Links 7/15: From Link, Where Rocky Peaks Climb Bleak And Bare

A thing you can do: sunburn images onto your body. Whatever, it’s better than tattoos.

Everyone knows women live longer than men on average. But did you know this wasn’t true until the 20th century? Most likely explanation: men are more predisposed to heart disease, but this wasn’t a problem until we started living longer and eating worse diets.

Old conventional wisdom: birth order is super important to personality. Other old conventional wisdom: birth order has no effect on personality. New conventional wisdom: birth order has a statistically significant effect on personality which is much too small to matter in real life. Yeah? THEN HOW COME OUR LESS WRONG SURVEY FOUND A REALLY STRONG BIRTH ORDER SIGNAL?

If you’re in Boston, don’t worry, the weird giant sailpunk mechanical monsters walking along your beaches are just part of an art exhibition. Or else they’re real giant sailpunk mechanical monsters using an art exhibition as a perfect cover so that nobody notices until it’s too late.

Poachers kill rhinos to sell their horns as fake medicine. Boring solution: patrol against poachers. Creative solution: coat the rhinos’ horns with poison so you can’t make medicines out of them, then dye them pink so it’s obvious what you’ve done.

This post on haplodiploidy (an alternative genetic method of determining sex among some animals) is pretty interesting throughout, but the best part is the explanation on guevedoces, the rare condition, mostly in the Dominican Republic, where apparent girls turn into boys around puberty.

Controlled experiments found evidence of discrimination in the workplace by sending companies identical resumes with white and black names and finding companies were more likely to pick the white ones. This led to a very large trial in France of having various firms making real hiring decisions receive resumes from a centralized agency either normally or with the race of the applicant obfuscated. The surprising result: people who received anonymized resumes were less likely to hire minorities, even though the firms weren’t explicitly doing any kind of affirmative action. Authors suggest maybe this is a result of selection bias (the most pro-minority firms were the ones willing to participate in this experiment), but 60-something percent of the firms asked to participate agreed, which somewhat limits the extent. A good time to review some of the possible confounders in past experiments. Also, standard disclaimer that France Is Not America and racial attitudes there might be importantly different.

The abortion rate is now back down where it was in 1973 when Roe vs. Wade was decided. But this seems to owe more to declining pregnancy rates than to people being less willing to end pregnancies in abortion.

A few months ago I listed a bunch of AI researchers and computer scientists and such who were interested in the Singularity. Now another computer science prof has a book out: Roman Yampolsky’s Artificial Superintelligence: A Futuristic Approach.

A question I definitely would not have thought to ask but which turns out to be pretty interesting: Why Is Greece Such An Economic Success?

A CEO Explains Why CEOs Make So Much Money. If I understand correctly, he’s saying that ever since well-meaning regulations forced companies to disclose CEO pay, no high-level company wants to look underconfident in itself by paying its CEO less than the industry average, but as the lowest-paying companies switch to the industry average, the industry average creeps up in an endless cycle. This is the first explanation I’ve heard that makes sense to me; next step is to check whether CEO pay started ballooning around the time that regulation was passed.

Startups are figuring out how to remove carbon from the air, but it’s unclear what their business model is. I’m pretty sure in a saner world we would be taxing carbon, and doing it in such a way that you could get tax vouchers if you could remove carbon from the air, thus incentivizing companies like these. As it is, I hope charity groups will tide them over until they can take off and become profitable. Related: Sea levels might rise faster than currently believed.

Here, have an entire essay about Saruman.

Every Alternet And/Or Salon Headline About Libertarians From The Last Three Years.

Oppenheimer’s famous “I am become death, destroyer of worlds” quote misunderstood, say Gita experts, actually meant as a humble statement of devotion to duty.

There are about seven major botanical bioregions in the world. The entire Northern Hemisphere is one. South + Central America is another. And the smallest is a tiny area right around the Cape of Good Hope.

New clothing line aimed at disabled kids (descriptive article, site) has no tags, no front or back, and no inside-out or rightside-in. Why did it take such a specific social cause before people came up with such a wonderful idea?

The Eighteen Oddities Of Yunnan.

You know oxytocin? The hormone that makes you more loving and cuddly? What happens when you give it to puppies? SCIENCE, YOU HAVE GONE TOO FAR!

Obama: “We need to have a national conversation on race”. David Cameron: “We need to have a national conversation on seagulls attacking small dogs

Scott Sumner on Slate’s overconfidence and terrible reporting on the Chinese stock market. Also, a question for the economics gurus here: China has made it pretty clear that they will use their reserves of approximately infinity zillion dollars to stabilize the Chinese stock market whenever it crashes. Assuming people believe them, there’s no reason to panic or get into a mass selloff when the shares start going down, and so China will never have to make good on their pledge to intervene. Have they just solved the problem of stock market crashes? That doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that should work.

The International Astronomical Union declares that seas on the Moon must be named after states of mind (example: “Sea of Tranquility”). The Soviets explore the far side of the moon, find a sea there, and name it the Sea of Moscow, sparking a crisis. The crisis is resolved when the International Astronomical Union declares that “Moscow is a state of mind” [backup source].

Further adventures in inappropriately Hitler-branded products.

Seen on Reddit: When The Onion Accidentally Breaks The Story First

Deworming – that is, mass-treating children in tropical Third World countries with medications that kill parasitic worms that may retard their growth – is one of the most popular effective altruist causes and comes highly recommended by GiveWell. The movement was started by a large study which found that dewormed children were healthier and did better in school. The authors of that study recently released their data publicly (hooray! everyone should do this!) and some other scientists re-analyzed their statistics. They found no effect of deworming on exam scores or school attendance, leading the Guardian to write that New Research Debunks Merits Of Global Deworming Programmes (STOP USING THAT WORD) and Ben Goldacre to write a critical review on Buzzfeed. Around the same time, the Cochrane Collaboration did their own meta-analysis on all deworming research ever and found that “there is now substantial evidence that this does not improve average nutritional status, haemoglobin, cognition, school performance, or survival.” But deworming supporters Evidence Action accuse the skeptics of being in the pockets of Big Parasitic Worm, and Giving What We Can says they stand by their support for deworming. GiveWell also stands by their support at great length. Development economist Chris Blattman also concurs, offers a guide to the “Worm Wars”, and concludes that “you have throw so much crazy sh*t at Miguel-Kremer [the study supporting deworming] to make the result go away that I believe the result even more than when I started”. Oh, and I want credit for getting through this entire paragraph without making any puns about “global worming denialism”.

Britain assesses the performance of their academies – which I gather are school-choice-style experimental schools aimed at poor students. The bad news: most academy chains do worse than the normal education system. The good news: a few chains do much better, so if the bad ones can be outcompeted and the good ones scaled up, the experiment could still be an success.

New(ish) MIRI director Nate Soares sums up the accomplishments of MIRI’s past year, including a lot of stuff I didn’t know about. Also of interest – did you know AI value alignment is now getting money from DARPA? Indeed do many things come to pass. Anyhow, all these announcements are to build interest for MIRI’s summer fundraiser, so go and donate if you are the sort of person who does that sort of thing.

Some studies suggest that, among Muslims, political Islamism / support for instituting Sharia law doesn’t correlate at all, even a little with support for terrorism?

I am pretty okay with this anti-polyamory t-shirt.

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505 Responses to Links 7/15: From Link, Where Rocky Peaks Climb Bleak And Bare

  1. Eric Rall says:

    Most likely explanation: men are more predisposed to heart disease, but this wasn’t a problem until we started living longer and eating worse diets.

    I imagine it the decline in pregnancy-related death rates (due to improvements in sanitation, nutrition, and medical techniques (particularly antibiotics and sanitary surgical techniques)) was also a major factor.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      The study finds that excess male mortality is pretty concentrated in the 50 – 70 age group, when few women are getting pregnant.

      • Eric Rall says:

        What I’m suggesting is the hypothesis that the excess male mortality in that age cohort has always been there, but for age cohorts born before 1900 or so, it was more than counterbalanced in the overall mortality rates for each gender by pregnancy-related mortality for women in the 16-40 age groups.

        • Scott H. says:

          There is support for this hypothesis coming from the famous (I thought) study on the longevity of Korean eunuchs versus their non-castrated male counterparts. Long story short: Testosterone (male hormone) carriers die younger. I would think that this conclusion would also have relevance vis-a-vis the male/female longevity debate.

          The Korean eunuch data comes from 14th century through to the 20th century.

      • Deiseach says:

        But you have to live into your fifties to get a point of comparison, and since “death in childbed” is going to happen during women’s reproductively fertile years, which are before their fifties, then I do think it’s more likely women died disproportionately to men for that as one major reason.

        I’m not discounting bad diet, smoking, etc. But (yeah, again, I’m going to drag in 19th century novels) there were so many instances historically of men (and this was before divorce was acceptable and commonplace) being on their third wife, or really large age differences (fifteen to twenty years) between women and men at marriage, that it’s explained by widowers remarrying.

        I mean, Gilbert and Sullivan even have a joke in “Iolanthe” about the marriage with deceased wife’s sister act, and if there were enough men whose wives had died and they wanted to remarry with the bride being their sister-in-law, don’t you find that suggestive?

        Or that Chesterton, in his book about George Bernard Shaw, can take it as a commonplace that men run the risk of death from warfare and women run the risk of death from doctors not washing their hands?

        Bernard Shaw (being honestly eager to put himself on the modern side in everything) put himself on the side of what is called the feminist movement; the proposal to give the two sexes not merely equal social privileges, but identical. To this it is often answered that women cannot be soldiers; and to this again the sensible feminists answer that women run their own kind of physical risk, while the silly feminists answer that war is an outworn barbaric thing which women would abolish.

        • Mary says:

          There are many instances of women being on their third husbands. Henry VIII’s latest wife had married two men before him, and one after. Also, the ability of widowers to remarry more than widows is probably explained by menopause.

          Joking about marrying one’s dead wife’s sister is explicable in terms of the passionate social debate about legalizing it. There was wide spread opposition on the grounds that single women often had nowhere to go but their married sisters’ households, and putting a sexual taboo between them and the masters of the household helped protect them.

          Chesterton’s point as much says that men run their own risk as much as women do — indeed, men are concentrated in the high risk occupations to this day. One would have to do very careful statistics to determine which was a larger factor.

        • Jiro says:

          “There are many instances of” is not a good objection to the idea that something is statistically less likely. “Less likely” doesn’t mean “never happens”.

    • Linch says:

      I came to the comments to say this. Looks like I’m late to the party.

      • Max T. says:

        I think everyone and their dog came here to comment that.

        Although looking at the link it talks about heart disease being an increased cause of male death after a certain point. I have no idea why it doesn’t take death by childbirth into account in the ratio analysis. I think their point is that once you take child birth out of the equation, this is the reason men don’t live as long, but it’s not very clear.

        • Liskantope says:

          I forgot to check SSC for updates, just saw this links post, and came to the comments section thinking maybe nobody had suggested this and I should point it out, but much more likely if I scrolled through the comments a bit I would find it along with a response. Seems that I didn’t have to scroll very far 🙂

  2. Jiro says:

    Did you know studies suggest that, among Muslims, political Islamism and support for instituting Sharia law don’t correlate at all, even a little with support for terrorism?

    Of course there’s also that poll which shows that many Muslims support executing apostates–and if you look at that poll results, it appears that places which have a high support of suicide bombing have a high likelihood of wanting the death penalty for apostates, and they all score highly on wanting Sharia as law of the land. It’s not perfect (Bangladesh is high on the Sharia scale and not on the suicide bombing scale), but it is suggestive.

    And support for suicide bombing actually underestimates the support for terrorism, since it is only one type of terrorism and one can support terrorism without supporting suicide bombing specifically.

  3. Professor Frink says:

    The abortion-dropping-the-birth-rate is probably confounded by the end of the baby boom (which is why Roe v. Wade is at the bottom of the drop, instead of the top).

    Question about the DARPA thing- I searched “darpa” in that link and found no reference.

    • E. Harding says:

      This is the birth rate graph:
      So it wasn’t a halving overnight, as Dave Barry points out below.

      • Professor Frink says:

        Right, nowlook at the graph- the rate it starts falling in the early 1960s, Roe v Wade wasn’t until 1973. So a lot of the after- RoeVwade drop is confounded by the end of the baby boom.

        • Eric Rall says:

          That agrees with my prior understanding that after Roe v Wade, abortion and pregnancy rates both went up, while birth rates stayed more or less at trend.

          I couldn’t confirm overall figures with a quick googling, but I did turn up a graph of pregnancy, abortion, and live birth rates for the 15-19 age bracket for 1971-2010 in the US: graph.

          • E. Harding says:

            Note how all these were falling when crime was falling. Think there’s a relationship?

          • Eric Rall says:

            First, the correspondence isn’t perfect. The violent crime rate peaked in 1994, while the teen abortion rate peaked in 1988, and the teen pregnancy rate and teen birth rates peaked in 1991.

            Leaving that aside for the sake of argument, I can imagine several superficially plausible links. In no particular order:

            1. AIDS could explain everything but crime: the risk of contracting HIV scares people away (relatively speaking) from casual sex in general and unprotected casual sex in particular, lowering the rate of unplanned pregnancies, which in turn lowers both the birth rate and the abortion rate resulting from unplanned pregnancy (I’m assuming the overwhelming majority of teen pregnancies are unplanned). The timeline is about right, as major AIDS prevention campaigns in the US seem to have started in 1987.

            2. Reductions in environmental lead levels reduces the fraction of the population that has severely diminished judgment and impulse control due to childhood lead exposure. This leads to a reduction in both crime and teen pregnancy, and the latter reduction leads to corresponding reductions in birth rates and abortion rates.

            3. A social shift toward greater risk aversion, possibly with the AIDS scare as one of several significant contributing factor. This could lead to parents keeping closer tabs on their kids to keep them out of trouble (reducing opportunities for both teen pregnancy and teen crime). It could also lead to public policy measures intended to reduce risk exposure (both educational (sex education, AIDS awareness campaigns, etc) and punitive (three strikes, broken window policing, etc), some of which could have been successful.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Yes, well, I did put “if I’m reading the graph right”. Hooray for hedging bets.

      In my defense, I didn’t miss the truncated axis, I just read the “birth rate” line off the “abortion rate” axis! This is why two-axised graphs are the Devil.

      Good catch, the DARPA thing was actually from a different blog post – this one, to be precise.

    • RCF says:

      There were states that allowed abortion prior to 1973; I think the study compared crime rates in a state to when abortion was legalized in that state, so that should at least partially address many confounders, including the Baby Boom.

  4. David Barry says:

    if I’m reading that graph right legalizing abortion cut the birth rate in half practically overnight!

    The birth-rate axis on that graph is truncated; the fall is from mid-to-high 80’s to mid-to-high 60’s, so about a quarter rather than a half.

  5. J says:

    In other news, a Michigan psychiatrist has been accused of diverting large sums of money to organizations that outlandishly claim to be able to predict and alter the future. Coincidence‽

    • E. Harding says:

      Yup, coincidence.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’ve seen ads for that Summit Pointe place around. Never trust people who spell “point” with an ‘e’.

      I shall add this man to the 419 guy on the list of ‘reasons to be less than entirely sanguine about my profession’ (also, Freud)

      • J says:

        less sanguine

        Oh, so now it’s bloodletting, is it?

        [Clever wordplay version: 3.0. Known bugs: still trying to balance comedy against potential for misunderstanding. Is this really how I’m going to spend my Friday night?]

      • Deiseach says:

        Doesn’t poor Dr Gottschalk undercut the idea of “If an expert picks a contrarian opinion outside his field, he may be right”?

        The man is renowned in the field, created an internationally-used diagnostic tool, (ironically) said President Regan in the late 80s was suffering diminishment of his mental capacities, can probably be considered to be high IQ, high-achieving, and possess the evidence-assessment tools we were speaking of, and yet he fell for this con.

        Granted, there is probably an element of getting older and losing capacity for discernment at play here (though he’s still working even at age 89). But all the same, it doesn’t really help the argument that experts in one field have superior abilities to assess matters of contention outside their field of expertise, does it? About all we can say is that if such a thing as a General Factor of Correctness exists, Dr Gottschalk does not possess it 🙂

        • PDV says:

          Was there some other contrarian opinion he possesses? Because if there isn’t, this is totally irrelevant to existence of GFoC, since there’s no reason to think he has it.

  6. onyomi says:

    Some people are now intentionally infecting themselves with hookworms and other parasites because it seems to help with allergies, IBS, and other autoimmune diseases prevalent in the first world, but not the third world.

    • Deiseach says:

      Sweet holy divine. I once read a SF story way back in the 70s that had future society where, because everyone could now afford to eat well, and work was mainly sedentary not manual labour, and there was so much delicious but fattening (junk) food out there, in order to stay thin people would deliberately infect themselves with tapeworms.


    • Alexp says:

      Is this like an RPG? You have to balance the risk that parasites might lower IQ or cause other developmental problems with the risk of developing more debilitating allergies?

      • onyomi says:

        Maybe so. What I want to know is the mechanism by which parasites are supposed to lower IQ so significantly. Hookworms, for example, may cause anemia, but not if you get a reasonable amount of iron in your diet, and can anemia really damage your brain development so much?

        Of course, if you are so full of parasites that you are suffering from all kinds of nutrient deficiencies then that would, presumably hurt one’s development, but that seems more a problem with the food than the parasites (though I can understand it may be cheaper and easier to get rid of nutrient-sapping parasites than to provide nutrient-rich foods). North Koreans, for example, are significantly shorter than South Koreans, and possibly have lower IQs (though I’m a bit more skeptical about that), but I don’t think they have a lot of parasites up that far north. I think they just need to eat food instead of dirt.

        Also, a general comment on studies showing “x lowers IQ by x points.” They seem to suggest that if you took two identical twins and raised one in the countryside with lots of parasites and a poor diet and spanking (and…), and raised the other in the city with a good diet, no parasites, no spanking, early childhood intervention… that person two would score like, 20 or 30 points higher on an IQ test when they reached adulthood. I kind of doubt this, as I doubt the Flynn effect.

        In fact, we have such a story recently:

        I wish they would do an IQ test on them. I doubt they’d come up much different (which, if so, would also raise questions about the impact of early childhood education, etc.). The pairs are still so similar that people confuse them for one another despite all these differences of environment.

      • onyomi says:

        But yes, I think, in general, I think the immune system needs to be exposed to stuff, both so it will have practice fighting off really bad stuff, and so it will not freak out over not-actually-bad stuff (pollen, peanuts…). This is why the anti-vaxers strike me as so odd: what could me a more “natural” modality than exposing your immune system to non-threatening versions of potentially threatening pathogens? That’s working with your body. By contrast, many of those same people would probably think it terribly natural to introduce all kinds of strange herbs and essential oils to “boost” the immune system.

  7. Adam says:

    Did you miss Vint Cerf endorsing AI risk?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Given that until this moment I had no idea who Vint Cerf was, I guess I did.

      “Endorsing AI risk” is one of those unfortunate constructions like “Walk For Breast Cancer”

      • James says:

        I feel like this kind of thing is some form of use/mention error: ‘endorsing AI risk’ vs. ‘endorsing “AI risk”‘.

      • Michael Watts says:

        I agree with James. The Walk for Breast Cancer isn’t endorsing breast cancer, the fatal illness; it’s endorsing Breast Cancer, the social movement.

      • Adam says:

        The way I intended it is Vint Cerf is endorsing the notion of taking AI risk seriously, but I like to use shorthand when I’m pretty sure the audience will understand it.

        For those who still don’t know. Vint Cerf is the co-inventor of the TCP protocol, which at the time included IP as well, so as his profile says, he’s effectively the inventor of the Internet.

    • Eli says:

      Really? Because when I saw him speak at Google Tel-Aviv, someone asked him about Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity, and he called it blatantly ridiculous.

      Oh my God, this is the single greatest feat of human-hacking I’ve ever seen. People will buy into anything if you sell it using fear!

      (Which is not to say I think UFAI can’t happen. Of course it can. But the likelihood of AI agents coming to exist at all, aside from the antics of devoted Singulatarians who usually fail to make perceptible progress in computational cognitive science anyway, was extremely low.

      Except that now the mainstream of science is being dragooned into FAI construction by the fear of UFAI, thus putting fear to work in the cause of hope…

      Oy gevalt.)

      • Samuel Skinner says:

        “(Which is not to say I think UFAI can’t happen. Of course it can. But the likelihood of AI agents coming to exist at all, aside from the antics of devoted Singulatarians who usually fail to make perceptible progress in computational cognitive science anyway, was extremely low.”

        From link
        “First: super-intelligent AI is unlikely because, if you pursue Vernor’s program, you get there incrementally by way of human-equivalent AI, and human-equivalent AI is unlikely. The reason it’s unlikely is that human intelligence is an emergent phenomenon of human physiology, and it only survived the filtering effect of evolution by enhancing human survival fitness in some way. Enhancements to primate evolutionary fitness are not much use to a machine, or to people who want to extract useful payback (in the shape of work) from a machine they spent lots of time and effort developing.”

        I’m not seeing how that follows. He is declaring we can’t make AIs as smart as people because AIs won’t be able to follow the same path as human intelligence evolution.

        Because as we all know “being able to accomplish tasks more proficiently” is not something that people who program select for.

        • Eli says:

          Because as we all know “being able to accomplish tasks more proficiently” is not something that people who program select for.

          “Selecting for” anything will not get you artificial general intelligence unless you’ve got 3.5 billion years to let your genetic algorithm run. You can’t build AGI without understanding what intelligence is and how it works in the first place, and most people, including most people working in AGI, abjectly refuse to do that.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            ” You can’t build AGI without understanding what intelligence is and how it works in the first place, ”

            Can you provide a definition? Because I’m not aware of a universally agreed term.

            “and most people, including most people working in AGI, abjectly refuse to do that.”

            I don’t know; how much do we know about what goes on inside Google?

          • Careless says:

            “Selecting for” anything will not get you artificial general intelligence unless you’ve got 3.5 billion years to let your genetic algorithm run.

            Because we’re restricted to running at the DNA mutation rate and reproductive lifespan of biological organisms, for some reason?

          • Nornagest says:

            Because we’re restricted to running at the DNA mutation rate and reproductive lifespan of biological organisms, for some reason?

            Time isn’t the real bottleneck here; a decent evolutionary programming package will let you run approximately infinity generations of selection while you go out and get lunch. The catch is that you need to select your fitness function appropriately, and that gets exponentially harder when you’re optimizing for more complicated problems. If you want to build an antenna with a weird bespoke emission pattern, it’s got you sorted; but the whole point of general intelligence is to deal with the real, unfiltered world, and to get that out of evolutionary programming you need to have the world encoded somewhere. This is prohibitively hard.

            Eli is more pessimistic about AGI than I am, and 3.5 billion years is an exaggeration, but he’s not wrong about the underlying point, which is that there’s no straightforward way to get it out of selection pressure.

      • Susebron says:

        Kurzweil’s Singularity is pretty different from the MIRI-style AI risk scenario. See this post by Yudkowsky about different ideas of the Singularity. Kurzweil’s Singularity rests on a bunch of assumptions about technological progress (that it can be quantified, that it follows an exponential curve, etc.) which the MIRI scenario doesn’t. Of course, the MIRI scenario rests on different assumptions (that intelligence can be quantified, that it’s a universal factor, etc.), but it’s perfectly valid to say that Kurzweil’s assumptions are ridiculous while MIRI’s are at least plausible.

  8. Nate Gabriel says:

    Television: Greek + Latin.
    Automobile: Greek + Latin.
    Bisexual: Greek + Latin.
    Semicolon: Latin + Greek.
    Monofilament: Greek + Latin.

    Polyamory: ???

    • Siahsargus says:

      Yes, whoever devised the rule “don’t mix Greek and Latin roots” was a bit late to the punch if they originally wrote that rule in English.

      • onyomi says:

        Was it here that I read that Harvard refused for a while to have a “Sociology” department for that reason (presumably they had something equivalent under a different name)?

    • James says:

      At least three of these are recent enough that it’s plausible that mixing them could be a relatively recent (twentieth century or so) trend.

      There’s a joke in a Tom Stoppard play, I think, where Housman comes into contact with the word ‘homosexual’ for the first time and is disgusted by its roots-mixing.

      • brad says:

        The oldest appears to be semicolon, and that’s relatively late — it’s attested from the 1640s. Though it predates the Victorian Era, which was the source of many of our hypercorrectionalist grammar scold “rules”.

    • Michael Watts says:

      I would have thought the first root in bisexual was from Latin bis, twice. Etymonline would seem to agree, and notes that the Greek equivalent to bi- would be di-. Think “dihydrogen monoxide”.

    • Deiseach says:

      I like the suggestion for “polyphilia” since it strikes my ear more harmoniously than “polyamoury”, but there is of course the danger it would get confused with this 🙂

    • If you watch a teleopticus and drive a suimobile, you’re okay?

      • AlphaGamma says:

        Greeks watch Teleorasi and drive autokineta and have replaced many other Latin roots with Greek ones, including naming the planets after Greek rather than Roman gods.

        (Although the Greek words for parts of a car are mostly straight loan-words from French).

    • ryan says:

      A random commenter on the internet will think a warm and fuzzy thought of you if you would give the Greek/Greek and Latin/Latin versions of those words.

      • Anthony says:

        AlphaGamma beat me to “teleorasi” and “avtokinito”.
        Theres’ also “amphilophilous” for bisexual (which is more “ambi-sexual” than “bi-sexual” – a more direct translation would be “diaphilous”), “monoina” (or maybe “monoklosto”) for monofilament, and something complicated for semicolon.

        • Creutzer says:

          Semicolon is, in fact, very simple, because the Greek equivalent and cognate of “semi-” is “hemi-“. So it’d just be “hemicolon”.

  9. John Schilling says:

    Regarding China solving the problem of stock market crashes: Pursued simplistically, a credible and reliable pledge to use infinity zillion dollars to prevent a stock market crash results in:

    A – the Chinese stock market is always definitively undervalued. It might go up a lot, it can’t go down a lot, and if it goes down a little, random fluctuations will eventually bring it back to the point where you can sell for what you bought at.

    B – Everybody buys Chinese stock, bidding up the price. This ratchets the Chinese government’s set point for “We can’t let the price go down a lot, or it will trigger a crash”.

    C – See A. Lather, rinse, repeat

    D – Even when the Chinese stock market is priced so high that there is no possibility that the real value of the corporations so represented will catch up to the market price, the market is still definitively undervalued because a Greater Fool might bid up the price a lot and the Chinese government won’t let it decline a lot. Continue the A-B cycle.

    E – Even when the Chinese stock market is priced so high that 99% of the stockholders are deciding to hold tight, the market price is set by the 1% of Late Bigger Idiots and clever greedy schemers trying to extract a bit more wealth from the Bigger Idiots, because those are the ones still buying and selling. Continue the A-B cycle, but note that the low trading volume may be a warning.

    F – Eventually, people start to notice that the Chinese stock market is overvalued by “approximately infinity zillion dollars” and decide to cash out before the collapse.

    G – Now the Chinese government does have to make good on its pledge to intervene, and can’t.

    H – Does China have something like a Reichstag that might catch fire on account of a Jewish Communist, er, Capitalist, conspiracy?

    The Chinese government understands this, and won’t use the simplistic version of the strategy as anything but a temporary stopgap measure. I am moderately confident that their clever complicated long-term version will just have more clever and complicated failure modes.

    • Matt Reardon says:

      The market also understands it, and won’t blink (buy) first. This whole cycle could run it’s course in a matter of days if people really really believed it, so even if they did, they wouldn’t want to be left holding the bag on Thursday.

      I predict investors will still attempt to value shares in some way that roughly corresponds to reality, but the guarantee will make this a bit more difficult to do. I would expect the whole market to end up somewhat undervalued because of the uncertainty or real values. A guarantee against loss of principle is nice, but any halfway decent Western index fund can get you that even over it’s worst 5 years ever:

      So yes, they can keep it from going down without catastrophe, but there will still be significant costs in term of prices discounted for increased uncertainty and the actual value lost from misallocating capital. It’s the kind of thing that gets you 8% growth and brand-new empty cities.

    • Chris H says:

      You’re forgetting that China has an independent monetary policy. This means if their central bank guarantees stocks won’t fall then they can always back that up with newly printed money. Therefore their pledge is always credible as long as they are willing to accept hyper-inflation. Said hyper-inflation will happen even without a crash as banks effectively expand the money supply to provide funds for margin buying. So China could always maintain the nominal stock market price, just at the expense of wrecking the economy through hyper inflation.

      • Michael Watts says:

        Hyperinflation does eventually cause the populace to reject the currency, which would mean the government failed to maintain the stock price.

    • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

      The failure mode that comes to my mind is that markets move fast.

      No matter how hard the government promises, everybody in the market is going to have a certain probability they assign to them actually doing it. Given the probability P that the government will cover losses and 1-P of having to take the market price, blah blah blah, you can calculate what your stop price should be.

      Suppose you have a drop/crash/whatever that knocks a bunch of value off of the market in a relatively short period of time. During the much longer period of time that bunch of bureaucrats have a bunch of meetings to decide whether/how/how much to prop up the market, market participants will be doing market things. Like deciding that they are better off cashing out now, potentially pushing the market lower. The lower the market goes, the more people are likely decide to cash out. This is compounded by the psychological impact of time on P. The longer it takes the government to actually do anything, the more likely that market participants are going to blink first, downgrade their P, recalculate their stop price and decide they need to SELL SELL GOD DAMN IT I SAID SELL.

      While it might be possible for the government to enter after the panic and get things back where they want them, it would probably be extremely messy, expensive, and potentially after the contagion has spread to un-infinitely-proped markets.

  10. Loquat says:

    On clothing – it’s a lot simpler to make clothing with a nice outside and seams/ugliness on the inside than it is to make clothing that’s fully reversible and looks nice both ways. Also, human fronts tend to be shaped differently from human backs, particularly among post-pubescent female humans, meaning any article of clothing meant to be more flattering than a potato sack is going to have to account for that difference.

    Tags I agree to be irritating, but they’re still the most reliable way of including care instructions. Anything not a part of the clothing will inevitably get lost by all but the most conscientious of clothing owners, and IME the clothes with care instructions printed right on the fabric in some sort of plastic/rubbery lettering tend to have it peel off after a while.

    • John Schilling says:

      I believe we have reached the point where clothing can be made that will withstand, in functional and at least moderately flattering form, any care of the form “throw it in something resembling a washing machine, with some sort of soap-like substance from the supermarket, on some random setting, then in a dryer on some random setting”. And while we are on the subject of “flattering”, w/re developmently-disabled post-pubescent females with substantial secondary sexual characteristics, you probably want something more flattering than a potato sack but you may not want to go too far in that direction.

      My immediate concern with the concept, though, was where do you put the pockets in a set of reversible garments?

      • speedwell says:

        In my experience, you sew bag-shaped pockets into the side seams. Such pockets are relatively easy to incorporate into a fully reversible design. Example:

        Also, as for the question of fit, knit garments, particularly those that incorporate stretch stitches or elastic fibers in their design, flatter all kinds of figures, provided attention is paid to the weight and drape of the fabric.

