Links 5/15: Tall And Linky

If The Machines Are Taking Our Jobs, They Are Hiding It From The Bureau Of Labor Statistics. An argument that the ‘rise of the robots’ can’t be behind stagnant employment numbers, because increasing the amount of work done by robots would make productivity-per-human go up, and it isn’t.

I was able to solve the Cheryl’s birthday Singapore logic puzzle after a few minutes, but I got stuck on the transfinite version.

The Kosher Light Switch claims that after you flip it, the light will come on, but that your flipping it doesn’t cause the light to come on, thus making it compliant with complicated Jewish ritual laws. Needless to say, this seems to depend on an interpretation of causation which is not entirely…what’s the word…kosher.

I said a while ago I thought that “affirmative consent” laws wouldn’t matter one way or the other since situations where people pressed cases based on them were unliikely to come up. I seem to have been wrong – in a recent case in Brandeis, a man was found in violation of affirmative consent laws because during the course of a two year romantic relationship, he occasionally kissed his partner goodbye in the morning without asking permission first. I’d like to blame this one on Feminism Gone Too Far, but since both parties were gay men we guys have nobody to blame but ourselves here.

The worst method of transliterating the Qiang language gives us such lovely words as “eazheabeageyegeaiju”, “gganpaeidubugeisdu”, and “chegvchagvchegvchagvlahva”. Anyone want to play a game of Terrible Qiang Transliteration Scrabble?

Be Careful Studying Discrimination Using Names. I talked about this briefly when comparing the two recent Women In STEM studies – calling one candidate “John” and the other “Jennifer” introduced a whole host of possible confounds beyond just gender. The article points out that articles which try to prove white-black discrimination by comparing “John” to “Jamal” have the same problem – Jamal isn’t just a black name, it’s a poor black name, and a fairer comparison would be a poor white name like Billy Bob. Features a pretty good reply by Women In STEM paper author Corinne Moss-Racusin, and a less good reply by the guy who wrote the John-Jamal paper.

Dodging Abilify is about the contortions some mental health patients have to go through to prevent their doctors from inappropriately prescribing latest Exciting-New-Marketing-Campaign-Drug Abilify to them. The writer may or may not be pleased to know that when Abilify goes generic in the near future, all of a sudden all of these prescriptions will stop and people will start pushing brexipiprazole instead.

South Dakota’s new ad campaign (h/t Heidi): look, lots of people want to go to Mars, but South Dakota is less inhospitable than Mars, so come to South Dakota instead. Key slogan: “If you’re someone that’s really introverted, it might not be that bad.”

The politics behind the recent campaign against Dr. Oz, and why it might have played right into his hands.

Student Course Evaluations Get An F. Professors whom students rate worst are precisely those professors whose students get the best grades in future courses, suggesting these evaluations are negatively correlated with teaching quality. Very relevant to our recent discussion on psych drugs, hopefully not relevant to past discussions on democracy!

Marijuana probably exacerbates psychosis because of its main chemical constituent THC. But a different marijuana chemical, cannabidiol, might actually a potent antipsychotic. And more evidence for same.

Dutch people swear using diseases. I bet doctors must win all verbal duels in the Netherlands.

An intervention meant to raise kindergarteners’ tolerance of disabled people by teaching them a curriculum about how great it was to have disabled friends actually lowered their tolerance of the disabled compared to a control curriculum where they learned science stuff. Researchers theorized that the science stuff made them work together in groups with other children (including disabled ones) for a practical goal rather than rubbing their noses in the difference.

A new study finds homeopathy and Prozac both outperform placebo by the same amount in treating postmenopausal depression. Ars Technica thinks it knows why the study found such a counterintuitive finding, but check the comments for why their deconstruction seems a bit premature. Overall I think both those defending the integrity of the trial and those attacking it have some good points, but the problem is that if this experiment had done anything other than propose homeopathy worked, it would never have gotten this level of scrutiny and any flaws it might or might not have would just have been allowed to pass.

This is Steven King-level creepy: Thoughts Can Fuel Some Deadly Brain Cancers.

Nostalgebraist, a very interesting guy who hangs around rationalist Tumblr, is writing fiction I’ve been enjoying a lot. His completed work, Floornight, asks – what happens if we discover the soul is real, but operates more like a quantum object than a classical object, and also some people go to study it in a giant dome in the middle of the sea surrounded by alien ghosts which is part of a plot by parallel universes to fight a war based on differing interpretations of measure? His current work-in-progress, The Northern Caves, is even better.

Somebody actually does the full scientific study and determines that atheists are no more angry than the general population. I predicted this result here two years ago.

Kazakh leader apologizes for winning election with 97.7% of the vote, saying “it would have looked undemocratic to intervene to make the victory more modest”.

Polygamists are four times more likely to get heart disease than monogamists after everything else is controlled for, which to me probably means they think they controlled for everything else but they didn’t.

First results from psychology’s largest reproducibility test: by strict criteria, only 39% of published studies replicate; by looser criteria, 63% do.

Speaking of which, you remember that study on how reading problems in a hard-to-read font makes you think about them more rationally? Totally failed to replicate multiple times, now abandoned.

RPG doormat.

A new paper finds that telling people that everyone stereotypes just makes them stereotype more.

A new paper finds black mayors (relative to white mayors) improve position of blacks (relative to whites) in cities where they are elected.

Genetic influence on political beliefs. Everything is some typical combination of heredity and nonshared environment except which party you belong to, which is mostly shared environment. In other words, you come up with your opinions on your own, then ignore them and vote for whoever your parents voted for.

John Boehner was wrong when he said we as a nation spend more money on antacids than we do on politics, but he was surprisingly close – within a factor of three or so.

A Redditor lists facts and fictions about the new spaceship drives that claim to use weird physics. Apparently if they work they will Change Everything Forever, including land transportation. But smart people are very skeptical.

Razib Khan finds that, contrary to the stereotypes, more intelligent and more liberal people are more likely to believe in free speech.

Drinking too much caffeine during pregnancy may double your baby’s risk of childhood obesity

Killing Hitler With Praise And Fire is a Choose Your Own Adventure book about a time traveler trying to assassinate the Fuhrer without messing history up too atrociously.

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503 Responses to Links 5/15: Tall And Linky

  1. Douglas Knight says:

    The Brandeis case is ex post facto. The Affirmative Consent rule was adopted for the 2013-2014 school year, after the relationship ended.

  2. Jos says:

    There’s some discussion upthread about the Brandeis case and consent – here are the accusations from “John’s” complaint against the school. (We haven’t heard from the school or the accuser, “J.C.”, and probably won’t.)

    19. For example, the Special Examiner found that, on those occasions when John awakened J.C. in the morning with a kiss, but J.C. told him to “stop” so that he could go back to sleep, John had committed a sexual assault because sleep is a “state of incapacitation,” and thus the wake-up kiss was unwanted sexual conduct and taking sexual advantage of incapacitation.

    20. The Special Examiner also found that, on those occasions when John looked at J.C.’s naked body when the two shared the dorm’s same-sex communal bathrooms, that act was an invasion of personal privacy, despite the fact that the two were in an intimate relationship, routinely used communal facilities together, and J.C. engaged in the same conduct.

    21. The Special Examiner also found that, when John made the “first move” on J.C. while the two were in their pre-dating “flirting” stage by placing J.C.’s hand on John’s crotch over his clothing, that act was a sexual assault because J.C. had not explicitly consented to the act. The Special Examiner made this finding despite the fact that the very next day the two became sexually intimate and began a 21-month, sexually active dating relationship.

    (There’s some more detail farther into the complaint and a lot of issues with the process Brandeis used, but those are the basics of the conduct that the investigator and review panel found was supported by the evidence and sanctionable.)

  3. Catherine says:

    I’m not happy about the Reproducibility Project article in Nature. It’s a journalistic piece that was not written by the study authors, nor drafted with consultation from the authors, nor published with consent from the authors, and which came out *before* the author’s own presentation and interpretation of their results could be published. And yet, to a lay reader, it looks like the sole authoritative interpretation of the Reproducibility Project’s results. The authors (of which I am one) have submitted to Science. The forthcoming article will contain the authors’ interpretation of what our public spreadsheets mean. Post-publication criticism of our interpretation is healthy. Pre-publication commentary based on preliminary results, interpreted without any context the authors might provide, seems like a bad thing. True, we made our work public along the way, but I for one certainly expected that Open Science did not mean we gave up the right to break the news of our results on our own terms, or that we would be “scooped” by Nature journalists, while still under embargo at Science and unable to talk to journalists about our results. I think that Open Science practices hold a lot of promise, but I fear that Open Science cannot thrive if preemptive journalism that feeds upon preliminary public results is the norm. What can be done? (Getting rid of embargos is clearly one thing… what else?)

    • Douglas Knight says:

      There are tradeoffs between (1) journalism, (2) science, and (3) your CV.

  4. Urstoff says:

    Neuroskeptic on the whole “thoughts fueling brain cancer” thing:

  5. Sigivald says:

    …in case anyone is looking to start a black metal band. is the best part of the Qiang transliateration article.

    (For context.)

  6. Ian James says:

    contrary to the stereotypes, more intelligent and more liberal people are more likely to believe in free speech

    I think you meant “contrary to the stereotypes you’d pick up by hyperfocusing on the tiny online echo chamber of undergraduate radical leftists.”

  7. onyomi says:

    I know it’s kind of silly to quibble about, but I seriously can’t fathom the psychology of people who look for loopholes in religious mandates.

    If I’m so religious that I take religious mandates seriously, then presumably I think God, who is much smarter than me, gave the commands for a reason, and that following them is for my own good, and that attempting to circumvent them in clever ways will only harm me and piss off God.

    If I’m irreligious enough to not take religious commandments seriously, then why follow them at all?

    The only thing I can think is that it’s a cultural thing: we don’t strongly believe religious commandments are the word of God, but we define our group partially by being the people who don’t eat pork or work on Saturdays, so we continue to do those things, albeit in a more pro forma way.

    • notes says:

      Can you fathom the psychology of people who look for a clear understanding of religious mandates, which includes applying them at different times and in different circumstances than the original pronouncement?

      Can you distinguish, with a test clearer than Potter Stewart’s test for pornography, between someone looking for loopholes, and someone looking for understanding?

      Less rhetorically, try steelmanning the argument for looking for loopholes: it’s likely to make it easier to fathom their own understanding of why they do the activity in question.

      (And yes, there are certainly those engaging in rationalizing rather than reasoning… but that mode of failure is hardly exclusive to interpreting religious commandments.)

    • Tracy W says:

      How do you know God will be pissed off if you find loopholes in the commands? Perhaps God’s intention is for you to develop your creativity.

    • Harald K says:

      If I’m so religious that I take religious mandates seriously, then presumably I think God, who is much smarter than me, gave the commands for a reason, and that following them is for my own good, and that attempting to circumvent them in clever ways will only harm me and piss off God.

      But there’s also the risk that you’re misunderstanding them. Like, say that sabbath prohibition. Maybe the point of the day of rest is for you, and not for God, for instance. In that case, you do something pointless by trying to figure out kosher light switches – but you may also do something outright wrong if you get mad at people for picking up a roadside snack on the sabbath.

      The real threat isn’t that you do some pointless things, it’s that this slavish obedience to the legal letter (“I’ve got two washing machines, one for meat and one for dairy! I’m definitively not boiling the kid in the mother’s milk, not even close!”) leaves you blind to the actual intent of the prohibition (“Wait, maybe it’s really about not betraying even naïve trust? Or was it actually a rule to prohibit ritual acts of cruelty to appease cruel deities?“).

      At least in protestant Christian theology, the assumption is that the intent of a law is accessible to you, and you don’t need to just blindly obey orders like a soldier, or rely on someone else to give an authoritative interpretation. If you don’t understand a law, and nonetheless impose on others to blindly obey it to the letter, you may risk becoming like those pharisees who were compared to “whitewashed tombs”: pretty but dead on the inside, keeping others out of the holy and not entering yourself.

  8. ADifferentAnonymous says:

    I don’t know how legit the kosher switch’s logic is, but I do know “Halachic Uncertainty” would be a great name for a blog.

  9. Austin Severns says:

    The NPR article about course evaluations, if I’m understanding correctly, is measuring Teacher 1 quality by the student’s grade in the subsequent (Teacher 2’s) course. I find this unfair because it ignores the increase in difficulty (especially if the Teacher 1 was actually a poor teacher,) the shift in quality from Teacher 1 to Teacher 2, and, seemingly, the quality of Teacher 2 altogether.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      It is comparing students in the same second class. There is no diversity in Teacher 2, so it is right to ignore it. The only difference is that one student was randomized in to the class with Teacher 1A, while the other was randomized into the class with Teacher 1B.

      Why would you control for difficulty? The teachers were supposed to be teaching the same classes, with the same goal of preparing the students for the second class. It’s not like we’re comparing students who chose a difficult first class to students who chose a difficult second class.

      Indeed, the answer is probably that difficulty caused both the bad evaluations and more learning, hence better future grades. And that’s good to know, because difficulty is probably the easiest attribute of teachers that can be changed.

      Once we know that difficulty is the key, then research bifurcates into two threads that control for difficulty: finding out what else matters, and understanding how difficulty matters. But we are not yet there.

  10. Tracy W says:

    On productivity measures: “GDP: A Brief But Affectionate History” notes that GDP is lousy at measuring productivity improvements in the services. Eg, what is the value of extra variety, such as my father-in-law being able to buy shoes specifically made for the situation of one foot being badly swollen? Or if a nurse goes from seeing twenty patients a day, to ten, does productivity go up or down?

  11. Bismarx says:

    Dutch people swear using diseases.

    Damn right we do. For anyone interested, I once wrote a post that explains our disease-based profanity in slightly more detail.

    • Jaskologist says:

      A true Dutchman would have said “Herpes right we do!”

    • FullMetaRationalist says:

      As I interpret, “cancer” is the equivalent of “retard”. I.e. it implies the maturity level of a fifth grader. Is this correct? But then why would piety diminish its impact?

      Also, the description of “gezelligheid” sounds analogous to “high class”. As in “This restaurant has such a classy atmosphere.” Is this anywhere near the mark?

  12. Albatross says:

    I think in addition to using 20 names compared to 20 other names, they need to control for wealth/prestige using last names: Jamal W. Buffet, Jamal J. Jolie, Jamal M. Jordan, Jamal T. Walton, etc. Also, I’d be interested in a LinkedIn version of this study where they compare people with the same names with white, black and no profile pic and do the same with the exact same name only with a “black” spelling.

    I agree on the disabled discrimination, and not just for kids. Far too often bosses and HR reps who talk big about diversity never agree to hire anyone even when the job can easily be done at a computer from home. Or refused to consider high functioning autistic applicants when they graduate college in the relevant field. In the workplace, I’d use internships and social gatherings to convince bosses to hire disabled workers, not workshops that tell people not to discriminate.

  13. Gordon says:

    Poor Boehner. He should have picked pet food rather than antacids. Changes his whole point about money in politics.

  14. Paul Torek says:

    Geez, I’m married to a psychologist, but I still didn’t know the situation described in “Dodging Abilify” was that bad.

  15. Chiron says:

    EM Drive -> relativistic kinetic weapons/exotic physics that makes H-bombs look like gunpowder -> unpleasant solution to Fermi’s Paradox?

  16. grendelkhan says:

    Is Steven King a cancer researcher I should know about? You might have meant Stephen King. (This is a very common mistake.)

  17. Yehoshua K says:

    About the “kosher switch” discussion, I would like to ask how many people expressing strong opinions could locate Rashi on a page of the Talmud and explain what Rashi is? If you can’t, you should realize that you know less about the Talmud than my nine year old daughter, and you are a layman (a polite word for “ignoramus”) in matters Talmudic. Your opinions on this topic carry all the weight of the opinions of any other layman.

    You might be an expert in some other topic–physics, perhaps, or electrical engineering–and that’s lovely…but expertise doesn’t carry over from one field to another.

    Kudos to “notes” above for their bird’s-eye view explanation of Talmudic reasoning and to “FJ” for their discussion of the difference between law as seen by a layman and law as seen by a trained lawyer.

    • Irrelevant says:

      what Rashi is

      I thought Rashi was a person?

      • Yehoshua K says:

        Correct, he was a person; colloquially, however, his commentary is also referred to as “Rashi,” and appears on the page.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      I suppose too much attention has already been given to the obvious outsider question: if you have a timer that automatically turns on the light every morning, and you program it on a weekday and do not change or override that setting on the Sabbath … would that work?

      ETA: Or for that matter, a motion sensor that turns something on when you enter a room, or a heater that turns itself on when the sun rises.

      (Nice to see you again.)

      • Katherine says:

        Isn’t that how they usually do it?

      • Yehoshua K says:

        Hi, Houseboat. I’m not a regular reader of SlateStarCodex, but my wife is (I’m sure you can guess which commenter she is), and every so often she points something out to me, or I notice it over her shoulder.

        It’s definitely common custom to allow the use of pre-set timers…but it seems to me that I recall seeing a discussion of it in the response of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, of blessed memory, in which he wrote that he was very opposed to their use. (Rabbi Feinstein, who passed away in 1986, was widely considered the foremost authority of Talmudic law of his generation.) I’ll try to remember to look into it, ok? No promises, though.

        Sensors are definitely forbidden; what’s the difference between my turning the appliance on by flipping a switch versus my doing so by entering the room? Whatever the reason that we may not use electrical appliances on the Sabbath (a matter of significant debate), there doesn’t seem to be any difference between a mechanical switch and a sensor apparatus. (You might be interested in a famous story of a European rabbi before WWII who was visiting America to collect funds for his yeshiva [academy]. It seems that he was staying in a hotel, and was surprised when the light turned on in the bathroom as he entered the room on the Sabbath. He realized that it would turn off when he left, and he was stuck there for the rest of the day. I’m not vouching for it, mind you, but it’s plausible.)

        I guess that a heater that turns itself on when the sun rises would be just another form of timer, no? I’ve never heard of such a thing, but offhand I don’t see any difference between a device designed to turn on at 5:44 a.m. and one which turns on when the sun rises at 5:44 a.m.

        • Irrelevant says:

          what’s the difference between my turning the appliance on by flipping a switch versus my doing so by entering the room?

          That entering the room was not an action taken with the intent of turning on the light, the sensor simply does it regardless. Work comes into play if the light turns off later and I start dancing around to make it come back on. But, IANAR.

          • Yehoshua K says:

            If my taking action a will inevitably result in event b, then Jewish law regards me as having implicitly intended b when I did a. The classic example is beheading a chicken–I cannot behead a chicken and claim that I did not intend to kill it.

    • Tracy W says:

      Which would be very relevant if anyone in the threat was expecting practising Jews to place weight on that person’s opinion.

      But as far as I can tell, people in this thread were just speculating. And what’s the fun of limiting your conversation exclusively to things you are an expert on? Indeed, if you adopted such a policy, how would you ever become an expert in the first place?

      • Yehoshua K says:

        Converse all you want–but when you get insulting about things that you don’t actually have any knowledge about (as some people were), then you’re the one that’s playing the fool.

        As for how do you become an expert–I think that’s usually done by studying from established texts under experienced scholars, not by throwing out ignorant speculations.

  18. Julie K says:

    Orthodox rabbis agree that the “kosher switch” is not kosher. (This is mentioned in the linked article.)

  19. Devon says:

    BTW, I think the Cheryl’s birthday logic puzzle, is terribly flawed. It relies on assuming the correct assumptions, which means it can’t be a logic puzzle and is therefore unsolvable due to a lack of information.

    It starts by saying Albert knows Bernard doesn’t know, but there’s no way on earth he could KNOW that Bernard doesn’t know, since Bernard could’ve been told “18” or “19”. If Bernard was told that number, then Bernard would instantly know the month, since there’s only 1 month paired with either of those numbers as days. Since Albert doesn’t know what number Bernard was told, then Albert can’t know if Bernard knows or not. Albert might think he knows that Bernard doesn’t know, but he’d be mistaken.

    So until one knows WHY Albert thinks that, it’s unsolvable. That information isn’t given in the problem, and we can’t assume things since this is a logic puzzle and logic does not rely on assumptions.

    To further demonstrate this, there’s (at least) 2 correct answers to the puzzle, depending on what one assumes while trying to solve it.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Yeah, if you want to fight the hypothetical to show off how much cleverer you are than the people who got the right answer, that’s an option available to you.

    • DrBeat says:

      but there’s no way on earth he could KNOW that Bernard doesn’t know, since Bernard could’ve been told “18” or “19”.

      Yes there is, because the month he was told was not a month that had an 18 or a 19 in the list of possibilities. That is why it is a clue.

      Since the puzzle specifies that Cheryl tells Albert the month and only the month, and not that she tells him the month and that Bernard doesn’t know, that “alternate solution” is bunk.

      • Devon says:

        Aaahh yes, you’re right. That slipped by me when I was typing. I shouldn’t have used those numbers for examples. My bad.

    • James Picone says:

      It starts by saying Albert knows Bernard doesn’t know, but there’s no way on earth he could KNOW that Bernard doesn’t know, since Bernard could’ve been told “18” or “19”.

      Albert gets told “July”. He now knows that Bernard can’t know, because the only numbers Cheryl could have given Bernard are 14 or 16, which aren’t unique.

      Alternately, Albert gets told “August”, and the same thing occurs – he knows Bernard must have been told 14, 15, or 17, none of which are unique.

      So yes, Albert can know for sure that Bernard doesn’t know the answer.

      The ‘second solution’ discussed at the Guardian link is wrong – Bernard can eliminate May at the second step, because Albert doesn’t magically know that Bernard doesn’t have 18 or 19, the problem doesn’t say he knows that. The problem is very explicit in what information Albert has.

      • Devon says:

        So exactly how is the Guardian’s 2nd answer wrong? I’m not clear about that. They might say that Cheryl might’ve told him that Bernard doesn’t know, but even without assuming she did that, Albert could easily still believe it is a fact that Bernard doesn’t know.

        If one assumes Albert deduced that Bernard doesn’t know, then we end up on a path to July 16. On the other hand, if one assumes Albert thinks Bernard can’t possibly know (through deduction or otherwise), then we end up on a path to August 17. Albert could possibly consider it fact after he deduced Bernard doesn’t know, and that could lead to August 17 even via deduction. So, really, the July 16 solution is weaker than the August 17 solution. Yet, it’s possible for both to be valid solutions.

        Since we know she couldn’t have been born on both dates though, it makes it an unsolvable puzzle.

        • James Picone says:

          6. If Bernard is so confident, he must have a unique date. We know it’s not 18 or 19. What other unique date can it be? There are two 14s, two 15s, two 16s and two 17s – but Bernard has eliminated June 17 – leaving him with August 17 only. That’s how he worked it out.

          This step is wrong.

          There are two 14s, one 15, one 16, and one 17 left after this point. From Albert’s PoV, there’s no way he could know the birthday at the end if it’s in August.

          The reason they miscount is because, bizarrely, they only eliminate June at the first step, and don’t eliminate May. They’ve got Albert’s logic the wrong way around – they assume that he knows “Bernard doesn’t know the answer” magically despite that information not being provided to him at any point, uses that information to eliminate 18 and 19, and then doesn’t know the answer.

          This involves assuming things not in evidence – that Albert was /told/ Bernard doesn’t know.

          Albert was only told the month, so he can only know that Bernard doesn’t know by being given a month that doesn’t contain a unique number.

          If the second solution was legal, so is this solution:

          So at the first step, Someone tells Albert that Bernard doesn’t know. Albert can’t work out anything from that.

          At the second step, Someone tells Bernard that the birthday is June 17. Bernard correctly notes that he didn’t know previously, but does know now.

          At the third step, Someone tells Albert that the birthday is June 17. Albert notes that he now knows.

    • onyomi says:

      For me, the hardest part of the puzzle was the Singaporean grammar.

