Nassim Taleb’s List of Aphorisms, Rules, and Heuristics. 135: “Studying neurobiology to understand humans is like studying ink to understand literature”.
I have spent enough time around Finns that I find the Finnish Problems meme pretty funny.
An angle of the global warming discussion I hadn’t heard before: US greenhouse gas emissions have fallen ten percent in the last ten years; world still doomed because China.
Related: Deforestation in the Amazon is down by 75% in the past twenty years. I’d love to read a very good explanation of how it was accomplished; it seems to involve some sort of interventions in supply chains but I’m not sure how or why those interventions were made.
A couple weeks ago I blogged about how monetary windfalls to the poor don’t last very long and definitely don’t help the next generation in the way the idea of “poverty traps” would imply. But I was short on randomized controlled trials in a modern setting. Well, one just came out: Human Capital Effects of Anti-Poverty Programs: Evidence From A Randomized Housing Voucher Lottery. Result: when families get free public housing, there’s no difference in outcomes between their children and children of families who didn’t.
Related: Four generations after Cornelius Vanderbilt made his hundred billion dollar fortune, his descendants are firmly middle class. But other very wealthy families seem to do better.
Someone in the genetics blogosphere asked an interesting question: when Pol Pot killed all the intellectuals in Cambodia, murdering a third of the population, did that permanently depress Cambodian IQ for genetic reasons? As far as I can tell, the answer is no one has really checked. (Edit: Jason Malloy looks deeper)
From our Department Of Cats And Dogs Snuggling: progressive crusader Ralph Nader and anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist are newfound friends and working on a project of left-right convergence.
A snide objection I’ve heard to the free market is that cable companies are capitalist and look how terrible they are. But one sign of how far cable is from an ideal market is the new poll finding over half of people would switch cable companies if they felt like they could.
Study: There is no silver bullet solution to fix climate change. I will come out and say it: I hate studies like this, because it’s inconceivable anyone would announce “there is a silver bullet solution to fix climate change”, so I haven’t learned anything new. But one thing did encourage me. Apparently the economic lure of carbon offsets is now so great that companies are carrying out legally ambiguous unauthorized experiments. I feel like once we reach the point where corporations are going behind government’s back to try and come up with novel lucrative climate change solutions, the fight against climate change is in damn good shape.
Is Casual Sex On The Rise In America? The answer appears to be “yes, kind of, but we’re still going to make you feel bad for believing that it is.”
Possibly the most metal band in the world: NǽnøĉÿbbŒrğ VbëřřĦōlökäävsŦ (Nanocyborg Uberholocaust) plays “ambient cosmic extreme funeral drone doom metal” and records their songs at the South Pole.
the impotence trials of 16th century France. At this point I think we just need to admit that everything about sex in historical times was horrible and oppressive and terrifying no matter what gender you were.
American Enterprise Institute reports on the Wal-Mart in a North Dakota oil field paying $20 an hour because workers are scarce. I don’t agree with the particular conclusions they draw, but it’s a useful reminder of the laws of economics and that the low wages of workers is neither a universal truth nor a morality play but a reflection of the contingent economic conditions prevailing in the relevant area.
Various levels of panic about one group getting 51% of the Bitcoin mining power and all the nefarious things they could do thereby. People reasonably point out that they’re not going to, because that would crash the price of Bitcoin and make all their hard work useless. The real story here seems to be that this is possible, which means if the government ever wants to destroy Bitcoin, instead of going through some weird cyberpunk inquisition all they have to do is get the NSA to build the appropriate number of supercomputers and take it over. I expected better from Satoshi Nakamoto.
There is a World Pun Championship, and it is absolutely terrible.
Skeptic community blogger wants to drink a homeopathic preparation of HIV positive blood to spread awareness of how homeopathic preparations don’t retain any of the active ingredient in them. Skeptic community throws a fit about reckless self-endangerment. So, uh, I guess that awareness is getting spread already. No word on whether he’s going to spread awareness of fact that you can’t actually get HIV by swallowing it.