      • Loquat says:

        This particular line of clothing may be for the developmentally disabled, but Scott’s comment, “Why did it take such a specific social cause before people came up with such a wonderful idea?” suggests he’d like such clothing to be available for non-disabled adults as well, and I really doubt there’s much of a market there. Now, I have seen a number of adult lounging/workout garments that seemed like they could be made fully reversible with a few design tweaks, but I don’t think the tweaks would make them any more comfortable or attractive (and might even make them less so), and “you can’t put this on wrong!” really isn’t a selling point to people who regard the task of putting on a normal t-shirt and jeans as pathetically easy.

        • Adam Casey says:

          >he’d like such clothing to be available for non-disabled adults as well, and I really doubt there’s much of a market there.

          I’m a member of this market, so I typical minded that basically everyone is. Rationalisation:

          How many times have you put a teeshirt on wrong? I did this morning, and a couple of times last week. Getting rid of that trivial irritation is at least as valuable to me as an electric egg whisk, and there is a market for those.

          • Loquat says:

            I won’t disagree that there’s a niche market for this type of clothing. But I do think it’s quite rare for neurotypical adults to have that kind of trouble dressing themselves – I can’t even remember the last time I accidentally put on any kind of shirt backwards, and my husband only has it happen on very rare occasions. (Mind you, most of our shirts have clear and obvious differences between front and back such as tags, v-necklines, rock band logos, etc.)

          • Nick says:

            I always fold my shirts and put them in the dresser the same way, so I almost never have this problem.

          • Nornagest says:

            I care more about looking good in my clothes than about occasionally having to match their orientation. Clothes looking good is largely a matter of them fitting well, and fitting well is largely a matter of conforming to body lines, and you really can’t do that while ignoring front/back.

            Reversibility is possible for some items (it’s easy for T-shirts, for example, but impossible for jeans), but most of the time you’re better off buying two garments in the colors you want, for reasons others have already given.

      • ozymandias says:

        Is there some reason that people who are sensitive to tags cannot want to be sexually attractive?

        • Deiseach says:

          I don’t care a button about being sexually attractive, but my two big annoyances:

          TAGS. They dig into the back of my neck, they rub against my skin, I have to cut or pull the damn thing off all my clothing.

          POCKETS. Why do clothing manufacturers think women do not need pockets? Do they imagine we all walk around like the Queen with a handbag over our arm? GIVE. ME. POCKETS. IN. MY. SKIRTS. IN. MY. CARDIGANS. IN. EVERYTHING.

          • keranih says:

            It’s the “beauty vs utility” conflict, and in fashion there’s a long tradition of beauty being specifically non-utilitarian, because only the people who could afford to not work would wear corsets, three inch nails, fragile lace, white clothes and high heels.

          • Peter says:

            I’m, err, not entirely cis, and I feel your pain over the whole pockets thing. Except I do occasionally see dresses with them. I even managed to find one in my size once.

            That said, I’ve heard a story that dresses etc. used to have pockets – ones with cleverly concealed pockets became fashionable, and then the cheap knockoffs without pockets came along and dominated the market. I’ve no idea whether this is true or not.

          • Deiseach says:

            Do not talk to me about the fake pockets thing! There is a special circle of Hell for the manufacturers who put the fake flaps with fancy buttons on garments merely to look chic or cute, but NO POCKETS.

          • Anonymous says:

            They know damn well you need pockets, which is why they steadfastly refuse to sell you pockets, and then they receive lavish gifts from their friends the handbag manufacturers.


          • Anonymous says:

            I’m not a woman, but if I were, I’d be absolutely irritated if my pants didn’t have pockets.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            You might’ve gotten used to using a purse, though.

          • DrBeat says:

            They know damn well you need pockets, which is why they steadfastly refuse to sell you pockets, and then they receive lavish gifts from their friends the handbag manufacturers.

            So… Fake pockets are in the pocket of Big Purse?

          • Phlinn says:

            I think women mostly have themselves to blame on the pockets thing. My daughter consistently prefers clothing without real pockets. I think it has something to do with the minor change in the contours of the clothing with real pockets, although there is some supposed history here…

            If women actually consistently preferred to buy clothing with pockets, more such clothing would probably be offered.

          • “If women actually consistently preferred to buy clothing with pockets, more such clothing would probably be offered.”

            Unfortunately, selection can only work on variation that actually exists, and women’s clothes with real pockets aren’t generally offered so there isn’t a really clear signal for manufacturers to notice.

            For a stronger example, fat women would rather have access to better clothes than are generally offered.

          • lvlln says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz
            I agree, and I see that same sort of market failure in smartphone markets as well, wrt screen sizes. I perceive demand for a 3.7″-4.3″ smartphone with equivalent internals as the current top-of-the-line models, but OEMs keep insist on only releasing 5″+ monsters for their high-end phones and gimping their smaller models. Thus everyone who cares about performance end up settling for the 5″+ models and just dealing with the inconvenient size, and that gets interpreted as everyone wanting huge phones, driving the next gen of phones even bigger.

            Actually, same case seems to be for phone thinness. I perceive demand for phones that are 1.5x-2x as thick as current top-of-the-line phones with the accompanying increase in battery capacity, but all high-end phones are super-thin to the point of absurdity, and OEMs keep making them thinner.

          • Ivlin, thanks for that example. It’s interesting because it can’t possibly be explained by prejudice– it’s just the companies not seeing an opportunity.

            I’d hoped that crowd funding would help solve the problem with fat women’s clothing, but the feds are moving very slowly about permitting crowd-funding to start businesses.

          • Deiseach says:

            If women actually consistently preferred to buy clothing with pockets, more such clothing would probably be offered.

            Scenario: Since my old clothes are falling to pieces from being worn out, I go to the shops to buy new clothes.

            I cannot find clothing with pockets.

            Oh well then, I suppose I will exercise my market veto, refuse to buy the clothing on offer without pockets, and until the manufacturers cave in and make women’s clothing with pockets, I will JUST GO NAKED. (Or try to buy men’s clothing, though that is not without problems, also).

            You perceive the difficulty? 🙂

          • LHN says:

            @Mark Atwood Any suggestions as to specific eBay vendors for bespoke clothing, or tips on search terms and how to evaluate sellers? (Just look at ratings, or is there more to it?) Do you do your own measurements, or go to a local tailor?

        • Nornagest says:

          If you’re sensitive to tags but otherwise happy with your clothes, I recommend a seam ripper.

      • Peter says:

        Flattering: You need to be careful about that line of reasoning. There may very well be a general factor of developmental disability, but there’s a lot more to it than that – many of the higher-functioning types can have specific areas of impairment where they have big difficulties, and many of the lower-functioning types can nevertheless do OK at the things they do OK at.

        Also, there’s quite a lot of people with all sorts of disabilities that go grr argh whenever someone makes comments suggesting they think that people with disabilities shouldn’t be having sex. I’m not sure I’m willing to follow them all the way – there may well be some level and pattern of developmental disability at which people can’t meaningfully consent, but I think I’d put that level a fair bit lower-functioning that many other would.

        All that said, I’ve had a look at the range of clothes, and they look nice. A bit on the modest side, but not at all frumpy (edit: err, maybe a bit. But not completely). And they’ve got high necklines too!

    • anon1 says:

      If clothing is OK to machine wash and dry on hot (and clothes made for people with sensory issues are not going to be made from wool anyway), there’s zero need for care instructions.

      • Anonymous says:

        How do I tell if a garment with no care instructions is OK to wash this way, or if the instructions were removed somehow?

        • speedwell says:

          You don’t. You wash the garment gently, with a minimum of detergent, in cool-to-lukewarm water, and drip dry. This works on all fabrics that can be exposed to water. In fact, since I have no babies and live in Ireland (where I have a clothes line and live frugally), this is how I wash all of my clothing and linens anyway. It makes them last longer. They get just as clean.

          I haven’t been doing this forever, though; I’m an expat Yank. Any ideas for getting the towels to be fluffy again without using a lot of fabric softener from those in the know? 🙂

          • suntzuanime says:

            I use a washing machine and get a week’s laundry done in fifteen minutes worth of activity. Don’t tell someone who’s trying to design a better poptart that they should be eating paleo anyway, like you, because you’re so cool and special.

          • speedwell says:

            Um what?

          • suntzuanime says:

            You’re derailing the discussion to make it about how superior your heterodox laundry method is, totally irrelevant to the topic of tagless clothes except that you want to show off. A bit of brazen signalling that left a nasty taste in my mouth.

          • Tau says:

            If someone is worried about damaging clothes by washing them, fully general instructions for how to launder water-washable clothes are a useful response.

            And it’s true – cool to lukewarm water, by hand or gentle cycle, no dryer.

            Some fabric items can ALSO be laundered in other ways, but this way always works for anything that is safe for washing in water.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Suntzuanime, I don’t think that’s a fair characterization of Speedwell’s comment at all. I actually appreciate Speedwell’s instructions and don’t feel unnecessarily constrained in my laundry methods by them. I’m puzzled the tone of your comment and I doubt it’s warranted.

          • Anthony says:

            Towels: use a dryer, and use dryer balls. Failing dryer balls, use a wiffle ball.

        • Deiseach says:

          Since the push nowadays seems to be to wash at lower temperatures (at least all the detergents have these recommendations on them), it probably is all right to wash garments at 40 degrees Celcius (or whatever that comes to in American), unless they are delicates that you know have to be handwashed (like all-wool or silk or something).

          Though generally I still wash my whites at 60 degrees and damn the recommendations, and I’d use a boil wash if the clothes would stand up to it, and I also use laundry bleach too because (a) to get the stains out (b) kill the germs in towels, facecloths etc.

        • Godzillarissa says:

          If the instructions were removed you’ll have that itchty-scratchy bit of leftover tag or (if everything was removed) a hole where it once was.
          If you have neither, maybe a wizard handled removal of instructions or (more likely) it’s okay to wash and dry hot.

        • Katherine says:

          I wash everything at 60 degrees centigrade, dry it in the dryer on hot and iron it on hot. I take no responsibility for your results if you try the same, but I have yet to ruin anything by washing it. The primary purpose of laundry instructions in clothes is to be obnoxious so that you fail to follow the instructions so that the manufacturer won’t be liable if you ruin your clothes in the laundry.

          • Nita says:

            Jesus Christ, people. You can’t ruin linen or cotton that way, but you can ruin wool, silk and some synthetics. Isn’t that common knowledge in the glorious U.S. of A.?

            Edit: Also, some dyes fade faster in hot water, and/or bleed onto other clothes in the wash.

          • John Schilling says:

            But why would we use wool, silk, or heat-sensitive synthetics and dyes? The glorious U.S. of A. is rich enough to afford linen, cotton, and the synthetic fabrics and dies that can handle the heat.

            Only a semi-rhetorical question. I have a few wool and silk garments, but wear them only on special occasions and they mostly get professionally laundered or dry-cleaned because, again, USA is rich and specialization of labor is a thing. Literally everything I wear in daily life (mostly business-casual and some outdoor stuff) can be thrown in the washing machine on its default settings with literally everything else I wear in daily life.

          • Creutzer says:

            I’m not sure I buy the connection between being rich and the lack of wool and silk…

          • John Schilling says:

            I can’t readily find statistics for silk, but in the United States, wool represents 1.7% of all apparel fibers by weight. The global average is 3.1%. And in the United States of 1950, wool was 7.3% of apparel fibers in 1950, down to 5.3% in 1960.

            “Wealth” may be an oversimplification for whatever drove the United States to turn from wool to synthetics to a greater degree than other nations. But whatever the cause, the effect is that Americans have little need to know how to properly launder woolen apparel.

          • Anthony says:

            The U.S. is warmer than Europe, so less need for wool. Woolens are generally outer layers, and so need washing less often – going out in the rain will remove most mud and food from your woolen coats and sweaters. Then you just hang them up or lay them flat to dry.

            And if you actually care enough to do something better, you know where your nearest dry-cleaner is, and/or where to buy Woolite.

          • Nornagest says:

            The US, especially the East Coast, tends to get significantly colder than European nations of equivalent latitude; Boston (at 42 N) and Chicago (41 N) are at about the latitude of Rome (41 N) or Madrid (40 N). London, at 51 N, is north of the entire United States short of Alaska, but its winter temperatures are comparable with those of Atlanta in the southern US.

            It also tends to be hotter in the summer (the phrase to Google is “continental climate”), but if we’re discussing the need for cold-weather clothes, that’s probably less relevant.

        • anon1 says:

          I have a simple rule: if an item of clothing isn’t OK to wash this way, I don’t buy it. I make only two exceptions: (1) the special care requirements are super obvious without a label and the item doesn’t need to be washed often (this covers cashmere sweaters as they’re very distinct from everything else in my wardrobe) and (2) the label might be overly cautious and I can afford to risk ruining the item (this covers silk items from thrift stores; at least 70% of these do fine with normal washing regardless of what the label says).

          I don’t feel like I’m missing out on much by refusing to buy silk items that cost more than $10, or wool/cashmere items that don’t make their nature so obvious at the first touch that there’d be any risk of accidentally putting them in the wrong wash cycle.

    • Tracy W says:

      meaning any article of clothing meant to be more flattering than a potato sack

      Not a problem. There’s no shortage of fashion designers who do not consider themselves bound by such a bourgeoisie constraint.

    • I was going to point out that I have clothes with printed care instructions, but then I realized this would make the clothes not reversible. However, the same argument applies to tags.

      There’s a solution– put the printing and/or tags inside the pockets that are in the side seams.

    • Deiseach says:

      “Also, human fronts tend to be shaped differently from human backs, particularly among post-pubescent female humans”

      Anyone who has ever accidentally put a piece of clothing on back-to-front will realise this. Some materials (wool or synthetic fibres mimicking it) in garments like jumpers (um, is the correct American for this “sweaters”?) will be forgiving enough that you can wear them that way, but tops made out of cotton and/or garments that are more tailored will have a noticeable difference. Collars tend to be cut differently (a little bit lower in front), etc.

      Now, it’s probably perfectly possible to make clothes with “everything is the same size and shape inside-out or back-to-front” and if you’re like me and don’t care as long as the garment is clean and covers what you want it to cover, no problem. But if you want something that fits here and pulls out there and pulls in the other place, it may not be so easy.

      • keranih says:

        Some materials (wool or synthetic fibres mimicking it) in garments like jumpers (um, is the correct American for this “sweaters”?)

        Yes, they’re sweaters. Sweatshirts are something different (‘fleece’ or ‘track suit’, iirc) and what we call jumpers are (at least sometimes) dresses for small girls with shoulder straps that button.

        However, from my memory of a brief couple years knitting, both men and women’s sweaters (even tee shirt collar or turtleneck) have different measurements front and back.

        • Deiseach says:

          both men and women’s sweaters (even tee shirt collar or turtleneck) have different measurements front and back.

          Yup. Because chest muscles (male or female) and stomachs and fat deposits. Front sticks out more than back, so you need a bit more give there, so there is going to be a difference in front and back cut.

          Re: what “jumpers” signify in America, that always confused me until I found out what the garment this was referring to looked like. That’s the kind of thing I’d call a “pinafore” (or even a gymslip if a school uniform) so you can imagine how confused I was when I read things about “girls wearing denim jumpers” 🙂

  11. Eliezer Yudkowsky says:

    So… about the China stocks thing. The basic rule of efficient markets is that you can’t have predictable price changes. If China intervenes temporarily and you expect them to sell some of the stocks later, you won’t buy at a price higher than the price will be after China sells the stocks, because then you’d be buying at a price level where the stock would predictably decline from that price. So for China to have a long-term effect they must be expected to buy and hold forever, and then go on buying when you want to sell that stock to someone else and the buyer on the other side isn’t in the mood that day.

    • onyomi says:

      Rather than buying any particular stocks, wouldn’t they just use some kind of monetary stimulus, as Japan and the US have thus far seemingly gotten away with doing? Or if the people’s appetite for inflation is already low (and I think it’s getting there), fiscal stimulus? And given their huge cash reserves, it seems their leeway to do so would be far greater than ours.

      It doesn’t seem like owners of US stocks have been able to effectively discount the quantitative easing, because no one knows what the price of anything will be, or should be, when it ends, and, in any case, people have to put the extra money somewhere.

    • Emp says:

      Stock markets are not efficient. One gripe I have with this site is it is ridiculously academic. There is overwhelming evidence that markets aren’t efficient, but most definitions here will probably act as though they are.

      In reality, you can’t manipulate markets this way. Doing this basically says that China will be paying stock speculators, (because the only safe direction is up). Eventually the market will be sufficiently up that there won’t be enough money to stave off a crash.

      Regulators just never learn to leave the market alone, and accept that a natural consequence of a market is that sometimes the price is going to be down and that for some to make profits others will have to make losses. When politicians start meddling it never ends well.

      • meyerkev248 says:

        The question is “Are they efficient enough?”

        In other words, on a day-to-day, much less second to second basis, I expect the stock markets to be completely random and subject to the whims of how bad the stock brokers hangovers are from last night, and have very little to do with the actual reality on the ground.

        However, if someone said “The stock market is up 20% this year” or even better, “The stock market is up 300% in the last 20 years despite 3 recessions”, I’d somewhat trust that.

        Which means that the question is not “Are the markets perfectly efficient?”, but “Has the sustained Chinese intervention been systematic enough, directed enough, and effective enough until now such that pretending that the market is efficient tells me what ought to happen because I know roughly what reality is, I know roughly what’s going on in their stock markets, and I fail to see how #2 relates to #1 in any sane way.”

  12. Machine Interface says:

    Another suggested explanation for the French hiring trial was that French recruiters are more forgiving of people with academic background of lesser quality when it can be explained by these people being from a lesser economic background (which includes ethnic minorities, but also white people who live in the same difficult neighborhoods as ethnic minorities).

    When that latter information is no longer avalaible, people with lesser academic background end up systematically discriminated in the hiring process.

    For the lack of correlation between support for political islam and support for terrorism, one possibility is that the people most likely to support political islam are the radical but peaceful Salafi kind who emphatize haddiths saying Muslims must not trouble the local order and must obey the local law when they live in a country that is not a Muslim country, and must not cause dissent within the Muslim community.

    • MartinW says:

      One would hope that in any study which attempts to measure the effect of ethnicity on a candidate’s chance of getting hired, the researchers already make sure to use pairs of candidates with equal academic accomplishments. Otherwise what could the study ever prove?

      But what could easily be the case is that in at least some of these previous studies, the researchers honestly thought that they had normalized the resumes to the point where if a hiring manager prefers one over the other, the only possible explanation is ethnic discrimination, but in reality one of the resumes still contained a few red flags (not directly related to the candidate’s race/gender, but correlated with it) giving information about the candidate’s suitability as an employee, which the researchers didn’t notice but which an experienced hiring manager would pick up on.

      The easiest way to prevent that possibility would be to send the exact same resume to different groups of hiring managers with only the relevant attribute changed. But in the French study that wasn’t possible, since they were real resumes of actual job candidates who would actually get hired if they passed the selection process.

      On a quick scan-through of the report, this is indeed the case: minorities tend to have more gaps on their resume, which is usually considered a big red flag for hiring managers. But apparently French hiring managers normally accept this more easily from minorities than from majority candidates. When the resumes are anonymized, they are no longer able to practice such “positive discrimination”, which is nice for majority candidates with gaps on their resume but which results in minority candidates with gaps no longer getting the benefit of the doubt.

      Also, note that out of all the companies which volunteered for the experiment, they sent anonymized resumes to only half of them, to use the other half as a control group. But this obviously wasn’t a double-blind experiment, so perhaps the hiring managers who received the non-anonymized resumes felt an extra strong pressure to avoid discriminating against minority candidates, thereby throwing off the results of the study? (The report says they were aware of this possibility and tried to correct for it.)

  13. caleb says:

    Oppenheimer’s famous “I am become death, destroyer of worlds” quote misunderstood, say Gita experts, actually meant as a humble statement of devotion to duty.

    Somehow, this is even more fitting.

    • Mary says:

      It’s pretty obvious when you read the passage, because the next line is “Even without you, all of these warriors arrayed in opposing battle-formation will cease to exist!” Addressed to a warrior lamenting the destruction he was about to cause

      • CJB says:

        In context, it’s……it’s a very interesting choice. The verses immediately before and after it lead to very interesting interpretations of his choice:

        These warriors of the mortal world are entering Your blazing mouths as many torrents of the rivers enter into the ocean. (11.28)
        All these people are rapidly rushing into Your mouths for destruction as moths rush with great speed into the blazing flame for destruction. (11.29)
        You are licking up all the worlds with Your flaming mouths, swallowing them from all sides. Your powerful radiance is filling the entire universe with effulgence and burning it, O Krishna. (11.30)
        Tell me, who are You in such a fierce form? My salutations to You, O best of all celestial rulers, be merciful! I wish to understand You, O primal Being, because I do not know Your mission. (11.31)

        Lord Krishna said: I am death, the mighty destroyer of the world.

        So far, it’s a pretty appropriate thought to have with an atom bomb kicking off a few miles away, about to be used in a terrible war.

        The rest, however:

        I have come here to destroy all these people. Even without your participation in the war, all the warriors standing arrayed in the opposing armies shall cease to exist. (11.32)
        Therefore, you get up and attain glory. Conquer your enemies, and enjoy a prosperous kingdom. I have already destroyed all these warriors. You are only an instrument, O Arjuna. (11.33)
        Kill all these great warriors who are already killed by Me. Do not fear. You will certainly conquer the enemies in the battle; therefore, fight! (11.34)

        Given that Oppenheimer read the Gita in SANSKRIT (Yeah, sure, legendary physicist wasn’t enough for you? Jerk) I’m pretty sure he would’ve been very familiar with the context…

        And in context…well, it’s an extremely appropriate thing to say. It’s appropriately terrified, appropriately warlike, and I think the verse immediately before it is the most important context:

        ” I wish to understand You, O primal Being, because I do not know Your mission. ”

        That sounds like it could’ve been written by a mystically inclined physicist.

        It’s like this Oppenheimer guy was real smart or sumfin. 😛

  14. onyomi says:

    Certain parts of Yunnan do have some of the truest matriarchies I know of. As in, the husband moves in with his wife’s family, and she, or her oldest living matriarch, makes most of the important financial decisions.

  15. Jacob says:

    Regarding CEO pay, I’m not a CEO but I had always assumed disclosure rules would cause CEO pay to go UP, not down, for the reasons the author said.

    You can find the ratio of CEO-to-worker pay here: There’s a gradual rise starting in the 80s and then it really kicks up right around 1990-1993 (the source for that graph has disappeared apparently so I can’t get the exact year).

    In 1992, the SEC implemented rules requiring the disclosure of CEO pay, before that it was largely private. See, SEC Release Nos. 33-6962, 34-31327 and IC-19032 (1992).

    So the timeline tracks matches up. There are likely other factors too, but that’s one.

    • Eric Rall says:

      Two contributing factors I see as likely to be a part of the CEO compensation trends:

      1. Over the course of the late 70s and the 80s, the US shifted from a high-rate/very-broad-deductions tax regime to a lower-rate/narrower-deductions regime. As a result, it would make sense for large companies to shift executive compensation away from perks (which were deductible to the company as business expenses under the old regime, but not taxable to the recipient) and towards salary, bonuses, and stock (which are taxable as income, or at least capital gains). The statistics of executive compensation only capture the latter categories, not the former, so a shift in form of compensation looks like an increase in amount of compensation.

      2. Shifting patterns of corporate organizational practices have put a lot more emphasis on the role of the CEO, and large companies tend to feel less secure in their established market positions, which magnifies both the actual and perceived benefit of a good CEO and the potential harm of a bad CEO. Boards and shareholders are willing to pay through nose to hire and retain their best guess as to who will be the best CEO, because if you think a good CEO is expensive, wait till you see what a bad CEO costs you.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Late 70s? What are you talking about? Can you point to a specific bill?

        In 1978 Carter proposed reducing deductions, but that proposal failed. And your mechanism depends on actual tax law, not proposals. Maybe it still fits the timeline if you restrict to the 80s, but I think that Reagan only signed such reforms in 1986. Maybe that’s early enough for Jacob’s claims (though I am skeptical), but a lot of things in “the 80s” also attributed to tax code without a sensible timeline. (Carter did reduce capital gains tax, which might be relevant.)

        • Eric Rall says:

          I was going off of memory. The particular bills I had in mind were the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 (rate reductions), the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 (limiting deductions), and the Tax Reform Act of 1986 (both). I thought I also remembered hearing that tax treatment of meals, entertainment, and travel (particularly deductibility of first-class airfare for domestic business travel) had been made significantly stricter during the Carter administration, but a quick googling and wikipedia dive just now failed to find confirmation. I suppose it might have been an administrative interpretation change rather than an actual change in the law, but more likely either I’m misremembering what I heard or my source was mistaken (probably conflating Carter’s failed proposals with the actual law changes in 1982 and 1986).

          • Eric Rall says:

            Found something: according to this, some tax law changes went into effect in 1979 creating a general rule that “no business deduction is allowed for any expenses paid or incurred for an entertainment, recreational or amusement facility. An entertainment facility is any property that a taxpayer owns, rents, or uses for entertainment. Examples of entertainment facilities include a hunting lodge, fishing camp, swimming pool, tennis court, bowling alley, car, apartment, hotel suite, a home in a vacation resort, and, importantly, airplanes.” If I’m reading the notes section here correctly, the provision came from Pub. L. 95–600, which is the Revenue Act of 1978.

            It looks like there was also a change in 1984 counting “fringe benefits” (defined as “any property or service that an executive receives in lieu of or in addition to regular taxable wages”) as taxable income (source).

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Sorry, that was a bad way to phrase my question. I don’t really want a bill. There are tax changes all the time and I can’t evaluate how important any particular one is. I only wanted a name of a bill that I could confirm that people agreed was important. It probably would have been better to directly ask for a secondary source, eg, where did you get this phrase “70s and 80s.”

            I think the 1986 bill increased the tax base more than the 1984 bill, but maybe it was the 1984 bill that was about fringe benefits, and thus relevant here.

            Just cutting taxes, as in 1978 and 1981, might, itself, be a reason to switch from fringe benefits to income.

          • Eric Rall says:

            Most of the important parts, as I understand it, happened in the 80s: the 1986 tax reform bill and the combination of the 1981 rate reductions and the 1982 and 1984 deduction restrictions. I extended the time window to include the late 70s because as I was writing the original comment I thought I remembered hearing that some initial steps in that direction had happened in under Carter, which if true I wanted to include for the sake of completeness.

          • CJB says:

            Errr- the answer to “Why do CEOs make sooooo much more money than everyone else” is….

            They don’t.


            The median salary for people titled “CEO” is about 685,000 dollars. The 90th percentile is 1 million.

            So what does the “407/1” ratio come from?

            Well, they typically look at the CEO compensation….from the 200 or so biggest companies in the world.

            A brief google for “Number of companies in the US” turns up this:


            “In 2010 there were 27.9 million small businesses, and 18,500 firms with 500 employees or more.”

            Now, I worked for a 35 person company that was sold for 100 MILLION dollars, so there’s plenty of smaller companies with high value- and of course, places like google probably won’t make that 18,500 number.

            But lets rough this out. 200/18,500=….about 1 percent. So the question isn’t “Why is CEO pay so ridiculous”. It’s “why is CEO compensation in the top 1% Of all companies so high” and the answer is “because they’re in the top 1% of all companies.” I’d also like to see the most extreme outliers taken out:


            Notice as well that by the time you drop from 1 to 10, it’s 1/3d of the top paid CEO and 1/2 of the second highest paid CEO. The 100th highest paid CEO makes about half of the number 10 CEO. I frankly, don’t feel like firing up excel and charting this shit right now.

            But essentially, the top 1/2 of the 1% of CEOs makes over 20 million. The top quarter makes over 40 million.

            If we look at the top 500:


            All of a sudden we’re seeing CEO pay down to about 2 million. For a FORTUNE 500 COMPANY- IE- the biggest, baddest swinging dick companies out there.

            And that chart reveals something else super interesting.

            It’s the stocks. CEOs getting stocks at part of their compensation kicked off… the 80’s. Or, right around when CEO pay starts skyrocketing

            Now, the idea is that this ties performance and compensation together. Of course, it encourages some bad behaviors as well- but overall, it seems to be working- corporate raiding appears to be a thing of the past.

            I’m surprised that a group of people as smart as this wouldn’t go “Wait, the CEO of *small local grocery store chain* is making an average of FIFTEEN MILLION DOLLARS? That seems silly.”

            Edited for niceness.

          • CJB says:

            And I suppose the obvious comment is “Yes, but we’re talking about the highest paid CEOs, dummy.”

            Then you need to state that. If I run in here going “OMG did you know the AVERAGE DOCTOR is making THREE MILLION DOLLARS A YEAR HOW ARE DOCTORS SO OVERPAID” and it turns out my sample size is Doctor Phil, Doctor Oz, Dr. Sajay Gupta, Dr. Ben Carson and the highest paid doctors at Merck and Phizer, you might well accuse me of being a little bit disingenuous about my claims.

            And if I then went on to say “Well, yes, the average GP doesn’t make anywhere near that, and makes a pretty reasonable salary, but we’re discussing only the most WELL KNOW doctors in the world, after all they’re the real movers and shakers in the medical world”, that’s just disingenuous in the extreme.
            (Yes, I know, it’s not a perfect metaphor, but neither is a map the territory, if I start getting comments about how CEOs and Doctoring are different I shall be MOST PUT OUT and use MANY CAPITAL LETTERS. Use lawyers instead, if it troubles you, or day traders, gamblers, or cardinals, or college professors or basketball coaches.)

            So if you want to discuss “why do the 200 highest paid CEOs in the world make so much”- say that. But that’s a much different claim from “CEO Pay”. CEO pay of your average CEO of an average 500 person company is probably going to be about 600K a year. If you want to talk about why CEOs of the Fortune 500 make so much, it might be because their asses are on the line for multi-billion dollar companies and hundreds of lives- and the vast majority seem to take that seriously.

        • The CEO salary thing US happening outside the US , too.

    • AnotherAnon says:

      I am pretty certain this goes on with higher end academic salaries as well. Highly selective schools want to be in the top 10% or 5% of salaries. But this leads to the exact same ratchet effect.

    • Arthur B. says:

      What about the standard, classical explanation for CEO pay?

      Oracle made $38B in sales in 2014, with 82.2% margin. Larry Ellison is the highest paid CEO in the US, his compensation was $67M. So Larry Ellison’s salary is 0.2% of profits on sales. For every 0.003% increase in sale that a CEO can drive, Oracle should be willing to pay an extra million in salary.

      But what about hiring two people? Why wouldn’t two super talented person paid $33.5M each perform better than Ellison? Because CEO is not a parallelizable job… almost by definition, the whole point of the job is to act as a coordination point setting the course for the entire company.

      Pay isn’t linear in ability. It makes sense for corporations to pay extremely large amount of money to compete for small differences in ability.

      • Anonymous says:

        Is Elision going anywhere else though? Couldn’t they get him for a lot less money given the circumstances?

        Maybe the claim is that CEO performance is so important that ego stroking is important enough to pay astronomical sums for, but I must say I’m skeptical.