    • tgb says:

      If your ‘solution’ to a logic puzzle involves assuming that the lack of a sentence saying “And nothing else relevant to the problem was spoken to the people involved” implies that they were told secret extra knowledge, then you’re doing it wrong. Of course there is an implicit statement that Cheryl didn’t whisper other additional knowledge to Albert. I can’t believe anyone would say otherwise, let alone publish it and try to appeal to authority by stating they are a mathematician. We also make assumptions like “Albert knows that Bernard has no horrible afflictions causing him short-term memory loss that means Bernard no longer even remembers the date told him.” Those assumptions aren’t proof that the logic puzzle is unsolvable!

      Let me just point out that once you start assuming Cheryl might have whispered extra unstated facts to the others, then the entire large class of problems based upon them stating they know or don’t know is entirely impossible to solve.

      • Devon says:

        Not assuming Cheryl said anything the puzzle didn’t say she said. The Guardian adds the possibility, but it’s really not required.

  20. “Botulism and bureaucrats!”—Nicholas van Rijn in the Polesotechnic League series by Poul Anderson

  21. Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

    > Somebody actually does the full scientific study and determines that atheists are no more angry than the general population. I predicted this result here two years ago.

    I’ve never heard of this stereotype, but apparently the linked study (and, I assume, prior literature) purport to demonstrate its exists. Anybody have any experience/anecdotes?

    • stillnotking says:

      Speaking from experience in America, I think there are two separate stereotypes: the idea that atheists are “angry at God”, that we defiantly refuse the Gospel out of spite — that one’s pretty hoary and not often encountered these days, except in the most insular Christian circles — and the newer implication that labeling oneself an “atheist” denotes Christopher Hitchens-style hostility to religion. I’ve had Christian acquaintances say things to me like, “You don’t seem to hate us, so why do you call yourself an ‘atheist’ instead of ‘agnostic’ or ‘not religious’?”

    • Tarrou says:

      I’m an atheist and I get this a fair bit. I think it’s selection bias. The vast majority of atheists don’t tend to talk about it a ton, it’s just a small bit of a very big world and worldview. Those who do tend to be annoying and strident. So the first examples people think of when they think of atheists are the assholes. Same thing with religion really, the loudmouths and the extremists spring to mind first. When you don’t belong to the same tribe, this is exacerbated, as we all have the tendency to excuse our own group and demonize others.

      Edit: A joke I’ve heard a few times is “An atheist, a vegan and a crossfit enthusiast walk into a bar…we know because they told everyone immediately”

      • HeelBearCub says:

        I tend to agree with this.

        I also think that, just as with any status which is/has been socially stigmatized, the known advocates will necessarily be only those who are least able to control their impulse to share the information. This is perhaps what you were getting at with “selection bias”, but I wasn’t sure.

  22. antiquarian says:

    “contrary to the stereotypes, more intelligent and more liberal people are more likely to believe in free speech”

    That sounds like a variety of humblebragging, since a stereotype that they’re less likely to believe in it is, if it does exist, one which has emerged incredibly recently– within the past year or two. That is, both that and humblebragging are psycho-linguistic games like have-you-stopped-beating-your-wife questions. But I suspect that, either way, his results suffer from the PBS-watching problem– that liberal people know how they’re supposed to be, and the way they want to seem, and give polling answers accordingly that may be at considerable variance with the way they really believe and behave. I think what they actually think is better shown by the fact that the gaggers on the Left feel confident enough of their position to put it forward as a serious possibility, and aren’t being slapped down to any significant degree by their ingroup.

    • Anonymous says:

      When was the last time this sort of analysis was applied to conservatives? Just asking.

      • Samuel Skinner says:

        I’ve heard people make such claims about the survey of Gamergators (specifically in the comment section).

    • Deiseach says:

      (P)sycho-linguistic games like have-you-stopped-beating-your-wife questions

      If you weren’t sufficiently depressed about the rising generation, I saw on Tumblr a post about an admittedly stupid reference – you should know when the mikes are switched on/the cameras are rolling nothing is off the record or in private and behave accordingly where some conservative/right wing politician from somewhere (I don’t know if he was American or English or Australian or who the hell he was) made a jokey reply of “And I haven’t stopped beating my wife yet” in response to a supporter saying something about you’ll always be asked questions by liberals to make you look bad –

      – and the person on Tumblr reblogging this waxed wroth about OMG how can he make jokes about beating his wife, this scum abuses his wife and nobody does anything about it, etc. etc. etc.

      And I just sank my head into my hands and muttered “I can’t even contemplate stepping in to start explaining to this person why they’re so far off the wall on this”.

    • whateverfor says:

      Alternate theory: Social Media/Internet liberals are a small fraction of all liberals. People who talk about politics on the internet are non-representative. The best example of this was Ron Paul, but I’m sure you can think of some others.

  23. RCF says:

    “A new study finds homeopathy and Prozac both outperform placebo by the same amount”

    That sentence doesn’t make any sense. Homeopathy is a placebo. Proper phrasing would be that homeopathy outperformed a different placebo.

    • Cauê says:

      Well, assuming the conclusion doesn’t cease to be a fallacy just because we’re all going to agree with said conclusion around here.

      Also, that was already the gimmick of the linked Ars post.

      • RCF says:

        I’m not “assuming” anything. Once we’re taking seriously the hypothesis that diluted water can have magical properties, there’s no reason to not think that anything can be magical. Maybe as soon as someone tries to create a “placebo” pill, morphic resonance occurs between the inactive pill and the active pill, and the so-called “placebo” pill acquires the properties of the active pill. The only thing that distinguishes homeopathic “medicine” and normal water is human intentions, which also distinguishes every other placebo from normal sugar pills. There’s absolutely no reason to put homeopathic pills in a distinct category separate from any other placebo. Doing so is the real assuming the conclusion. Or, at the very least, privileging the hypothesis. Homeopathy being false is a consequence of the basic axioms of science. You can’t reject that “assumption” without the entire edifice of science toppling. If homeopathy were true, we would have to rebuild all of science from the ground up. And since the studies that supposedly show that homeopathy works are performed using scientific instruments, saying that they show that homeopathy works is nonsensical.

        Homeopathy is a placebo. Period. There is no sensible definition of “placebo” that would exclude them. If homeopathy works, that would not mean that homeopathy isn’t a placebo. It would mean that placebos work.

        • Cauê says:

          Yes. I will add that homeopathy is well past the point where it’s justified to devote resources to investigate not whether it works, but why people insist on it.

          Still, the goddamn controversy is there, and people are studying it. If the topic is a study investigating homeopathy and treating it as the intervention, I find it very hard to blame Scott for failing to call it placebo.

          • Robert Liguori says:

            As a side note, though, if you prepare a very weak (in the homeopathic sense) remedy including, say, botulin, you can have a substance which is both homeopathic and which has indubitable biological effect. There is a tiny window for homeopathic remedies to work according to conventional science, but not according to the theories of homeopathy.

            I just skimmed the paper and didn’t see what the remedies being administered were. If they were at the 30 distillations level, then I don’t see any mechanism, but if they just did 5 or 10, and had a powerful active drug initially? Yeah, something could happen.

          • Lambert says:

            IIRC, it is statistically unlikely for even a single molecule to be in a homeopathic remedy.

        • Deiseach says:

          It would mean that placebos work.

          Hasn’t that been shown to be the case? In that event, homeopathic remedies working – or perceived by the users to be doing something beneficial for them – would not be a huge overturning of the entire edifice of science; it would be as you say: placebos work for some ailments in some instances.

          In defence of my sister middle-aged women going through the change of life and depression on top of it, what the study seems to show is that – if the one-hour consultations were repeated weekly when monitoring the remedies – then it was basically counselling that was doing the bulk of the work.

          You know, the kind of counselling my G.P. recommended I sign up for?

          In which case what we’re talking about is not the Prozac or the homeopathy, it’s the “one hour weekly or monthly of a medical professional talking to you about your problems” that was the real treatment here. It’s the old-fashioned talking cure that is being studied, whether they realise it or not.

          Getting a sympathetic and attentive hearing from a doctor about your problems and actually having them listen to your goddamn symptoms is a bigger deal than you may realise; I’m sure I’ve mentioned before the bad experience I had with a much younger doctor (I’m guesstimating he was twenty to twenty-five years younger than me) who was very visibly seething with anger when the results of the bloodtests he ordered came back and he was unable to tell me I was diabetic*.

          He so very plainly wanted to tell me, in a punitive way, that I was diabetic and he was so very plainly disappointed that my bloods were in tip-top shape that really, do you think being under his treatment would have helped me or that, by contrast, if a sympathetic woo-peddler put me on homeopathic tinctures I wouldn’t have felt that Mr or Ms B was doing me more good than Doctor A?

          *Obviously, this was before I was diagnosed Type 2 diabetic and the irony here is I think my attempts at “eat healthy, lose weight” triggered it: all the “eat 5 or more portions of fruit and veg a day” with the “fruit juice is healthier than soda, right?” mindset meant I was ingesting a lot more fruit, fruit juice and smoothies etc. than usual, and those things are packed with sugar even in the ‘natural, not from concentrate’ form. Also, once again, “low-fat” foods pack in the carbs to make up for taking out the fats. I really think that triggered my insulin resistance!

        • Anatoly says:

          It’s conceivable that homeopathy works because its procedures result in a mixture that has more active molecules than a simple theoretical model would imply. For example, suppose that due to some unknown mechanism the active substance is really good at sticking to the walls of the vessel (during the shaking and the diluting) in microscopic quantities, perhaps in tiny air bubbles.

          I don’t think it’s true, but it’s definitely much more reasonable than “morphic resonance”.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            Then it wasn’t True Homeopathy. But from way out here, in general I’m not very impressed with the common report that something “doesn’t work” if it does not fit into current theories of what is possible (“Rocks falling from the sky!”) and/or only works for a too small market base (elderly Hispanic women).

            If there is evidence for it, question the theory (“Rocks can’t fall from the sky, because there are no rocks in the crystal spheres”). Or if it only works on too small a market base (elderly Hispanic women), then look for why it works on them. Maybe it needs something in their diet, which when found, could make it work on more people.

            (Personally, I don’t believe in homeopathy. But I do believe in meteorites.)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Agreed with Caue. “Placebo” is here a methodological term, not a factual term.

      Suppose we were comparing a new antidepressant to placebo, and the new antidepressant turned out not to be superior. Would you have the same objection?

      • Decius says:

        Since frank placebo does better than no intervention, I don’t see why we aren’t testing different frank placebos against each other to find the most effective placebo.

    • PGD says:

      Homeopathy is a placebo with a lot more social weight and tradition behind it, hence it should be stronger psychologically if anyone was non-blinded in the study. Were they?

  24. Tim C says:

    i think that the first link is taking its conclusion too far, as its only looking at average productivity data. if i implement a technology that lets me fire half of my workers, and then those fired get minimum wage jobs, average productivity barely budges. From 1990 to 2007 the entry of women (plus maybe other factors) into the workplace greatly increased the workforce participation ratio, but definitionally the “increase in jobs” would be all be increase in jobs of the lowest marginal productivity, the ones that would have been shed by the previously limited labor pool. As such, robots could be stealing all the “good jobs” while the number of housecleaners and waiters increases; thats very compatible with the Rise of the Machines hypothesis. Of course in real life there are multiple equilibria and networking effects, but its still a possible model.

    None of this is to say that the conclusion is wrong, you would just want to do deeper analysis; sector analysis, or perhaps some non monetary measures of output to compare efficiency to.

    • SanguineVizier says:

      From 1990 to 2007 the entry of women (plus maybe other factors) into the workplace greatly increased the workforce participation ratio

      Do you have a citation for these claims? This paper (pdf) from 2006 indicates that most of the increase in women’s labor force participation rate that occurred from 1948 to 2004 happened well before 1990. Additionally, the overall labor force participation rate increased from 1990 to 1996, then flattened, and then declined to nearly the same point (1990 level) by 2004. This is attributed to under-55 men continuing to have lower labor force participation rates, and the previous increase on the part of women hitting a plateau and even decreasing slightly after 1999.

  25. Troy says:

    On the psychology replications: is there some nice chart of which results replicated and which didn’t? I’m having trouble finding such a thing in either the Nature article or the linked webpage.

  26. Synaesthetica says:

    “Razib Khan finds that, contrary to the stereotypes, more intelligent and more liberal people are more likely to believe in free speech.”

    I don’t find this surprising at all! I thought it was a thing people know that most liberals and libertarians are big on the First Amendment.

    • anon says:

      I think he’s being sarcastic about the “contrary to stereotype” bit.

      • Toggle says:

        There does seem to be a sizable contingent of people, mostly on the right, that sincerely thinks of the left as being more prone to censorship of hard and soft varieties. (There was a comment thread about this on “The Future is Filters” a few days ago.)

        • Dain says:

          We need to distinguish between liberals and progressives, sometimes known as radicals. Liberalism is more old-fashioned and more enamored of universalist Enlightenment ideals.

          Liberalism is the ol’ Jewish civil libertarian, the aging comedian, and the Bitcoin libertarian. Progressivism is the adjunct professor at Hunter College, the activist for Palestinian rights, and the Tumblr feminist.

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            Yeah, I am a big fan of liberalism in its original sense, but the word does not mean what it used to. Classical liberalism is closer in some ways to what we’d now call conservativism.

          • Cauê says:

            My impression is that Western culture evolved antibodies against attacks on free speech that are likely to come from the right, but those don’t always recognize the more recent wave of attacks coming from the left.

            On that note, I think I can see a trend of people from Eastern Europe being overrepresented on fights against progressive thought policing (though that may just be availability bias because many like to compare it to past experiences for dramatic effect).

        • Deiseach says:

          I think there is a perception by some on the right that some on the left go on about diversity and the unfettered right to express any sentiment or opinion, and that they will support and applaud (say) artists desecrating religious or national symbols on the grounds that the offence of offended parties does not outweigh the right to make such statements, but when it comes to their own Sacred Cows getting gored, then they try to shut down different opinions by saying “That’s not free speech, that’s hate speech!” and invoking law and sanctions against those who dare to say anything contrary to the line of new orthodoxy (e.g. openly expressing that you don’t think same-sex marriage should be legalised sets you up to be called a hatemonger, bigot and homophobe who makes LGBT people feel uncomfortable and unsafe to be in your mere presence).

        • anon says:

          That’s an illusion which arises from the fact that left is basically center for the educated middle class which forms the bulk of the internet population.

          The more mainstream the Left becomes, the more they’ll start trending to censor, at which point the new radicals will battle it. Chthulhu shall keep swimming left.

          • Deiseach says:

            Why would the new radicals – if they’re radicals of the left, not the right – battle censorship by the mainstream Left, as long as they’re not the ones being censored?

            Fighting censorship about “You can’t agitate for legalising polyamorous unions” I can well see, but fighting censorship about “It’s hate speech to say marriage should be between opposite-gender persons only”? Nope, don’t see that happening.

          • Autolykos says:

            Something about this “Cthulhu swimming left” quote always rubs me the wrong way. If conservatives are, by definition, on the right and are big about maintaining the status quo, any direction Cthulhu can possibly swim in will be “to the left”. No need to assume nefarious plots or a malicious universe.
            There are three things in life that will never come back to you: The past, a spoken word and a missed opportunity.

          • @Autolykos: I think even in your definition, there’s some rightward direction Cthulhu can swim into – specifically, undoing recent changes that conservatives witnessed and disapprove of because it goes against the status quo they grew up with, where ‘recent’ is ‘anything alive generations were able to witness’. Assuming you don’t expect people to suddenly be all right with changes after they happen (in which case, the changes are the status quo, and Cthulhu is swimming… both left and right simultaneously, I guess).

            That being said, I had the impression the term ‘conservative’ is not necessarily very descriptive. Not everyone who identifies and would be identified as conservative is interested in preserving the status quo, but there are several policy questions they can disagree with the ‘standard Left opinion’ on, e.g. on topics of religious expression, dispute resolution, …

            So saying ‘Cthulhu always swims left’ is not generally an empty statement. (Whether one agrees with the statement being made is a different question, of course.)

  27. vV_Vv says:

    I’d like to blame this one on Feminism Gone Too Far, but since both parties were gay men we guys have nobody to blame but ourselves here.

    Maybe your claim is intended to be facetious, but I don’t see why we can’t blame this on Feminism. Feminists lobbied to have a legislation enacted that, as predicted, is being abused to harm innocent men.

    The Kosher Light Switch claims that after you flip it, the light will come on, but that your flipping it doesn’t cause the light to come on, thus making it compliant with complicated Jewish ritual laws. Needless to say, this seems to depend on an interpretation of causation which is not entirely…what’s the word…kosher.

    Given the recent discussion on the nature of causality with Shawn Mikula on LessWrong (here, comment section), I wonder, if a Haredi Jew were to upload their brain on a digital computer, would they have to shut themselves down on Sabbath in order to comply with the Halakhah? Would it depend on the hardware and software architecture of the emulator. Can they program the emulator to restart itself with a timer or would they need somebody else to do it for them? 🙂

    This is Steven King-level creepy: Thoughts Can Fuel Some Deadly Brain Cancers.

    Wow, time to sign up Tumblr!

    … rationalist Tumblr…


    • Moshe Zadka says:

      Disclaimer: I’m not a Rabbi, certainly not a Posek [this is the Jewish version of IANAL]

      I would say that shutting down the brain is equivalent to dying (even if only for a time), and under the clause of “piku’akh nefesh” (literally “saving soul/life”) it would be permissible to use the electricity on shabbat.

      Regardless, even in real-life pre-uploading, Haredi Jews set their own Shabbat timers, so it would certainly be permissible to do it post-uploading.

      • Agronomous says:

        Given the number of commenters using real names whom I recognize here, I have to wonder how many of the anonymous or pseudonymous commenters I know (but don’t realize I know)….

      • switchnode says:

        I would say that shutting down the brain is equivalent to dying (even if only for a time)

        Ah, but is it? The definition of “death” as the cessation of neurological activity is not wholly accepted in Orthodox communities. Pikuach nefesh applies only to the living (one may dig an injured or possibly injured person out of rubble on the Sabbath, but not a known corpse), and whether a person is alive or dead is determined by the presence of breath (one may dig a person out to the nostrils, but, if they are not breathing, no further). (Yoma 85a) An upload does not breathe and therefore cannot be said to be alive, so it is forbidden to violate the Sabbath for their sake.

        That said, it is permissible to, e.g., leave a light on during the Sabbath, so the simple option is just to leave the upload running.

        However, some Haredi Jews concerned about the use of central electricity on the Sabbath (as it may have been generated by Jews during the Sabbath) run private generators, fueled and started before sundown. If used to power an upload, this would have the additional advantage of giving them individual dependence upon the movement of air and consumption of oxygen, i.e. breath. If uploads can halachically be considered people, this would make them definitely living people, which would help to clear up other issues.

        (On the other hand, uploaded Jews, not being born to Jewish mothers, would probably have to re-convert. Emulated circumcision is left as an exercise to the reader.)

        • Hankelhankel says:

          If by Jewish law you aren’t considered a living creature, then surely you aren’t considered a Jew anymore either and aren’t bound by Jewish law?

          • ^( says:

            Not necessarily.

            I don’t remember all of the rules regarding converting, but the only restrictions given are that no Ammonite or Moabite men can convert.

            If we’re saying that, since an uploaded Jew wasn’t birthed from a Jewish person, they are not Jewish-by-birth, similarly no uploaded person could be Ammonite or Moabite in that way.

            And so, since an uploaded person (or for that matter, an AI) is neither Ammonite nor Moabite — what’s stopping them from being able to convert to Judaism!?

            (Assuming that they can do the ritual stuff, which… I forget what it is. I know that a Brit Milah can be waived for health or, in this case, inability. Probably a similar case can be made for the Mikvah, and… what other things are there?)

  28. onyomi says:

    For me, I think the existence of course evaluations marginally improves my teaching quality (because I want to “impress” the students with my engaging presentations, in-depth feedback, etc.), but marginally damages my grading fairness (because I usually give the poor students better grades than they deserve in order to avoid them hating me).

    As for how useful is the actual information they provide, I’m pretty skeptical, though I think asking the right questions can make a big difference: “how much did you learn in this course?” vs. “how would you rate this course?”

  29. onyomi says:

    I was thinking back on my own undergrad days, and I thought to myself “I think I really did learn more from the easy graders, because I respond well to positive feedback and they made me feel like I was talented at the subject matter, which sparked my interest to study the subject for its own sake,” but then I thought: “maybe that was just an illusion and I actually learned more from the teachers who gave me worse grades, which may have inspired me to try harder, even if it left me with an overall less happy memory of the course.”

    Thinking further, I realized that the latter was definitely true of my time in grad school: I learned more from demanding professors than easy-A professors, because they forced me to reexamine what I was doing, try new strategies, etc. That said, my commitment to grad school was much stronger than to undergrad because I knew it was going to directly impact my career, whereas I didn’t know as an undergrad I would go into academia and so didn’t view my exact GPA as crucial to my future.

    That is, the stick might, ironically, be most effective at the bottom and top ends of the motivation curve–where either the student has no chance of actually getting interested in the subject and will take an easy grader as a chance to slack off, or where the student is so invested that failure is not an option and bad grades spur working harder.

    In the middle are undergrads who are interested in the subject but can also drop your class or take it pass/fail if it proves too difficult. For them, I wonder if the carrot (easy grading) might not actually improve their learning, in addition to one’s own course evaluations?

    • Lambert says:

      Wait. Who’s idea was it for the person marking and the person teaching being one and the same? Sounds stupid.

      • onyomi says:

        You mean, the one who is teaching is also the one grading the students? That is typical at most universities and colleges in the US. Large courses have TAs do a fair amount of grading, but it is ultimately the instructor who determines the final grade in any case. What alternative do you see?

      • youzicha says:

        British universities tend to put a lot of effort into separating the teaching from the grading. (Something like, the lecturer has to declare a syllabus before the course starts, then a separate faculty member has to sign off that the exam questions reflect the syllabus, and an external examiner from a different university may be involved to check that the grading is done correctly). The big drawback is that there is a lot of overhead.

        • onyomi says:

          Interesting. This sounds better than our system if the purpose of grading is to provide an expert’s evaluation of skill–i. e. more of the credentialing function.

          I’m not sure that that is the only purpose of grading in the US. I may give a better grade to a student who started out weak but expended tremendous effort to improve a lot than a very talented student who started out strong but didn’t improve much.

          I’m not sure if one is supposed to do this, but I’m pretty sure it’s very common. There is a sense in which anyone who does what is asked should get a good grade, regardless of their final ability. I give As to students who are not very talented, but who are assiduous in their homework, for example.

          This may also derive partially from a kind of egalitarianism or, dare I say, growth mindset which says that everyone should be able to achieve if they only put forth effort. It also provides a kind of cover for me: if anyone complains about their poor grades I can say “everyone who turned in all the assignments on time got an A,” rather than “well maybe you’re just not as smart as the rest of the class” (though neither is that usually the case with poorly performing students).

          in my decade+ of engagement with higher ed, I don’t recall anyone providing a clear explanation of what, exactly, grades are meant to measure. Even when I became a professor and we had an orientation there was plenty about respecting diversity in the classroom and, I don’t think, anything about what grades mean at the school. I find American higher ed likes to keep things, such as admissions, more subjective and vague than other systems.

          • Jon Gunnarsson says:

            Is that seriously how American universities work? You actually give students an A just for turning in their assignments on time?

          • Anonymous says:


            Considering grades are frankly quite useless career-wise, it’s not at all alarming.

          • onyomi says:

            Well, I certainly won’t give an A to a bad research paper just because it was turned in on time. I do tend to include a lot of shorter assignments that are scored as a binary 0/100 depending on whether you turned them in and made a reasonable effort. If you do all these latter sorts of assignments, then even if your term paper is an uninspired 80/100 (B-), your perfect homework could bring you up to 90 (A-).

