’m with.

          • Controls Freak says:

            You think that lizard men are akin to stellar parallax? Yikes!

            Ok, I’ll try to break the cycle of pithy sarcasm. First, I’ll claim that lizard men is a disanalogy on the terms of the analogy, itself. Then, I’ll proceed to discuss general principles for considering cases that aren’t immediate disanalogies.

            1) Lizard men are not analogous to stellar parallax on the one feature that was the entire point of the analogy. The analogy of stellar parallax is that, for centuries, measurement equipment did not have sufficient resolution to confirm or falsify the claimed phenomenon. That is, all of the relevant studies were trash. The conclusion of the analogy is to remain uncertain until appropriate studies are conducted.

            The hypothesis that lizard men run the country is disanalogous in this particular feature. It is not the case that we simply lack sound data. In fact, many governmental leaders have undergone autopsies conducted by credible actors, and results which confirm… or even slightly hint at… the lizard man hypothesis would come out as surely as Trump’s Access Hollywood tape.

            2) General principles for uncertain hypotheses. Clearly, the motivating principle of your claim is that some hypotheses are so ridiculous that we would like to turn them aside without careful study. This is not a crazy idea, but we need to be honest about levels of ridiculosity. Lizard men violate every known principle of biology. Beyond government leaders, millions of humans and probably billions of animals have been studied under careful laboratory conditions, and there has never been one shred of evidence that lizard men are remotely plausible. Therefore, we probably don’t need to even go to look at the specific autopsies of government leaders.

            Sexuality is not like this. Like, not even remotely. Is it biologically (and scientifically, in general) plausible for an individual to change their sexuality? Yes. It absolutely is. The last data that I saw presented here (not cherrypicked by me; presented by someone arguing against me) makes it abundantly clear that the possibility of someone changing their sexuality is plausible. Frankly, it would be absurd to put changes of sexuality in the same category as lizard men.

            3) I’ll add a three, which may diffuse a little of the vitriol. I actually think it’s improbable that people are going to come up with some sort of effective gay conversion therapy, but I get there using priors that many people don’t share with me. Sexuality is a complicated question squarely in the difficult area of nature/nurture. It’s likely a combination of biological/social factors and rational choice (maybe more, depending upon how broadly we construe these terms). It’s akin to other psychologies/appetites/behaviors. How long have you been reading the blog of a practicing psychiatrist? Do you really think that these things are easy or obvious, especially without extremely good data?! Even with good data, we get a lot of things pretty wrong in this domain. And you want to turn this aside in the same category as lizard men?! C’mon, man. We’re probably not going to find a method to do it (hell, as Scott has said, it’s hard for legit alcohol rehab programs to show effectiveness above placebo), but the data is crap, and people really need to push back against these stupid claims that it’s akin to friggin’ lizard men (or the unsupported conclusions drawn by organizations such as an “LGBT Concerns Office”).

          • Brad says:

            I think you rather took the wrong point from that. The reason my initial response said “X effect” is because the point I am making has little to do with conversion therapy and it’s likelihood or unlikelihood. Rather it is similar to what albatross11 wrote.

            Questions like “is there a cure for Alzheimer’s” aren’t “is it possible there is a cure out there waiting to be discovered” it’s “is there good scientific evidence for any particular treatment right now”. Whether there are no studies (perhaps because there are no plausible treatments), good studies that rejected plausible treatments, or crap studies that didn’t provide evidence of anything at all, doesn’t really matter much in terms of answering that question.

            Physics questions are somewhat different. If someone asks “are there sub-constituents of quarks” that’s where it is appropriate to break out the “we don’t know”. The implication of that questions is a timeless question about the nature of the universe rather than an implicitly temporal one about what we know now. The lizard man thing was a bad rejoinder because it’s a bit of a mixed case in terms of what is being asked.

            As an aside, I fully expect that at some point in the future, probably many years hence, we will have the knowledge to manipulate things like sexual orientation. I’m not entirely upset about the fact that I probably won’t live to see. That kind of knowledge and ability to manipulate the human brain is going to cause despair of the “what am I” type for a lot of people.

          • Controls Freak says:

            albatross11 wrote:

            the question a prospective patient is interested in is whether or not any gay conversion therapy *currently available* will work.

            You wrote:

            Whether there are no studies (perhaps because there are no plausible treatments), good studies that rejected plausible treatments, or crap studies that didn’t provide evidence of anything at all, doesn’t really matter much in terms of answering that question.

            I don’t think this is true, even if we ask the question albatross11 wrote. I agree that, in your second case, if we have good studies that rejected plausible treatments, if there is sufficient replication and the domain of plausible treatments has been exhausted, then we’re in good shape. If there are no studies, unless there are no plausible treatments, we can’t conclude much. (I can hear the chorus of folks screaming, “BUT THE GOV’T WON’T LET RESEARCHERS STUDY THE USE OF [drug of choice] FOR [application of choice]!!”) If we have crap studies that don’t provide evidence of anything at all, why would I reject the possibility that one of the plausible things that are out there (currently available), being not appropriately studied, may work?

            You might say that I reject the way albatross11’s question is worded as unanswerable. We can’t say, “Yes,” because none have shown success, but we can’t say, “No,” either, because we have crap reason to believe that. Instead, the appropriate conclusion is (as I put it in the previously-linked thread), “Nobody’s conversion therapy has been shown to work.” That’s honest. It answers the closest appropriate question that we can answer. As far as I’m concerned, it requires some motivation beyond adherence to the science to say the stronger statement that a lot of folks seem reaaaally motivated to try and say.

            In any event, albatross11’s question is not RalMirrorAd’s question. He asked:

            Has any research been done with respect to effective gay conversion therapy?

            Do you have any reason for me to think that my answer was not appropriate for RalMirrorAd’s question?