A poll asks consumers whether, in the case of a sudden crisis, they would want their self-driving car to save their own life or maximize the total number of lives saved. For example, if it was about to hit an oncoming car and couldn’t get out of the way, should it veer off the road and down a cliff (100% chance of killing self, 0% chance of killing others) or hit the oncoming car (75% chance of killing self, 75% chance of killing others)? Respondents overwhelmingly in favor of cars programmed to protect their driver alone – which makes no sense, since presumably everyone’s car will have the same programming so this kills extra people for no reason. Immanuel Kant is not amused. (h/t Carl Shulman)
You know tilt-shift photography? The kind that can make anything look like a miniature? Apparently there’s an opposite process that makes things look huge, and it’s pretty scary.
Job Interviews Reward Narcissists adds to a growing body of evidence that job interviews are terrible and strictly inferior to judging candidates based on their accomplishments or test scores. I wonder if the social justice people can be directed to attack companies using job interviews? They’re the number one opportunity employers have to be influenced by irrelevant criteria (like attractiveness, race, class, et cetera) and there should be a straightforward profit-maximization case for getting rid of them.
From the Department of Help I Don’t Know What To Believe Anymore: Noah Smith writes:
Japan’s Shinzo Abe is the world’s best leader…Japan has escaped deflation. The stock market is up, growth is way up and even wages are finally starting to rise. In other words, unlike everyone else in the world, Abe listened to Milton Friedman, and the results are looking good.
Meanwhile, from Zero Hedge:
Japan is what a Keynesian dystopia looks like. Its entire economy is now hostage to a fiscal time bomb. Namely, government debt which already exceeds 240% of GDP and which is growing rapidly because even the recent traumatic increase in the sales tax from 5% to 8% does not come close to filling the fiscal gap. Moreover, even at today’s absurdly low and BOJ rigged bond rate of 0.6% nearly 25% of government revenue is absorbed by interest payments. Now comes the coup de grace. Japan’s savings rate has collapsed and its vaunted current account surplus is about ready to disappear. Japan launched upon the greatest experiment in Keynesian fiscal stimulus ever imagined. The catastrophic results speak for themselves and are a potent remainder that bad ideas can wreak immense damage once they are embraced by the machinery of the state.
I’m okay with people disagreeing on implications, but it’s annoying I can’t even get a clear picture on whether a country’s doing miraculously well or dystopianishly bad. I’m going to follow my usual heuristic of trusting the person who isn’t Zero Hedge.
A while back some reactionaries suggested that some supposedly oppressed groups are actually more privileged, because one sign of being privileged is that they get extra rights and respect and you get in trouble for insulting them, and it’s much less acceptable to say mean things about minority groups than it is about white men. I argued they were conflating a lot of different possible ways in which different groups can have more rights than each other. But I think a recent article by Robin Hanson offers a much stronger counterargument; he says that allowing something to be mocked is a form of countersignaling proving high levels of respect for that thing.
Carl Shulman, who wrote some excellent posts about parapsychology that inspired some posts here is back, with a suspicion that scientific fraud may be common enough to seriously affect the literature.
You know how everyone says the research shows men and women aren’t too different in terms of personality after all and there’s huge overlap? Now a new group of scientists crunches the data slightly differently and finds men’s and women’s personalities are hugely different, practically no overlap. Thus the circle is complete: both sides of the debate have a study to cite and can accuse the other of being “science denialists”. I hate this sort of thing, because it’s clear that I would need to study large amounts of very complicated math and develop strong opinions on statistical minutiae before I can have a reasoned opinion on this subject, plus after I do that whichever side I disagree with will still tell me I’m wrong and dismiss the other side’s paper based on the first nitpick they can find.
Marginal Revolution: “Economics assumes that people are rational, self-interested, lightning fast calculators. Obviously a bad assumption, as we are constantly told. Chimps, on the other hand, are rational, self-interested, lightning fast calculators.”