        • Arthur B. says:

          They have a classic dual monopoly problem, so it can go either way. The fact that he has a large ownership in the company and probably strong allies on the board means he can probably get the upper hand in the negotiation. But the argument I outlined applies broadly to star CEO who may be more “mobile” than Ellison.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          The real thing is that astronomical CEO pay doesn’t matter to the company.

          If there were a 1% chance that cutting his pay in half led to a 1% loss in sales, they would end up with less money.

          If you cut his pay in half and distributed it to the employees, that would bump each employee by . . . $250.

          If you cut his pay in half and distributed it to the shareholders as a dividend, every $100 of shares would get . . . 2 cents.

          There is no real incentive in the company to try and contain CEO pay.

  16. Douglas Knight says:

    Oppenheimer spent two decades going around telling everyone that’s what he meant, but no one who was there believed him.

  17. Adam says:

    So apparently Hulk Hogan and Colin Cowherd both got fired tonight. More fuel for the “world has gotten too PC” crowd.

    • Locke says:

      Regarding Hogan, he was caught saying the n-word repeatedly and admitting to being racist. WWE is a private company that has a pretty diverse audience/workforce and Hogan isn’t a major wrestler for them anymore. So why should they be condemned for firing him ?

      • keranih says:

        Only if we can’t apply “it’s okay to fire people for non-work performance-related speech” to the rest of the economy.

        If any boss can fire any employee for something the employee said, then sure, no prob.

        • Frank McPike says:

          As anyone familiar with professional wrestling can tell you, “non-work” speech has always been pretty tightly policed in the industry. This isn’t some new, PC thing, but a longstanding business practice. The days when a wrestler would be disciplined for breaking character in any public setting are over, but the business model still sort of relies on blurring the lines between the person and the character they portray.

          This goes double for someone like Hogan, who was hired not to wrestle, but to be paraded about every now and then for nostalgia, and to provide a link to wrestling’s past. It’s primarily a PR role, and if people see him and think “ugh” rather than “guy I liked when I was a kid” he becomes a liability. In other words, the idea that his public image is irrelevant to how effective he is at his job is a little silly. Wrestling has always been a job where all behavior is subject to scrutiny. (You might well think that this is horrible, but, if so, it has at least been horrible in the same way for a long time, without spreading to other industries.)

          It’s also pretty tough to see this as some new hypersensitivity. What Hogan said would have been universally condemned as racist and deplorable at any point in his career. Nor is the WWE suddenly more concerned with its stars’ images. Painting this as symptomatic of some new change is highly misleading. Even when Hogan was wrestling’s biggest star he would have had a tough time walking away from this. His character (at least now, there was a period in the past where he was a heel) is as a wholesome, all-American, inspirational figure. Being massively racist is sort of inconsistent with that, in a way that alienates a lot of his audience. Granted, it’s not a terribly well-kept secret that he’s an awful person whose ego ultimately became a liability to every place he’s ever worked. But this is both more public, and more unequivocally damning then most of the other stuff that’s come out about him.

          Now, as someone said below, this is all a little hypocritical. Professional wrestling has traded on racial stereotypes in its characterization and storylines for ages. This has gotten a little better in recent years (as part of an ongoing rebranding on the part of the WWE), but at least part of the reason they’re dropping Hogan like a hot potato is that they know that it’s an easy way of maintaining their brand and preventing attention from falling on a whole lot of other stuff that’s pretty bad (though, again, it’s hard to imagine a universe where they wouldn’t get rid of him because of this).

          It should be noted, though, that he’s not actually being fired because WWE has moral concerns with his behavior. This tape was made years ago. There’s no doubt that the company knew it existed, god knows everyone else who follows this stuff did (as soon as they saw he was fired, pretty much all the wrestling blogs correctly guessed the reason, there had been rumors about the tape’s existence for years). If they were genuinely outraged by it, he would never have been brought back in the first place. He was only fired when the tape became public knowledge, and it began to seem like Hogan would generate bad PR.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          In the US, pretty much any employer can fire any employee for any reason, including almost all speech outside work. (There are very specific counter-examples, like disclosing your salary and organizing unions.)

          This is probably the best policy legally. Culturally, though, we should all be very worried.

      • Adam says:

        I wasn’t trying to express any personal opinion of the merits of either action, but if you insist, here goes. I haven’t followed Hulk Hogan or WWF/WWE in twenty years, so don’t really have an opinion of that one.

        For Cowherd, I think ESPN and the MLBPA is being a little touchy. He could have worded it better, but I’m pretty sure he was being sincere when explaining he just meant their education system sucked, not that Dominicans are genetically inferior or anything. Plus, ESPN has been skimming off the top of his ability to rile people up with charged language for a decade, and now they fire him for it?

        As a side note, I used to be a Disneyland performer way the hell back in the day, and got fired for making what the management deemed to be inappropriate jokes (for which the actual audience applauded me, by the way). So I guess Colin and I are brothers-in-arms now. Both sniped by the mouse.

        • haishan says:

          Course, as I understand it, Cowherd’s contract was a week away from being up anyway. Which probably changes the calculus some.

          • Anon Y Mous says:

            Cowherd also has a long history of saying phenomenally stupid and inflammatory things, often with racial undertones, on the air. His style is very much in the tradition of “say the most extreme thing you can get away with so everybody is always noticing you and talking about you.” Even if his contract wasn’t about to be over anyway, it’s hard to blame ESPN for not wanting to pay him to say those things.

          • sourcreamus says:

            He is not quitting the radio business, he is just moving to a competitor. This is just ESPN’s attempt to tarnish him before he starts his new gig. Horrible way to treat someone. Apparently ESPN is being pressured to cut costs and they are getting rid of some of their high profile employees which cuts salary costs and lets other employees know how disposable they are.

      • Corwin says:

        Well that’s incredibly hypocritical of them, what with the (horrible stereotypes of) characters they inflict on (nearly all) their nonwhite, and (all) female, performers. And even some of the white male ones.

  18. suntzuanime says:

    You know, I expect more from a link whose url starts with “seagull-attacks-david-cameron”.

  19. Wrong Species says:

    “there is a good case for donating to support deworming even when in substantial doubt about the evidence.”

    Is that really the kind of message effective altruists should be promoting? They give some lame excuse by saying that since it’s so cheap it doesn’t really matter but that’s not very rational. GiveWell seems to be doing the exact thing they accuse other charities of doing, promoting feel good causes rather than analyzing the evidence.

    • Lemminkainen says:

      You left out the “because de-worming is so cheap” that followed it. Their point is that because de-worming is so low cost that even if there’s a 50% chance that it has no real effects (which I think is generous to their critics, given how junky the critique of their study is), it still makes sense to donate from an expected-value perspective.

      • Wrong Species says:

        It doesnt matter how low cost it is if it isn’t effective. The obviously rational thing to me would be to go with the proven methods. At least then you know you aren’t wasting money. Now obviously you can’t be 100% certain of its effectiveness but they said you should donate even with substantial doubt, which makes no sense.

        • keranih says:

          Additionally, I haven’t yet found anything in the literature discussing anti-drug resistance among the targeted parasites – either acknowledging the risk or finding that it isn’t a concern.

        • James says:

          Erm, are you familiar with the statistical concept of ‘expectancy’? That’s what they’re aiming to maximize, and an uncertain investment certainly can in principle be the way to do so, though of course it depends in practice on the specific figures.

          If you feel more risk-averse about your donations then I guess that’s your perogative, but I don’t think this is one of those situations in which it’s right to be risk averse.

        • Froolow says:

          The LSHTM re-analysis of the original paper did two things: shifted the mean cost/QALY slightly more to the higher end, and greatly increased the width of the confidence intervals. Imagine you have to pick the most effective charity from effect sizes of:

          * Mean 3 SD 1 (original paper)

          * Mean 2 SD 5 (LSHTM re-analysis)

          * Mean 1 SD 1 (next-best alternative)

          Assume costs are the same, so the only important number is the mean effect size. Obviously the original calculation makes de-worming look best. But if you *had* to pick between the other two, which do you choose? Personally, it seems like you’d be remiss not to pick the second option – even though the SD is much higher (maybe even to the point where you are no longer such it has a significant effect), on average you will end up doing much better than if you picked the ‘safe’ option three.

        • Esquire says:

          Is it really safe to say the critique is junky when it includes the Cochrane Collaboration? My understanding was that they were the absolute gold standard for “It Is Known”.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Their argument is correct and important.

      If there’s only a 10% chance worming works (and no one is really going that low), but worming creates 1 util per dollar conditional upon it working, and there’s a 90% chance something else works, and that something else creates 1 util per hundred dollars, then the expected utility of giving $1000 to worming is 100 utils, and the expected utility of giving $1000 to the other thing is 9 utils, so worming looks about eleven times better.

      Yes, this is sort of Pascalish, but when you have numbers like “10%”, Pascal’s Wager works.

      • Aaron says:

        Wouldn’t risk also have to be part of this equation? Harmful, unintended consequences often result from seemingly benign practices. I have no idea what the risks might be in mass de-worming so perhaps this isn’t an issue.

        It does make me wonder more generally if we need a factor such as “evolutionary risk” in the case of medicines which kill organisms. What is the long term cost/benefit associated with selecting the organism for resistance? Then again maybe it’s obvious that this will happen but we do it anyway because the short term benefits are so high.

      • Alexander Stanislaw says:

        If there is a 90% chance that a lot of people are spending money on something that does nothing, then EA’s are going to have a very hard time getting money in the future. If we expect EA to last for a long time, then this effect can easily swamp the short term util difference.

        If EA grows enough to enter the mainstream then politics and sustainability are kind of a big dea. 2036 headlines: “Effective Altruism movement spends $500,000 on scientifically debunked intervention”. Not a great way to grow a movement. (I really dislike short term utilitarian calculations for this reason).

      • Tau says:

        1) Based on what has happened with livestock anthelmintics in the past half-century, “deworming all the children” seems very likely to lead to loss of efficacy of all available dewormers in those human populations.
        A couple of random references:
        The digest version is that when we regularly deworm every member of a population without regard to worm burden, we select heavily for resistance in the worms. Farmers et alia tried rotating through available classes of dewormers, but this didn’t really help. Worms can develop resistance to entirely novel classes of dewormers in a surprisingly short time, given incorrect husbandry. The only intervention (so far, that I am aware of) that helps somewhat is to strategically deworm only individuals with a high worm burden – others are left to maintain a population of parasites shedding anthelmintic-susceptible offspring into the environment.

        Caveat, I only kind of skimmed the Harvard paper to look at their methodology, but it didn’t look like they were describing using what I would describe as a modern and evidence-based parasite-control strategy. More along the “deworm all the children” lines.

        2) In point of fact, the EA insistence on mass deworming as a great way to spend my charity dollars has kept me turned off from (or maybe just “skeptical of the proponents of”) EA. I’ll just keep giving my charity dollars to organizations that send girls in developing nations to school. At least that way I’m not directly subsidizing the development of resistant intestinal parasites.

        • suntzuanime says:

          The neoreactionaries have some interesting claims about the possible negative consequences of sending girls in developing nations to school. It’s really hard to be justifiably certain that you’re actually doing good.

          • AngryDrake says:


            Per the UN definition of ‘genocide’, sending girls in developing nations to school might be genocide.

          • Creutzer says:

            According to the UN definition of genocide, the distribution of condoms is genocide. That indicates that the definition is broken.

          • Alexander Stanislaw says:

            Would you be willing to summarize the argument and/or provide a link? My GoogleFu was not strong enough to find anything.

            If it is bringing down fertility rates, I thought that’s what they wanted.

          • Well, NRxs thing western levels of native population replacement , ie shrinkage of ~1% year are DOOM, so……

          • John Schilling says:

            The UN official definition of genocide is

            “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
            (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
            (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

            “intent” and “in part” have been noted as grey areas in dire need of more specific guidance. Taking the broadest literal interpretation,

            (d) distributing condoms is clearly intended to prevent births within the group; does this constitute “intentional” destruction of the “part” of the group that doesn’t get born? If Israel gives free condoms to its Arab population and free child-care subsidies to the Haredi, is that kosher?

            (e) unless you really seriously expect the girls who have gone to school in the developed world to go back and be aboriginal tribesmen or whatever, that plan runs afoul of the “transfer to another group” part. And if you expect them to go back and become Enlightened Neo-Aboriginal Tribesmen, is that still the old group or the new group you are planning to supplant the old group with when your nefarious genocidal scheme is complete.

            The UN definition of genocide is too heavily informed by “What Hitler Did, including any clever evasion his future apologists might come up with, no, Adolf doesn’t get a pass just because he didn’t go after the Jews of New York”. It does not do well with real-world edge cases involving villains of less than Hitlerian evilness.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            > The neoreactionaries have some interesting claims about the possible negative consequences of sending girls in developing nations to school.

            One argument I remember seeing here not long ago sounded like Utilitarianism of a far future utopian kind. Iirc, it could be uncharitably phrased as something like this: ‘We want X number of happy humans in Y thousand years, so right now even in very bad environments we need women barefoot and pregnant.’

            I don’t think expecting any utopia fits with Neoreactionism. Traditionalists/Nrxs may want a higher birth rate among highly educated women, but I’d be surprised if many of them want girls left nearly illiterate.

            Preference Utilitarianism wouldn’t support going against the current girls’ preference for schooling, and their parents’ and others’ preference for better conditions in the near future.

          • CJB says:

            The most convincing argument I’ve heard about educating 3d world women (or 3d world people in general) is this:

            What PRECISE benefit are they getting out of this? This isn’t even 1850’s US, when women were actually quite seriously restricted- women would still be expected to learn a number of skills, even bluestockings could usually get married, and even a fairly stringent husband wasn’t likely to beat the fuck out of you for, you know- READING.

            Lets talk about rural afghanistan. We go in, say “Yayyyy! You’re all in school now! WESTERN ED! WESTERN ED!” and then…..we fuck off.

            Are they going to be doctors? Lawyers? Engineers? Get a scholarship to Buckfuckistan U?

            No. They’re going to become targets- soft, lifelong targets of the powers who, despite our best efforts, are still pretty much the ruling forces in Afghanistan. Sure, you can maybe make a case that girls in Kandahar might have enough access to enough resources that they can actually get something out of it. But not many. You’ve put targets on these girls backs, and done nothing to protect them. You’ve set up a Pashtun girl (arguably the most sexist society on earth) with nothing more than enough skills to remind her of the skills she can never acquire.

            It’s like that female police officer, Malalai Kakar. Everyone in the west was all “Rah rah fight the powah sista!” and there’s some famous pictures of her arresting some dude.

            We made her into a symbol.

            Guess what happened?


            “A Lieutenant Colonel, she was the head of Kandahar’s department of crimes against women.[1] Kakar, who received numerous death threats, was assassinated by the Taliban on September 28, 2008.”


            “Other women have shared Malalai’s tragic fate. Hanifa Safi and Najia Sediqi, heads of women affairs in Laghman Province, were assassinated in 2012. On Thursday 4 July 2013, Islam Bibi, a 37-year-old mother of three and the leading female police officer in Helmand, was gunned down on her way to work. A few months later, on 15 September, Bibi’s 38-year-old successor, Negar, was also shot; she died the following day.”

            So yeah. We make women targets, and then we take some pictures and make t-shirts- and then they get assassinated while we’ve moved onto Miley Cyrus.

        • AJD says:

          It troubles me a bit that the word is “anthelmintic”. I don’t see why it isn’t “antelminthic”. By it ought to be the first th that becomes a , not the second.

          • James Landis says:

            It looks like Grassmann’s law only applies to consecutive syllables, which in this case they aren’t.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            James, yes, Grassmann’s law, proper, does not predict antelminthic, but neither does it explain what really happened. It suggests that anthelimtic is more surprising than antelminthic. Since the former happened, we should be surprised. As that wikipedia article mentions, there are similar processes in other languages that affect further separated sounds. But it would probably be better to invoke a general rule that dissimilation affects the earlier sound.

        • Leo says:

          They do deworm all the children without testing them.

          Givewell makes a distinction between “impact on general health” and “developmental impact”, by which they seem to mean school attendance. They use the word “subtle” a lot.

          Givewell itself does not think impact on health is large:

          There is strong evidence that administration of the drugs reduces worm loads, but weaker evidence on the causal relationship between reducing worm loads and improved life outcomes.

          Evidence for the impact of deworming on short-term general health is thin, especially for soil-transmitted helminth (STH)-only deworming. […] We would guess that deworming populations with schistosomiasis and STH (combination deworming) does have some small impacts on general health, but do not believe it has a large impact on health in most cases. We are uncertain that STH-only deworming affects general health.

          They’re betting on developmental impact, but, uh…

          the most compelling case for deworming as a cost-effective intervention comes [..] from the possibility that deworming children has a subtle, lasting impact on their development, and thus on their ability to be productive and successful throughout life.

          Empirical evidence on this matter is very limited, resting on two relatively well-known and well-executed studies and one recently released working paper.

          So the argument is that deworming probably has no long-term benefits, but it’s so cheap that it’s worth it. This seems to pan out. Assume that deworming has a 1% chance of working, and that if it works then it saves 1/100th of a life per dewormed child. (I pulled those numbers out of a hat.) We then expect that deworming 10000 (ten thousand) children saves one life. Deworming one child costs $0.50; it takes $5000 to save a life. This is comparable to the cost of saving a life with malaria nets ($3340).

          Footnotes 112 and 113 in the report look at the possibility of resistance. Hookworms might be developing resistance to mebendazole; there is no evidence of any other resistance. But that’s just means it’s not too late; there’s nothing about future possibilities.

          Givewell is being sloppy here, but this mostly means that helping is really hard.

          Givewell is probably also very strongly biased in favour of transparent charities – they should require transparency so that they can evaluate the charity at all, not make it a positive in the evaluation. The gimmicky “your nets are being shipped” icons on the AMF’s website are cute, but don’t directly help.

          Overall I think deworming is worse than buying malaria nets. I also want alternatives to Givewell more than I did, but don’t know of any.

          Agree with me and donate to the Against Malaria Foundation

          Disagree with me and donate to the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative

          • Tau says:

            Deworming every child might very well be a net positive in the short term, and is indeed super cheap. (That’s how sheep farmers have ended up in their particular resistance pickle – it requires less organizational effort to just dose all the sheep, and dewormer is cheap enough that it’s hard for farmers to be convinced to do it differently until they have a big problem.) These groups of charities have only been doing it for a few years, right? So at most we’re seeing very short-term effects. The problem is that it is highly likely to be a net global negative in the long term, because mass deworming is not a good way to manage intestinal parasites on a population level and in the medium to long-term. Deworm the world aggressively now, and in ten years (made-up time interval, seems somewhat likely) we might not be able to effectively deworm anybody.

            Also you can spell it ‘anthelminthic’ if that makes you feel better, that is an accepted alternative. But it’s important to keep the initial ‘h’ because it is an aspirated ‘h’, even with the prefix ‘ant-‘.

            I’m not going to go browsing neoreactionary sites, but if someone wants to link me to claims about sending girls in developing nations to school, I would be interested to read them. Since most of the kind of thing I’m talking about is trying to get girls through primary school so that they can read, write, and do math it’s hard for me to see the neoreactionary problem. Those are skills that are extremely useful to a good housekeeper and mother. But I admittedly am not super informed about the neoreactionary way.

          • AngryDrake says:

            Per this study, western (but not islamic) schooling beyond age 12ish severely reduces fertility.

            HT Jim. (More links to studies in the comments there.)

          • Tau says:

            Oh, that. I see voluntary average fertility reduction as a feature not a bug.

            I have multiple reasons for seeing it that way, and I’d think that neoreactionaries would share my view on at least some of them if not all (granted, I don’t know or care too much about that school of thought, but based on my limited understanding). I mean, the targeted sites of action for my charitable giving in this vein are … um … cultural competitors of developed nations?

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Oh, that. I see voluntary average fertility reduction as a feature not a bug.

            We’re not talking about a minor reduction in fertility here. According to the Nepalese data, Western female education beyond age 12 automatically drops fertility below the replacement rate. In other words, it’s demographic suicide.

            I mean, the targeted sites of action for my charitable giving in this vein are … um … cultural competitors of developed nations?


          • Only it’s not suicide, because it’s self compensating. If the birthrate dropped to a level that was economically damaging, the society would have to cut back on education, and hey presto.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Only it’s not suicide, because it’s self compensating. If the birthrate dropped to a level that was economically damaging, the society would have to cut back on education, and hey presto.

            Yes, because that has worked so well for America, Europe, and Japan.

          • The actual compensation will probably be that people who really want children (the motivation might genetic, memetic, or mixed) will eventually take over.

          • Murphy says:

            Doesn’t look suicidal to me. Resources get concentrated in smaller numbers of children who are more likely to get high-status jobs. More migrants move to the country and fill the low status jobs. It’s only a problem if you’re rabidly anti-immigration.

          • Tau says:

            I am aware that it is not a trivial reduction in fertility. It is a feature not a bug because there are probably approximately enough people on earth right now, and way too many of them are being born in places where the current population already exceeds the reasonable carrying capacity.

            Fortunately most women don’t actually want to have seven to twelve children; most women prefer to have fewer children and lavish more care and resources on those fewer children. We know this because that is consistently what women DO when they receive enough education to be aware that their preferences can matter and that they can achieve them. We also know this because when women are asked, that’s what most of them say. Anyone who genuinely wants a dozen children is welcome to do that as far as I’m concerned.

            To be totally clear, I am in NO WAY talking about funding post-secondary education for women from developing nations in western universities. I am talking about charitable dollars spent sending 6- to 12-year-old girls to local schools, because many families will only pay for boys to receive even basic schooling. Sending girls to primary school results in families with better-run household finances and more productive cottage industries, fewer children on average with more resources and care to be expended on the children that there are, better education in following generations because of maternal contribution to things like “kids learning to count” and “kids learning to read”, and a host of other secondary and tertiary good effects.

            I don’t actually mind if things that I do make neoreactionaries grumpy, but this seems like a weird discussion to be having. I see nothing negative about doing something that as a side effect encourages voluntary population reduction in places where life is currently not very pleasant for most people. You know, rather than encouraging people to produce 7-10 illiterate and innumerate children, many of whom will then want to emigrate to a western nation and will on average integrate poorly.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Wow! That Napalese study is impressively bad. Aside from the obvious confounders in any correlational research, and failing to account for confounding with the secular (heh) trend, it fails to control for age. It finds that younger women are less “fertile” than older women because it uses an idiotic definition of fertility.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Murphy
            > Doesn’t look suicidal to me. Resources get concentrated in smaller numbers of children who are more likely to get high-status jobs. More migrants move to the country and fill the low status jobs.

            This clearly applies to countries like the US that attract immigrants. In the US, these changes may be managebly gradual on both or all sides. Increasingly, more of each low status task is done by a machine that can be operated safely by the newest immigrant — and produce more output; current recent immigrants become more Americanized and have fewer children; as jobs are exported and conditions improve overseas, their workers will have less incentive to emigrate.

            I’ve heard a warning like “It takes two young workers to support one aged parent, so when there is only one young worker, the parent will starve [half-starve].”
            A reply I have not seen would be “When one worker produces three times as much, there will be more food for everyone [pace Malthus].”

            @ Tau

            What you said.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            >Doesn’t look suicidal to me. Resources get concentrated in smaller numbers of children who are more likely to get high-status jobs. More migrants move to the country and fill the low status jobs. It’s only a problem if you’re rabidly anti-immigration.

            It is a problem if:
            1. The immigrants have a very different culture
            2. They have a much higher fertility
            3. They don’t assimilate

            That doesn’t seem to be a problem for the US. Might end up being one for Europe down the line.

          • Anonymous says:

            “According to the Nepalese data, Western female education beyond age 12 automatically drops fertility below the replacement rate.”

            I wonder if that’s an effect of delaying fertility, rather than an absolute drop in fertility over a woman’s lifetime.

          • ” Yes, because that has worked so well for America, Europe, and Japan.”

            What’s not working? None of those regions is a exactly a depopulated wasteland,

          • Jiro says:

            Whatever Happened: actually, that points out a contradiction in the whole idea. If the idea is that the locals have few children, who take high-status jobs, and the low-status jobs are taken by immigrants, that means that the plan only works if the immigrants don’t assimilate. And if the immigrants don’t assimilate, we get the problems you allude to.

            “Immigration is okay because the immigrants will assimilate” and “immigration solves the problem of not having the population to do low status jobs” are contradictory.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Doesn’t look suicidal to me. Resources get concentrated in smaller numbers of children who are more likely to get high-status jobs. More migrants move to the country and fill the low status jobs. It’s only a problem if you’re rabidly anti-immigration

            Population growth is either good or bad for a country. If the former, should stop educating women and ban contraception. If the latter, importing immigrants negates benefits. In what world does it make sense for a country to grow its population by destroying its people and replacing them with immigrants?

          • Saint_Fiasco says:

            In what world does it make sense for a country to grow its population by destroying its people and replacing them with immigrants?

            Maybe immigrants are just better than the unwanted children of poor uneducated natives?

            Even if they are only equal and not better, not educating women and rejecting immigrants is something that makes people feel bad, I guess.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Don’t the worms only exist in humans? Meaning if we wipe them all out, it won’t matter that they were about to develop resistance, since they are all gone.

          • onyomi says:

            The reason they largely don’t exist in the US is not because of widespread availability of antihelminthics, but because we’ve broken their life cycle by no longer using outhouses or walking barefoot outside.

            If you want to really eliminate worms in the third world you’ll need to provide plumbing and shoes. Just providing a lot of drugs will never eliminate them entirely, though I also question the desirability of eliminating them entirely, given the high prevalence of autoimmune diseases in countries without any parasites.

            Better to leave mild cases untreated altogether and save the drugs for severe cases. Meanwhile, teach people not to poop outside or walk barefoot in the mud.

          • Tau says:

            onyomi says, “Better to leave mild cases untreated altogether and save the drugs for severe cases. ”

            Exactly this.

            Tangentially, I don’t know that it’s possible to eliminate intestinal parasites entirely even by improving hygiene and providing shoes. Humans share several species of parasite with pigs (and probably others with other primates), and even assuming that we could get people to stop keeping domestic pigs we will never eliminate the ferals at this point.

            The USDA did/is doing an amazing job of eradicating Cochliomyia hominivorax using irradiated males, but at first glance it’s hard to see how that technique or any similar could be used with nematodes and cestodes.

            There may be a way, and someone may be working on figuring it out. If I hear about such I will probably donate money to that. But I really do think that repeated mass deworming is likely to do more harm than good.

          • Leo says:

            Testing kids for worms first would drive the costs so far up it would definitely stop being cost-effective.

          • onyomi says:

            But you don’t have to test every kid. Only the ones who have the symptoms of severe infection. Or just go ahead and assume that people with the symptoms have got a severe infection and dose them. But don’t just dose everybody.

    • Jon H says:

      The thing is even if it “doesn’t work” to the extent advertised, it does work to the extent of curing worms in the kids that have them. Which I think is probably enough to win continued funding. Because people have a visceral reaction to the thought of being infected with worms.

      It isn’t like the problem is the pills do nothing at all. Maybe some kids will get additional benefits from being worm-free. Maybe the won’t. But they’ll still be worm-free.

      I mean, you don’t need to posit secondary or tertiary benefits of eradicating guinea worm to justify it, you just need to show someone painfully winding a guinea worm out of his leg.

      • Jiro says:

        And if the main problem is that dosing everyone causes resistance, just like indiscriminate use of antibiotics does?

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          Use of antibiotics is becoming more and more discriminate, ime. Now I mostly see them given after a biological infection has actually developed or is seriously feared (as with elderly people or others especially vulnerable) — and I don’t recall them ever being given to everyone, symptomatic or not.

          • keranih says:

            and I don’t recall them ever being given to everyone, symptomatic or not.

            Fall of 2001. Up and down the eastern seaboard. And the drug given is currently listed as one of high concern for resistance.

  20. onyomi says:

    I remember being surprised at the number of swastika (not the Buddhist kind) and SS-themed fashion items I saw for sale in Taiwan. Turns out, the symbols of a military universally reviled by culture somehow involved in a conflict are viewed as just some more symbols by those not.

    • Kevin P says:

      Nazi Germany also provided a lot of support to the Chinese Nationalists as part of their anti-communism strategy – at least until they decided it was more important to have the Japanese on-side, and even well after that in some cases. And even the Japanese are surprisingly well-regarded in Taiwan.

      • onyomi says:

        I find the Taiwanese have a favorable impression of the Japanese because the Japanese occupation of Taiwan was, frankly, nice, and very pro-development.

        As for the Nazis, hard as it is to imagine, most young Taiwanese literally don’t know what the swastika and SS things mean. They just think they look cool. Which they kind of do. Hugo Boss and all.

        • CJB says:

          You know what I think of whenever people say this?

          This shirt-

          Right there is about what? 3-4 times the number of deaths that Hitler caused?

          It’s FOOOOONY though. It’s HUMOROUS. Therefore ok.

          I’ll believe people are Very Concerned about Hitler being used in a similar way in the East when people are Very Concerned about Stalin being used that way in the West.

          • SFG says:

            For a while it wasn’t cool to criticize Communism on the left because too many liberal movers and shakers had been Communists back in the day. So Communist paraphernalia is still ‘cool’ among urban hipster types and you’ll see museums exhibiting Communist posters in a way you’d never see them exhibiting Nazi posters.

            It’s part of the left winning the cultural war and the right winning the economic war…we’ve got gay marriage, but we’re still paying for college and only sort of healthcare.

          • I’m looking forward to the sanctions on Cuba going away, not just because I think that’s a good thing, but because I want more information and personal stories to come out of Cuba.

            There are plenty of people on the left who are sentimental about Cuba. Classic cars! Government supplied health care!

            While I’m not expecting mountains of skulls, I expect a lot more detail about dictatorship, pervasive poverty, and lack of opportunities. There are reasons why people risk their lives to get out of Cuba.

        • Jiro says:

          I’ve heard various things about the Taiwanese impression of the Japanese.

          I don’t think it’s necessarily favorable in the sense that they were good guys, just that they did some good, weren’t as bad as the Japanese elsewhere (because Taiwan was colonized before Japanese militarism took hold) and that the KMT were at least as bad as them (for instance, in anti-Taiwanese-language laws). Being conquered is still being conquered.

      • anon says:

        Similarly, India (where this particular product is from) has a lot of Nazi admiration. A large part of it is simply that they were being horribly repressed by UK at a time when the UK was fighting Hitler, so clearly he’s the good guy.

        Also, a lot of them only know the more historically correct definition of the word Aryan, and have never had anyone explain to them exactly what Hitler meant with it.

        • Acheman says:

          I spent a lot of time talking about this with a guy from (rural) Tamil Nadu who had never heard of the holocaust. The moment my friend and I told him and he fully understood is not one I will ever really forget. Something takes place when you find out about an event that enormous which I don’t think Europeans/Americans born after 1950 will ever experience first-hand, and I saw it happening right in front of me and it was sort of awful.

    • While the West fondly imagines Buddhistsare all pacifist, because the west hasn’t heard of any Buddhist wars.

      • Anthony says:

        Because most westerners haven’t read this book, nor are they aware that the current Dalai Lama and his immediate predecessor were the first two to not be murdered (mostly before adulthood) for several hundred years.