            I know this seems pretty lenient–you don’t have to be unusually talented or inspired to get top marks, you merely have to follow directions–but unfortunately that *does* seem to be the way it is at most US universities now (and I am teaching at top-50 institution!).

            In reality, though, it’s not at all common that I encounter a student who is very assiduous yet who just can’t do well on tests and papers. Most of the students who turn in all the homework are also hard-working enough to a good job on their papers, and those who are frequently absent and fail to turn in homework assignments are usually the same ones who do poorly on tests and papers.

            I think my courses are considered by most of my students to be more difficult than average for the institution, and my grades are probably no higher than average. I’d be afraid to both teach harder-than-average classes and give lower-than-average grades as I worry students will flee my courses to take “easy As” (the number who *must* take my courses due to major requirements are relatively few).

            Indeed, as an undergrad, I recall that I didn’t mind challenging courses which rewarded me with a good grade for my effort, but when I encountered a course that seemed to be both challenging and to result in a low grade, I would promptly drop it, unless it were a major requirement, which it never was, because I never found it difficult to do well in my major.

            If it sounds like American universities have become far too undemanding, and/or American students too wimpy, I think it’s because they have. Personally, I think a big part of it is the culture which has turned college into the new high school–i.e. a prerequisite for any white collar job. Some students are really interested in mastering a skill or becoming conversant in a subject matter, but many are just killing time delaying adulthood, having fun, and obtaining a credential.

            I read a statistic to the effect that, in the 1970s, the average US college student spent about 4 hours a day on homework. The average now is 2 hours.

          • LTP says:


            I think this varies *a lot* by major. For instance, in my literature class if you did all the work, showed improvement, and did okay on the essays, you got an A. In my math classes, even after the curve the class average was a ‘B-‘. My philosophy classes have been all over the board depending on the teacher.

            I agree, though, that part of the problem is that US universities are no longer just for smart people wanting a liberal arts education but also as trade schools and credentializing machines for white collar jobs. In Europe, my impression is that universities, at least the top ones, still are mostly for the bright students wanting a liberal arts education.

            (To be honest, in an ideal world all classes would be pass/fail, and the point would be for each individual student to learn as much as they were reasonably capable of and not to get a grade. This is unfortunately not realistic. I’m not even sure how motivated *I* would be in such a system)

      • Anonymous says:

        I had two TAs for the last class I taught. The department told me that I had to grade the exams, but the rest was up to me. I glanced over a few of the graded homeworks each time, just to make sure I had a sense of how they were graded and what the students did wrong. I still made the TAs do the first pass of grading on the exams, because I know I’m a really harsh grader. I tried really hard to not take additional points away, just give points back. My thought process was that if they were able to convince a TA that they were right, they deserved some credit.

  30. Regarding the stereotypes link, am I reading it correctly that they checked out the behaviours of the people only shortly after they made the statement? Wouldn’t that mean that they’re discounting how much more readily available stereotypes would be immediately after talking about stereotypes? Differently and more colloquially worded, if I were to tell someone ‘everyone has stereotypes’ today, is that going to have any effect how they react tomorrow?

    • Cauê says:

      From the link, it looks like all the groups should be primed to be thinking about stereotypes, so that’s probably not it. In fact, “those told that stereotyping was very rare were the least clichéd of all.”

      But the conclusions expressed in that article look very weird to me. My guess is that people told stereotyping was rare felt pressured to avoid looking prejudiced, while those told it was very common felt free to be truthful about it.

      I’d make two predictions based on this guess: 1) the effect will be stronger in cultures with stronger anti-stereotyping memes, and 2) the effect will not show up on IAT’s.

      • Thanks for your comment; not sure how I managed to miss that. I guess that’s what happens when I skimread really badly. I guess I was focusing too much on “those given no message”. Oops!

  31. TheTrotters says:

    From the NPR article about course evaluations:

    Here’s what he found. The better the professors were, as measured by their students’ grades in later classes, the lower their ratings from students.

    “If you make your students do well in their academic career, you get worse evaluations from your students,” Pellizzari said. Students, by and large, don’t enjoy learning from a taskmaster, even if it does them some good.

    There’s an intriguing exception to the pattern: Classes full of highly skilled students do give highly skilled teachers high marks. Perhaps the smartest kids do see the benefit of being pushed.

    Another way to put it: the better the students, as measured by their grades in later classes, the harsher their assessment of instructors. This interpretation is just as consistent with the evidence presented in the article, and from my experience it’s much more plausible.

  32. Anatoly says:

    Tanya Khovanova’s variant of the Cheryl’s birthday logic puzzle is more challenging and interesting than the original, to my taste:

    Tanya: I thought of a positive integer that is below 100 and is divisible by 7. In addition to the public knowledge above, I privately tell the units digit of my number to Alice and the tens digit to Bob. Alice and Bob are very logical people, but their conversation might seem strange:

    Alice: You do not know Tanya’s number.
    Bob: I know Tanya’s number.

    What is my number?

    • Argh, I ruled out 7 too early as ‘does not have a tens digit’, so I got stuck in amusing ways. Thankfully, I dug myself out of my nerd-snipe and looked for an explanation, otherwise I’d still be wondering what I was missing.

      Thanks for this, it was fun to ponder. (Also, since I stumbled across it, sauce.)

      • stillnotking says:

        Am I missing something here? I’m pretty sure that solution is wrong.

        Vs Nyvpr xabjf gur havgf qvtvg vf frira, fur pnaabg xabj gung Obo qbrfa’g xabj gur ahzore, orpnhfr vg’f rvgure friragl-frira (juvpu ur jbhyq abg or noyr gb thrff) be frira (juvpu ur jbhyq).

        • stillnotking says:

          I’ll answer my own question: Yes, I was missing something. 🙂

          Never mind.

          • Whoops, sorry. You’re right that I could have been clearer whether I was leaving a clue or the answer. To make it explicit: It was, indeed, a clue, rather than the answer I worked out.

  33. James Picone says:

    I find it amusing how many comments on that Reddit thread are roughly of the genre “Yeah! Science should keep an open mind! Study everything!” including one that specifically says scientists should investigate *every* proposed perpetual motion machine that isn’t patent-encumbered.

    I don’t think they have a very good sense of exactly how surprising it would be if conservation of momentum or conservation of energy are false, nor a good sense of how weak the evidence for the various momentum-through-EM-radiation designs is.

    (Also I was under the impression the low-atmosphere test showed less thrust than the atmosphere-present test, and the facts-post doesn’t say that. Don’t know what’s going on there).

    But yeah, just to be clear, physics without momentum conservation or energy conservation is /really weird/. You pretty much only get it if physics is weirdly discontinuous – like there are regions of space that are fundamentally different and have different physical laws, then you can have rulesets where bouncing back and forth over the boundary gains momentum (shades of Parrondo’s paradox) – or if there are preferred directions / positions so experiments aren’t the same under translations.

    • Wanderer2323 says:

      “if there are preferred directions / positions so experiments aren’t the same under translations.” Imagine the case where the Cannae drive violates conservation of momentum but only if pointed at Mecca (Mt. Fuji, Vatican, what have you).

      This goes directly into my RPG homebrew *scribbling furiously*.

    • JE says:

      Energy is also not conserved if the laws of physics change over time. (The derivative of the energy in an isolated physical system as it evolves over time is at every moment equal to the derivative of the energy of a system frozen in that state while time changes). Or to be more mathematical the total derivative of the energy with respect to time equals the partial derivative of the energy with respect to time.

    • haishan says:

      On the other hand, it would be incredibly important to know if you could violate conservation laws. Seems kinda like a standard rationalist thing — tiny tiny probability of a hugely beneficial breakthrough. “Shut up and multiply,” as they say.

      I suck at mathematical physics, but you don’t actually need discontinuities, right? You just need physics to not be translation-invariant. It seems conceivable that physical laws could vary very slightly over spacetime, in a way that we haven’t measured yet but which you could take advantage of. My ignorance of mathematical physics means that I have no idea whether you could get more than tiny tiny amounts of thrust from this.

      • James Picone says:

        That’s a ‘preferred direction’ situation – experiments aren’t the same under translations. It’s a really, really weird physics.

        I agree that it’s important to know, and I have no problem with a NASA lab dedicated to testing interesting new propulsion ideas testing it, I just think the starting position here should be extreme skepticism.

        In the case of perpetual motion machines, it’s more that it’s very easy for some radical new reinvention of the overbalanced wheel to get pushed by some garage inventor. Physicists would be doing nothing but testing overbalanced wheels for the rest of eternity.

        • haishan says:

          (FWIW I do think this is sort of a reductio of the “shut up and multiply” position)

          Does it really have to be that strange on small scales? For instance, as far as I know, it’s plausible that the speed of light in a vacuum changes very very gradually, so that light is, I dunno, one meter per hour faster a megaparsec away from us in some direction. I don’t think we have instruments sensitive enough to measure that. I don’t know if changing the value of c would let us violate conservation of momentum, but could there be similarly gradual changes that would? And would we be able to take advantage of the effects, or would the violations be so small as to be useless?

          • James Picone says:

            I am not an expert – my dad is a physicist (rocketry, crystals) and I’ve done a bit of it at uni, but I don’t necessarily know the full implications of, say, spatially varying c. Doesn’t allow for momentum conservation violation in at least one case I know of, though – any transparent object of varying density. c in materials is different to c in free space, density affects it. I wouldn’t be surprised if you could get momentum violation through something like that.

            I would consider models where free-space c varies in some direction profoundly weird. The idea that the rules are the same everywhere and nowhere is special is pretty built-in to how a lot of our physics works and is intuitively appealing – that’s not a good argument for it, I guess, but it’s why it feels weird to me to violate it.

          • Anonymous says:

            We have various experiments looking for space- and time-variation of fundamental constants. For example people look at the properties of distant galaxies, or watch for tiny changes in the energy levels of atoms over time. But we have no plausible models in which these would occur–it would be really weird. And if the variation is extremely gradual (as it must be given the upper limits set by experiments), you can’t get much energy/momentum violation out of it.

      • Nisan says:

        When the probability is that low and the payoff is that high, “shut up and multiply” becomes “Pascal’s wager” and the standard rationalist response is “no”.

        • haishan says:

          Yes, but I think the standard rationalists are being silly about this. Which is fine, we’re all very silly, I just think they should cop to it instead of acting like “MIRI good, Pascal bad” was handed down on stone tablets by the Great God Bayes. (Actually, if they put it like that, I’d be very much mollified.)

        • James Picone says:

          I don’t think the problem in Pascal’s Wager is the small probability times the large payoff, I think the problem is that Pascal’s payoff matrix didn’t include all the possibilities. There are an infinite number of potential deities with different payoffs for belief vs nonbelief vs any arbitrary action. When you include the columns that say things like “Worship other deity: minus infinity utility” for every other deity, it becomes much less compelling.

        • maxikov says:

          This is ironic, since cryonics aren’t that far away from Pascal’s Wager – with higher and easier to evaluate odds, and a more complete payoff matrix, but still.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Actually the payoff matrix is
            I Do nothing
            1 Die normally 2 Die normally 3 Die normally 4 Immortality
            II Cryogenics
            1 Die 2 Live slightly longer 3 Immortality 4 Immortality

            1 is cryogenics doesn’t work
            2 is cryogenics works but there is still a finite lifespan when you are revived
            3 is cryogenics works and there is immortality
            4 immortality is discovered before you die

            So unlike Pascal’s Wager there are situations where not doing cryogenic provides a higher payoff (because you saved the money for the immortality treatment or helped fund its research).

          • Jaskologist says:

            We can always expand the payoff matrix. For example, you didn’t account for the future where the AI revives all cryogenically frozen heads in order to torture them for spending money on cryogenics instead of AI research.

            (See also: people responding to Pascal’s Wager by proposing that God actually rewards those who didn’t believe in Him.)

          • Peter says:

            I like the way that the difference between the finite and the infinite can be summarised as “not that far away”.

          • stillnotking says:

            That’s exactly why I’m leery of cryonics — I think its boosters haven’t necessarily thought the problem through, particularly the possible motives of hypothetical future generations or AIs for reviving the frozen.

          • Deiseach says:

            I still don’t know why people in the future should thaw out the frozen past people.

            Did we get laws passed that cryonics is a form of “living will” and so once a cure for cancer or whatever killed you is found, you have to be thawed out?

            Suppose we had a cache of people frozen in ice from three hundred years ago and a working method of thawing them out so they’d be alive and functional. Sure, we’d probably thaw them out to find out the historical discoveries from living! witnesses! of! the! times!

            But if we’ve thawed out one eighteenth century cobbler, are we really going to thaw out fifteen thousand eighteenth century cobblers and try to educate them up to a standard where they could function in twenty-first century society? I can’t see the thirty-fifth century (or whenever a method of “So we can thaw out a frozen head sawed off a body and repair any damage and graft it onto a new body and as a free thrown-in-at-no-extra-cost cure whatever caused death in the first place” is discovered) would be particularly interested in re-integrating into society John Jones, chartered accountant, when robots do all our tax returns for us.

          • stillnotking says:

            The only pragmatic reasons I can think of for reviving the frozen are sinister ones — maybe they need “volunteers” for some dangerous, arduous duty (Environmental cleanup? First wave of planetary colonists?), and they reason that you’re better off shoveling radioactive muck than being a corpsicle. At least, it seems unlikely that revived people would enjoy the same legal/moral status as the average citizen, presuming the values and economics of the future are similar to today’s.

            The best case is a post-scarcity, Culture-type society, who can painlessly absorb a wave of immigration from the past, and who revive you out of the kindness of their hearts. But that’s far from the *only* case.

          • Anonymous says:

            I still don’t know why people in the future should thaw out the frozen past people.

            Because the frozen people are in the care of organizations chartered for the explicit purpose of reviving them when possible. There’s also an attempt to make sure the people running the organizations are friends and family of the frozen. No one is throwing themselves on the mercy of the 35th century public.

            But if necessary, I’d hope that the 35th century public *would* be merciful, in the same way that today our hospitals treat even people who aren’t economically productive.

          • Troy says:

            Depending on the ideological views of the future humans, historical specimens might be the latest cause celebre of future humans’ equivalent of Social Justice Warriors. Just play your cards right and you could be part of an oppressed victim caste of the future!

          • maxikov says:

            @Samuel Skinner

            This would be true if signing up for cryonis was the only thing you can allocate funds to to get a shot at immortality. However, if you believe that Calico or SENS Foundation have a decent chance of achieving longevity escape velocity within your lifespan, they could potentially get a higher priority here. Or if you believe that MIRI has a decent chance of building FAI within your lifespan, which would probably solve mortality fairly quickly, they could get an even higher priority. Furthermore, even if you believe that the odds of cryonics working personally for you far outweigh everything else, you need to determine how much marginal improvements of its odds of working from donating extra to the relevant research. Fortunately, they aren’t mutually exclusive (aside from opportunity costs), so you can diversify your immortality portfolio, but its exact size and composition have to be determined from considerations more sophisticated than what you’ve outlined. Also, when/if chemical (plastic) brain preservation takes off, people will have to chose whether to go with it or with cryonics.

          • maxikov says:


            Or you may well end up the last memory of blatant speciesism or organicism (belief that non-organic matter is somehow less ethically valuable than organic matter), that should be destroyed for the world to be finally able to be a nice place.

          • Troy says:

            True, it’s a gamble. On the other hand, if you can just have more victimization Pokemon points than the things towards which you are bigoted, then the SJWs of the future may overlook your bigotry.

      • Tracy W says:

        I think scientists are quite willing to study a perpetual motion machine, once someone builds a working copy.

        I read a SF story once about an inventor trying to get scientists to study an effect the inventor had found that slightly reduced gravity. The solution was to find physicists interested in stage magic, sell them a toy “magic trick” and then let the physicists realise something weird was going on when they started using the magic trick.

    • youzicha says:

      I liked John Baez snarky post about the drive, the incredible shrinking force.

    • Shenpen says:

      I think PM proposals are take too literally. They are not trying to violate the laws of physics – they are more like trying to tap into an unseen, formerly unknown, mysterious kind of energy.

      • James Picone says:

        Really? All the old-school designs I can think of are simple mechanical structures, all the modernish ones are either obvious scams or basically a modernised version of a simple mechanical structure, using magnets somewhere. You do occasionally see talk about ‘zero point energy’ but 1) there’s close-to-zero reason to suspect a wheel with magnets on it, very strongly resembling a magnetic overbalanced wheel, has anything to do with the concept (i.e., it’s a buzzword, the theoretical ‘explanation’ is just window-dressing), and 2) it’s a pretty massive misunderstanding of the concept that the zero point for energy doesn’t actually have to be zero energy in an absolute sense (hint: ‘sea level’ is not an absolute zero for altitude, but you can’t get work out of it by digging a hole and then filling it in).

      • Anonymous says:

        If they’re trying to tap an unknown source of energy, they could say so. But at least one explicitly says that it works according to classical mechanics. I think the other, too.

  34. notes says:

    The Northern Caves is definitely the stronger of the two linked fics.

    • Held In Escrow says:

      Going to jump onto this; I thought Floornight was kind of shitty. I understood what it was trying to do, but it didn’t make for an interesting story, the characters weren’t very relatable, and it was 90% tell with the 10% show being an unstructured mess.

      The Northern Caves however, has grabbed me by my beltloops and I’m quite interested in seeing where it goes next.

      • Thanks for the feedback. (I am being sincere — I have gotten many positive comments but I always wonder if that is being skewed by an “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything” attitude, so strong outright criticism is informative and appreciated.)

        One of the things that makes it very hard for me to judge these things myself is that I had a lot more fun writing Floornight than I am currently having writing TNC. It was a fun, pressure-free writing project, which few people were reading before I completed it (relative to TNC, anyway), and in which I just let myself include whatever elements I felt like including at any given time. As a result, it is definitely a “mess,” but I guess I hope(d) that readers might feel some of the same freewheeling, “I’m doing whatever I want and no one can stop me” spirit. (Some people who liked the story have described it in similar terms, e.g. here.) If you are looking for cohesion, good organization, and a sober sense of proportion, though, it probably will not work for you.

        TNC is, I think, much better about that kind of thing, but for the same reason it’s much more of a pain to write. I keep worrying I’m going to make mistakes and screw everything up, where in Floornight, playing around and making mistakes and then seeing whether I could make them “work” on some level was kind of the point.

        • Held In Escrow says:

          I can definitely feel like you had fun writing Floornight, and I’ll try to give a more detailed response later when I have some time, but on a whole the story just felt kind of skittish. You had a bunch of ideas that you wanted to build up or undermine, but it just felt like you were afraid to stick to any of them for an extended period of time. A lot of stuff was just sitting there, but the structure of the story, with it’s occasional infodumps, was not set up in such a way that would accept unexplained or underexplained occurrences.

          That and I felt it ran into the same issue that I know some people did with the mostly solid The Quantum Thief; if you don’t have a certain media background it’s going to be really hard to ground a lot of the concepts. Floornight of course had heavy inspiration from Evangelion which, having watched the series several times, helped me to understand what was going on, much the same as having seen Ghost in the Shell let me catch onto what The Quantum Thief was doing.

          In effect, I think there were some cool ideas and plot bunnies in Floornight, but I feel that you didn’t dedicate the spotlight enough to really illuminate any of them adequately. I still read it all the way through in a single sitting, so to steal DLP’s ranking criteria, I’d give it a 3/5, Almost Recommended. The Northern Caves is incredibly enjoyable though, because by god do you have strong voices both from the narrator and the message board segments to the point where I can believe all this happened.

        • notes says:

          Basic thought on Floornight is that it neglected the foundations.

          Evangelion is something that worked, for most of its run, on a superficial level as a story about giant robots punching monsters in spectacular ways. Writing something that doesn’t function on a superficial level is like building a staircase and omitting a step: some of your readership will vault the gap, but more will stumble.

          (Evangelion isn’t actually a good example of someone smoothly scaling up from the superficial, it’s one of those stories that pretends to be constructing an internally coherent puzzle and is actually just dumping symbols together and trusting in the human pattern-finding faculty to produce a flickering false positive.)

          The tell/show distinction is part of how Floornight failed, but mainly it doesn’t look like there was an intention to make it work as a story as well as a puzzle.

          My earlier comment was significantly influenced by the “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything” attitude.

          It’s too early to say how TNC will turn out, but it does look like a story as well as a puzzle, and good enough to pique interest.

          Can sympathize with writing being a pain, being concerned about mistakes and screwing things up. Have had good results with treating pieces as writing exercises, working on particular techniques or effects, with the result of self-perceiving mistakes as part of a learning process rather than feeling culpable for a brainchild’s birth-defect.

  35. David Moss says:

    Eugh. Someone needs to stamp out this weird idea, that you don’t need to take poverty into account, because if black people are poor and poor people suffer X disadvantage, then that disadvantage is racist.

    • stillnotking says:

      Poverty and blackness are separable causes, whether they’re correlated or not. White people are more likely to be autistic, but if Bob is autistic then his problem is not that he’s white; more to the point, calling Bob’s autism “racist” is obscurantism.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Is assume this in reference to the studying the effect of names article?

      I doubt that many researchers or even those who do policy work around aspects of race would deny that poverty plays a role in most outcomes for blacks. But you can break that down into several sub aspects. Some of them would be: Affects of current poverty, affects of past poverty, affects of past-policy meant to impose poverty, affects of societal expectation of poverty (regardless of actual status), etc.

      To indicate how thorny this could be “Billy Bob” and “Jamal” are almost assuredly not directly comparable, as a resume for the first is most likely to have the name “William Robert” “William R.” or just “William” or “Bill” on it.

      “Jamal” as a given name has essentially no way to avoid the association with poverty, and that has some direct correlations with the history of segregation and its affects on the black population.

      It seems to me easier to find corollary names given to white females (Crystal, for example). Which would be an interesting study.

      Additionally on the male side, I think you run into the fact that some of candidate names (like Earl, Clyde, Cletus, etc.) essentially bespeak southern poverty (and therefore you won’t be able to know what associations are invoked in the mind of the subject (black and poor vs. white and poor).

      So, regardless of whether traditionally black names are discriminated against due to solely associations with poverty (my prior says this is doubtful) or because of poverty and race combined, it doesn’t change the fact that they are being discriminated against, and in a way that a black person has fewer avenues to avoid.

  36. Carinthium says:

    On the affirmative consent laws- In my view these laws may be slightly too far, but are in fact very close to the mark. Something needs to be there to stop unwanted spontaneous moments of passion, which sadly exist quite a bit at the moment.

    (I’d go into more detail if asked, but I’m in a hurry IRL for the time being. Sorry about that.)

    • Wanderer2323 says:

      > Something needs to be there to stop unwanted spontaneous moments of passion.
      That “something” is called ‘talking with your partner’ or if that fails ‘not being in a relationship with that person’.

      • Carinthium says:

        If it were just about relationships, that would be one thing. But regardless of the law, cultural norms (see large numbers of movies) extend this stuff outside the boundaries of relationships.

        Within relationships, as mentioned there is the problem of sexual pressure.

        • Ever An Anon says:

          Even if we grant that sexual pressure or “unwanted spontaneous moments of passion” within relationships are serious societal problems (personally that’s a huge if) it still doesn’t follow that it should be grounds for criminal punishment or even academic discipline.

          The law is a blunt instrument at the best of times and is especially ill-suited for the kind of extraordinarily subjective question “did Jack unduly pressure Jill into this particular act?” represents. And that’s assuming laws which weren’t written by lunatics and thus allow arbiters to consider context.

          • Irrelevant says:

            To thine own self be true, for duress is very hard to prove.

