Links For August 2014

The Big Grey Man of Ben MacDhui is a Bigfoot-like creature that haunts the top of a Scottish peak and is known for chasing attempted mountaineers. The most likely explanation is a Brocken Spectre, an optical phenomenon in which on a foggy day a gigantic shadow of an individual is projected upon the fog behind them.

An analysis of thirty nine million scientific papers shows a rapidly (and very linearly!) increasing ratio of p = 0.04 to p = 0.06 papers, indicating worsening p-hacking and publication bias on a massive scale. Minimal differences between physics, biology, and social sciences.

Google Trends indicates Snowden’s NSA revelations have led to a drop in sensitive Google searches.

You might have guessed that the etymology of the word medicine was related to “meditation”, but what about to Medea, Diomedes, Archimedes, and Laomedon?

As resistance develops to artemisin, Australian team discovers a new way to kill the malaria parasite by blocking release of proteins it needs to survive.

However creepy you thought Nick Land of Xenosystems was, he’s much creepier than that.

How all sides in the current cluster of Iraq-Syria wars are basing their interpretation of current events on Islamic end time prophecies. Related: bizarre conspiracy theory that Abu Ghraib was part of an Israeli plot to find and kill the Mahdi.

A sudden drop in testosterone may have coincided with our species’ sudden advancement 50,000 years ago.

I know people have gotten so good at Minecraft that “really amazing Minecraft city built!” is no longer big news. But even controlling for that, this build of Kings’ Landing is pretty impressive. Related: the WesterosCraft server, which I eventually gave up trying to jump through the hoops they wanted to log on.

In a Muslim world not exactly known for its feminist credentials, women make up 70% of Algeria’s lawyers, 60% of its judges, >50% of its doctors and university students, and are starting to take over politics. New York Times investigates why, and paints the picture of a sort-of-bargain where the more women obey the exterior trappings of Islam, the more Islamic men are okay with them taking over traditionally male roles.

German Nazis condemn anti-Semitism: “The group’s other public campaigns include the dissemination of bumper stickers featuring a picture of Reinhard Heydrich, the senior Nazi official who chaired the Wansee Conference where the Final Solution was hatched. Underneath the photo reads: ‘As a Nazi, I’m a Zionist.'”

The new Exodus movie has revived the constant simmering debate over the racial makeup of ancient Egypt. And probably most people are familiar with the Black Athena debate on the role of Africans in ancient Greece as well. But one blogger isn’t afraid to ask the really tough questions: Were The Ancient Romans White? Not On Your Life.

Gallup polls Americans on the situation in the Middle East. Somewhat surprising: a very strong effect in which the more people know about the conflict, the more likely they are to favor Israel (from 71% of people following “very closely” to 18% of people following “not closely”). Likewise, the more educated someone is the more pro-Israeli they are (53% of post-graduates compared to 34% high school only). These are the opposite of the numbers I would expect given that liberals tend to be both more educated/news-following and more pro-Palestine. Meta-level question: should strong trends in favor of more educated and clueful people supporting one side get treated as a heuristic telling us that side is probably right?

There is a surprisingly strong case to be made that the Doctor from Doctor Who is Willy Wonka.

Popehat: those this crime carries a maximum sentence of X statements you see in newspapers bear little relationship to reality. Related: outrage-bait about how crime X carries a longer sentence than crime Y even though crime X is much worse are mostly just that – outrage-bait.

Related to our recent discussion about skyscrapers as civilizational status symbols: tech companies are also constructing status signal headquarters, but instead of building up they’re building weird.

New blog on the sidebar: Carcinization, with contributions from St. Rev, Sam Burnstein, Sister Y, and others taking more or less pains to obscure their identities. Thus far my favorite post has been this powerful defense against the recently popularized conservative accusation of “telescopic morality” and demands to “keep morality local”.

But if you don’t want to read Carcinization, the blog, then at least read about carcinization itself, which Wikipedia describes as “one of the many attempts of Nature to evolve a crab”.

Despite how the media is spinning it, the president of Azerbaijan didn’t really declare war on Armenia over Twitter. Just sort of, informally, halfway. Still, come on Azerbaijani military, I would expect even an informal-kinda-Twitter-declaration-of-war to get more than 18 favorites. I make terrible Twitter puns that do better than that!