  21. > birth order has a statistically significant effect on personality which is much too small to matter in real life. Yeah? THEN HOW COME OUR LESS WRONG SURVEY FOUND A REALLY STRONG BIRTH ORDER SIGNAL?

    LW is probably sampling from the tail of several bell curves. Small shifts in standard deviation can have huge effects when you sample from the tail of a bell curve.

    • Kiya says:

      “Less wrong is statistically significant but much too small to matter in real life.”

    • gwern says:

      It doesn’t have to be standard deviations; mean shifts can also produce unexpected effects far out on the tails. The linked LW comment shows that first-borns seem to be roughly double odds of being LWers (<2 OR). To take the IQ birth-order effect of r=0.04 or d=0.08 (since 2*0.04 / sqrt(1 – 0.04^2) = 0.0800640769) or 1.2 IQ points (15*0.08): shift the distributions by that much and then go out to a tail like the 99th percentile, and you'll find first-borns overrepresented by a nontrivial amount. Now, add in one or two more filters like novelty-seeking or open-mindedness, and you may have explained the entire doubling.

  22. RCF says:

    I think that my banning requires an explanation. I was called a troll, an idiot, and a liar, and *I* am the one banned? Yes, I was harsh towards James Picone, but he deserved it. His posts were simply a constant stream of dishonesty, stupidity, and rudeness. My comments fell quite solidly in the “very well-deserved smackdown against someone who is uncontroversially and obviously wrong” category. I have repeatedly reported posts that were in violation of the commenting policy without any action being taken, and yet I was banned for behavior that was in keeping with a reasonable reading of the supposed policy: there is absolutely nothing that I posted that was not true and directed towards a legitimate purpose. The sort of behavior that James was engaging in is extremely harmful to productive discussions, and opposing it is necessary to a healthy community. I’m really offended that James repeatedly lied about me with no consequences, but I got banned for one month for calling him out on it. Scott also says that there were posts in other threads that led to the decision, but not once did he ever try to discuss his concerns with me. He simply jumped right to a one month ban. I guess I have a moral code that’s very different from Scott’s, because I think that lying is a very serious offense, and waaaaay worse than insulting someone (especially when one of the reasons for the insults is repeated dishonesty). Someone will probably chime in with “It’s his blog, he can do what he wants”. And of course, if I don’t like, I can go elsewhere, blah, blah, blah. Well, he can do what he wants, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t criticize him for it. And I think that it’s a bit dishonest to claim to have one commenting policy, but not take action against those who violate while banning someone who followed it. I also note that in his commenting policy, Scott claims that he will provide reason for a ban, yet the only reason he presented was “for [my] behavior on this thread and several others over the past few months.”

    I realize that it takes a lot of effort to moderate a blog, but when I get jumped on by multiple posters, have no response to my reports, conclude that apparently anything goes, and after post after post of shit lose my patience and start criticizing James in very strong terms, and then Scott shows up weeks afterwards and declares that I’m banned, I don’t think that’s any way to moderate a blog. He says that my behavior over several months contributed; if Scott had a problem with something I did several months ago, wasn’t the time to discuss it with me several months ago? Moderation is time sensitive. Waiting several months and then blindsiding with a long list of grievances that you didn’t even bother to try to discuss at the time isn’t very effective. Either moderate the blog or don’t. This is the worst of both worlds: rampant incivility left unchecked, and capricious banning.

    • suntzuanime says:

      James Picone was expressing a mainstream opinion, and so under the comments policy of this blog is less responsible for remaining polite or on-topic.

      • Zykrom says:

        I don’t see how you get “mainstream opinions are protected” from the comments policy. My reading of it is that you can be unnecessary and rude of you back up your case with ~universally agreed upon~ data. Obviously, most of the things we would think of as “mainstream opinion” as opposed to just Stuff Everyone Knows, are pretty controversial.

        • suntzuanime says:

          Stuff Everyone Knows (except the evil outgroup who don’t really count as people). There’s little that’s actually ~universally agreed upon~, not even “the Earth is round”. The question is whether the controversy is considered legitimate or illegitimate.

          I suppose one way to deal with this problem is to consider any issue being actively argued as unTrue, regardless of how True it appears, but that doesn’t seem to be how the comments policy was intended or how it is implemented in practice. (e.g. James Picone was not, in fact, banned for being unKind in arguing the mainstream position.)

    • Wrong Species says:

      Can you link to these comments of his that expressed “dishonesty, stupidity and rudeness”? I’ve had disagreements with him before but I can’t remember any situation where he was uncivil.

      • James Picone says:

        He’s talking about the comment chain starting here. I’m actually surprised RCF was banned over it. I don’t think I reported any of the comments in that chain, but not with huge amounts of confidence – it was a while ago and I put it out of my mind.

        I’ll try to avoid arguing about all of this here, doesn’t seem super-classy for me to do so.

        EDIT: Oh and I’ve /definitely/ been uncivil to be people here before.

        • Urstoff says:

          That is a very strange hill for someone to plant their flag (and ultimately die) on.

          • RCF says:

            It’s not the object level, but the principle. I thought the SSC was an arena with a higher level of discourse in which a mature, reasonable discussion can be had on a subject that elsewhere features rampant minddeath. Apparently I was wrong.

        • CJB says:

          Not sure if RCF is just trolling, as there appears to be a pretty civil debate on the very subject he was banned for debating, a small scrolling distance from his complaint that there is no way to have a civil debate on this subject here.

          I mean, c’mon, son. We’re all improvident and hasty sometimes- you seemed pretty improvident and hasty in the thread I clicked over to.

          Maybe just say “gee, less improvidence and haste” and move on- nobody is perfect and such.

      • Tarrou says:

        RCF made a big deal about reporting me a few months back over a perfectly anodyne disagreement. He made an argument, accused my response of dishonesty, and reported me for it. Scott declined to ban me, and I never reported RCF. He then attempted to revisit the reporting in other threads, demanding to know why I was still allowed on the site.

        Not trying to stir pots, just want to put some perspective to things. This was my experience. Apparently others have noticed this or similar behavior and complained.

        • RCF says:

          You called me a bigot based on blatant misrepresentation. I wouldn’t put lying about someone, and then calling them a bigot based on those lies, in the “perfectly anodyne disagreement” category. I received no response from Scott, and so I brought it up in an open thread. I don’t recall asking why you were still allowed on the site, rather than asking why no moderation action had been taken. Nor do I recall bringing up the moderation inaction in other threads (other than alluding to it here), although my meory may be faulty.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      You started off in that thread by saying someone else’s framing was “dishonest”, which was a pretty strong claim when you could have just said “bad”.

      James started off very nice and polite, and then you said “That’s such a ridiculous question, that you must have ideological blinders on to not see how ridiculous it is.” Everyone else continued pretty nice, and you said of their argument “That’s just plain idiotic” and accused them of trying to pull a “dishonest” “bait and switch”.

      When someone said your argument “sounded like trolling”, you said that “Just because you’re too stupid, dishonest, and/or blinded by ideology to understand my point doesn’t mean I’m trolling.” Then you said things like “The fact that you are too stupid to understand how they are different isn’t my fault”,

      I felt like James was maximally patient with a lot of the things you said but that you pushed him too far with stuff like that.

      Most important, you had multiple past reports for similar issues, which I had let slide before, whereas he had none.

      • anon says:

        Yeah, after reading through that thread the banning seems completely justified to me. RCF immediately took a confrontational and rude tone.

      • RCF says:

        “You started off in that thread by saying someone else’s framing was “dishonest”, which was a pretty strong claim when you could have just said “bad”.”

        I “could” have, in the sense that it would have been possible, but not in the sense that I could have conveyed my position by doing so. Either you are claiming that “bad” means the same thing as “dishonest”, in which case it should be just as “uncivil”, or you are blaming me for not presenting a position meaningfully different from the one I actually held.

        “James started off very nice and polite”

        Is accusing someone of “semantic games” something that falls into the category “very” nice and polite?

        “and then you said “That’s such a ridiculous question, that you must have ideological blinders on to not see how ridiculous it is.””

        Is that not a reasonable response to the question of how a person can claim that, under apartheid (by which James presumably meant Jim Crow), white people were allowed things that black people were not?

        I missed the part in your commenting policy where you said posters are not allowed to express how absolutely gobsmacked they are at another poster’s idiotic questions. Can you point it out to me?

        You really aren’t addressing my central issue at all. You claim to have a particular commenting policy, but in explaining my banning, you are not referring to your putative policy at all. Is it untrue that I found his question to be absolutely bizarre? Was it unnecessary that he be aware of how absolutely bizarre I found his question?

        “Everyone else continued pretty nice”

        I’m not quite clear on this category, for which you have chosen the label “nice”, which excludes “That’s just plain idiotic”, but includes responding to someone challenging your position by simply restating your assertion, misrepresenting another person’s position, saying “that’s silly” or “The argument in the quoted paragraph is absurd”, accusing a poster of isolated demand of language precision, and FOUR SEPARATE COMMENTERS posting variants of “you’re a troll”. Is this a concept that you consider to be of common currency, and one that you expect your posters to be familiar with without any explanation?

        You do seem to be more tolerant of object-level disagreement than most, to the point that suntzuanime’s summary above would seem overly cynical, if not for the fact that you really do seem to have a massive blind spot in this case for any unkindness other than my own. Granted, I am hardly a neutral observer, but you seem to have given much more attention to the grievances against me than to my grievances.

        “and you said of their argument “That’s just plain idiotic””

        I explained in great detail why that which I called “idiotic” was, in fact, idiotic.

        “and accused them of trying to pull a “dishonest” “bait and switch”.”

        I am honestly quite puzzled as to what point you are trying to make here. Are you wishing to imply that it was not, in fact, a dishonest bait and switch, or are you suggesting that I should refrain from calling people out when they engage in dishonest bait and switches?

        “When someone said your argument “sounded like trolling”, you said that “Just because you’re too stupid, dishonest, and/or blinded by ideology to understand my point doesn’t mean I’m trolling.””

        And … ?

        AJD called me a troll. I told AJD off. I don’t consider my behavior to be particularly inappropriate. Who calls someone a troll and expects a reasonable discussion to follow?

        “Then you said things like “The fact that you are too stupid to understand how they are different isn’t my fault””

        Yes, in response to James saying “As far as I can tell your argument is exactly the same as the hypothetical apartheid apologist’s.” So James was implicitly asserting that the fact that he is unable to comprehend my quite clear point is somehow more a statement about my point than about his cognitive abilities. I disagreed with this position, and, given his extremely rude behavior, I chose to do so quite bluntly. Keep in mind that he preceded his statement with the claim that me being a troll was “the charitable response to what you’re arguing”, and then followed it with “You’re saying that “marry your partner” is a Y, not an X. Apartheid apologist says “Go to the school you want” is a Y, not an X.”, which is just meaningless blather. What the hell does “”Go to the school you want” is a Y” mean? That’s gibberish. I really don’t have much patience for people who assert their failure to understand my point as if it were somehow a failing on my part, especially when it’s surrounded by insults and gibberish.

        “I felt like James was maximally patient with a lot of the things you said but that you pushed him too far with stuff like that.”

        MAXIMALLY PATIENT?!?! Calling me a troll is “maximally patient”?

        He wasn’t even MINIMALLY PATIENT. Throughout our exchange, he didn’t make the slightest effort to address my position. His posts were complete nonsense. HE was the one who pushed ME. He was rude to me over and over again, and it’s just complete bullshit for you to pretend that his rudeness was a response to mine, rather than the other way around.

        “Most important, you had multiple past reports for similar issues, which I had let slide before, whereas he had none.”

        Clearly, you didn’t let them “slide”, you kept track of them and let them build up to a month-long banning, rather than discussing them with me as they came up.

        And just what are these “similar issues”? Other cases of me losing patience with people who refuse to act with basic civility, I take it?

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        This comment reminds me how managing a community is often a shit job. The tiniest personal problems end up in your lap.

        So, thanks to our host for continuing to do it.

    • Slow Learner says:

      If I want anything explained, it’s the fact that your ban was only temporary, especially seeing the manner of your return.

    • ryan says:

      I think the capital letters and logic symbols put the conversation in a bad place and ended up frustrating everyone. Here’s how I think the argument can be made without it leading to people calling you an apartheid apologist:

      Marriage is not a hard concept to grasp. It’s existed in every civilization we know of and any English speaker since the great vowel shift would know exactly what you mean if you used the word with them. It’s trivially obvious that gay people have always been allowed to get married. The state of California allowed Tom Cruise to get married twice for crying out loud. It’s also obvious that Lance Armstrong and Matthew McConaughey could have a wedding, take some vows, cut some cake, then live together and refer to each other as his husband, all without running afoul of any law.

      What gay marriage supporters actually want is for governments to treat Lance and Matthew as if they were married. OK, fine. Supporters should explain the reasons why they want this policy and if it’s a good idea the government should do so. But arguing the government should adopt the policy because otherwise gay people can’t get married is saying the government should treat Lance and Matthew as if they’re married because right now the government doesn’t treat Lance and Matthew as if they’re married. It’s pure begging the question and the SSC boards are supposed to be better than that.

      Someone would probably show up and say that Lance and Matthew really did get married and the government’s job is to recognize that fact. It’s an easy reply to say this person is using the word married in a way that no English speaker has used the word since the vowel shift, and this new meaning oh-so-conveniently relieves them of their burden to explain why the policy makes sense, which is textbook semantics.

      • Creutzer says:

        I’m not convinced that the argument from how English speakers use the word marriage works. In order to get married, you need someone to perform the ceremony. That someone must be a person with authority in the community to perform a speech act that changes the social status of the couple involved. It used to be a church official. Nowadays it may be a civil servant. If neither the church nor the state recognise gay marriages, who is it supposed to be for a gay couple? If they just have a friend wed them, it is not a marriage, just an imitation of one, because the friend is unlikely to have the social power to perform the relevant speech act.

        • AJD says:

          In some places there is a tradition of common-law marriage, where in fact you don’t need someone to perform the ceremony. According to Wikipedia, common-law marriages are still considered valid in at least 9 states in the US.

        • Nornagest says:

          It’s relatively common for Blue and Gray couples to be ceremonially married by a mutually respected friend without formal status, and then to have the papers signed by a public servant without ceremony. I don’t know when this became common; I want to say it mainly happens among younger people, but one of the people I know went through the process when he was in his fifties. His wife was younger, though.

          I also know one couple that skipped the ceremony entirely, but they’d been together for fourteen years at the time — it was essentially a common-law marriage already, though their state had no such legal concept.

        • ryan says:

          First a bit of a historical detour. For most of the recent history of Northern Europe marriage was instituted by the agreement of the husband and wife and consummation. Wedding ceremonies commonly happened but were not necessary, nor was the permission of any priest or government official. But there were obvious problems, come to find out some con man had gone and married two different women, or a property dispute arose and two sets of extended families came into court insisting Bob and Jane either were or were not married. Marriage licensing solved both problems, as the court could check to see if you were already married, and have an official record to use when someone died and it had to decide who now owns a farm.

          Back on topic. Putting aside recent developments in US Constitutional Law, the phrase “a man cannot marry a man” is tautologically true in the same way that “a tree cannot grow a thumb” is tautologically true. It’s just what the words mean. When RCP says gay people can get married he’s making an obviously correct observation (see, eg Tom Cruise). When people claim otherwise it’s like saying a tree can grow a thumb because tree means anything born in a forest. That is literally a semantic argument and RCP is right to be put off by it.

          Contrast that with saying “a gay couple should have the same legal and social status as a married couple because [reasons].” This is not a semantic argument. A proposition is made using words in their conventional sense and reasoning is provided. The reasoning is not always logical, though. “A gay couple should have the same legal and social status as a married couple because otherwise gay people can’t get married” is no different from “a gay couple should have the same legal and social status as a married couple because otherwise a gay couple can’t have the same legal and social status as a married couple.” It’s semantic argument’s close relative, begging the question. Also quite off putting.

          • Leo says:

            Would you be able to argue with someone who says “The word ‘marriage’ applies to couples who both have detached earlobes, that’s just what it means. Saying that people with attached earlobes can’t get married is obviously true, saying that they can is a pure semantic argument.”, or “Please make a case why couples where someone has attached earlobes should have the same legal and social status as couples with detached earlobes.”?

            I am bisexual. I could meet a woman with good character, sense enough to run a household, and enough pizzazz to make me notice those qualities in the first place. I could fall in love with her, commit to her, and spend years getting to know her and learning how to have a happy relationship with her. I could decide to spend my life with her. I could live with her, share finances with her, buy property with her, ensure her health and comfort as long as I live and after I die, make medical decisions for her and trust her to make them for me. I could sign a legal contract that would help with those things (allowing us to file taxes jointly, making it easier to name her as an insurance beneficiary, having medical decisions respected by people who’d ignore powers of attorney, I don’t think this affects farm ownership much). I could take her family, good or bad, as mine. I could act with her as a social unit, and use words and rings that let people know to treat us as such a unit.

            You have no objections to me doing any of this; to me and my hypothetical wife using the words “marriage”, “husband”, “wife”, and “spouse”; or to us having the legal and social status in question. (You probably do object to us not wanting children, and to monogamy being optional.)

            I could also do all of these things with a man instead of a woman. This changes… my expected budget for the wedding and insurance premiums. If you want me to argue that the difference between the scenarios with a woman and with a man is irrelevant, you’re going to have to tell me what the difference even is.

            One difference I can think of is that there are many societies in history that would recognise my marriage to a woman, and not to a man. I get out of this cheaply by analogising “woman vs man” to “white woman vs black woman”, or “woman of the same religion vs woman of another religion”.

            The difference you’re probably thinking of is that men and women have different personalities, and that the nature of man and the nature of woman are compatible in marriage, whereas the nature of man isn’t compatible with itself. This sounds plausible. But you’re going to have to explain which male and female traits exactly lead to that. (And, yes, deal with the swarm of feminists pointing out there are exceptions. Nothing in life is certain but death, taxes, and pedantic feminists.)

            A difference between straight-marriage-in-general and gay-marriage-in-general is that the former can lead to children (and historically tends to be about that), whereas the latter cannot even in principle. But I’m not ever going to have a straight-marriage-in-general, I’m going to have a childless marriage anyway, in a social circle where people have childless marriages, in a society where childless marriage is normal and most couples who raise children together are unmarried. Focusing on gay marriage is barking up the wrong tree and missing the forest.

          • ryan says:


            Pardon my bluntness but detached earlobes are not linguistically, biologically or historically related to marriage in any way. As such the analogy is pure sophistry.

            The remainder of your post is filling in the blank of “a gay couple should have the same legal and social status as a married couple because [reasons].” The reasons you offer are not semantic arguments or begging the question. Rather they are a rational explanation for why you think gay couples should have the legal and social status of marriage. Someone might think you are wrong, but you could not be accused of being plainly irrational.

            Neither here nor there, but my position would be the laboratories of democracy approach, where states that want to have gay marriage can have it, then other states can see what happens and make a more informed choice. Big fan of Justice O’Connor, obviously.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            @ryan What about the same argument, with “of different races” or “of different religions” replacing “attached earlobes”?

          • ryan says:


            Laws against interracial marriage are about ensuring the purity of the white race and maintaining a racial caste system with whites on top and others second at best. Rules requiring Jews to only marry other Jews are about ensuring the continued existence of the tribe and the faith.

            One might have very harsh judgments about these goals, but they are not utterly irrelevant to the subject the way earlobes are.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            And laws against gay marriage are about what?

          • ryan says:


            Ensuring the nuclear family is the only acceptable family structure.

          • Leo says:

            ryan, “Would you be able…?” was not a rhetorical question. Would you actually be able to argue with someone who accuses you of using semantics to gloss over the difference between two situations, when the difference strikes you as entirely irrelevant?

            I’m not annoyed at your bluntness, I’m annoyed at your vagueness. I am pleading and begging to be allowed to know the difference between straight and gay marriage, so I can give you the argument you want or announce to my boyfriends that marriage is off the table after all. You’re giving me “something to do with linguistics or biology or history”.

            Although apparently I have given you the argument you want. It’s… literally just “Here’s why I want to get married, those reasons continue to apply if the marriage is gay”. So I think your accusations of semantic trickery stem from a lack of charity; you could easily interpret “This couple is clearly married, the government should acknowledge it” as “This couple obviously has the features that make it a good idea to grant couples the legal status of marriage, the government should do so”. Which apparently is enough to satisfy you.

          • Leo says:

            ryan: …the nuclear family? The 50s invention where the family unit is two parents and their children, and extended family ties stop affecting anyone much? That is probably not what you meant.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            @ryan I’m also not that gay marriage has much to do with the nuclear family. If a gay-married couple can’t adopt children, then gay marriage has nothing to do families. If they can adopt children, then why does the gender of one disqualify them from being a nuclear family?

            Furthermore, divorce and single parents are commonplace. They seem like a much bigger issue with regards to nuclear families.

          • ryan says:


            Good point. The nuclear family does imply that extended family relations are not that important and that’s not what gay marriage restriction is about. So maybe call it mom/dad/kids family or something.

            On the other point of the difference between straight and gay marriage, it’s like I said below:

            Marriage is a restrictive institution, not a permissive one. Civilizations need parents investing in the rearing of their children. Fornication laws forbid any sex (and hence production of children) outside of marriage. Adultery laws ensure parental certainty, encouraging men to invest in rearing their children, and prevent men from fathering children they won’t invest in raising. Legitimacy laws cement these incentives by making children born outside of them second class citizens. Restrictive divorce laws serve sort of the same purpose as anti-polygamy laws. A man having two wives ruins the 1:1 ratio of men to women. A man marrying a woman in his youth, then trading her in for a younger model and having another set of children also ruins the ratio.

            With same sex couples these restrictions are all pointless. To put things in the terms you’re using, a gay couple is not going to be having children (in the literal biological sense), and thus would not have the feature that makes it a good idea to trap couples in the legal shackles of marriage.

            What’s interesting (and I think you noted below) is while the above is a good description of marriage in say Lebanon or Salt Lake City, for the rest of the US it’s about as relevant as the phlogiston theory of thermodynamics. And even stranger is that it almost makes more sense for gay people to get married now. If you marry your boyfriend it’s pretty much all upside. But if a man marries his girlfriend, he’s liable to get divorce fucked, have his home taken away, hardly get to see his kids, and pay child support for a couple decades to boot.

          • ryan says:


            I erred with the nuclear family description, changed to mom/dad/kids family. Several states ban gay adoption, and others have restrictions. I suspect conservative lawmakers are conflicted on the issue, as such bans force them to maintain a higher budget for foster care programs.

            Yes, of course divorce and single moms are huge problems. I would note only that the Red tribe of its day tried very hard to stop no fault divorce laws, said the Gomez v. Perez decision (mandating child support for illegitimate children) would lead to a crisis of illegitimacy, and got super pissed off when Murphy Brown became a single mother (using this as an example of a larger trend).

            Traditional marriage and family have been steadily degreaded over the last 130 years. The Red tribe opposed every erosion as it happened, so it’s not entirely fair to accuse them of inconsistency in opposing this latest one. Cthulu may swim slowly, but he always swims left. And Red tribe loses the fight with him where he is now, not where he was 40 years ago.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            If marriage is a restrictive institution that is pointless for gay couples to have, then surely it does no harm to allow it for them. I see that as the difference between this, and divorce – gay marriage doesn’t lead to social decay, whereas divorce (by Red tribe arguments) does.

          • ryan says:


            There are some trivial reasons I buy into. Such as the fact that gay people tend to have more money than straight people when they die, and those are real dollars we’re missing out of if they can take advantage of marriage based inheritance tax breaks.

            Then there are reasons I’m really skeptical of, things like gay marriage will lead to Ancient Greece style normalized pederasty.

            Regardless, child support for illegitimate children and the spectrum of government programs to subsidize illegitimacy are light years worse than any other development in the structure of the family.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ ryan
            > There are some trivial reasons I buy into. Such as the fact that gay people tend to have more money than straight people when they die, and those are real dollars we’re missing out of if they can take advantage of marriage based inheritance tax breaks.
            > [….]
            > Regardless, child support for illegitimate children and the spectrum of government programs to subsidize illegitimacy are light years worse than any other development in the structure of the family.

            Tax breaks change from one year to the next, but an illegitimate child will be an expense for at least 18 years, as will each child born into a het welfare family. The more women who choose lesbian sex, the fewer births.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ John Schilling

            Content note: Ireland

            That’s a lot of separate rules that would have to be tweaked (or, in some cases, patched against by a lot of individuals, if they could afford it).

            To sketch a few US examples, a surviving spouse (current or former) can claim Social Security benefits from the account of the deceased spouse, which may more than double the monthly rate zie would get on zis own account.

            VA pensions and other benefits for a survivor, are for spouses only.

            In states without community property, some private property transfers automatically to the surviving spouse (eg vehicles, the home they were living in, etc), without need to get someone to accept an unfamiliar document.

            Private companies’ benefits for spouses only, are also important.

            There are also child custody situations where a current spouse’s right is conclusive.

      • sweeneyrod says:

        The objection that that argument is the same if you substitute “interracial” for “gay” is still valid. Also, I don’t think that many supporters of gay marriage are trying to weasel out of putting forward a proper argument for it. It isn’t that difficult – marriage should be possible between any two consenting humans who love each other, and the sex of those humans has nothing to do whether their relationship meets that condition.

        • suntzuanime says:

          Note that this definition would legalize incestuous marriage. Not sure if that was intended.

          Also that doesn’t sound like a proper argument, that just sounds like a statement of a position. Why two? Why consenting? (And note that the legal notion of “consenting” has a lot of hidden complexity) Why humans? Why who love each other? (talk about destroying traditional marriage lol) If you can add all these random unargued conditions, and even forget to mention the condition “not closely related to one another”, why is it so obviously wrong to add the condition “not of the same sex”?

          • sweeneyrod says:

            I guess that definition would legalize incestuous marriage. If incestuous intercourse is illegal, I don’t think the legality of incestuous marriage matters.

            My point is that the definition I gave captures what I think most people think the main features of marriage are. Any other conditions are arbitrary. You could equally well add the condition that both people be of the same sex, as the condition that both people be of a different sex, unless you think the purpose of marriage is procreation, in which case marriages where one person is infertile should be forbidden.

            I don’t think it matters that the conditions I gave in the argument weren’t defended, because I doubt anyone who opposes gay marriage supports, for instance, extending it to non-humans. You only have to defend parts of your argument that your opponent disagrees with. I wasn’t trying to make a strong argument for gay marriage, but show that the burden of proof isn’t necessarily on proponents of gay marriage.

          • Saint_Fiasco says:

            I think the phrase “marriage should be possible between…” was intended to enumerate a sufficient condition, not a necessary one.

            It would be kind of silly to ask people to prove that they really love each other, for example, although I believe that is already done when someone marries a foreigner who wants citizenship.

          • suntzuanime says:

            You think most people think this because you live in your liberal bubble where you don’t interact with the people who think differently. “I think most people agree with me therefore the burden of proof is on you” is not high-level argumentative technique.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            @suntzuanime I’m not saying the burden of proof is on anti-gay-marriage people, but rather that it is symmetrical across both sides. This means that you have to actually argue against it, rather than shooting down arguments for it if you want to be justified in claiming it should be forbidden. It doesn’t mean that if neither side puts forth an argument, it should be permitted – rather that someone needs to make an argument if any justifiable claim can be made.

            I’m not sure what you mean when you’re talking about my “liberal bubble”. I don’t think the ideas that marriage should be consensual, and between two humans are uncommon in the USA (the place where marriage is presumably under discussion).

          • Christopher says:

            “Why two people” is a question that bedevils fans of “traditional marriage” also, since of course many people throughout history have understood that, of course a man can have multiple wives. In rarer cases, it’s been understood that of course women can have multiple husbands.

            I mean, I could tell some hypothetical ancient man “Bob, and Roxy are married, and Susan also lives with them.”

            “Ah, so Susan is Bob’s second wife?”

            “Nope, second wives are illegal.”

            “What? I don’t understand. Why?”

            Also, the reasons gay people want government marriage benefits are, um, widely discussed. Hospital visitation rights are a big one, for example.

            I guess to me the fact that gay people are agitating for the government to recognize their marriages is explicitly part of the discussion. I don’t know who’s trying to hide that or what purpose is served by reaffirming it.

          • John Schilling says:

            Also, the reasons gay people want government marriage benefits are, um, widely discussed. Hospital visitation rights are a big one, for example.

            You all need some better examples. Hospital visitation rights are brought up pretty much every time the question is raised, and it wasn’t a very convincing argument the first time around.

            Seriously, you expect me to believe there is a significant population whose lives are so good and perfect that, when they decided to mount a political campaign to make things better, the biggest problem they could try to solve was “OK, so maybe if my lover was in a car accident and the nurse on duty at the ER was a homophobe, I couldn’t get in to visit my injured lover right away”? That’s the big issue in your collective lives?

            And, united in your determination to resolve this great crisis, the best solution you all could come up with was to embark on a massive decade-long campaign to redefine marriage law against entrenched conservative opposition, then have millions of gay people all marry other gay people that they’d have been perfectly happy just shacking up with except that maybe they wouldn’t be able to visit each other in the hospital? No lesser solution ever occurred to any of you? A simple uncontroversial expansion of medical-power-of-attorney law, maybe?

            “Hospital visitation rights” is usually presented as if it is just one example of a long list of indignities gay lovers face on account of not being married, and if there were such a list it might be persuasive. But if, every single time, you all say “hospital visitation rights and stuff like that mumble mumble mumble”, the rest of us are going to think maybe hospital visitation rights isn’t just one big example but the only non-trivial example.

            And then sometimes someone mentions other examples, and it’s stuff like inheritance rights (you can sign a marriage license but not a boilerplate will?), a tax “benefit” that’s not actually beneficial to most gay couples, and maybe somebody mentions adoption rights. Which actually would be a pretty good argument if most gay couples were otherwise willing and able to adopt, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. But if someone points that out, it’s a quick retreat to the straw motte of hospital visitation rights.

            Come up with some better examples, please. Retire the hospital visitation rights bit. Or the rest of us are going to continue speculating about the real motives, which appear to have a lot to do with forcing people to bake you cakes when they’d rather not.

          • Nornagest says:

            It’s obvious, isn’t it? No doubt there are some people who really care about hospital visitation rights, but as you’ve noted that’s hardly an overwhelming advantage; straight couples of all social classes often cohabit long-term without being forced by circumstances to marry, which by itself establishes pretty conclusively that marriage carries few tangible benefits.

            But that doesn’t exclude intangible ones. Marriage is about… well, it’s about a lot of things and it’s historically been about a lot more, but I think the important one here is that it legitimizes a relationship; the days are long past when that had much legal force, but it still sends a strong social signal. Making it possible for gay relationships therefore implies governmental recognition of those relationships’ legitimacy, which many gay and bisexual people understandably have a desire for. The symbol here is the substance.

            Now, one could argue that this would be adequately served by civil unions, but politics in the United States tends to be skeptical of separate-but-equal solutions, for what are probably good historical reasons.