          • skef says:

            Controls Freak:

            If the motivation for the original question is to try to identify treatments that might be worth pursuing, I don’t see your analysis as helping much if the word “plausible” is replaced with “possible” or “existing”. Isn’t the point of asking about evidence to determine if a method has any independent support of its effectiveness?

            The optimism in your take therefore boils down to your use of the word “plausible”. So what would you say counts as a plausibly effective conversion therapy and what doesn’t? Is this just a subjective thing, to be left to each individual?

          • Controls Freak says:

            I don’t see your analysis as helping much if the word “plausible” is replaced with “possible” or “existing”

            Sorry, I’m going to need help on which part of my analysis you’re referring to. I’ve used it in different places for different purposes, as we’ve worked through which questions go with which answers.

            Isn’t the point of asking about evidence to determine if a method has any independent support of its effectiveness?

            I think, “All the studies are crap,” indicates the lack of independent support of effectiveness just fine.

            The optimism in your take therefore boils down to your use of the word “plausible”.

            I’m not sure what optimism you’re pointing to. I said that I think it’s improbable that we’re going to find one.

            So what would you say counts as a plausibly effective conversion therapy and what doesn’t? Is this just a subjective thing, to be left to each individual?

            I don’t have any hot takes on particular methodologies, sorry. You’ll need someone more steeped in details here than me. I would fall back on saying that I find it generally plausible, in the sense that I find alcoholism rehabilitation generally plausible. I’m not really involved in the scene of the particulars of different schemata and their individual plausible/promising values.

          • skef says:

            You said:

            If we have crap studies that don’t provide evidence of anything at all, why would I reject the possibility that one of the plausible things that are out there (currently available), being not appropriately studied, may work?

            This depends on a standard of per-treatment plausibility, not just the general plausibility of there being some treatment. I’m asking what that standard is, if (by stipulation) it isn’t evidence from scientific studies.

          • Controls Freak says:

            So, I don’t think I quite implied per-treatment plausibility in that sentence, but whatever. I get your question. If we’re considering a particular methodology, but have no studies on point or only crap studies, then we’re back to the more vague process of trying to determine plausibility. That’s hard, even for folks who are deep in a field. (I don’t do biology, but I live in basic enough research that I’m constantly asking myself whether what I’m thinking about is plausible. Squinting my eyes a lot, thinking, “Maaayyyybe something will come out of this.”) Some relevant questions would be, “What’s the expected mechanism?” “What’s the theoretical reason for thinking that might work?” “Has something similar worked in related situations?” “Are you throwing this out there just to get a chance to learn some neat-looking new mathematics?” (Ok, that last one is more relevant to my work than this thread.)

            In any event, I think that when we’re doing this, we’re in the messiest part of science. Lots of people have particular hypotheses (or more likely, a vague sense of where their actual hypothesis will come from). One of the wonderful parts of my job is evaluating proposals from other academic types (I’m on the gov’t side now, so I have to write fewer proposals). Not only is it hard to have a good enough of a sense of a field to come up with well-thought-out hypotheses, it’s nearly just as hard to evaluate them for plausibility. Differing folks will have incredibly different senses for what they think will/won’t work (not to mention different ideas for things like what “related situations” are in the third question above), and there’s no silver bullet besides waiting until the results come back.

          • skef says:

            That all seems reasonable. I’m not sure where it leaves albatross11’s question though (which is where this sub-thread started). Especially when someone is not an expert, there doesn’t seem to be any good basis for credence.

            I would personally say that unless it is somehow very targeted (how it would be so targeted I’m not sure), I would expect that techniques effective for conversion therapy would also be effective for eliminating or reducing sexual fetishes. That area of study is much less politicized (the APA, for example, doesn’t take a position on whether or not such treatments should exist or are harmful, as far as I’m aware). But the general tenor around the available treatments focuses on reducing harmful behavior, and possibly the intensity of the desires, rather than elimination. (Particular sexual desires do change over time, and can change in response to specific behaviors and stimuli. But as of yet there hasn’t been much luck changing them in a particular direction. This is the distinction that Well seems to be missing in giving his advice below.)

          • Controls Freak says:

            I stand by what I said about albatross11’s question here.

            Especially when someone is not an expert, there doesn’t seem to be any good basis for credence.

            I think I painted a more dire picture… even when one is an expert! That said, individuals have some advantages. First, they know themselves. Unlike trying to come up with a mathematical proof, trying to do something with your own mind/body is an individual thing. This is especially important in an area that has all the bio/socio/choice factors rolled together.

            Think of the Yet Another Diet Thread that is going on right now. One of the common claims is that not all folks can stick to various diets. Well, that’s a massive problem for the mere scientist who is trying to show effectiveness on a broad population, but to the mighty individual, there might be gainz to be had. Perhaps you know that if you structure things this way, you’re personally likely to stick to a habit.

            Secondly, don’t underestimate the power of the placebo regression to the mean voodoo. I’m going to venture to say that nobody really knows what’s going on there, especially in psychological situations. (I know this sounds like an invitation to homeopathy, but I’m assuming that the individuals in question have some sense of reasonableness, and that the messiness of the problem might add credence to just saying YMMV rather than expecting population-wide controlled studies.)

            Basically, remember that people have lost weight without a scientifically-validated One Methodology to Rule Them All, people have quit drinking alcohol without adhering to exactly a placebo-surpassing schema (…and they have changed sexuality, too…). They usually do it with a combination of bio/socio/choice factors, which may be difficult to reproduce across populations in controlled studies (with potentially unwilling subjects).

            I don’t want to say too much on your second paragraph except that I agree with much of what you say. I’ll leave a deep dive for another day (…I have a hockey game tonight and a full day planned tomorrow… not sure I’ll have time to read SSC, much less comment).

    • skef says:

      I’m going to assume you’re asking about this because you’re interested in changing your own orientation.

      On that assumption, it seems like your question might be usefully narrowed to: What research is there in support of one or more particular conversion therapy strategies over others, undertaken by researchers with no prior interest in the particular studied strategies (ignoring whether those researchers have an interest, pro or con, in the effectiveness of conversion therapy in general).