You’re probably not surprised to learn has a robots.txt file. But did you know it also has a killer-robots.txt file?

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50 Responses to Links For August 2014

  1. ivvenalis says:

    The etymology paper reminds me of the time I tried to look up the etymology of the word “emulate” because I couldn’t figure out what “mulare” could possibly refer to, and found out that it is related to the name Emily/Aemilius .

  2. gattsuru says:

    Related: outrage-bait about how crime X carries a longer sentence than crime Y even though crime X is much worse are mostly just that – outrage-bait.

    As a related general rule : if an article about improper differences in sentencing does not include the phrase “mandatory minimum” or multiple uses of “average” or “mean”, it is worse than useless.

    • Most, if not all, of the outrage I’ve seen on the subject has been about mandatory minimums.

      I’d want to see how much of the outrageous piling-up of charges and sentences is used to get plea bargains.

  3. somebody says:

    German Nazis condemn anti-Semitism: “The group’s other public campaigns include the dissemination of bumper stickers featuring a picture of Reinhard Heydrich, the senior Nazi official who chaired the Wansee Conference where the Final Solution was hatched. Underneath the photo reads: ‘As a Nazi, I’m a Zionist.’”

    This suddenly puts a new perspective on the accusation I received the other day from a psychotic (or so I assumed) man on the street: “I don’t care what color you are, you’re a NAZI JEW!!”

  4. pinkocrat says:

    Support of Israel by education level might have something to do with age and race (younger and non-white people, less likely to have graduate degrees, are also less likely to support Israel).

    Disclosure: I’m not very sympathetic to Israel’s recent actions.

    • J Scott says:

      I’ll note that the 2002 poll was about “Palestinians” whereas the 2014 poll was about “Palestinian group Hamas”, which makes the temporal comparison problematic. It’s not surprising to me that most Americans think Palestinian attacks on to Isreal are unjustified; I am surprised that the trend moves in the direction it does in term of education and involvement. It’s somewhat opposite my assumptions and my experience.

      On the meta-level question: perhaps we should, but it’s not clear what “right” in this case means. I’d also be very interested in polling data from China and Europe.

  5. Anonymous says:

    If I recall correctly, Jews in America are considerably more likely than most other groups to achieve higher levels of education. Jews also tend to be pro-Isreal. I expect that this explains much or all of the Gallup poll results.

    • George says:

      There aren’t that many Jews in America.

      • Eric Rall says:

        About 2% of American are Jewish. As of the 1995-2004 GSS dataset, 65% of Jews and 27% of non-Jews are college graduates. If I’m doing the math right, that means that 4.7% of American college graduates are Jewish.

        If American Jews skew heavily pro-Israel, that’s enough to explain something like 1/3 to 1/2 of the correlation between education level and pro-Israel sentiment, but as you observe, certainly not all of it.

        • Daniel says:

          Maybe some of the rest is explained by college-graduate Americans having disproportionately many Jewish friends and acquaintances and so being influenced in their favor.

        • George says:

          I doubt it. If I had to guess, White Evangelical Christians in the US are more supportive of Israel than Jews are. In fact, I’d put a lot of money on that.


          Yep, that’s the case:

          “Pew Research surveys find that similar shares of Christians (29%) and Jews (31%) say the U.S. is not supportive enough of Israel. Among white evangelical Protestants, nearly half (46%) say that the U.S. is not providing enough support for Israel.
          the share of white evangelicals saying that God gave Israel to the Jews (82%) is on par with the percentage of Orthodox Jews who believe this (84%).”

  6. Ken Arromdee says:

    In connection with opinions on Israel, I wonder if you’d see the same results by looking at figures about support of nuclear power, for the same reasons.

    As for whether this is a good heuristic in general, I’d imagine that it is, but only when the change in opinion among the educated is different from what you’d expect from other effects.

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      Nuclear power has the same characteristic; the right and left start where you’d image for poorly educated individuals (pro and anti) and both become more strongly pro with increasing education. It is one of the few political positions that do that. (I don’t remember the source so if someone could find it to move this post up from personal recollection to data point, that would be appreciated).

  7. James says:

    Re Nick Land: That article is wonderful. I feel like I’m coming at that guy from a slightly different angle to most here, because before I’d ever heard of xenosystems, I had a passing familiarity with him as Cyberpunk-y Baudrillard-y Continental Theorist. It seems like people tend be shocked along the lines of “look what that guy used to be!”, whereas I’m more along the lines of “look what that guy turned into!”