          • John Schilling, hospital visitation rights are a bigger deal than you’re describing. If you don’t have visitation rights, you may not be able to visit your partner at all, possibly until they die.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            Re hospital ‘visitation’ rights, etc. (Scare quotes because ‘visitation rights’ is shorthand for many things more important than carrying in a bouquet of daffodils.)

            > A simple uncontroversial expansion of medical-power-of-attorney law, maybe?

            Such a patchwork approach would mean a different law or expansion for many issues. Each state would have to agree on its own treatment of each issue, which would mean that some never got written at all. Even those that did, might not be honored in a different state. Even in states where such a law was officially honored, good luck waving a stack of laws relating to different issues at a busy doctor or gatekeeper elsewhere — or finding the specific law that relates to the specific occasion (in the gatekeeper’s opinion).

            A national blanket ‘civil union’ law would have similar difficulties in use. Everybody knows what ‘married spouse’ rights substantially are. Even if a civil union law is just one legal printout to carry, very few gatekeepers would understand it without explanation — if they were willing to read it at all.

          • John Schilling says:

            Federalist though I am, I must acknowledge the fact that states’ rights are near an all-time low in this country. And yet a simple federal statute saying that any hospital which accepts any federal money (i.e. all of them) must allow visitation by anyone with a medical power of attorney (in any state, full faith and credit) to any patient medically fit to receive any visitors, would be somehow unworkable? In the event of dispute over who gets to visit whom, MPOA trumps everything except the patient’s own express wishes or a doctor’s determination that the patient cannot safely receive any visitors at all? That wouldn’t be the foundation of a workable solution? Because you all could have passed that one ten years ago without anybody noticing.

            I am also somewhat skeptical of the implied claim that, with “visitation rights” being this impossibly complex tangle of conflicting laws, policies, and customs, all of this has somehow been resolved into a perfect and seamless whole without public debate or controversy in the evolution of marriage law. We can’t possibly come up with a federal statute to fix the problem, but marriage makes it all better, no muss, no fuss.

            And I note that, in a nation where tens of millions of straight couples cohabit without benefit of marriage, under a complex multistate tangle of laws, policies, and customs, I have never ever heard of a straight couple saying that the main reason they got or ought to get married was to secure hospital visitation rights.

            Is this, to steal a quote, really the hill you want to plant your flag on and ultimately die on? The best argument you all can come up with for a moral imperative for gay marriage?

            I’m not obligated to rebut, address, or even listen to an incessant stream of failing arguments, and neither is anyone else. If you want to convince us that this was anything more than a naked power grab, you’ve got about one chance left for me at least to give you a fair hearing, and I’ve given you all a chance to back away to a more defensible position.

          • Nornagest says:

            If you want to convince us that this was anything more than a naked power grab…

            The power to do what? Force a few people to bake you cakes or take photos at your wedding? If this is a power grab, it could hardly be a less effective one; if you exclude the folks actually getting married, the least significant safety regulation passed in the last five years would materially affect more people’s lives.

            No, this isn’t a power grab. It’s a status grab; or, to put it more charitably, a push to change the social position of gay relationships. Gay marriage can’t do that by itself, but it’s perceived as a watershed point: that’s what that mildly annoying “Love Wins” meme is all about.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Nancy

            ‘Hospital visitation rights’ is shorthand for a lot more than being able to bring flowers and candy for half an hour during afteroon visiting hours. As used, it includes being the person to decide when to pull the plug, whether to amputate (when the doctor gives a choice), whether to operate — all this when the patient is unconscious or otherwise cannot make decisions for himself, and often in an urgent situation when no one is going to look at a legal document. The doctor will say “Are you his spouse? No? Call a blood relative.”

            More specifically, these drastic things are called ‘hospital decision making’ or ‘making medical decisions’, etc.

            ‘Visitation’ more centrally means being allowed to stay with the patient at all hours, being his interface with the staff, answering doctors’ questions, giving details about the patient’s past reactions to different drugs, etc. Which can also make the difference of life or death.

            This is not a rare need. Het families are familiar with one person, usually spouse, spending many hours with a drowsy or tranquilized patient, for good reason.

          • Leo says:

            Comment nesting really needs to go deeper.

            Houseboat, I think John Schilling makes a good point.

            It sounds plausible that an asshole doctor would listen to a spouse over a blood relative over an unmarried partner with a power of attorney. But then why doesn’t this seem to come up for straight couples?

            It also sounds plausible that an asshole doctor would ignore a gay partner out of homophobia. But when why would they care very much about marriage?

            A hypothesis is that they care about spouses but aren’t checking. If your live-in girlfriend wants to make medical decisions for you rather than defer to your blood family, she’ll say “I’m his wife” and doctors will roll with that. If your boyfriend says “I’m his husband”, doctors will say “No you’re not, we don’t have gay marriage in this country” and ignore him. When gay marriage becomes legal, he can claim to be your husband or let the doctors assume that he is. Is that what in fact happens IRL?

          • James Picone says:

            Continuing a discussion on gay marriage directly under a comment discussing moderation decisions in the context of an argument about gay marriage seems like a bad idea to me.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Leo
            > When gay marriage becomes legal, he can claim to be your husband or let the doctors assume that he is.

            When gay marriage is legal, he can in fact be the husband, with a very simple certificate to show if necessary.

            > A hypothesis is that they care about spouses but aren’t checking. If your live-in girlfriend wants to make medical decisions for you rather than defer to your blood family, she’ll say “I’m his wife” and doctors will roll with that.

            As the live-in girlfriend, I have done just that.

            What the doctor and staff care about is lawsuits, or family soap opera in the ER. He wants to evict all but one person, immediately, by barking one or two very simple questions — and not get sued later by the someone with a better legal claim. If a het person says “I’m the spouse”, that’s likely true, so he rolls with it. If the person is gay, without gay marriage that can’t be true, so any relative can turn up later and sue the doctor. What he’s not going to do is let the patient bleed to death while the doctor reads some POA or some Civil Union document and/or some law saying this state recognizes other states’ Civil Unions, etc.

            I didn’t quite understand all your questions, but I hope the answers are in here somewere.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Leo
            > When gay marriage becomes legal, he can claim to be your husband or let the doctors assume that he is.

            When gay marriage is legal, he can in fact be the husband, with a very simple certificate to show if necessary.

            > A hypothesis is that they care about spouses but aren’t checking. If your live-in girlfriend wants to make medical decisions for you rather than defer to your blood family, she’ll say “I’m his wife” and doctors will roll with that.

            As the live-in girlfriend, I have done just that.

            What the doctor and staff care about is lawsuits, or family soap opera in the ER. He wants to evict all but one person, immediately, by barking one or two very simple questions — and not get sued later by someone with a better legal claim. If a het person says “I’m the spouse”, that’s likely true, so he rolls with it. If the person is gay, without gay marriage that can’t be true, so any relative can turn up later and sue the doctor. What he’s not going to do is let the patient bleed to death while the doctor reads some POA or some Civil Union document and/or some law saying this state recognizes other states’ Civil Unions, etc.

            I didn’t quite understand all your questions, but I hope the answers are in here somewere.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Unmarried het couples do in fact run into these problems, assuming somebody higher up the chain wants to make a stink about it. That chain is as follows*:

            1. The client’s guardian
            2. The client’s spouse
            3. Any adult son or daughter of the client
            4. Either parent of the client
            5. Any adult brother or sister of the client
            6. Any adult grandchild of the client, or an adult relative who has exhibited special care and concern, who has maintained close contact, and who is familiar with the patient’s activities, health, and religious or moral beliefs
            7. A close friend of the client
            8. The client’s guardian of the estate

            All of which is irrelevant if the patient has actually done the intelligent thing and gotten their POA in order. The patient can designate whomever they want, and that’s what wins.

            Which makes a lot of sense if you think about it. If Joe is unconscious, Jane can’t just show up and make all his decisions for him because she claims they’re in love. Joe’s mom is free to say “get out of here, ya hussy, I’m his mother! Who are you?” The doctors do not need or want to try to determine whether the fact that Joe and Jane have been living together for a month makes them totes serious, let alone if 6 months crosses that magic line. All they know is that John hasn’t made any real commitment yet, so real family members win.

            And for any exceptions, Joe is free to make the matter explicit with a medical POA. I’m married and I still worked out a POA, because it’s best to have everything laid out explicitly, before emotions are running high.

            * may vary somewhat by state

          • John Schilling says:

            A hypothesis is that they care about spouses but aren’t checking. If your live-in girlfriend wants to make medical decisions for you rather than defer to your blood family, she’ll say “I’m his wife” and doctors will roll with that

            The obvious winning strategy for gay couples here, approximately infinity times easier than winning the gay-marriage wars, is “I’m his brother/sister”. That’s a slam dunk win for a gay couple that has adopted matching surnames, and pretty good odds for a lesbian couple. Not so good for male homosexuals with mismatched surnames, so there’s one point for gay marriage at least.

            But as Jaskologist notes, none of this matters unless there’s drama. One friend/family member/whatever in the waiting room, gets visitation rights. Two or five or ten and they all agree, and the nurse just says how many can be in the room at any time and lets them work it out. Two or more and they don’t agree, and the doctor needs to establish priority in a hurry.

            Which means you need a power of attorney more than you need a marriage license, because there is no one-size-fits-all solution for grossly dysfunctional families. And if marriage is even on the table as a solution, then you’re obviously comfortable with legal paperwork, so make it the right legal paperwork.

          • Jaskologist says:

            All of you should get your medical POA worked out anyway. You get to answer all kinds of fun questions detailing different circumstances in which the plug should or shouldn’t be pulled. It is much kinder to your next of kin to answer those questions for them, instead of forcing them to do it in the heat of the moment, and then forever carry the guilt of wondering whether it was the right decision.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            What are these “gay marriage wars” of which you speak? It’s nationally legal, and supported by ~60% of the population. It seems to me that the war has been won.

          • John Schilling says:

            The American Civil War was won more than a century ago; we still occasionally debate what it was really fought over.

            And in that context, “Hospital Visitation Rights” is about as convincing as an 1866 Yankee saying “We were fine with slavery and secession and all that, but Fort Sumter was absolutely vital to the Union’s defense against Mexican invasion”.

          • Leo says:

            @Houseboat: Okay, this confirms my hypothesis, thanks. Doctors will listen to someone who can plausibly claim to be a spouse, so couples who could get married but aren’t have it better than couples who couldn’t. John Schilling is wrong.

            @Jaskologist: Yes, legally a power of attorney trumps everything, but does it do so in practice? I’ve heard a lot of sob stories from people who had theirs ignored. What do the stats look like?

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Leo
            > legally a power of attorney trumps everything, but does it do so in practice? I’ve heard a lot of sob stories from people who had theirs ignored. What do the stats look like?

            I don’t know where we might expect to find such stats, if such data were even collected in the first place. “POA was ignored” makes a media story, but where would those stories be collected? If they were, “POA was accepted” does not make a media story, so we’d have no figures on that side to compare. The doctors’ and hospital’s legal insurance companies might have collected some data on how many lawsuits were filed by POA-holders and how many by relatives. But that sampling would be limited to people who had the money and the energy to file a suit (against a defendant who will be backed by the company’s legal resources).

          • John Schilling says:

            The hospital has no incentive to waste one hour of their legal staff’s time on any of this; their motive is to minimize drama. That means letting the feuding family member with the lawyer have visitation rights and throwing everyone else. Only when different factions in the feuding family have lawyers will this possibly go to court, and that’s likely to be rare.

            But how often this happens isn’t the issue. Whether it happens more often than for straight couples (whose feuding families can have plenty of lawyer-enhanced drama) isn’t the issue.

            The issue is, was the best solution to this problem really to embark on a highly controversial decade-long war to rewrite marriage law, as opposed to a quiet bit of lobbying to clear up medical power-of-attorney law? That’s the part that still needs explaining.

        • AngryDrake says:

          In your opinion, what is the purpose of marriage?

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ AngryDrake
            “In your opinion, what is the purpose of marriage?”

            Will no one think of General SeMANtics?

            The map is not the territory.
            The word is not the fact.
            The same word can name many different facts.
            The same fact (and/or different features of it) can have many different names.

            In US law, ‘marriage’ is a legal contract defining a set of legal rights and obligations between the signers, and the legal rights and obligations of third parties dealing with one or both of them.

            In wider and longer use, the word ‘marriage’ can refer to many different facts, then-legal or customary.

            Different people enter into such agreements for different purposes. (Eg to unite two kingdoms, to get money, to satisfy custom, to gain legal privileges, etc.) Ftm, different ancient law-givers had their own different purposes for writing their laws.

            The better question is, “What is the legal function of marriage (here and now)?”

            The current marriage law/s provide a default subject for rights and obligations when the other person is not available, or when the pair disagree.

        • ryan says:

          A bit of Devil’s Advocate:

          Marriage is a restrictive institution, not a permissive one. Civilizations need parents investing in the rearing of their children. Fornication laws forbid any sex (and hence production of children) outside of marriage. Adultery laws ensure parental certainty, encouraging men to invest in rearing their children, and prevent men from fathering children they won’t invest in raising. Legitimacy laws cement these incentives by making children born outside of them second class citizens. Restrictive divorce laws serve sort of the same purpose as anti-polygamy laws. A man having two wives ruins the 1:1 ratio of men to women. A man marrying a woman in his youth, then trading her in for a younger model and having another set of children also ruins the ratio.

          With same sex couples these restrictions are all pointless.

          • Leo says:

            I’m not saying this argument is wrong. I’m saying that this ship has already sailed. For good or evil, traditional marriage is dead and room-temperature, and you won’t get it back by worrying about the gays.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            I’m not saying this argument is wrong. I’m saying that this ship has already sailed. For good or evil, traditional marriage is dead and room-temperature, and you won’t get it back by worrying about the gays.

            For those men who still think we can turn this around through democratic means, stopping things from getting worse is the first step to making them better. He who doesn’t think the fundamental building block of society can still be fixed might as well give up on object-level politics, write off democracy as inherently degenerative, and become a neoreactionary.

          • ryan says:


            Systemic illegitimacy can only exist because of massive government subsidy. If the money for the dozens of assistance programs dries up, traditional marriage will make a comeback.

            I’m not saying I predict that will happen. I only mean that the current state of affairs is a disequilibrium maintained through constant expense of energy.

          • Leo says:

            @ryan: Buh? I am not speaking of single mothers, raising a child alone and on a single income, and therefore dependent on government aid. I am speaking of cohabiting couples who have a child or two, then get married and maybe have another child.

          • ryan says:


            I agree that’s a different situation. Watch Game of Thrones? Gendry and Jon Snow are both bastards technically speaking, but they lived in totally different situations. Jon Snow type illegitimacy is sustainable on its own. Large scale Gendry type illegitimacy can only exist with constant government subsidy.

          • Nornagest says:

            With the usual caveats about fictional evidence…

            Gendry was doing fine. He was an apprentice to a successful smith, which in a late medieval context is solidly middle-class: skilled trades at that point in history were what a more recent SSC post would describe as highly dual professions, and while apprenticeship was an extended and often rather exploitative process, the most important filter was getting one in the first place. After that, it was just a matter of sucking it up and doing your time. The only reason his life started to suck was that he got caught up in politics, and even that wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for some bad decisions on others’ parts.

            Which I think illustrates some stuff about the social role of bastardry in that kind of setting. Westeros is a high-context society: you can’t live there without participating in a network of highly stable social obligations, determined partly by formal rank but more directly by the circles you run, and ran, in. The difference between Gendry and Jon comes from the context they were raised in, and after controlling for that bastardry ends up being far more significant in Jon’s case than in Gendry’s; if Gendry had been the legitimate offspring of some peddler or mercenary, he’d have ended up exactly where he did anyway. Legitimacy in Jon’s case, on the other hand, would have given him a high title and probably lands: compare the Jon we know, who’s essentially landless gentry or minor nobility, albeit with good connections.

          • BBA says:

            Every time I see “traditional marriage” I think “coverture.” The Married Women’s Property Acts did a hell of a lot more to change the nature of marriage than Obergefell.

          • ryan says:


            Oh yes, you are 100% correct on that point.

        • Leo says:

          @John Schilling: It is in fact easier to get millions of people to loudly agree with “Proposal: add ‘of any gender’ to this one law” until it passes, than to construct a full list of laws and company policies that favour married people or people who can get married, construct a suitable patch, organise a lobby to push for it, and then organise further lobbies to get other companies/states/countries to take any changes into account.

          We The People of any vaguely democratic country are hopeless at coordinating to design a policy, but excellent at agitating for or against any pre-specified policy. Fortunately for me, gay marriage is very simple (in terms of bits to specify it) and the ability to throw a big rock suffices to get it.

          This is one reason I’m far more pessimistic about multiple marriage than about gay marriage. It will require complex decisions (whether marriage is transitive, and changes to property and children and divorce laws) that don’t fit into a slogan. And if countries make those decisions differently, a marriage may be legal in one country but not another even if they both have multiple marriage.

          • John Schilling says:

            …to construct a full list of laws and company policies that favour married people or people who can get married

            But in this case, that list is easy to construct. Hospital visitation rights, and nothing else. That’s where we started this discussion, three days ago. Faced with the bog-standard assertion that hospital visitation rights were just one of many examples, I repeatedly asked for some of the other examples on account of hospital visitation rights alone not really making a convincing case for something as broadly controversial as gay marriage. And all I got, from anyone, was BUT HOSPITAL VISITATION RIGHTS ARE REALLY IMPORTANT, HERE’S WHY.

            You’ve brought us right back where we started, which I think means we’re done.

          • Leo says:

            You asked “Do you people genuinely care much about hospital visitation rights?”, and the answer was yes. You also asked “Do you people only care about hospital visitation rights, and have no other reasons to get married?”, and the answer was no. It’s not our fault you insist on treating these as the same question.

            “You keep bringing up hospital visitation rights but they obviously don’t matter, find a better argument” is not going to be read as “What are the other examples?”, they’re going to be read as “Defend this particular example”, so it’s no surprise that’s what you got.

            houseboatonstyx provided some good examples. I would add: bereavement leave, leave to take care of them or a relative of theirs, immigration, and more generally having your marriage recognised abroad. Moreover, social marriage is tied to legal marriage, and so reasons to be socially married are reasons to be legally married – or at the very least to have the option to be, so that your refusal carries information. Do you want the case for social marriage?

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            I’ve thought of a limited steelmanning of a possible support for John’s side, using the standard of the greatest good for the greatest number. If gays are, say, ~10% of the population, and not all gays are affected by all these disadvantages of lack of marriage, then the actual negative consequences for the gays might add up quite small compared to the actual negative consequences for the het majority — assuming there were any.

            But looking at objective, immediate, non-theoretical consequences (like pensions, company benefits, medical leave, rights by default without need of special legal documents, etc), I don’t see that hets lose any notable portion of these practical things by gays having them also.

            As for subjective emotional reactions, what proportion of the population is at risk for strong negative reactions against gay marriage? A recent poll found only 40% opposing it at all. Those likely to have positive reactions are the ~10% gays plus the 50% hets who favor it. Looking for strong reactions, there are the gay ~10%, and many hets are expressing strong positive reactions also, perhaps ~20% of the population; so there is ~30% of the population having strong positive reactions, vs 40% having any opposition at all.

            Getting late here. I’d better quit before I muddle any more figures than the ones I probably already have.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        > What gay marriage supporters actually want is for governments to treat Lance and Matthew as if they were married.

        For the legal benefits of marriage, you need a legal marriage license.

        / tl;dr for Creutzer and others

      • 1. Re Tom Cruise. Its obvious, but irrelevant and misleading, that gay people have to always been able to marry someone of the other sex.

        2. Re Lance and Matthew. The pro gay marriage lobby have been clear that they want symbolic equality, not .mcmarriage, and also everything that goes with full formal marriage.

        • ryan says:

          You’re adding superfluous information. It’s obvious that gay people have always been able to marry. Stating this as it’s obvious that gay people have always been able to marry a human being but not a chimpanzee adds zero content to the statement. And if stated that way by someone advocating for marriage between humans and chimpanzees, it’s likely the sin of either semantics or begging the question.

        • RCF says:

          If someone claims that gay people were not allowed to get married, then the fact that they were is obviously not irrelevant, and it is the person claiming otherwise who is being misleading.

      • RCF says:

        “I think the capital letters and logic symbols put the conversation in a bad place and ended up frustrating everyone.”

        If someone is frustrated by someone discussing logic with symbols specifically designed for that purpose, perhaps the fault lies with them, rather than me.

        “Here’s how I think the argument can be made without it leading to people calling you an apartheid apologist”

        Calling me an apartheid apologist is such an absurd response that it would be silly to try to come up with an argument that could prevent it.

        Also, what you present is an argument for a position entirely different from the one I was trying to explain.

    • Lesser Bull says:

      I know nothing at all about who you or James Picone are. But I will say, from my own experience as a moderator, your post here leads me to believe that your original ban was probably justified.

  23. Saul Degraw says:

    Semi-Randomly on Tattoos:

    Why does it seem like people born after 1975 decided en masse that getting tattos/ink was a good thing?

    Hyperbole of course but it does seem like people born after 1975 love tattoos like no previous age cohort and this cuts into all politics, all education levels, all economic backgrounds, etc. Previously I think tattoos were seen as more working class.

    I was born in 1980 and feel no need for ink and feel like an outlier because of this. I might have sample bias because I live in SF and come from New York/Brookyln.

    • ddreytes says:

      I honestly have no way of explaining the bias (as someone in that age cohort) despite the fact that I completely and totally share it.

      This is really strange to me, and kind of unsettling.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        Is there some sort of change in attitude about permanency or commitment involved? Around mid-century people believed in committing themselves to a permanent marriage, choosing a permanent job or at least a permanent career field, etc; but for nice girls at least there was a horror of tattoos because they were permanent (I feel that horror too).

        Has it reversed now? People want low-commitment relationships and jobs — and high commitments to their body decorations? Or do they dismiss the concern about permanency, thinking there will turn up some good way of removing them?

        • ddreytes says:

          I can’t speak for anyone else, obviously. But at the very least, I’m fairly confident that logic doesn’t apply to me, because I am pretty positive about commitment.

          If anything, it might be the opposite – people who want permanence in a culture / economy that makes permanence and commitment difficult, and so this is one thing where they can make a permanent, long-term commitment. And it also might represent a sort of… way of fixing at least a part of your identity on your own terms and not anyone else’s.

          I’m not sure, thought. I don’t really associate any of that stuff with tattoos, at least not immediately; in the moment I just think they look really nice, and I think more highly of people who have them. It’s quite hard to articulate as well.

    • Wrong Species says:

      I hate it when a gorgeous women has a ridiculous amount of tattoos. It’s like spray painting a cathedral.

      • drethelin says:

        Isn’t the literally most famous cathedral in the world covered in art?

        • Wrong Species says:

          Yes but I don’t really think of tattoos as amazing art. Most are bad to mediocre. Some of them are kind of cool but I’ve never been in awe of someone’s tattoo before.

      • Groober says:

        You know what? They weren’t put there for your eyes to feast on.

    • Tarrou says:

      The decay of middle-class norms and the exaltation of the entertainment class.

      I actually have a fair bit of ink, but really, really hate the hipster sort of inking up. Where I come from, it’s not a decoration, it’s a badge. Bikers, inmates and soldiers mostly. It’s a way of chronicling one’s achievements within a subculture. And it is policed within those communities.

      I get that it’s a fashion thing, just rubs me wrong. I can’t see my neighbor without thinking “and where exactly did you earn that rainbow colored giraffe?”

      • onyomi says:

        My feeling about tattoos is: go big, or go home. That is, I love a giant, yakuza-style tattoo of a dragon, phoenix, or bodhisattva, or what have you–like, a real work of art. People in the navy, etc. also get a pass for smaller tattoos to memorialize something important. But this thing where women think it’s “cute” to just get Winnie the Pooh on their ankle is just awful.

        • Nita says:

          Awful, just awful! Those awful women and their awful “cute” tattoos. How dare they?! Don’t they realize that the purpose of their body is to satisfy onyomi’s sense of aesthetics?

          • Anonymous says:

            onyomi is entitled to his aesthetic opinions.

          • onyomi says:

            They can do what they want with their own bodies, just as they are free to wear hideous clothing if they want to. Doesn’t mean I can’t say “I think Ugg boots are ugly.” Or would that be to imply that their ankles exist solely for my satisfaction?

          • Nita says:

            @ onyomi

            It’s interesting that both you and the cathedral-loving gentleman above called out women, specifically. But perhaps you just find poor Winnie intolerably ugly. If so, I apologise for misrepresenting your position.

            Edit: Also, you didn’t mention anything about avoiding children’s book characters in the “huge” tattoos you like — are they all beautiful by virtue of being huge?

          • onyomi says:

            There are certainly plenty of men with stupid and ugly tattoos, but the phenomenon of getting just a little tattoo of something “cute” and “sweet” is much more prevalent among women. What I am saying is that getting a small, cute tattoo runs against the whole aesthetic of the tattoo.

            The origin of most tattoo cultures, other than tribal-type tattoos, which, again, are not meant to be “cute,” is in penal tattooing. People used to cover up the tattoos they got for stealing, etc. by adding flowery designs. As a result, you can’t enter most pools with tattoos in Japan even to this day, as tattoos are associated with criminals.

            Now, it’s not just criminals who get tattooed today, but that’s where the culture comes from: a kind of “outlaw brotherhood”-type aesthetic also shared by sailors, biker gangs, etc.

            But even if we say to heck with history, it’s still my aesthetic opinion that tattoos are inherently “serious,” and frankly, kind of masculine in most cases (which is not to say women can’t appropriately get them, but most of the women I know with good tattoos are unusually “tough” women who have been in the military, etc.).

            Which is not to say it has to be “tough.” I know a very feminine woman with a beautiful tattoo of a Bible verse coiling around her upper body. The verse is very meaningful to her personally. Now if Winnie the Pooh is genuinely very meaningful for you, then go ahead, but if you’re just doing it because it’s a “safe,” small, cute way to dip your toe in the tattoo waters, then forget, it I say.

            The small, cute tattoo signals “I am the sort of person who thought it would be a good idea to get something cute permanently etched under my skin on a whim, but I don’t want to commit, either, so just something small and cute.” Of course, I don’t know the life story behind every tattooed person I see, but when I see the little stars on your wrist, the Spongebob Squarepants on your calf, or your name written in horrible Chinese calligraphy across your neck, that’s what I think.

            Of course, this is all just my aesthetic opinion, which, yes, I am entitled to.

          • Mary says:

            Actually it has more of a link to sailors than criminals in the West. Unsurprisingly. Before photos, you could be identified only by some description — you could be dangerously misidentified by looking nondescript. A distinctive tattoo was therefore your id.

          • Nita says:

            @ onyomi

            tattoos are inherently “serious,”

            I don’t think that’s an accurate impression. E.g., look at those old sailors wearing roses and pin-up girls on their arms… Not to mention the “aloha” monkey.

            So, the original tribal tattoos were serious, but as soon as Western sailors got hold of the idea, they ran with it in various directions — symbolic, religious/superstitious, pretty, sexy, personally meaningful, irreverent etc. If you really want to roll it back, you can try using a cultural appropriation argument, I suppose. Good luck with that.

            In some ways, an ankle Winnie on a woman is more transgressive and irreverent than an “old school” tattoo on a modern guy, and thus more in the sailor spirit.

            And if you’re going to object to dumb signals, isn’t an actual yakuza-style tattoo on a non-yakuza person way worse?

          • onyomi says:

            It’s not all about the signalling. It’s about what looks good. Yakuza style tattoos look good because they *are* good (when done by serious artists). The level of tattoo art in the US is generally much poorer than in Asia.

            I’ve never seen a sailor with a cartoon character, star, rainbow, etc. That is a different level of “non-serious,” than a sexy lady, etc.

            I just went to a wedding yesterday and all but one of the bridesmaids had an awful tattoo on her shoulder, neck, or otherwise visible above the formal dress. And I say “awful,” because I think that the tattoos detracted from their appearance in every case, looking especially incongruous with the formal dress. One woman had a bunch of twinkling stars all over her shoulder that looked from a distance like some kind of skin disease.

            This is a newish trend of women trying to make tattoos into something cute and feminine and I think it is largely a failure.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            I know women with small tattoos which are extremelymeaningful to them (memorialising dead close relatives)

            And regarding the difference between “cute” tattoos and “meaningful” tattoos, I think some of the traditional sailors’ tattoos were ones that you could dismiss as “cute” if you don’t know what they mean, like stars and swallows.

      • Saul Degraw says:

        I think the phrase middle-class values is void for vagueness. But the U.S. always had a harder time explaining middle class as compared to Europe. Whenever you see media stories on the “decline of the middle class”, the stories seem to be mainly talking about unskilled or semi-skilled factory workers.

        Middle-class values in the suburban New York of my childhood could be very different than middle-class values in suburban Salt Lake City or Phoenix. I didn’t belong to the Boy Scouts or Little League but my parents did take me to a lot of museums and concerts. We were not a super-religious family and my parents were not very censorious. But I grew up in a suburb, played videogames, went to public school, just like much of my cohort.

      • “and where exactly did you earn that rainbow colored giraffe?”

        I think that’s hilarious, and I would rather live in a world where it was possible to earn a rainbow-colored giraffe.

        Personally, I’m fairly neutral about tattoos. I’m still a little surprised that they became fashionable verging on mainstream, and I’m not sure what’s going to happen when the generation that loves them is in charge.

        I don’t think most of the art is that bad– I reserve my ire for bad photoshop, and most of that was on book covers.

      • Lesser Bull says:

        This kind of thing used to be more common in the lower classes (sailors with their girlfriends, for example) because the lower classes had a harder time sending credible signals of commitment. Now that middle and upper classes have a hard time committing to a relationship in a way that one would expect would stick, its no surprise that relationship tattoos are moving up the scale.

        • I talked with someone who had a tattooed wedding ring– he said that he and his wife (who also had a tattooed wedding ring) had both had a number of previous marriages (I think three for one and four for the other), so they wanted a more permanent and painful symbol of commitment.

    • zz says:

      I (born 1992) can’t speak for anyone else, but I’ve been considering for quite some time to get the first bar or two of Le Sacre du Printemps across my back, mostly as a signalling thing.

      There’s a very particular type of person who will recognize such a tattoo; most of them probably are interested in meeting someone with a Rite of Spring tattoo, I’m probably interested in meeting them, and I just gave them a conversation starter.

      I’m holding off because (a) I want to be really sure, since I hear tattoos are kinda permanent and (b) I’m given to understand we change more than we expect.

      • Anonymous says:

        The idea of change is an important one. Tattoos are permanent and stay on you forever, and are an example of a decision you can make in a heat of rebellious passion that you’ll regret ever after.

        I’ve been thinking about trying henna tattoos as a lifestyle thing, reapplying them every two weeks after the first one fades, slowly changing the mark on my body every time. This goes with the Buddhist idea of impermanence – things never stay the same forever, not even within a single lifetime. Anything I choose to mark myself with will not apply after a while, and to try to make it apply ever after with a tattoo violates that principle and will only cause unnecessary suffering.