      I’m no domain expert, but I have poked around the literature on both sides of things over the years, and just poked around a bit more to see if anything looked much different. The anti-side has done research on particular techniques and claim none work. Perhaps those studies are poor. The research (and “position papers”) on the pro-side tends to focus on the questions: a) Is the basis of sexual orientation biological? (they conclude there is no solid evidence that it is), and b) Are there people who have changed their sexual orientations? (they claim that there are such people).

      But there seems to be little interest on the pro-side on comparing the effectiveness of approaches. It seems that conversion therapy has been and continues to be a niche market in which a therapist uses whatever technique(s) he or she has personally found to be effective. And the literature produced by their support organizations seems oriented towards letting the therapists continue to do what they wish, rather than supporting any particular technique or strategy.

      (There are of course papers arguing for the effectiveness of a given approach produced by a therapist who uses that approach. I’m afraid I don’t have any pointers to give you off-hand. I remember that the ones I skimmed seemed more qualitative than quantitative to my eyes.)

      In short, I found very little research on either side of the issue that points towards a particular treatment you might wish to pursue. But those may be out there somewhere — I was only looking to satisfy my curiosity.

      • skef says:

        NARTH’s summary of its 2009 study (121 pages in their own neutrally-named journal, $75) is characteristic.

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        My own [limited research] seems to be in the same direction. Homosexuality appears to have limited heritability and no reliably known or understood causes. People have changed who they claim to be attracted to as they get older but not reliably as the result of any particular approach.

    • Well... says:

      I apologize in advance for the unavoidably crass content below. Also, please don’t take my advice unless you were already going to try some intervention anyway. I am not advocating that you change your natural sexual preferences, only offering a possible way to do it if you’re hell-bent on trying.

      Sexual tastes might be able to change gradually, in stages. I think I read somewhere that people who watch porn tend to find their preferences migrate from one genre to another over time.

      If that’s true, then you might be able to use porn to change your sexual preferences radically. You’d need to…

      1) Figure out whether you can deliberately steer the migration of your tastes; if so, then…

      2) Figure out a gradual path along which to steer it that ends in appreciating the sex you intend to become attracted to (e.g. if you currently are attracted to men but want to be attracted to women, watch porn with more effeminate men in it, then porn where effeminate men have sex with masculine or tomboyish women, then effeminate men with effeminate women, then masculine men with effeminate women, etc.);

      3) Keep at it long enough, and keep other sexual stimuli (at least those going the wrong direction to the one you want) to a minimum.

      Note: this method carries risks (e.g. porn addiction?) and might not work at all anyway.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I wonder whether it could lead to a change in preferences in porn, but not a change in sexual preference.

    • rlms says:

      As was mentioned in a subthread, you could try looking at how easy it is to alter paraphilias. My impression (supported by Wikipedia) is that there are no generally effective methods for that — treatments for undesirable paraphilias most involve medicating away sexual desire in general and encouraging people not to act on their interests. You could also look at the anecdotal evidence form rationalists who have tried bi-hacking (attempting to convert from straight to bisexual). I think the most successful examples of that have been converting people from (identifying as) straight to slightly bisexual, and from slightly bisexual to more bisexual.

  30. BBA says:

    Regarding the education debates, I wonder if we’re getting enough of an international perspective. I know schools in other countries are organized differently from ours, but I’m unsure about some of the details. Here are some fundamental features of the American system that are a bit unusual if you take a worldwide view:

    School boards. Special-purpose local elected units of government to operate schools appear to be a US/Canada phenomenon. In the other countries I’ve looked up, “public” schools are run by a general-purpose government (national, regional, or municipal) or they’re privately run and funded by government vouchers. Or a mix of both.

    Zoned schools. The thing where the Anytown School District has several high schools, so they divvy up students by declaring that everybody living west of Main Street goes to Washington High and everybody to the east goes to Lincoln High, and likewise their feeder elementary and middle schools are assigned to subdivisions of their zones. To go to a school you aren’t zoned for requires special permission from the school board. Due to charters and other reforms this isn’t as strictly applied today as it was in the past, but in some (most?) other countries “school choice” has always been the norm.

    No public funding for religious schools. This isn’t just a church-and-state issue, but a result of the Blaine Amendments many US states adopted in a fit of anti-Catholicism during the late 19th century. I believe that a voucher system for which any religious school is eligible can still comply with the First Amendment – though I’d greatly prefer, if I ever have kids, to be able to send them to secular schools. A possible model is England, where there is a state religion but the state funds Catholic and Muslim schools as well as Anglican and secular. This, obviously, doesn’t work with strictly zoned schools, but Toronto for instance elects four different school boards (English secular, English Catholic, French secular, French Catholic) that each cover the entire city.

    In general the US rejects any ideas that foreign governments had first, because by definition they’re un-American. But I wonder if there’s anything else other countries are doing that we aren’t even considering.

    • cassander says:

      – School boards. Special-purpose local elected units of government to operate schools appear to be a US/Canada phenomenon.

      School boards have had their power severely clipped in most of the US. In most states, the state runs things except in large cities, and in the large cities, the normal elected government is in charge.

      – No public funding for religious schools. This isn’t just a church-and-state issue, but a result of the Blaine Amendments many US states adopted in a fit of anti-Catholicism during the late 19th century

      .

      There’s no first amendment issue. Vouchers going to religious schools is no different than catholic universities getting research grants, or a religious charity getting a federal contract. This objection to vouchers is founded in pure ignorance.

      In general the US rejects any ideas that foreign governments had first, because by definition they’re un-American. But I wonder if there’s anything else other countries are doing that we aren’t even considering.

      I don’t think they reject them for being un american so much as they’re mostly just unaware of what other countries do and are disinclined to find out.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      You missed tracking with viable career options for the non-academic tracks. I don’t have first-hand experience here but it seems like the German Sprachbund does a pretty good job making sure that skilled tradesmen get an education appropriate for their needs rather than requiring a random bachelor’s degree. Even in academic careers there’s a lot less wasted effort due to a reduced emphasis on Gen Ed courses.