          • Carinthium says:

            Unwanted or ambigiously wanted advancement is easier to deal with than social pressure, so I’ve backslided slightly. But still:

            Not a major societal problem necessarily, I would argue, but one in which the law can still do more good than harm (even if I do think an ‘escape hatch’ clause useful).

            My ideal version of the law would define standing consent and claim that without obvious standing consent (which couples could give in stages) any act would be illegal. Admittedly, that would be better.

            As it stands, though, the side benefit is to get rid of the social problems regarding having to guess consent and problems regarding getting it wrong. This reduces potential tension on dates, which is useful.

            At the absolute minimum, it’s not that hard to say that any act outside of a relationship is unacceptable and try to both culturally and legally make it clear. It wouldn’t be so bad if people dated at their own risk.

            Your model, by contrast, would greatly reduce sexual harassment law scope wouldn’t it?

          • Irrelevant says:

            one in which the law can still do more good than harm

            Bullshit bullshit bullshit bullshit. Affirmative consent laws are so maximally intrusive that even if they eliminated rape outright they wouldn’t pass balance of harms.

            AC is the equivalent of attempting to stop violence by making it illegal to accelerate your limbs at a speed sufficient to inflict blunt trauma on a human.

          • Ever An Anon says:

            Although he could have phrased it in a less hyperbolic manner, Irrelevant is pretty much on the money here.

            If you are arrested for violating a law related to sex today in America, even a hilariously minor one like public indecency, that gives you a permanent criminal record and may require you to register as a sex offender. If you are disciplined by the university that creates a slightly less permanent record but one which can still be seen by admissions officers at graduate schools and prospective employers.

            When we think about harm v good we need to take into account that these courts, as they exist, act as systems of last resort for when normal methods of conflict resolution break down. Involving them as a first response is a serious escalation (as well as tbh, a wasteful use of limited resources).

    • haishan says:

      Okay, but the tradeoff is that you lose wanted spontaneous moments of passion. Maybe these can all be transmuted into “A asks consent, B grants it, then A and B hold hands/kiss/have sex/play around in A’s multimillion dollar BDSM dungeon,” but even if this is so, affirmative consent laws and rules seem to be unusually poor ways to accomplish this second thing.

    • onyomi says:

      I don’t think there need to be laws to stop “unwanted moments of passion” among people who are already in a romantic relationship. It’s called telling your partner “hey, get off me. I’m not in the mood.” If your partner is not respectful of that you should break up with him or her.

      Among people who are not in an established relationship unwanted sexual advances are certainly a concern, but don’t we already have more basic laws against sexual harassment and rape to cover that? Lowering the bar seems likely only to enable abuse of the sort which goes: “he betrayed me for that other person; I’ll show him by reporting that time he pressured me to have sex when I wasn’t in the mood.”

      There is also the problem that, for better or for worse, no matter what anyone says, women just *like* men who are bold in romance. And by “bold,” I don’t mean pushing yourself on someone uninterested, cat-calling, sudden groping, or anything like that, but I am talking about knowing when a woman wants you to put your arm around her or kiss her while you’re sitting on the sofa together at the end of a romantic evening. She does not want to hear “can I put my arm around you now?” “can I kiss you now?” “May I please touch your left breast now?” I know this is a generalization, but it is one that applies to every heterosexual woman I’ve ever known.

      • Randy M says:

        “I don’t think there need to be laws to stop “unwanted moments of passion” among people who are already in a romantic relationship. ”

        Yeah, but there are a lot of grey areas around what counts as a relationship. We should codify what this relationship/not relationship legally, and have a big ceremony or something so people would fully realize what they were doing.

        • Carinthium says:

          Definitely agree with this. Also should point out that regardless of present legislation, cultural norms are far too weak about strictly forbidding moments of passion without agreement.

          If A kisses B spontaneously when there is no relationship, depending a lot of factors such norms may or may not permit suing without stigma for being overly harsh. Plus a lot of people in A’s posistion might consider it acceptable.

        • chris says:

          It’s like people are destroying the wheel, realising the cart won’t move and then re-inventing it all over again, ad infinitum.

      • Deiseach says:

        Yeah, but the resentment about being pressured into sex when you’re not in the mood “Oh, I really don’t feel like it, but if I turn him down he’ll bitch and moan and be pissy about it for days and I don’t want to cope with that so I might as well just lie back and let him get on with it” probably does build up and help poison relationships.

        If consent culture meant that people would have the idea and habit of asking beforehand (not merely assuming) and very importantlyit was explicitly understood that getting a “no” was not “No, I hate you/No, I never want to sleep with you again/No, you’re useless in bed”, it just meant “No, not right now/No, this is as far as I want to go right now”, and that it need not cause rows or hurt feelings on either side, it just means ‘try again another time’ then that would be great.

        But we’re humans: it’s never going to be that easy. Someone asking and the other person refusing to escalate affection to full-blown sex is always going to result in somebody going “That bitch/bastard is always sending out mixed signals! Why did they let me kiss them when they didn’t want to have sex? That’s just leading me on/cock teasing!” and the other person going “Why do they always want sex, can’t they tell when I’m not in the mood because I’m sick or stressed from work and I just want a little affection and reassurance so I’m happy to kiss and cuddle but nothing more?”

        And being humans, when we see a chance to use anything to get revenge on people who hurt us, we’re going to take it. So misusing consent laws is going to be one way, and as I said, that’s why I think people who go “But nobody would ever lie about rape or abuse, you should unquestioningly believe any allegations of sexual misconduct!” need to realise that it’s not victim blaming to maintain the presumption of innocence.

    • Cauê says:

      Can you clarify what you mean by “unwanted spontaneous moments of passion”?

      • Carinthium says:

        The thing which most needs stopping is an unwanted kiss when there’s no existing relationship. But any sort of sexual move without consent applies.

        • Cauê says:

          For most unwanted kisses, it does look like a “no means no” rule is quite sufficient.

          For affirmative consent rules to be the necessary answer, you must be talking about a surprise kiss surprising enough that the kissed party has no time to reject it, even with body language.

          …now, are these really such a widespread problem? Because the cost of these rules isn’t low.

    • Carinthium says:

      Quick Clarification of myself: I’m still Amoralist in a very broad sense of the term, but have been thinking about it and moving towards more Sentimentalism- wanting things to be the case as an extenstion of desire, rather than a belief in actual ethical codes. A moral desire can exist, but trades off against selfish desires with no such thing as a sacred value.

      I’m still arguing ethics with people, primarily because I think that will actually convince and I’m in the mood for an argument.

    • Ever An Anon says:

      The biggest problem with those laws is that there isn’t an escape hatch to let non-neurotic (no offense meant but I can’t think of a better word for it) people to give standing consent to broad categories of sexual activity.

      Otherwise we’re losing all of the good parts of having a relationship in the first place. No more suddenly pulling your girlfriend into a passionate kiss, no more being woken up by a tight embrace, and definitely no more surprise groping while you’re on the phone or working. I don’t see a problem with saying “hey, feel free to do anything except x y and z in the future” but negotiating everything every time is brutal and unnecessary.

      I get that some people want the extra protection but there has to be an opt-out for the rest of us or else it’ll be hell on the vast majority of couples.

      • Carinthium says:

        Escape hatches of that sort are a very good idea, I agree.

        • Godzillarissa says:

          Hm… this is the first time I’m hearing of those escape-hatches in discussions of affirmative consent. Is this a relatively new idea or did it just pass me by?

          Anyway, how would you give standing consent in real life? Handwritten agreements won’t hold up in court, unless there’s a third party/witness. And prewritten legal documents/contracts will always lack flexibility.

          • Tracy W says:

            And pre-written contracts also suffer the problem that a person can legally change their mind and refuse to consent in the future, so their signature in the past is of no use.

          • Godzillarissa says:

            @TracyW: Well, that makes escape hatches of any kind pretty much impossible then. Also standing consent and every form of consent that doesn’t concern itself with immediate indivisible actions. And they’ll probably find a way to criminalize those too 🙁

          • Ever An Anon says:

            Even in contract law a verbal promise or handshake agreement can be binding: I’m not a lawyer but the case law seems pretty clear that there’s nothing magical about written contracts, the obligation comes from the agreement itself rather than the writtten words which represent it. And judges in those cases are supposed to take custom and circumstances into account anyway.

            It’s a weird idea that law has to be able to compile or else it isn’t good. Laws should be clear enough that their scope and purpose is obvious (unlike affirmative consent laws for instance) but beyond that “loopholes” are failures in human judgement and not the law itself.

          • Tracy W says:

            @EverAnAnon: IANAL but I understand that sex is treated different legally, admittedly mostly from reading rants about 50 Shades of Grey.

          • Carinthium says:

            None of those legal principles are constitutional anyway. There is an argument that legislators should be very careful about changing them, but as I was discussing what the legislator ought to do they aren’t insurmountable arguments.

      • Deiseach says:

        Consent laws are the outgrowth of the laws on marital rape. Previously, there was no offence of rape within marriage, since rape was sexual intercourse without consent and entering into marriage was giving consent to all future sexual encounters.

        I imagine people would agree that it is indeed possible for rape to take place within marriage, since if one spouse wishes to refuse to engage in sexual intercourse and the other continues, even forcibly continues, to force sex upon them, this is indeed unwanted sexual contact, the reluctant spouse has withdrawn consent, and prior consent does not mean future consent in any and all situations.

        That being so, why think that consent laws are going to destroy all spontaneous acts of affection and passion? I don’t think most people would argue that laws on marital rape have destroyed trust between spouses and affection/passion within marriage?

        • Jos says:

          From the Brandeis case, it seems that the Brandeis rule renders all non-negotiated spontaneous displays punishable. Maybe the complaint misreports the rule, but if not, it seems like Brandeis expects you to ask permission to kiss your partner before each kiss. I don’t have any idea if they can change behavior enough to get general compliance with that rule, although if so, I’d expect their to be less kissing – the safest thing to do when you don’t have a lot of time to negotiate would be not to kiss.

          I think it would be a flaw, not a strength, of the rule if it turned out that couples pretty much violated the rule all the time, so that any vengeful person could always punish his or her partner because everyone on campus was in violation of the rule.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I’m not sure we know the actual details enough to understand what was alleged.

            It could be that for two years the complainant states they turned when the accused went in for some PDA in the parking lot, but was coerced in some manner to relent and engage in public kissing.

            The issue seems to me to be standard of proof, more than anything. Well, that and equitable punishment.

        • Tarrou says:

          I love watching lefties decide, after fifty years of “No means No!” that not only does “No mean No!”, but “Yes means No!” and “Silence means No!” and “Anything other than legal forms signed in triplicate and witnessed by no fewer than ten members of the bar in good standing, videotaped, thumbprinted and initialed means No!”

          • HeelBearCub says:

            OK, that’s very unhelpful, and a straw – man.

          • Tarrou says:

            I wish it were a straw man, but as we all know in the internet age, there are no strawmen.


          • Held In Escrow says:

            Eh, that’s basic sex negative feminism as written by someone who hasn’t ever had to step outside their echo chamber. The core thrust, that it can be hard for some people to say no because we’re socialized to want to make others happy alongside the idea that sex is a good thing, is fairly true. Everything that leads from that in the piece is kind of batshit in that they haven’t actually thought through there position, but a charitable reading makes it seem less terrible.

            That said, the whole chain of logic is effectively saying that society has placed us in the role of the classic battered woman who can’t bring herself to leave an abusive relationship with societal norms and I really don’t think people would like where that leads (total abdication of personal responsibility! Woohoo!), but as a short sighted idea it’s rickity but almost sound

      • Deiseach says:

        surprise groping while you’re on the phone or working

        But even there, surely you or the other person would evaluate and judge the situation before indulging in some surprise groping? E.g. if the person working was trying to finish up important work on a deadline and didn’t need or would be badly thrown off by distractions or interruptions, it would be very insensitive and badly timed to launch surprise groping, and might start a quarrel rather than funsexytimes?

        So even “whee! spontaneity!” has to be well-judged, at least if you’re not going to be a jerk about it (though I do concede people’s individual tolerances differ; where I would – hypothetically – beat the head off someone who did a bit of ‘surprise groping’ when I was up to my tonsils in detailed work that needed close attention, someone else might indeed welcome the distraction).

        • Cauê says:

          Yes, people do evaluate and judge the situation before doing these things, and usually everything is fine.

          But then comes a law that lets one of the parties retrospectively decide, months later, that hey, turns out it was unwanted. As in the linked story.

          “Did you get affirmative consent?”, asks the inquisitor. “No, I evaluated and judged the situation”, is the futile answer from the soon-to-be condemned.

          • Deiseach says:

            Yes. The problem is basically human nature.

            pre-breakup: we’re so in love!
            post-breakup: I’m going to crucify the bastard!

            As well, one person’s “spontaneous displays of affection” are another person’s “sexual harassment”. I think everybody (or at least every woman) has been warned about the drunken uncle at the wedding or the co-worker at the Christmas do who likes to take the opportunity of hugging every woman in the guise of a friendly greeting, where ‘hugging’ means “squeezing much too tightly, hanging on much too long, and trying to feel you up under the guise of ‘oops, is that where my hand went?'”

            Complaining or requesting he let go makes you sound like a bitch and the defence of course is “I was only being friendly!”

          • Tracy W says:

            Solution to them: scream loudly, and then when you’ve got everyone’s attention say “Oh, you startled me!”

            If you also give a startled jump and accidentally land heavily on their foot, while they are gasping in pain take the opportunity to apologise profusely, in a voice dripping with sincerity.

        • Ever An Anon says:

          This is the sort of line of argument my use of the phrase “non-neurotic” was intended to cut off.

          Being able to “read” your partner’s mood and the situation is a basic skill which virtually all of us pick up as we’re growing up. And even beyond that, I’d like to believe we’re not so on-edge that we won’t cut an amorous partner some slack if they make a stupid mistake.

          Obviously not everyone has those skills and some people are very easily traumatized, so obviously if they want an explicit consent system for themselves I won’t begrudge it to them. But pushing it on everyone else is unnecessary and frankly more than a bit patronizing.

      • Jos says:

        As I said below, I think you could get a reasonable escape hatch technologically. It wouldn’t be perfect, but it would be better than no escape hatch. Here’s my off the cuff proposal.

        1) A consent document identifying what each person does and does not consent to. (If you find me sleeping, you [may|may not for each ] [spoon up against me|write poetry describing my physical qualities|kiss me|etc.\

        1.1) The document should indicate how often it has to be re-ratified by the participants.

        2) Always listening cell phones that listen for a revocation safe word.

        You still might get a dispute of fact over whether the revocation was issued and not caught by the phone, or whether the acts perfomed extended beyond those consented to, but presumably, that would limit the disputes considerably.

        Under thos

        • Ever An Anon says:

          Always listening cell phones…

          What’s the use of proving you’re not a criminal if you live in a big prison already?

          I realize that sounds hyperbolic but really, how does universal constant surveillance not outweigh whatever harm there is in occasional unsanctioned kisses? Hell I would rather risk actually being raped or murdered than be tracked by law enforcement 24/7 (as in, I would trade increased risk for removing existing surveillance if I could do so).

          • Held In Escrow says:

            I think Jos was being just a tiny bit satirical there.

          • Jos says:

            Actually not satirical – my personal vote would be not to impose the Brandeis rule, but if you’re going to, I think it’s preferable to have a system that memorializes consent.

            As for an “always listening” cell phone – I’m imaging an app that only records when it hears your safe word. Obviously, there would be security and reliabilit issues, but at least then there would usually be a record when you revoke consent.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            As for an “always listening” cell phone – I’m imaging an app that only records when it hears your safe word.

            Existing cheap spy recorders can record 10 hours between battery charges, so it would be more efficient and safer to leave it on all day, and when you upload it and OCR it, then use an ordinary Ctl-F to skip to the safe word. Or put the safe word into the list of words you want to scan for, such as terms used in the classes you’re taking, etc.

          • Godzillarissa says:

            @Jos, if the app only listens once you say your safeword, what about the people who are too shocked/afraid/inebriated to say the safeword?

            Even if you start out with a safeword-app, there’ll be pressure to make it listen 24/7 and it will, eventually.

            It happens all the time with surveillance technology all over the world. “Think of the children/rape victims”/”There’s terrorists/rapists out there” and it’s basically done.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        No more suddenly pulling your girlfriend into a passionate kiss, no more being woken up by a tight embrace, and definitely no more surprise groping while you’re on the phone or working.

        Criminalizing the first and second would seem brutal. But the third should be grounds for divorce, with the groper paying all costs (and so should be the first and second, if repeated after a reasonable verbal warning, any example of which might make WordPress block this post).

        I don’t see a problem with saying “hey, feel free to do anything except x y and z in the future [….]”

        See Please Don’t Eat the Daisies. 🙂

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I can’t decide if this post is actually serious.

          Most people in LTRs throw a surprise grope in from time-to-time. The timing isn’t always right, but the the consent for this type of activity is definitely present within the frame of the relationship.

          This to me is at the heart of the matter. Healthy relationships essentially do always read consent, are affirmative consent based. But proving that is well nye impossible.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            The last sentence was a reference to a book titled Please Don’t Eat the Daisies. The author had set a formal table for a dinner party and left the children alone there after telling them a lot of things not to do. She came back and found they had eaten the daisies from the centerpiece. The moral was, you can’t predict all undesirable behaviors in advance.

            Most people in LTRs throw a surprise grope in from time-to-time. The timing isn’t always right, but the the consent for this type of activity is definitely present within the frame of the relationship.

            Sure, sometimes. But in that example, the bad timing deserved a little hyperbole. See Deiseach’s comment on this. A partner who has so little respect for ones work or serious phone calls — is not a good prospect for LTR.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            It depends entirely on the relationship and how one feels about sex and the mood one is in at the time. All of which your partner can sense.

            If I am on the phone and aware that my partner has come on for a hug goodbye for the day and the throw in a surprise butt grab, this is just a normal part of our day. Please don’t tell me my wife 20+ years isn’t a candidate for a LTR. I would hate to have to break up with her now. 😉

      • chris says:

        You do realise that you are basically asking for a miniature form of what marriage used to be, i.e. presumption of consent/contract to consent.

    • Jos says:

      It should be interesting – if the colleges manage to inculcate consent culture into the next generation of the elite, then I suppose in a generation it might be a cultural norm.

      I personally don’t understand it – if I understand correctly, there are some people who are traumatized by someone trying to kiss them, but think they would be ok with someone asking to kiss them? Do we know how many people that is? (Because obviously people also traumatized by someone asking to kiss them will be helped only at the margins.)

      In the short run, it seems pretty obvious to me (seriously) that there should be a documentary consent system, like a living will, if we are going to apply the Brandeis system at all. People could work with a human or virtual consent counsellor to explore the various areas of consent and clearly communicate their authorizations and boundaries. With an always listening cellphone, you could even have something of a system to measure safewords, although obviously not a foolproof one. (Again, I know this reads kind of like satire, but if you’re going to do the Brandeis system, I honestly think this is a much better way to do it.)

      Ultimately, you could reduce flirting to something like Grinder or Tinder (sp?) – people could mark people they’re interested in, and therefore never even learn if the other person is interested unless it’s mutual, thereby avoiding a lot of the dynamics of unwanted advances. You might leave the romantically unprivileged even worse off, but maybe not – they could spam people until they found someone willing to be with them, without bothering people who would be traumatized by learning they were an object of unwanted affection.

      • Ever An Anon says:

        I don’t think it makes sense to base global rules on the sensitivity of the most easily traumatized people.

        After all, there are people with immunodeficiencies who would benefit greatly if handshakes were eliminated and every building had extensive air filtration systems, and yet it’s obvious that those are unreasonably extreme measures.

        • Jos says:

          I tend to agree, but since I’m able to deal with unwanted advances, I don’t have a valid basis to say how traumatic that might be to other people.

          Under the current system everywhere but in colleges, as I understand it, if one kiss someones and they kiss one back (or arguably remain motionless), the actor will normally assume consent. Similarly, removing clothes, etc.

          The Brandeis rule avoids the trauma of the physical advance, and possibly converts non-response to a clear rejection. It does seem unworkable – I can’t possibly see someone asking for consent before each individual romantic or sex act, so pretty much anyone who isn’t 100% passive will violate those rules at some point, unless you have a system for establishing and recording standing consent.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        I think affirmative consent is already at the core of healthy rrelationships. It’s not always verbal (to be clear, most SC advocates recognize non-verbal consent as possible/probable), but it is always present.

        I don’t want to do things with my partner that she doesn’t want to do. If I read that my partner is not wanting to do something, I stop.

        Of course, if I mis-read and later she says “I was not into that”, it is also part of a healthy relationship that you apologize and don’t do it again. Making that assault seems highly problematic.

        But I would still say that my actions are consistent with the intent of AC, regardless of how the legalities of it work.

        • DrBeat says:

          It’s not always verbal (to be clear, most SC advocates recognize non-verbal consent as possible/probable), but it is always present.

          If “SC” is a typo for “AC” then no, they don’t recognize nonverbal consent. Nonverbal consent is not explicit. If you get nonverbal consent, you can’t prove it. If you can’t prove it, then you are absolutely at the mercy of your partner should they ever decide to use the legal system to punish you.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Yes SC was a typo and I meant Affirmative Consent.

            According to the Brandeis Policy consent can be non-verbal. It just needs to be clear and explicit.

            Consent: Communication about sexual contact or sexual intercourse that is cognitively aware, explicit, affirmative and free of coercion, force or intimidation. While consent may be sought verbally or through actions, the manner of communication must be mutually understandable as clear permission (including conditions and boundaries) for sexual contact or sexual intercourse.

            I have seen some people (both pro and con) claim AC means only verbal, but I haven’t seen policies that go that far.

            For an on-going relationship, prior communication of both kinds make non-verbal communication increasingly more effective at communicating meaning. So that is not a problem as far as actually obtaining consent is concerned.

            But for a first encounter, some sort of verbal communication seems like a very good idea (regardless of whether there is a standard of AC in place or not). But, one can construct scenarios that are entirely non-verbal and entirely affirmative. But you can’t construct those scenarios if one person is entirely passive (which is a whole different kettle-of-fish.)

          • NN says:

            DrBeat: You also can’t prove verbal consent unless there was a recording of the act or there were third party witnesses. Which, for obvious reasons, there usually are not. AC laws do absolutely nothing to solve the “your word against mine” problem.

            HeelBearCub: The problem is that “explicit nonverbal communication” is an oxymoron.

          • DrBeat says:

            Yes, AC laws do not protect you if you have verbal consent.

            They also don’t protect you if you have written consent, as your partner can claim they rescinded it after signing.

            AC advocates do not recognize any form of consent. But they ESPECIALLY don’t recognize nonverbal consent.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            You also can’t prove verbal consent unless there was a recording of the act or there were third party witnesses. Which, for obvious reasons, there usually are not.

            Sound recording is quite practical. A little keyring ‘spy recorder’ can be a personal Black Box all day, recording classes, conferences, etc, and when the clothes come off and the keychain is laid down, it keeps recording unless you remember to turn it off.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            If in the course of making out I place my hand on the top button of my partner’s shirt and then my partner unbuttons it and and guides my hand to the next button and I unbutton it and then she takes off her shirt and guides my hand to her breast, that is explicit non-verbal consent for the fondling of said breast. Especially when accompanied by excitement in the eyes, nodding of the head, etc.

          • Jos says:

            @HeelBearCub: Non-verbal consent is possible – the problem is that your reasonableness is going to be judged by a third party retroactively. In your story, either your or your girlfriend may have misinterpreted the level of consent, or may not be able to prove consent retroactively.

            In the Brandeis case, one of the issues was that when the two guys were first making out, the accused put the accuser’s hand on the accused’s crotch (with pants on). After that, the two of them had a 21 month relationship and year or so after THAT, a Brandeis investigator determined that the accuser hadn’t consented to that original move.