      • Deiseach says:

        Unless you’re intending to walk around shirtless in every situation, how will anyone who might be interested in “Oh look, the opening bars of The Rite of Spring, what an interesting conversationalist this person may be!” see your tattoo and strike up a conversation with you?

        Depending on how high up your back it is, I’d imagine by the time they got to see it, you would already have established good terms with them 🙂

        • Nornagest says:

          If zz is a woman, and if the tattoo is at the level of the shoulder blades or above, then a lot of warm-weather tops would expose enough of it to be legible. Or they could be a swimmer or other athlete that practices shirtless or with a sleeveless shirt, or have a habit of hanging out at the beach or the pool, or just like tank tops. (I think the British for that is “singlet” or “vest”?)

          And it doesn’t even have to be very legible to be a conversation starter. I have a line of text tattooed around my collarbones, high enough to be visible but not readable with a V-neck or a collared shirt, and I get a lot of people asking me what it says.

    • brad says:

      Interesting, I have a somewhat similar background–born 1980 in the suburbs of NYC–and I would not have put the threshold at 1975. Among both my high school and college cohort they were and are somewhat unusual, though not unknown, whereas I find them much more common among people even only five to ten years younger.

      Although I don’t care for them, I’ve learned to keep that opinion to myself.

      • Saul Degraw says:

        I might have a sample bias because I lived in Brooklyn in my mid to late 20s and have lived in San Francisco since 2008. So I might know areas that swing more towards inking. I also have a grand unified theory that there have been fewer generational cultural changes since 1992 than in previous 20 year swings. A lot of the stuff about grunge and Generation X seems to have transferred unto Millennial hipsters. You might be right that people born 5-10 years after us are more into ink but I think people from the 1975-1980 birthdates jumped on during the aughts.

        I am more perplexed by anything else. Now it seems like everyone talks about the need for ink and I see a ton of “must get inked” on social media.

    • Anonymous says:

      I was a 90’s kid, and I don’t like the idea of inking my body; mostly because it sounds really painful and really permanent. (I might get henna tattoos, because those fade away after a while and they don’t involve dyeing subcutaneous tissue.)

      That being said, I don’t care if anybody else has them. I’m more concerned about their rebellious stigma, and the fact that people are literally campaigning for it to be illegal to “discriminate against” having them. They’re using the argument that just like being gay, it’s not really a choice; it’s part of a person’s identity to have them on their body and visible.

      • Saul Degraw says:

        There is a guy in my neighborhood who is in his 40s or 50s with a neck tattoo. He largely looks like your suburban accountant except he dresses in shorts and t-shirts and has a neck tattoo. I find the middle-aged white guyness of him kind of confusing.

        • The Anonymouse says:

          That’s hella normcore!

          More seriously, this is fairly common in recovery circles, where someone retains some unremovable remnant from his former life–often, ill-chosen tattoos–but has gotten his life back together and would otherwise appear terribly mundane.

      • Nornagest says:

        It’s not that painful. Depending on where you get inked (heavily innervated areas and those close to the bone are more painful), it can range from feeling like a pinprick to a bad papercut; and since most people aren’t going to start with e.g. facial or finger tattoos, the lower end of that scale is probably more likely at first.

        It’s more a test of patience than pain tolerance, as large or complicated tattoos can take many hours over multiple sessions.

      • Wrong Species says:

        This is what happens when we stop taking the idea of freedom of association seriously.

    • buckwheatloaf says:

      it was part of subcultures before it went mainstream and everybody got one except unlike other fads you had to live with them for the rest of your life. my teacher to us about the beatniks in the 60s and how they had their own distinct fashion and stuff. but then 5 years later you had a beatnik section in the department store selling that style. eventually the fringe stuff gets commercialized and sold to anyone. maybe places that do tatoos went up around that time too.

    • I’m voting sample bias. I mean, my *dad* has a tattoo, but most of the people I know don’t. Tattoos are pretty low class, IMO.

    • Christopher says:

      As with others, I think I’d put the date cutoff a little later – probably around ’80. But otherwise I’d agree with you. Here’s some observations:

      – I was born 1975 in Ontario, basically didn’t know anyone with, and rarely saw tattoos before moving to the UK in 2001.

      – When I moved to the UK I began to see, though rarely interact with, women my own age and younger with lower-back tattoos (colloquially referred to as “tramp stamps”) which apparently became popular around that time, and seemed to be associated with less educated, working-class white women – “Essex girls” or “chavs” (milder, but similar connotations to “white trash”). I think it was generally understood that such tattoos signalled a certain degree of sexual availability, though I imagine that the tattoo-bearers would demur.

      – Around 2008 I started to meet many more men and women with visible arm and leg tattoos, mainly through the swing dance scene. Like clothing and hairstyles, many of the tattoo designs were heavily influenced by a 1940s / 1950s aesthetic.

      – Swing dancers – including the tattooed ones – are typically well educated and often relatively affluent middle-class folks. Several of the most heavily inked women I know have PhDs.

      – Amongst women I know, younger Swedes (early twenties to early thirties) seem to have been trendsetters.

      – Women’s designs might be a little more feminine in style but are often as elaborate as men’s, and – because of clothing – usually much more prominent. Full sleeves of tattoos are not unheard of.

      – There is definitely an association in my mind between large / prominent tattoos and a high level of dance skill, for both men and women. (Not so much the reverse.)

      I think I am becoming somewhat more used to the idea of people having tattoos in general – they are not the instant squick they once were – but I still have mixed feelings about women with tattoos: I really do not understand the appeal of marking oneself in that way, even if I am not immune to the considerable appeal of several I know who have chosen to do so. I think I might be more likely to develop positive associations with tattoos were they not also correlated with smoking.

  24. brainiac256 says:

    Point: The kind of person who is willing to kill an endangered species to make fake medicine to sell to gullible people, is perhaps not going to be very put off by the fact that the ‘medicine’ has been poisoned and will thus kill the gullible people?

    • suntzuanime says:

      It’s a lot easier to keep believing in a placebo when it doesn’t kill you. Pretty sure it’s bad for business to sell poison as medicine. Probably gets the cops more interested in you than in a crime that’s mostly victimless except for the rhinos.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I think part of the hope is that by dyeing it pink, they’re going to be selling pink powder and the buyer will know what that means.

    • Albatross says:

      I don’t understand why ALL rhino horn dealers don’t just switch to cattle horns. Why bother dodging rangers and camping in the wilderness when you can skip straight to grinding up easy to obtain substitutes? Who is unethical enough to kill rhinos but ethical enough to insist on selling real horn when fake horn grinds up and has the same results. Heck, grind a couple viagra up in there and insist only your horns are real. Maybe we need more enterprising criminals.

      • John Schilling says:

        Such a criminal would be discovered, and would lose the trust of his customers, and would be unable to profit from the rhino-horn trade even if he subsequently “reformed” and offered to sell the genuine stuff. His fellow criminals would see to that, for their own advantage, if his customers didn’t beat him to it.

        Criminals, who do not have access to courts, often place a high value on trust and develop effective means of detecting and punishing defection.

      • MartinW says:

        Who is unethical enough to kill rhinos but ethical enough to insist on selling real horn

        “Animal rights” and “protecting endangered species” are fairly modern, mostly Western concepts. It isn’t too difficult to imagine someone who wouldn’t hesitate to shoot the last rhino on Earth, while bristling at the thought of deliberately selling a fake product to a customer.

        Also, I would assume that the poachers sell the horn in one piece to someone else, who then grinds it into medicine. So the fraudulent substitution of non-rhino horn would need to be done by the medicine maker. I’m sure that happens sometimes, but a) it is quite likely that at least some of the medicine makers actually believe their stuff works, and b) a medicine maker who does not buy a real rhino horn every now and then, will probably lose credibility among their more discriminating customers.

        BTW, apparently the idea that rhino horn is believed to be an aphrodisiac, is mostly a Western myth, and traditional Chinese medicine ascribes various beneficial effects to it but none of them are related to sexual potency. (Its primary use is as a fever remedy, and one study found that it does indeed have some anti-fever properties, albeit only in very large doses.) Also, a lot of rhino horns are used for making dagger handles rather than medicine.

      • Loquat says:

        It’s actually likely that ground cow horn would be noticeably different from ground rhino horn; most horn-bearing animals, including cows, grow a horn made of bone with a thin layer of keratin on the outside, but rhino horn is keratin all the way through. Rhino horn is apparently similar in structure to horses’ hooves, suggesting that might make a better substitute, but again you’ve got the issue of buyers wanting proof they’re buying the real deal.

      • One possibility is that most people don’t think about whether there’s a drastically better way of doing what they usually do.

        Another is that some people (and I think it’s probably 20% or more) really like killing large animals.

        Have another mystery– why do people use torture to get false confessions? Why not just forge the signature? (I realize some false confessions are made in person, but a lot aren’t.)

        • Jiro says:

          Have another mystery– why do people use torture to get false confessions? Why not just forge the signature? (I realize some false confessions are made in person, but a lot aren’t.)

          Scott points out in this old blogpost that the way the norm against lying works, people don’t generally completely make things up; when they lie they lie about something real:

          Even Clymer lied less than he possibly could have. He got his fake numbers by conflating rapes per sex act with rapes per lifetime, and it’s really hard for me to imagine someone doing that by anything resembling accident. But he couldn’t bring himself to go the extra step and just totally make up numbers with no grounding whatsoever. And part of me wonders: why not? If you’re going to use numbers you know are false to destroy people, why is it better to derive the numbers through a formula you know is incorrect, than to just skip the math and make the numbers up in the first place?

        • Nita says:

          That’s easy — it lets them believe the confessions are true.

        • Publius Varinius says:

          I don’t think it’s that mysterious.

          Sometimes the point of torture is to get a true confession. In those cases, it’s “merely” an unfortunate side effect that tortured people tend to confess falsely.

          Some other times – mainly in totalitarian show trials – the goal is to signal to the populace that the State has the tools to “change people’s minds”, and that those who don’t think the right thoughts will be civilized, along with their families.

          Communist show trials were actual shows: open to the public, broadcast on radio, and the later ones televised. Famous examples include Bukharin’s live confession (“the monstrousness of my crime is immeasurable […] May this trial be the last severe lesson, and may the great might of the U.S.S.R become clear to all.”) and the case of Rajk and his accomplices. Falsified confessions, especially if challenged during a public trial, would not have had the same effect.

          • Protagoras says:

            I think Nita has it right. The evidence suggests that torture is very effective at convincing torturers that their victims are guilty (through some kind of rationalization process). Falsifying a confession wouldn’t have that effect. Your regime is almost certainly better off in the long run if its enforcers believe they are doing something necessary and valuable, confronting genuine enemies.

  25. NL says:

    Doesn’t scaling up school chains defeat the purpose school choice? Wouldn’t it work better to just take what the good schools are doing and implement it across the country, publicly?

    • Jon Gunnarsson says:

      The good schools and the bad schools do any number of things differently. How do you know which of these practices cause the difference in results?

    • Slow Learner says:

      Results change based on cohort, staff changes, policy changes…

      For example in my (fairly good) school, the year below me got significantly better exam results than my year; for whatever reason, they were a stronger group when it came to sitting their exams. The teaching staff had barely changed, the exams hadn’t changed, school policies hadn’t changed.
      That’s normal in any school.
      So some schools will naturally have it happen that they get a strong cohort for several years, and all of a sudden they look like they’re performing really well – but if you apply their policies to other schools (or to the same school when their next cohort regresses to the mean), it’s going to have very little effect.

    • ryan says:

      Here’s your hefty hump of cynicism for your Monday:

      The good schools are essentially cheating. What they are doing better than the bad schools is educating good students instead of bad ones. Think of them as good and bad law schools, it will help it make sense.

  26. Can someone explain the economic/energy logic of the whole carbon extraction from air thing to me without sounding nuts? You get energy out of changing the chemical bonds from carbon/hydrocarbons to CO2. Why would the energy required to extract (say 5-10 TONNES PER PERSON, which is the output of C in industrialised countries) of carbon out of the atmosphere, where its now distributed across a massively large volume of air, rebonding it to something and then moving it to a new location (unless you’re planning hundreds of millions of piles of 5-10 TONNES PER YEAR OF CARBON just piling up all over the place) why would that energy and cost be even remotely economically viable?

    Carbon capture and storage takes a massive amount of money/energy to achieve in ideal circumstances – when you extract it from the output of your power plant – and there its all conveniently in the one place! Planting trees seems to make marginally more sense because all the work is done for you, but I struggle to understand how this whole thing is worthy of serious consideration without widespread fusion power at the very least. Making the energy process clean in the first place seems the only way I can think of to solve the problem economically.

    Perhaps I’m missing something – please enlighten me if you know more about this tech!!!!

    • Eric Rall says:

      When I’ve heard about carbon sequestration in the past, the place have either been injecting CO2 gas into geological formations that are likely to keep it trapped for some time, such as former oil and gas reservoirs, or “biological capture”, which is along the lines of planting trees or encouraging algae growth in the ocean.

      In this particular article, it sounds like the startups proposing a form of biofuels (where the actual energy source is probably solar, wind, or fission and the biofuel is a storage and transmission medium) and using carbon sequestration as a hook to attract interest and possibly seek public subsidies.

      • I grok that I think. And I don’t claim expertise. But there’s two really obvious problems with their proposal as far I can see.

        The first is that it doesn’t seem to make sense from an energy or economic perspective. I mean. how the reaction of going from CO2 -> carbon/hydrocarbon can cost signficantly less energy than the energy you get out of running the reaction the other way in the first place? And if it costs the same or more than the energy you get in the first place (which is what I expect), why wouldn’t you just get your energy from a cleaner source, which you’d think would be much much cheaper?

        The second is that while this might be a feasible way to make biofuel, it’s hard to see how it would do anything to address atmospheric carbon levels, because you’re going to end up burning the biofuel pretty soon after anyway?

        To make atmospheric extraction work, you’d have to make 10’s of billions of tonnes worth of material in a year to even start making a dent (if you’re bonding with other atoms in your process you’re might be making a lot more material than the 35 billion tonnes of CO2 we pump out each year). Then you’ve got to put all that material somewhere. None of which is very productive for the economy. Much smarter to move to cleaner production in the first place.

        Direct biological capture by planting trees seems a bit more sensible, but trees only sequester a small part of the carbon they store permanently. Afaik, a lot gets released again when the tree dies through decomposition.

        • John Schilling says:

          Splitting this for subsequent discussion:

          I mean. how the reaction of going from CO2 -> carbon/hydrocarbon can cost signficantly less energy than the energy you get out of running the reaction the other way in the first place?

          I agree that it is misleading to refer to biofuels or atmospherically-sourced synthetic fuels as “carbon sequestration”, and people ought not do that. If the intent is to burn the fuel, the carbon goes right back into the air and you haven’t sequestered it in any real way. But you have created a carbon-neutral energy good that can compete against high-carbon-footprint fossil fuels, and that’s helpful.

          The way the energy economics works, you start with access to a cheap but inconveniently located and possibly diffuse energy source, e.g. a dam on a fast-moving river, or a square mile of sunny land. Through some clever chemistry, you transform that energy into a hydrocarbon. You sell that to someone who needs concentrated energy in a different inconvenient location, e.g. the fuel tank of an airplane 30,000 feet over the Pacific ocean.

          He’ll get less energy out of the fuel than you put into it, but his operation is specifically demanding about the form of the energy he uses. He’ll pay a premium on a concentrated energy source he can put in an airplane’s fuel tank, you presumably got a discount by buying a square kilometer of sunny desert land that nobody else wanted. That difference is your profit.

          This can’t generate a profit if it is used to produce hydrocarbons that will be burned to generate electricity in places convenient to a source of fossil fuels, because as you note you’re just introducing a needless conversion step. But that’s mostly not what we use fossil fuels for anyhow. Fossil fuels are mostly (but not overwhelmingly) for transportation or specialized industrial use.

          So, yes, finding a moderately efficient way to turn sunlight or hydropower into e.g. gasoline, will be a Very Good Thing. To deal with the people who are still burning coal to generate electricity, you’ll need a different good thing, and that class of things is properly considered carbon sequestration.

          • Presented as a way to make fuel from atmospheric carbon, that makes sense. It’s not going to dent atmospheric carbon but it might replace pulling more carbon from the ground and releasing it. Like you say the primary issue is that it’s massively misleading to present it as sequestration. Thinking about it, this is likely a deliberate blurring of the boundaries by the companies involved. While I like the tech and what they’re doing, it’s frustrating to see innacuracies spread in an area so important.

            All in all, I agree with your point here entirely I think – thanks for writing it so clearly.

        • John Schilling says:

          Second part, forking from the same source

          how the reaction of going from CO2 -> carbon/hydrocarbon can cost signficantly less energy than the energy you get out of running the reaction the other way in the first place?

          True carbon sequestration, as opposed to mislabeled biofuels programs, doesn’t go from CO2 -> carbon/hydrocarbon. Nobody is proposing to bury gigatons of coal and say, “I win!”. The requirement is that the carbon Go Someplace Else; it doesn’t have to go alone.

          One common plan is to simply bury the carbon dioxide as carbon dioxide. Dissolved into deep ocean layers that don’t interact with the atmosphere (we think) over geologic time, or pumped under pressure into capped porous rock formations that we know used to be able to hold CH4 over geologic time. It takes energy to run the necessary pumps and compressors and condensers and so forth, but not nearly as much as you got from burning the carbon in the first place.

          A second option is to chemically bind the carbon with something else, at an intermediate energy state. Or even a slightly favorable one. Magnesium silicate, a major component of olivine rock, will react with CO2 to produce magnesium carbonate and silicon dioxide,

          Mg2SiO4 + 2CO2 -> 2MgCO3 + SiO2 + 10.3 Kcal;

          Meaning you’ve just “burned” atmospheric CO2 with one kind of rock, producing a little bit of energy and a different kind of rock that you can now bury. Now, 10.3 Kcal/mol isn’t a whole lot of energy; it won’t be profitable to run a powerplant on that basis. Maybe you won’t even be able to power the magnesium silicate mining equipment. But the net energy cost of that operation will be much less than the net energy gain of a coal-burning plant.

          The global plan is to replace the cycle,

          Coal + O2 -> Energy + CO2 (atmospheric),

          with something like

          Coal + O2 -> Energy + CO2 (buried), or

          Coal + O2 + Olivine -> Energy + Quartz + Magnesite

          It’s just that we’ve already got the coal-to-energy infrastructure built in one place, the most convenient place for the rest of the infrastructure is likely someplace else, and the atmosphere will efficiently transport CO2 from where we generate it to where we can effectively bury it.

          There are other option besides burying pressurized/dissolved CO2 and burying magnesite+quartz; I’m not going to list them all. All of them have technical challenges and risks, and it may turn out that none of them is really useful. But they don’t have the disadvantage of innately requiring more energy than they produce, because none of them try to entirely reverse the fossil-fuel-burning part and bury coal or hydrocarbons.

          • Now this is really interesting I really like this post.

            So if I see what you’re saying – get olivine rock, prep it to react with the CO2 and grab the carbon, bury the result, doing so using a process that requires significantly less energy than you get from burning the coal. In alternative cases, just grab the CO2, and put it somewhere that’s not the atmosphere, like deep ocean layers.

            My only question is how much energy does it take to run the magnesium silicate mining operation end-to-end?

            Great post thanks for the detailed explanation!

          • Actually having done a bit more reading up now I have a couple more questions.

            -Apparently to extract the magnesium silicate from the olivine you have to use significant amounts of hydrochloric (?) acid. I understand that’s pretty standard for a mining operation but we’re talking an extraordinarily large amount of mass here, hundreds or thousands of times bigger than today’s giant mine sites if I calculate correctly. Will it require acid etc (the trial research on sequestration seems to use it?) How hard is producing that much acid going to be? How about handling and disposing of biproduct safely?
            -Also related to the scale required, I understand in natural conditions olivine “weathers” over time in a somewhat similar process if it’s exposed to air. Does this mean it will need to be crushed quite finely and then exposed to air for a period of time? Will it have to be layed out of a wide area? For this quantity that might be a huge area?

            It looks like it’s still at a relatively early and small scale stage of research but despite my questions I do think its an interesting and creative solution and I hope the processes can be worked out for it to be commercialised on a large scale but also in a environmentally sound way. Cheers for sharing once again.

          • John Schilling says:

            That’s sort of an either-or proposition. As you have found, carbon capture in silicate rocks is a natural process. It is, in fact, a big part of the reason Earth doesn’t look like Venus – and isn’t going to no matter how badly we screw up the whole climate change thing. We are arguing over the pitiful remnant of carbon left over after four billion years of sequestration, and since it turns out human industry can put it into the atmosphere faster than nature can put it under the ground, we’re going to want to accelerate the natural process[*].

            The natural version of olivine carbon sequestration, obviously doesn’t require concentrated hydrochloric acid. Just finely pulverizing the rock and exposing to air and water will do. But, as you note, may require inconveniently large amounts of land.

            We can certainly do chemistry to increase the reaction rate. The strongest form of this is using pure magnesium silicate in aqueous solution or suspension, and now you’re maybe talking inconveniently large amounts of concentrated hydrochloric acid.

            There’s almost certainly a middle ground. Or a detour along a different path. You can pump up the reaction rate by using, not atmospheric CO2, but the hot CO2-rich exhaust gas of the powerplant. No concentrated acid, no vast tracts of land, but requires shipping billions of tons of olivine. Or you can use shallow seas, lakes, or rivers as your reaction beds rather than land; I think that works better in terms of reaction rate, and the products self-dispose as sediment, but there will be environmental effects and they will be harder to contain than on land.

            I’ve even seen proposals to combine olivine sequestration with the pump-CO2-into-porous-rock technique: pump hot CO2 into olivine-rich porous rock and let it react to carbonates and quartz in situ. The reaction is exothermic and porous rock is a decent insulator, so there’s no energy input beyond the pumps and compressors – but that’s not trivial, nor is finding suitable geologic formations. Does eliminate the worry about having all the CO2 suddenly escape from where you buried it.

            Ideally, the solution would be economic. Figure out what it’s worth to solve the problem, set an appropriate carbon tax and sequestration credit regime, and hire enough inspectors to keep cheating at a tolerably low level. Whichever solution turns out to be cheapest to implement, is the one whose proponents will get rich.

            But then there’s politics, so it’s not going to happen quite like that.

            [*] In the short term. In the long run, complex life is scheduled to go extinct on earth about a billion years from now due to insufficient atmospheric carbon dioxide. We’ll have to do something about that.

          • Great to get another very interesting reply.

            The ideas you suggest sound like good ones, though it does miss out on the great “let the atmosphere do the transport” part that you mentioned before. In terms of the energy requirements for transporting the olivine, it looks as though it’s worthwhile if it’s within a shortish distance (I did an extremely uninformed estimate of a few hundred kms? but I could be wildly off). I guess should this prove economic there might in the future be a new optimal position to place plants somewhere in between areas of olivine and coal?

            While I still lean towards pinning my hope on the more economic renewables like large scale concentrated solar etc, you’ve made a good case, to my mind at least, why this area deserves the research funding to investigate if it might be viable. Thanks for taking the time to share.

            (long term – I’m sure if we survive the next 1-2 hundred years we’ll have the tech and the brains to keep Earth in a biosphere friendly state permanently) 🙂

        • Neurno says:

          There is actually a much better sequestration idea that isn’t talked about much. Topsoil generation via biochar. Biochar is just taking crop waste (like rice straw) and turning it into charcoal (rather than burning it all the way into ash as is commonly done). Some of the carbon that the plants trapped from CO2 in the air and turned into inedible woody stems as a waste product of agriculture is saved as sequestered solid carbon in charcoal form. Additional upside: charcoal is an excellent topsoil additive, improving water retention, aeration, crop beneficial microorganism microniche habitat. The math for carbon sequestered this way on a global scale of currently farmed acreage works out to a significant fraction of that released by burning fossil fuels. Downsides: more effort and planning must go into carefully controlling the crop waste burning process to get partially combusted charcoal instead of ash, also the topsoil is made lighter and fluffier so it blows/washes away even more easily. Thus it combines well with no-till round-up resistant crop growing methods, confusing and upsetting the eco movement (anti-herbicide, anti- genetically engineered crops).

          • AnotherAnon says:

            I’m a bit familiar with the research work and its not at all clear you get much if any sequestration from biochar on longer (decades) timescales. It seems to depend a great deal on the exact cropping system, etc. Biochar does have a lot of other fertility and water benefits though.

  27. grort says:

    How is sunburning images onto your body better than tattoos?
    I guess it’s more temporary, so if you feel that all tattoos are bad, then sunburns would be less bad?

    • malpollyon says:

      I’m finding it hard to understand a perspective from which the increased cancer risk doesn’t outweigh any purported upside.

    • Cadie says:

      I wonder if that would work with tanning, as opposed to burning. Looks like it might. Of course, tanning isn’t risk-free either, but it’s less damaging than sunburn.

    • Godzillarissa says:

      Considering what myths and half-truths* about tattoos (and the ink used) are out there, it might not be a far stretch to assume that a one-off sunburn is actually less risky in terms of cancer etc.

      *I don’t assume it’s all lies, but there’s little conclusive research, as far as I’m aware.

  28. TeMPOraL says:

    More creative solution – coat the rhino’s horns with mechanical-shock-detonated explosives, so that poachers get a nasty surprise when grinding the horns.

  29. Tarrou says:

    Regarding the chinese stock market, the central bank guarantee may well work, but it can work only so long as it is seen as both credible and sufficient to right the problem. So much of macroeconomics is based on nothing more than a large quantity of uneducated and uninformed people’s opinion of how the economy is doing and will do. That said there are basic economic facts and government intervention does have limits (relatively high limits, but nonetheless). For instance, lowering interest rates can only go so low (to zero, past that, you’re paying people to take your money).

    The other thing you must always remember is that markets are never in equilibrium, and never will be. The minute you think you’ve found a magic bullet, someone else will start betting that it won’t work, which makes it less likely to work, etc. etc.

    So, as a hypothetical, the Chinese guarantee they will back their economy no matter the cost to forestall a crash. Investors flood money in, because the profits are guaranteed until the government signals that the backing is ending (because the risk of a crash is over), then the overheated market crashes.

    Alternately, companies can take massive risks while being guaranteed by the government, and some of these will go badly, draining funds until eventually the amount of cash reserves available is no longer considered to be sufficient to forestall a crash. This then causes a crash.

    The international market is a few million very smart people and a few billion very stupid people all trying to cheat each other as best they can. It is self-correcting and self-destructing.

  30. Anatoly says:

    I tried to chase the “Moscow is a state of mind” thing and got as far as the official record of the 1961 assembly that adopted the Russian name:

    The text says, in French and English, that “Large dark areas are designated in Latin denominations calling up psychic states of minds”. It lists two historical exceptions to this rule (“Mare Humboldianum and Mare Smythii are preserved, due to long usage”), and then lists newly adopted names, including Mare Moscoviense, without mentioning anything specific about it. So the language of the resolution seems to imply that Moscow is considered a psychic state, but doesn’t state this outright. This pronouncement is attributed to astronomer Audouin Dollfus in many places, but I didn’t yet find a contemporary account.

    • Anatoly says:

      I also thought this remark was touching, coming at the very end of the Resolutions of 1961 General Assembly of the Astronomical Union:

      “Commission recommends that, in addition to the plans for astronomical space experiments of high scientific interest which have been already planned, consideration be given to the launching of a space probe into the close vicinity of a cornet”

  31. Andy says:

    “global worming denialism”

    I haven’t groaned like that since the last time I had food poisoning. You monster.


  32. Scott Sumner on Slate’s overconfidence and terrible reporting on the Chinese stock market. Also, a question for the economics gurus here: China has made it pretty clear that they will use their reserves of approximately infinity zillion dollars to stabilize the Chinese stock market whenever it crashes. Assuming people believe them, there’s no reason to panic or get into a mass selloff when the shares start going down, and so China will never have to make good on their pledge to intervene. Have they just solved the problem of stock market crashes? That doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that should work.

    To answer, yes. The theory of rational expectations discounts the good news, which is whyis at least one reason why the Chinese market has rebounded so strongly from the lows. If the Chinese govt. doesn’t make good on their promise, it will be nearly impossible to know without an audit. The problem is china can only buy up so much, so if people hold more $ in stock than china could buy and they all sell, prices will still go lower.

  33. Deiseach says:

    Re: British academies. My very limited knowledge of them (mostly from reading the news and “Private Eye”) is that the important element there is for profit. That is, they were created and are treated as money-making machines rather than as providing education, which is why they can fail horribly but it’s still trebles all round! for the investors.

    • The Anonymouse says:

      I am not sure why “making money” and “providing education” are mutually exclusive. McDonald’s exists explicitly for the earning of profits,* but they still have to provide tasty hamburgers** to do so.

      *Albeit, extensively as a real estate company.
      **Insert ‘hamburgers aren’t tasty’ status signalling here.

      • NL says:

        It’s a lot easier to change where you buy hamburgers, we don’t have a law mandating that you buy hamburgers from someone, and they’re also competing on cost (I’m not sure how Academies work, but I’m assuming they’re getting a certain amount of money from the government per pupil).

        • Deiseach says:

          they’re getting a certain amount of money from the government per pupil

          Oh yeah, capitation grants! They get capped at a certain limit, though, and as the newspaper article I linked to pointed out, where you make the money is setting yourself up as New Academy plc, then in your position as Principal of the new school, you award the contract for (say) IT equipment to PCs for Schools (which just happens to be owned by your wife/cousin/very good friend).

          Or maybe it’s a sponsored academy. Originally, the sponsors were supposed to provide 10% of the capital costs, but that was later removed. So suppose your sibling’s/cousin’s/partner’s company, SciTech, is the school sponsor. The Department of Education pays out the grant for new equipment and naturally the contract is going to go to SciTech for all the new lab equipment because they’re the best (cough cough). There were plenty of examples of this kind of handy little earner, and when the money ran out, so did the “charitable trusts” running the academies.

          Mainly the objections are that this looks like an attempt to privatise education, and that anyone can set up or apply to run an academy, even without any experience in education, because the whole idea is that outsiders from business and the like will have fresh new ideas to turn around failing schools. But schools are not businesses or companies and the crossover just isn’t there. Also, they are centrally funded by the Department of Education, rather than the traditional model of local authorities funding the schools in their area.

          To quote the BBC website:

          How do schools benefit from becoming academies?

          On top of the £25,000 towards conversion costs from the Department for Education, academies can potentially top up their budget by as much as 10%.

          This is because on top of the regular per pupil funding, it gets money that would previously have been held back by the local authority to provide services such as special needs support.

          If the school is able to buy in the services it needs more cheaply, or has less need of those services, it can benefit financially from becoming an academy. Now large academy chains run schools creating economies of scale themselves.

          More freedom over staff pay can mean they make savings or attract and retain good teachers by paying more, while control over the length of the school day can allow them to teach more lessons.

          Now, for instance, maybe the academy can save money by buying in services for special needs more cheaply. Or maybe it hangs on to the money and refuses to take special needs pupils at all. Where do those pupils go then? The local state schools, which are under more pressure with extra pupils and extra costs while the academies get more money and to cherry-pick what students they will or will not accept, but at the same time they’re being publically-funded.