    • Brad says:

      * School boards
      * Zoned schools

      Micro-school districts and micro-catchment zones within school districts are the north’s version of racial segregation. When the courts finally got around to recognizing this and tried to desegregate the north as they had the south there was a massive backlash that in no small part was responsible for ending the era of judicial activism (the other major factor being the crime wave). Ironically this means that many southern cities to this day have far more integrated schools than supposedly liberal northern cities.

      • BBA says:

        I was trying not to open that can of worms, but…

        100% true, although I understand they were not created for racial reasons – originally every one-room schoolhouse was a school district unto itself. Consolidation just went slower when there was racial pushback to consolidating. Given the lengths people will go to for segregated schools, I think the only ways to truly desegregate are incredibly draconian and probably unconstitutional – banning private schools, imposing Singapore-style housing quotas, etc.

        • Brad says:

          I think that’s letting the perfect be in the enemy of the good. Metropolitan wide busing works. Not perfectly maybe, but it works. And if people want to move an hour and a half out of downtown or pay tens of thousands of dollars a year in addition to taxes to evade it, at least we’ve made it inconvenient.

          • The Nybbler says:

            It turns out people will go to extreme lengths to avoid sending their kids to school with the stabby kids. Including paying tens of thousands of dollars a year in private tuition, moving an hour and a half out of downtown, changing jobs, or even voting against incumbent politicians.

            The effect of doing this would be to destroy the schools and the tax base in the wealthy areas, while doing the next best thing to fuck-all for helping the kids in the bad areas. But you’d get your racial integration. At least for a short while.

          • baconbits9 says:

            What do you mean by ‘works’?

          • Brad says:

            The evidence from the southern cities that spent decades under broad desegregation orders, alas now disappearing, is that contra the nybbler many white parents are not so racist that they will spend tens of thousands of dollars or hours in a car everyday to avoid having their kids in school with the darkies. Busing achieves meaningful desegregation. If the hardest core racists are inconvenienced as a side effect, so much the better.

          • The Nybbler says:

            “Personally, I’ve never seen much difference between the South and the North,” comedian Dick Gregory wrote in a 1971 issue of Ebony. “Down South white folks don’t care how close I get as long as I don’t get too big. Up North white folks don’t care how big I get as long as I don’t get too close.”

          • albatross11 says:

            Brad:

            It’s not so easy to distinguish from the outside between parents opposing bussing in poor black kids to their kids school because of overt racism vs actual concerns about violence in school, worsening academic standards, misbehaving kids who can’t be expelled, political pressure to end tracking or magnet programs because the racial numbers keep coming out wrong, etc.

            I mean, maybe there’s some value to really sticking it to those racist white parents by making their kids go to school with black kids, but there are also often real downsides.

          • Brad says:

            Albatross11, public schools don’t exist because we love white, upper middle class parents and so we want to give them free shit. They are supposed to be for the public good. It’s understandable that parents want to treat public schools as existing solely to cater to their whims, but the rest of us ought not to cater to that.

          • John Schilling says:

            It’s understandable that parents want to treat public schools as existing solely to cater to their whims, but the rest of us ought not to cater to that.

            Right, but it’s also understandable that, being a childless rationalist, you’re going to gripe about it in online forums and they, being parents, are going to vote single-issue in the relevant local elections.

            You’ll also vote in national elections, slightly favoring the party that seems more likely to sic federal bureaucrats on local school districts with a mandate to Make Things Better and not bother discussing the details; we’ve already seen how that works.

            If you want to help make things better, you need solutions that align with the interests of middle-class parents.

          • Brad says:

            I guess there’s no reason for anyone else to post here since John Schilling knows everyone better than they know themselves. The whole comment section can be John Schilling simulates other posters. Wouldn’t that be fun?

          • John Schilling says:

            @Brad: However high my confidence,I should have made it clear that I was offering only an educated guess as to your future behavior. I apologize, and will try not to do that in the future.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Yes, public schools are supposed to be for the public good. Metropolitanwide busing would not be. Even if no one moved or went to private school, you’d screw up the good schools and fail to heal the bad ones. Your equilibrium might be above that of the original bad schools (or might not), but it would be a lot closer to the bad than the good. Of course, many of those who predicted this result would take steps to remove their children from the system. As the results started becoming apparent, even more would remove their children from the system.

            Final result: All bad schools, steep drop in property values in the formerly-good areas, much higher costs for the remaining parents in those areas, and kids being bused around for no gain. There’s no public good in this scenario. Theres no good at all.

            Pointing to the South doesn’t help because, first of all, much of the South is known for poor public schools overall. And second, because (as my quote illustrates) because geographic separation between blacks and whites is a notorious point of difference between the North and the South.

            Fortunately, in my area, a plan which suggested e.g. busing half the kids from western Essex County to urban Essex County (includes Newark, NJ) and vice-versa would last about as long as it took for the politicians to remember that they do want to be re-elected. Anyone trying that would lose nearly all the suburban vote and probably a good chunk of the urban vote as well.

          • albatross11 says:

            Brad:

            The purpose of public schools is to provide a basic education to everyone’s kids for free. To the extent bussing kids around actually improves the outcomes of the kids in terms of learning stuff, overall, there’s some argument for it. (Balancing that against whatever it costs in money and hassle to do the bussing.)

            It’s not clear to me at all that this actually happens. There is a very visible loss of quality that happens in a lot of schools when you bring in a group of kids who are broadly below grade level and include some very disruptive kids. It’s not so clear that there’s a corresponding improvement somewhere, though maybe there is.

            Even if bussing is a net improvement by making the poor black kids better off at the expense of the middle-class white kids, it’s pretty easy to chase all the parents with a choice out of the public schools with that sort of initiative. We have lots of worked examples, in fact. People with a choice aren’t going to be sending their kids to lousy schools.