          • chris says:

            “If in the course of making out I place my hand on the top button of my partner’s shirt and then my partner unbuttons it and and guides my hand to the next button and I unbutton it and then she takes off her shirt and guides my hand to her breast, that is explicit non-verbal consent for the fondling of said breast. Especially when accompanied by excitement in the eyes, nodding of the head, etc.”

            “and guides my hand to the next button and I unbutton it”

            Only had consent to place your hand on the button, not to unbutton it.


            You are reasoning that based on past actions of what she has consented to do, i.e. she is making out with you and has consented to do so with one button undone, that she has therefore consented to have you unbutton the next button, but

            1) under affirmative consent, past consent cannot be used to imply future consent.

            2) therefore your unbuttoning of her shirt was, at least for the period of time between

            a) you unbuttoning it and
            b) her taking her shirt off,

            sexual assault/rape,

            as for the time between a) and b) you did not have her affirmative consent.

            Perhaps you could term this, “rape of the gaps?”

          • NN says:

            Sound recording is quite practical. A little keyring ‘spy recorder’ can be a personal Black Box all day, recording classes, conferences, etc, and when the clothes come off and the keychain is laid down, it keeps recording unless you remember to turn it off.

            In some states, recording someone without their consent is illegal. But then I’ve also heard rumors that some college students have started recording their sexual encounters regardless because whatever penalties that could get them will still be better than a rape charge or getting kicked out of college.

            Legal issues aside, I have to agree with Ever An Anon above: what’s the use of proving you’re not a criminal if you live in a big prison already?

    • chris says:

      There is something to stop spontaneous passion. It’s called saying no.

  37. Wouter says:

    > Dutch people swear using diseases.

    Strangely enough, Flemmish people do not commonly do this, despite ostentably speaking the same language.

    I was talking to a Dutchman lately, in Dutch, and he said
    “I used to work for a cancer institute”.
    “What was wrong with it?”
    “No, I meant a literal cancer institute, they studied cancer.”

    • lambdaphagy says:

      Flemish insults are way better though. I once heard “gij ellendig stuk verdriet”, or “you wretched piece of sadness”.

      It’s a kind of see-the-world-in-a-grain-of-sand thing about Belgium.

  38. Douglas Knight says:

    Everyone knows that teacher evaluations are almost pure measures of easiness. Which is why, say, has a separate measures, including an explicit “easiness” measure. It would be interesting to know whether the other measures actually measure anything different. Of course, colleges ask about “clarity” and “helpfulness,” too, but fewer scales and one of them explicitly “easiness” may help distinguish them.

    I’ve heard of simpler studies of several teachers teaching in parallel to the same test. I believe that there were negative correlations between grades and ratings, opposite to the usual trend. Those rated as worse teachers produced better results, presumably by making the class appear difficult and causing to the students to work harder.

    • DavidS says:

      Is this actually demonstrated somewhere, or just your impression? It would surprise me a little because when kids talk about which teachers are ‘good’, in my experience they tend to regard pushover teachers with a fair degree of contempt a lot of the time, and say that stricter, more challenging teachers are better – so long as strict doesn’t tip over into just being mean.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Does this correlate with how the students fill out surveys? Or is this information that is shared anecdotally less likely to be reported perhaps because the rating boils down to how satisfied the student is, whereas a more open-ended question yields more nuanced answers?

        For example, if someone rates a sales associate, it seems like, if the sales person has the ability to change prices, it may boil down to (how happy am I with the price I got).

  39. Evan Þ says:

    If The Machines Are Taking Our Jobs, They Are Hiding It From The Bureau Of Labor Statistics.

    Oh, but you know how the Bureau of Labor Statistics calculate those numbers?

    Computers. Which are machines.

    The conspiracy goes deeper than it appears!

    • Desertopa says:

      Actually, I looked for a bit, and couldn’t find a clear explanation of how they calculate them, and based on a couple of the books I’ve read around this issue, it seems plausible that if they’re based on, say, GDP, that the figures actually are failing to account for changes in business structure, particularly related to Big Data, where a large part of the economic activity of businesses is drawn from uncompensated non-employees.

  40. anon says:

    Shouldn’t the course evaluation thing also make you more skeptical of *students’* grades? If students learn less from professors that have higher reviews, and professors that give lower grades get worse reviews, then an A is a signal that a student took classes from higher-grading and thus less useful professors. (Of course, then they go on to get a lower grade in their next class, so maybe it balances out)

    • suntzuanime says:

      Maybe having a good professor makes them used to being taught well and therefore when they have a worse professor in the next class they find it hard to engage with the material and therefore get worse grades. Whereas students with bad professors learn all sorts of valuable study skills as a matter of necessity, which then serve them well in future classes.

      This suggests we should front-load the bad teachers into the early parts of a student’s career, to maximize the impact of good teachers + good study skills. This seems to accord with my own experience of college.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        If a “bad” teacher causes the acquisition of study skills, in what sense is the teacher “bad”? Sure, there could be diminishing returns to this, better deployed early in the career, but is there any reason to believe that the “good” teacher is better in any dimension of teaching?

        • suntzuanime says:

          “Bad” in the sense that you learn nothing from their teaching and have to struggle outside of class on your own to learn the necessary material. Yes, all bad things are good for you inasmuch as they teach you valuable coping skills.

          • onyomi says:

            I think only a small percentage of students respond to bad teaching by upping their learning game. And those who do are probably the students who were talented and/or enthusiastic enough to have learned even more from a good teacher, given that teaching work habits, research methods, etc. is often a major part of teaching.

          • psychorecycled says:

            @onyomi I am not sure that I agree: a lot of people (in my experience) did up their studying game in their first year of university, which was largely driven by a shift in how they were being taught.

            I think it’s also worth noting that it’s simply easier to teach well at a higher level. Getting good reviews when you’re teaching 300 people is harder than getting good reviews when you’re teaching 30 people, because teaching 30 people effectively is much easier than teaching 300 people.

            Some sort of normalization of teaching evaluations would be interesting. I’d be surprised if it didn’t happen, but I’d be interested in the algorithm–are some subjects known to be harder to teach in a manner that gets good reviews? Do reviews generally go down when you’re teaching 300 people? Are individuals teaching a class for the first time given more leeway than someone teaching the same class for the third time?

          • Douglas Knight says:

            People get better reviews teaching higher level classes, even if they are the same size.

  41. LTP says:

    I need to work on my self confidence. I got the right answer on Cheryl’s birthday puzzle, then doubted myself and switched right before I checked the answer *facepalm*

  42. DrBeat says:

    Those Jewish ritual laws are ridiculous. Trying to bypass them is even more ridiculous.

    People who engage in this sort of malarkey seem to believe God is some kind of fairy-tale goblin who will try to jump out of the bushes and grab ya, but if you say the magic words he just snaps his fingers and goes “Oooooooooh!” in frustration. Like, if you honestly think that God telling you not to light fires on the Sabbath means you can never complete an electrical circuit, then you should actually like that is a thing GOD IS DEMANDING OF YOU, not a rule you can cleverly find a loophole in.

    Like, if God really says you cannot carry any physical object to a place on the Sabbath, you really think the kind of deity who makes that rule is going to be impressed when you tell Him “Ah, but I blessed some string and ran it along the telephone lines all around the neighborhood, so it all counts as one big place”? He’s going to smite the piss right out of you. If God doesn’t want you to tell other people to turn on a lightswitch, loudly complaining about the darkness in a non-Jew’s direction is not some kind of uncrackable code. God can figure that out. You expect Him to be impressed? “Good job, My son, you figured out the loophole! HE SOLVED THE TALMUD! HEY, URIEL, C’MERE, THIS GUY SOLVED THE TALMUD!”

    • Jiro says:

      Like, if God really says you cannot carry any physical object to a place on the Sabbath, you really think the kind of deity who makes that rule is going to be impressed when you tell Him “Ah, but I blessed some string and ran it along the telephone lines all around the neighborhood, so it all counts as one big place”?

      Why not?

      I mean, what do you mean by “that kind of deity”? Did you perhaps know some other deities, and assume that since they wouldn’t allow loopholes in laws, neither would this one? (Jews don’t believe there are other deities) Did you think “if a human were to make up such laws, he probably wouldn’t let you get away with loopholes” (why should God act like a human?) Or are you thinking that because you’ve read fantasy novels about gods that don’t allow loopholes, you assume that since this God sounds sort of like those, he won’t allow loopholes either? (I hope you can see the flaw in that idea)

      • Anonymous says:

        Wait. Your basic objection is that someone has thoughts on what a deity would be like.

        • Irrelevant says:

          No, his basic objection is that someone is weighting their thoughts about what a deity would be like with a preposterously unwarranted level of certainty.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        The god of the OT seems like he is a pretty harsh master. It seems reasonable to believe that if such a god existed, he would not take to kindly to people trying to wiggle around his laws.

        • Brad says:

          I speak as a Christian, but here goes:

          I would say he’s a master who is dealing with harsh realities. (Let it be understood that God, being the most high, can do anything that is actually possible, and not that which is logically impossible, in case anyone starts wondering about the Omnipotence paradox.)

          For example, I am of the opinion that his commands regarding the temple and ark of the covenant were stringent, at least in part, for the same reason protocols regarding the handling of radioactive material would be stringent in a modern context – because in both cases, incorrectly handling the materials in question is dangerous.

          In the case of say, the Ark – which could kill someone incorrectly handling the object, which is recorded as having happened – the ark was deadly to human beings because the ark was holy, and humans beings, being sinful, cannot stand in the presence of that which is holy without consequence – much in the same way I cannot stand in the path of gamma radiation without consequence.

          You are quite right that God does not appreciate those wriggling around his laws, and I think it oddly serendipitous that one of the recurring ways this tension is revealed in the Gospels is when the Jesus Christ encounters opposition for doing miracles and good works on the sabbath – here is an example from Matthew 12:

          >9 Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10 and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

          >11 He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

          >13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.

          The law’s purpose then, is to help us understand the nature of God’s standards for holiness. The New Testament indicates that the old testament law act as a “schoolmaster” (c.f. Galatians 3:24), and it’s function is to make it clear to human beings that no mere human being can justify himself before God by his own meritorious works, since no-one can actually keep the law of God perfectly, except God himself.

          This is notion of the severity of the law is actually quite evident in Jesus’s teachings on the sermon on the mount, which actually increase the strictness of the law, rather than loosening it. For one example (of which there are many) from Matthew 5:

          >27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

          …This command is actually far more restrictive than the mosaic law’s prohibitions, and if taken serious, would indicate that essentially everyone is guilty of adultery. This is indicating something about the nature of man (everyone is guilty of sin) and of the nature of the solution (turning to God in faith, throwing oneself on the mercies of God in Christ Jesus.) That all men are guilty and deserve death is the reason we are saved by the atoning death of Christ on the cross as a substitute for those who believe on his name, since Christ kept the law perfectly.

          In the case of harsh commands, it should also be understood that the old testament laws also have a prophetic component. For example, the ark itself, previously mentioned, almost seems to be a prophetic type of the church in the new, since the ark itself A: was holy, as the church is to be holy, B: contained the law of God written on the stone tablets Moses brought from down from the mountain, just as the law of God is written on the hearts of believers in the new covenant via the Holy Spirit (c.f. Jeremiah 31:33, Ezekiel 36:26, Jeremiah 24:7, 2 Corinthians 3:3, among other locations).

          In other words, the law acts as a means to indicate the sickness of the human spirit to people, by showing their failure to live to it’s standard, but Christ himself functions as the actual cure to the disease, the one can verify that the cure has been taken by seeing if an individual is exhibiting the fruit of the spirit – see Galatians 5:19-26, starting at verses 22.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            This made me think of Growth Mindset experiments.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            All of which has little application to Jewish rabbinical dictates.

            Clearly this is something you are passionate about, but it hardly seems relevant to bring Jesus/NT into this.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Only if you’re thinking of Christianity as a completely separate thing from Judaism. if you think of it as not only a branch of the Jewish tradition, then it seems very relevant to the current discussion that Jesus explicitly took a dim view of rules-lawyering, and his sect turned out to be by far the most successful.

          • HeelBearCub says:


            I don’t think so. We are debating whether this rabbinical tradition is internally consistent, not whether it is “better” or “worse” than a radical sectarian offshoot’s “new” tradition.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            No, the rabbinical tradition is the new one.

    • FullMetaRationalist says:


      “… aww, man!”

    • notes says:

      Question the assumption about the origin of the commands.

      If you really believe God said something, then figuring out precisely what was said should be fairly high on the priority list. And once you’ve done that, there will inevitably be some things which looked like they were required or prohibited, but actually aren’t. At which point you’re free to avoid them or do them with a clear conscience.

      Of course, if you’re careful and conscientious, and not perfectly confident in your (or your favorite rabbi’s) ability to discern precisely what God said, perhaps you’d make up a set of rules that, while they may not be precisely what God commanded, are definitely stricter — so that if you keep them, you don’t have to worry about fine points of interpretation. (As was in fact done).

      Of course, at that point, you’re no longer following God’s explicit commandments, but rather keeping a minimum safe distance from those commandments as determined according to a set of theological health-and-safety regulations written by rabbis, which have in turn accreted their own layers of ‘what precisely does this mean’ and ‘therefore, let’s adopt this broader prophylactic rule.’ At which point, well… why not split hairs when trying to understand them? It’s all a balancing act over how wide the minimum safe distance should be from the actual underlying divine command.

      Kindling a fire happens to be one of the few prohibitions that is explicit, rather than inferred, and even there the original citation talks about kindling a fire where you live. Figuring out the precise meaning of that is hard; much is at stake (if you believe it to be a command from God). So the usual conclusion is that it’s much safer to avoid kindling any fires on the Sabbath… which takes us back round into rabbinically created minimum safe distances from violating direct divine commands.

      To put it more clearly, you end with a rhetorical question about whether God would be impressed by someone looking for loopholes in Jewish ritual law. Recognize that most of Jewish ritual law is written by rabbis, and re-ask the question: would a rabbi be impressed by someone thinking carefully and precisely about Jewish ritual law?

      (That said, sure: plenty of self-interested loophole searching. The light switch wants to be causal enough for people to use it deliberately, acausal enough to satisfy those who take electricity to violate kindling. Not a plausible double act).

      • This. The Jewish halachic laws aren’t themselves the divine commands of the Torah; they’re a stricter implementation meant to ensure that the laws themselves are never violated.

      • Montfort says:

        If you know that the “minimum safe distance” guidelines are necessarily stricter than the actual guidelines you’re supposed to follow, but not precisely how much stricter they are, wouldn’t rules-lawyering remain inherently dangerous?

        Unless, I suppose, you are very confident in your favorite rabbi’s ability to write exactly what they meant with literally zero loopholes.

        (And, as an aside, the question is still whether God would be impressed by your interpretations of rabbinical interpretations of the law. Not that it necessarily changes the answer.)

        • notes says:

          Rules-lawyering around a minimum safe distance is dangerous, yes. Having a excessively wide minimum safe distance carries dangers of its own, hence the rabbinical catchall exception ‘unless necessary to save a life.’ That’s a good savings clause, but there are other dangers and other losses which it doesn’t cover.

          People balance risks like that all the time over minimum safe distances for things that will get you killed, despite the fact that it’s far easier to test whether X will kill someone than whether Y will damn someone. Like pretty much everything else people do, some of those balancings are sincere; some are pretextual.

          Would God be impressed by interpretations of rabbinical interpretations of divine commands? Predicting God is a difficult question. There are arguments that the answer is yes, arguments that the answer is ‘only certain styles/circumstances of interpretation’, arguments that the answer is ‘only certain interpretative results’, and arguments that the answer is no. (Also, other arguments).

          The answer to that question depends entirely on what ‘the kind of deity who makes that rule’ must be. The thing, is that’s the exact question that motivates all of those interpretations and prophylactic ritual laws.

          What’s the alternative to thinking about that question? Assuming the answer? Abandoning the question?

          Given those three (exhaustive?) alternatives, which do you think God would be impressed by?

          • Montfort says:

            In regards to the question, I was only trying to express my hope that believers would care more about God’s opinion than any particular rabbi’s. I honestly have no conception of what God might be impressed by.

            I can agree that the inability to test whether a behavior damns someone will often make the typical person more likely to repeat the behavior. It makes motivated reasoning easier.

            However, I think that puts sincere workarounds of divine law on much more shaky ground than, say, standing ten feet inside a bomb’s standoff distance. Specifically, you can get an idea of how much that ten feet costs – an extra 1% casualties, maybe. And you can compare that figure to your other priorities, like not having to evacuate a patient on a ventilator from a hospital. But you can’t make that calculation anywhere near as well with divine law, because you have almost no information about the risk you’re running. There are a few cases where you could justify such a thing, especially if different rules conflict, but it would need to be very compelling.

            I guess what I’m trying to say is that the mind that states “these laws are very important and hard to interpret, so I will keep a minimum safe distance around them” does not seem consistent with the mind that says “but I will sometimes interpret these extra guidelines in ways that may conflict with their spirit or intent”. I guess that’s probably because in many cases these are (at least) two different people, but the combination of these different approaches to risk looks odd to me.

          • notes says:

            Sincere believers are absolutely more concerned about contravening a divine command than a rabbinical pronouncement: that’s why they’ve tried to arrange it so that they’re running balancing tests only on rabbinical pronouncements, which are all intended to be safe harbors for the actual divine laws.

            You’re correct that trying to discuss intent gets fuzzy when discussing a group, particularly one without any means of making binding decisions for its members… but those two minds can quite plausibly exist in the same person. Consider how it looks if your second proposed mind-state is rephrased as “but I will sometimes interpret these extra guidelines in ways that may conflict with [someone else’s idea of] their spirit or intent?” Does the combination still look odd?

            For that matter, rules-lawyering gets an undeservedly bad reputation: insincere rules-lawyering deserves it, but sincere rules-lawyering is one of the basic tasks of a rabbi. Or a judge.

    • rsaarelm says:

      If God doesn’t want you to tell other people to turn on a lightswitch, loudly complaining about the darkness in a non-Jew’s direction is not some kind of uncrackable code. God can figure that out. You expect Him to be impressed? “Good job, My son, you figured out the loophole! HE SOLVED THE TALMUD! HEY, URIEL, C’MERE, THIS GUY SOLVED THE TALMUD!”

      Aren’t they pretty explicit about thinking it’s exactly like this, since there’s stuff like the “My children have defeated me” story.

      • Deiseach says:

        I think God does like seeing how creative His people can get. I always love the reading at Mass when we get the one where Abraham bargains God down from fifty to ten righteous in order to spare Sodom. It makes me laugh, and I think it made God laugh too (coaxing Abraham step by step to ask for mercy even if he didn’t dare do it outright).

        You call it rules-lawyering, we call it casuistry 🙂

        • Clockwork Marx says:

          I think I’m going to imagine Abraham as Saul Goodman from now on.

        • Irrelevant says:

          Was reading that recently due to Baltimore, and kept wondering how it ends if Abraham goes a step further and bids down to one.

          • Katherine says:

            Then the next story doesn’t make sense.

            Speaking of: Would you consider it accurate to say that Lot’s wife was turned into a salt lick because she didn’t come up with a compelling enough pretext for turning around?

          • Brad says:

            You’re missing this aspect of the story: God would spare the city if indeed, there were 10 righteous. The cities destruction, then, indicates there were *not even 10 righteous*, which is supposed to tell us something both about the wickedness of human nature and the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah specifically.

            I’m reminded of this passage in Luke 13:

            >Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

        • HeelBearCub says:

          The god of the OT may be amused, but it’s definitely in the “pulling wings off a fly” kind if way.

          The stories reinforce the idea that humans fate is largely capricious in nature.

      • “My children have defeated me,” assuming the reference is to the Furnace of Akhnai, isn’t about the Jews using tricks to get around the rules. It’s about the Jews taking the position that interpreting the law is their job now and so ignoring divine intervention in support of the minority opinion. Presumably the implication is that that is what God wanted them to do.

        But it is, in other ways, a puzzling story.

    • Honestly, I get the impression that Jews go through these sort of mental contortions because they enjoy them. The idea that god would get mad about creative solutions seems not to really be part of the faith.

    • Irrelevant says:

      Meanwhile in Seventh-Day Adventism, rules-lawyering about what you can do on the Sabbath is probably the only thing everyone agrees you’re not supposed to do on the Sabbath.

      • Wanderer2323 says:

        Would be great if “rules-lawyering about what you can do on the Sabbath” is only thing explicitly *allowed* to do on the Sabbath, while everything else a theological fair game if you can lawyer your way into it…

        • Irrelevant says:

          I don’t think that rule would be sufficient to create an interesting game by itself.

          As-is, the dominant strategy is to pursue a career in emergency medicine.

    • anon says:

      Sir, that was a great comment.

    • Wanderer2323 says:

      Arguing that the ‘reason’ behind the command is unknowable by humans, there is an equal probability between God being angry at rules-lawyering (you argue this case), indifferent to it or finding it the best way to go about his commands (clever use of game mechanics, bonus points for you).

    • FJ says:

      I find the rules-lawyering fascinating, and I’m not sure exactly how I feel about it.

      (Disclosure: I am not Jewish in any sense, but I am a lawyer; the remainder of this comment is about law, which I know something about, not Judaism, which I don’t.)

      In my practice I tend to be on the opposite side of guys who (a) are representing themselves, (b) have access to legal materials but little formal training, and (c) have powerful incentives for motivated reasoning about the law. So you can imagine what happens: a lot of claims that are predicated on extremely peculiar hair-splitting and an almost charming belief in the power of “magic words.” Example: the self-represented guy notices that a date on a form was mistyped “5/9/25,” and he claims that the form is a forgery that exposes the malevolent conspiracy against him and/or has no legal effect until the year 2025.

      Obviously that’s not how man-made law works: a typo is a typo and nobody is going to throw a case out because of a typo. On the other hand, there are plenty of distinctions that might seem hair-splitting to a layperson, but to a lawyer are very important. Example: there’s a big tax difference between buying an airplane, versus buying an airplane, immediately selling it to a shell corporation, and leasing it back from the shell corporation. There are reasons for the different treatment, of course, and if you are very familiar with the history of a legal rule you can often figure out the logic behind it (not that you will necessarily *agree* with the logic, but you can figure it out).

      I probably take these pro se guys too seriously, because they are engaged in very motivated reasoning and at least some of their confusion is simply not reasonable. E.g., I had a 40-something guy claim that he should get the benefit of a special, more forgiving rule available only to children and teenagers because, and I quote, “age is only a number.” Nevertheless, I’m not sure how well-founded it is to distinguish between silly hair-splitting and genuinely important distinctions. As strange as I find the kosher light switch, I know that plenty of the distinctions I find to be very important do not pass the laugh test among laypeople.

      • Doug S. says:

        There’s a saying that someone once made up: “You can’t hack the law.” In other words, the law is not like a computer program. A computer does exactly what its code says and only what its code says, but if you find a “bug” or an “exploit” in a law using a clever argument, a judge will just look at you and say “That’s nice” and tell you to shut up and do what the law was supposed to say in the first place. (Usually.)

        • notes says:

          It depends.

          The most courts in America cover both law and equity, and so if it looks like someone is twisting the law (particularly for personal advantage!), then it’s quite likely that a judge will find a way to rule against them. (Consider Aereo).

          The trick is to present a thoughtful argument that implies that there’s no ‘hacking’ involved, just a choice of different ways to extend time-tested principles into the present day, and there are good reasons to choose this extension…

        • TheNybbler says:

          Unfortunately, that allows for a lot of bias on the judge’s part. The judge merely needs to accept such hair-splitting on one side, but strike it down with “you know what we meant” on the other. Same goes for procedural issues; being lax on one side and ridiculously strict on the other allows the judge to put a big fat thumb on the scales of justice.

          • notes says:

            Absolutely true.

            No one’s yet found a way for a legal system to be free from potential bias (though we’ve certainly discovered ways to make legal systems more biased, opaque, arbitrary, and corrupt!).