          It’s a relatively new experiment in education, so of course there are a lot of bugs still being worked out. I have no direct experience so I can’t say if they’re good, bad or indifferent; you pays your money and you takes your chance!

      • BBA says:

        What NL said, plus with education the payer generally isn’t the one receiving the service, which can create perverse incentives. Corinthian Colleges made just as much money enrolling a functional illiterate who’d flunk out in the first year as they would with a real student who’d pass, so why not recruit as many illiterates as possible and save money on providing the actual courses? Eventually the rules changed and Corinthian went out of business, but they lasted 20 years.

      • anon says:

        They’re not mutually exclusive, but there is inherent conflict to having two goals. By saying you’re doing both to your best you just are delaying the decision or refusing to set a clear policy. McDonalds clearly are focused on providing taste to their hamburgers only as long as it contributes to their profit, and no further. Providing tasty hamburgers isn’t even a goal by itself, it is just something they do because it is the best way of fulfilling the actual goal.

        Similarly for most companies, providing a service to society is only a ‘goal’ because not doing it makes society delete you, and being deleted interferes with the actual goal of making profit. This isn’t “setting the slider at $50M safety $50M profit because we value both safety and profit”, it is “setting the slider at $50M safety $50M profit because the alternative is $40M safety $30M profit $30M penalties and it gets worse from there and we really just can’t figure out how to set the profit slider higher than $50M”.

        For universities in most countries the mechanism is supposed to be the same but focused on service instead, the profit slider being set as low as it can go without preventing the institution from functioning.

        • cassander says:

          Institutional interests don’t vanish just because an institution becomes non-profit, they just get expressed in different ways. .

    • AlasdairComments says:

      This is simply incorrect and if you are making an error like that you should reevaluate your confidence in your beliefs.

      Academy schools are not for-profit schools and not allowed to make a profit. They were introduced by the old Labour Government. The principle difference The difference between Academy schools (and their follow up the almost identical “free schools) and traditional state schools is the level of Local Authority and Government control.

      To quote “Academies don’t have to follow the national curriculum and can set their own term times. They still have to follow the same rules on admissions, special educational needs and exclusions as other state schools. Academies get money direct from the government, not the local council. They’re run by an academy trust which employs the staff. Some academies have sponsors such as businesses, universities, other schools, faith groups or voluntary groups. Sponsors are responsible for improving the performance of their schools.”

      Scott should correct the post

      • Deiseach says:

        Academy schools are not for-profit schools and not allowed to make a profit.

        Yes, technically (a lot of the regulations have been relaxed since they were introduced). The problems, or rather the areas where corruption could take root, was that the trusts which employed the staff could be set up and run by, as the news article I linked to shows, ex-principal Jones who in co-operation with others establishes NuSchool Trust which takes over the running of Bogstandard Comprehensive and turns it into Marshyarea Academy. CEO Jones becomes Headteacher Jones of the new school. His missus is voted onto the board of governors. One of his partners in NuSchool Trust runs an IT consultancy business which gets the tender to supply expertise and maintenance to Marshyarea Academy’s IT department. Mrs Jones’ brother-in-law is hired on as the new science teacher and the contract refitting of the school labs goes to a company that his cousin runs and so forth – a handy little closed circle of “I’ll scratch your back and you scratch mine”.

        Or take sponsored academies: if MegaPCShopz plc are (one of) the sponsors, then it’s not going to be very likely that the school computers will be supplied by CompzForU, their high-street rivals, is it? That would be biting the hand that feeds it, after all!

        Not all academies are like that, of course, but the idea of turning around failing schools by applying successful business principles is treating schools like companies or manufacturing plants, which they are not. That possibly may be why some of the chains failed; you can’t increase student productivity the same way you can increase employee productivity.

    • Shenpen says:

      This isn’t much helpful. Corporations exist to make money, governments exists to maximize votes and NGOs exist to maximize good feels. Any of these have at best indirectly something to do with doing a good job, yet the often manage to. The trick is whether the high ranking people who are dedicated to the cause can push back or not. For-profit academia pushing back against milking, government-ran academia pushing back against being used a propaganda machine, NGO ran institutions pushing back against empty PR moves…

  34. Albatross says:

    I contend the Moscow state of mind is when your have a really bad hangover and then start taking shots in the morning.

    Read somewhere that Viagra has done more to stem the poaching market than anything else. But I do love the poisoning the horns bit. Killing whales, rhinos, elephants and tigers, etc is depessing.

    The CEO pay thing makes perfect sense. If they published the pay for my peers and I was below average I would feel unappreciated. And if my pay was public it would send an awkward message if my performance was very good. McDonald’s workers want $15 starting in San Fran and Mississippi, which coincidentally comes to $30,000 a year or the national median income. Naturally, if every fast food worker gets $15 inflation will occur and the median will be $20/$25. Lake Woebegone effect: all the CEOs and fast food workers want to be above average.

    • J says:

      National median income is a little over $50k.

      • CJB says:

        Another example, btw, of exactly the same thing I was talking about upthread. If you choose particular populations, you can get whatever results you want.

      • MichaelM says:

        National median HOUSEHOLD income. Median individual income in the US is something like 26,000-30,000 dollars.

      • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

        You are thinking of the median household income. The individual median, which is the correct value to be using in this case, is $30k.

  35. rossry says:

    > The bad news: most academy chains do worse than the normal education system. The good news: a few chains do much better, so if the bad ones can be outcompeted and the good ones scaled up, the experiment could still be an success.

    It seems like the unsurprising news is “If the effect of doing things differently is distributed with some variance, then a negative effect size will manifest as a majority of samples being below average, but >0% being above average.”

    In “The Law of Small Numbers” in Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman describes similar observations that the US counties with the largest incidence of kidney cancer are “mostly rural, sparsely populated, and located in traditionally Republican states in the Midwest, the South, and the West”…as are the counties with the lowest incidence. Should we let the worst of the rural, sparsely populated, Republican, Midwestern counties be outcompeted while we scale the rest of them up?

    • Earthly Knight says:

      Thank you for mentioning this, it was bothering me too. It’s madness to compare the upper tail of one distribution to the mean of another.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Not sure I get your argument. If we were talking about individual kids, that’d be one thing. But if schools have on average let’s say 500 kids, Law of Large Numbers should kick in. And IIRC they’re talking about chains of schools, so it’s not just that one school happens to be in a nice area or something.

      It seems to me that if we’re experimenting with lots of different educational policies, many of them doing bad but a few doing well is exactly what we should expect.

      • suntzuanime says:

        Individual schools can have unscalable idiosyncrasies, not just individual kids. How many schools are in a given chain of schools? Is it 500? How large are those numbers?

        • Earthly Knight says:

          Most importantly, random variation in teacher and headmaster quality (although it is also possible that Xington School serves England’s Japanese immigrant community, while the Ychester Academy sits along the route of a Traveller caravan). I wouldn’t be surprised if [variance in teacher quality] + [teachers assigned by lottery] + [depressed mean for Academies] were sufficient to reproduce these data, but there’s no way of knowing, no one’s done any statistical tests.

      • Earthly Knight says:

        1. The study (and the BBC article) are talking only about disadvantaged students, not all students.
        2. The results are based primarily on students who took the GCSEs in 2014, which is a smaller pool still.
        3. The researchers restricted the analysis to only a few of the academies in each chain.
        4. The law of large numbers won’t help us if there’s confounding, which, this being education research, there inevitably is.

        Here’s a list of the chains with disadvantaged students whose attainment in 2014 was “significantly” (>15%) better than average, with the number of schools from that chain included in the analysis in parentheses:

        ARK (5)
        Barnfield (2)
        City of London (2)
        Harris (10)
        Mercers (2)
        Outwood Grange (2)

        So 23 schools. The study notes as a confound that three of these chains are based in London (I don’t think it says which, but google suggests Harris, probably ARK, and– go figure– City of London), and for some reason poor kids in London consistently outperform poor kids outside of London. This leaves us with disadvantaged GCSE-takers at 6 schools as our data pool. Not exactly overwhelming.

      • Froolow says:

        I thought you must be wrong, because I am always surprised by how important SD is when considering the extreme end of a distribution. So I simulated your hypothesis :-

        Take 2000 schools each of 500 pupils and designate half of them ‘academies’. Simulate the GCSE results of each school by drawing randomly from a normal distribution of some mean and SD, such that academies have a lower mean but a higher standard deviation, and then count how many of the top ten schools in the resulting array are academies. There’s a lot of unsound assumptions in that modelling strategy, of which I think the biggest is the assumption that performance is totally uncorrelated between pupils – a school with 499 passes is exactly as likely to get a pass for its 500th pupil as a school with 499 fails.

        So I started with some guesstimates of 80% pass at GCSE at comps vs 70% pass at academies, and SD of 10 and 11 respectively. This was more than enough to generate a big difference in the top end when I did a similar simulation for the gender of chess players, and I thought I’d biased the simulation towards rossry by including such a large effect size. It generated absolutely no variation in the school outcomes – the top schools were all comps, with a range of 81.6% pass to 81.0% pass vs 71.1% to 71.7% for academies. So I bumped up the SD a lot – 100 and 150 respectively. This got only two academies in the top 10. You need something like 100 vs 300 SD before you reliably get ‘top performing academies outperform all comps’, and even then we’re talking the 10th best academy scoring 98 and the best comp scoring 96.

        Basically, the variance needs to be absolutely ridiculously huge before you see anything other than the negative effect size manifesting itself over an absolutely tiny range, just like you suspected. This in turn suggests those academies *really are* doing something different, even if it is just finding some way to dampen down the law of large numbers by correlating exam results within-school

        I suspect someone a bit more statsy than me could poke holes in this (percentage A*-C at GCSE is obviously not Guassian, because it could never be less than 0 or more than 100), but I’m absolutely astonished by how far my intuition misled me, and I thought other readers might be interested.

        Of course, other readers’ intuitions could only lead them astray if they make the foolish error of thinking you might be mistaken :p

        • Earthly Knight says:

          “You need something like 100 vs 300 SD before you reliably get ‘top performing academies outperform all comps’,”

          Where are you getting this idea from? The study and the BBC article are claiming that the best academies outscored the average mainstream school, not that they outperformed all of the state-funded schools.

          “and I thought I’d biased the simulation towards rossry by including such a large effect size.”

          This is exactly backwards– the bigger the effect size, the less likely it is that the outlier academies will outperform the average mainstream school. Your effect size is much, much larger than the one recorded in the analysis.

          Also, did you read any of my comments? Or, better yet, the study itself? It is not the case that anywhere near 1000 academies were included in the analysis. It is not the case that every student in each academy is included, only the disadvantaged ones. It is not the case that (I gather, I’m not a Brit) all students in each school take the GCSEs every year. You are only accounting for variance in the population of students, when variance in the much smaller populations of teachers and headmasters is also relevant. I applaud your effort to try and work out the numbers instead of just batting around intuitions, but the figures you’re using and the assumptions you’re making are bananas.

          • Froolow says:

            I didn’t make any of the very sensible corrections you suggest because I was more interested in checking Scott’s more specific point about the Law of Large numbers, and I was so completely sure that a tiny change in variance was going to show the result I expected that I didn’t expect to have to make the model more complicated (so sure, in fact, that my main worry was that TOO MANY academies were going to outperform comps, hence my comment about lowering the mean to bias it towards the ‘real’ result)

            Obviously in real life there are all kinds of effects that make GCSE scores something other than a random draw from a Guassian distribution, but I was just so unequivocally wrong I thought other people who shared my delusion might be interested in seeing some numbers.

  36. Tom Scharf says:

    “Sea levels might rise faster than currently believed.”

    Sigh. Put on the blinders. Make no attempt to even question the data this article is referring to. If you can’t read that article and come up with any critical analysis than I give up. You are hopeless. This is the same person who can deconstruct psychology papers and identify critical flaws with ease?

    Try.harder. You might as well unquestionably link to homeopathy articles.

    In 15 minutes you could determine that the rates Hansen is speculating on are well over an order of magnitude greater than the sea level change rates today, and these rate changes would need to occur almost immediately to hit the numbers he is opining on. You could determine that SLR rates have been very stable over the past century (~8 inches over the 20th century, 1 inch per decade now).

    If you wanted to take one of your “deep dives” on this subject, I refer you to Ch 13. Sea Level Rise of the most recent IPCC report. It’s only about 80 pages and it will enlighten you on just how far off this particular not peer reviewed, not published article is from main stream science. Yet it gets embraced by the main stream media. Ask yourself how this happens.

    The IPCC estimate for the worst case emissions scenario RCP8.5 by 2100 is a range from 0.52m to 0.98m. Medium emissions scenario RCP4.5 is 0.36m to 0.71m. The high emissions scenario is itself quite unlikely as it requires the world to be burning coal at 10x the rate it is today by 2100. RCP8.5 is not keeping emissions stable at today’s rate, it is emissions to keep growing at the same rate it has been growing in the past few decades along with 12 billion people by 2100.

    Ice melt from glaciers and Antarctica currently contribute ~1mm per year to SLR.

    Examine the JASON satellite altimeters trends. Examine the NOAA SLR trends from tide gauges.

    Hansen built a model with unsupported geological processes that creates a highly non-linear feedback mechanism and then reports: “We conclude that continued high emissions will make multi-meter sea level rise practically unavoidable and likely to occur this century.”.

    All I ask is you investigate one of these high profile climate change “projections” based on a single paper to get an idea of how the media coverage of this sector of science has become corrupted. Bad science is everywhere, but it typically isn’t embraced and promoted like this.

    For the record, SLR is current running 15% below the “too conservative” IPCC model estimates. You will find this factoid buried in Ch 13.

    Here is some additional feedback from others in climate science:

    • James Picone says:

      This paper disagrees, with numbers, about SLR. They note that:

      The satellite-based linear trend 1993–2011 is 3.2 ± 0.5 mm yr−1, which is 60% faster than the best IPCC estimate of 2.0 mm yr−1 for the same interval (blue lines).

      What’s your data that SLR is running below the IPCC projections, which very deliberately don’t include nonlinear melt processes and thus almost certainly are too conservative? As I recall last time we discussed this you weren’t comparing apples to apples.

      EDIT: Dug up what the actual disagreement was last time. You are comparing the rate from AOGCMs over the period 2007-2013 to observed SLR over the period 1990ish to 2010ish. IPCC’s explicit SLR models make different, lower projections. Section is 13.5.1.

      EDITEDIT: Here’s the up-to-date JASON data. 3.3 +- 0.4 mm/year 1992->present.

      • Tom Scharf says:

        Don’t mix satellite altimeter estimates (GMSL) with coastal estimates (RSL) which are measured differently. GMSL estimates are for the entire ocean surface. See Ch 13. FAQ 13.1.

        Ch 13. P. 1180:

        “In all scenarios, the rate of rise at the start of the RCP projections (2007–2013) is about 3.7 mm yr–1, slightly above the observational range of 3.2 [2.8 to 3.6] mm yr–1 for 1993–2010, because the modelled contributions for recent years, although consistent with observations for 1993–2010 (Section 13.3), are all in the upper part of the observational ranges, perhaps related to the simulated rate of climatic warming being greater than has been observed (Box 9.2).”

        (i.e. possibly the pause is suppressing SLR). If you examine the JASON and tide gauge estimates, there is no discernible change in SLR over the past several decades, basically linear.

        EDIT: It doesn’t make any sense that the IPCC would have modeled SLR to be lower than current observations at the time that were and are still highly linear in nature.

        The difference between JASON data and tide gauge estimates are a bit of a mystery and I have never heard an adequate explanation for this. From what I can tell a lot the GMSL rise is occurring “out in the middle of nowhere”, slight changes in the middle of vast oceans. It is unclear if these changes will ultimately show up in coastal or not. JASON is partly calibrated with tide gauges so there is that as well. Apparently the coasts are rising at a slower rate. Of course what affects society is coastal changes so that is where the 1 inch/decade is more relevant.

        I hope we can at least agree that the referred new Hansen estimates are a bit far fetched. Greenland isn’t expect to have any large changes over the next several centuries and the “inevitable collapse” of the WAIS is estimated to begin 200 to 900 years from now.

        The entire subject of near term non-linear tipping points is very speculative and is too often relied upon by alarmists to produce propaganda pieces. This looks like one and smells like one given the upcoming Paris summit. One would think Hansen would have submitted this to a higher profile journal and not a discussion forum, possibly he did.

        I may have missed responses to the last discussion on this.

        • James Picone says:

          I believe all the numbers I gave are satellite, and the Rahmstorf paper is comparing satellites to the IPCC’s process-based models of melting.

          Last time I was mostly trying to figure out were you were getting your number regarding SLR overestimation from, and did find the quote you just gave. I’m not sure how meaningful comparing 1990->2010 to 2007->2013 is, especially given that the 2007-2013 data has very large uncertainties on rates of SLR (see figure 13.11 – the 95% range for the rate at present day goes from 5 mm/year to ~2.5 mm/year), and this feels a lot like comparing the weather to the projected climate.

          I disagree that there’s no significant acceleration in SLR rise over the past several decades, where ‘several’ is ~3 (i.e., 30 years).

          Don’t know about satellite vs tide gauge data for SLR estimates. Church & White have a December 2014 paper that claims there’s an instrumental drift problem in the satellite estimates and that that’s why they show higher SLR. *shrug*.

          I don’t think Hansen’s doubling-of-rate-every-10-years stuff is plausible, no. I think the sea level rises he’s talking about are long-term plausible, but I’m not sure what sea level looks like in a thousand years is super relevant for planning.

          I think the semi-empirical estimates that tend to cluster around a metre by 2100 for business-as-usualish (scenario A1B, I think – most of these haven’t been updated because the IPCC doesn’t like them) are more plausible. High end for them is about 1.4 metres, low end about 0.8. IPCC’s estimates have negative contribution from Antarctica by 2100, which is just ridiculous.

          I do think that the idea that some of the unknown unknowns will bite us needs to be discussed more. I see uncertainty discussed all the time in the Climate Wars, and it’s almost always from the standpoint “Oh but it’s just so unsure, maybe we should do nothing and wait until we’re more certain”. I’d give Hansen’s stuff maybe a 1% probability of being true. That seems enough that it’s salient, given the effects. Sometimes the unknown unknown turns out to be an ozone hole, y’know?

          EDIT: Hmm looking at C&W are you sure it’s not just an effect of tide gauge data being way more noisy? Presumably because it’s over far less of the Earth’s area and also because subsidence.

          EDITEDIT: My apologies, that Rahmstorf paper is looking at AR4 SLR projections, which are quite a bit lower than AR5 projections. AR5’s specific process models are still a lot lower than recent SLR observations, though, and AR5’s projections haven’t really been around long enough to compare accurately against observations IMO.

          • Tom Scharf says:

            Long term observations are what’s important. JASON data is only a few decades, and coastal coverage going back further than 50 years has the usual global coverage problems. I expect SLR to accelerate over the next century, but not dramatically as some would assume. If dramatic accelerations were in order, one would expect to see that upturn by now since it has been warming for over a 100 years. Just getting to 1M involves the rate instantly changing ~3X from where it is today.

            With China agreeing to reduce emissions that would put us on the medium emissions profile, so I think 18 inches to 2 feet is the most likely according to AR5. This science is young, and what it needs to get better are more observations and unfortunately that will take decades. I really don’t pay much attention to someone’s single study conclusion. What makes it into the media is almost always distorted sound bites. Life’s too short to chase all these down.

            If you examine individual tide gauges at NOAA, you will find little evidence of significant long term acceleration anywhere. It’s worth poking around a little bit here.

            Coastal data has many confounders, especially land subsidence. Getting global numbers here is very messy.

          • James Picone says:

            Agreed that long-term observations are important and we don’t have good global SLR data that is sufficiently long term.

            Most of the warming has been in the last thirty years, though. And AFAIK Antarctica has only started losing mass in the last couple of decades. Greenland too, presumably?

            To be clear, I was referring to ~a metre assuming high-emissions profile. I make no claims as to what profile we’re actually going to follow.

            I’ve seen some stuff indicating acceleration in tide gauge data – Tamino has a couple of blog posts on it with specific tide gauges. He tended to find that the data tended to fit a cubic better than a quadratic, taking AIC into account – there’s a kind of hump around 1930-1940. That might be confounding quadratic estimates of acceleration. That said, something something not enough data, not enough resolution, not enough accuracy, not enough coverage.

    • J says:

      Thanks for posting data. Being condescending to Scott probably decreases the chance that you’ll change his mind, though, since that tends to put people on the defensive. Flies, honey, etc.

      • CJB says:

        Edited due to mistake- And this wasn’t a reply to me, was it?

        I’m still going to edit- J, you will be happy to know your comment inspired me to be kinder in my posts.

        • J says:

          Nope, looks like parent was Tom Scharf. Glad to hear I’m encouraging kindness, though! 🙂

    • Creutzer says:

      Why is putting might in a sentence reporting a new paper without evaluation not enough? Would might possibly have satisfied you? If not, what would?

      • Tom Scharf says:

        The reason why I am throwing up my hands in frustration here is that this is basically one of the only links I have ever seen Scott link to regarding SLR and climate change.

        If Scott had regularly linked to SLR articles that were in line with the consensus science and this was just an outliar, then fine. That is not the case.

        Paradoxically I always seem to be arguing what the consensus science says regarding SLR against people who believe they are on the “pro-science” side.

        If one wants to believe what Hansen says here in light of what the mainstream science says, fine. Presenting the Hansen data without understanding some of the details I provided is essentially misinformation. There is certainly a segment of the media that eats up every “it’s worse than we thought” article they can find and promote them well beyond what they deserve.

  37. James says:

    The Oppenheimer thing is fascinating, even beautiful, and the reasoning seems sound to me. I’d always had a vague suspicion that I didn’t really understand that line–and that neither, moreover, did anyone else.

  38. 27chaos says:

    inverting the Intense World theory of autism, neurotypical people are p-zombies

  39. Baby Beluga says:

    Hey, did you guys hear about how Gawker is changing its name to “The Ultimate Nice Website” and announcing its plan to be “20% nicer”?

    People are being snarky about it in the comments, but I think this is actually a step in the right direction! In one of their emails, they said to their employees, “Those who stay will be committing to a slight recalibration, making sure that we publish stories that are newsworthy and both true and interesting,” which if you squint really hard is kind of like Scott’s requirement of having two of (kind, true, necessary).

    Also, sorry for treating this links post like an open thread.

    • Jordan D. says:

      The comments policy explicitly allows for topic drift which is both true and kind. Continue onward, head held high!

  40. Tibor says:

    I have a friend who is practicing polyamory and is getting increasingly annoyed by that T-shirt. The point, she says, is that it was quite funny the first three times someone mentioned it to her…but after the seventh not so much 🙂

  41. Peter Scott says:

    I’m tempted to get a copy of Artificial Superintelligence: A Futuristic Approach just so I can put it on the shelf next to my copy of Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach.

  42. Andrew says:

    That explanation for CEO pay sounds plausible, but I’ve seen statistics somewhere showing lots of other first world developed countries having a CEO to worker pay ratios of like 10-50:1, while the US sits at 470ish:1.

    Which implies that the pay of CEOs is public information in other countries too, and hasn’t skyrocketed like it has in the US.

  43. Chris says:

    Old conventional wisdom: birth order is super important to personality. Other old conventional wisdom: birth order has no effect on personality. New conventional wisdom: birth order has a statistically significant effect on personality which is much too small to matter in real life.

    I’m not sure when either of these became conventional wisdom, but I remember watching a piece of a lecture from Sandel’s Justice course, where he asks his audience of Harvard students how many are first-born children— it turns out, it’s the vast majority—

    • gwern says:

      In a world in which the most highly educated have the fewest children, education strongly correlates with intelligence, and intelligence is highly heritable, this will likely be true regardless of birth order effects…

      • Alexander Stanislaw says:

        In this survey, 42% of of Harvard students were first born and 29% were the youngest. This is enough to establish a birth order effect isn’t it?

        • gwern says:

          There are 42% first-borns but also 15% are an only child, who *must* by definition be the first-born. Subtracting gives only 27% of the student body who could have been non-firstborn but weren’t; is this what you need to know? Well, it depends on how many kids are in Harvard students’ families, won’t it? If the average Harvard student’s mom is popping out 10 kids, then sure, there’s a definite birth order effect (the first borns should be only 10%, not overrepresented at 27%); if <=3 kids, well…

          • Alexander Stanislaw says:

            That is not how they are asking the question, their previous survey report make it explicit that “first born” means “first born if you have at least one sibling” (assuming they survey stayed the same).

            In 2017 it was 15% only children, 38% oldest children (not including only children), 30% youngest and 15.6% middle children. In 2018 it was 15%, 42%, 29% and 14% respectively.

            Unless there is some other asymmetry between youngest and oldest, that shows a clear birth order effect (not as dramatic rhetorically as the video demonstration, but still there).

          • Tibor says:

            What about parents having enough money to afford Harvard tuition for one of their kids but not the other? Some may decide to give it to the first-born who just got accepted than to risk that the second child does not while they hindered the opportunity of the first to study there? I mean I strongly suspect going to Harvard is wasting money as there are equally good (if less well known) schools that are much cheaper, but that is neither here nor there since this obviously is not what the majority thinks (otherwise Harvard would be forced to decrease their tuition fees).

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            Fwiw, this only child sees a lot of resemblance between onlys and first borns. Every first born is an only for a while, and sometimes is given responsibility for the younger ones. It would be interesting to look at the age gaps between first and second born and see if traits developed at the younger age resemble the onlys more than the traits developed after the second sibling comes.

          • AJD says:

            @Tibor: Harvard does decrease their tuition fees.

          • @Tibor
            As educational “deals” go, Harvard is not one parents are likely to turn down. They have extremely generous financial aid, and even if you don’t qualify for aid, most people would be willing to take out loans to afford Harvard.

        • Deiseach says:

          It also depends what year the survey was surveying; if it’s the first year intake, and generally you have to be X years old to attend university (in Ireland it’ll be 17-18 years old because that’s when you finish your secondary education), then naturally the majority of students will be first born because their younger siblings aren’t old enough to attend university yet!

          It’s a bit like asking “How many married people in this group are over 16?” when the legal age to get married is 16. You’re not going to get a whole heap of “I’m 15 and married” in that group (barring the people from countries where it is legal to get married at 14, as in Spain which only recently raised its age of marriage from 14 to 16).

          I imagine if you can afford to send your kids to Harvard, the rest of them will be attending Harvard in due course as soon as they’re old enough. The survey would only show an effect if it asked “Out of an entire family, how many went to university?” and that result showed a definite skew towards first borns rather than second, middle or youngest children.

          EDIT: Yes, it’s measuring the freshman year. So of course they’re going to have a high percentage of first borns, as the eldest in their family, and so old enough to be starting university. How many of the second and third years had younger siblings who were now first years would be the interesting question – did they ever survey that?

          • Anonymous says:

            They are not asking the students if their younger siblings are college students, only if their younger siblings exist.

          • Deiseach says:

            They are not asking the students if their younger siblings are college students, only if their younger siblings exist.

            Yes, but the survey is (presumably) trying to see what the proportion of only children/firstborns/laterborns is in their intake, and that is making the presumption that you have an equal population to choose from, when the very first filter is by age.

            Asking at the end of the degree “Out of the three children in your family, how many went to Harvard? Were they (a) eldest (b) middle (c) youngest?” is going to get you a better answer than asking at the start of the year “Are you the (a) eldest (b) middle (c) youngest child in your family?” when the answer could be “Eldest and so far only child to attend Harvard, but that’s because my little sister is only twelve and she’ll probably come here when she’s nineteen”.

          • Loquat says:

            I don’t understand why you’re assuming that a population selected by age is inherently going to be disproportionately firstborns. 18-year-old A may be a firstborn with a 12-year-old younger sibling, but what’s stopping 18-year-old B from being a lastborn with multiple older siblings in their 20s? It’s not as if Americans just went through a decade-plus period of mass infertility and only started having babies again 18 years before the study.

        • Anonymous says:

          So Harvard likes first-borns (a little) more than last-borns. How much do you trust Harvard’s judgement?

          I knew a pair of brothers who were both admitted to Harvard and MIT. They chose between them based on financial aid. The elder brother went to Harvard and the younger brother went to MIT. This might be noise, but it probably is that they have a systematic difference in their opinion of the burden of an older sibling attending college, which skews Harvard in favor of older siblings. Not a lot of people turn down Harvard, but enough to cause the effect you point to.

          • onyomi says:

            Yes, it could be that Harvard doesn’t so much like first-borns as first-borns like Harvard. My subjective impression is that first-borns are more often “type A” personalities, and that Harvard attracts “type As,” even more than other schools of similar caliber.

        • The effect, though, might just be that after pushing pushing pushing so damn hard to get their first kid into Harvard, the parents just don’t have a lot of push left in them. During all of those years they were closely supervising their first kid’s piano and volunteer jobs and extra APs, kid two just might have gone on the back burner a bit. Then kid one gets into college and mom finally has time to start fluffing up kid two’s resume, but time is running out and kid two just doesn’t end up with as many APs and so on.

          Or kid two, after watching all of the fuss and hullabaloo, decides “fuck it, I’m going to a party school.”

  44. stargirl says:

    De-worming looks like a reasonably safe bet. Even if the benefits of de-worming are exaggerated it seems almost certain de-worming improves the health of the subjects (and possibly reduces the spread of the disease). So much charity probably has close to zero net impact. If I donate to de-worming I am almost surely getting something reasonable for my money. So I would much rather donate to de-worming than to charities where the floor on effectiveness is zero to negative (any politically charged topic or any “development” charity). Notably both the ceiling and the floor are relatively high for de-worming.

    • keranih says:

      What are the potential downsides of the current deworming programs (which, if I am reading this correctly, do not test to see if a person is currently infested before deworming, and more importantly do not test afterwards to see what the effect of the deworming was)?

      If one can only see the upsides of an action, and can not identify the possible downsides, I suggest we need more information.

      • stargirl says:

        I actually do not know the details too well. I assumed the de-worming was at least getting rid of worms! I had read the give-well research on malaria and they seem rather on top of making sure the nets were actually being used 6-12 months after distribution. I basically assumed they would not recommend de-worming treatments that were not actually proven to get rid of worms. I also just assumed that the areas really had a high incidence of worms. TLDR: I read the givewell research on malaria and trusted them to be doing a sane job with the de-wrming research.

        The controversy seems to be over whether de-worming improves things like cognition and school attendance. None of the critics I read seemed to being up the possibility the de-worming might be unsafe or not actually get rid of worms. I am willing to assume that getting rid of worms is actually a good thing.

        I am really not the most up on this topic. Do you have links I can read suggesting the de-worming is not a safe and effective way to get rid of worms? Or suggesting that de-worming is not needed as the worm infections are not wide-spread. I really think it is safe to assume getting rid of parasitic worms is overall a good thing.

        • keranih says:

          I assumed the de-worming was at least getting rid of worms!

          Eh. Something that I would want evidence of, myself. I would expect a quality program to have this sort of check built in, and that they would report the finding of effectiveness, and what the failure rate was of the treatment.

          I would not expect the treatment to be 100% effective. I would expect someone to be looking for the real effectiveness rate.