          • johan_larson says:

            @The Nybbler

            All bad schools, steep drop in property values in the formerly-good areas, much higher costs for the remaining parents in those areas, and kids being bused around for no gain. There’s no public good in this scenario. Theres no good at all.

            Wow, that sounds awfully exclusive. Let me see if I understand your position.

            BEGIN
            Students vary widely in ability and personality. An educational institution that served everyone would have to provide differential instruction, with easy classes for the very untalented and on up to demanding classes for the talented. Also, a small number of students are so ill-tempered that they will disrupt any realistic education institution that includes them; they simply have to be tossed out.

            In principle a comprehensive public education system could do all of this. Unfortunately trying it given present political realities runs into two problems: envious poor people and misguided anti-racist advocates.

            As to the first, because society is significantly meritocratic and ability is significantly heritable, the children from the trailer parks will if fairly assessed generally but not exclusively sort into lower education tracks, and the children from the McMansions will generally but not exclusively sort into higher tracks. This will be unpopular with the parents from the trailer parks, and they will use any influence they have over the system through the democratic process to admit their children to the higher tracks in greater numbers.

            As to the second, ability is not equally distributed across ethnic groups. In particular blacks, if fairly assessed, would predominantly be sorted into the lower tracks. This will be unpopular with anti-racist advocates, who will consider this outright evidence of racism, and will use any influence they have over the system (probably through the courts) to force it to admit more blacks into the higher tracks.

            And everything said above regarding the influence of the envious poor and anti-racist advocates also applies to efforts to exclude the truly disruptive.

            Accommodating these demands will require, first, admitting the truly disruptive into regular classes, classes they will certainly wreck, and second, admitting the unqualified into the higher academic tracks. These unqualified students would if fairly assessed simply fail, but more likely will cause standards to be lowered until the classes are useless.

            The combined effect of these demands will break the system. No institution can serve the general student body well, and also accommodate the demands of the envious poor and anti-racist advocates. A comprehensive public education system that serves everyone well is therefore impossible given present political realities.
            END

            Is the text between the BEGIN and END a fair summary of your views on this issue?

          • The Nybbler says:

            @johan_larson

            A lot more words than I’d use, but not far from the mark. A few changes

            * Replace “small number of students are so ill-tempered” with “significant number…”

            * Strike mention of McMansions and trailer parks; they’re poor and rich areas and adding those characterizations of the housing stock (largely inaccurate in my area) doesn’t add anything.

            * “Envious poor people” may be wrong; I’m not certain. I went to a school which had tracking and wealth discrepancies (but few racial issues, because there was only one or two black kids at a time); the parents of the kids in the Basic track (who were generally poorer) seemed fine with it. It’s possible things have changed, but it’s also possible it’s “misguided advocates for the poor” rather than “envious poor people”. This affects the following paragraph but the results are the same: someone politically influential is going to be upset at the way the stratification works. But in either case the racial stratification is more politically significant, especially since the purpose of this proposal for busing is racial integration.

          • Brad says:

            @albatross11

            The purpose of public schools is to provide a basic education to everyone’s kids for free.

            I wouldn’t put it like that. The ultimate purpose is to advance the public good. Providing basic educations is an intermediate goal that we think will by and large advance the public goal. But the ultimate and intermediate goals conflict, the ultimate wins, not the intermediate. Confusing this point leads to pernicious outcomes.

            That quibble aside, the fact of the matter is that the we aren’t providing a basic education for free to everyone or even nearly everyone. Instead we are doing a great job of providing an education for free to people that could and would pay for an education were it not provided for free. The main justification for this wasted money (i.e. wasted because it is substituting public money for private rather than increasing the total amount) is that without it there wouldn’t be robust support for educating the poor.

            But as we can see in this very thread, segregation neatly sidesteps this supposed benefit of universality. Those that don’t need it in the first place get their free shit and they still don’t care about what happens to the poor and the black because they are off somewhere else.

            I’ve said before in the context of the criminal justice system that it is better to have one unjust system for everyone than to have an exquisitely fair system for the rich, famous, and cops and an unjust system for everyone else. When it comes to how the government interacts with citizens, equality is a value in and of itself that makes the naive Pareto analysis inapplicable.

            @The Nybbler
            Housing is a cost everyone bears. When those costs are reduced that’s a very good thing, not a bad one. Do you also cheer increasing mobile phone plan pricing?

          • Nornagest says:

            Housing is a cost everyone bears. When those costs are reduced that’s a very good thing, not a bad one. Do you also cheer increasing mobile phone plan pricing?

            You know, I sort of agree with you, in that I’ve seen up close how corrosive a narrow focus on property values can be to the political process and I’m pretty leery of how our economic culture encourages sinking the bulk of middle-class assets into housing. But I still think this is a tendentious framing.

            We are not talking about building apartments or otherwise increasing the housing stock, which I agree is generally a bad thing to obstruct. The supply side is unchanged. Any drop in property value must therefore come from the demand side, viz. making said properties less desirable places to live. This does not strike me as a positive social goal. It also strikes me as a poor political goal, since property values directly correlate to property tax revenue (which is local education’s main source of income), but that’s secondary.

            It’s possible that negative effects on property values in some places might be wholly or partially compensated by positive effects elsewhere. But I’d be very surprised if this was positive- or even zero-sum.

          • The Nybbler says:

            If you believe replacing one working school system and one terrible school system with a single terrible school system covering all the former users of both is actually an improvement, there’s nothing more to say. No school system at all would be strictly preferable to the latter, IMO.

          • Brad says:

            @Nornagest

            We are not talking about building apartments or otherwise increasing the housing stock, which I agree is generally a bad thing to obstruct. The supply side is unchanged. Any drop in property value must therefore come from the demand side, viz. making said properties less desirable places to live. This does not strike me as a positive social goal.

