This blog sometimes discusses how ideas which weren’t originally religious can evolve into a semi-religious form. But even I was flabbergasted to see Chinese peasants offering bowls of pig blood to statues of Mao on his birthday (h/t Spandrell).
Speaking of Chinese religion, here’s yet another Christianity Is Exploding In China article. This makes me think: China is a big and powerful dictatorship with weak traditional religions and widespread concern about decaying values and social decadence. It’s a lot like the late Roman Empire where Christianity originally took off. I would really like to see someone knowledgeable write an analysis of what the unexpectedly rapid spread of Christianity in China can tell us about the unexpectedly rapid spread of early Christianity and why the religion took off at all.
23andMe finally gets a business plan that the FDA can’t torpedo – selling genetic data to pharmaceutical companies. Key statistic – a single drug company deal is worth as much as doubling their current consumer base. Probably a good thing for anyone who wants to advance personal genomics or drug discovery.
The effect of the tsetse fly on African development finds that modeled fly population predicts some of the underdevelopment of the region before colonial times. The theory is that fly-borne disease decreased farming output and thus population density, making it difficult for strong states and economies to form except in rare fly-free areas like Great Zimbabwe. H/t Marginal Revolution.
Belgian serial rapist requests euthanasia in place of his life sentence on the grounds that he is facing “unbearable psychological suffering” in prison; government originally agrees, but cancels due to lack of a doctor willing to perform the procedure. Before you argue about how refusal to permit prisoner euthanasia successfully draws a bright line that will one day protect prisoners’ rights, keep in mind that the families of the man’s victims have been petitioning against it on the grounds that he deserves unbearable psychological suffering rather than “a swift release”. I know this’ll be unpopular, but I’m pretty in favor of changing the appropriate UN conventions to specify that any country where prisoners who request euthanasia can’t get it gets charged with torture.
A new experimental treatment for multiple sclerosis: destroy the immune system with chemo, then build it back up again.
Israel Won’t Recognize Armenian Genocide, Says Ambassador. Apparently it wants better relations with Turkey, which I get, but the irony of Israel of all countries being willing to compromise genocide-recognition for its short-term goals is really really sad.
Scientists develop computer program that can always win at poker. I was originally confused why they published this result instead of heading to online casinos and becoming rich enough to buy small countries, but it seems that it’s a very simplified version of the game with only two players. More interesting, the strategy was reinforcement learning – the computer started with minimal domain knowledge, then played poker against itself a zillion times until it learned everything it needed to know. Everyone who thinks that AI is nothing to worry about, please think very carefully about the implications of a stupid non-generalized algorithm being able to auto-solve a game typically considered a supreme test of strategy and intellect.
A US Air Force team including a young Carl Sagan spent the 1950s trying to nuke the moon for extremely shaky reasons including “a possible boosting of domestic morale”.
India’s new ruling party is trying to hack through its legendary government bureaucracy. Minor victory of the month – a government employee who did not show up to work for twenty-four years has finally gotten fired.
A Career In Science Will Cost You Your First-Born. I’d like to see a really good analysis by someone who understands economics of why the science job market is so terrible. Is it that lots of bright-eyed idealistic young geniuses have so much non-monetary attraction to the idea of going into science that labs and universities can make the career as awful as they want and still have a ready supply of takers?
Authorities Suspect A Shark Tried To Eat Vietnam’s Internet is a deliberately clickbaity title, but there is no way for me to stay mad after watching a video of a shark eating the Internet.
Quiz: Anatomical Feature, Or Obscure Tolkien Reference? I have been preparing my entire life for this moment. And I still got three of them wrong.
Language Log finds the most perversely pronounced monosyllabic word in all human language – and, no surprise, it’s Gaelic.
God hates confusing Gaelic pronunciation rules. It's Adam & Eve, not Adam & Niamh.
— Scott Alexander (@slatestarcodex) June 22, 2013
It’s been recognized for a while that school choice programs can improve standardized test scores, but a new study finds that they can also result in more higher education, greater salaries at age 30, and less dependence on government handouts.
I’ve been saying for a while that BPA is probably bad news, and now there’s some evidence that it alters fetal brain development in fish, which are sort of like humans in that they are both animals. Supposed BPA-free substitute plastics don’t fare any better. I’m hoping this will eventually result in a ban. Until then, you can try avoiding canned foods and plastic water bottles, but that’s not going to prevent the pipes that bring water to your home from often being lined with the same stuff.