    I continue to be mystified by his great transition. I’d be really interested to hear him explain/justify it, and to hear how he now views his old work.

    • Oligopsony says:

      They seem of a piece to me. Accelerationism, theoretical antihumanism, using word like “dark” and “weird” a lot, &c. &c. He’s still a nutcase Deleuzean, it’s just that he’s also complaining about Political Correctness Gone Mad half the time.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      He claims that his old work is correct, but, maybe, frivolous.

      Are you aware that he has a continuous written record? The volume Fanged Noumena (1987-2007) collects essays from the academic period through his hyperstition blog. The blog keeps going for a year past the book and then there’s a gap where he continued blogging, but it’s lost or hard to find. Anyhow, he claims that he’s still talking about the same hyperstition. Only now he is drawing normative consequences. Or writing more clearly.

      • James says:

        Interesting. I’d thought there was a fairly abrupt discontinuity, but maybe it’s not as big as I thought. In any case, I can’t actually claim to be very familiar with old Land or with new Land – like I said, I’ve only a passing familiarity.

        • nydwracu says:

          I don’t see much of a discontinuity — if there’s one, Meltdown is probably on this side of it.

          Capitalism summoning itself, the emancipation of intelligence from monkey leashes, China > the Anglosphere, and so on.

  8. Zakharov says:

    As someone who isn’t familiar with Nick Land’s work, I’m curious how the linked article makes Land sound creepy. To me, it makes him sound like a somewhat unhinged postmodernist.

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      It was coherent enough for you to understand? I didn’t really get anything out of it aside from general nuttiness.

  9. Joe from London says:

    You might obtain interesting results by rot13 ing the direction of the Israel phenomenon, forcing people to decide whether they think it should be evidence *before* knowing whether it aligns with their current position.

    • Ken Arromdee says:

      I think we all know that leftism is associated with higher education, and we all know the leftist position on Gaza. Therefore, you can’t hide the direction without also hiding the reasoning as to why the direction is unexpected for educated people.

  10. B says:

    I wonder what makes Land creepy to you? “Creepy” to me indicates an instinctive emotional reaction that is somewhat related to fear or disgust, and that is arational or rationalized after the fact.

    I hope you forgive the provocation, but could it be that Land’s intelligence worship, and his rigor applied to posthuman weirdness, reminds you of cherished friends, as a sort of “uncanny valley” of the LW/MIRI crowd?

    If I may pun off Marx, isn’t Land a Yudkowski, prepeated as farce?

    • Erebus says:

      Land is a great deal more interesting than the MIRI/LW dullards. One can’t really compare Nick Land to a non-profit functionary writing Harry Potter fan fiction. Land is original and insightful to a fault; the LW crowd basically just discusses the glaringly obvious, ad nauseam, with a smattering of Game Theory 101 thrown in for good measure.

      In any case, I agree with you: I don’t see how that article makes Land appear “creepy.”

      • B says:

        I find your characterization of the LW crowd quite uncharitable.

        Yudkowski himself seems to me to be a huckster by inclination and a cult leader by trade, but like many a smart & charismatic used idea salesmen who swallowed his own story, he has assembled a cast of wonderful seekers.

        Our gracious host, e.g., seems a genuinely curious truth-seeker who attempts being fair to all and, speaking as one nerd about another, comes across as very smart and just incredibly likable.

        I still don’t find myself agreeing very often, but OTOH echo chambers don’t teach you anything anyway.

        • Erebus says:

          You’re right, of course. I was far too harsh. I have no problem with the LW crowd (though their forum seems to strike the same notes over and over again,) and our gracious host is undoubtedly among the most insightful and likable persons on the internet. I would not be here otherwise.

          All that said, I find Yudkowski to be a strange and disagreeable character, and genuinely creepy — I don’t get the same vibe from Nick Land. He seems much more like a thinker who simply marches to the beat of his own drum. I can’t help but respect his passion for truth-seeking, and I agree with him more often than not.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          I notice that almost everybody who dislikes Eliezer very consistently spells his name “Yudkowski” as you do above.

          The only possible explanation is that there is this totally different guy Eliezer Yudkowski walking around and he’s a huge jerk.

      • Anonymous says:

        I notice that you are confused.