            It is making those properties less desirable because they no longer come with an embedded entrance ticket for segregated schools. I’d say that’s a very good thing.

            This is no different from the price reductions that occurred during residential desegregation. When a black person moved onto a white-only block property values fell strictly from the demand side — those properties were suddenly less valuable to racists. That such preferences could no longer be met and the embedded value in places that had until then catered to those preferences evaporated was a good thing, not a bad one. Non-racists faced lower housing costs at the expense of racists not to being able to satisfy their preferences. A win-win. Same thing here.

          • Brad says:

            there’s nothing more to say

            I agree. You are in the best position to understand your own narrow interests. If that’s all you care about, what is there to talk about?

          • albatross11 says:

            The Nybbler:

            That’s the question, right? If you somehow force everyone into the same school system, it might broadly work out in one of two ways:

            a. When everyone has to go to the same school system, there’s sufficient social or political pressure to fix the school system so it works reasonably well for everyone.

            b. Everyone gets stuck in a broken school system.

            I think the first interesting question to ask is how we could make a good prediction about how this would work out. I think there are a lot of worked examples where good schools went way downhill and everyone with a choice pulled their kids out, but I expect there are also a lot of worked examples where the schools integrated and things turned out fine. What I don’t know is what the proportions are.

            I strongly suspect that if you want to mix together kids with very different levels of educational performance and behavior in the same school, you need to plan for that–make sure you can keep order in the classrooms, make sure you can provide a meaningful education to the kids two years below grade level as well as the ones two years ahead of grade level, etc.

          • albatross11 says:

            Brad:

            Were there any other, associated, changes that happened in those neighborhoods, that might have driven some of the whites to leave? The way I’ve heard it, from multiple people who were there at the time, integration of neighborhoods often came with big increases in street crime. The confounder is that a lot of this was happening around the same time as the 70s crime wave, so it might have been a “I see more blacks in my neighborhood and there’s more crime, I’ll jump to the obvious conclusion.” But the common story is something like “We planned to stay in our house, but after the kids’ bikes kept getting stolen and that one time when Jane got mugged walking around the park, we put the house up for sale and took a huge loss on the deal.”

          • Brad says:

            Prices dropped precipitously as soon as a block was busted. That timing makes it hard to see how your hypothesis could fit.

          • BBA says:

            There comes a point where anti-racism gives way to simple self-preservation – ask a white person who tried to stay in Detroit after the riots, if you can find any.

            That, and the fact that people will self-segregate even in the absence of any countervailing factors, is what leads me to the depressing conclusion that only the heavy-handed Singapore solution can produce lasting desegregation. And I doubt that even can be done anywhere outside Singapore.

          • albatross11 says:

            BBA:

            When crime goes up and schools go downhill, everyone with a choice wants to move out. It’s not just whites, and it’s not primarily racial. Chinese and Indian families with no dog in the black/white fight at all will leave when that happens. For that matter, so will black families with kids, who want their kids going to a good school.

        • albatross11 says:

          Many of our biggest social issues in the US end up turning on a smallish subset of people who impose a lot of costs to their communities and neighbors. That includes homeless people, welfare families, criminals, disruptive kids in school, low-performing kids in school, etc.

          Ideally, we’d be doing some society-wide stuff to shrink those groups and help the people out who needed it, in ways that decreased the social costs they brought with them. But instead, the incentives of each local government, school board, and neighborhood is to push those folks down the road to the next town/school district/neighborhood.

          For example, think of expensive houses with NIMBY responses to plans to put in cheap apartments nearby, school districts drawn to keep the kids from the expensive houses in the same school, urban architecture designed to deprive homeless people of anyplace to lie down, local police that have a reputation for being well-staffed and coming down hard on criminals, social welfare programs that are either less generous than the neighbors’ or harder to access, etc.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Ideally, we’d be doing some society-wide stuff to shrink those groups and help the people out who needed it, in ways that decreased the social costs they brought with them.

            Nobody knows how to do it, not without violating one or another hard constraint. And the more focus is put on helping them, the worse they make it for everyone else.

          • johan_larson says:

            Why is this problem so uniquely hard in the US? Every country has poor people, but the poorest Americans live in the kind of squalor, violence, and social dysfunction you just don’t find in other wealthy countries. Germany, Japan or Canada for that matter just don’t have the sort of ghetto/project/homeless poor that the US does. Plenty of people are aware of the problem, and plenty has been done to try to solve it. But somehow nothing much seems to help. Why is that?

            (That paragraph is really harsh. So let me add that I am generally an admirer of the United States. America gets a lot right. I wish my own country were more like it in some respects. But it’s mystifying that a country that gets things so right up high can fail so miserably down low.)

          • The Nybbler says:

            @johan_larson

            Because of the hard constraints. Disparate racial impact and constitutional rights being two big ones.

          • cassander says:

            @johan_larson

            sfunction you just don’t find in other wealthy countries. Germany, Japan or Canada for that matter just don’t have the sort of ghetto/project/homeless poor that the US does

            I’m not at all sure this is the case. Japan, maybe. but canada has its indigenous population, and my understanding is that while the german unassimilated muslim population isn’t as bad off as the french, it’s still pretty ugly in places. Especially when you combine it with the overall higher level of wealth in the US, I don’t think this claim that the american poor are worse is sustainable.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Why is this problem so uniquely hard in the US? Every country has poor people, but the poorest Americans live in the kind of squalor, violence, and social dysfunction you just don’t find in other wealthy countries.

            Some of it has to do with how we measure poverty. In terms of material possessions- sq footage of housing, number of TVs, number of cars the average american in the bottom 50% of the income bracket, so around 25th percentile, is as well off as the average in many European countries. Because many poverty metrics don’t look at material comfort the US comes off worse than they would if they were more consistently included.

            Additionally the US is LARGE relative to the countries you mentioned, if you took all of Europe instead of individual countries would you not be able to find many places with squalor on an equivalent level? Is it an equivalent measure if Mississippi is always treated as part of the US but Romania is sometimes part of Europe and sometimes not?

