In philosophical debates on determinism, someone will say “We have to believe in free will, because without the belief in free will humans will lose their moral compass and become monsters!” Well, high levels of belief in free will are directly correlated with high murder rates. I doubt this is anywhere near causative, but it’s going to make a good debating point next time someone raises that objection.
xkcd proposed a cuddle mattress once. Well, now it exists for real. And it’ll only cost you $1500. And there are no robots 🙁
A while back we talked about the dark side of online retailers like Amazon and how warehouse shipping jobs were kind of hellish. I don’t know how to square that with the new story that Amazon so insists on happy, loyal warehouse employees that it will pay them $2000 to $5000 to leave. Commenters on Reddit are cynical, saying maybe Amazon trusts that no one can leave a paying job in this economy and so it is free publicity. I dunno. $5000 can support someone for a pretty long time. And I’m still confused about how hard or easy it is to get a minimum-wage job – from the news it seems very hard indeed, yet some of my psych patients keep getting fired and then re-hired by someone else a couple of times a year.
D-glucosamine supplementation extends lifespan of mice and nematodes. Man, I wish I was a nematode doctor. We can cure anything in those suckers.
Lots of giant corporations have signed a statement calling on world governments to fight climate change. From the article it’s not clear whether they’re doing it for publicity/good citizenship reasons, or whether they think it’s a threat to business. But for a very interesting alternate perspective, Forbes asks why the market hasn’t priced in the effects of climate change on things like coastal properties yet. Their conclusion is that the market doesn’t really believe climate change will cause many problems. Alternative hypotheses: we are not good at long-term time-discounting, or coastal properties would cost even more if no warming. [EDIT: Ozy adds government-subsidized flood insurance as a possible culprit.]
Claim: The old intellectual superstar was a sophistcated humanities scholar involved in something like Marxism or literary theory, like Jacques Derrida. The new intellectual superstar is a charismatic scientist peddling explanations of human nature like Steven Pinker. Is this TED’s fault? Or does it say something wider about society?
A lot of talk on how doctors are the most miserable profession and 90% of doctors would discourage others from entering the profession (I hear that in that annoying advertisement voice: “Nine out of ten doctors recommend…!”) Here’s the Reddit comment thread and personal testimony. All the doctors I work with agree that this is true and the career is terrible. On the other hand, so far I’m enjoying it (EXCEPT DURING MY INTERNAL MEDICINE MONTHS LIKE THIS ONE) and expect to enjoy it much more after residency. Also, their survey is very different from for example Medscape’s compensation reports, which find that 66% of internal medicine doctors (the most common and “typical” kind of doctor) would choose medicine again as a career.
I was really surprised by the success of the hoax article that selfie-taking was now a DSM-listed mental disorder. It wasn’t just that people apparently think that poorly of the DSM. It was the total incompetence of the hoax to anyone who knows anything about psychiatry or medicine. Seriously, “selfie-itis”? Inflammation of the selfie?
Here is your go-to article for responding to anyone who says the SAT is useless and tests don’t measure real intelligence.
Continuing on the subject of evidence-based education, a new study shows that “Replacing a teacher in the bottom 5% with an average teacher would increase the present value of students’ lifetime income by approximately $250,000 per classroom.”
New Hampshire is about to make adultery legal. In other news, adultery currently illegal in New Hampshire. I find it very interesting that a lot of our current political debates are about the sanctity of marriage in one way or another, but that the question of whether or not adultery should be legal seems to never come up or get politicized. Also, the percent of people who are against adultery has (to my surprise) increased consistently over the past fifty years (though no stats on how many, if any, want it banned).
I find the evo psych angle to this article unconvincing, but it still seems relevant to our discussion of cyclic fashion: Beard Trend Is Guided By Evolution.
Three good articles on meta- versus object- level politics. First, Popehat lambasts Republicans for trying to ban insurance from taking gun ownership into account when deciding on risk and policy cost, noting (I think correctly) that it goes against everything they believe about letting the market connect actions to natural consequences without government interference just for the sake of striking an object-level blow for guns.