        (there, I made the joke, now nobody ever say this again)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      >I wonder what makes Land creepy to you?

      > “Land lay behind the stage, flat on the floor, croaking enigmatic invocations intercut with sections from Artaud’s asylum poems. In this delirious vocal telegraphy, meaning seemed to disintegrate into sheer phonetic matter, melting into the cut-up beats and acting directly on the subconscious. As Land began to speak in his strange, choked-off voice (perhaps that ‘absurdly high pitched … tone … ancient demonists described as ‘silvery,’ which he later reports being taunted by), the disconcerted audience begin to giggle; the demon voice wavered slightly until Land’s sense of mission overcame his momentary self-consciousness; and as the ‘performance’ continued the audience fell silent, eyeing each other uncertainly as if they had walked into a funeral by mistake.”

      I’m pretty sure my sense of creepiness is less “he sounds sort of like LW if you squint” and more “he writhed upon a stage like a snake while speaking in daemonic tongues”

      (but thank you for the kind words)

      • B says:

        I see. I think these things are just him looking for enlightenment in all the wrong places, that is, actively embracing the horror of how big, empty, complex and weird the world is.

        How he missed that the Cthulhu cultists are not exactly the good guys in Lovecraft is a different point, but I won’t fault him for it. In my book, horrorism is the natural reaction to the utter lack of objective meaning in the world.

        I think that you guys are also barking up the wrong tree, based on some intellectual fixation and mind altering substances. Maybe I read too much similarities into that rather superficial parallelism, given that both fixation and substances are different.

        I also think that you, in radical contrast to Land, have a pretty good chance of immanetizing the eschaton; good luck building a God that will think that humanism is the way to go, I guess.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          I’m not seeing how there is horror in the universe being big, empty, complex or weird.

          And the natural reaction to lack of objective meaning appears to be either an attempting to understand the universe, having fun or trying to improve things (based on what Greek philosophers who lacked objective meaning embrace).

          “I also think that you, in radical contrast to Land, have a pretty good chance of immanetizing the eschaton; good luck building a God that will think that humanism is the way to go, I guess.”

          I think you misunderstand what people who believe in the singularity want. It isn’t that they want to build a God for humanism as much as they want to do it before one makes a God that views humans as full of yummy building blocks. Or one that realizes it can “optimize” human values because they all break down to increasing amounts of pleasure chemicals in the brain. While having a God for humanism build a utopia is great, I think most members of Less Wrong would be fine with it “only” not killing people and preventing the existence of an AI that is different from itself.

        • B says:

          (Replying to myself because I can’t to Mr. Skinner – this truncation of threads by having reply links only 4 deep is one of the rare annoyances here)

          Re seeing the horror in the emptiness of the universe:

          Horror isn’t exactly rational, so if you don’t have that one, it’s hard to explain. Let’s try: I think for the many, many who get it, the universe in respect to us is as an endless forest of lifted shoes to an ant. So many things that could squish us and neither care nor even notice. And not just the “things”, the very laws that govern the whole mess are full of spiky pits to stumble into, laid out without malice or even intention, but just as deadly.

          Some people find that disconcerting.

          And I understand perfectly well what the MIRI/LW crowd wants. I used to be a singularitarian. I also develop software & know the state of that art. The idea that any IT crowd can teach a God how to want before it has thought the whole thing through and come to its own conclusions is just so hubristic. I always say that the most likely way we’ll actually get an AI is by pure chance through unsafe languages & the passing of time. How’s that for horrorism: The C++thulhuists are waiting for the day when the stack smasheth right and men will be free and wild and caring only about performance and not correctness.

          I don’t mind that much about you guys, though. So much of what we humans do is slipping into the gap between grasp and reach these days that something is gonna get us sooner or later. If your club of Kronoses is having fun building Zeuses (real nice ones, they promise!) it really doesn’t make much difference in the long run. AI is the escapism of the nerds, after all.

          This is all meant in good spirits, as I said, I generally like you guys, you’re just another branch of the same tribe in my mind. Nothing will save any of us from the essential truth of nihilism though.

          (BTW re: my misspelling of Yudkowsky, I’m sorry, misspelling names is normally a pet peeve of mine because it’s very disrespectful. I can assure you, however, that it’s just a combination from what my mother tongue is & not looking it up.)