The first big randomized controlled trial of police body cameras shows they very dramatically reduce incidents of police misbehavior. Previous studies were unable to distinguish between better officer behavior and fewer frivolous complaints by citizens, but this one provides some strong evidence it’s mostly the officers who are changing.
The Impending Collapse Of Venezuela looks pretty grim, with the only plus side being hopefully this will encourage them to get a competent government and end up better off. I feel like we’ve already been over the whole “no, really, socialism doesn’t work” thing, but I guess some people always need more reminders.
Speaking of which, 538 draws the obvious-in-hindsight conclusion that this is why Cuba, whose economy is heavily dependent on Venezuelan aid, is suddenly cozying up to the US – they realize that their lifeline is about to be cut off, and that once that happens their government is in big trouble. A better question – why is Obama choosing to deal with them now, rather than waiting until they’re desperate or just letting them collapse so he can help pick up the pieces? Maybe because he’s a nice guy and my cutthroat geopolitical instincts aren’t very healthy in the real world?
Vox: Paul Ryan isn’t running for president. He’s after something even bigger. TL;DR – Paul Ryan is the Petyr Baelish of the USA.
I try to train myself to remember that blindly debating a factual question is dumb, because some responsible scientist has already investigated it much more thorougly than I have. This is a remarkably hard habit to stick to, and I always like reminders. So – did you know people have formally investigated whether or not austerity worked in Europe?
Robin Hanson suggests selling cities to people or corporations. Sounds familiar.
A new study finds that underrepresentation of women in a field is closely linked to perception of that field as requiring lots of innate talent or “genius”. The news sites explain to us that “women avoid fields full of self-appointed geniuses”, that genius-intensive fields “punish” women, and ask whether “the genius stereotype is holding women back”. The researchers recommend that genius-heavy academic fields “examine the culture they have about how much brilliance influences success”. I hereby give everyone involved in this discussion the prestigious Sailer Award For Excellence In Failure To Consider Alternate Hypotheses.
Ritual Circumcision Linked To Increased Risk Of Autism In Young Boys (EDIT: Highly dubious)
This is big news – Attorney General Eric Holder has limited police ability to take money from people for no reason, which surprisingly was not limited until now. Between this and the camera study, I feel like we’re finally heading towards the right track with policing.
Publishers pull best-selling religious inspiration book The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven after the boy in question admits he did not, in fact, come back from Heaven. Alex Malarkey (nominative determinism!) said that the story was “all made up” and “I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention”. Interesting for its implications about other paranormal claims. I am adjusting my view of the median case somewhat away from “the brain does weird things sometimes in states of great stress or illness” and towards “people often lie”.
I’ve been trying to avoid talking about Charlie Hebdo because it seems like classic toxoplasma. It’s something everyone should agree is terrible, and instead we’re desperately trying to figure out how to turn it into a controversy / a stick to hit one of various out-groups with. But I was impressed by some of the discussion of French double standards – a Charlie Hebdo cartoonist who said something mildly anti-Semitic was recently fired by the magazine, then charged with ‘inciting racial hatred’ by the government. And a Middle Eastern comedian who used some arguably inflammatory language to describe how he felt about the attacks was charged and faces seven years in prison. If I had to justify the existence of Charlie Hebdo to a French Muslim, I would want to be able to say “Look, I know it offends you, but we hold freedom of speech absolutely sacred and we want you to join us in that”. Instead it’s going to look to them (maybe accurately) like Muslims are specifically singled out as a group it’s ok to offend even while everyone else gets “protection”. It’s good that this incident has gotten everyone excited about free speech, but now the French need to start making sure the realities match their newfound ideals.
That Korean company I linked to a while back that everyone suspected was trying to clone a mammoth? They’ve admitted they’re trying to clone a mammoth. ETA seems to be a couple of years.
OLD: Psychedelic use causes mental disease. NEW: Psychedelic use doesn’t cause mental disease. NEWER: Psychedelic use may protect against mental disease.
My spirit animal might be the confused flour beetle
Relevant to our interests: the Handbook of Relationship Initiation. Unfortunately seems more academic than practical, but still probably really interesting. Now I want a practical one of these.