          • Why is this problem so uniquely hard in the US? Every country has poor people, but the poorest Americans live in the kind of squalor, violence, and social dysfunction you just don’t find in other wealthy countries. Germany, Japan or Canada for that matter just don’t have the sort of ghetto/project/homeless poor that the US does. Plenty of people are aware of the problem, and plenty has been done to try to solve it. But somehow nothing much seems to help. Why is that?

            There’s a pretty straightforward explanation in terms of attitudes to redistribution. For instance, cities aren’t allowed to go bankrupt or severely decay in the coutries you mention

        • cassander says:

          >I think the only ways to truly desegregate are incredibly draconian and probably unconstitutional – banning private schools, imposing Singapore-style housing quotas, etc.

          that, or vouchers.

          • BBA says:

            Give everyone vouchers, and the kids without strong preferences (which is most of them) will go to the school closest to home. With segregated housing, this means schools stay segregated too. Now what?

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            I have to agree with BBA; I would take it even further and say that the more choice people have the more likely they are to self-segregate.

          • albatross11 says:

            RalMirrorAd:

            They will self-segregate, but not only (or necessarily even primarily) on race. Often on religion, intelligence, interests (music, art, STEM), language/nationality, willingness to behave in class, etc.

            Whether this is a good or bad things comes down to values. If you make the schools better overall in terms of educating kids somewhere close to their potential, but decrease racial integration to do so, I’d call that a win. But that’s not remotely a universally-held view.

            To the extent that vouchers allow the parents of reasonably bright and well-behaved kids to flee the schools that are overrun by dumb, badly-behaved kids, that will make life a lot better for the bright kids, but probably won’t do much for the kids left behind.

          • cassander says:

            @bba

            Give everyone vouchers, and the kids without strong preferences (which is most of them) will go to the school closest to home. With segregated housing, this means schools stay segregated too.

            they stay segregated IF parents either want that for their kids, or just don’t care. and if they want that or don’t care, who cares if the schools are segregated?

            @RalMirrorAd says:

            I have to agree with BBA; I would take it even further and say that the more choice people have the more likely they are to self-segregate.

            Under the current system, kids are required to go to the closest school. a system where that was merely optional mathematically cannot be more geographically segregated than a system literally based on geographical segregation.

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            @cassander; I operate on the assumption that if in lieu of any legal prescriptions against integration, if people are making neighborhood decisions on the basis of self-segregation then I don’t see how adding a second layer of choice would cause them to reverse that decision and send their children to more diverse schools.

          • Jaskologist says:

            @RalMirrorAd,

            Good schools currently come bundled with expensive granite countertops and large yards. Vouchers unbundle these things, putting the “good schools” portion more in reach for the parents who care about good schools but would have otherwise been too poor.

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            @Jaskologist;

            Yes but;
            1. People don’t just shop for the quality of the homes they shop for the quality of the neighborhoods. The quality of the neighborhood is ultimately a function of the residents.
            2. The quality of the neighborhood dictates to what extent the quality of the home can be altered.

            My point is people are already spending tens or hundreds of thousands to put themselves in ‘Nice, Save Neighborhoods’; which is the technical equivalent of segregation but does not require one to say that they desire the physical absence of non-white faces,

            My interpretation is that school choice greases the wheels of the forces which impel people to self-segregate.

            Or in other words, if people’s home/neighborhood buying decisions overwhelmingly favored segregation; why would we not expect allowing people to isolate that decision to schools for essentially no private fee simply be an amplified reflection of what they already do?

          • quanta413 says:

            My point is people are already spending tens or hundreds of thousands to put themselves in ‘Nice, Save Neighborhoods’; which is the technical equivalent of segregation but does not require one to say that they desire the physical absence of non-white faces

            While sort of true, this whole conversation strikes me as exaggerated. There are still a lot of integrated schools in the U.S. And it’s not like people of a different color but the same socioeconomic class are routinely fled from across the whole U.S.

            Or in other words, if people’s home/neighborhood buying decisions overwhelmingly favored segregation; why would we not expect allowing people to isolate that decision to schools for essentially no private fee simply be an amplified reflection of what they already do?

            You can only isolate your children from other children if those children’s parents can’t also choose where their children go. The point of school choice is that they can. People who aren’t poor already have school choice. Poor people don’t.

            At the very least, it means you’d have to be a lot further from the people you don’t like to have separate “public” schools than them than you have to now.

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            While sort of true, this whole conversation strikes me as exaggerated. There are still a lot of integrated schools in the U.S.

            My , albeit anecdotal understanding is that schools and in particular neighborhoods are more segregated now than they were in 1965. So I based my assumptions on the idea that when given the choice, people make choices in a generally segregationist fashion.

            The point of school choice is that they can. People who aren’t poor already have school choice. Poor people don’t.

            Possibly. What i could imagine happening is a significant [and continuous] amount of school shuffling occurs as African Americans and hispanic families use their vouchers to chase after ‘good schools’ and white and asian families use their vouchers to avoid ‘unsafe/disruptive learning environments’ for their kids.

          • albatross11 says:

            Jaskologist:

            One side note about that: any change to school district boundaries where I live (a rich county bordering DC) can change the value of your house by 30-40% overnight. A voucher scheme that unbundled the good neighborhoods from the good schools is likely to get some opposition from people who expect that to take a few hundred thousand dollars right out of their pocket.

          • Brad says:

            Reason #39483 the government moving heaven and earth in order to push the rent-buy equilibrium massively towards buy was and is a bad idea. Ten years ago we had an opportunity to reevaluate that decision with relatively lower disruption and instead we choose to double down.