            Interpretation certainly looks like an inherently ineradicable problem. Imprecise standards are vulnerable to abuse of discretion; even the clearest black-letter law is subject to hair-splitting.

            That said, there have some clever attempts to minimize the problem, ranging from jury trials to turning the judiciary into a semi-clerical order to separating the legislative, judicial, and executive functions.

            Having judges sit in law and equity both is another of those attempts.

          • I’m interested in the general problem of how to make law enforcement mechanisms incentive compatible, how to make it in the interest of courts and police to arrest and convict the guilty but not the innocent, and the further problem of how to give legislators incentives to create good law.

            One answer is to set up mechanisms where individuals choose what legal rules to be under. The obvious example is arbitration of contract disputes. The arbitrator wants a reputation that will make firms choose to select him in advance to arbitrate any disputes that come up between them. That means a reputation for decisions which maximize the summed benefit to the firms. In _The Machinery of Freedom_, I sketch a more radical version of that approach, one that covers all of law.

            A different approach, which I discuss in the draft of my current book project, is to make deterrence a private good. If we assume that potential criminals are well informed about their profession, I get more deterrence by prosecuting and convicting someone actually guilty of robbing me than by prosecuting and convicting whatever person is easiest to convict. My example there was the 18th c. English system of private prosecution of crime.

            My draft is webbed for comments at:


          • notes says:

            David Friedman… small world!

            Greatly liked Harald, the handling of dialogue in particular. Had been unaware of Salamander.

            Exit and voice are the two usual approaches to aligning incentives, and though voice (and its refinement, setting faction against faction) has been given several elaborations, it’s been harder to do the same for exit. You’re not wrong that it was not always thus, and perhaps it’s time for everything old to be new again… though the choice of laws problem would be formidable. Still, surveying history opens a universe much wider than the contemporary consensus!

            (Amused and pleased to see the cite to Van Gulik, given his better-known historical fiction).

        • PGD says:

          I think business law and tax law can be hacked. When there is a lot of money at stake for some reason judges become more sympathetic to arguments that abide by the letter and not the spirit of the law.

          • notes says:

            Or the reverse!

            Mostly depending on where the stakes lie. Consider the case of the Barnes collection: that was a judge opting for a particular interpretation of the spirit of the trust, to the considerable financial advantage of some, and at complete odds to the letter.

            Law is a remarkable ideal… but it isn’t more than those who write, interpret, and enforce it.

    • Paul Torek says:

      I sympathize. Either the supposed God has some degree of similarity to humans psychologically, or none. If the former, the kind of reasoning you engage in here is on the right track, even if the details are debatable. If the latter, then all inferences about God’s desires are invalid, even “God’s book says we should do X, therefore God wants us to do X.”

    • Tracy W says:

      I understand that Judaism maintains that God created the universe and all the animals in it. And thus was responsible for the design of the mammalian body, which, amongst other things, places the sewage line through the playground.

      Compared with this universe, fairy-tale goblins sound perfectly logical and reasonable.

      • onyomi says:

        I often hear this objection to intelligent design, but I don’t understand it. What sorts of problems does this create and how else would you design it? Put the sex organs in your foot? Having semen and urine pass through the same tube in men seems pretty efficient and harmless to me, nor does the vagina’s proximity to the urethra and anus create any problems I can think of (also, you actually want to get some poop on your baby as it comes out because that gives it the bacteria it needs to develop healthy gut flora). I don’t believe in intelligent design, it’s just that this particular objection doesn’t strike me as persuasive.

        • Tracy W says:

          Speaking as someone who has given birth, the anal tearing was not fun.

          • Tracy W says:

            @onyomi: Uterine replicators. I re-read the Vorkosigan saga during my second pregnancy and kept wondering why on earth I didn’t opt for them, until I remembered I was reading SF.

            We’re talking about a God who could have designed the universe anyway he wanted, not someone bound by the normal laws of nature.

          • onyomi says:

            But this is shifting the conversation. We’re not talking about “how would God design the universe and the human body to maximize human happiness,” we’re talking about, “given the world of 100,000 years ago, when humans evolved, how would you have designed humans to survive and reproduce in that environment?”

          • Cauê says:

            It is trivial enough to think of improvements that I’m afraid I’m missing the point of the question.

          • Tracy W says:

            @onyomi, I’m fairly sure I’m talking about how God designed the universe: my very first sentence included the phrase “Judaism maintains God created the universe…”

            And I’m not talking about designing the human body to maximise human happiness, I’m talking about the universe’s design indicating that God has a nasty sense of humour (the one thing that makes me like him. Still want those uterine replicators though).

          • James Picone says:

            Onyomi: Path dependence has been pointed out, and it’s probably the reason this very simple problem never ended up being done right – eyes are the wrong way around, forcing light to go through a layer of blood-supplying cells to get to the light-sensitive cells, leaving a huge hole where the nerve attaches.

            Meanwhile, all cephalopod eyes have them the other way around – light-sensing cells on the light-facing side, blood supply and nerve connection on the other side. So it’s certainly possible.

            There’s no reason for an intelligent designer to make the eye wrong-way-around.

          • Brad says:

            >There’s no reason for an intelligent designer to make the eye wrong-way-around.

            Says *who*?

            (This is more of my comment on the comment chain in general:)

            It’s pointed out, repeatedly, in other places, that it’s weird to make to quick an assumption about how a creator would necessarily want us to interpret his rules. So, that being said, why do you guys constantly assume that you can engineer a “better” biological system for life, as though the purpose of life was solely to make us comfortable?

            If anything, – and again, I can only speak from my Christian perspective – if the purpose of life, at a minimum, includes the goal of (as I suspect it does) teaching free beings the wisdom of obeying God and/or the foolishness of disobeying God, then having biological failure-states in the event of disobedience is *exactly* what one would expect to see in our biological systems.

            In other words, it would be incorrect to say a police car is not designed well because it has no handles for the backseat passenger doors – unless you were making an assumption about its intended use (comfort for passengers) when it’s actual purpose is different (transporting criminals.) (Considering what the bible says about anthropology, this metaphor is rather on the nose – Genesis 6:5 comes to mind.)

            Likewise, you guys are complaining about childbirth being poorly designed when the bible *literally* indicates that childbirth was purposefully made painful as part of the curse of Adam – please see genesis 3:16.

            Maybe you should consider, seriously, the possibility that God has a different goal than simply designing all biological systems to be as comfortable as possible at all times.

          • Cauê says:

            Brad, this conversation is about something a bit different. Quoting onyomi upthread:

            But this is shifting the conversation. We’re not talking about “how would God design the universe and the human body to maximize human happiness,” we’re talking about, “given the world of 100,000 years ago, when humans evolved, how would you have designed humans to survive and reproduce in that environment?”

          • Jaskologist says:

            Complaints about the eye being backwards or upside-down are basically just aesthetic complaints. Why should God care if you think the eye is upside down? It clearly works quite well.

            But more to the point:

            While such a construct has some drawbacks, it also allows the outer retina of the vertebrates to sustain higher metabolic activities as compared to the non-inverted design. It also allowed for the evolution of the choroid layer, including the retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells, which play an important role in protecting the photoreceptive cells from photo-oxidative damage.

            When encountering a design in nature that makes you say “huh, that’s funny,” you should be looking at what advantage it confers that you’re missing, not dismissing it as a dumb design.

          • James Picone says:

            Jaskologist: The eye being backwards has real negative effects, like the fuckoff huge blindspot in the middle of your vision and associated cognitive machinery to compensate for it, generally reduced sensitivity to light, and some medical issues.

            The reason I referenced cephalopod eyes is because they’re a living, squishing example demonstrating that right-way-around eyes work perfectly fine. Yes, there are refinements possible with the inverted setup, but I’d be very surprised if such refinements aren’t possible in the right-way-around case, or they’re not particularly important, because again, squid and octopus get by on this, and some of them need pretty good eyesight.

          • Jaskologist says:

            We’re way outside my area of expertise at this time, but lightly skimming the literature, we’ve got the following:

            The “backwards” eye design allows for better protection of the eye from photo-oxidative damage. In other words, protection from light-induced damage, the kind of thing exposure to direct sunlight would cause. This is one of the most common causes of retinal damage for humans.

            This comes with trade-offs, of course. Should it really surprise us that a class of organisms which lives underwater, and therefore receives solar radiation in a far more filtered form, would have weighted that trade-off differently from surface-dwellers?

          • Cauê says:

            I rather like the giraffe laryngeal nerve thing.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            The forwards and backwards eye designs both evolved under water.

          • Alexander Stanislaw says:

            James, the reduced sensitivity to light is a good thing. You’d be blind in daylight otherwise. (most of the reduced sensitivity to light is not due to the “backwards” design though – its due to the use of cones).

            More importantly, the retina can already detect 1 photon, what would a “better” design allow for functionally? You mentioned medical issues, what do you mean? And why would medical issues not exist in the “right way around” case?

        • Sometimes sex gives people (especially those with vaginas) urinary tract infections. Urinary tract infections are pretty awful.

          • onyomi says:

            So sex and childbirth are not risk-free with the current design. I still can’t think of a better one. Can you?

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            A better one? Leave the sewage line where it is, put the playground somewhere else. That would eliminate accidental pregnancy, too (except for the very perverse).

          • onyomi says:

            Somewhere else? Like where? Cannot use up more energy or space than is currently expended to build and maintain said systems.

            In terms of survival of the species, unwanted pregnancies are a net positive. I realize this is almost like an anti-evolution argument based on an evolutionary premise (that survival and reproduction are the key), but the question is, can you design a better machine for surviving and reproducing on the Earth of 100,000 years ago than evolution already “designed” for us? I think in almost all cases, the answer is, “you don’t fully understand why it is that way,” and/or “you are assuming a world in which energy is not incredibly scarce, as it was then.”

            An arguably better example I’ve heard is: why aren’t our nostrils located in our neck, connecting directly to our trachea? This would effectively eliminate the possibility of choking on food or drink. Then again, there may be other things I’m not considering, such as using the whole nasal cavity and mouth space for air filtration, or, perhaps, the nose being a better location for swimming, etc.

          • Cauê says:

            Evolution is path-dependent, and doesn’t have access to most possible designs.

            Even if we stick to small modifications to the basic human form in answering this question, instead of going all-out, many possibilities still come readily to mind:

            – A form of childbirth that doesn’t torture/hurt/kill mothers as often (the losses are large enough that fixing it could cost a little energy or space and still be worth it);
            – Additional sets of teeth in adulthood so people don’t die from inability to eat;
            – Either proper useful nails or none at all;
            – Either everyone goes bald because it’s useful or nobody does because it’s not;
            – Same for having facial hair;
            – No point in letting men also risk developing breast cancer…

            I’m not a doctor nor a biologist, but I feel like this could go on.

          • Irrelevant says:

            1. The more development time/larger head size tradeoffs are apparently always worth it even with the increased risk of death.
            2. I have no objection here.
            3. Our nails are protective even if they are not weapons-grade, and they are not resource-intensive to maintain. Net positive.
            4. Baldness is an evolutionarily-irrelevant side effect of other traits which vary in the population for good reason.
            5. See above.
            6. Ability to code the male body as a developmental digression from the female default is a reason.

          • Cauê says:

            We are speaking of a designer who’s presumably able to take the whole thing apart and do it again as they see fit. The objections apply to evolution but not really to this scenario (also, in this scenario, my list looks ridiculously unimaginative).

            (also, 3: They accumulate filth, and break with manual work, creating exposed wounds – or are kept so small as to not be protective. 5: I was thinking men/women, mostly)

          • onyomi says:

            Re. baldness: it is a trait, like square jaws, hairy chests, etc. which code as “male, mature, strong, provider,” as opposed to “female, youthful, fertile, in need of protection, etc.” If a division between men and women is advantageous, why might not a division among men and/or women also be advantageous? It would seem strange to say, for example, that all men should either have big, square features or small, delicate features, or that all men should be either very tall or very short.

            Re childbirth, I can only think of a few alternatives, all of which have significant drawbacks:

            1. Don’t be so smart–smaller head, easier birth. Drawbacks: obvious

            2. Have a bigger birth canal. Drawbacks: increased chance of prolapse, hernia, infection, etc. due to bigger gap

            3. Give birth to the child sooner. Drawbacks: newborn requires even more intensive care for an even longer period or else has to be incubated in some kind of kangaroo sack which requires a whole new set of structures just for that purpose.

            I do understand the underlying idea that evolution can’t redesign things “from the ground up,” but I also think the solutions evolution has come up with are far more elegant than people are giving credit for.

            I say this also because, thus far, people are mostly pointing out problems (“childbirth should be easier,” “the playground shouldn’t be near the sewer,” etc.), without offering any solutions applicable to the world we evolved in. And I think this is because evolution is *much* “smarter” than us.

            I think most of what we currently perceive as poor design for our bodies is actually just a mismatch between our bodies and our modern world, not a failure of evolution (except insofar as evolution isn’t fast enough to have adapted us to the modern world yet).

            If I seem to belabor the point, it’s not just because I think intelligent design is not as stupid a position as it initially seems to we who grow up learning about evolution (though I am still confident it’s wrong), but, more importantly, because I think the incredible elegance and sophistication of evolution is something people really need to keep in mind when it comes to medical intervention and related fields.

            The best medical interventions, like vaccines, are ones which help your body do something it already knows how to do (by showing it examples of dead viruses, for example). In cases where we think we know better than the body, we are tempted to go hacking off bits we perceive as useless, or trying to adjust hormones, etc. where we think we can do better. When a body part or inflammatory response or whatever seems to be stupid or useless it usually means we just don’t understand it yet. There is an analogy here to those times when you think the ends justify the means but they probably don’t. This doesn’t mean you don’t cut off the appendix when it’s going to kill you, but it does mean more though may be in order about why the appendix exists (may be as a store of extra gut flora) and why appendicitis may happen (may be low fiber diet, unnatural elimination position, etc).

            This is a kind of conservative, arguably pessimistic viewpoint, but since, imo, it’s true, I think it’s one we have to grapple with. Something like biological anti-utopianism.

          • Jaskologist says:

            That’s nothing. Just be glad you guys don’t have cloaca.

            It is important for bodies to minimize as much as possible the number of holes in them, and they have evolved accordingly. The relative locations of those holes also seems to be pretty consistent across species, and probably also for good reason.

          • Cauê says:

            The reason the suggestions are looking underwhelming is that people are being too conservative, and staying too close to the existing design.

            “What could be better than horse chariots?”
            “No, you can’t add a combustion engine, the wooden frame couldn’t take the vibrations! And how would you steer with no reins?”

            (I understand there were no gas pumps on the ancestral environment, but I hope the point can be seen through the suboptimal example)

          • onyomi says:


            In addition to the pooping on your baby to provide gut flora, I just thought of a much more obvious reason to keep these tracts close together (or singular, *shudder*): besides minimizing unnecessary holes, if you put the hole for pooping far away from the hole for birth then you would need a redundant set of pushing muscles.

        • The male kludge in question has at least one negative feature. The prostate gland is where it is for reproductive reasons. But the result is that when it gets enlarged, as commonly happens in aging men, it obstructs urination.

          • onyomi says:

            Though in young men, it also helps with continence. May just be a trade-off which, as in so many (but not all) cases, evolution decided in favor of youth.

      • Brad says:

        >And thus was responsible for the design of the mammalian body, which, amongst other things, places the sewage line through the playground.

        Actually, I believe you are mistaken in your analogy. The sewage line runs through the *manufacturing facility*, which some people opt to use as a playground, despite such careless horseplay being clearly prohibited in the user’s manual.

        • onyomi says:

          This is also a good point, though I think the pleasurable nature of sexual activity does also serve a social bonding function, in addition to the reproductive.

        • Brad says:

          I likewise agree that the bonding function is very important. However I reiterate that again, (speaking as a Christian), protocol matters, and doesn’t exist for no reason.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          You probably think those early vibrators were actually intended for massage. Let’s invoke the legal dictate of “reasonable forseeable use”.

  43. Princess Stargirl says:

    “I’d like to blame this one on Feminism Gone Too Far, but since both parties were gay men we guys have nobody to blame but ourselves here.”


    I know this is maybe a joke but this is an infuriating attitude. Even if “other men” were responsible this would not change anything. If someone is hurt by an unjust law it does not matter, at all, if the people who were responsible for the law share zir gender. Also feminist influence does affect gay relationships. Since the laws are usually written (if not enforced) in a gender neutral way.

  44. William O. B'Livion says:

    Polygamists are four times more likely to get heart disease than monogamists after everything else is controlled for, which to me probably means they think they controlled for everything else but they didn’t.

    How long were you married?

  45. lmm says:

    I actually believe the Kazakh guy. He did a lot for the country and not everyone there quite gets the concept of democracy.

    I can well believe that poly folks are more stressed, or simply having more sex, in a way that makes them susceptible to heart disease.

    • William O. B'Livion says:

      The study was of Saudi men, not San Fran partner swappers.

      • Dain says:

        Can “poly” not connote polygamous?

        Anyway, if HBO’s Big Love is believable, then so is the idea of polygamous (men) having more sex.

  46. onyomi says:

    Abilify did nothing good for me, but it did give me restless leg syndrome. I am someone who normally fidgets and moves my legs a lot, but I didn’t know the meaning of “restless leg” until I tried Abilify.

  47. nydwracu says:

    It gets better: chegvchagvchegvchagvlahva is onomatopoeic, and refers to the sound of a magpie bursting out of a fire pile and scattering ashes into the eyes of an orangutan.

    Here’s the story it’s from:

    Long ago, there was an orphan; he was one who had no father and no mother. There was an orangutan who wanted to eat this orphan. The orphan was always afraid when it got dark at night, and on his way home, he was crying and crying as he walked. He walked a while and met with a needle. The needle asked him, “What’s the matter?” The orphan answered, “Aye! The orangutan is going to come eat me at night. I’m afraid to be at home by myself.” The needle said, “Hah! Don’t be afraid. At night I’ll come be your companion.”

    Later, again he was crying, crying as he walked. He walked a while and met some scissors. The scissors asked him, “Ah, what’s the matter with you? Why are you crying like this?” The orphan said, “At my home, there’s only me alone. The orangutan is going to come down to eat me. He comes at night.” The scissors said, “Ah, if that is all it is, no problem, at night I’ll come be your companion.”

    After that, the orphan still was crying and crying as he walked. He walked a while and met a magpie. The magpie asked him, “Why are you crying like this?” The orphan answered, “At home, there’s only me alone. I have neither father nor mother. I am one without parents. When it gets dark, the orangutan is going to eat me. I’m afraid to be at home alone.” The magpie said, “Aye! You need not be afraid. At night I’ll come be your companion.”

    Again he went on, and after walking a while he met a crow, and the crow said, “Hah! Why are you crying?” The orphan said, “I have neither father nor mother. I’m only an orphan. At night I am afraid (to be at home alone); the orangutan is going to eat me.” The crow said, “Hah! If that’s the case, there’s no problem, at night I’ll come be your companion.”

    Again, the orphan went on crying as he walked. He walked a while and came across a stomach, and the stomach asked him, “Hah! Why are you crying like this?” The orphan answered, “I have neither father nor mother. At night, as soon as it gets dark, the orangutan is going to come eat me. I’m afraid.” The stomach said, “Hah! If that’s all it is, there’s no problem, let me come be your companion at night. I’ll come be your companion.”

    The orphan still was crying, crying as he walked. He walked a while and also came across a stone mortar, the stone mortar asked, “Hah! Why are you crying like this?” The orphan said, “Ah, I have neither father nor mother. I’m afraid of when it will get dark. When it gets dark again today, the orangutan is going to come eat me.” The stone mortar said, “If that’s all it is, no problem, I’ll come be your companion. Let me come be your companion.”

    At this time the orphan had made friends with these (things) mentioned. When night came, they all came. The needle came, and the scissors came, and the magpie came, and the crow came, and the stomach, the stone mortar and a stone pestle all came. After they came, they held a meeting. The orphan was extremely happy. “Tonight my companions have come. Tonight I’m not afraid of the orangutan.” After these [things] had all come, they told him, “Don’t be afraid tonight. If the orangutan comes, we will beat him to death.”

    The orangutan wasn’t afraid, and still came. The orphan was not afraid.

    That night everybody made a plan together, where the needle should stay, where (each of them) should sleep and what-not and it was all settled. The needle was above the door to stab (the orangutan) in the doorway, the scissors slept beside the orphan on the bed, the magpie slept in the fire pile, the crow slept in the water jar, the stomach slept at the head of the stairs, the stone mortar was at the foot of the stairs, and the stone pestle was at the head of the stairs.

    When it got dark, the orangutan came towards the orphan, the same as before. When he pushed the door with a creak, the needle was there, and as soon as the needle pricked his hand, his hand was all covered with blood, but he still wanted to go in the room. Once he was in the room and going to look for the orphan in the bed, the scissors cut off his hand. It was dark and the scissors had cut off his hand, and blood was dripping down. Then he went over to the fire pile, thinking to light it, to see what thing it was! As soon as the orangutan wanted to touch the fire pile, the magpie inside the fire pile burst out with a lot of noise and (the ashes) got into the orangutan’s eyes. The orangutan went to the water jar, wanting to get some water to wash his face. He looked around and saw the water jar and after a mouthful of water wanted to wash his face, but the crow was there and the crow came out and pecked his eyes. This time the orangutan had no eyes and no hand and was covered with blood. He wanted to escape covered with blood. As soon as he got to the head of the stairs he stepped on the stomach and slipped and rolled down the staircase and into the stone mortar at the foot of the stairs. Then the stone pestle pounded and pounded and pounded down on him, and in this way pounded the orangutan to death and then (they) threw him away.

    The grammar is here, if anyone’s interested.

  48. gwern says:

    Floornight was pretty cool – I was not expecting it to turn into Evangelion at the end! (And do my eyes deceive me or do I have a cameo in it? Also, if nostalgebraist is reading this: oolong is not usually caffeine-free nor is it usually spelled in upper-case.)

    • Glad you enjoyed Floornight. Qwern was not supposed to be you in any particular way, but her name was inspired by your handle.

      I know oolong contains caffeine — it was my favorite caffeine source in my senior year of high school. I just looked at the sentence in question and it’s confusing in a way I hadn’t realized — I meant to say that Maria had to check for reintegrations before having any caffeine (because it’s the very first thing she does in the morning), then to note parenthetically that Maria gets her caffeine from oolong tea rather than coffee, but it could easily be read as saying that the lack of caffeine is a consequence of drinking oolong rather than coffee. (Although that would seem to imply that Maria finds “no caffeine” a distinct and noteworthy state of being despite [in this reading] not using caffeine, which would be strange.) I didn’t know oolong wasn’t capitalized. Thanks for pointing this stuff out.

      At some point I intend to do an editing pass to fix things like this. There are various awkwardly phrased bits throughout the story, some of which I can even bring to mind right now without looking, but which I don’t want to individually change because that might send me down the rabbit hole of trying to fix all of them. (Each round of changes would need to be propagated to the EPUB and MOBI versions as well as the manuscript on my hard drive, which makes it more efficient to do all of this kind of editing in one big pass.) Instead, at the moment I’m telling myself to accept the various infelicities as simply reflective of the story being in “version 1.0,” and putting off any changes until that comprehensive editing pass.

  49. Sniffnoy says:

    The doormat looks to be pretty specifically a Final Fantasy doormat.

  50. Leif says:

    Scott, would you ever consider revealing your process for finding these links? (Or is there already an explanation posted somewhere?) Are you just subscribed to a bunch of high-quality subreddits (if so, how do you usually find them?), or is there some secret sauce?

  51. Andrew says:

    I had trouble with the simple version of the logic puzzle before I noticed what I was overlooking, and as a result almost didn’t try the hard version, but I’m glad I did, because the whole thing flowed elegantly once I got the implications for the variables decoded from the math. I almost tripped at the very end before noticing the final clue.