          None of the critics I read seemed to being up the possibility the de-worming might be unsafe or not actually get rid of worms.

          I’m not as concerned about the safety of the medication because my assumption was that the medication was relatively stringently tested, esp in kids. (This might not have been a good assumption.)

          I am all for providing needed medications to those who need them. I am much less happy about providing a medication – particularly a medication designed to harm on another Eukaryota sp – because our desired outcome is “a good thing”, and not because we’ve considered positives and negatives, and decided the positives win.

          I really think it is safe to assume getting rid of parasitic worms is overall a good thing.

          Sure. Just like getting rid of an STD is a good thing, or like getting rid of TB is a good thing.

          Doesn’t make this medication, given in this manner a good thing.

          We can draw analogies to gonorrhea and TB, both of which have really bad, drug resistant strains. Or we could look at animal models.

          It may very well be that resistance issues are never a problem with this program. But it’s bugging me that I can’t find where anyone actually looked for any.

      • Peter says:

        The thing I’d heard was that deworming tablets were cheap and low in side effects, whereas tests were expensive; so testing everyone pre-worming and post-worming was less efficient than handing the tablets out en masse. There have apparently been some studies on screening-then-deworming that definitely seem to have effects (and I’d be shocked if the deworming drugs hadn’t been through clinical trials), but if I understand things right that’s not as cost-effective as mass no-screen deworming appears (or at any rate, appeared) to be.

        On risk: GiveWell say: “we do not think it would be inappropriate for more risk-averse donors to prefer to support other interventions instead”.

  45. J says:

    My custom when people talk about job destruction by technology is to channel Eli Whitney and rave about how my cotton gin is going to disrupt agriculture. In response, someone snarkily asked how well horses are doing these days, which led me to this delightful article:

    I quote:

    In 1894, the Times of London estimated
    that by 1950 every street in the city would be buried nine feet deep in
    horse manure. One New York prognosticator of the 1890s concluded
    that by 1930 the horse droppings would rise to Manhattan’s third-story
    windows. A public health and sanitation crisis of almost unimaginable
    dimensions loomed.

    Beware, though: their section titles are horribly pun-ridden: “SADDLED WITH THE URBAN HORSE”, “STABLE CONDITION”, and “THE CAR BEFORE THE HORSE”, to name a few.

    • Why do people find it so hard to put a bag on their horse’s butts?

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        Perhaps someone did some figuring on how much volume is generated per horse-hour, thus how long the horse could be in the city before generating more waste than there would be space in his wagon to haul it out to an approved dump site, and still carry a reasonable payload.

        It might work — haul grain in, haul whiskey out — but I think horse owners would prefer to let waste continue to be an externality.

  46. J says:

    Scott, are you aware that the site is handing out errors and generally being slow (specifically I’m getting 502 and 504 errors, ie., server-side failures, after 30 seconds or so)? On the plus side, maybe that means traffic numbers are up!

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Yeah. My host is usually on top of these things pretty quickly, so I’ll give them a little while to sort it out.

  47. Adam says:

    What is even the theoretical objection to mixing Latin and Greek roots? Does someone really think that we should only use roots that would be … uh what exactly? Sound “right” to classical native speakers of Latin and Greek? Why should that be important in modern civilization?

    (I was going to speculate that people thought it should be understandable to those native speakers, but really I think that an educated Roman could probably puzzle out polyamory just as well as polyphilia or whatever. Besides, if you say it like in English it wouldn’t be understandable no matter what roots you use. Also it’s pretty likely that plenty of our modern same-language coinages would sound weird to native speakers of classical Latin and Greek, but again, why should that matter?)

    • Creutzer says:

      Some languages with significant numbers of loans do not freely mix native and loaned morphemes. English is particularly extreme in this regard with its latinate and non-latinate morphology. (The suffix -able is very remarkable for being latinate, but attaching to anything.) The idea that you shouldn’t mix may be based on this via analogy.

      • Adam says:

        All the morphemes in question here are borrowed, so rules regarding native vs borrowed morphemes are not relevant. (English does somewhat tend to keep native separate from borrowed, but not extremely consistently.)

        But mostly it’s irrelevant because of the distinction between prescriptive and descriptive rules. A rule in a language that keeps native elements separate from borrowed ones is normally a descriptive rule, meaning that you can observe that speakers don’t actually mix those types of morphemes, even “accidentally”, and if someone nevertheless does do it, then it sounds strange or funny. It’s would be one thing if as a matter of how English is actually spoken, English speakers don’t mix Latin and Greek roots (maybe because different declensional systems make it awkward or something along those lines), and “polyamory” sounds strange to English speakers (this is obviously not actually the case), and another to say “it’s wrong” (implying some kind of moral judgement or duty to avoid that) to mix Latin and Greek. If speakers actually do it, then avoiding it is not a descriptive rule of the language, so what’s the objection?

        • Creutzer says:

          I was merely speculating about why some people might think there is something wrong with mixing Greek and Latin. Because as you rightly say, from a linguistic point of view, there absolutely isn’t.

        • AJD says:

          The answer is probably something like this: The majority of compounds based on Greek roots were constructed by scholars and scientists for whom the use of Greek roots specifically indicated ‘this is a technical term of our field’, and perhaps with the goal of creating words that sound like they could have actually been borrowed directly from Ancient Greek, following the pattern of “philosophy” and “metaphysics”. So when words are constructed using Greek roots in composition with non-Greek roots, it breaks the original pattern of how Greek roots are used in English, and gets under people’s skin for that reason.

    • jeorgun says:

      One possible reason is that, if Greek and Latin roots are allowed to mix freely, false-cognate roots (e.g. ‘ped’) become ambiguous.

      • Creutzer says:

        How many of them are there besides ped-, which could be disambiguated at least in writing by using the paed- version?

        • Platypus and octopus both sound like Latin but actually end in the Greek pus and so would be pluralized -podes but I have never heard anyone used platypodes and so I don’t know what to do.

          • Creutzer says:

            The English plurals of those words are platypuses and octopuses anyway, so what’s the problem?

      • carolyn says:

        I don’t think there is a really good reason not to mix Greek and Latin roots, and that’s the joke. It’s funny because when you read “Polyamory is wrong” you think you’re going to hear an argument about natural law and purity and “just-wrong-ness” saying that people shouldn’t date more than one person at a time, but instead you hear an argument about natural law and purity and “just-wrong-ness” saying that you shouldn’t mix Greek and Latin roots, so the tension breaks, and you laugh.

        Honestly, I think it’d be even funnier if it were about homosexuality, because then the analogy between the arguments is even more obvious (these two things can’t be together because mixing those kinds of things is “just wrong,” whereas the purity/natural-law arguments about polyamory are more concerned with “wrong” numbers of things than “wrong” kinds of things.)

  48. William O. B'Livion says:

    > “Moscow is a state of mind”

    “Russians have 3 emotions, Depression, Revenge and Vodka”

    RE: Rhino horns.

    A simpler solution would be to put a reasonably large bounty on poachers and sell “poacher tags” to rich westerners, and the poor rhino’s wouldn’t have to explain the pink horn to their friends.

  49. Brian says:

    A random useful study: SmartGPA: How Smartphones Can Assess and Predict Academic Performance of College Students shows:

    We propose a simple model based
    on linear regression with lasso regularization that can accurately
    predict cumulative GPA. The predicted GPA strongly
    correlates with the ground truth from students’ transcripts
    (r = 0.81 and p < 0.001) and predicts GPA within ±0.179
    of the reported grades. Our results open the way for novel
    interventions to improve academic performance.

    What do you all think of it?

  50. Matt Lutz says:

    Re: China, I think the answer is a qualified yes. People are raising good points about rational expectations and efficient markets, but those problems seem mostly solvable, depending on how China decides to deploy its reserves to support stock prices. The effects of the Chinese gov’t directly buying stock will be different from them engaging in monetary stimulus, for example. And a lot will depend on how a price floor is sustained. If the policy is that “prices can only go up,” then they risk creating a bubble so big that popping it would overwhelm their cash reserves. But any more sane policy should be maintainable in the long run.

    In the long run, stock prices should be determined by fundamentals (i.e. the net present value of projected future dividend revenue). But this won’t always be the case – just look at Amazon. Amazon’s stock is WAY overvalued relative to its revenues, but the stock has stayed high for decades because people have it in their head that Amazon stock is worth a lot, and so that’s where the stock trades. I’ve always felt like Amazon stock should tumble, but the stampede for the exits never seems to start because enough people are bullish on Amazon that there just aren’t enough bears left over to start an effective stampede. So… maybe China just does something like that? Backstops the market enough with their cash reserves so that there are always enough people buying, so a stampede downward never gains momentum?

    That seems like it might be a pretty good policy. Herd mentality in markets is a funny thing. When a stock gets too far above its fundamentals, the bubble bursts, and everyone starts running the price down. But they often overshoot and send the stock too low. Maybe China just sets a policy of making sure that when prices go down, the speed never goes above a trot?

    This solves the problem of market panics, but it just makes for a whole lot of other problems.

    If the Chinese government is setting a floor on the stock market, and that floor is substantially higher than what the fundamentals dictate, the Chinese stock market will become a mechanism for massive misallocation of capital. IPOs will raise much more money than what the fundamentals of a company will dictate – and this means that there will be a massive reallocation of capital from savers and investors into unprofitable or marginally-profitable corporations. The secondary market will also be a source of capital misallocation, as buy-and-hold becomes a money-losing strategy. (If I pay $50 for a stock, and the NPV of my dividends for that stock is $40, I lose $10 by buying and holding).

    So, ok! Easy fix: the Chinese government sets the floor at around the fundamental value of the stock. The problem is that it’s very hard to tell what the fundamental value of a stock is. That’s what analysts’ job is, and it is difficult. A strategy where the Chinese government sets a price floor at its projected fundamentals is one where companies are worth exactly what the Chinese government says they are. But correctly valuing anything is something at which markets excel (at least in the long run), and central planners routinely fail. Plus, you get all the familiar problems of well-connected CEOs convincing their regulators that their company is VALUABLE, and getting the gov’t to set their price floor very high and their competitors’ price floors very low, thereby depressing their competitors’ market cap and starving them of investment capital.

    Are those problems worth the benefit of preventing market panics? I don’t know. I don’t think so. But market panics can be pretty bad (cf. 1929) so… meh. I guess we’re about to find out.

    (Disclaimer: I am not a guru, just someone who majored in econ and really likes reading articles on finance. Please correct me if I’m wrong about any of this.)

  51. Anonymous says:

    So does the guevedoces thing imply that they are naturally transsexual people who literally have a naturally occuring transition during puberty?

    • James Picone says:

      AFAICT, depends on your definition of ‘transsexual’ and ‘sex’.

      They are XY, so chromosomally they’re sex male. They have female characteristics prior to puberty (at least, to the extent you have characteristics prior to puberty), so from that point of view they’re sex female that transitions to sex male around puberty.

      I don’t know what the sensible way to define sex for complicated cases like that is. Well, other than ‘ask them’.

  52. Shenpen says:

    Asking Americans: doesn’t a name like Jamal suggest hostility to Western culture, beyond blackness and low SE status?

    I mean, an Arab name used by a non-Arab suggests Islam, and AFAIK Islam amongst American Blacks isn’t as much a 100% serious religious sentiment but more of a revolt against the West.

    So basically naming your son Jamal sounds a lot like “fuck your racist culture, religion, history, identity, America”. The rapper Tupac was named after an Inca guy, a famous rebel. These names have nothing to do with being black and everything to do with a fuck-you-West attitude, probably due to the West’s racism.

    At this point isn’t it obvious why an employer would not want to hire Mr. YesIRockBoats?

    Who was the most famous Jamal anyway? I think – written a bit differently – Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt, Soviet puppet (i.e. Anti-Western symbol) although it is confusing because Jamal means beautiful and Gamal means camel but yet they are sometimes used interchangebly.

    One author suggested controlling for SE status by using low-status white names and high status black ones.

    I suggest controlling for names that suggest rebelliousness and non-conformity and anti-Westernness.

    Spartacus? Gavrilo? Wat? Genghis? 20 years later: maybe Neo?

    • Tarrou says:

      I think you have half the issue, the intent side. It may well be that it is common intent among black american parents to signal separatness from american culture. But I don’t think that this is picked up by those who have stereotypes activated by those names. The stereotypes activated are not of revolutionaries, but underclass criminals. The intent and the result are mediated by the class of the parents. Think of it this way, a parent looking forward at their child’s future is going to try to not handicap them with a distinctive name. Someone who doesn’t think that matters can afford to name their kid for all sorts of silly reasons.

      As an aside, I realized something the other day. I have often expressed the opinion that black americans’ best route out of their disproportionate underclass inclusion is a grassroots, self-policing program of middle-class values. And there’s only one group doing this right now, and it’s the Nation of Islam. They are unapologetically racist, insane conspiracy theorist, and dedicated to destroying and subjugating the evil white man. But I see them out in the community, well dressed, well spoken (Biden!), motivated, and with a coherent worldview. And if I were a black american, I think I’d be very well-inclined toward them, perhaps even tempted to join.

      • Jiro says:

        In the 1920’s, the Klan was widespread enough that it worked that way in some places, with people joining it as a social organization that helps the community, not (or at least not mainly) because they wanted to lynch blacks. Would your argument apply to white people joining the Klan back then?

        For that matter, wouldn’t it apply to ISIS in the Middle East?

        • Tarrou says:

          No one wakes up in the morning, brushes their teeth and sets off to do evil in the world. Absolutely this applies to groups like that.

          Terrible organizations almost always have their upside. The drug cartels sponsor village festivals and give gifts to widows. Hezbollah runs a full panoply of social welfare organizations and schools. Hamas too. Al Shabab is the military arm of the Islamic Courts, a sort of itinerant justice system for a broken nation. ISIS is a full on government in its own right.

          Intelligence is understanding that all those people have very altruistic reasons for trying to kill you.

          Wisdom is realizing that it doesn’t matter.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      First, Jamal was an example of one of the names used. I don’t know if they’re all that bad.

      Second, I didn’t even realize that Jamal = Gamal, even though I previously knew about Nasser, so I’m not sure how common that revelation is.

    • Adam says:

      Jamal really raises those associations for you? It seems about as innocuous as a vaguely “black” sounding can get to me. The ones that raise low-SES marker connotations are otherwise normal names prepended with “Ja,” “Da,” or “La.” None of them give me much of a repudiation of western culture vibe, though. Strangely enough, Shenpen sounds to me like a repudiation of western culture, as it sounds Chinese, with its rejection of rugged individualism and embracing of individual subservience to the state.

      • Shenpen says:

        It is Tibetan, it is from back when I really really loved Lama Ole Nydahl’s Buddhist teachings.

        I don’t really care about the rugged individualism stuff. That is not a universal Western value but a solely American one, you cannot really describe e.g. the absolutism of the Sun King – which was something I am entirely OK with – that way, and even in the US that it is mostly frontier subset. Were the southern plantation owners rugged individualists? No they were more like refined aristocrats, who could probably have got on easily with the Sun King as well.
        I am entirely OK with subservience to the state as long as it is not the modern state of primitive masses but an elitist hierarchy like it was common in the whole history of the West up to until the late 18th century. When service ELEVATES you, you serve something HIGHER than you, not the smelly messes, then fine.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      The name is always beauty, never camel. The Arabic words are closely related, but not identical. They have the same root JML but different vowels; some people transliterate camel as jamal and beauty as jamaal. In the Egyptian dialect both words are pronounced with a G, but that does not make them closer or farther than in any other dialect.

      The word camel does come from gamal, but from Hebrew or Phoenician.

  53. merzbot says:

    Is polyamory a big thing is most Less Wrong/rationalist communities or is it just a Bay Area thing?

    • Andrew says:

      I don’t think there’s enough LessWrong/Rationalists outside of the Bay Area to really make for a good control group- it’s a pretty region-heavy group. There’s probably a lot more non-Bay-Area people like me “lurking”, but it’s hard to get good stats on a vague mass of lurkers.

      • suntzuanime says:

        Buh? I don’t think there are any other location-specific LW communities nearly as large as the Bay Area one, but I don’t think Bay Area LW-ers represent even the majority, much less such an overwhelming majority that you can’t compare groups. There is a lot of world to be scattered across outside the Bay Area.

  54. shacklesburst says:

    Who else read the Eighteen Oddities article and cracked up at “Monks can have love affairs [citation needed]” – Wikipedia out-meme-ing itself?

  55. CJB says:

    Re: China-

    From a systems theory perspective- occasional crashes are a good thing. They occur in systems where a lot is going on, naturally. People bitch about them at the time, but what they usually turn out to be is sensible revaluations to an actual value, and even the worst crashes tend to be recovered from fairly quickly (Yes, even the great depression- it’s interesting to read about the New Deal, actually- the worst of it was over before the programs really got going). When I was working with environmental modeling, the goal was to prevent crashes- but that was because we were working with small, discrete areas that we wanted to keep in one static state. (Actually, many natural preserves follow this- for example, some national parks where berry picking is popular purposely remove trees from the berry patch areas to prevent natural succession from taking it over).

    My suspicion is that right now, China’s interest is in keeping it’s fantastically high growth rate fantastically high…..until they overtake the US. So I’d say that complete, unquestioned backing of the stock market will be a “temporary” measure (It’s gonna take a while to catch up), as opposed to something like, say, Glass-Stegall. They’re trading some increased risk of inflation (not really a concern unless it gets out of hand- they like having a very weak Yuan, which is why the currency of the second largest economy on earth is so low).

    To be blunt, I don’t see a mechanism for real hyperinflation- they’ve got too much shit, too many resources, too much of everyone else’s money, no post-war devastation, no massive debts…..China CAN’T hyperinflate, for the same reason my car won’t float- there’s too much shit there.

    China wants a Chinese century, and if they can figure out their demographic issue (or at least, control the population decline sensibly) they’ve got it. So they’re willing to run hot and spend some money to secure their place.

    Sidenote- I’ve heard an argument that market crashes/depressions run on about a 20 year cycle- and my uncle, a stockbroker, traced the stock market data for the US back to the beginning and found some interesting correlations- can anyone point me to some good data on this?

    • James Picone says:

      Cycles are very easy to eyeball in data, and very hard to prove statistically.

      Weird metastable oscillatory behaviour isn’t the same as a cycle, even if it has a characteristic timescale – cyclic behaviour is predictable.

      I’d believe that the stock market has weird metastable oscillatory behaviour that tends to flip on twentyish-year intervals. I don’t think it’s actually got proper cyclic behaviour.

  56. onyomi says:

    Have people seen this visual representation of “why time flies”? Especially disconcerting was how, just like it will probably be in real life, I started out thinking, “come on, come on, let’s move it, let’s go… oh wait, suddenly I’m super old and dead!”

    If true, this may be heartening for anyone who hopes to achieve extreme longevity through medicine and/or uploading into a computer, etc., as it means living 1000 years will not “seem” ten times as long as living 100 years, which might be a blessing. Or maybe that, too, is a curse, since, however much we extend our lives, maybe we are doomed to always feel it isn’t enough? (There is also the idea of “today I want to live one more day. At almost any conceivable day in the future when I’m reasonably healthy I’d want to live one more day, ergo…”

    • Viliam Búr says:

      Perceiving time as a “fraction of time already lived” could be an explanation, but I can imagine other explanations, possibly working all together:

      1) Your subjective feeling of time depends on how many NEW things you experience. For some reasonable value of “new”, for example seeing yet another sci-fi movie is a somewhat new experience (you haven’t seen this specific movie), but not as new as seeing your first sci-fi movie ever. When you are a small child, almost everything is new. As you get old, life gets repetitive. The feeling of “the last year took only a few minutes” means that there was almost nothing original during the last year of your life. You are measuring your time by the number of unique events.

      2) It is not about newness per se, but about conscious attention you pay. When you don’t pay attention to things, you don’t form as good memories of them, and in retrospective it feels as if they didn’t happen. As you get older, you do more things automatically. Also could be related to the ratio of pleasant / boring things you do: you remember pleasant things better, because you naturally pay more attention to them.

      3) As we get older, we start perceiving events in larger scopes. Instead of “I played with a puppy, then we had dinner, then we played cards” (2 hours, 3 events) we categorize our life as “I got a promotion, got divorced, got married again” (20 years, 3 events).

      These three options somewhat overlap: it is easier to pay attention to new things; you pay more attention to details when you focus on smaller scopes.

      • onyomi says:

        These were actually my own working hypotheses before seeing the above, and I think all these elements are a part of it. In fact, 3 may be part of the reason for the “percentage of life” thing: we conceptualize our life in terms of “important” events. The older we get, the bigger something has to be to strike us as “important.”

        Now if only there were a way to get life to slow down without also making it suck… dieting, for example, is great for making time slow down… Alternatively, one could constantly take up new hobbies and travel to unfamiliar countries, but this sounds very tiring and expensive.

        Reminds me of

  57. XVO says:

    Concerning the Chinese stock market…their trick will work until it doesn’t…. for example the Chinese government ends up owning bankrupt companies and being out the money, then they will not have money to prop up the market. One wonders why the Chinese decided to prop up the stock market. There was a stock growth this year that seems insane, yet the government decided to prop the market at this inflated level.

  58. Fairhaven says:

    You write:
    “Some studies suggest that, among Muslims, political Islamism / support for instituting Sharia law doesn’t correlate at all, even a little with support for terrorism.”

    A few minutes common sense reflection: sharia law is identical with Islam for 70-99% of Muslims (varies by country. Lebanon is the only outlier), whereas only a subset of Moslems support terrorism. I am not a statistician – is a subset a form of correlations?

    27% of French citizens AGED 18-24 support ISIS – I would guess there is a strong correlation here with French citizens who also support sharia.

    A 2009 poll showed that 68% of Moroccans – considered one of the most moderate Muslim countries – approved of terrorist attacks on US troops. 76% said they wanted strict sharia law in every Islamic country. 68% and 76% seem like some sort of correlation.

    The Pew Poll in 2011 shows: 30% of American Muslims are not unfavorable towards Al Qaeda, 60% are 9/11 truthers (e.g. won’t condemn Al Qaeda for the attacks), 35% of U.S. Muslims said they are not concerned about Islamic extremism around the world. 36% said there is a great deal/fair amount of extremism among U.S. Muslims.

    we have a major, major problem with devout Muslims who are unable or unwilling to fight the jihadis in their midst. quibbles about correlations seem very beside the point to all those innocents in the Middle east and Africa being kidnapped, burned alive, raped and tortured.

    there’s something very morally weak about your choice of links on the topic of jihadism

    • sweeneyrod says:

      The statistic that 27% of French citizens support ISIS comes from this poll of 1000 French citizens. It finds that 16% of all French citizens have a somewhat or very favourable view of ISIS. Since at most 10% of French citizens are Muslims, this suggests that even if we presume all French Muslims support ISIS, 5.5% of non-Muslims do as well. This seems unlikely.

    • I think you’re right that many people concerns about this form of extremism are not remotely proportional to the immense scale of the problem. I would like to comment that generally ad hominem is a bad thing to include in arguments of this kind (well of any kind really) because it might make comprehension of the points you make… harder.

      I’d also say that the point made about the correlation being poor looks to be technically correct – violence at first glance at the stats doesn’t appear to be directly correlated with religiosity. For example see here for an interesting read that appears to support that view. Of course it also reveals the support for violence is really concerningly high!! Like you say there are some big problems. For my two cents I notice is that there appears to be two centres of support for violence – the anti-Israel attitudes in places like Lebanon where religiosity is actually lower than many Muslim countries, and then the ultra religiosity of Afghanistan. I’m guessing this would relate to multiple motivations/groups answering similarly in the Western context you mention. At a total guess this difference might partly explain the poor correlation which appears at a casual glance to be weird but technically correct. It might also suggest multiple actions to address the multiple causes of the problem. I don’t know enough about it to make that call though, and hope that people making the decisions on that topic have a much more detailed analysis.

      I’ve noticed there is a temptation when faced with a big problem to see analysis of causal factors as “excuse making” (especially in the face of the kinds of atrocities you list), but if we want to eliminate the problem its probably vital there is widespread public analysis, so that public opinion aligns with true, effective strategies of eliminating the problem, without causing undesirable “side-effects” or making things worse. Get people interested enough in the topic and the facts should speak for themselves. Speaking of which, I’m interested in the stats/refs you mentioned and wonder if you could provide a link?

  59. Harrison says:

    One thing I think many people forget is that because markets are in reality not perfectly efficient, there are signifiant differences in comparing the movement Shanghai Index to the what would be expected of the S&P. I don’t specialize in Asia but I recently attended a meeting with a hedge fund manager who does, and his insights were interesting: His view of the past few weeks was that of a government crackdown on shadow lending which led to an unwinding of leverage and a rapid selloff.

    Something to remember is that in China, unlike in western markets, individuals, rather than firms, own a majority of actively traded shares in the Shanghai Exchange. This leads to higher momentum in market swings, but also makes regulation of the risk in the market much harder – it is much harder, for example, to stop people from borrowing large amounts of money and investing it all than it is to stop firms from doing the same thing. There are clearly rules barring brokers from allowing this to happen too much but up until mid June nothing was really done to stop it. Things changes quickly when brokers were essentially told that they actually really had to stop this time and this led to a very quick unwinding of leverage, leading to many people selling shares in order to pay back outstanding loans rather than selling due to lack of faith in the market. This, on top of the momentum from a more emotional market led to a massive selloff as people just tried to get their money back.

    The leverage unwound in like two weeks, the government knew this would happen, this was the goal and definitely not a form of scare or crash. Efficient markets are great, but often the things that are talked about arise from inefficiencies. Anything that could be called a correction assumes that the market is not efficient. In post-crisis risk-regulated markets, liquidity is low and this leads to firms being able to special in things like semi-arbitrage cash flow analysis. This is really weird because this is not the form of blanket statistical arbitrage that prop-shops employ to price options efficiently, but rather a strategy using specific knowledge of the risk management habits of institutional investors. The example you always hear is that the Canadian Dollar (CAD) always drops on June 1st because the Swiss government owns a very substantial number of Canadian investments as part of a strategy to minimize volatility that pay dividends in CAD on the first of June. The Swiss don’t really want to hold CAD so they flood the market and the price drops. This works because there’s really not infinite liquidity as in generally assumed when efficient market hypothesis is used as a buzzword.

    Macroeconomics is fascinating and incredibly useful to make predictions about labor force and wage and even interest rates but in terms of interesting market movements, often a grasp of geopolitics and global macro provide more insight.

  60. Seriously disappointed that you somehow missed the fact that women used to die in childbirth at much higher rates than they do today. 🙁

  61. Murphy says:

    I always preferred the quote by Kenneth Bainbridge to Oppenheimer’s,

    “we’re all sons of bitches now”

    Also I don’t think the poison in the Rhino horns is going to stop anyone.

    People are nuts.

    At a conference I was at recently one of the presentations was on the mutation signatures in tumors caused by Aristolochic Acid, an insanely carcinogenic substance common in a number of plants used in herbal remedies in Taiwan and china. They were able to prove pretty conclusively which tumors were caused by exposure to the particular mutagen and map where people are ingesting the carcinogen.

    It’s estimated to be the cause of half of all urinary tract cancers in Taiwan.


    They still can’t get people to stop literally eating cancer-causing poison because the people who sell herbal remedies are murderously greedy and the people who believe in them and buy them are suicidally gullible.

  62. b_jonas says:

    I think you misunderstood something about those floral regions, at least if the articles you linked were your sole source. None of the floral regions are as small as “a tiny area”, even the smallest one is several hundred kilometers long on dry land.

  63. Henrico Otto says:

    On China’s stock market stabilization strategy. Yeah, that works, until it doesn’t, and then you have a much, much worse crash. You have basically told investors they have a safe haven and can invest in the Chinese market without much risk, allowing the Chinese market to create more risk etc., etc. When that blows, look out below.

  64. John Schilling says:

    OK, so the failure modes of China’s brand of stock market stabilization turn out not to be all that subtle or complex after all. Tomorrow will be interesting, but for today it looks like everyone assumed the Chinese government was bluffing about being willing to pump infinity zillion dollars into market stabilization. And, when the time came, the infinity zillion dollars wasn’t there.

  65. Chuck Garvey says:

    At a glance, China’s market situation is reminiscent of Martingale betting. As long as their cash reserves are big enough to swamp all market fluctuations, they can basically do whatever they want to the market – in this case, refusing to let it crash. If market variance exceeds the capital China is willing or able to wield, though, they stand to lose market stability and all the money they used to shore up the market. The essential problem with Martingale is that it trades small and constant risks for rare and catastrophic ones.

    In China’s case, the core risk seems to be a decline in fundamentals too serious to respond to their market manipulations.

    An East Asian war or a complete collapse in demand for heavy industry could easily do this. At that point, China sinks a fortune into failing to control the market that could have been better used in direct subsidies and stimulus, and can no longer buy their way out of trouble.

    • John Schilling says:

      One key difference: The classic Martingale is played against a house with fixed house rules, e.g. a roulette table. The house will go along with it until it is clear that either they or the player can’t afford to pay any more, at which point the game simply stops. The Chinese government’s version is being “played” against human investors who are capable of recognizing that the Chinese government is doing something foolish and unsustainable, and are free to alter their strategy as they see fit to extract as many of China’s dollars as possible before the inevitable crash. Or stop playing altogether, or play at a different “house”, either of which would be a loss for China.

  66. Laowai says:

    Re the Chinese stockmarket. [Unsure whether anyone will read this deep in the comments but oh well]

    What a lot of outside commentators are missing is that this is taking place in the context of massive inflation and a housing bubble. The underlying problem is that there is no real safe place for the rising middle class to put their wealth, and theres a massive desire for safe savings due to the lack of a real welfare state/social safety net, and general fear of economic insecurity.

    the retail banks are heavily government controlled and bureaucratic, with no competition, so they pay out tiny interest to savers and give out unsustainable loans to state owned enterprises (which incidentally is how they China mitigated the impact of the 2008 financial crisis, teh government forced the banks to continue lending to unprofitable firms). As a result everyone is looking for alternatives.

    The most popular alternative until recently was property, with the urban middle class buying ‘investment apartments’ as a long term investment. This has meant the costs of property have skyrocketed, far above their actual value, and there’s a lot of talk of a bubble. (The western media reports of ghost towns etc are exaggerated, but only slightly)
    Even if the prices don’t crash they aren’t going to be growing as fast anymore.

    [In a free market people would invest abroad, but China restricts that heavily.]

    So people invested in the stock market, encouraged by the government, most of them first time investors. My suspicion is the guarantee given by the government means they will prevent a massive crash, but not that it will keep up with inflation or with other assets. So in a sense its risk free, but its still a pretty terrible investment.

  67. namae nanka says:

    Third viewers of the world unite!

    We noticed that successful female fellows were, bibliometrically speaking, slightly stronger then their male counterparts, but female applicants overall were slightly weaker. Was this difference sufficient to explain the observed difference in success rate? In order to test the influence of committee bias in general, we gender-blinded the committee members for the two rounds of application in 2006. Surprisingly, the difference in success rate persisted and even increased. We therefore concluded that the committee does not introduce a gender-based bias into the selection and that it must be aspects of the application itself that lead to the difference in outcome for men and women.