    • It’s not exactly a qualitative difference, but compared to the USA, the English education system has quicker specialization. Most prominently in how universities work, i.e., you apply to study just one subject (sometimes two, but it has to be part of a degree programme specifically set up for the study of those two subjects in combination) at university, rather than doing general education and selecting a major once you’re at university. But also you only study a handful of self-chosen subjects in (the equivalent of) high school, and you already get some degree of choice over what subjects to study (the equivalent of) middle school. I don’t know which system is more unusual on the worldwide level though.

      Tracking, maybe? I’m not really sure what the situation is with tracking in America, the commentary I hear often makes it sound like it doesn’t really happen and that’s a problem, but American people I ask about it usually report similar levels of tracking to what I experienced, and maybe the commentators are just calling for a more draconian system. In England within-school, within-subject tracking is normal (in secondary education), so people take their classes with students of similar abilities, but the students with dissimilar abilities aren’t generally shut away in entirely separate schools (except in some counties such as Kent, as a relic of the German-style system we had up until the 1970s), so they can still be interacted with outside of class and it’s not that difficult for them to move up levels if their measured ability improves.

      A possible model is England, where there is a state religion but the state funds Catholic and Muslim schools as well as Anglican and secular

      Note: we fund Jewish, Hindu and Sikh schools too (as well as some from other Christian denominations). Although there are only a handful of Muslim, Hindu or Sikh schools, and the vast majority of practitioners of these religions send their children to secular, Anglican or Catholic schools, whereas there are a lot more Jewish schools and more than half of English Jews send their children to Jewish schools. So the two main types of religious school in England are Christian and Jewish.

      Also, it’s my impression that most primary schools in England are explicitly religious. Legally all schools are required to have regular acts of “collective worship”. In practice secondary schools generally don’t and the law is not enforced, but this seems not to be the case for primary schools. I’ve heard of secular American immigrants being unpleasantly surprised at their child being expected to take part in a nativity play at primary school.

      • The Nybbler says:

        I’m not really sure what the situation is with tracking in America, the commentary I hear often makes it sound like it doesn’t really happen and that’s a problem, but American people I ask about it usually report similar levels of tracking to what I experienced, and maybe the commentators are just calling for a more draconian system.

        Tracking goes in and out of fashion (and political odor), and since every state (and sometimes every district within a state) makes its own decisions, they’re generally out of sync.

        • albatross11 says:

          Our school district seems to be trying to eliminate tracking while maintaining magnet schools. And while there are some dumb reasons to oppose tracking by ability, I definitely see the other side: we don’t actually want our kids’ entire lives determined by how well they did on a test in the third grade. (We prefer waiting for the test they take their junior year that determines what colleges they can get into.)

      • BBA says:

        there are only a handful of Muslim, Hindu or Sikh schools, and the vast majority of practitioners of these religions send their children to secular, Anglican or Catholic schools

        This is pretty surprising to me, given the much larger size of those communities relative to the Jewish community in GB. Then again, I’m Jewish, and I may be culturally acclimated to a greater objection to being “taught” another religion than the norm. It was a Jewish parent’s legal complaint that ended (Protestant) school prayer in American public schools.

        The relative lack of secular schools in England is also a little surprising given the generally lower levels of religiosity there, but I can kind of see how it would happen.

        • It may be due simply to the fact that traditionally the state only funded Christian and Jewish schools; the funding of schools for other religions was a New Labour innovation, so there’s been less time for such schools to get going. Probably most Muslims/Hindus/Sikhs simply don’t have a school for their religion in the area to send their children to, or if they do, it’s a relatively new one, or an unregulated private school, so that the quality of the education it offers is suspect.

          On the other hand, the proportion of British Jewish children attending Jewish schools has apparently increased greatly in recent years; back in the 1970s it was only 20%, compared to 63% now (source: https://www.thejc.com/education/education-features/the-unstoppable-rise-of-jewish-schools-1.54925).

    • rlms says:

      English state schools also have catchment zones to an extent: oversubscribed schools usually use distance as a major factor for deciding who to admit (and are generally prohibited from using things like test scores for that purpose). Our religious schools also have varying degrees of religiousness. I assume that e.g. Jewish schools are usually quite religious, but Christian ones tend to be less so (I’m not sure if any of the people I know who went to Catholic schools are observant, although most of them came from Catholic backgrounds), and nominally Christian primary schools are often secular in practice (at least, secular enough that observant non-Christians often send their children there).

  31. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I think everyone talking about a warm water port for Russia has taken a military angle. Would a warm water port be commercially important?

    • John Schilling says:

      It’s hard to completely separate the two. So long as Russia has solidly amicable relations with all its neighbors, there’s only a minor cost to using ice-free ports on the wrong side of a chokepoint or rail links to someone else’s ice-free port. But having unconstrained ice-free ports means not having to e.g. appease the Turks on whatever they care about this week, lest they have their safety inspectors work to rule on Russian shipping through the Bosporus. So the military and commercial spheres overlap on this one.

      • albatross11 says:

        But how does having ports in Syria help Russia with that problem? Anything the Russians want to ship to/from Syrian ports still has to go through Turkey (or Iraq+Iran), right?

    • christhenottopher says:

      Checking out their top import/export partners…not really.

      Export partners 2017:
      1. Netherlands (either overland or through their Baltic ports are best, new warm water ports don’t help)
      2. China (Trans-siberian rail way is an alternative to sea transport)
      3. Germany (overland)
      4. Belarus (overland)
      5. Turkey (Black Sea ports are good enough)

      Import partners 2017:
      1. China
      2. Germany
      3. Belarus
      4. Italy (overland or if both the Danish Straights and the Dardanelles are cut off, Italy is embargoing you too since they’re a NATO member and only united NATO action can cut off both)
      5. United States (see Italy)

      So economically, controlling say, all of Turkey, probably would not be particularly important in ensuring access to global trade during winter.

  32. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    https://acestoohigh.com/2016/08/19/which-version-is-your-kids-school/#more-5818

    Discussion of teaching children how to calm themselves. I’m a little suspicious because I’m not seeing more recent material, but the idea seems somewhat useful.