    I enjoyed it, thanks for posting it.

  52. Wrong Species says:

    I don’t understand why people are so obsessed with living on mars. We could soon be living in an age where people can change their genes, own a self-driving car and immerse themselves in virtual reality and people get excited over living on a barren wasteland? Sure the idea of being on another planet would be cool but that won’t last. How many of those people who signed up really thought about the long term consequences of that idea?

    • suntzuanime says:

      Mars is far. I doubt the people who signed up would actually make the trip if it came down to it.

    • Bugmaster says:

      Personally, I would love it if there were people living on Mars, because it would mean that at least some of our eggs are not in the same basket as the rest of our eggs. In addition, Mars is a stepping stone to the rest of the Solar System; and then… who knows ?

      That said, Mars One is a fairly obvious scam, which is a shame, because it will discredit the idea for future generations — who, unlike us, would have enough resources (financial, political, and technological) to actually go to Mars.

      • I don’t know, I feel like looking at Mars as a means of diversifying our existential risk portfolio is kind of a red herring at the moment. I mean, yes, absolutely in the long term we should be spreading out and colonizing other planets/solar systems, and I’m all for that. But for the foreseeable future? Any Mars colony that might exist in the next hundred or so years will be so dependent on earth that it will add essentially nothing to our survival prospects.

        • suntzuanime says:

          The best time to begin working to colonize Mars is a hundred years ago. The second best time is now.

          • Jon Gunnarsson says:

            A hundred years ago colonising Mars would have been technologically impossible. Now it’s probably possible, but extremely expensive. So now is a better time to colonise Mars than a hundred years ago.

            And at some point in the future colonising Mars will not only be technically possible, but also economical. We should probably wait until then.

          • Wanderer2323 says:

            That presumes that working to colonize Mars is desirable at all.

          • The Unloginable says:

            A hundred years ago was three weeks before the Battle Of The Somme. Every remotely technologically advanced polity was preparing to sacrifice arbitrary numbers of its male population to Moloch. Mars was rather low on their priority list.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Yeah, and isn’t that a shame?

          • Maware says:

            It’s not even possible to colonize the moon, let alone mars. With Mars, you’re going to expect people to live in submarine-style conditions with no possibility of shore-leave and no support, as by the time help arrives it will be too late.

            We can’t even maintain a space station that can support more than a dozen people; colonizing mars is not going to happen.

        • Alex says:

          I don’t see what “existential risks” we know about right now.

          And if you just want to colonize someplace, how about Antarctica?

          • cypher says:

            Nuclear war and asteroid impacts. That’s not including potential future technologies, and it’s already enough to wipe out all of humanity.

          • Alex says:

            Nuclear war is probably not an existential risk. Asteroid impacts are, but I don’t recall seeing detailed discussion of them anywhere as existential risks, as distinct from mere global catastrophic risks. So I’m inclined to consider this concept, and indeed the concept of extinction risk, as pointless. Unless I’m missing something here 🙂

          • The Unloginable says:

            To avoid nuclear war and similar human-caused disasters, Antarctica, under the ocean, and indeed large currently-empty chunks of northern North America, Greenland, and Siberia are all vastly more colonizable than Mars currently is. For existential threats from nearby supernovae, Mars buys you nothing. Anyone pushing Mars for hedging purposes is doing so in order to avoid some ridiculously low-probability asteroid collisions, _by moving next to the Asteroid Belt_.

      • Julie K says:

        Out of the various catastrophes that we might want to prepare for, what is the likelihood of one that destroys all life on earth, but doesn’t affect Mars?

        • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

          Since solar extinction events are a very far in the future concerns, the only near term catastrophe that might destroy both–that I can think of off hand–is a massive gamma ray burst. But then again, iirc, they tend to occur in coherent beams along the axis of rotation of the producing body, so it is at least conceivable that even a gamma ray burst might hit Earth and miss Mars.

          Every other catastrophe that I can think of would be planet specific.

          • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

            Excuse me, super intelligent AI seems to be a concern for the crowd around here. If you suppose the AI is intelligent and motivated enough to cause an extinction event, you might as well suppose it is intelligent/motivated enough to causing an extinction event on any planet it has a communications relay with.

            I am not convinced that super intelligent AI is something to worry about, but it is a concern some people think we should plan for.

            So side from those two, every other catastrophe I can think of would be planet specific.

          • suntzuanime says:

            It’s not impossible that nuclear war (or other totally-destructive war) could spread from Earth to Mars, just as the World Wars were fought in the colonies.

        • Yehoshua K says:

          It must at least be significantly greater than zero–a major asteroid hitting Earth, for example, would have no effect on Mars. A nuclear war might spread, but might not. Horrific disease could be contained to only one of the two.

      • onyomi says:

        If the primary goal of colonizing Mars is to have another “basket” for humanity’s “eggs,” I’d say there are a lot of places one Earth which we should colonize first. We don’t yet have any major cities located under ground or beneath the ocean, for example. Nor do we have any cities on Antarctica. All of these would be ludicrously expensive and difficult, of course, but still easier than building a city on Mars.

        In the wake of a nuclear war, asteroid impact, etc. I’d almost certainly prefer to be living in a self-sufficient underground city on Earth than on Mars. Either way it’s going to be rough, but after the nuclear winter we can probably come back out at some point and repopulate the Earth. Mars is already less hospitable than any future Earth I can imagine, so long as Earth doesn’t literally get Death Star-ed.

        For the super-intelligent AI scenario, I’d say that if its “destroy all humans” protocol can find us at the bottom of the ocean or in Antarctica it can probably find us on Mars. If we were smart enough to get to Mars, so too will it be.

    • Tarrou says:

      Mars is the happy obsession for misanthropes, just like zombies are the aggressive obsession.

      • onyomi says:

        You mean, you attribute the recent popularity of zombies to some kind of displaced rage?

        That doesn’t strike me as the appeal of zombies. Most zombies to me seem more like a metaphor for fear of pandemic: friends, family, and the innocuous faceless crowds of cities become sources of danger.

        • It’s reasonable to assume that any really popular fiction element registers as a number of symbols.

          Zombies appeal to the fear of people, fear of betrayal by people you know, fear of mobs (as distinct from vampires, who are about the fear of and/or desire for aristocrats), and fear of infectiious disease– at least.

          I think there’s something in there about people who can’t or won’t keep up appearances– note that a lot of people like dressing up as zombies.

          • Tarrou says:

            Actually, I think it’s much simpler than that. I think it is the cultural expression of most people’s repressed desire to take a bat to virtually everyone they know and steal their stuff. If they were zombies, you could just hack your boss to pieces and piss on his rug!

    • Yehoshua K says:

      If you’re really determined to live in a libertarian society, being part of a

    • Yehoshua K says:

      If you’re really determined to live in a libertarian society, being part of a small pioneering colony somewhere very far away is probably the best way to do it.

      • Jon Gunnarsson says:

        I’m not sure why you think a Mars colony would be libertarian. Maybe you’re comparing it to the Western frontier in America. But the difference is that back then you had a wide open and sparsely populated land, so it was relatively easy to go off and do your own thing. That won’t be possible on Mars since making any part of Mars liveable requires a lot of technology, so inhabitable land will be very scarce. (Unless we’re able to somehow “terraform” Mars, which would be very far in the future.)

        I am actually a libertarian myself, but I probably still wouldn’t want to live in a Martian colony, even if it were fairly libertarian. I personally don’t favour libertarianism out of some intrinsic desire for liberty, but rather because I believe a libertarian society would very prosperous and pleasant to live in; a Martian colony would probably be neither.

        • Yehoshua K says:

          You make a good point in distinguishing a hypothetical Martian colony from the American pioneer experience. Me, too–I lean libertarian, but it would take quite a bit more tyranny here on Earth before I’d go off-world to live in a libertarian enclave, even if it were possible.

          • Agronomous says:

            A new life awaits you in the Off-world colonies. The chance to begin again in a golden land of opportunity and adventure….

  53. FullMetaRationalist says:

    I too solved Cheryl’s Birthday Singapore Logic Puzzle in about three minutes (more or less). It was cute. The transfinite version however, stumps me. I haven’t solved it yet – BUT I WILL. I’m leaving a comment here to document when I started it. When I finish, I’ll radio back. And then maybe afterwards I can finish reading the above post and subsequently the comments section.

    Consider me nerd sniped.

    • FullMetaRationalist says:

      In the end, I did correctly intuit to ryvzvangr rnpu pbafrphgvir vasvzhz. Unfortunately, I botched interpreting the final steps where Albert says

      But wait! It suddenly comes upon me after Bernard’s last remark, that finally I know who has the larger number!

      I have brought dishonor to my family. I must become stronger.

    • The Smoke says:

      I find it almost easier than the original puzzle, you can just read each statement and incorporate the new information and then basically forget about it. (While being aware of your thought process so far, when processing some later statements)

    • It took me a while, but I finally solved the transfinite version. It’s not nearly as ridiculous as it appears at first glance.

  54. suntzuanime says:

    I somewhat doubt the result about intelligence making you more likely to support free speech: his measure of “intelligence” is based on the Wordsum task, which specifically measures verbal intelligence. I would expect support for free speech to correlate better with verbal intelligence than with general intelligence, just as someone with a large gun collection might tend to support gun rights.

    • Irrelevant says:

      which specifically measures verbal intelligence

      You’re just saying that so we have an excuse to argue about g again, aren’t you?

      • suntzuanime says:

        The belief that there is a general factor to intelligence does not at all contradict the plainly obvious fact that there are area-specific components as well. Only a person who did not believe in any form of intelligence at all would deny that there is a verbal component to intelligence that is not always equal to the analytical component.

        Do we even have g-denialists in this blog’s comment section?

        • Harald K says:

          If I’m a g-denialist for finding Cosma Shalizi’s arguments convincing, then I suppose I am one.

    • RCF says:

      Speaking of WORDSUM, is this the word list? Assuming that the “correct” answer for “emanate” is supposed to “come”, and for “accustom”, “get used to”, the people who made this test are really confused about subject vs. object.

      • Creutzer says:

        emanate, at least, is its own anticausative: if A emanates B, then B emanates from A. But you’re right about accustom.

        • Deiseach says:

          I feel the opposite; “get used to” is close enough in meaning for “accustom”, but “come” for “emanate”? I’d have picked “emit” or “arise” or the like instead, rather than simply “come”, because “emanate” connotes a more subtle nuance than that.

          • RCF says:

            I suppose part of the issue is that “got used to” is a phrasal verb. “X got Y used to Z” means “X accustomed Y to Z”, but if you try to do a direct substitution, you get “X got used to Y”, which does not mean “X accustomed Y”.

  55. Irrelevant says:

    Everything is some typical combination of heredity and nonshared environment except which party you belong to, which is mostly shared environment. In other words, you come up with your opinions on your own, then ignore them and vote for whoever your parents voted for.

    Sensible under a party-as-tribe interpretation: the children of the tribe remain members of the tribe, the tribe just thinks something completely different now.

    Razib Khan finds that, contrary to the stereotypes, more intelligent and more liberal people are more likely to believe in free speech.

    I gloss “more intelligent and more liberal” as “more libertarian”, but my categories for both “more intelligent” and “more liberal” are probably atypical, so I don’t know what he’s actually saying here. I’m amused that in 1993 people were both maximally interested in communists and maximally pissed off at atheists though.

    by strict criteria, only 39% of published studies replicate; by looser criteria, 63% do.

    Higher than I thought, I didn’t think they’d beat half by the second standard.

    Researchers theorized that the science stuff made them work together in groups with other children (including disabled ones) for a practical goal rather than rubbing their noses in the difference.

    You’ve got that backwards: researchers theorized that the feelgood roleplay stuff resulted in everyone realizing that the disabled kids had no social skills and shunning them. The science projects were the control state.

    A new paper finds black mayors (relative to white mayors) improve position of blacks (relative to whites) in cities where they are elected.

    But do they improve the position of blacks relative to citizenry with similar demographics in cities where they weren’t elected?

    Dutch people swear using diseases.

    I often use “syphilitic” as a modifier in blue streaks.

    I seem to have been wrong on affirmative consent.

    Then you didn’t calibrate yourself with enough divorce law horror stories to realize just how vicious and insane lawfaring ex-lovers really are.

    Kosher light switch

    They have that already, it’s called a light timer. Also, a motion sensor seems like it would accomplish everything this does a lot more easily and less heretically.

    Semi-relatedly, I was amused to discover that the newest HTC lock screen by default tells you what time the sun is going to set. Does that feature have any use outside of Sabbatarians?

    Also you should really number your links so I don’t have to quote all of them like this.

    • Nornagest says:

      the newest HTC lock screen by default tells you what time the sun is going to set. Does that feature have any use outside of Sabbatarians?

      Could be useful if you’re doing something outdoors, didn’t bring a flashlight, and need to know when to start heading home.

      • DrBeat says:

        If you have a cell phone, you brought a flashlight.

        • Nornagest says:

          But not a good enough one that getting home in the dark with it is uncomplicated.

          • Kevin says:

            If you have a phone with a decent camera, apps like Color Flashlight let you turn on the camera flash LED manually. The LED makes a good flashlight, much better than the phone’s screen.

          • Godzillarissa says:

            I can’t think of a night that was dark enough that I couldn’t ride without any light, if I had to.

            Anyway, wasn’t the light meant to make you visible to cars and such, instead of making the road visible to you?

          • Nornagest says:

            In open country, or along a road, I pretty much never need a light except for safety reasons, and I actually prefer not to use a flashlight there unless there are cars to worry about — it kills my ability to see outside the beam’s range.

            But if there’s substantial forest cover, and you’re not on a road or near inhabited houses, it really can get too dark to see where you’re going. I used to live in a mountain town with a lot of forested trails through and around it, so my idea of proper preparation is calibrated to that case.

      • Tangent says:

        Yes I like to check sunset time when out walking in the winter, the days get pretty short in the UK. Still seems like a weird choice of feature though.

      • Lambert says:

        Sunset times could be useful for Ramadan?

      • maxikov says:

        I’m doing astrophotography, so I’d find it handy, although I’d also want to see the time and bearing of the moonrisemoonrise. Or, ideally, the option to select few objects, and display information about them.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        If you’re going somewhere by bicycle, it may determine whether or not you bring your lights with you. A phone-as-flashlight is not a viable replacement for bike lights!

    • Randy M says:

      “I often use “syphilitic” as a modifier in blue streaks.”
      But that does have the connotation of loose virtue (or poor judgement, at least).
      If you want to throw in an affliction purely for the disease with no character overtones (for whatever reason) I pox-ridden might work. But then, does that imply low class, due to sleeping with fleas or something?

      • Susebron says:

        Syphilis is also called the Great Pox, so I assume “pox-ridden” would mean syphilitic.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        “scurvy dog” seems to fit the bill, although that also implies a sailor. And may just be a Hollywood-ism.

    • Quixote says:

      Knowing when the sunset is could be useful if you appreciate natural beauty

    • Julie K says:

      Knowing when the sun sets could be useful if you pray (i) in the afternoon before sunset (Jews) or (ii) at sunset (Muslims, IIUC).

  56. I may be mistaken (anecdotal evidence only, filtered through my bias and lousy memory!) but I believe that people here (New Zealand) are much less likely to always vote for a particular party. I suspect that this has to do with proportional voting leading to there being more than two major parties. (There are plenty of nations with two-party systems, and plenty with multiple-party systems; for that matter, we went from the one to the other within my lifetime. I wonder if the research has been done on this?)

    • Alexander Grant says:

      The Labour party (Left) has lost a massive proportion of its vote to the National party (Right) over the last few elections. I would consider that some weak evidence that we are not entirely wedded to our left/right divide as a populace. That said, the two parties are both more left than the major USA parties and the difference is not substantial.
      My anecdotal contribution: My grandmother only properly understands the older system (First past the post) and would never dream of voting for anyone but Labour. The next generation understands the new system (MMP:Multi-member proportional) but is still relatively new to it and while they mostly vote Labour, they will accept other Left parties. When my mother decided to vote National last election, there was a substantial drama. My generation, which first voted under MMP, tends to float between parties relatively easily but still tend to stay within their broad camp (Greens/Mana/Maori/Labour seem to swap, Labour/National seem to swap, and National/ACT seem to swap.).
      (brackets added for people who do not follow NZ politics)

      • James Picone says:

        We’ve had a preferential voting system for federal elections in Australia for ~65 years, and I”m pretty certain most of the electorate has no idea how it works and still thinks in terms of putting a ‘1’ next to the person they want to win (and then party tickets handle their preferences).

  57. Kyle Strand says:

    Reading the beginning of that “kosher” light switch article, I was really starting to hope that it somehow relied on the “gramma” loophole by putting someone in mortal danger every time someone flips the switch.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Hmmmm…donate $3000 dollars to Against Malaria Foundation, but have it be held in trust for the life of the switch-user.

      Flicking the switch empties the trust account after a delay of ten seconds unless a photosensor elsewhere on the switch notices that there’s light in the room.

      Then another program turns the lights on.

    • Decius says:

      I don’t understand what the perceived intent rule is, so I can’t tell if it would be a violation of the perceived intent to make flipping the switch put someone into mortal danger that changing the state of a light could alleviate.

    • Richard says:

      Some friends of mine changed all their bulbs to LED on the rationale that the actual rule is against lighting a fire. Incandescent bulbs can be thought of as fire, LEDs not so much. Also, all their electricity comes from hydropower so they don’t benefit from huge burning fires in power plant. They have also gotten a Tesla model S and are now driving around when they probably shouldn’t on the same reasoning.

      Probably at least questionable, but amusing nevertheless.

      • David says:

        To be fair, I have heard people occasionally defend these sorts of bizarre-prohibitions-plus-weaselly-methods-of-lawyering-your-way-out-of-them taboos as actually the intent: they suggest that their god actually wants people to come up with smart workarounds, as an intellectual exercise.

        Makes at least as much sense as any other rationale.

        • Clockwork Marx says:

          I can see it as a patch creation exercise for tradition.

          You start by playing around with the axillary parts of a tradition, then move on the non-trivial parts that you think need to be patched (sometimes direct modifications are possible instead, but rarely when dealing with “read-only” modern western religious traditions).

          First you need to learn the basic rules: what lines you can’t cross without being seen as a heretic, what kind of justifications and inferences have currency in the community, how to navigate away from black-and-white areas towards the grey ones, etc.

        • As a commenter on my blog put it, He who made the laws also made the loopholes. (Not verbatim)

        • Ilya Shpitser says:

          A lot of this stuff was really (re?)-inventing the infrastructure for precedent-based law, which is a very useful invention.

      • lumenis says:

        I have also heard it explained as a violation of a *different* Shabbat prohibition. To quote Wikipedia on the subject:

        Closing a circuit to render a device operational might also violate the Biblical prohibition of makeh bapatish (striking the final hammer blow, i.e. completing a product). The argument would be that an electrical device is not complete because it does not function unless the electricity is turned on.

        [Some rabbis] strongly disagree …

        I consider it a privilege to have been born into such a rich tradition of creative thinking.

        • Tracy W says:

          No electrical product is ever complete, it always could do with a bit more debugging, or some more features.

  58. Highly Effective People says:

    The disability paper link seems a bit misleading.

    If I’m reading it correctly, the problem was that the structure of the disability lecture (group play) relied on skills the disabled students didn’t have, heightening the difference between them and the other kids, while the structure of the science lecture (group work) had everyone more-or-less on the same page skills-wise.

    The implication is that kids are rebelling against an annoying “pro-acceptance” message by doing the opposite, like with DARE for older children, but that doesn’t seem to hold up.

  59. Douglas Knight says:

    The “Cannae Drive”? Interesting marketing decision.

    (Insert Scottish joke)

    Is the idea that people know just enough history for it to sound classy? I’d think Italians know too much and Americans too little. Even the investors he’s targeting.

  60. Kyle Strand says:

    “I’d like to blame this one on Feminism Gone Too Far, but since both parties were gay men we guys have nobody to blame but ourselves here.”

    That’s a pretty narrow definition of feminism; considering that gay rights is often considered (at least “intersectionally”) part of “feminism” as a whole, it seems to me that this is still definitely a case of feminism gone too far.

    (Even if you don’t consider gay rights part of feminism, the affirmative consent law idea came out of feminism.) ((I assume I am preaching to the choir here and that you were perhaps somewhat kidding with your comment, but I just thought I’d make an explicit argument in favor of treating this case as evidence against feminist arguments in favor of affirmative consent laws.)

    • Kyle Matkat says:

      Also that quote very specifically conflates feminism with women and non-feminism with men, and though I understand it was basically meant as a joke, I still find it kinda problematic.

      • Kyle Strand says:

        Haven’t you read those blog posts about how Our Mrs Reynolds exemplifies misogyny? Male feminists are unicorns!

    • Deiseach says:

      I’m not one bit surprised. Really, how can anyone be surprised that when there’s a break-up and bad feeling on one or both sides, the (considers themselves to be) injured party will use any stick to beat the other party with? And why should LGBT people be any more virtuous?

      That’s also why I’m so sceptical of the whole push for ever more liberalisation and progressivism, with attendant starry-eyed optimism about “But what could possibly go wrong?”

      First thing people do when they’re feeling vindictive and angry is go running to the courts, is what. I think consent culture is a very good idea, but someone is always going to abuse (and they’re not going to think they’re abusing) new and untested laws or regulations.

      • Anthony says:

        First thing people do when they’re feeling vindictive and angry is go running to the courts

        That’s better than going and beating up someone, so that’s probably a long-run improvement.

        • Nornagest says:

          Speaking for myself, I’d rather get my ass kicked once than be tagged as a sex offender for life. Or even than get expelled from college, which is currently what’s actually at stake.

    • Randy M says:

      That and if my cishetwhitechristianmale privilege means anything, surely I’m not to blame for two gay guys taking advantage of a law made by and for women.

      Oh, they were probably white, so maybe it’s a sign white people suck. Or is it due to them being cis scum?

  61. Steve Sailer says:

    First names can convey a lot about what your parents thought sounded cool.

    I have a vague impression that middle class blacks look for first names that other blacks will recognize as likely black but that whites won’t. My impression is that some names beginning with D, perhaps Darren?, are increasingly black. Middle class blacks avoid the flagrant D-apostrophe constructions, but like the plainer D names.

    • Nornagest says:

      I have this picture in my head where I breed, and fifteen years from now my son will bring his first girlfriend home, and her name will be Daenerys, and neither of them will understand why I’ve been laughing for ten minutes.

      • Deiseach says:

        In my work, I’ve encountered a genuine “named my infant daughter Daenerys”. I was inclined to roll my eyes, but unfortunately the child was killed in a genuinely tragic road traffic accident so that made me behave myself momentarily.

        • ryan says:

          Suppose you shrugged and said valor margulis. On a scale of 1 to using wildfire to destroy King’s Landing, how evil would you be?

      • Anonymous says:

        If anyone is curious, the social security administration claims that the last three complete years saw the birth of 86, 68, 21 Daeneryses, and <5 in each year 2011 and earlier. Khaleesi is 4x as popular.

        There were 1500 (female) Aryas in 2014, up from 100 a decade ago, when there was sex parity.

        Jorah appeared as a female name in 2000 and switched to a male name last year. Could be a coincidence.

        Stark: 20 boys last year.

        There are more Tyrions in America than Daeneryses. Already in 2011, before ssa recorded any Daeneryses, there were 184 male Tyrions, more than the total Daeneryses today. But there were only 60 Tyrions born last year, so Daenerys might catch up. Tyrion first broke 5 in 1997, suggesting that they do come from the books. But in 1998, there were more female Tyrions than male, so maybe not. The ssa numbers include 58 female Tyrions, Tyrionas, and Tyrionnas (an underestimate because of the 5 threshold).