Second, Fredrik de Boer points out how the new xkcd-approved leftist orthodoxy that free speech means absolutely nothing except that the government can’t arrest you borrows from the worst parts of libertarianism and is about as anti-leftist as you can get. Libertarians are the ones who say that “rights” mean only that the government can’t take something away from you – that there can’t be a “right to health care” except in the very strict sense of “the government should not ban you from getting health care”. Democrats have prided themselves on a more nuanced understanding – that you also have to create the kinds of conditions in which meaningful exercise of the right is possible – like creating a climate in which people can afford health care if they want it. If the government won’t arrest you for getting free speech, but there’s a climate in which people without complete financial independence are afraid to speak freely and so in practice free speech is impossible for all except the rich, that’s a state of affairs only the most callous straw man of a libertarian could be happy with.
Third, a more encouraging example of a time when people did stick to their meta-level principles even when it might not be expected on the object-level: The Tea Party Wants To Help You Go Solar.
Scientists analyzing blood from the world’s oldest woman find two lines of very persistent stem cells. Quotes scientist as saying there is a potential for rejuvenating bodies using stem cells saved from youth. I wonder if that means anybody willing to cryopreserve themselves should also, as a separate hedge, freeze some stem cells right now. That way, if they learn how to rejuvenate your body from youthful stem cells when you’re 90, you’ll have some cells around to work with.
New meta-analysis finds no support for evolutionary psychological theory that women’s mate preferences should vary across the menstrual cycle (h/t Kate Donovan). But even more interesting to me is the accompanying editorial by a reviewer: Meta-Analyses Rarely Resolve Ideological Debates. It makes a lot of the same points made in my last post on parapsychology and Eliezer Yudkowsky’s comment on same, but also adds a few things I hadn’t thought about before. Also, he doesn’t pull punches at all: “I struggle to think of an ideological debate that has been resolved by meta-analysis…it may be that meta-analyses are not capable of answering big questions.”
While we’re on the subject of menstruation (and nothing good has ever started with that phrase), the evolutionary explanation for why women menstruate is really horrible and unexpected.
People don’t like when I link to Radish because they say it’s super racist. And okay, it is super racist. Nevertheless, its latest article on Lovecraft’s philosophy is exceptionally good. If you just read the middle three sections – “Cosmic Perspective”, “Atheistic Traditionalism”, and “Reality Check”, you will get most of the value and avoid almost all of the racism. As best I understand it – and it is meaty enough that I should read it several more times – it argues that Lovecraft’s philosophy was that there is no objective value in the world, and wishy-washy Sartrean “we can choose our own values” doesn’t work in real life, so your best bet is to just seize the value system you’ve got and cling to it like a drowning man to a life preserver. This seems a lot like MIRI’s idea of getting AI to preserve contingent human values. But it also reveals a profound philosophical gulf. Starting with the same premises, MIRI concluded “we must act as if universal human values are objectively correct” and Lovecraft concluded “I must act as if early 19th century upper class Rhode Island Protestant values are objectively correct”. This philosophically-grounded desperate parochialism explains a lot about Lovecraft – including some of his racism, hence its inclusion in Radish – and should be intuitively obvious to anyone who read the frame story to Unknown Kadath. A must-read for anyone interested in Lovecraft on a level deeper than Cthulhu jokes.
Canada sticks a bunch of garbage in a town square as an art installation. What happens next will shock you. Okay, not really. Sorry, I’ve been reading too much Buzzfeed. But what happens next is mildly amusing albeit predictable.
Studying the FDA is hard because of our government’s inexplicable failure to give us a control FDA to compare it to. But Marginal Revolutionary Alex Tabarrok and his co-authors come up with a way to rate the FDA by comparings its divisions to one another. He finds that “Greater agency efficiency would be worth about $4 trillion in value to patients, from enhanced U.S. life expectancy.” I think this is the first time I have seen the number “four trillion dollars” used as the potential benefit of anything. I don’t know enough economics to evaluate, but a former head of the FDA seems to think it’s legit.
The most viewed Overcoming Bias post as of a while ago was My Favorite Liar, about a teaching technique that makes kids try to figure out a teacher’s deceptions. Here is a really cute story from Reddit about much the same thing.
I never wanted a 3D printer before because I figured unless you really really want plastic figurines you can’t do anything useful with them. Well, you still can’t do anything useful per se, yet suddenly I find myself desperately wanting one at any price: 3D Print Your Minecraft Worlds