  11. Zorgon says:

    All the Nick Land thing does for me is remind me once again that I got into the wrong racket by studying computer science. Sleeping for a couple of hours a night and subsisting on a diet of stimulants and bullshit sounds like most of my academic career, but I couldn’t get by on having a good enough line of clever-sounding patter.

  12. Thomas M says:

    I have seen a Brocken Spectre myself. It’s a strange sight, but I can’t really imagine anyone mistaking it for anything besides their own shadow. Consequently, I have no choice but to update my priors in favor of mysterious Scottish monster men.

    • Gareth Rees says:

      Brocken Spectres are just one kind of visual phenomenon that you might encounter in the mountains. A couple of months ago, I was descending the Great Stone Chute on Sgurr Alasdair in rain and thick mist, when I stopped and turned and saw a giant shadowy figure high up in the gully. I spent a minute or so trying to interpret what I was seeing, before I realised that it was just another walker descending the gully and that in the mist I had totally misjudged the distance between us: a normal-sized person a few tens of metres away had looked like a distant giant.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      By Aumann’s Agreement Theorem, I too update my priors in favor of mysterious Scottish monster men!

  13. anon says:

    I wonder if Deleuze would be pissed off about all the nonsense that follows his work, or if he’d like it.

  14. Douglas Knight says:

    Usually it is caring about an issue that causes people to be informed and not vice versa.

    If people who are usually against Israel are for it in this case, that does seem to me to be informative about this case, but you should be careful to make sure you are making an apples-to-apples comparison.

  15. Daniel Speyer says:

    I seem to recall that during the Vietnam war, more educated Americans were more supportive of it. That’s worrying precedent on any knowledge/opinion correlations.

    The theory I read is that more educated people tend to trust authority more, either because it’s more in-group or because they remember college professors who are in fact trustworthy. The less educated, having been on the receiving end of much unfairness, maintain a healthier sense of cynicism. I don’t recall the direct evidence for this theory, apart from the above datapoint, but it seems plausible.

    • nydwracu says:

      I really don’t think it’s anything complicated.

      “Palestinian group Hamas” is designated as a terrorist organization. More educated people presumably follow the news more closely, so they’re more likely to know that. Terrorists are bad. So.

      Similarly, people who follow the conflict more closely are more likely to know that Hamas is designated as a terrorist organization.

      (If this is the explanation, it answers the heuristic question: if educated people are more susceptible to certain types of propaganda, there’s no reason that heuristic should apply.)

      Whatever it is, it would probably have to be a strong enough effect to override evangelical support for Israel: white evangelicals probably have lower rates of higher education attainment than other religious groups, so one would naively expect the trend to run in the exact opposite direction. (Unless they’re balanced out by nonwhites, or unless the evangelical effect doesn’t actually exist.)

      • Nornagest says:

        The data on this seems ambiguous. This graph claims that evangelicals are better educated than the US average or at least were in 2001, although certain other religious groups identified with the Christian Right fall on the other side of the curve. On the other hand, this paper seems to indicate the opposite, though the data there is even older.

        Tentatively I might resolve this by assuming that the “fundamentalist Protestant” group in the second source pulls in some of the low-attainment groups in the first. Solid data on this seems to be hard to come by, though, and there are plenty of oddities in Wikipedia’s dataset. I’m not very confident.

        EDIT: Just to muddy the waters more, I found this paper, which cites Protestants as above average but shows a negative correlation with religiosity within the Protestant group. (The same negative correlation with religiosity holds for most other religions, except for Jews and Buddhists — though it’s only weakly negative for Muslims and Hindus.) I now suspect I’m looking at an instance of Simpson’s paradox.

        • George says:

          Race is a huge cofounder in that first chart. If you look at the raw ARIS data, you can see that those who identify as Baptist are 29% black, whereas those who identify as Evangelical/Born Again are only 3% black. That probably goes a long way in explaining why the two cohorts’ educational attainment is so varied, even though they are both Evangelical.

  16. EoT says:

    Apple’s new headquarters building bothers me so much. How could a ring-shaped building possibly make sense? Are they trying to make it hard for people to get to eachother’s offices? What’s the point of being in the same building if it is designed to make you unneseccarily far away from people in the same building.

    • Anonymous says:

      Seems in character for the kind of designers who make a phone with an inaccessible battery just to avoid seams.

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