        • DrBeat says:

          How many Vriskas, Nepetas, and Karkats?

        • onyomi says:

          On the one hand, for reasons Scott described in an old post, I am constitutionally opposed to naming my child anything immediately recognizable as a reference to one thing, and I am also pretty reluctant to chose a unique name–i. e. something no one had ever been named until Twilight, etc.

          That said, George R. R. comes up with the best fake names. I love the sound (if not the character) of Gregor Clegane.

          • Anonymous says:

            Gregor Clegane isn’t even the most famous Gregor in literature. (I wonder if Sansa is named after Gregor.)

            Martin’s fake names are not all created equal. The most important division is between Westerosi names intended to sound Western and other names intended to sound foreign. Sansa Stark is the former, Daenerys Targaryen the latter. When evaluating baby names, this is a very important detail.

          • onyomi says:

            Yes, Gregor, of course is not a strange name, but I just like the sound of the full name, weird surname included. Is that a Kafka reference?

          • Anonymous says:

            That is my question — is the conjunction of Gregor and Sansa in the same book a Kafka reference? But it isn’t Samsa.

          • Yehoshua K says:

            If I’m not mistaken, Gregor is a perfectly traditional Russian name. See, for example, Gregor Mendel.

          • Anonymous says:

            Gregor is a traditional German name, popular in Austria.

            Gregor Mendel was a German-speaking Czech, like Kafka.

            The Russian form is generally Grigori, with a terminal vowel. There are languages other than German that drop the terminal vowel, but don’t usually spell it Gregor. Wikipedia lists Slovak, Slovene, and Scottish.

          • nydwracu says:

            I’ve never paid attention to Game of Thrones, but I had a Sansa once.

          • onyomi says:

            Yes, as I said, it’s the conjuction with “Clegane” that is interesting. Many people in the series have traditional given names, albeit often spelled strangely (“Petyr”) for example, but most of the surnames are completely without precedent.

          • Deiseach says:

            Well, “Clegane” is not a fake surname either. It sounds vaguely Scottish to my ears, and when I went online (after the zillion references to Gregor of that ilk), apparently it is (or it was) a variant surname in the parish of Cork and Ross.

            So it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that a George or Gregory Clegane lived sometime in Ireland 🙂

          • onyomi says:

            Interesting. My brief search turned up nothing but GoT references, so I guessed it was made up, but maybe he dug it up somewhere in Irish history.

        • Shenpen says:

          >Stark: 20 boys last year.

          I seriously don’t understand the American habit of using surnames as first names. Example: Madison as a first name. Is this consciousness completely lost in the US that first names are nouns and surnames are adjectives? So if there were three Sams in a village before surnames got fixed down, the shortest one may have been called Sam the Small, or Sam Small, and later on Small went on to become a surname. Or for example Maud’s son being an adjective, “James, Maud’s son” later on Madison. But using Madison or Small as first names means the child has only adjectives, no noun, hence lacking in true identity. At least this is how it feels to me.

          • Tracy W says:

            May it help you to update, that while many surnames may have developed from adjectives, they are no longer adjectives and instead are quite happily functioning as nouns, even in British English?

            Consider for example the sentence “Private Parkers, attention!” barked Captain Morris.

            If surnames are only used as adjectives, how would this sentence go? Where is the noun? It can’t be “Private”, in English adjectives go before the noun. It’s not “attention”, that’s a verb.

            Or, the English Boarding School tradition of addressing students by their surnames (presumably in response to the immense popularity of the first name John). “Wallace! Did you do your homework?”

          • Irrelevant says:

            Yeah, that’s a completely bizarre concern. Forget making noun/adjective distinctions between what are generally foreign terms with no non-name meaning, I don’t even read my name as a word. My real name and all my most common screen names go straight into my head as [self-signifier], and the same is true of all my fellow internet people I’ve ever brought up the topic with.

            Also, I have a given name as a surname, and it makes the translated form of every name in my family Exalted-level ridiculous.

          • Creutzer says:

            At least this is how it feels to me.

            This can only be because your native language is Slavic. Viewing of surnames as adjectives doesn’t even make sense historically for many languages, let alone synchronically.

          • Jos says:

            My read on the surname as first name thing is that it’s mimicry of a class marker. I don’t have any research to back it up, but my impression was:

            1) Back in the day, people used to use the mother’s maiden name as a son’s middle name, especially if the mother’s family was notable.

            2) Then you’d have upperclass guys who used their middle name. (E.g. H. Madison Pickering or some such).

            3) At some point, last names as first name became associated with class, so people started using last names unrelated to them.

          • Tracy W says:

            @Creutzer: How do Slavic languages handle surnames as adjectives? Do you always need some other word in there as the noun?

          • Deiseach says:

            I think the surnames-as-first names thing may (this is all wild speculation on my part) have percolated down from the upper/upper-middle classes who tended to amalgamate family names not alone in double- and triple-barrelled surnames, but used family surnames as given names for children to emphasise or advertise links with higher status, noble or wealthier families and to remind wealthy relatives of family links to remember the namesake in their wills or put forth influence on their behalf. Or they commemorated close friends or people who were important to them by calling their children after them.

            As well, it’s probably a matter of personal taste; people preferred to call a child “Parker” than the usual Biblically-derived name like “Paul” or or “Philip” for whatever reason, and surnames are unisex enough that you can’t really tell if a Madison or a Kelly is male or female.

          • Julie K says:

            1. Surnames were already being used as given names in 16th century England, so you can’t blame this entirely on Americans.
            2. Many surnames are nouns, e.g. Baker.
            3. Many given names are adjectives, e.g. Belle.
            n.b. According to Reaney & Wilson’s Dictionary of English Surnames, Madison primarily meant Matthew’s son.

          • Tracy W says:

            There are fashions in names. It seems to be driven by many people seem to pick a child’s name that is a bit different, but not too different from the fashions they perceive when naming their own children. (Note “perceive”.) They’re trying to steer a middle ground between the kid being one of six Alices in every class at school, and the kid being teased for a very weird name. Surnames combine unusualness with familiarity.

          • Creutzer says:

            How do Slavic languages handle surnames as adjectives? Do you always need some other word in there as the noun?

            I don’t know that they behave syntactically like adjectives any more than English names do. It’s just that they are morphologically often adjectives. But then most languages have no problems with syntactic nouns that are morphologically adjectives. (In English it’s rare, but you get things like “the dead”.)

          • Tracy W says:

            @Creutzer: Thank you for the background.

          • Steve Sailer says:

            More than anything else it’s a New England elite thing. For example, Professor Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison, the once-famous Harvard historian, was, on his mother’s side, a member of the distinguished Eliot clan (poet T.S. Eliot, Harvard president Charles Eliot, man of letters Charles Eliot Norton, etc.). So he used his middle name in public in part to distinguish him from all the other Sam Morisons, in part to remind people of who his mother’s family was.

            Eventually, other ambitious people not related to the Eliots picked up “Eliot” as not just a middle name but as a first name, such as the parents of former New York governor Eliot Spitzer.

          • Julie K says:

            @Steve: “Eliot” was originally a given name (a nickname for Elias/Elijah).

          • Kevin C. says:

            As to the using of surnames as given names, this is hardly a new phenomenon. Well-established given names derived from surnames (many still extant as such) include: Ashley, Blair, Blake, Bradley, Brandon, Bruce, Cameron, Clark, Clay, Clifford, Clinton/Clint, Cole, Craig, Curtis, Dalton, Daryl/Darrell/Darell, Dean, Desmond, Dexter, Donovan, Douglas, Doyle, Duane/Dwayne, Dudley, Elliot, Elmer, Emmett, Flynn, Franklin, Frazier/Fraser, Garrett, Gary, Glen/Glenn, Gordon, Graham, Harlan, Harley, Howard, Irwin, Keith, Kelly, Kendall, Kent, Kermit, Kirk, Lee, Lesley/Leslie, Logan, Luther, Lyndon, Marshall, Mason, Maxwell, Melvin, Millard, Milton, Montgomery, Murphy, Murray, Newton, Niles, Nolan, Norton, Otis, Parker, Quinn, Randall, Reed/Reid, Riley, Ross, Russell, Ryan, Scott, Seymour, Stewart/Stuart, Sidney/Sydney, Taylor, Todd, Tracy/Tracey, Travis, Trent, Trevor, Tyler, Vaughn, Vernon, Wade, Wallace, Warren, Wayne, and Wilson.

            (And that isn’t even counting the many given names derived from Roman family names).

          • Anonymous says:

            What is “well-established”? How about: given in America to at least 100 babies of a single sex in a year in the range 1880-1899? By that standard, only 23 of those 101 names are well-established. If we strengthen it to 100 in each of those twenty years, it is only 8 names that are well-established.

            High standard: Clifford, Elmer, Howard, Lee, Luther, Milton, Sidney, Warren

            Low standard: Clinton, Curtis, Emmett, Franklin, Glen, Glenn, Gordon, Leslie, Marshall, Melvin, Otis, Ross, Russell, Vernon, Wallace

            (The answer would be the same if we restricted to boys. Only one name in one year broke 100 girls.)

      • Alexp says:

        I imagine 15 years from now, meeting the girl your son is bringing home will not be the first time you encounter a girl named Daenerys.

      • Julie K says:

        Trust me, the girl will know why you’re laughing. Anyone with an unusual name has already heard all the standard jokes that people make about that particular name.

    • Ever An Anon says:

      At least in my neighborhood it was fairly common for black couples to generate their kids’ names via portmanteau of their own names. I’m not sure how standard that is nation-wide but it strikes me as more plausible reasoning.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Would you give examples?

        • Ever An Anon says:

          I would if I could, unfortunately time and my horrifically poor memory for names has erased any clear examples from my mind.

        • DrBeat says:

          Brother went to school with a girl named “Ge’Da”, which her and her parents claimed was “an African tribal name” despite being really obviously the first two letters of each of the parent’s names.

          She was ten pounds of psycho in a five pound bag and attempted to stab my brother with scissors, then accused him of trying to stab her as soon as a teacher showed up and got him punished. I don’t think that had anything to do with her name though.

        • Nicholas says:

          You know the names that have one or more seemingly out of place syllable separated from the rest of the name by a hyphen or apostrophe? Those are the extra syllables from one name grafted onto a root word. So to use a fictitious example, Le’Tasha is the child of Leon and Tasha, whose child with Darren will be named L’arren (pronounced to rhyme with Larron, but with a small stop in the middle of the first syllable.)

          • Nornagest says:

            What happens on the third generation?

          • Irrelevant says:

            That’s the same complaint I have about hyphenated last names. It’s unsustainable.

          • Devilbunny says:

            In the interests of complete patient privacy, I will say only that I once examined a child whose name was approximately equivalent to “Smi’Terrican Montecco Jan’Telya Jones”. And yea, the apostrophes are intentional.

        • Jodyhiruler says:

          I once had a kid in my class named Mikel (sp?) pronounced “My Kell,” who said that he was named that as his parents names were Michael and Michelle

          • Harald K says:

            Mikkel is the canonical Norwegian form of Michael. I haven’t heard of any Mikels, but given the trend of twists on really traditional names, I’d be surprised if there aren’t many.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      How do you get the first comment so often? It’s really uncanny.

      • Someone needs to do an actual analysis to find out if Steve actually comments first more often than would be predicted by chance + an RSS feed.

      • Shenpen says:

        He may live in the same time zone as you do and have similar daily schedule.

        • Godzillarissa says:

          Lucky… I live in a completely different timezone, which is why I’m always late to the party 🙁

    • Friend of mine in the mailing list biz writes:

      Any unique given name is about 10 times more likely to be black than a typical name. (That doesn’t mean that 9/10 of them are black, because 85% of all adults are white.)

      He will supply some more data for me to post here over the weekend.

    • Deiseach says:

      Scattering random comments like confetti:

      (a) the names thing once again makes me wonder how it would work in a non-American context; is Mario seen as more, less or equally “poor” an ethnically-derived name than Kolo? That being said, from a completely unrepresentative sample and based heavily on anecdote not data-collection, the social housing clients we deal with do, in some instances, tend to give their kids names such as those of favourite pop stars (which is going to be a massive embarrassment to the child in six or eight years when the pop star’s popularity has waned and they have to explain who they’re called after) or – as in one example – Daenerys, or else creative spellings of names. So perhaps it is indeed associated with lower socio-economic class, but it’s certainly not exclusively black versus white (even if that’s how it works out in the U.S., and I do wonder what working-class/lower-class whites are choosing as names, particularly in urban areas where you’d expect to avoid the stereotype of the rural redneck “Billy-Bob”).

      (b) From the article on Abilify – holy crap, is that image a genuine advertisement and not some Photoshop mock-up? Because my reaction to that would be “Do you think my depression has made me fucking stupid as well? I’m not five, happy chirpy cartoon pills are not going to persuade me to neck the stuff”. Also, I too would do exactly the same thing were I being pressured into medication I didn’t want and the doctor wouldn’t listen: go ‘yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir’, fill the prescription (so if they checked up they could see yes, I obediently went and got my dose) then flush it down the loo and after a couple of weeks report back “No, it’s not really helping”.

      (c) The only rational thinking I’d do about putting anything in hard-to-read font or format would be “I can’t read the bloody thing, I’m giving up now before I destroy what’s left of my eyesight”

      (d) According to Tumblr, yesterday was “Ace Visibility Day” (as in asexual/aromantic) and that permits me, for the first time in my life, to be within spitting distance of anything vaguely related to “cool” as I identify with the following:
      ♠ Ace of Spades: Aromantic Asexual – does not experience romantic attraction toward any gender.

      Which means I get this as my theme tune! 🙂

      • David says:

        I like that they actually picked the Eighth of May for Ace of Spades day. Joined up thinking there.

        • Deiseach says:

          It’s all the aces, not just Spades, but I have to admit, I’m tickled to be even this tenuously associated with something genuinely pop culture cool 🙂

      • RCF says:

        There are rather large ethical issues if psychiatrists can coerce their patients into taking drugs like that. Also, the Abilify commercials are disgusting. “Are you depressed? How about we spend thirty seconds reminding you have much being depressed sucks, just in case you’ve forgotten”. That’s like advertising a drug for PTSD by showing graphic battle footage and then saying “If this triggers you, maybe you should take our drug!” I really don’t think depressed people need to be reminded every few commercial breaks how shitty being depressed is.

      • Anonymous says:

        The Abilify image is taken from this TV ad.

        • Deiseach says:

          Wow, if I take Abilify, I’ll get a middle-class professional office job, a husband, two cute kids, a house in the suburbs, and can have backyard barbecues!

          Sign me up! Why, it’s worth having depression for the benefits!

          Medication adverts over here tend to be for headaches, stomach upsets/indigestion, colds and flu, hangover cures (sometimes, as with Berocca, these are marketed as energy boosters but generally people take them for the morning after the night before) or menstruation. I don’t think I’ve seen one so far in the American model of “If you have this ailment, ask your doctor to prescribe you this”.

          • perlhaqr says:

            If *I* take Abilify, I sleep for 16 hours a day. Yes, this is observed behaviour. I’m really lucky I didn’t lose my damned job. Didn’t do fuck-all for my depression, either. Actually, if anything, it made it worse because I then felt bad about sleeping all the time and not getting anything done!

      • Anthony says:

        My cousins in Colombia tell me that rather unusual names have started becoming popular. English-language names are somewhat common, with English ‘J’ spelled as ‘Jh’ so people know to pronounce it English-style. (For example: “Jhon” or “Jhonny”). The most ridiculous name I remember from the discussion was “Yusnavi”, from “U. S. Navy”.

    • RCF says:

      What exactly constitutes a “fair” test? You can test “poor black” names against “poor white” names, but how do you calibrate getting exactly the same level of “poor” names? And given that black people are, in fact, on average, more poor than white people, to what extent should you? What, exactly, is being tested here? Are they trying to isolate the sole factor of darker skin, independent of social factors? Or are they trying to measure the effect of darker skin, as mediated through social phenomena? Are they trying to measure to what extent people discount These people spend all this effort trying to text something, and they don’t seem to spend any effort trying to be clear about just what that “something” is.

      • Tarrou says:

        You don’t. These “implicit bias” tests have never been shown to have the slightest bit of external validity, or to predict actual biased behavior in any way. If you want to get at the idea that black people face systematic racism which retards their economic and social progress, and you want to disentangle from culture (which I assure you, no respectable social scientist wants to do), just check American-born blacks against, say, black Nigerian immigrants, who face a triple barrier in terms of language, culture, and race. And lo! Nigerians not only outperform native blacks, they outperform native whites too! It’s that systematic pro-immigrant racism at work, I tells ya!

        • Susebron says:

          Incidentally, the official language of Nigeria is English, so there isn’t a language barrier. Also, in the absence of a massive wave of immigrants/refugees, I would expect immigrants to do better than the general population simply because it’s easier for more intelligent people to immigrate.

          • nydwracu says:

            Immigration from Africa selects strongly for intelligence, yes.

          • Tarrou says:

            Even the native English speakers (a small minority in a country with around fifty languages spoken) have a strong and easily identifiable African accent, so as a means of detecting “The Other”, the language barrier is still solid. In other words, they have no problem understanding and being understood, but are immediately identifiable even over the phone as black. So if racism is an issue, this should be a problem. If it’s just communication at stake, your point holds quite well.

            As to your second point, different countries are selected for in immigration differently. Political asylum, refugees and normal applicants all select for a different class of people. See my comment about differential immigration from Somalia and Nigeria.

          • RCF says:

            Just because the official language of Nigeria is English, it doesn’t follow that Nigerians are fluent in English.

        • Anonymous says:

          The obvious counterargument is that black Nigerian immigrants won’t have been saddled with with internalized racism.

          • DrBeat says:

            The obvious counter-counter argument is that internalized racism is a unfalsifiable handwave, and even if it were true, it is a belief that the people in question hold themselves that alters their behavior — at every other time, the argument is that these people’s beliefs and behavior has no effect on their outcomes because they are powerless Saints of Victimhood.

            If the entire problem can be summed as “internalized racism”, do we get to look at who might be causing that (it’s people who can’t stop lying about race and can’t stop telling everyone how perfectly powerless and victimized black people are)? Or are we all forced to just listen to those same liars’s take on it, and blame whiteness again?

          • Tarrou says:

            Second obvious counterargument, there is no detectable systematic racism for native blacks to internalize. Are they still internalizing the 1930s?

            Third obvious counterargument, the racism they’ve internalized is the idea that the Man is gonna hold them down no matter what, leading to a cultural external locus of control. This would suggest that the worst thing for the black community is all the white people trying to explain their failings as the fault of whitey.

          • Anonymous says:

            Second obvious counterargument, there is no detectable systematic racism for native blacks to internalize.

            An indication that I should stop taking you seriously, then? OK. Done.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Anonymous – “An indication that I should stop taking you seriously, then? OK. Done.”

            You might also point out examples of inarguable systemic racism as well, which would prove to onlookers that your disdain is well earned.

          • Tarrou says:

            You don’t have to take me seriously, I’m just tossing out obvious problems with your rather weak argument. Your response would seem to indicate you’re not that interested in engaging with the issue.

          • Vorkon says:

            Why do people keep conflating “systematic” with “systemic?”

            “Systemic” means the thing being referred to is an inherent part of a system. “Systematic” means a system has been developed specifically to enforce the thing that is being referred to.

            When I jump up and fall back down to the ground, I am under the influence of systemic gravity. When someone pushes me off a cliff, I am under the influence of systematic gravity.

            I’m not trying to say that systematic racism has been completely, 100% eliminated from our society (though that’s a much more defensible position than saying systemic racism has been eliminated from our society) but I absolutely HATE it when one person starts talking about systemic racism and another person starts talking about systematic racism, or vice versa, as was the case here. Stop doing that, people!

          • Cauê says:

            I’m pretty sure Tarrou will turn out to not have meant what Anonymous understood, but I don’t really know what either of those things are.

            (Perhaps Vorkon nailed it, but I’m not quite confident of that either)

            Still, Anon’s response was a naked status-based move, which hopefully won’t work well here. Maybe ask for clarification next time?

        • I don’t think it’s crazy to assume that prejudice can build up because of long association, and racism is a semi-proxy for prejudice against a particular culture.

          Nigerian immigrants have a different accent than African-Americans, and don’t look the same, so they don’t run into the same level of prejudice.

          • Irrelevant says:

            I, on the other hand, do find the “what if our racists are really sophisticated about it?” hypothesis crazy. Or more accurately, I find it an extreme form of epicycling. Yeah, it COULD be true that people are subconsciously aware that Nigerians look slightly different than African-Americans, despite most not being able to tell an Italian from a Spaniard, and that our tribal prejudices against foreigners have somehow eroded away to the point that having a strange accent is now a plus while still leaving plenty of room for racism against minorities within the same country, but at that point your model has so many moving parts it can explain away anything.

            The only people you can plausibly expect to be biased towards Nigerian immigrants but against African-Americans are other Nigerian immigrants.

          • Tarrou says:

            I agree in the sense that “semi-proxy” means “conflation”. What the Nigerian/Native Black comparison suggests most strongly is that there is no “racism” at play at all, and the barriers native blacks face are cultural in nature, without any input at all required from race to explain their issues.

            On a more interesting note would be explaining why Nigerian immigrants do so much better than, say, Somalis. I suspect it has to do with the relative difficulty and process of obtaining residency, which in Somalia selects for the poorest and most desperate and in Nigeria selects for the most rich/connected/ingenious. Consider implications for immigration policy!

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            It’s the accent. African accent and African – American read very differently.

            Though this hypothesis really supports cultural rather than racial discrimination.

          • onyomi says:

            Oh, this is silly. Do you really think racists think “oh, this black person talks differently than the black people I don’t like, I guess I’ll treat him with respect and dignity.” Do you think racist hiring managers who won’t give a chance to Jamal Green are going to give a chance to Onodugo Okonkwo?

          • RCF says:

            To whom are you replying, onyomi?

          • Nornagest says:

            @onyomi — Are we talking Stormfront racist, or “raised in the sticks, exposed to black American culture only through NWA videos and the occasional diversity mural” racist? I expect the latter is a lot more common, and also a lot more sensitive to cues like accent and dress.

          • Tarrou says:


            We’re back to definitions of “racism”. I maintain as a personal opinion that the vast majority of what is thought to be racist is actually culturalism. It is ideological. There are, of course, some tiny fringe of white supremacists, which I daresay are smaller than the black supremacists of the Nation of Islam and like minded groups.

            In realtown, USA, what white, black, asian, hispanic and arab people don’t like about certain groups are behaviors and tribal associations, which largely but not perfectly conform to racial boundaries. This is noticeable with the example I used. In short, yes. I would expect a person who explicitly would not want to hire a “ghetto” person to have much less issue hiring an african immigrant who does not display those cultural markers. And further, I would expect them to discriminate against whites, asians and hispanics who appropriate that culture.

            The reverse is also true, where Bill Clinton can be the “first Black president”, but Clarence Thomas should be “lynched” and “sent back to the plantation” (according to Common Cause). Thomas does not belong to the culture, though he does to the race.

      • Julie K says:

        You could use the same name for both applicants, and include a photo. (For gender, you could use a neutral name like “Terry.”)

        • Douglas Knight says:

          The problem with using a name is that is conveys information that is not controlled. A photograph conveys way more information. Here’s a paper called Are Good-Looking People More Employable? Contrary to Betteridge, the answer is not a simple No, though neither is it a simple Yes. If you try to compare men to women using attractive photographs, you may get a different answer than if you use unattractive photographs.

        • RCF says:

          If you’re just applying to normal jobs, there generally isn’t an “attach a photo” option.

          • Christopher says:

            That is true, it not necessarily in the sense that you mean: in some European countries (Germany in particular, IIRC) an application WITHOUT a photo attached won’t even be considered.